Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Notes from the Front

[General's Remarks. 0300 Hours. All Soldiers Assembled]

Troops, it's true. It's a hard battle this year.

Men, we are waging a war.... And women. Men and women, we are... Oh, and those of you in transition. People. People we are waging a war here. A war against all that is holy and sacred to our enemy.

Show me your war faces, troops. Show them to me!

[pause]

Let's pretend that never happened. Troops, don't ever show me your war faces again. That was unpleasant. I regret asking to see them.

So. The war. On Christmas. What is it?

That was a rhetorical question so put your hands down. Not your arms! Keep your arms at your side until needed, and never raise your hands when you're asked a question. What is the war on Christmas?

[pause]

What did I just say? Never raise your hands to answer my questions. Didn't you hear me say that?

[pause]

Put. Your. Arms. Down. Hands! Put your hands down.

[pause]

Now pick up your arms.

[pause]

Good.

Men. And women. And those in transition. And you, whatever you are. We are waging war, and... and I said that already. Where was I?

[pause]

Arms down! It was a rhetorical...

Where was...? So. You. Yes. Stand up. What's your name, soldier?

[pause]

Seymour? People still name their kids Seymour? HANDS DOWN.

Seymour. When you go out and mingle amongst the Jesusians, what do you say?

[pause]

A verbal response. Verbal. Oral. SAY it. What do you say?

[pause]

Right. You say, 'Happy Holidays.' Or, if you're gay or in transition, 'Happy Hols.' Or if you're Terry, 'Haps to the Hols.' Great. And that is what we are about. Right men? Women? Tranny.... Transitionals? Terry? We are about happiness. Happiness during the holidays, and who cares about religion. We're in the dead of winter right now, and we need cheer. We need cheer no matter who the hell we worship, or don't worship, or follow, or... I didn't mean to say 'tranny,' by the way. That's.... that was offensive to.... Well, I suppose, when I think about it, 'transitional' is also offensive. Do you know how difficult it is to keep up, sometimes, with the idea of 'all inclusive'?

HANDS DOWN.

The point, as we resume our great war, is that we are at war, and we hate war because we don't like to discriminate, or separate ourselves from fellow humans, or pretend we are.... You know what. Fuck it. Men. Women. Transitionals--if you are okay with being called 'transitionals.' Terry. Put down your arms. Raise your hands. Who wants tea?

[pause]

Fine. Who wants coffee?

[pause]

Beer, anyone?

[pause]

So. That's 1.2 million teas, 2.3 million coffees, and everyone else beer. Happy to serve in this war. Look forward to next year.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln...

I met George Wallace once. At our county fair.

My grandmother took me--I must've been eight or nine--to the Lauderdale County fair. There was hay on the ground, rides, booths, and soda.

And bees.

In fact, a bee climbed out of the can of soda I was drinking, just after I took a sip, a fat, hairy yellow-and-black bee that shook itself off after it emerged from the can, then flew away.
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Bees in honey drown. Bees in Coke flourish.
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The thing about Alabama, back then, was that more time was spent in school on Alabama history than American history, or civics, or world history.

Might be the same now, really.

Back then, students were taught about the boll weevil but not about freedom riders. Students knew that Montgomery once served as the capital of the Confederacy, but they didn't know that Rosa Parks had ridden a bus along the same streets Jefferson Davis once walked.
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The invention of the cotton gin was, according to our teachers, more important than the invention of the printing press.
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So. George Wallace, still governor, making a grand tour of our modest county fair. He was in a wheelchair and was pushed across the muddy hay by a man in a suit.
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The bee had just fled from my soda can, from which I had just drank. I had just pulled the can from my lips, and watched this horrifying insect emerge. Stand on the edge of the can. Shake itself dry. Fly away. I was holding the can in my hand and the soda in my mouth, afraid to swallow.

My grandmother gasped. Touched me on the shoulder. 'Now I can spit this out and cry,' I thought, assuming she'd noticed this rather disgusting turn of events.

"Wallace is here," she said in a quiet voice.

I spit the Coke out, and dropped the can.
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Important thing to know about my family: They're not very political. Or hateful, for that matter. I've never asked, of course, what they were thinking when Bull Connor was hosing down African-American protestors. I've never asked if they were for or against the forced desegregation of local schools.

I did ask if boll weevils were still an issue (they weren't).
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Years after I met George Wallace, Barack Obama was elected president. I sent out a mass email to my family recounting the event--I'd gone down to Harlem to see the celebration, and wanted to share my experience. One relative wrote me back: For God's sake, Marc, I voted for him too. Shut up.
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The Civil War was our civics lesson in school. We learned that johnnycakes were important, and that slaves were treated as respectfully as could be expected. We learned that Sherman burned his way through our land, and that 'Gone with the Wind' was high literature on film.

We learned that States' rights were important, and that the federal government could intervene to make us do what the rest of the country wanted us to do.

Point is: when I met George Wallace, I didn't know much about him. When I met him, I didn't know about the history standing behind him. I didn't know a lot. I just knew a bee had crawled out of my soda can.
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Went to see 'Lincoln' tonight, and thought it was okay.  The reviews of it are stellar, but I don't think the film is worthy of the reviews. The film is like a history lesson for Alabama students still being taught more about the boll weevil and johnnycakes rather than about Rosa Parks.
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My grandmother pressed me forward. George Wallace extended his hand. Bees flitted around him but he didn't brush them aside as they landed on his hand, his face, his extended arm.

"Happy to meet you," he said.

"I like your chair," I replied, not knowing why he was in the chair.

"I like your shoes," he responded.

Check and mate.
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I think about racism a lot. I think about where I am from, and how intolerant Alabama seems to the rest of the country. And Alabama can be an intolerant place. Little has changed, socially, since the days of Lincoln.

I am certain there should be a 'but' here, but there isn't.


It's hard to explain the South, so I won't bother. In that way, I am a total Southerner, because there's no way to explain how it's acceptable for bees and George Wallace to infiltrate a county fair, and boll weevils to take precedent over  the Civil Rights movement. What I thought, though, when I met George Wallace was this: A bee! A bee was in my drink! Did no one see that? A bee!
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And what I thought while watching 'Lincoln': Dude, don't try to water this shit down. No one down south is gonna like it anyway, because you didn't mention the cotton gin.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tolerance

I never liked 'Will and Grace,' a television show on NBC that ran from some year to some other year a lifetime ago. Certainly, I recognize that it helped 'normalize' (normalize is a polite way of saying 'humanize') homosexuality, in that each week millions of Americans tuned in to watch two gay men negotiate relationships.

Of course, the gay guys' relationships were primarily with two straight women. But! America loved the show! And America loved the gay men relationshipping with the straight women!

And ratings were solid so the show lasted for several seasons. Several seasons longer than better shows lasted.

Also, Jack--the overtly gay man--was a buffoon. And, sure, the covert gay man--the eponymous Will--was passionless and dull.

Sure, the straight single woman--second-billed Grace--was dull, passionless, and plucky! And the boozy broad--Karen--was rich and dotty in a deal-with-situations-in-a-comedic-way way.

All four of the principle characters were tolerant of one another. Yay. Tolerant was, during the run of 'Will and Grace,' a good way to be.

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Alan Turing would've made a great guest star on 'Will and Grace,' I think. Imagine the fun! He's a gay guy after Will's affections. Jack has a crush on him. Grace tries to befriend him. Karen slips him some estrogen pills. Hijinx ensue.

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Of course Alan Turing was a real person, and not tolerated in his lifetime. Alan Turing invented the computer then cracked a code that helped Allies win WWII.  He was rewarded for his efforts by being sentenced by death by suicide.

In 1954, Turing killed himself. Turing saved Western Civilization from the Nazis, then grew manboobs from the pills England gave him when they found out he liked twinks. He was charged with 'gross indecency,' and, like Oscar Wilde before him, died a pitiful death.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Selected Excerpts from the Palins' Fitness Book

Recently, some gossip columnists expressed surprise at the frail, malnourished appearance of noted political icon and tarted-up pitbull Sarah Palin. "She looks like she's on the road to Karen Carpenter-hood," said someone. "Is she now writing for a pro-ana site?" asked some other person.

But no. Truth is, Sarah and her brood are writing a fitness book. It's a family-inclusive tome, with Todd, Track, Bristol, Willow and Trig contributing. The foreword will be written by Tripp, and the afterword by David Brooks. The book is due out sometime next year.

Below are excerpts from the proposed MS. [Note: this is pre-publication; there may be editorial changes, as well as stylistic changes. Book is in early stages. MUST CREDIT DRUDGE, because no one else wants the credit. Thanks, Marcy, for leaking me the galleys.]

From 'Introduction' [MUST CREDIT DRUDGE]

Which is not to say I wanted to look like Tina Fey. It is well known that I run. I exercise. I am often photographed in running shorts, and I am in Alaska. Cameras move very fast here. Because of the cold weather, the lame-stream media hates to be here, so when they are, I have to move quickly to keep the camera focused on me. Television is a visual medium, right? And with all the snow up here, I have to be in constant motion to keep the camera's interest, moving, constantly moving, otherwise any appearance of me on camera would look like I'm in an Ingrid Bergman film. Too bleak!

The only time I sit still is for a FOX News segment! I sit in front of a camera in a shack just behind my house, and I talk at the stagnant camera, and do Kegels while I'm talking.

[Editor's note: She means Ingmar, not Ingrid. Please correct.]

[Editor's note: Although Ingrid made some fine films.]

From 'Chapter 3: Danced with Them Stars!' [MUST CREDIT DRUDGE]

Sure, I was fat. I was a fat fatty, and I'd never danced before, but so what, I danced, right, I had a kid and I danced and OH YEAH I had a mother who RAN FOR EFFING PRESIDENT. Or Vice. Whatever. I had a mother Vice. AND SHE SUPPORTED ME WHEN NO ONE ELSE WOULD. And oh yeah, this is a fitness book, so blah, danced, lost weight. Of course, giving birth helped with the weight loss. OMG, do you know how much weight I gained while pregnant? I ate whole crates of ice cream. Seriously. When I was pregnant it was like, oh wow, I have an excuse to eat anything I want! So I did!  The best thing about being expecting is that you expect your next meal immediately, no waiting, nom nom nom. Speaking of NOM, I oppose gay marriage. It's good exercise.

Do on 'Dancing with the Stars,' I received a lot of death threats. None of them came true. I really hoped to be like Jesus, but there's still hope: I'm on 'Dancing' again y'all! I might get killed yet! Then I'll be like Jesus, except with a kid, and I'm unmarried, and I'm an example for all young women ever so I'm even BETTER than Jesus.

[Editor's note: Perhaps we should not allow Bristol to discuss Jesus. Please encourage her to compare herself to Mary, or else emphasize that her mother ran for office. Thx.]

From 'Chapter 5: All of Them, Bitch' [MUST STOP CREDITING DRUDGE. SERIOUSLY. STOP. DISENGAGE]

The best exercise you can do, and I know this from experience, is to do an interview. Truly, if you don't have a journalist handy, just grab a friend and encourage that friend to ask you questions. Walk as you answer. Press your hands together, and walk, and speak nonsense. The pounds will melt away!

[Editor's note: Clarification! Must be clearer on questions asked. It's an exercise book, not a oh holy christ my career is over isn't it.]

... so I said 'All of them.' And that's all you need to do: Walk with confidence, temple your fingers, and jerk your head in pointed ways. You'll burn calories! And you'll firm your abs!

[MUST CREDIT  I DON'T KNOW CREDIT HUFFINGTON POST OR SOMETHING. MUST NOT CREDIT DRUDGE]

From 'Chapter 10: Snowballin' [SWEAR TO GOD: HUFFINGTON POST. OR NYTIMES.COM]

Yeah Greta called me First Dude. Pretty cool. Shit--sorry, didn't say shit. I meant shoot. Shoot, that was cool as fuck. I ride around on a snow mobile and what I do is I shift on my ass so I'm working my glutes, my abs, and who the fuck knows what else. Shit. Shoot. Edit the shit out of this--I don't want curse words. You can edit right. Its why we hired you. Or not hired you, since we're doing a submission thing and your lucky to have a book people will buy. Edit this. I'm writing gold here. Sarah

[Editor's note: This isn't a book. It's a fiasco. I thought I'd find the next Proust. Seriously. "Fitness with the Palins." Seemed simple. Edit this, I thought, and it will make the company enough money, and I'll get promoted, and my next assignment will be 'Find our next Chabon.' But no. What am I supposed to do with this? 'Greta called me First Dude'? Seriously?]

From 'Chapter 13: My Chic-fil-A [MATT DRUDGE NO LONGER CARES WHO YOU CREDIT. HE DID NOT EXIST FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS. MATT DRUDGE BLAMES JAMES O'KEEFE FOR THE CONFUSION]

The best thing to do for health is to eat at fast food restaurants. Hate gays! Eat at places like Chick-fil-A and hate everyone. The hate counteracts the calories, so each deep-fried chicken sandwich you eat, you burn off calories by expending energy hating other humans.

If you're lucky enough to be eating these delicious chicken sandwiches in a state not near Russia, they'll be hot sandwiches.

[Editor's note: That can't be the last line. Let me review David Brooks' afterword so I can see what I can do with this book. The family really thinks fast food... know what? Forget it.]

[MUST CREDIT HUFFINGTON POST]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Who's Afraid of Snapdragons?

To crib the first line from Love Story: What can you say about a fifty year old play that died?

Not that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is dead. Certainly my version of it, where Martha is the dominant character, is dead though.

Dead. SNAP!

Dunno why I always thought the play revolved around Martha, really--perhaps because I saw the film version when I was a baby gay, and was all about Liz Taylor. Seeing the previous revival with Kathleen Turner didn't help matters.

Gay touchstones, both. Liz Taylor, when I was growing up, was fabulous. And I'd be straight today if not for Kathleen Turner's turn in Romancing the Stone.

But whatever. Tonight, seeing the current revival with Tracy Letts as George and Amy Morton as Martha, I realized just how much of the show is owned by George. My ages-old perception of the play was changed. Murdered. The play I thought I knew died. What can I say?

Thing is, the death happened just where it was supposed to happen. Second act. Martha delivers her speech to George about SNAP ("SNAP! It went SNAP! I'm not gonna try to get through to you any more. There was a second back there, yeah, there was a second, just a second when I could have gotten through to you, when maybe we could have cut through all this, this CRAP. But it's past, and I'm not gonna try") and I realized just how important George is.

My companion leaned into my ear and whispered, "She's so selfish."

And I whispered back, "No. She's beaten."

And she is! There are three games in Virginia Woolf. Martha loses each of the three. And if you don't know the plot, now's a good time for a summary: A middle-aged academic couple at a New England college invite a younger couple new to the college back to their home for drinks. George, a professor of history, makes it clear he does not like the new guy--a biology professor; Martha, the daughter of the college's president, makes it clear that she doesn't like anyone. Rather than break out the Pictionary or whatever games most people play at parties, George and Martha engage in their own private games with the younger couple.

The first game is 'hump the hostess'. The second is 'get the guests'. The third is 'bringing up baby'.

Martha loses each game.

Now. What I'm used to is this: Martha dominates. In the film version and in the revival with Kathleen Turner, the show is about Martha. Hell, when I read text in high school, Martha was the stand-out. The character of George, while occasionally assertive, didn't drive the plot. George seemed henpecked and weak, merely reacting to Martha's decades-old games. George was a victim because his wife was the daughter of the president of the college. George made the mistake of marrying the daughter of a man who could control his life.

 Not true! Tracy Letts' George is just as dominant as Willy Loman or Hamlet. George has so much power over the other people around him he doesn't know how to manage it. 'Hump the hostess'? Fine. 'Get the guests'? Gotten. 'Bringing up baby'? Well, he kills the baby.

A lot has been written about Virginia Woolf, and most of it is bunk. Here's all you need to know about Virginia Woolf: Men want to be dominant. Don't question silver-haired men. Men, when questioned on their authority, turn nasty.

Snap. Okay. So the second act (there are three acts--imagine that!) of Virginia Woolf ends with Martha's 'snap' speech. She declares that her husband, George, is no longer worthy of her sympathy or love. And she's right. George is a manipulative failure of a man. He is a failed novelist, and he is in the history department rather than being the history department.

Old school. The thing that Letts and Morton brought out, though, was that Martha doesn't resent George for being a failure. Quite the opposite! Martha resents George for thinking he's a failure. And that is why she loses the three games.

During 'hump the hostess,' she tries to get George to step in. To stop the game. He doesn't, and Martha gets a bad hump.

During 'get the guests', Martha has no clue of the rules. George throws snapdragons at her and at Nick. George screams SNAP at her, echoing the snaps Martha screamed at him.

During 'bringing up baby', George kills the imaginary child both he and Martha have created. [SPOILER: George and Martha have no children. They invented a child]

For years, I've thought Martha to be a bully and a bitch. Snap. She isn't. She's a smart woman trying to survive the early 1960s. George is a failure. But he's a failure on his own terms. It has nothing to do with Martha.

At the end of the play, George makes Martha cry. He puts a blanket around her and asks her, 'Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?' and she responds, 'I am, George.' Then, black. Lights are cut. Audiences rustle.

SNAP

A lot has been made of the ending of the play. Is Martha afraid of feminism? The play was written just as women were demanding equal rights, and George bested her. Is Martha afraid of being less than a woman because she never gave birth? She does, in the third act, discuss what it is like to give birth, even though she never has had a child.

Totally the wrong questions. Martha is afraid of George, who is in control of the play, in control of her life.

And George is an asshole. He only plays games he knows he'll win.

Side-note: After the last scene, Amy Morton as Martha is broken down to her most raw. Seriously, she's a destroyed woman fetal on a stage stared at by 1000s of people, barefoot and alone. The stage cuts to black, and then light again for the curtain call. There are four actors in the show, and Amy Morton, who only 3 seconds before was landing the haunting line "I am, George," comes out. Her eyes still wet. Clearly baffled. She accepts the applause, but christ, after landing the famous end of a 3 hour play, it almost seems cruel to make her transition from "I am, George" to 'take a bow, toots.'

Snap.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rodent Disposal

Some years back, when I lived in a different state not quite as famous as NY for rodent infestations, I... had a rodent infestation. Tried everything to get rid of the buggers in a humane way, but nothing worked. After several weeks of hearing them in the walls and also finding mouse poo in my clothes drawers, I gave up. Called an exterminator, who put down sticky traps--usually the traps fold into a pyramid of sorts, but the exterminator assured me the traps would be more effective if left flat.

Ugh.

So I go to my grandparents' for Thanksgiving dinner. Spend the evening with my family, have a lovely time. Return to my apartment to discover an entire mouse family stuck to the adhesive trap. Four mice in all, two little guys and two larger ones. Screaming. Shivering, Stuck. Saddest fucking thing I ever saw, and it was my fault, and I had no idea how to get rid of them. If I threw them away, they'd likely starve, cannibalize one another or themselves, possibly chew various appendages off and escape. All sorts of horrors--not the least of which was the initial horror of being stuck to a damn trap.

The only solution I could come up with was to drown them in the sink. Seemed to be the quickest way to put them out of their misery short of crushing each of their heads one by one--and I couldn't do that. Simply couldn't. So I got a Tupperware container, put holes in the lid with a knife, filled the kitchen sink with lukewarm water, started crying, and managed to slide the trap full of shrieking and writhing mice into the container. Put the lid on. Put on a pair of dishwashing gloves. And held the container under water.

While feeling their twitching and panic, I told myself that I couldn't very well live with a family of mice--they were, after all, pooping everywhere and I really had tried to get rid of them in a humane way.

It took about 10 minutes for the little guys to finally kick off, and I disposed of them in the outside garbage can.

All of that is to say a recent YouTube video--since "removed by user"--depressed the hell out of me (there was extenuating circumstances of course, since I spent most of today at the DMV at Herald Square, which is enough to depress anyone). In the video, a hooting, cackling young male videos a small rat in its death-throes. The poor thing is rolling, literally, on a NYC sidewalk until it falls into a gutter and begins to convulse. There is a police officer also videoing the rolling/dying rat with her iPhone. At one point, the officer's process of recording interferes with the cackling idiot's recording, obscuring the rolling rat's body. "Yo," the cackling idiot yells at the officer. "Move over. I can't see."

The officer, dutifully, takes a step to the right, clearing the view.

Truth is, it's a horrifying video and I'm glad the YouTube video has been taken down.

Also, truth is, I fucking hate rodent infestations. Because we live in a pre-war building in NYC, around this time each year G and I usually experience a few mice fleeing the dropping temperatures. It isn't uncommon during September for one of us to be sitting in the living room and observe a confused mouse dart into the middle of our carpet, pause, look around, and then book it to the coffee table's shelter.

Mice freak me the fuck out.

Each year, I try to strike up a deal with them. "Don't shit on my clean dishes. Stay out of the bedroom. Don't gnaw a hole anything. Don't be seen." They never listen.

I'm a terrible Neville Chamberlain. They are a terrible Adolf Hitler. Treaties are struck, then broken almost immediately. (Which is a terrible analogy, I know. But I did even offer a mouse once a piece of apple if he'd just leave the apartment--I put a slice on the landing of the stairs outside our apartment, and the mouse followed, and I shut the door. Less than a minute later I observed the same mouse crawling back into the apartment.)

We do snap traps. Horrible. Each year, when the mice come, I spend months in an existential depression (Greg is more or less comfortable with mouse-slaughter, mostly because he gets better sleep since I don't awake him late at night by screaming bloody-murder. "I was going to the bathroom," I usually explain to him, "when one of the little buggers just darted out in front of me and scared me.")

There is no cohabitation with these guys. They're cute, sure, but they shit everywhere, and are carriers of disease, and the last thing you want friends to see, when you're hosting a dinner party, is a mouse sitting in the artichoke dip.

And while there are feel-good humane ways to dispose of them, I am convinced that all you're doing there is delaying the inevitable: you're setting them free to procreate and re-invade with larger numbers. Recently, someone suggested I catch the mice and dispose of them in a local 'green' place, and all I imagined was the mice diddling one another senseless then returning, Jason Voorhees style, to terrorize me another day.

So. Guilt. I gotta murder the fuckers because this is where I live. There is no satisfaction in finding a murdered mouse in a snap trap, but there's certainly no satisfaction in finding that same mouse pooping in my underwear drawer. There are some creatures we don't need in our apartments. Waffles, who also poops in the apartment from time to time, earns his right to be here because he's a dog, and he interacts, and he enhances. Mice, not so much. It's sad that the only way to domesticate rodents is to put them in a cage and pretend it's a normal pet.

It isn't. It's a rodent. It eats its young, and poops on clean dishes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Into the Depression

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“Into the Woods” first sprouted up on Broadway in 1987, a deceptively simple musical weaving familiar fairy tales together with a new tale or two, playing off archetypes, and using the threat of a Cold War turning Hot to force its simplistic characters into making complex moral choices.

I may be making up the Cold War turned Hot part. I may be projecting my own childhood fears of nuclear annihilation and the era of AIDS—Reagan’s America—onto the musical. But that’s the nature of fairy tales, isn’t it? That’s why fairy tales endure for centuries. They’re able to absorb our anxieties, our fears. So I’m sticking with that interpretation: The selfishness and myopia of the characters in the first act mirror the selfishness and myopia of the Reagan years. In the second act, those selfish, myopic characters must face their ruined kingdom abandoned by their king, and work together to rebuild their lives.

So. First production of “Into the Woods.” The staging was decidedly storybook inspired. The costuming, the sets, even the blocking suggested a magical, idealized reality--a shining city on the hill, as Reagan would call it--where the characters were both aware of their place in a larger story, and completely unaware of their ability to control their places.

A Broadway revival a little over a decade later altered the original concept of ‘Into the Woods’ a bit. I didn’t see the revival. So I won’t comment on it except to say that the “Hambone” number with the newly-added Three Little Pigs was a mistake, and I’m glad it was cut from future productions.

I may be making up the “Hambone” part.

Then, in 2010, in Regent’s Park in London, a new production reinvented the show entirely. Rather than having a traditional storybook narrator and a storybook staging, the new production replaced the Narrator with a young boy who recently ran away from home.

The kid—also called Narrator, though Imagineer might be a more accurate character name—hides in the woods near his home. He pours out toys from his bookbag onto the ground and immediately uses the toys to craft the story of “Into the Woods.” A troll doll becomes Rapunzel, for instance.

And here’s why I don’t like the new version of “Into the Woods.”

In its original conception, the story was firmly set in the world of storybooks. There was a flatness to the set design that emphasized the storybook quality of the piece, there were princesses in elaborate, fluffy dresses, and peasants in simple, but no less elaborate rags. All of us have had the experience of these storybook fairy tales, both in presentation and in having them read to us by an adult Narrator.

Importantly, early in the second act, the Narrator is essentially disposed of by the characters. Like children asserting their independence, the characters rebel and attempt to control their own destiny (“You need an objective person to pass the story along,” the Narrator protests. “Some of us don’t like the way you’ve been telling it,” the Witch responds before shoving the Narrator at the Giantess, who kills him).

Making the Narrator a child imagining the story using action figures and troll dolls, while sitting alone in the woods, narrows the universal appeal of the show. It’s suddenly not a show drawing from our own encounters with fairy tales and our own habit of projecting onto the stories any meaning we wish (hello, Reagan’s America!), but instead becomes a collection of interwoven stories shaped by our assumptions on one single child's psyche, the current doll-playing Narrator-boy hiding from his father, a lonely little boy who has just lost his mother—either to divorce or to death, I’m not clear which.

And of course, the play on the words "which" and "Witch" is made a bit more obvious during the performance of ‘The Last Midnight.’ In the current staging, the Witch steals the Baker’s son. She takes custody of the child. If the ‘which’ by which the kid lost his mom is through divorce, perhaps the Witch is the custody battle over him, and the feelings of helplessness a young kid must feel watching courts and lawyers decide his fate. If the ‘which’ by which the kid lost his mom is through death, perhaps the Witch represents the fatalistic realization that he may be snatched away at any moment.

I may be making all that up.

But I’m not making this up: By making the Narrator a Real Boy rather than an “objective observer,” the audiences’ relation to the show is changed dramatically.

There’s no storybook quality in “Into the Woods” anymore. It’s a mishmash of a child’s interpretation of pop-culture cues. The wolf, for instance, is no longer introduced as an anthropomorphic and anatomically-correct beast, but as a sort of rock-star wannabe in a fur coat. The Three Little Pigs make a brief appearance, dressed in pink tutus. The Witch, in her uglier aspect, appears as late-stage Brundlefly from Jeff Goldblum’s performance in ‘The Fly,' complete with a reliability on stilts to brace her weight. Princesses are dressed in sexy miniskirts.

The original staging of ‘Into the Woods’ had a depth of perspective. Most of the set revealed itself in horizontal levels, while the set of the current staging hits all at once, and is a vertically-leveled layer cake of metal stairs and twisting vines. Rather than building a story like a book—flat, where one must look ever deeper to see the whole—the current staging plops the whole thing down for the audience to take in at one time, and relies on the characters to dash up and down the levels, turning a literary convention into a visual inevitability.

Yes. And then there’s the actual performance.

But that’s another rant.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Religious Rights

First of all, Waffles, our dog, feels the need to clean whatever surface upon which Greg and I have sex.

Perhaps we're bad parents. Perhaps we're bad trainers. But whenever sexual acts come to the natural end, and the involved parties disperse to clean off or straighten up, Waf emerges from wherever he's been hiding to sniff and lick and inspect.

It is his instinct, just as it is our instinct to poke and prod at bodies. Take them in. Pound them in.

Hard to say which is more gross: our instinct, or his.

Slippery slope.

+++

Recently, a friend told me that I don't get religion. I don't understand the moral value of religion, nor do I get the societal importance of it. He said this because I stated the only reason religious groups fuck around with charity is because of the mess religious doctrine creates. They're trying to fix their own mess.

The conversation went something like this:

"You didn't grow up with Jews, did you."

"I grew up across from the only temple in town. Dad wouldn't mow the grass on Saturday just because."

"Because what?"

"Because it seemed the polite thing to do. If religion didn't say You can't have birth control, think of all the work that wouldn't need to be done in Africa."

"Well, apartheid. Think of all the good the religion did to undo that."

"Why did apartheid exist in the first place?"

"Nederlanders are bastards."

Slippery slopes. It's not just for heathens.

+++

About the Jewish temple across the street from where I grew up: I was beaten to a pulp in the parking lot when I was 10. True!

Friends and I were goofing around, and I made a wise-ass remark, and some kid took it the wrong way. The kid jumped on me, and held me down, and repeatedly punched me in the mouth.

+++

I've said much worse things since then. No one has tried to punch me.

+++

Religion. My friend is probably right. I don't get it. I don't understand how normal people fall for it.

There's this ritual thing, of course. Bris, communion, ramadan,  baptism.... whatever the ritual, it seems counterproductive to the actual process of Deity-worship. Not to say I don't respect the effort--I am terrible with process and usually just look for the quickest way to an end--but all these ritualistic habits seem a bit much. Does Ash Wednesday truly afford one entrance to heaven? Snake-handling--is it a religious rite, or is it a parlor trick? Leaving an empty plate for Elijah--religious act, or just an excuse to disinvite an unwanted guest?

+++

Waf hides when sex happens. Which is a good thing--it is a private action between one or two or more, and we'd all really rather the dog not be up in our business. I feel the same way about religion.




Friday, July 6, 2012

Zen and the Art of Hoping the Maintenance Guy Knows What the Hell He is Doing

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The Coney Island Cyclone is a roller coaster that opened in 1927, when most people weren’t expected to live past the age of 45. Since most riders were already resigned to their early deaths, designers of the Cyclone were not much concerned with comfort, or user experience, or safety.

Instead, the designers were more concerned with word of mouth, to get people in line and to fill the coffers. After riding the Cyclone, one might work out the business model of the original Cyclone owners, Jack and Irving Rosenthal. The business model: The more people we put in the hospital with twisted spines and shattered pelvises, the more people will talk about the Cyclone, and the more people talk about the Cyclone, the more people will pay to have their spines twisted and their pelvises shattered.

A few years back, Greg and I took my little brother Alex to Coney Island. We went not long after the park had opened for the season, so there weren’t many people around—which means the good people at the Cyclone let us ride the menace several times in a row.  No waiting. Sit right where you are, sirs, and we’ll just shoot you around again. And again. And again.

Let me be clear: It is a fun roller coaster, if you drift into a Zen acceptance of mortality and fate upon being strapped in by the flimsy lap bar. As the track throws your caution to the sea breeze coming in from the Atlantic, the ride can be a thrilling and visceral test of your own will to live. You need only to relax a bit to allow your body to be thrown clear of the tracks and out into space. If you have even a slight desire to see the end of the ride, you will tense each muscle in your body, clutch any surface connected to the car, and trick your mind into thinking it is fun to be slammed, slapped, yanked, dropped, and propelled around like a loose sock in an unbalanced washing machine.

So yes, despite the brutal savaging of our bodies, Greg, Alex and I rode the Cyclone three or four times in a row.  It was fun.

It was also not without consequences. In 1927, when the coaster was built, America was more of a God-fearing nation, and did not believe in pleasure without pain. The Cyclone is a monument to that time: Enjoy me, the Cyclone says, but know that you will regret your enjoyment.

No wonder the same time period gave us Prohibition and the rise of J. Edgar Hoover.

Alex, in his late teens at the time, suffered only minimal collateral damage—in that his collar was bruised from slamming into the side of the car. Greg limped around for a few days from where one of the smaller hills of the track threw him full-force into the lap bar, then shoved him back into his seat. I’ve always had a bad neck, and the numerous runs around the Cyclone track undid years of chiropractic visits. Couldn’t turn my head without wincing for several months.

So naturally, when visiting Coney Island again yesterday, I couldn’t wait to get back on the Cyclone.

That’s a lie. I could wait. And I did wait. I insisted on saving it for last—but I insisted on riding it all the same.

Here’s the thing about the Cyclone: it is not passive amusement. And I’m not talking about the line-waiting or the hefty ticket-per-ride cost; the actual experience of getting into a car, strapping yourself down, and hurtling along a 80-plus year old track is different than going to Six Flags, say, or even a State Fair, and riding a roller coaster. In those more modern venues of amusement, one may be a passive participant—the rides are smoother, the harnesses stronger, the seats more cushioned and protective.

You can sit back and pretend you’re in danger even though you know you stand a more than reasonable good chance of exiting the ride without consequence, as if you’d never ridden at all.

The Cyclone leaves evidence of your amusement. You feel it in your joints for days after. Your skin reminds you of just how much fun you had by displaying bruises. Your muscles remind you of how badly you want to live to have more joy because they are in so much pain from clutching on for more life as you hurtle around the wooden track.

Yeah, Thoreau can toddle off to the woods to remind himself of living. I’ll take the bone-crushing, harsh-God treatment of the Cyclone.

Which is to say, maybe I’m old-fashioned: as much as I’d like to believe pleasure should come without consequences, I also believe that pleasure for pleasure’s sake quickly leads to laziness, complacence, and an inability to appreciate that moment when you’re suspended between the lap bar and the seat just before your pelvis crunches into the bar that is quickly followed by that moment your tail bone is slammed down into the seat again.

After the Cyclone, I was ready to enjoy the more sedate New York Aquarium. It takes brutal confrontation of permanent injury or even more permanent death to help one appreciate the other creatures scuttling around on the same planet.

We're all in this together. Humans, I think, are the only ones who need reminders of this.

Friday, June 8, 2012

In response to Gawker's 'Mormon Gay' post

Quick explanation: someone asked in this post on Gawker  how one could reconcile their own religion with their own sexual orientation (in this Gawkerian case, the religion is Mormonism, and the orientation is gay. Added bonus is that the gay guy is happily married to a woman. Hi ho.)

I knew a guy once. He recently died of a brain tumor. He was a music professor at a university in my hometown, and he loved religious music. One year I drove with him from AL to a Chicago suburb because he'd asked me to go with him to pick up a pipe organ he'd purchased off of eBay.

There's a point to this story, I promise. I also promise not to make (m)any puns about 'organ'.

The plan--which we pulled off--was to drive to Chicago, pick up the unassmempled pipe organ, and drive back. We'd sleep in the truck (we did, in a parking lot of a church) for a few hours. The whole trip took a little over a day.

During the trip, the Professor told me he was bisexual--not a big surprise since he had the usual mannerisms, showed up at my apartment in a tight white T, cut-off shorts and Doc Martens (it was the late 1990s). He also told me he loved his wife. He also told me he was planning on doing a local production of 'Jeffrey,' the play by Paul Rudnick. Community theatre. Believe it or not, it happens in AL, and believe it or not there are portrayals of same-sex kissing, and all that, in AL.

I've since left the South, but I will say this: not everyone down there is worthy of the scorn heaped upon them by Nor'East libs.

So the Professor, during this long drive to Chicago, told me he was bi. He was planning to do a production of 'Jeffrey', a play about being gay. He told me he wanted to cast me as Darius (the character played by Bryan Batt 'Sal' from 'Mad Men' in the movie). He wanted to cast me in this role because of my 'kindness and empathy.'

Go figure.

The Professor talked to me about his wife and daughters. One of the daughters was pregnant and still in high school, and both he and his wife were determined to give their impending grandchild a good reception. I told him it was wonderful that both he and his wife were welcoming the child--my own grandparents were not so welcoming of me when I'd popped out. Then asked about his attraction to men.

"I have two hands," he said. "I sometimes use them."

During the trip, he talked about the pipe organ we were off to buy.

"I'm planning to build a shed," he said. "I'm assembling the organ in a shed, and hope to hold concerts for anyone who wants to show up. I'll play Monteverdi and Bach. I'll play orchestrations of [ancient religious composers I can't remember anymore]. And we'll have my grandson there."

He said that. Driving along the highway to Chicago. He said he'd have his grandson there, and his recently de-pregnated teenage daughter, and I realized the organ was more about affirming his devotion to God before all of his peers than it was about playing it in a shed.

I rode to Chicago with him because I was young and it sounded like a fun way to get out of Alabama for a day or two.

It was fun, in a way, but in another way it wasn't. I liked the Professor, and considered him a friend, but I was also wary of him--just a few weeks earlier I'd invited him over to a house I was housesitting.

The house had a pool. He'd dived into the water, shucked off his shorts, and skinny-dipped.

Certainly I was a known gay by then, in Alabama. I was also young, or stupid, or whatever. It was both obvious that he was coming on to me as he swam around the pool, and not obvious. The thing about being openly gay in places like Alabama is that you must be two things: openly gay, and aware of those who want to be openly gay. It's like going through a fun house twice--first time alone, second time with a friend.

The first time you scream. The second time, you grab the hand of your friend, and anticipate.

Southern people, even the open-minded ones, have a remarkable capacity to both scream and then anticipate reality. It was in the pool that the Professor drew attention to his possession of dual hands.

"I have two hands," he said then.

"I have two hands," he said again, when I asked him about his bisexuality as we drove to Chicago. To get a pipe organ. He'd found online.

The Professor tried to talk me out of being with the man I was dating back then. "He's bad," the Professor told me. "I can tell you stories." And then he told me stories, and I continued dating the guy anyway.

And the Professor continued to be married to his wife.

I heard much later, he left her for a bit. He met a man, and the two men had a fling or whatever, and the production of 'Jeffrey' never happened. What did happen was that the Professor talked to me less and less after the trip to Chicago, and what didn't happen is the shack he wanted to build and the assembly of the pipe organ he bought. What did happen was that he continued to teach religious music until he couldn't teach anymore.

He went to church every service, and spoke often about the wonder of God, a wonder I have never shared. He encouraged me to just 'use two hands'.He died of a brain tumor, without the shack and the organ.

He liked religious music, and he loved being music director for various community productions of shows, and he talked about his faith--which I didn't get--and his grandson. And that was his life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

War Stories

He was three months into his tour of duty and things were looking grim. Erickson stared down at the plate that had been set before him, and braced himself for the taste, the texture, of the disgusting food. For three months, Erickson thought the next meal could only improve. And each meal, for three months, turned out to be worse than the last.

Inedible.

He lifted his fork, remembering the ghosts of meals past. The fork was heavy in his hand, tested his strength. And the plate, with its delicate engraving and porcelain daintiness, mocked him.

Erickson thought, “I can’t do this again.”

Erickson thought, “If only my number hadn’t come up.”

Erickson pushed the fork down into the tender crown roast with his right hand, and sawed off a piece of meat with his left. The juicy chunk slid easily away from the roast like a blob of snot.

“How is it,” Meredith asked. She was sitting at the opposite end of the table, her own fork poised expectantly as if waiting for her food to leap up and impale itself upon it.

Her raised fork calmed him.

Erickson thought, “If only she would come at me with that fork, I’d feel better. If only she tried to attack me with her knife, I’d be calm.” But Meredith, he knew, had no interest in normal behavior; to her,  forks were for eating, not for attacking. A fork was a fork, and a knife was its helpmate. So there Meredith’s fork remained, poised in the air heavy with the scent of cooked meat and steamed vegetables. Prongs waiting to sink into the meal she had cooked.

“I haven’t tried it yet, have I,” Erickson replied. “I just cut off a piece.”

“Oh,” Meredith said, “do try it. It’s a new recipe I’m working on.”

Meredith was always working on recipes. She owned a restaurant downtown. Before she served a single dish to her customers, Erickson got a taste of it. He was sick of good food, and wanted to return to the normal servings of gruel and deep-fried fish and cold beans he grew up on.

But. Here was the crown roast. The only good thing about the roast was that it bled when he cut into it.

He shoved the piece of meat into his mouth, chewed the tender chunk, swallowed, and forced a smile. “Good.” Pause. “Dear.”

His duty was to be kind. Loving. His duty was to serve his country by being as civil as possible.

“Excellent.” Meredith popped a piece of her own roast into her mouth, chewed, swallowed. “I’ve more tweaking to do, but it’s not bad. Needs more cumin.”



Three months. Shit.

Three months in country, pretending to be a company man, a good father, a good neighbor, church-going and content with Sunday football and Friday night poker with the boys.

Erickson often remembered what it was like, back home in the military, where he was free to kill. Where he was free to take risks. Where he was free, goddamn it, to take a shit in a hole in the ground and not have his ass come anywhere near porcelain.

He hated porcelain. He didn’t understand why, in country, it was normal to both eat and then shit on porcelain.


“Honey. Really, if you don’t like it, say so. I’ve got investors coming in next week.” Meredith plunged her fork back into the roast, slashed off another hunk, and slid it into her mouth. As she chewed, she continued, “They’re hoping to open another shop based off this dish.”

“Restaurant,” Erickson said. “You don’t do shops. You do restaurants.”

Meredith smiled. “Of course. But honey if you don’t like it....”

“It’s fine. You’ll do well. Another restaurant. The investors will love it.”

Erickson set his fork down on the porcelain plate, which cracked.

“I’m going for a walk.”



Meredith knew the score. She understood, when she became a civilian wife, what it would mean. Not everyone is cut out, her mom warned her, to be a civilian wife. But she made the best of it. She performed her duty. She built a small business, she created a home, she waited patiently, and three months ago had been rewarded with her first soldier. Garrett Erickson.

He occupied her heart. He occupied her mind.

He hated her cooking. Certainly regulation held that he respect her offerings--the quiches, the emperor ducks, the Belgian waffles--but Meredith could tell Erickson longed for something less tasteful, more Spartan. When he threw a simple dish of lasagne against the wall and cried out, “Can’t I have some goddamn dried beets with hot sauce,” Meredith tried to understand.

“Now it’s garbage, “ Erickson shouted as the lasagne rolled down the wall.

“Now I understand,” Meredith thought. “He doesn’t want to be here.”


Erickson managed a few more bites of the crown roast. He sampled the rosemary potatoes, and choked back some of the red wine. “I’m going out,” he said.

“I understand,” Meredith said. “Just don’t be out too long.”

“Got it,” Erickson said. To be out too long would mean AWOL. To be out too long would mean the civ police searching for him. Meredith, too, had certain duties, and part of those duties involved the assurance that Erickson upheld his own.

Society existed so that the military had a reason to exist. Erickson understood that. The only way the military survived was because society protected it. Without society, the military ceased to exist.

Three months into his tour, a taste of crown roast in his mouth, Erickson left the dinner table to go meet up with some of the others who had been drafted into preserving military.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Somebody that I keep running into

Never heard of Gotye but his song, "Somebody That I Used to Know," has lately haunted my web browser.

It's a good song. Very dramatic. Good lyrics. Nice melodic hook.

Here's the original video:

The video features Kimbra. I've no idea who she is, either.

There's a cover video by some group of people who cannot afford more than one instrument. Note the longshoreman home for the weekend, on the right.


Incidentally, the same group (with the longshoreman) did a cover of Malvina Reynold's 'Little Boxes,' which is pretty damn good:
And there's a parody of the cover that is really excellent:




Then there's this cover, a cappella:


And apparently 'Glee,' a show I used to know, doing their own version:

Seriously, 'Glee,' you need to throw some furniture at the characters to give them real scenery to chew. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Peep Show

I remember my father telling me, "The eyes of God are on us always." The eyes of God. What a phrase to a young boy. What were God's eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed. And I wonder if it was just a coincidence I made my specialty ophthalmology.

As a kid, I had a habit of staring at the sun, usually while sitting in the silver-bodied, maroon-upholstered backseat of my parents' Pontiac Grand Prix. I'd look out the back window at the sun, and if I stared long enough I'd see the image of the Virgin Mary. The image was never clear, but the center of the sun would lose its fiery orange color, become a soft blue, become the silhouette of a feminine figure dressed in a soft, flowing veil and undulating robes.

And I'd shut my eyes. The sunlight through my eyelids was yellow and red. Years later, when I saw Andres Serrano's Piss Christ for the first time, I'd recognize the hue. It was the hue one sees while looking at the sun with eyes closed.


+++

For good measure, I also stared at total solar eclipse once, even though I'd been informed of the possible retinal nightmare resulting from naked eye observation.

+++

The most terrifying thing you can tell a child is that God watches over us. And not only God, but deceased aunts and uncles and great-grandparents watch as well. The afterlife is one big peep-show.

+++

My family told me how many unseen eyes were watching over me, so I stared back. Sitting in the backseat of my parents' car. Staring down the Virgin Mary buried in the center of the sun. Then searching for her in an eclipse, relieved the moon concealed her from me--and me from her. "Aha," I thought as I glared up at the corona of the sun, a giant circle of nothingness where the Virgin Mary usually appeared, "the way to avoid constant intrusion is to look for ways to conceal and be concealed."

I was like a baby playing peek-a-boo. If I couldn't see, I couldn't be seen.

This would come in handy when I hit puberty.

+++

One consequence of this incessant sun-gazing was that I nearly went blind. Took some time for me to notice, and even longer for others to notice.

I developed an awkward relationship with earthbound inanimate objects. Desks appeared out of nowhere. Walls rose up to smack me in the face. Bike-riding went from an intuitive flow of streets and sidewalks to a unexpected obstacle course, where cars both parked and in motion sprang out at me with little warning.

One day, riding my bike, I managed to hit the stationary landbarge of an elderly neighbor, a giant old Buick which hadn't moved from its spot on the street in years. I slammed into the back bumper. My bike went one way, I went another, and as hands picked me up I heard the word "glasses" mentioned.

So I got glasses. Heavy, thick, world-clarifying glasses.

+++

Hamlet (I'd read years later) tells a long-time friend, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Or something along those lines--I could google the exact quote, but as a semi-blind person I'm satisfied with the approximation rather than the exact.

It's tiring to be exact when you spend most of your day second-guessing your own eyesight. When I got glasses, I realized the world around me was much more terrifying than dead relatives and Virginal sun-centric images.

Nuclear war, for one. Terrifying.

Sometimes, while watching the nightly news, I'd take off my recently-acquired glasses. Peek-a-boo(m!).

+++

And sometimes, I still glance up at the sun. I'll take my glasses off, and stretch out on the grass. Read. Try to get a tan through the chemicals of sunscreen slathered all over me, as if those chemicals aren't worse than the actual naked sunlight. Tire of the book, shut my eyes and see the colors of Piss Christ thru my eyelids.

Tire of that, too.

I'll open my eyes, stare into the sun, and see nothing at all. Just a flaming ball of physics and atmosphere, and the burning of my retinas distorting the center of the sun into a mirage of whatever shape I want to see. When I was a kid, it was the Virgin Mary. Now, all I see is a bruise where the center of the sun used to be.

My ophthalmologist has become my new pastor. He can't prevent me from harming myself, but he certainly makes me feel guilty enough to keep me in line--I don't stare at the sun nearly as often as I want to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There's an old joke

So when I was kid--which, by the way,  was a great time to be a kid since it's most always a great time to be a kid unless it isn't a great time to be a kid. And let's face it: there are a lot of great times to not be a kid, but this was a great time to be a kid. Trust me. I was there. I know.

Anyway, so when I was a kid, there was this joke we'd tell to one another. We kid-lings would be standing in line waiting to enter the cafeteria for our ersatz hamburgers (made from soy, which was this strange mythical beast-meat imported from Berkley, CA, and molded into a patty-like shape then fed to us by hair-netted lunch ladies swaddled in smocks and plastic gloves), or we'd be standing in line to enter the library for storytime, or we'd be standing in line to enter the gym for Enforced Physical Activity Awareness Hour, where a Coach who had recently gone AWOL from the Army would divide us into sexes and force the boys to do grueling exercises as the girls listened to music and practiced their skills at undermining one another's emotional self-confidence, or we'd be sitting in class waiting for the bell to signal our free-and-clear sanctioned release back to the real world, and we'd tell this to one another.

Over and over.

The Joker: Hey, you know, if your hand is as big as your face, it means you're gonna get cancer.


The Jokee (invariably holding a spread-out hand to his or her face): ...Really?


The Joker (shoves Jokee's spread-out hand into his or her face): Yup.

Kids loved cancer jokes back then. It was a simpler time.

Another joke from my childhood was about Helen Keller. Helen Keller jokes were all the rage when I was a kid because I grew up near Ivy Green. I grew up where Ms. Keller grew up.

The Joker: You know how to punish Helen Keller?


The Jokee: No.


The Joker [variation one]: Leave a plunger in her toilet.


The Joker [variation two]: When she goes out, rearrange all the furniture in her bedroom.

Another joke

The Joker: Why is Helen Keller's leg yellow?


The Jokee: I dunno.


The Joker: Because her dog was blind too! Get it? Get it? Because the dog peed on her leg!

Kids also loved jokes about those less fortunate than themselves. Cancer and Helen Keller. Hi-lar-ious! Comedy gold.

Another popular joke in the kiddom, standing in all those lines awaiting whatever horrible culinary and exertion fates in store for us, was this knee-slapper:

The Joker: Why did the hairstylists' dog say, "Bowsy-wowsy"?


The Jokee: I dunno.


The Joker: Because his dog was a fag too! Get it? 


The Jokee: Yeah.


The Joker: Because all hairstylists are faggots!

Man, we'd tell that joke to one another over and over again, and laugh until either milk came out of our nose or the librarian would send us to detention or the AWOL coach would make us do laps around the court.

Good times.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Time This Guy Looked Under Martin Luther King's Hotel Bed

Here's a conversation, word for word, as I heard it.


Older gentleman: Did I ever tell you about the time I looked under Martin Luther King's bed?

Me: ...No.

OG: I didn't?

Me: No. Not that I recall. Why--

OG: I can't believe I never told you this.

Me: Why would---

OG: So I was working in a hotel down in Birmingham, Alabama? Working at a--yeah, all the famous Black people used to stay there. It was awful back then. 1958 or so. You know--

Me: I'm from Alabama. I've heard. Firehoses and--


OG: You're from Alabama? You don't have an accent. What part?


Me: I do when I'm tired. And The Shoals area. Florence.

OG: Florence! That's WC Handy. That's where he's from.


Me: Right.

OG: His aunt taught me. Went to school with his aunt, she taught me. He didn't leave a dime to her. You know that? He didn't leave a dime.

Me: I don't know that he had a dime to leave her.

OG: Is that right?

Me: I don't know.

OG: Hm?


Me: That he had a dime.


OG: Hm.

Me: I don't know.


OG: So you're from Florence.

Me: Lots of people are.

OG: But you don't have an accent.

Me: Only when I'm tired. Helen Keller was from the area too.

OG: Helen Keller. She was fucked up.

Me: I--

OG: Pardon me. But she was fucked up. A deaf--she couldn't hear, she couldn't see, she could barely talk. She--

Me: She did quite well for herself.

OG: If I ever was like that, put a bullet in me. No way I could do that. I'm from Birmingham. You know, lots of people are from Birmingham. Carl Lewis, Tallulah Bankhead, Jesse Owens. Condi Rice was down there too. You know I knew her?

Me: No.

OG: Awful. Awful woman.

Me: So you looked under Martin Luther King's bed?

OG: Yes. Looked under his bed. I was at this hotel, see, and I was young. Pretty young. I was in charge of bringing up all this stuff to guests, food and whatever else they needed, and that was my job, right. And all the famous Black people stayed at my hotel because it was Birmingham in the--must've been 1957, 58, somewhere around in there, and I worked at the place for Black people to stay. It was different back then. You're young. You don't remember how it was. Why should you?

Me: I've heard the--

OG: And so I was sent up to deliver Martin Luther King his dinner. He'd just been stabbed. He answered the door himself. He'd just been stabbed. In the heart. Some woman had just stabbed him in the heart, and here he is. No bodyguards, no secret service, nothing. He's in that room alone, and he answers the door. I could've had anything in my hand. I could've--you know what--I could've been a member of the KKK. Just got a tray in my hand. Could've had a gun for all he knew.


Me: And you--of course, the KKK, and all you did was--


OG: And I was sent up there with a purpose, keep that in mind. Everyone downstairs was saying, He's up there, he's got a woman with him. Martin was married, keep in mind. He was married at the time, and it wasn't his wife up there with him, so I was sent up there to find out if he had a woman up there. So I was gonna look under his bed. There wasn't a soul in his hotel room that I could see. Except for him, and he handed me--I remember--he handed me 50 cents for the meal and the tip and I, you know what I did, I did this, I dropped one of the quarters.

[Two things: This man has the subtlety of a sledge-hammer, and I can't believe 50 cents used to pay for room service]


OG: Dropped that quarter, and then went down on my knees. I don't mean I went down on my knees that way. Went down just to look under the bed. People today, you know, think going down on my knees might mean something else.


Me: Didn't occur to me that you went down on--

OG: Went down on my knees to look under the bed. No one under there. The only thing I saw was my quarter. So Martin Luther King was standing over me--and I'm just down there to see if there's some lady hiding under the bed--Martin is above me and he's thanking me.


Me: That is kinda cool. You met Martin Luther King and--

OG: And so I go back downstairs--

Me: --and he tipped well.

OG: --and everyone asks if I found the woman. Right. And it occurs to me, sure, I looked under the bed, but I didn't check the bathroom or the closet.

Me: Good places to hide.


OG: She could be in other places, you see.

Me: Like the quarter under the bed or in your pocket.

OG: He liked women. [pause] This other time, I went up to a room, and there was a man there in sunglasses. A woman too. She was in panties. She excused herself and went to the bathroom. I'm standing there asking, Why is there a woman in panties? And I ask the man, man it is night. Why are you wearing sunglasses. What are you, you blind or something. And the man says he's blind. 'Yes, I'm blind,' he says. It's Ray Charles.

Me: Ray Charles?

OG: Ray Charles. The--I didn't know who he was at the time. And I kept thinking, "Why is that woman in her panties in there? How can he find his way down--does he go on smell?"

Me: Maybe--

OG: So that's how I learned about Ray Charles. He's not from Birmingham.

Me: Maybe he's from.... I think he's from Georgia.

OG: See, I don't see why that woman was in there. Panties. She was running around in panties, and he didn't see it. Had some sunglasses on, and blind, and I still don't understand why she was there. Why do you think she was there?

Me: Maybe she--

OG: I was there for a good period. All the famous Blacks stayed there at one time or another. I still wish I'd looked in Martin Luther King's bathroom. Bet he had a woman standing just right there, next to the sink. Maybe another one in the closet.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The exotic food challenge

Going to a friend's apartment for dinner Saturday:


Ethan: Hey. Do you eat calves brain? brains

me: I cannot imagine why you would even ask me that.

Ethan: huh?

me: I'm sorry... I didn't realize you were serious. No, I don't. The idea of anything-brains is gross.

Ethan: oh. That's strange.

me: I don't think so. I don't know many people who have brains, let alone eat them.

Ethan: I grew up eating it.

me: Is this an AHS thing?

Ethan: no. It's a jewsih thing.

 me: Hm. I'm cowed by the very idea.

Ethan: bahhh...bad pun.

me: It was moo-tivated by disgust.

me: I'm utterly grossed out by the idea.

Ethan: that's strange.

me: *Udderly, I should say. I appreciate you dugs it, I suppose.

Ethan: ...

 me: Well, diet is a grey matter. There's no acownting for taste. I'm moogling recipes tho, to see if there's something too it.

Ethan: ...

me: I cortex you the best recipes, if you like.

Ethan: I spinal cord you to stop being lame :-P

me: I'm not being lame. I'm being amoosing.

me: Googling seems to discount the idea that this is a common food. At least among the goy. Interesting. Oh god, people eat the tongue a lot.

Ethan: Of course. You don't eat tongue?

me: Jesus, I've got to just go vegetarian.

Ethan: You seriously didn't know that people eat tongue?

me: I'd actually forgotten. And was happy to have forgotten.

Ethan: why? it's delicious.

me: I like my meat depersonalized (deanimalphied?) and inscrutable. If it resembles a body part, or has the words brains, testicles, hoof, or snout in it, I don't want it.

Ethan: Tongue doesn't look like tongue.

me: I can't even eat pork butt.

Ethan: I don't eat pork.

me: Of course not. Tho it is, I understand, possible to eat kosher pork.

Ethan: only if its not from pig.

me: I thought it was all in the way it's prepared.

Ethan: the way it's prepared in the sense that it's prepared from pig

me: Oh, I thought it had to be blessed or something. It's odd you can eat the brain of an animal, but god forbid you touch shellfish or swine.

Ethan: not really. Brain is only strange for you becuase you never ate it.

me: No. As I said, I googled. It's strange in general.

Ethan: No it isn't.

me: Well. I suppose cooking up Waf and serving him with some haggis wouldn't be unusual somewhere.

Ethan: Ooh, Haggis is delic.

me: I know actual Scots who find it repellant. Still, I always want to try it each Burns Day. (Which, as far as I can tell, is the Scottish attempt to have a Bloomsday)

Ethan: When i was in scotland with some friends, i had haggis, and one of my companions had vegetarian haggis it was sooo lame. if you're going to havfe haggis, you go all the fucken way.

me: Yes. Of course.

me: Tho I'm now reconsidering dinner with you guys. If you're gonna serve calf brains, then serve a lot of aperitifs first.

Ethan: Actually, i think we're serving lamb brains. The recipe calls fro one calf brain or two lamb brains

 me: Brain't saying I wouldn't try it, but pretty sure I'd gag a bit just at the idea. It's all in the head, I realize.

Ethan: ... aight, i'm sleepy bed time now. ttyl.

 me: Sheep well. So, should we bring anything for dinner Saturday? Ipecac? A stomach pump? Iocaine powder?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Three Smiles of Whitney Houston

1.

I'm in the back seat of a car heading from New Orleans to Florence, Alabama. I'm twelve years old. I have a Walkman and headphones, and I'm listening to Whitney Houston's first album, on cassette tape.

I stare at the cassette cover. Listening to the music--her voice--I flip the cassette case in my fingers, opening and closing it as the car sails along the highway. Whitney's face, her white dress, her shoulders, the pearls. The flowers. I flip the case open, then closed. Open. Closed. Whitney, then no Whitney.

And I'm not really paying attention to much else--I'm not even sitting upright in the back seat of the car--I'm spread out on my side, my head at one end, my feet pressed against the other side of the car. I'm tap-dancing against the armrest of the door.

The headphones come loose. Mom has reached back, plucked them from my head. "Your dad asked what you were listening to." Mom smiles at me.

"This," I reply, and wave the flapping case of the cassette tape in her face.

"Whitney Houston," Mom tells Dad.

"Oh, she's pretty," Dad tells Mom. "She's really beautiful."

This is the first time I've ever heard my dad say a woman of color is beautiful.

Mom asks for the cassette, and inserts it into the car's player. Riding down the highway, all three of us sing along to "How Will I Know." As I sing, I can't help but think about Dad's attraction to Whitney Houston, and how perhaps he and I aren't so different.

2.

"I Will Always Love You," the video, played constantly on Mtv when I was in high school. The best moment of the video came when Whitney looked at the camera--she was sitting in a chair on a stage, and there was some smoke rolling in, and you could see the bare boards and the bricks and the curtain, and she'd look dead at the camera, which zoomed in--and there'd be a pause in the music.

Silence.

"I wi-ish you lo-oOve,"Whitney would sing.

Then pause. Pinter pause. Long and unusual. The camera zoomed in, her eyes would close, the smoke would roll in around her, and then BOOM her eyes would open, the camera would pull back and no more stage. No more curtains. No more smoke. Boom, and Whitney, still in her chair, was in the middle of a winter wonderland.

And she would hit that note.

"I----I will always love you."

That note. That 'I.' Not many people can do it. It's a note out of a dead sleep, this 'I,' it's a note from nowhere. In the film 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch,' the two cynical characters even manage to acknowledge they wish they could hit that note.

Studio editing? No--Whitney hit that note in live performance. Nailed it to the wall.

As I said, the song played constantly on Mtv when I was in high school. Also playing constantly: my desire for a certain male friend. He was straight and he knew it, and I was gay and I knew it, and we bonded over Whitney's incredible 'I' note.

Straight guy: "She hits it. She just hits it everytime."

Gay me: "From a dead-stop, she goes to 60mph."

Straight guy: "And she's pretty."

Gay me, silently: So are you.


3.

I didn't keep up with Whitney Houston, or any pop musicians. I didn't know Whitney had become a joke until well into the 'Being Bobby Brown' reality show, when Whitney's antics began to hit the blogs.

Fun fact: when Whitney's antics hit the blogs, I was matching her antic for antic.

For about a year, I snorted or smoked anything. I was so bad off that I ended up at a party with Jimmy Fallon. Even worse: Jimmy Fallon left because of me.

Greg had no clue about all of this. Then he did have a clue.

When Greg found out, he said this: "I will always love you."

He also said this: "Get help, or I'll leave you."

So I got help. I went to a meeting to help me, and it was awful. Greg went with me. Both of us sat in metal chairs and listened how drugs destroyed the lives of others. We listened to one guy exclaim, "I have heard all of you tell me why I shouldn't want to smoke meth. I haven't heard any of you tell me why I do want to smoke it."

A few years later, I said this to Greg: " Whitney Houston is coming back."

Greg said this: "Her voice is wrecked."

Me: "But she's trying."

Greg: "If she can still hit that note, all will be forgiven."

Me: "Even if she can't hit that note, I'll forgive her."

Here's the thing: Part of my recovery was because of Whitney Houston. Part of my bonding with my parents was because of her. Part of my coming out was because of her. I really wanted her to be clean, and to hit that note again, but she failed.

She failed, even though she had every chance.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Book

I'm not a fan of sci-fi books.

Not true. I am not a fan of sci-fi books asterisk.

+++

Asterisk: Most sci-fi books are terrible.

+++

For my birthday a few months back, a friend gave me a copy of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Here's what the book has to say about itself, on the cover: Here is Heinlein's masterpiece--the brilliant spectacular and incredibly popular novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a classic in a few short years. It is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars who taught humankind grokking and water-sharing. And love.

That's the quote on the cover. A blurb. A synopsis.

A quote from the book: "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault."

The first thing I want to know, when picking up a sci-fi book, is why women deserve to be raped.

Good job.

Here's another quote from the cover of the book: The Most Famous Science Fiction Novel Ever Written. The designer of the cover showed restraint by eschewing exclamation points.

Another quote from the book: "She had explained homosexuality... and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such."

Seriously, that's a quote from this book, this Most Famous Science Fiction Novel Ever.

I'd offer a summary of the book, but it'd be a dull summary. The most complicated thing about the book is the initial set-up: Some years previous, humanity sent a carefully-selected crew to Mars, and that carefully-selected crew fucked around and produced a baby and then all of the crew died. The baby lived. Like Mowgli, the baby was raised by another species--Martians, who were already on Mars and doing quite well before the Earth-sent spaceship landed on their planet.

The Mowglian character of Stranger in a Strange Land, Martian-raised, is eventually brought to Earth. He does not grok the ways of Earth or Earthlings. Like Mowgli, Valentine Michael Smith spends most of his time in one place explaining how wonderful his time in another place was. Raised by Martians, Valentine Michael Smith on Earth says this: I do not grok you people here on Earth. Mars makes more sense to me.

Raised by the animals of the jungle, Mowgli says this: I do not understand you people here in the village. The jungle makes more sense to me.

And, again, Heinlein says this: Nine out of ten raped women had it coming, and it's always best to avoid homosexuals.

I do not like the book. I'm happy to have read it, but it is an awful book. I hate it so much that I wish it were a human being so I could do it harm.

The word 'grok' is a terrible word, and is used over and over again in Stranger in a Strange Land. Valentine Michael Smith "groks" everything. He groks water, he groks grass, he groks rape. He doesn't grok fucking dudes, though.
 
Grokking. It's like 'smurfing,' but with less nuance.

'Grok' means this:  to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

+++


Ugh.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let's to the Ed

I'd forgotten how fun it is to write crackpot letters to the editor.

The following is in response to this.

Early in January, 2004, my boyfriend and I left Alabama to live in New York City. We didn’t consult John Locke or Thomas Aquinas. We did, however, secure a U-Haul.

I read Larry Clayton’s recent op-ed with some interest (not a lot of interest; just a bit of interest), and I admit the op-ed was very well-cited. Mr. Clayton tossed out a lot of citations, as if he were a small-town cop trying to make a quota on traffic tickets.

He cited the Bible, Locke, Aquinas, Clinton, Obama, Congregationalists, Christians, Judeo-Christians, and Jessica Stern.

Jessica Stern, for those of you who don’t live in New York City, is the leader of Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. For those of you who live in New York City, you may be interested to know there’s a Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; you may even be interested to know that Jennifer Stern is your leader.

All hail Jessica Stern!

Larry Clayton says this: Very clearly, homosexuality is condemned in the Judeo-Christian context. “Rights” as such simply do not apply in the equation of sin and homosexuality.

What he means to say is this: Homosexuals were never covered by Jesus Christ--not once did Jesus complain about Peter rogering Paul.

Jesus did say a lot of really nice things, but he never got around to giving his views on gay marriage. Most people who claim to know what Jesus said ignore this. Most people who claim to speak for Jesus forget just what Jesus said.

Larry Clayton also says this: As slavery lost usefulness, for example, in the West because of changing economic circumstances in the 19th century, the pressure to end it became powerful.

Mr. Clayton will never be cited for anything (except perhaps a traffic ticket, and in this response to his op-ed) because Mr. Clayton has a poor understanding of economics. Not to be too cheeky, but Mr. Clayton doesn’t get how much money gay weddings will pump into local economies. If Mr. Clayton really thinks the reason slavery’s end was because of ‘changing economic circumstance,’ then he’s rather shaky on the economics of gay marriage.

We're in a recession. If you want to change economic circumstances, Mr. Clayton, you should admit there's nothing more beneficial to economics than gay weddings.

Larry Clayton also says this, about Clinton and Obama: That they are both Ivy League-trained lawyers (Harvard and Yale) would no doubt have Puritan and Congregationalist ministers who founded the colleges turning over in their graves, or perhaps coming out of them to lecture their descendants.

Sir, I’m sorry you are not Ivy League-trained. I’m not either. Nor are any of my family Ivy League-trained. When I left Alabama--with my boyfriend who is now my husband--my untrained family in Alabama supported me just as much as I’m sure your own family supported you when you left your own state to make a new life for yourself.

Here's the thing: Most people are happy to love those who love them back. It's absurd to suggest that love depends on the contents of Larry Clayton's Kindle: Before marrying, should one crib from Aquinas, or Locke? Sartre, or Camus?

I've been with my husband for nearly twelve years--should I wait for Stephanie Meyer to approve of our relationship?

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