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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Poor Defense of a Christmas Standard: What IS in that drink?

Isn't this a duet? Where's Marilyn Maxwell?
"Baby It's Cold Outside" was--and remains--a song written by Frank Loesser in the late 1940s. Loesser, who is mostly known for writing music and lyrics to Broadway shows like Guys and Dolls, was not a man to weigh the pros and cons of the burgeoning feminist movement (one of his better-known songs, after all, is called 'A Secretary is Not a Toy'), but "Baby It's Cold Outside" has, in recent years, become a notoriously tone-deaf Christmas standard of lust, date-rape, and perhaps a bit of rohypnol.

I think the tone-deafness is actually in the modern ear of the listener, however.

Stay with me; I'm not defending Bill Cosby here.

First off, the song was written in 1947, and was performed at parties by Loesser and his then-wife, Lynn Garland. Garland adored the song and considered it "their" song. She loved topping off a night of entertaining by performing it, and was very angry when Loesser sold the rights to the song to MGM, making it less "our song" and more a Frank Loesser song.

In 1947, women were not Carrie Bradshaw. Obviously. The song, when first heard way back in the days before Helen Gurley Brown made her mark with Sex and the Single Girl, meant something else to listeners. Just as certain gay 'tells' were necessary to get the true character of a young man across to audiences, so to were there certain ways to reveal the very genuine character of the woman singing in this duet. The infamous 'Say, what's in this drink?' would've come across as such a tell to the audience back then. The woman is not suspicious of being slipped a mickey. She's genuinely curious, and feeling the temptation society says to her she must deny.

Lookit. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was not acceptable, even during a blizzard, for a woman to sleep over at a man's house unless that man was her father, her brother, or her husband. Her counterpoint to the man's reminder that 'it's cold out there' is to run through all the things others in her life would say should she agree to do what she is contemplating doing. This idea--that a woman might fear staying inside where it is warm and safe over braving a blizzard of disapproval and a cold world--is indeed and thankfully strange to anyone born after, say, 1980 (or 1990 in some warmer regions of the US).

She is not, and it is not written to imply, being railroaded into a night of date rape. The woman in the song is, yes, being boringly coy--like, typical male-fantasy-level coy; but Loesser isn't one to keep things simple. Most of the women characters he brought to Broadway seem, at first blush, to be vapid and meek but his lyrics (and the women who portrayed those female characters) bring a bit more to the table than just fainting couches and pearl-clutching and victimhood. There's a brilliance, for instance, behind Miss Adelaide's dim-bulb exterior; hell, even the song, mentioned above, about how secretaries are not toys has a brittle honesty in how women are not, for the love of god and no my boy, "toys," but useful and valuable members of the work-place.

There's a reason, for instance, Robert Morse, who starred in the original show from which that song comes--How to Succeed In Business without Really Trying--was asked to play the elder statesman on "Mad Men". Matt Weiner, Mad Men's creator, understood that the connection between that distant Pulitzer Prize-winning musical and his workplace drama was needed. Both share themes. It's just that Loesser lacked Weiner's modern, post-feminist experience.

Anyway, back to "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Interestingly, the woman singing the song, and doing much of the heavy lifting of the song, is usually called a "mouse." I do not consider her a mouse at all.

The song is not about a lecherous man pulling out all the stops, and perhaps some date rape drugs, to hold a woman against her will. It is about a woman trying to remind herself of all the reasons she shouldn't do what society tells her is wrong. The song, quite apart from being an anti-feminist piece of Rat Pack schlock, is the early stirrings of woman liberation.

No? Look, the end of the song. That crescendo. The two voices, the woman and the man, join in a moment of absolute agreement. Baby, it's cold. Baby it's cold outside. There's no hesitation. The man has managed to assure the woman he gets why she's hesitant. The woman understands he's aware of the consequences for her.

Certainly, to modern ears, this all sounds like bullshit, but this was the same period where we had Nellie Forbush (that name... oy) being assured of a wonderful enchanted evening, and all sorts of devil-may-care, love-conquors-all bullshit. What Frank Loesser wrote, initially for him and his wife to sing at parties, is about a man creating a safe place for a woman to be herself.

To be clear, I'm not denying this a wholly sexist and vaguely misogynist song. But it is a song of its time. Stripping the woman of her role in the song is just as bad to me as calling Huck Finn a racist novel. Portraying the woman in the song as a helpless victim is almost to infantilize her. So much so that in order for the recent Funny or Die parody to work, the woman must turn into Bruce Willis to break away from her attacker.

That said: This song is so easily misinterpreted it is perhaps, now, in 2015, best we just cut it loose for a while.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Idea for a Story 2

The first one is here, if you're curious.

“Barry.”

Sometimes it seemed important for Barry to say his name aloud. Speaking aloud also reminded Barry he was in possession of a voice, however craggy and cracky it was.

“Barry,” Barry said into the void of his apartment one grey and drizzling Wednesday afternoon. “Bar. Ry.”
The apartment did not respond, as expected, but Barry's point was made all the same: He was Barry, he had a voice, and therefore he had lungs, a heart, and all the organs needed to justify both a name and an ability to speak even in a vacuum.

“Vacuum,” Barry said next. Two 'u's. “Barry.” Two 'r's.

Barry was sitting at his computer, working. For years he'd suffered in a cubicle in an office downtown, working his way up to the level where an office became pointless; several months ago, his manager broke the news to him: “Bar, we've decided to promote you.... raise... work from home... weekly meetings via Skype... lucky bastard...”

Barry accepted the promotion without hesitation. “Nothing I do here that I can't do from home,” Barry told his manager.

“One thing you can do from home,” the manager joked, “is work in your underwear.” Then a pause. “Please, though, when we do the Skype thing, make sure you're wearing pants.” Another pause. “And a shirt. Please.”

Barry always wore pants while working. He felt there should be a modicum of business decorum. One 'u' for each word.

“Barry.”

The apartment, again, responded to his name without responding at all. Barry glanced at a framed poster of a Picasso painting to his left. It hung on the wall in a way framed posters usually do, which is to say it seemed, always, on the verge of collapse.

It also hung there in a way Picasso prints always hang, which is to say it seemed to vibrate with kinetic energy. Then Barry returned his gaze to the computer screen. A PowerPoint slide. There was a picture of a puppy asleep atop a pile of empty water bottles, and the heading of the slide was “How Can We Make the Uncomfortable Comfortable?”

The entire PowerPoint presentation was due in a half-hour. Barry had no ideas, but he at least had a name. And a pair of pants.

What he did not have was weed, which, as even his manager knew, was a vital component to Barry's work. Tucked into Barry's paycheck each week was an allotment called “Discretion,” which was tax-free for reasons Barry never questioned, and it was a considerable allotment, and it afforded Barry one of the alternate uses for his craggy voice. Barry reached for his iPhone and spoke to it: “Siri,” Barry said. “Call Himself.” After the call was made, Barry texted his manager: “Need more time on the pres. Two hours.”

The manager responded: “Fine. But 1 hr better than 2.”

+++

Barry in pants and shirt, with socks and shoes, no underwear, a hat to hide his mess of hair, a messenger bag, a jacket. This Barry dressed and prepared exited his apartment for the first time in two days—opening the door, Barry heard the apartment sigh as if he'd just opened, from the inside, King Tut's tomb—and hurried down the first of three sets of staircases. As he went down, Albert was going up.

Albert was younger than Barry. He was new to the city and unsure why he'd even moved there. Barry knew Albert lived in the apartment above, with two roommates and three cats, but that was about all Barry knew of Albert.

“Hey,” Barry said.

“How's it going,” Albert responded.

“Not well. I'm out of weed, and have a deadline,” Barry said. Then he clarified: “I only smoke when working. I'm not a stoner, except by trade.”

“Cool.” Albert was polite enough not to point out that Barry's ample frame was blocking his ability to climb the stairs. “So,” Albert said.

Barry, mid-stair, hands on both the wall and the railing, felt something should be said to prolong the conversation, which was his first conversation with a non-computer-screen human in weeks. “So how are the cats?”

“I don't know. They're not my cats.” Albert made a gesture indicating a desire to continue up the stairs.

“Oh.” Barry understood. He realized conversation was not required. His left hand slipped from the railing, and his right slipped from the wall. “Weed,” Barry said. “Deadline,” Barry said.

Albert, already moving past Barry, took a few steps beyond before questioning this odd collection of words. “Hey. Hey! What the fuck does all that mean?”

For the first time in months, Barry found himself in a position, quite literally, of looking up to someone. Albert was near the landing, hands splashed across the railing and the wall, bent at the hip, looking back down at him. If it were a PowerPoint slide, the heading would be, “Exasperation: How Do We Make Youth Less Exasperated?”

“I have a deadline.” Barry shrugged. “We all have deadlines, but mine is in an hour.”

“I meant the weed part.”

“Seriously? Weed. I work best when... What?”

Albert descended the stairs he'd just ascended, and leaned in to Barry. “I live with two girls and three cats. I just moved here. I have no fucking idea where to get weed. I do ten million things all day, every day, and they're all ten million things I like doing but when I come home, I would like... you know?”

“I'll speak to Himself,” Barry said. "If he says it's okay, I'll give you his number.”

“It's okay if not.”

“No, I'll see if he's okay with it.”

“You could just sell me some.”

“No, I don't do that.”

“But it's the same thing.”

“No, it isn't. Puppies on empty bottles.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

Barry took a moment. “I'm not sure. But it means something. I gotta go.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Idea for a Story

A young man--let's call him Gleg--does a kindness to another young man (let's call him Albert, because why not).

After the kindness, both discover the other loves video games, and that each has a subscription to an online gaming service not unlike Netflix...

No, scratch that.

Gleg... Let's not call him Gleg. Avery (why not) lives alone with his cat. He's nearing middle-age, and the type of person who can tell the date and time without consulting a clock or calendar. He wakes up every morning, pads to the kitchen to twist open a can of cat food, then drops the food into a nearby bowl. The sickening sound the 'pluuump' makes as the food disk slides out of the aluminum can into the bowl is strangely pleasant to Avery, and wildly exciting to the cat.

The cat is named Alopecia because the cat is a Sphynx.

No... scratch that. The cat is named Furball, because Avery (why not) is not very imaginative, and the cat is a generic mix of many breeds.

Each morning, Avery finds delight in the cat's delight, and rubs her neck while she eats. As Furball eats, she purrs, and as she purrs, Avery feels her delight in his fingertips. Then he showers, dresses, and walks to the train several blocks away.

He manages to sit in the same seat each day because he is at the beginning of the line. He chooses the same car, the same seat, and waits with the train to begin its journey into work.

No... scratch it.

Each morning is a mystery to Avery. And this one particular morning is no exception. The train, stuffed with humans of various sizes, volumes, devices, and intentions, are crowding the train which has been at work much longer than Avery. Avery is a part of the train's long journey. He is not, of course, simpatico with the train's day--he is merely stuffing himself into the train's busy schedule.

Avery is dressed for work. He is wearing a dark button-down shirt tucked into khakis, with Furball hair cris-crossing the back of the shirt. He has on his sneakers. His hair is combed, as usual, but also as usual the breeze constant across the world has knocked his hair out of sorts. When the train resumes forward momentum, for the first time in his life Avery lurches into another human being.

The human--a male--is jostled so hard that he drops a syringe. The syringe falls to the floor of the train and Avery, still trying to correct his own balance, accidentally steps on it with his sneaker, smashing it into....

Nah. Scratch that.

The human--a male--is jostled so hard that he drops a piece of paper he'd been clutching in his hand. The human male also drops himself, falling backwards, reaching out with his hands for something to hold and finding only other humans with which to steady himself. Feeling guilty, Avery bends over to retrieve the paper, and sees the words, "your deaths" and "justified." The color drains from Avery's face as he realizes

Ick. No. Scratch that extra hard.

Avery bends over to retrieve the paper, and sees the words, "my death" and "better off." Avery, who makes it a point never to pry into the business--or the papers--of others, exercises a rarely used ability: he skims. Most of us skim things we shouldn't, but Avery never does. Skimming is a form of eavesdropping. But he skims the paper, then reaches out to the male human still flailing around as other passengers on the train either attempt to steady him or avoid him.

"Sorry." Avery.

"Thanks." Male human.

Avery returns the paper to the male human (what the hell, let's still call him Albert) and says, "If you really want to do this, my office is on the 67th floor of the Tension Building. The windows open. You shouldn't, but it's fine for you to... you know. I'll let you in."

"So you agree I should just end it," Albert says.

Hm. No. Scratch that.

"So we live in the same five story walk-up. Two things, dude: you not even recognizing me and--two--not thinking I could just jump off the roof. Dude. I don't need 67 storeys to hit the ground. I just need five good ones, and I could do that without leaving my apartment."

"So." Avery thinks. "So." Avery continues to think. "So. Ah. I'm sorry. What can I do for you to make you either not do what you, ah, intend to do, or at least making your intentions less unpleasant?"

Avery considers Furball's food taking the long slide from the can, the sickening 'pluuuump' into the bowl, and reaches out to Albert--he extends his thin hand to the shaky human male. "If I can make it through 8 hours, you can."

Albert grasps Avery's hand. Shakes. Avery thinks the handshake feels rather papery and flimsy before he realizes the suicide note is still clasped in Albert's palm.

At work, Avery

Ugh. No, scratch that. No need to drag it out. Summary: Avery has a weird job, he's so miserable he doesn't realize it, and there's a very amusing incident in the breakroom where he sets a Sharpie on fire.

At home, Avery sits down on his couch and is caressed by Furball. He checks his email, which is empty, then checks his social media sites, which as all as barren as the Moon. Avery takes a quick shower to wash off the day's interactions, then returns to his computer, opens GSG, and selects a game. He's made a point, over the past year, to stop purchasing games from GSG. He's also finished most of the purchased games many times. So he's torn: keep up his resolve and not spend more money; or buy a new game.

No scratching. Just get to the point. Yaddayaddayadda: Albert.

Avery calms Furball. Albert wipes the blood from his left hand. "So. Yeah."

"Sorry. I should've warned you. The cat can be a bit much if you just grab at it."

"Right. Fair enough."

"I'm Avery," Avery says.

"Albert."

"Albert." Avery seems to consider the name. "Sorry, Albert. I didn't mean to knock you down and didn't mean to read your suicide note."

"It happens." Albert stares at Avery for a moment. "Anyway. So I just came down to repay you."

"But--I knocked you down. I didn't do anything." Avery stroked Furball, sandwiched between his crossed arms.

"You did two things. You offered me kindness, and you offered me an apology. It's nice. People are nice. They just aren't enough."

"You aren't still considering... you know." Avery meant it to be a question, but it was no question.

"No." Albert shakes his head. Stares at Albert. Shakes his head again. "No."

"Ok. Good."

Albert reaches out a hand to Avery. Avery, by habit, allows Furball to drop to the ground and reaches his own hand out. Avery and Albert meet palms.

"I'm giving you access to my GSG account," Albert tells Avery. "I know you like playing games. The whole building hears you screaming obscenities at 3 in the morning."

Avery shrinks back a bit. "No. I... surely that's just when I... I stub my toe on the way to the bathroom or something."

Albert firms his palm against Avery's palm. "You yell at Mario, for chrissakes. You're yelling at crap characters on GSG. The free games. My parents pay for my GSG account. It's expensive. So, when I'm not on it, you can use it. I'll text you the sign in shit."

Avery glances down at Furball. The cat is still on her back, recovering from a sudden drop (cats don't always land on their feet, and that is by choice).

Avery is thinking, You mean I can actually play Fuffut 3 without paying for it?

Avery says to Albert, "Thanks. I'll text you my GSG account info too. You can use it when I'm not on. Too."

Fuffut 3 is a game Albert wanted to play but refused to buy. Patience, he insisted, and patience he has, but the buzz around the game makes him

Scratch that. Point? Avery cannot log into GSG when Albert is on. It is Albert's account.

[Scenes from next weeks 'Idea for a Story': A desperate Avery realizes Albert is seldom off GSG. Albert contracts a sudden illness. Avery meets the love of his life... in a game on GSG.]

Scratch that: GSG kills off Albert because they can make more money off Furball videos posted to Youtube.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Nightvale Novel is Causing a Crisis

Welcome to Nightvale is a podcast. True.

Welcome to Nightvale is now a novel. Also true.

I have always loved radio broadcasts. True. In fact, I used to buy cassettes of old radio shows.

Radio is a dying medium. True.

Print is a dying medium. Eh--dunno.

Here's the thing: Welcome to Nightvale, which I started listening to a few years back, now has a book--a physical, weighable book--out. A recent interview with the writers of said book mentioned the audio version.

As a fan of Nightvale, I can now either go a bookstore and purchase the book; I can go online and purchase the virtual book; I can go online and buy the audio book, which is essentially an extended podcast.

"You like books," Greg told me.

"I am trying to... it's just... I have a screen where I can read--"

"Books. You're the son of a printer."

"I'm the owner of an iPhone 6."

"You like books."

True. I have a lot of books in storage in Alabama, and it feels as if I've been castrated because those books are not with me. Those books are just there, sitting in boxes. And the thing about books is that they smell a bit, and the paper has a raspy sound, and the font declares itself.

"You read and you criticize the paper. Get the damn book."

"But I can just buy it online. Do I want it as a---"

"Get the book. The physical, actual book."

There is something magical about having a book. The pages turn. They feel crisp between the fingers, and they sound oh they sound like a release, a sigh, when they flip over to the next page. And G's right: the font is important. And he's right: paper. The weight, the texture, the....oh god, the kearning.

Books are not made for light carriage. They are things to be held, and considered, and contemplated.

"Just admit you don't like iBooks."

I'm old. My nuts are so low because my books are missing, and I've pretended for years that iBooks was a decent substitute.

It isn't. True

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Medium is the Missage

Across various platforms the other day, I wrote or had conversations about  Star Wars. Hardly a thing unique to me: with the reveal of the new and final Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer, most everyone was either talking or typing about Star Wars, or else enduring those of us who couldn't shut up about it.

'Cept I wasn't breaking down the trailer, scene by scene, and offering theories on what each shot meant. I wasn't spinning complicated theories over why Luke Skywalker was missing from both the official theatrical poster or the trailer. I wasn't focused on Han Solo's apparent Dana-Scully moment of acceptance that the Force is real. Because I'm a rebel, and a failed geek.

For whatever reason, and after a lifetime of watching the movies, I zeroed in on the apparent lack of mass media in the Star Wars galaxy.

First things first: I am a fair-weather fan of Star Wars. The original trilogy is great, and I've watched those movies many times. I saw the prequel trilogy in theatres one time each, and slept through most of the third movie, which was known as Star Wars: ROTS for a reason. I never ventured into the expanded universe--the tie-in books and games and cartoons, though I'm not opposed to their existence.

Secondly: It turns out the expanded universe is a non-starter now. When Disney acquired the franchise, they cut the fat, and the fat was the vast expansion of the core of the galaxy far, far away. No matter what happened in that expanded universe, it is all neither here nor there. So far, what has happened in the original six movies is all that matters in that galaxy.

To those who've tried to say my thought experiment is flawed because I did not toe the waters of the murky expansion, I say there is nothing there to consider. The films are my focus.

And the films, as George Lucas has said, are meant to be echoes of one another. "You see the echo of where they're gonna go," he said in a behind-the-scenes short. "They're like poetry. They rhyme."

True, not all poetry rhymes, and I'd argue that he lost the meter in the prequels, but okay, George. Your creation, your rules. If you can insist with a straight face that there is no underwear in space, then you can say the films you spent most of your life making are rhyming poems. What mortal hand or eye dare question this symmetry?

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan released Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which was surprisingly not a book presaging all the dick-lengthening emails future generations would receive in their email inbox. No, Understanding Media was sort of McLuhan's way of opening Schrodinger's box and explaining, at length, what had just happened. The medium, McLuhan famously stated, was the message. To me, his book is about what happens when the cat--the object of import in Schrodinger's thought experiment--comes to realize the real story is not about the cyanide pill but about the person contemplating the ramifications of peeking into the box.

Anyway, my point here--obscured a bit by a weak analogy--is that A New Hope came out in 1977, the same year McLuhan had gained such notoriety for his thoughts on mass media that he practically invented the double-meta joke by appearing in a fantasy sequence in Annie Hall. In fact, by 1977, people were so obsessed with the concept of media and how media affects us, several films and novels and television shows and New Yorker think-pieces had been released on the subject. Network comes to mind. All the President's Men--the book, then the film--as well.

The idea of media, and its uses, is an interesting subject for me. Which is why, while everyone else was speculating on Luke's absence and why there's a new Death Star in the poster, I was wondering why there is so little memory-retention in all the Star Wars movies.

To contrast, think of Star Trek. Not wanting to get in a geek war over which of the Stars is better: Trek or Wars. I like both. I'm a fan of both. I know random things about both. But from a mere media standpoint, Star Trek is a stronger example of McLuhan's theories if only because for Star Trek there is a reliance on media not present in Star Wars. There is a continuum. People recall previous, defunct cultures and languages, and consult texts, and occasionally come across the future equivalent of news alerts.

True: Star Trek is meant to be our future.

Star Wars is meant to be a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

However, the characters of both Star Wars and Star Trek act in very human-like ways. The characters on the trek are just as relatable to us as the alien forms in the wars. (Spoiler: both the future treks and the past, distant wars were dreamed up by humans.) It's understandable that Star Trek would reference Shakespeare and Milton and The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," a song that happens to mention Spock and therefore causes all sorts of implications. (Schrodinger's Cat would suggest you keep the box closed on that discussion.) And to be fair to Star Wars, we do get one lousy opera and a dance number to give us an idea there is some culture in the galaxy.

It has been pointed out to me that the Empire of Star Wars was a totalitarian regime. North Korea, China, and Soviet Russia were cited as examples of such a regime. Fine, except all of those totalitarian states had state-run media. The Empire, so far as I can tell, lacked even a Baghdad Bob to spread the Good Word of the Empire's deeds. Even Nazi Germany had a media center, and they were killing people with even more gusto than the Empire, so surely the word was spreading without Goebbels. Yet even the Nazis needed a propaganda minister.

FOX News would've loved the obliteration of Alderaan, and given pelnty of coverage. Alas.

(I must pause here to say the one piece of expanded-universe works difficult to strip out of the new Disney property is the Star Wars Holiday Special. Not only did that special introduce Boba Fett, but so far as I can tell, it's one of the only Star Wars properties to include the concept of a mass media for the Empire. There are cooking shows, news bulletins, and even emergency broadcasts from the Empire. Also, Lumpy, Chewbacca's son, consults actual printed material in order to create a droid. Imagine! Someone in Star Wars actually reads instructions before just randomly doing something (blue prints don't count)).

The medium is the message. McLuhan was right, of course. Star Wars is a medium, and it is more truly the message to us than Star Trek could ever be. In one, people recall the recent past, consult texts from time to time, and are aware of the basic concept of news reports.

In the other, everyone seems to have a memory wipe every 20-30 years, no one cites anything more weighty than their own faulty memory, and at no point is anyone seen reading a damn book or watching a documentary or news story.

To me, it is interesting. And I don't--really, I don't--mean to compare Star Wars to Star Trek. It's just a handy comparison, as both the Stars are popular enough to get across the shorthand to my (random) thoughts. Plenty of science fiction and fantasy works integrate media. Star Wars, however, is so stripped of mass media that I find it remarkable.

Going back to North Korea, for instance: if North Korea, a tiny country on a tiny planet in a tiny star system, existed in one of the star systems of Star Wars, and if it still had its state-run media intact, people all across that far-away galaxy would know about each "successful" nuclear missile test NK attempted, and would be convinced the "success" was an actual success, and be terrified of tiny NK. In Star Wars, the Empire tested its Death Star by blowing up an entire planet... and the only person with a clue it happened, aside from those on the planet or the Death Star, was Obi Wan.

What's the use? It reminds me of the end of Dr. Strangelove, when Strangelove demands to know the point of a Doomsday Device if no one knows you have it. The Empire should've video'd that shit and posted it to their propaganda broadcast agency. Otherwise, they risk losing their grip on power and being brought down by a bunch of teddy bears.

And here we are. Thirty years have passed. Han, of all people, is forced to remind the young'uns what happened just a generation back. In Star Wars, there are flying cars, cities that look like Blade Runner, inter-planetary commerce, hyperspace travel... and still, just an oral tradition of passing stories down--and you quite literally need to find the right person to pass down the right story to the right rebel in order to get the story started all over again.

Perhaps the reason there's an echo is because there are so many hollow skulls in Star Wars.

The medium is the message. In this case, the medium is a story about people with such short-term memories they can't quite get why they live in a dystopia full of wonderful inventions, and yet have no libraries, internet, or decent opera.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cosby

Ebony has a cover-story this month that is a cover-story to think about.

As a white guy, it is my sad confession: I seldom use the words 'Ebony' and 'cover-story' and 'think about' in a sentence. Perhaps I should.

Here's the cover for Ebony this month. It's a good cover, and gets right to the point. The point, which is that artists should never believe their own art.

It is true! Picasso was an awful human being. Faulkner was iffy as a person. Dickens sucked. Woody Allen makes a lot of movies I quite like, but there's no ignoring the fact that he married his girlfriend's daughter, nor is there a way of forgetting he may or may not have sexually assaulted his own daughter. (More on that in a bit.)

Mozart? You probably would not enjoy hanging out with him. Same with Wagner and Diego Rivera and TS Eliot and Vivian Maier. The best thing one can do, as a creator of art, is to create.

Bill Cosby didn't just create art, though. He became his creation. For decades, Cosby spent a lot of time and effort being our paternal god: he told us what to say, what to wear, and how to act. One of my favorite stories about Bill Cosby involves Eddie Murphy, who is not an artist I spend much time separating from his art, but... this is pretty good.

If you didn't bother to play the above, which... why would you?... the point is Richard Pryor said everything one needs to say when it comes to Bill Cosby, and the hand-wringing over the legacy of the Cosby Show: "Tell Bill to have a Coke and smile and shut the fuck up."

Here's a thing I try to avoid mentioning: I really like Woody Allen. As a white guy, I think it's an easy thing to admit: Woody Allen makes several good movies, and has a solid stand-up routine. Certainly, he's made some awful life choices and it is always terrible to me to admit my true feelings about his daughter--Dylan.

But as a white guy talking about Bill Cosby? It's worse.

Cosby represents love. Hell, one of my favorite memories was playing a cassette tape of Cosby's "Himself" set for my racist great-grandmother, and watching her laugh her ass off. But the difference between Woody Allen and Bill Cosby has nothing to do with race.

Race is there. It's the reason no one should judge Ebony's cover picture. Race is at the heart of every word written about Cosby.

Woody Allen never pretended to be a model human. He never wrote a book about fatherhood, he never told us to pull our pants up, and he never insisted we should clean up our language.

As a white guy, I've loved Bill Cosby. As a goy, I've loved Woody Allen. But 50+ women have not accused Woody Allen of sexual assault. There is no reason to tell Woody Allen to "have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up."

With Bill, though?

The Cosby Show helped the US get what it is to be Black. It is awful that the show is now ruined for future generations. But the cast continues on, and Cosby--the man and the show--can't put a stop to the careers.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Fair Malady

She's the horse in the horse-race, you see. She's where the bets are placed
Rex Harrison, in 1965, won an Oscar for portraying a misogynist.

Granted, he was portraying a misogynist, and did the part so well that he won an award for it, but he was also portraying that misogynist in a film called "My Fair Lady," which begins with a montage of flowers and has a title implying a femininity one would not expect from a man named 'Rex Harrison'. The film was not called "My Good Man," or "My Man Who Sing-Talks." It did not begin with a montage of fedoras and cigars.

The film was "My Fair Lady," and it begins with montage of flowers, and its main star is Audrey Hepburn. And Rex Harrison won an Oscar for his role. Audrey Hepburn, had she been nominated, would've lost the Oscar to Julie Andrews that year, and Julie Andrews, of course, originated the role of Eliza Doolittle.

Famously, Julie Andrews lost the part of Eliza to Audrey Hepburn in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical that made her a star. In 1965, Rex Harrison won an Oscar for playing the misogynist asshole Henry Higgins opposite Hepburn's Eliza, who was not even nominated for her performance, and Julie Andrews won an Oscar for playing a singing nanny in "Marry Poppins."

"My Fair Lady" won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and a few other awards, even though the Lady of the picture was not even nominated. In fact the lady was not even allowed to sing in the picture she was presumably anchoring: Audrey Hepburn, the eponymous lady of the film, performed her role assuming her voice would be used in the musical parts of the film (the film was, after all, a musical; she was the star of the musical; she was cast over the previous star of the Broadway musical... surely she'd gotten the role for both her acting and her vocal ability).

When watching the film now, you get why Rex Harrison not only managed to transition from his Broadway performance to his Hollywood performance: he managed to win both the Tony and the Oscar for his performance as a misogynist while the Fair Ladies either lost the nomination or failed to get nominated. The film and the play is really all about Henry Higgins, you see. The emphasis of the show is on the possessive "My" and not the fair lady.

The Shaw play upon which the musical is based isn't a feminist screed by any means, but it does have its moments. The Broadway musical is a bit rough, but it breaks some traditions. But ye gods, the musical film is almost unbearable, because it is robbed of charm--you know the lead actress was robbed of her voice, for instance. And that's the whole point of the story. It's like watching Ariel, in "The Little Mermaid", lose her voice, and realizing she forgot to closely read her contract.

Also, "My Fair Lady" won a lot of awards, but Audrey Hepburn didn't even lose because she wasn't even nominated. The actress who did get nominated and win that year was, as I said, Julie Andrews. For "Marry Poppins." The next year, of course, she got nominated for another role as a singing nanny, and lost to Julie Christie.

Julie Christie solved a problem like Maria, and won for "Darling," playing a role described like this: A beautiful but amoral model sleeps her way to the top of the London fashion scene at the height of the Swinging Sixties.

Best Actor that year went to Lee Marvin, for  "Cat Ballou."

The point is that "My Fair Lady" is a terrible musical with some good tunes, and the two women were better off without it. The man who won all the awards for it went on to star in an awful film about singing animals, and is largely forgotten.

And Lee Marvin won an Oscar. For "Cat Ballou."



 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

When Do You Let a Facebook Friend Go?

There are a lot of friends on Facebook who no longer exist.

I've de-friended people before, for a variety of reasons. I've been de-friended, too. The thing about social networks is that sometimes constant social interaction wears one down and makes one realize just how incompatible people can be. Not a big deal, really, until the network becomes sentient and wills itself into the real world.

The real world has a notable thing. Here in the real world, we deal with mortality. And so there are people in my Facebook newsfeed who are no longer de-friend-able. They're dead. Facebook is so long in the tooth that many of us have accumulated a body-count.

Not to be all Carrie Bradshaw about this next sentence (but please feel free to do a close-up on my Mac iBook as I type these next letters): When is it okay to de-friend de-lifed friends?

Without using names, out of respect for the dead, there are a few people over the years who had Facebook pages, and I friended, and suddenly the Facebook pages are more alive than the person(s). In one case, a span of 4 years has passed since the passing, and the person is much less active than his Facebook page.

Which isn't, I must add, a bad thing. The people I know, I want to know them forever. I just don't particularly like being reminded of their demise, over and over, randomly, whenever I try to check up on racist nephews or distraught neighbors. Facebook is a meditation on minutia, not a place to go and be reminded of mortality.

De-friending a dead friend seems like a savage thing. It's killing that person all over again. Not that the person minds, or knows, of course, but there it is: you click a button and suddenly that person is gone from your personal internet--and the internet is of course an extension of your neural network. An extension of your personal brain. Of your mind. Yourself.

Memories are something we hold in our heads. But interactions--comments left, likes 'liked', photos and intimate moments shared--are now a part of those memories. And when you de-friend, you lose a part of a friendship, and a section of memories, and there's no regaining it... unless wayback.com or the Feds can return it to you.

So an anniversary of a friend's death recently came up. A few people posted to his (or her!) page: "Miss you!" "Love you!" "Profound and long statement marking your passing!"

And I realized my Facebook page has a body-count. My existence has a body-count. In real life, I press on, and remember from time to time the people I've lost, and I choose when to remember. On Facebook, I'm told to recall this or that person.

In real life, I may get a scent of something, and remember a person I once loved who is now dead, and smells much differently.

In real life, I may touch a piece of fabric, recall a moment, and realize just how lost that moment is.

In real life, I may. Just may. I may, and my brain will wrinkle and neurons will fire, and I'll think of someone who is no longer there.

With Facebook? The dead appear again and again. Social networks. The internet in general. You're not allowed to release, and have the nice surprise of recollection. You sign on, and are confronted with mortality.

And no fabric-touching to give you some comfort.

Monday, September 7, 2015

All Phenomena Are Familial

The funny thing about being from Alabama is that everyone assumes the worst when you go back there.

When I recently returned to Alabama, for sad reasons, my boss--whose parents survived the concentration camps of WWII--emailed me her concern for my safety.

"I'm from there," I emailed back. "As long as I avoid politics, religion, and sports, I'll be okay."

"Do not," she emailed back, "go into a shower unless someone else has gone in first."

Granted, the south is scary for people who have not lived in the south,  or are passing through the south, or are adjacent to the south, or lived through the 1950s and '60s... or any decade, really, since the 1500s.

In general, the south is pretty terrifying. It is stuck in time. It is stuck in place. It is, however, safe to shower there. And frequent showers are required. So far, Alabama saves the pesticide for lawns. The showers are mostly safe. The lawns are terrifying.

I'm of two minds about the south: charitable, and nuking it from space. Most people feel the same about their home, no matter where they came from. I once met a young woman from Iceland who confessed she wouldn't be upset if a volcano blew the whole place up, and I thought, 'But Iceland is kind of awesome.' Hell, I once met a guy from Denmark who told me if he heard one more Hamlet joke he'd deliver a 5000 word soliloquy on Danish history, "And I'll begin it with 'To be or shut the fuck up.'"

The thing about the south is that it is always on the wrong side of history. I dunno why, but it is. Race? Yeah, the south has issues with race. Most of the US has issues with race. We're a melting pot that doesn't melt well. Most of the great race riots took place in areas beyond the Deep South. Still though, we're left with Bull Connor and fire hoses. We don't have true riots in the south because we have an emphasis on containment, and our aw, shucks demeanor makes even the occasional Evrett Till murder seem like an oversight.

Which it wasn't.

A few nights ago, I had a conversation with my dad. Both he and I were taking out our dogs for walks. I was up north in NYC, and he was down south in AL. And he was discussing a run-in he'd had with a professional competitor. "I mentioned you, and your partner, and how you were living in New York," Dad said--calling Greg my partner rather than my husband, but in a respectful way. "When I said that about you, his [the professional competitor's] face lit up. His son is also up there! And his daughter is a lesbian too."

"Wow. He hit the jackpot."

"And so we just talked. Just talked. He told me he was three months into recovery for alcoholism when his son told him he was gay. And I was like, yep, been there. And so many people down here are just ignorant. They just, 95% are just angry about shit they don't even get."

Waffles, my dog, sniffed my leg. I was sitting on a bench, and there was a light breeze, and Waf's cold nose against my calf startled me. And Dad, walking his own dog, suddenly yelled into the phone: "Not right there!"

"Snickers try to take an errant piss?" I asked.

"They just don't get anything," Dad responded.

"Dogs?"

"No, people."

I was watching the red lights at 213th Street cycle from red to yellow to green, and I was watching the walk signs move from "Walk" to "Holy shit you're gonna die if you cross." And the breeze. And Waffles, using his nose to poke me into a continuance on our short journey.

Dad and me and Alex taking the picture.
"The thing about down there," I said, "is that you never encounter anyone." An elderly woman passed me as I said this. Waf almost tripped her--he dashed out and got beneath her feet, and she cooed at him, sidestepped, smiled, continued. "You move from the house to the garage, and the garage to the car, and the car to the store, and then you reverse the whole thing. There's no reason to interact with people who are not like you."

"That's what we talked about. It was, Marc, like the world opened up. I talked to [the professional competitor] and we connected."

"Which is all you have to do. You talk to someone, and you realize there's not much of a difference between you."

Waf tugged on his leash. Hard.

"Snickers," Dad said, in a muffled volume. "Come on."

"There's always differences. Just... all you need to do is talk." I said this as Waf, tired of hanging around a sidewalk bench and unable to comprehend human language, dragged me three blocks toward a church.

"Dad? Sorry. I gotta go. Waf has a destination and I can either talk or pass out keeping up."

"Ok, son. Love to you and Greg."

"Same to you and Marilyn."

Mom and Ronnie
Also down south, my step-dad is reading the Tao, and experimenting with meditation, and searching for his own spiritual center. I get that the south is terrifying but if you just speak to people, you find they are just like you.

You just need to listen a bit, and when you speak back, speak in a way they understand.

Also, avoid conversations about 'Gone with the Wind.' Ye gods, the references to the KKK do not land well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Applause of Blue Leaves


A lot of John Guare's plays break fourth walls, reconstruct them, and knock'em down again. It's a nice technique, and in the hands of lesser writers, a tired technique. Guare does it consistently, and does it well.

And that's my opinion. Which is hardly well-informed, but sturdy.

Take House of Blue Leaves, which was the first play I'd ever seen by Guare, and perhaps the first play I video-taped and watched repeatedly. I was fourteen or fifteen, and while not all the play made sense to me, there was something so unique about it that I knew, instinctively, sense was to be had; perhaps the next viewing would clue me in on the themes flying over my head, and perhaps maturity would clarify why the ending seemed so devastating and so full of elation all at once.

House of Blue Leaves, in a nutshell, is about a day in 1965, in Sunnyside, Queens, New York, where a man named Artie Shaughnessy faces his failures with all the grace of a penguin on roller skates. Pope Paul VI is visiting the UN to lecture the world on peace, and Artie, who wants nothing more than to be a famous Oscar-winning music composer in California, is stuck in a dingy Queens apartment with his mentally-ill wife, Bananas, and his ambitious mistress/wife-to-be, Bunny Flingus. At the play's end, the dingy apartment will have been visited by three nuns, an AWOL maniac, a fading actress, a famous film director, a MP, and two men sent from the loony bin to collect Mrs. Arthur M. Shaughnessy. And a bomb, which works.

What I didn't get when I first saw it, but should've gotten, is that the play is about the audience. Or an audience. Or just , without an article.
It really was comical. The Pope wore a yarmulke.
audience

Bunny Flingus, the mistress/wife-to-be of Artie, bursts into the Shaughnessy apartment at the beginning of the first act, at a quarter to four in the morning, and demands Artie get up and out on the sidewalk to wave at the Pope as the Pope speeds by on his way to the UN. Bunny informs Artie that there are throngs of people already waiting. Bunny informs Artie that the woman at the local A&P has connections allowing her to hold a spot for Bunny and Artie near the curb. Bunny then informs Artie of this: “When famous people go to sleep at night, it's us they dream of, Artie. The famous ones—they're the real people. We're the creatures of their dreams. You're the dream. I'm the dream. We have to be there for the Pope's dream.”

This, by the way, is on the heels of an opening prologue in which Artie, desperate to be a famous Oscar-winning film composer, begins the show by entering a nearly-empty stage, sitting behind a piano, and treating a largely unresponsive audience to a few of his tunes while begging for a blue spotlight from a completely unresponsive light-booth. During this prologue, Artie mugs for the silent audience, attempting to get a reaction, or approbation, or validation, or sympathy, or anything from them.

And now Bunny, in a monologue about fame, states the obvious: the stars need us to see them, and they need us to make them famous.

House of Blue Leaves is Guare's second most famous play. His most famous is Six Degrees of Separation, which was written a few decades later and uses the same Ataud-may-care attitude toward the fourth wall. Both House and Six Degrees come off as a series of anecdotes told over after-dinner libations. Anecdotes, of course, require an audience (or did before livejournal made everyone into a novice Noel Coward).

In Six Degrees, one of the better anecdotes, and the anecdote that sets the entire plot of the play into motion, is told by Paul. Paul introduces himself, under extraordinary circumstances, to the play's two protagonists, a white, upper middle class couple on the Upper West Side (I think—perhaps they're Upper East Side; no matter—they've seldom been above 125th Street on either side of the compass) named Ouisa and Flan. Paul, a Black male of a certain age far below that of Ouisa and Flan, introduces himself as a friend of Ouisa and Flan's children, an old college colleague in need of immediate assistance. Ouisa and Flan let him into their home and during the course of the evening, Paul reveals he is the son of Sidney Poitier. Only Paul isn't so crass as to come out as say his father is the famous and ground-breaking Black actor; he implies it, and his audience desperately infers his meaning.

Back to House of Blue Leaves. Which is a better play.

That's my opinion.

There are several moments where fame intersects with an audience's need to believe fame exists—not the least of which is, near the end, when a nun who has decided to leave her order touches a television tenderly and declares it 'a shrine.' 

The TV, by the way, has recently been used as a way for two older nuns very determined in their order to stage photo-ops with the Pope and other notables. “Get me,” the Mother Superior says, bending down close beside the TV screen: “Get me with Jackie Kennedy!” A picture is snapped, and suddenly the Mother Superior has been with Jackie Kennedy. “Bob Hope,” another nun shouts, passing the camera to Mother Superior. “Get me with Bob Hope!”

Sadly, or perhaps wisely, Guare doesn't go for a Pope/Hope joke.

Near the end of Act I, Bananas delivers the best monologue in the entire show and perhaps one of the most wonderfully baffling monologues in American theatre. In the monologue, Bananas tells the audience about the time she drove into Manhattan, ended up at 42nd St and Broadway, and noticed four famous people on each of the four corners of the intersection: Cardinal Spellman. Jackie Kennedy. Bob Hope. President Johnson. Bananas tells the audience she tried to offer each of them a ride, then, when they refuse her offer, declares, “I hit them all.” Her monologue ends with this: “...I turn on Johnny Carson to get my mind off and there's Cardinal Spellman and Bob Hope, whose ski-nose is still bleeding, and they all tell the story of what happened to them and everybody laughs. Thirty million people watch Johnny Carson and they all laugh. At me. At me. I'm nobody, I knew all those people better than me. You. Ronnie. I know everything about them. Why can't they love me?”

(Because, Bananas. Because. Also, did this actually happen, Bananas, or did you want so much to be loved that even ridicule is better than obscurity?)

The beginning of Act II of House of Blue Leaves lets the AWOL soldier son of Bananas and Artie speak. Ronnie Shaughnessy, Artie tells us at the beginning of Act I, has a charmed life, has been drafted off to Vietnam, and the reason the Pope is coming to the UN is to stop the war so Ronnie won't be sent off to fight. 

(Famous people need us to make them famous; we need famous people to have hope in some kind of alleviation from our powerless dread that we'll never be famous enough to be needed or useful or vital or, of course, to prevent our children from going to war. Only fame came make a difference for our children. Our job, as an audience, is to clap, or boo.) 

Anyway, so the curtain goes up on Act II, and we're treated to the full Ronnie Shaughnessy, charmed life and all.

“My father tell you all about me? Pope Ronnie? Charmed life? How great I am?” Ronnie begins before launching into a painful anecdote—to the audience—about the time he tried to convince a famous movie director he would make the perfect Huckleberry Finn for the director's proposed future production of a film version of the eponymous novel. “I asked the nun in school who Huckleberry Finn was...She told me. The Ideal American Boy.” Long story short, Ronnie, convinced he was the Ideal American Boy, decides to perform an impromptu audition for the director, who responds to the audition by saying to Ronnie's parents: “You never told me you had a mentally retarded child.”

Incidentally, Ronnie delivers this anecdote/monologue while dressing himself as an altar boy. And assembling a bomb that works. Ronnie is the only person in the Shaughnessy family to realize his dream: he doesn't blow up the Pope, but he does manage to murder two nuns and a deaf actor.

Yadda yadda yadda, a Hollywood director ends up in the Shaughnessy apartment in Queens and says this to Artie: “Do you know who I make my pictures for? Money? No. Prestige. No. I make them for you... I sit on the set and before every scene I say, “Would this make Artie laugh? Would this make Artie cry?”...If I ever thought you and Bananas weren't here in Sunnyside, seeing my work, loving my work, I could never work again. You're my touch with reality.”

And so Artie is forced to realize his place amongst the stars.

In Six Degrees, Paul, too, is forced to recognize his place. But the audience is never allowed to give much notice to Paul; Ouisa and Flan dominate the play, and we're left with Ouisa's reflections on that one time she and Flan were taken in by a huckster, and how it affected her. Paul gets a shout-out here and there, but Guare doesn't let the audience off very easily by giving Paul a happy ending. Paul's ending is questionable, and Ouisa and Flan are left with a very good story to give to any audience willing to listen.

For Artie, his place is as a cog—a tiny cog—in a system designed to make him redundant and therefore useless. Artie is an individual but not, and he sees his dreams die in a single day the Pope came to New York. The last scene, which is both full of devastation and elation, gives Artie a spotlight, but it also gives him a death he earned. He earned both the spotlight, and he earned the death.

And the audience withholds their approval once more. Not a damn person should applaud at the end of House of Blue Leaves, and if they do hit them. Hit them all. Because we're all just six degrees away from Cardinal Spellman, Jackie Kennedy, Bob Hope, President Johnson, and the audience who wills all famous people into being.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

There was Six Feet of Water

Ten years ago, I was standing in the livingroom of a strange man's house, not entirely sure why I was there. Or, rather, I knew why I was there, which was to do illicit substances and engage in various acts. I just didn't know why I'd bother to be there.


Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American lives. Ten years ago, I was attempting to prove that not only were there second acts--there were as many as fifteen to twenty.

The livingroom was a nice room. Very austere, but in a tasteful rather than severe way: a grey cloth chair shaped like a proud, jutting jaw; a black leather sofa slouching before an expansive set of naked windows; a rug more complicated than my brain's neural network; tables and framed art and a random monolith of bookshelves.

Plants.

Empty space.

A floor lamp.

And me, standing in the center, wearing a pair of camouflage shorts and nothing else. The strange man stood near me and asked, "You're from the South, right?"

I nodded.

"The shorts reminded me." This was a sarcastic remark I was unable to recognize as sarcasm at the time. "So your family okay? They aren't in danger."

"Far as I know," I replied, swaying to music that may or may not have been playing.

The strange man, who claimed to be an aide for Olympia Snowe (or perhaps I misheard him), inhaled smoke, passed the smoke to me. "I only ask because of the hurricane." Pause. "You do know about that, right?"

No. I did not know about Katrina, hitting as I was taking a hit.

+++

The most important thing Greg ever did was toss a coffee cup into the floor. The cup splattered like a bug. Parts of the cup flew around the kitchen, bounced on the tile. "You." Greg said the word, but didn't connect the word to anything. It was just "You," and he was correct. "You" was enough.

I'd told him about the dalliances. I'd told him about the drugs. The only casualty was a coffee cup.

+++

Louisiana. Louisiana. They're trying to wash us away.

And they were trying to wash Louisiana away. It was awful to realize what the Strange Man meant when he asked about my family. "So is your family okay?"

Yes. They're okay. My pants are okay.

"It looks bad down there." The Strange Man put a hand on my naked arm. Then he moved his other hand onto my other arm, and then his mouth hit my mouth.

+++

George Bush does not care about Black people.

True. Not a fan of Kanye, but he was right.

+++

There are many things I may do to alienate myself from humanity. Alienate myself from the persons I love. Alienate myself from aliens. But what I'd never do is allow an entire city to sink into oblivion. And that's what happened 10 years ago--a government, which previously failed to protect a country from a terrorist attack, let a major city die. I was in a bad way then. But I was a citizen. I was not an entire government.

+++

I own my mistakes.

GWB dances in New Orleans.

Who needs image rehabilitation? And who cares more about image?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

On the Whole, I'd Rather Be In...

On a recent trip back home, there was a moment when even my father told me, "It's okay to be
gay."

We were at a funeral and greeting fellow mourners of all ages from 60 to 92, and an elderly couple approached me. A man and a woman. The woman inhaled her sentences, speaking as if she instantly wanted to take her words back. The man spoke as if he were trying to return her words to her.


First, the couple spoke to my father. There were many "How are you" and "Long time no see!" exchanges, then the perfunctory, "And you remember Marc. Marc, you remember [Name] and [Name]."

The couple beamed at me. "All growed up," the man said.

"?eh t'nsI" the woman responded, touching my shoulder.

"Too grown," I replied. "Course I remember. Been a long time." A half-truth and a full-truth. I vaguely recalled them from my extremely distant youth, and it had been a long time. Looking at their faces, hearing their voices, what came to me was a tastefully-decorated trailer, a whiff of a scandal, and my paternal grandparents. Which is to say we were nearly relatives by Alabama standards.

After shakings of hands and slappings of backs, conversation resumed.

[Name] asked dad how things were going for the family business. Dad asked [Name] how both [Name] and [Name] were getting around in the old mobile home. (The answer to both questions were decidedly different. Both answers were delivered with upbeat voices.)

Then [Name] turned her attention to me and asked, "?tey deirram uoy era, oS"

She was grasping my hands and smiling so sweetly I'd lost concentration. The need to be kind overwhelmed my instinct to shout, "What?" And we were at a funeral--I was of the family, but not in the family. It was not a time for reunions from my past when so many had gathered to reunion with direct decedents of the deceased. A line was forming behind [Name] and [Name]. The visitation system was being gummed up by this short misty-memory reunion.

"I'm sorry. I didn't understand." I leaned closer, pretending that the noise from the room with the dead body and the funeral flowers was too much.

"!?tey deirram uoy erA" she shouted in my ear. I was reminded of a character in Lost in Yonkers. Gert. Gert inhaled her sentences as well, but not quite so enthusiastically that she sucked them back in, a letter at a time.

[Name] reached in and grabbed my arm. He abandoned Dad's arm, which he'd been holding during the business/mobile home portion of the discussion. "She asked who you married."

Swear to god, [Name] echoed: "Who'd you marry?"

"Ah."

And before I continue on to my answer, please understand a few things. I'm not about to excuse what I said, but I do think there were some... issues entering in to my response. For instance, we were at the visitation slash funeral of my step-grandfather, and while I'd been treated like a relative, I was aware I was an outsider. Not in a weird outsider way. I was welcome and loved. But it was not my place to set a tone for the visitation slash funeral. It was not my place to intrude.

I hadn't been home in nearly half a decade. Alabama has been through superficial changes, but on the way in I'd passed a few church signs saying, "Until this country stops legalizing sin, it is Lost." The capital 'L' always made me cringe.

"Married. No. Not yet."

[Name] squeezed my arms and said, "Aw, you get'm."

[Name] squeezed my hands and said, ".lrig emos dnif ll'uoY"

And they were gone. The line behind them filed past. Dad said, "You could've told them."

"I panicked."

"They're so old they probably wouldn't understand enough to care."

Then later, during the part of the funeral where the preacher, or minister, or whatever acknowledged the survivors, my name and my brother's name were included with the grandchildren. Thing is, all the grandchildren had the names of their spouses called out. When it came to me, I was just Marc Mitchell, spouseless.

Lesson learned. Never go back to a state actively fighting against reason and law.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Not a Clip Show: A Love Story

There will be retrospectives--for decades--about Jon Stewart. Unless it is revealed Stewart was
drugging and raping women, or preferred the "company" of marmosets, or murdered 10 people while using a pseudonym, Stewart's legacy is fairly established, and there are people far more capable than I weighing in on it, on him, on the Daily Show, and on the political ride we've survived these 16 years.

So I'm not posting clips of his show, or searching out quotes from interviews he's given or from interviews of others about him. All that already exists. Depending on your political POV, you can find whatever Jon Stewart persona to suit your fancy.

The persona I'm going with is the Jon Stewart who kept me sane in a period of absolute insanity. And I will miss his much-needed, unique insight into the madness--you always need a fool to point out a hawk is not a handsaw. And I relied on Jon Stewart to routinely say a bald eagle was not a cudgel.

Greg and I fell in love in no small part because of our mutual appreciation for 'The Daily Show,' btw. We had little in common but we knew we wanted to make the world a better place. Both of us were trying in our own way--me by attacking most everything; Greg by applying reason to unreasonable situations. The first night I spent at Greg's apartment in Florence, Alabama, was more of an accident than anything. We were both uncomfortable. We were both baffled why I was still there, and hadn't gone home. We were both bored, and lonely.

So we watched The Daily Show together. And laughed. And bonded. And in one episode we realized the sexual attraction wasn't a generic sexual attraction. We actually enjoyed each other as human beings.

Some years later, trapped on a bus trip to the Rally to Restore Sanity--the bus was paid for by Arianna Huffington--we realized how much we loved each other... because any couple experiencing truly terminal cracks in the couple facade would've torn each other facade from facade during the HuffPo bussing from NYC to DC for the rally.

Quick aside: John Waters famously said that if you go home with someone, and that someone does not have books, do not fuck them. I would add that if you go home with someone, and that someone does not like Jon Stewart, don't marry them.

Greg and I have been through a lot of awful things. Who hasn't? But the one thing that grounded us, brought us back to both earth and to ourselves, was The Daily Show. The one thing reminding us of how we actually became a couple and then, surprising even ourselves, husbands was sitting down four nights a week (unless Jon was on vacation, which happened a lot) was to watch a man articulate our mutual disgust for media.

Don't get me wrong: There are many reasons I love Greg now, but the reason I started loving him is because the night I stayed too long at his apartment he said, "You remind me of Lewis Black."

Jon?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Liquid and Magic


Like liquid, she thought, watching the man's hands fly across the piano keyboard. She was sitting in the first row. Not a very good front row seat. Most of his hand movements were obstructed by his shoulders.

Like liquid, she thought all the same. Also, like a magician.

Some years later, typing, she realized the connection between the water and the magician. Her water broke as she was transcribing a letter for her employer, and she asked to be excused from her desk.

“Now?” the employer asked.

“I'm in labor, I think,” she replied.

Her employer swiveled in a chair so that her view of the city was obstructed by a shoulder. “But I'm in the middle of dictating.”

She continued typing. The contractions came fast. By the time her employer finished-- “Sincerely yours” --the baby plummeted onto the floor and remained there, waiting for an encouraging slap or any sort of encouragement to take an independent breath.

She stared at the employer. The employer, who heard the sound of birth and—startled--swiveled back to face her, stared back.

“For god's sake, woman,” her employer said.

Her fingers moved like liquid across the keyboard before her, typing FOR GOD S SAKE WOMAN.

“No jesus no. Pick it up. The... that, there.”

She knew where the gesture from her employer ended, but she was afraid to look. She was afraid to think. She kept her fingers hovering over the home keys, and her fingers trembled.

“The baby. Pick up the baby.”

Pause.

“The letter is done. Take the rest of the day off, if you like.”

She printed out the letter. Cut the cord. Scooped up her baby. Returned home for the day.

It wasn't often she took an early day. She didn't know what to do with herself at first, but the infant now breathing against her chest gave her a suggestion. The infant kneaded against her chest and screamed out suggestions like a needy cat. Gently, as she walked from work to the train, she lowered one corner of her dress, lifted out a breast from her bra, and offered it to the infant. The infant took the breast. The infant became silent. Passers-by glanced at her with expressions she didn't bother to decipher.


Once she got home, she cleaned herself and the infant. She called her mother, who was glad to hear the letter had been finished.

Then she called the father, who told her never to call again.
She thought about the way the pianist's fingers moved like liquid, and how the notes appeared even when she could not see the fingers. She thought of magicians, pulling rabbits out of hats.

“I knew you were coming,” she told the infant resting in a pool of blankets on her bed. “But warn me next time.”

Both she and the infant locked eyes for the first time, and both acknowledged there would not be a next time. How silly. The cord was cut. The breast was suckled. The infant was washed, the afterbirth was ejected on 2nd Ave, and the letter was signed 'Sincerely yours'. All that needed to be done up to the point where she locked eyes with the infant had been done. What remained was what was to come.



The father knocked on the door a few nights later. She slid out of bed. The apartment was one room if you forget the bathroom, and so everything was where she needed it to be: the bed, the sink, the couch, a computer, an oven, and the infant in a mini-fort made of wood and cloth and feathers. She slid out of bed with only one thought: Please stay asleep, infant. Please don't let the knock at the door make you cry.

Her breasts were sore. Her body was sore. Each day she returned to her employer, and each day she typed dictated letters, and each day she carried the infant with her. When the infant screamed, she pulled down a corner of her dress and slid from her bra a swollen breast. And there was silence. And dictation. And no one said anything, but used their faces to express everything.

Knock.

Her employer gave her two weeks to find someone to deal with the infant. “If in that two weeks you don't find anyone, you'll be dealing with it yourself.”

The infant was at the time on the employer's floor, crying for her. In her lap was the computer she used to type out the employer's messages. Her breasts ached, but her fingers continued moving like liquid and she caught herself typing, “Dear Sir: It is with great sorrow that we report that if in two weeks you don't find anyone, you'll be dealing with it yourself.”

She quickly deleted the sentence, and resumed transcribing. Resumed typing.

Her breasts continued to ache. The infant continued to cry.

Knock.

Another conversation with her mother did not end as well as she hoped. Her mother was elderly. Going deaf—but aren't we all—but not yet senile. “Grandchild!” her mother exclaimed. “But how is the job?”

“Mom, we already went through this.”

“Anyone can get a child! But is the job okay?”


Knock.
She slid from the bed on the first knock, and tripped over a toy the infant was too young yet to enjoy.
It was an easy walk from the bed to the door. Toy aside, there weren't many obstructions. No doors, no walls, no halls. And the infant remained asleep, which was good. She didn't wan't the infant to retain even the slightest hint of confrontation between the father and herself. “Remain pure,” she whispered. “You just keep dreaming.”

The light from the street waved in and out of the apartment as each car a floor below pushed past the building. She felt as if she were under water, moving toward an escape hatch. The closer she got to the door—hoping always hoping for the father to keep his next knock to himself—the more she felt as if she were in liquid.

She felt as if she were a magician.

Hands, moving, making magic and art.

Knock.

The infant moved. She could hear the light cover rustle as the shoulders of the infant shifted.

“Don't,” she thought. She didn't say the word. She thought it.

Knock.

She knew from the sound of fabric the infant had tossed off the light cover. She knew from the sound of breath the infant was about to wake up.

Through water she made it to the door. One hand closed on the knob and the other on the latch and she turned both at once. Fingers worked, and as the door opened, as if magically, the father was standing in the hallway, backlit by a dim light and holding a stuffed bear that had seen days far better than she had seen.

“What the hell, babe” was all the father said.

She took a step into the dim light. Behind her there was another intake of air.

The infant erupted. A scream so primal she was sure ancestors heard it.

“No hell,” she shouted.

“I wanted to give you this,” the father said, shoving the stuffed bear at her.

“Scream,” the infant said.

She took a look at the father. At the bear. She considered all the letters she had typed over the past few weeks. She said this: “That bear is a contract.”

The bear went into hibernation into the father's coat. She shut the door. She was now in the liquid and the magic.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Heritage is a Dish Best Served Old

A lot of articles lately quote Southerners afraid of one thing: Loss of heritage.

Heritagectomy.

Southerners fear, more than anything else, a removal of their history. They also fear a realization of it.

Appomattox, I'm not kidding, is a foreign word to most Southerners.

Heritage.

Here's the thing: Heritage is not a thing that is taken away. It is a thing one carries about like junk DNA, still in one's very fiber even as he or she continues to evolve, change, grow, and gain distance from that heritage. To be in possession of a heritage, one must be in possession of a past and a future. To have a heritage, one must not be in full possession of a present.

In other words: The past is in you, no matter how useless it is. To have a heritage, you must be in the future at some distance from your own past, and if you keep trying to make that heritage a present, well, you're a stagnant asshole incapable of growth, change, or lacking in any of the adaptation techniques necessary to prolong the species.

As a Southerner, I get the need to celebrate the brave time when my region of the country rose up against the Northern devil, or whatever. Truly, it's a tough call to say some of the grunts in the field just fighting to keep their families safe were traitors and racists. Perhaps some of them weren't guilty as charged--perhaps some of them were just impoverished and desperate young men dying for a cause they didn't fully comprehend just because they wanted to protect Ma back at the homestead.

But does that warrant willful ignorance 150 years later? It's a dry irony to say this, but does slavish dedication to an idea so far gone in the past--gone with the wind--call for such modern dedication?

150 years ago, there was a very dedicated and determined thought that actual human beings were so awful they could only survive if we treated them as cattle. In 1920, those humans finally got the right to vote. Those humans were women.

Heritage is not a thing on which to cling. It's a thing to toss aside, and look at with considerable distance. To keep heritage as a permanent thing--always present, always constant--is to turn it into something else: It is to turn it into a stagnation.

It's like he's pan-handling.
Removing Civil War memorabilia from public lands is not a removal of heritage. Absolutely, we must continue to sift through the dust of our national heritage, to understand how that dust created the soil of our future. But to say this is a denial of heritage, this progress, is to forget we're leaving a heritage of our own, and a pretty poor soil upon which others may build, cultivate, and grow.

Again, here's the thing: If Southerners continue to cling to the past, the past will cling back, pull down, and smother them. That stupid flag will mean nothing to future generations because it will be a shroud wrapping a very large part of a very united country, covering decay and nothing more.

Heritage is junk DNA. Carried with you, and no one knows why. "The South will rise again." Sure. But before that happens, "That strand of DNA involving gills in your neck" will be activated. We'll all regrow neck-gills before the South Rises again, if the South keeps living in the past.

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