How Many Kids (and who’s counting)?

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Since Sept. 2008 Arkansas’ first family of TLC, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, have been reality television royalty with their 17 18 19 Kids and Counting – a top rated network series following the exploits of the couple and their almost score (Note: Score=20) of God-fearing, home-schooled, fundamentalist born and bred brood of biological children.

Millions of people have been fascinated by the loves and lives of the Duggars as they continued to have children, their children began to have children (Note: Though all were married first) and all of these many, many children (Note #2: Presided over by two adults) made many, many, many more millions of dollars for everyone through the requisite cross-pollination of books, personal appearances and Lord knows what other kinds of entertainment industry vertical integration the law allows.

Bigger than Jesus

Bigger than Jesus

Well, the gravy train has now stopped and soon all they will be able to do is wipe their ASSES with those ASSETS. This is thanks not to any left wing, gay agenda but merely to the fact that the oldest of that near score of children, 27-year-old Josh Duggar, has admitted to molesting five underage girls when he was 14 and 15 years-old, including many of his own sisters.

Compounding the matter is that both his parents knew of his crimes but instead of sending him to therapy or seeking other type of medical or police intervention, they instead chose to have their son confess his crimes to a local state trooper friend who himself was subsequently sent away to prison on multiple counts of child pornography. Needless to say the family trooper friend never officially reported the crimes.   Instead, he gave Josh a talking to, Josh was sent away to work on a relative’s farm for a while and the family prayed a lot that all would be okay for everyone.

#preach

#preach

Though none of those prayers included any type of, well much of anything except more prayers for the under age women in question, they clearly did include requests to the powers-that-be above (or below) us that this would all stay quiet. That seems clear because their Duggar television show subsequently debuted, became a huge success and would continue to be so for quite some time to come. I mean, answered prayers would have to be the case because, well, I don’t know about you but, like all great things, the family’s TV success would seem to simply be a question of God’s will, right?

The Duggars believe a lot in God’s will. In fact, they credit God Himself (or, one supposes, Herself) for granting them fame and fortune by way of one of nature’s miracles – their second born of nineteen children. As they tell their story, back when Jim Bob and Michelle first were married they actually did practice birth control. But when Michelle conceived their second child despite being on The Pill and then miscarried said child, they realized they had actually interfered with God’s plan and decided to never again decide to second-guess the Lord by using modern medical science. The result? Well, you can see – 19 Kids and Counting. Though, as of several days ago, no more TV show.   Hmmm, you don’t suspect this time they started using condoms, do y..? Nahhhh…….

Look at these sinners

Look at these sinners

None of this explains how they managed to conceive Josh, who managed to sneak in as a planned pregnancy back when they believed in oral contraception and back when their use of The Pill was working as it should. Wait, you don’t suppose this was the reason for Josh’s predilection towards molestation, do you??? Could it be some sort of grand punishment for their legitimate use of…The Pill???? The mind reels.

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Incidentally, this would not be a gigantic leap of logical in the Rules According to Duggar. Aside from their opposition to birth control, just about last year at this time Michelle recorded statewide robo-calls urging voters to vote “no” on an Arkansas law intended to address discrimination against the LGBT community since it is one of dozens of states that do not include housing and discrimination protection in cases of sexual identity and gender discrimination.

Her exact words? Well, that passage of the law would allow males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.”

Well, certainly one would not want to allow any male to improperly enter private areas reserved specifically for females, especially if they were young girls. Right??? That must be right since Mrs. Duggar, a local heroine if nothing else, won her crusade and saw the law voted down. Unless, um, maybe that was God’s will, too??

Josh Duggar, himself now the father of a five year-old daughter and two younger sons, with another unborn child along the way, was up until several days ago executive director of the Family Research Council’s Washington, DC legislative affiliate, FRC Action. In his post, #1 of 19 was responsible for lobbying lawmakers to advance the political and social agendas of the organization, which includes abstinence-only education, intelligent design, prayer in public schools and regulation of pornography and other obscene, indecent or profane programming on broadcast and cable television. It is also opposed to legalized abortion, stem-cell research and all forms of gambling.

You won't like him when he's angry

You won’t like him when he’s angry

The FRC is perhaps best known for its virulent opposition to same-sex marriage and gay adoption. FRC president Tony Perkins has publicly and repeatedly stated the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children and in the past the organization has gone so far as to say “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the prophets of a new sexual order.” For these and many other statements excoriating the LGBT community and its rights, the Family Research Council was several years ago officially classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Regrets?

Regrets?

Regarding homosexuality, Josh Duggar himself was last year quoted as saying the LGBT community and its agenda wasa threat to children” and that his own lesbian aunt (his mother Michelle’s older sister) “chooses her lifestyle.”

There was a time in the previous century, 100 years ago to be exact, where a whole subculture of women in the U.S. freely made love with other women.   Not only that but some of these were Black women who smoked, drank and generally hung out as they occasionally dressed as the men did; and no one cared or even said much about it. Among the women in this enclave was one of the most famous blues singers who ever lived – Bessie Smith – and if you have a couple of hours, which you know you do, it might be worth your time to relive these very olden times and morals via the very wonderfully bold and impressionistic HBO film Bessie, starring Queen Latifah in the title role and Mo’Nique as her mentor, friend and fellow trailblazer, Ma Rainey. Both are superb in it.

Lessons in fabulousity

Lessons in fabulousity

But what’s even more incredible, at least in FRC and Duggar world, is that 100 years later these women are both lauded as creative legends and heirs to a new era where the idea of two women (or men for that matter) making love legally and within the protection of a marriage contract, if they so desire, has become the norm in more states than not – as has their ability to create, adopt or raise children if they so choose. One sort of wants to ask the Duggars if that, too, could be attributed to God’s will, or do they perhaps predict a Biblical October surprise along the lines of locusts and pestilence as retribution against such un-Christian, nee immoral, yet perfectly legal social activities.

Well, it’s all enough to make you want to send Josh Duggar not to jail for his admitted inexcusable behavior which he this week publicly apologized for but to Ireland where 60% of the citizenry voted to make themselves the first country in the world to totally and 100% legalize same sex marriage by popular vote.

Putting the Gae in Gaelic!

Putting the Gae in Gaelic!

He might see it as punishment and, okay I for one would oppose it. Because we all know that clearly Ireland will emerge as THE place to be for fun and frolic as this decade comes to a close.

As for the future of TLC and the Duggar brand –- God knows it doesn’t look good.

The Real Thing

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Can people substantially change who they are? Or do they, as they get older, just become more of who they are?

Mad Men – one of the best-written series ever on television – grappled with the question of change and identity via the lens of the American psyche throughout its eight-year,seven-season, run. So it seemed only fitting – and simultaneously both obvious and brilliant – that this would be the primary question it answered in its finale episode.

A television program can only do so much but for my money and time there has not ever been a show to so accurately yet obtusely capture how Americans think, change or refuse to budge as this one. We have taken a lot of heat as a country for being a bit self-obsessed just as we have also always been lauded for our sometimes unsolicited generosity of spirit to others when their or our backs are to the wall. Perhaps America as a bastion of freedom that will always lend a helping hand and open door to those less fortunate has taken a beating in recent years. But the idea of the U.S. – and the desire for there to be a place where people can live free and be who they really are regardless of what they may or may not really be, observe or come from – is a concept that seems to only grow with power as time goes on and the world grows more (yet seemingly less) connected.

Don Draper's 1960 utopia

Don Draper’s 1960 utopia

The reason Mad Men was so often able to address these questions so brilliantly is that series creator Matthew Weiner chose exactly the right decade – the 1960’s – to tackle them. There has not been, nor probably will there ever be in the future, a ten-year period with so great a shift in cultural, political and social mores. It saw an unprecedented period of sweeping changes in how we thought, felt, and even dressed. Free love, the peace movement, a relaxing of social conventions that caused us to become (Note: Sometimes kicking and screaming) more inclusive and less discriminatory against the marginalized or less fortunate? Well, five plus decades later some of it would last – for a while – until segments of the majority in power (Note: Did I say the 1980s? Oh, now I did) decided to take a few more steps backwards from that advancing direction. But then again, all of this societal stuff tends to be cyclical anyway if you look at the rise and fall of any the world’s great super powers. At least we – well, many of the most fortunate of us, that is – still have a few more choices now than we did back then.

When one says Mad Men was about the sixties let’s be clear about something – it was really about the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The decade we really think was the sixties didn’t actually begin until after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Before that it was just the 1950s but with a more youthful glow. The 1960s then happened and took us through Vietnam, rock ’n roll, drugs and the search for love and that dirty term nowadays: self-actualization. But that ended after the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, television bringing the atrocities of the Vietnam War home, and the unmasking of all of the rest of the American dream for every bit of the invented sham it always was. That, in essence, was where our slow recovery – meaning the 1970s – began and continues to this very day.

Don's reading materials

Don’s reading materials

None of this is meant as an insult to the American dream or to negate the fact that many beneficial aspects to it still do exist. But make no mistake – it was and is invented and made up. The very nature of all dreams is that they are NOT REAL. Which, on the other hand, makes them no less true (or potentially true) in some form. I tell this to my students in every writing class I’ve ever taught when they voice concerns that their stories are too contrived. Well, of course they’re contrived! I answer. All of this stuff is made up, even if it’s based on real life. The task is to make it not seem like it is – to somehow have it evoke reality. That was hard fought advice I gave to myself after decades of self-flagellation whenever I myself grew overly frustrated that nothing I ever wrote seemed real ENOUGH.

There is no main character – nee protagonist, nee anti-hero or hero, depending on how you want to see him – to dramatically travel so effectively in, around and through these issues as a man whose job it is to manufacture American dreams, wants and desires – meaning an American advertising man.

From the pilot episode

From the pilot episode

And what kind of ad guy – how about one whose entire personal identity is made up from the very beginning – both literally in Matt Weiner’s mind and figuratively in the character of Don Draper, a man who is really named something else he didn’t like or want to be and instead chose to assume the name and new life of a dead man. This is a guy who is so perfect looking, so talented, and so continuously successful in everything he does even when he is failing miserably – that he couldn’t be real. In fact, he couldn’t be anything more than the invention of some smart and savvy mind on Madison Avenue – which is what he is.

Don Draper’s journey from stud, to family man, to phony man, to rich man who remembers being a poor man, to rogue, alcoholic, reformed rogue with half a heart back to pseudo real, tortured American stripped bare at the end of the decade, seemed iconic and ironic enough. But it was only in the last episode this weekend, where the flawed yet somehow always enviable Don Draper took center stage alongside such other fictional American icons as Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, Walter White in Breaking Bad and even All in the Family’s Archie Bunker.

Television's (now) former leading men... casting long shadows

Television’s (now) former leading men… casting long shadows

It is giving nothing away (Note: Or perhaps it is so if you’re a stickler for these kind of things you might want to skip over the paragraph) to say that at his seemingly lowest point in the series Don decides not so much to change but to pull himself together the best he can and achieve what in his heart of hearts he’s always wanted – something uniquely his own and thus personally iconic.

But he does this not through the personal epiphany he has in the scene before when, in a burst of uncharacteristic, unguarded emotion, he is able to identify with and even hug a fellow lost male soul in a California encounter group when the man compares himself to an unchosen item in a refrigerator and laments that people “look right through you” and don’t see you. I mean in that moment you wonder if what Don feels is not so much kinship for a guy to whom he is essentially saying – that’s right, I feel the same way, they don’t see me either and I know how you feel – or whether as he’s hugging this poor shlub he is really saying – Listen bud, I AM the ideal, the guy you always think they see and who, in fact, they do see and always choose, and it’s no better on this side either. I don’t feel like anyone really knows me because I don’t know me, and let me tell you, just like you that feels like shit.

Sally gets it. Especially when she tells her father (in this season's "The Forecast"): "Anyone pays attention to you, and they always do, and you just ooze everywhere."

Sally gets it. Especially when she tells her father (in this season’s “The Forecast”): “Anyone pays attention to you, and they always do, and you just ooze everywhere.”

This would seem to be Don’s emotional catharsis and moment of self-actualization and perhaps it is in that moment. But like all heroes in very American art this hero has to take what he’s learned and apply it to real life. Or as they say via our take on modern dramatic film and TV writing, The Hero’s Journey — he needs to Return with the Elixir from whence he came and put his knowledge into practice in his own ordinary world.

Though we’ll never know for sure, it seems that Mr. Weiner’s (and Mad Men’s) answer to all this is NOT to have Don go home and become a better father, join the Peace Corp or set up a foundation for other lost souls less fortunate than he.

No – what happens is that during a subsequent day of mediation (complete with a joint OHM and all that entails) a literal bell goes off in Don’s head and he smiles – presumably with an idea.

Suffice it to say this is not a notion for how to achieve world peace or the beginnings of a cure for cancer. Though perhaps it is the ad man’s equivalent of that – a brilliant idea for a …Coke Commercial?

Say what you want about all of us as a culture, or as artists, but there is no idea too pure or life event too personal that we are above cannibalizing if we can turn it to our benefit into great art or at least a great business idea – though hopefully both.

Which I couldn’t help thinking about when Mr. Weiner revealed Mad Men’s final song and image – Don Draper’s last great idea. Cue one of the most famous television ads ever seen – a multi-cultural group of young people of different colors and nationalities atop a mountaintop having HIS Kumbaya moment but singing a song espousing the benefits and joys of us humans one day existing in perfect harmony as we each drink…our Coca-Colas.

You tell 'em, Rita!

You tell ’em, Rita!

Anyone who is of a certain age remembers I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke.  If not click here. First it was an ad jingle, then it was one of the first world videos, and then, and only then, was it re-recorded with new lyrics where it would become an…international hit record.

It was the beginning of another era – that of media cross-pollination, which would eventually give way to mass corporate ownership of the arts and vertical integration of all its divisions into a new world order.

Yes, we do have the Don Drapers of the world to thank for that.

But only THE Don Draper – and those who created him – to thank for seven seasons of appointment TV that, even in our current and vast media landscape, will sorely be missed.

Lawfully Wedded Chair

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Guess what? The Chair got married! After 28 years of being a “partner,” the Chair now takes on the title of “husband.” Below, both the Chair and the Chair’s husband explain why after all this time they made it official. Each wrote their blog entry in separate rooms without ANY INPUT OR EDITING from the other.  Judge for yourself whether these two people belong together. (Duh, of course they do!)

GAY MARRIED

Written by the Chair

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get married. But like James Mason once told Judy Garland in A Star Is Born – and I’m paraphrasing here – the trouble with some dreams is that they’re not big enough.

Referencing a Judy Garland movie is not the only reason I got gay married after almost 28 years with the same guy.   Still, it certainly feels apt. Especially for someone like me who has truly always believed that among the benefits of being gay was the fact that you a. didn’t have to get married and b. weren’t required to join the military.

Well, clearly I’m a dinosaur.

After much talk over the last few years about what the heck we were going to do about the marriage thing, as we called it, my guy and I decided to make it legal on May 5 in the upstairs room of our house, overlooking the cloudy L.A. skyline, in front of two witnesses listening to words said by a friend we work with who marries people in his spare time. It literally took less than five minutes. (almost as fast as the slideshow below)

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We had planned various incarnations – some bigger and some much bigger – of this event. But it quickly became apparent to each of us that there was no way to keep it sort of smallish and the bigger it got the more anxious we both felt. Thanks to another good friend who years ago had a big wedding she and her husband paid for by themselves, we decided instead last year to blow our wedding money on a two-week trip to Italy and consider it our illegal honeymoon. All I can say about that is – cash REALLY well spent.

Yet here we are 12 months later, still dragging our feet on the legal front.

What pushed me over the edge was buying a house and the part where they ask you how you want your title – single, domestic partners, married, blah, blah, blah. That followed several prior medical experiences over the years where forms and people asked what is your relationship to your sick spouse and you find yourself realizing that legally, well, you have none. Not to mention the endless questions asked by others that boil down to phrases like: So, when? Or What are you waiting for?

Me to everyone for years

Me to everyone for years

Truth be known I really do HATE the government or any part of the public sector involved in my life in any legal sense, but most especially when it comes to my love life. Is it because my parents were divorced – well, maybe? Could it be because as a gay person I realize how crazy the U.S. government can be when dealing with our issues and I didn’t want to give them the privilege of legislating our love in any way, good or bad, at all – absolutely?! Would another reason be that I found the whole thing tedious, tiresome, sort of corny and didn’t want to be bothered with it –MOST CERTAINLY AND DEFINITELY, ABSOLUTELY!

Please know this is not a put down to any married person out there, especially since I am now one of you. It was just never one of my dreams. Of course, neither was living outside of New York City or getting my driver’s license but somehow I learned to love navigating a convertible through the windy canyons and gridlocked roads of L.A.   Well as John Huston told Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, You may think you know what you’re dealing with but believe me you don’t… OR as Jack Nicholson told the world in A Few Good Men, You can’t handle the truth!

I think my sister, who served as one of our two witnesses, summed it up best when she told me point blank on my wedding day: You just hate doing anything where you think people are giving you permission. It makes you feel like somehow they’re telling you what to do and you hate being told what to do. In fact, you’ll do the opposite just to show them.

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Wow, how did she get so smart?

Does it feel different? Slightly but not much. I mean, it’s awkward to suddenly call someone your husband. As if something has changed. Nothing has really changed in our relationship. And I had finally gotten used to the word partner.

But each person we tell – relatives, friends, acquaintances, business associates, even strangers we have just met where it comes up in conversation – are absolutely thrilled. Seriously, you should see the smiles on their faces. It’s as if to say – we love you, we support you, we don’t know you but want to support you because we think the fact that marriage equality is even a question is ridiculous and we want you and every friend you have who faces this same issue to know that. My god, the last time I saw this many people so happy about something I’ve said or done is, well….NEVER. Not even my bar-mitzvah came close because truly, what person at a mortgage company or doctor’s office would really care???

Everyone has suddenly become this Kristen Wiig character

Everyone has suddenly become this Kristen Wiig character

Well, there is one last thing worth including but I guess I’m, as we’re all so often taught to do, saving the best for last. I got married because, well, I love my husband. Not to mention, I think anyone who has had the perseverance to spend almost 28 years with me deserves something official. Which is also why community property exists and why he can have a divorce any time he sees fit and take half, if not more, of everything I own.

Oh, don’t groan – he’s used to this from me. He loves me both for it and in spite of it. Though no, he didn’t marry me for it. And yes, that’s from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which the playwright has always said is NOT about a gay couple but well, may as well be and certainly will be at some point generations after Mr. Albee dies – if for no other reason than the normality of marriage equality. Which I guess is, in itself, reason enough to get hitched.

Yes, there are other reasons. Many, in fact. But those are between me and my guy. I mean…husband. Wow. Make that, double wow.

 

WHY I (THINK) I GOT MARRIED

Written by The Chair’s Husband

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Since the day back in August of 1978 when I realized I am gay (I think it was on a Saturday), I realized there were three things I would no longer have to worry about in my lifetime. While some gay men at the time thought of these as drawbacks to not being a member of the heterosexual majority, I always thought of them as advantages (let’s call them “perks”). My list of things “I don’t have to do” included:

  1. Serve in the military. When I had to register for the Selective Service in 1980 in order to receive my government-issued college loan, I wrote “Conscientious Objector” on the form. I wanted to write: “I’m gay, suckers.”
  2. Get married.
  3. Have children.

#1 is no longer an issue (yes, I did pay back my loans).

#3 would take an act of divine intervention, which means it’s NEVER going to happen.

As for #2, well, on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, at approximately 5:25 p.m. (PT) in a very private ceremony in our upstairs media room, I removed Get Married from my list and uttered, “I do” to the man I love.

Ever since San Francisco starting issuing marriage licenses in 2004, we were each asked separately and together, “So when are you getting married?”

Neither of us ever had a “straight” answer to that question, because we weren’t entirely sure if we actually wanted and/or needed to get married.

Oh is that not polite?

Oh is that not polite?

It’s not that I’m anti-marriage (some of my best friends are married), but I always thought no matter where you happen to fall on the Kinsey Scale, getting married should be a choice, and, if you decide to get married, it should be for the right reason(s).

I realized immediately after the moment I said “I do,” I was overthinking this whole thing. It’s actually quite simple. We got married because we love each other.

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I don’t need the State of California’s blessing. Or even a license from the City of Los Angeles (which took 30 minutes on a line to get to a window next to the window where you took care of unpaid parking tickets).

I think the fact I am married is really going to hit me the next time someone hands me a form to fill out and it asks me to check my marital status. Now I can check “married.” I am no longer a Conscientious Objector.

Downey Soft

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According to a recent statement by the brilliant actor Robert Downey Jr., running a professional film production means, among other things:

  • Making sure your star actor doesn’t have to work on his birthday or anywhere near a holiday
  • Never having to sacrifice to or even think about the demands of a tight budget, and
  • Not requiring or even asking an above-the-title guy like himself to do even less than a weeks worth of press interviews around the time of release in order to sell the film

Well, what do you want for $20-$30 million plus dollar one gross percentage per movie?

Found in RDJ's bathroom

Found in RDJ’s bathroom

To be fair, Mr. Downey stated this to Entertainment Weekly a few days ago on a press tour to promote the mega-budget studio film The Avengers: Age of Ultron and was specifically speaking about why he has absolutely no desire to ever again do a $500,000 budgeted indie film – or presumably even one for under $5,000,000.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to say how absolutely disappointing it is to hear this. Not to mention obnoxious.

For my money, Mr. Downey is truly the best of the best in his age group and has been so for a very long time. Of course, now that he is part of several superhero franchises as our Iron Man and our Sherlock Holmes he seems to use about .01% of his vast reserve of talent. Still, even that is perfectly legitimate. Heck, if any one of us were being offered that kind of f-k-off money for six months of work in middle age you’d better believe the vast majority of us would take it. Not to mention, the Ironman films especially and The Avengers films to some extent are mass entertaining in large part due to Mr. Downey’s talents and – well – a man or a woman (Note: Where are all the solo FEMALE superhero movies???) deserves to be (properly?) rewarded when they can so effectively elevate sequel after sequel far above the very low bar for even escapist movie fare these days.

He said it.

He said it.

Nevertheless, judge for yourself. Here is exactly what was recently said by one of my all time favorite film guys AND the one famous actor I have repeatedly opted for over the years when asked the ubiquitous question: If you were allowed to have _____ with any famous movie star without retribution who would it be?

EW: Do you ever have a craving after making one of these (“Avengers”) to make like a $500,000 budgeted indie movie?

RDJ: No.

(Nervous chuckles all around)

EW: Why?

RDJ: Because they’re exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, “What was I thinking?” But I’m interested in doing all different kinds of movies. Sometimes the little movies are the ones that wind up taking the most out of you because they’re like, “Hey, man, we’re just running a couple of days behind. Do you think you can stay through your birthday and then come back on the Fourth of July? And, by the way, but, like, the crew — can you pay for the craft services? And, oh, by the way, man, when we go to Sundance, it’s like, can we just sit you in a chair and you can sell this for six days in a row so that we’ll make 180 bucks when it opens in one theater? God, this is so powerful what we’re doing. What do you think of the movie? You saw it last night?”

“I thought it’s mediocre.”

“Yeah, isn’t it the greatest?! Man, everyone’s an artist here.”

“Actually, most of you are kind of inexperienced and lame.”

Well, guess what, RDJ. I think you’re kind of lame. But this seems apt. Because in my experience when you build up someone you have fantasized about being with but truly don’t know all that well for too long, the truth of that person is almost always a disappointment.

You tell em, Joaquin

You tell em, Joaquin

Say what you want about Matthew McConaughey and his Oscar-winning performance in the movie Dallas Buyers Club, which was made for about 12 cents, or perhaps proclaim you didn’t get Gods and Monsters, which won a best screenplay Oscar 17 years ago, starred Ian McKellan and was shot in under 30 days for the 1988 equivalent of 12 cents – each of them would NEVER have gotten made without some name talent attached. Nor would Mr. Downey’s career, which was sadly interrupted due to a long-term jail sentence as a result of drug addiction, even been resurrected were it not for the willingness of smaller films and bigger names to take a chance on him, vouch for his reliability and hope upon hope he could once again deliver the sparks of genius he previously showed in films like Chaplin, Natural Born Killers and yes, Less Than Zero.

How quickly we all forget.

I don’t know Mr. Downey so I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on in his head these days. Maybe he’s just tired. Or perhaps he really wasn’t the guy I thought he was. (Note: Perhaps?). But there’s a larger issue here and that is the willingness of many of us, including myself at times, to take the easier or at least more financially profitable way out when given the chance.

Next RDJ stars as the Monopoly Man in the big screen adaptation of the Parker Brothers boardgame #itcouldhappen

Next RDJ stars as the Monopoly Man in the big screen adaptation of the Parker Brothers boardgame #itcouldhappen

We live in a capitalist society and with worldwide economic uncertainty there is clearly something to be said for making as much money as one can in order to ensure a secure life for yourself and your family when times take their next inevitable downturn. But how much is enough and when does one begin to sacrifice other essentials in the name of what one considers financial and familial peace of mind? That, one supposes, is a matter of opinion and certainly an area where we are all at some point more than likely going to get tripped up on since there is no easy answer.

Nowhere is this question more unclear than it is in the entertainment business. One man’s artistic endeavor is another man’s lameness. And another man’s lameness can, in part, be caused by his lack of artistic chance-taking, cushy private jets and lack of empathy for those trying yet sometimes not succeeding at delivering a small piece of humanity to less than 3000 movie screens per weekend across the country.

Hey Robert... remember when I was Batman?

Hey Robert… remember when I was Batman?

Fill in movies like Sherlock Holmes 1 & 2, Ironman 2 & 3 wherever you see fit in any or all of the above categories. And then consider where you’d put The Judge. Lord knows I wouldn’t begin to direct you into deciding just how lame they are or are not. I will also stay away from including The Avengers, which I rather liked, and the latest Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I have not yet seen, in either category. And that’s not only because my students would kill me or that I believe Joss Whedon is a really cool and talented guy.

What I have also entirely avoided here is another press incident with Mr. Downey the week before when he walked out mid-interview because he didn’t like the line of questioning a British reporter was serving up about his past drug addiction and whether or not he was still haunted by those “demons.” This is always dicey territory for a journalist whose job it is to ask the tough, relevant questions, and the subject whose option it is to not answer or walk out on questions he doesn’t want to respond to or deems irrelevant.

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I chose to give Mr. Downey the benefit of the doubt when he chose to leave, even though his on-air excuse was – “what are we doing here” and “are(n’t) we promoting a movie?” Well, uh, no RDJ – you are doing an interview with a journalist whose job it is to be a reporter, not your publicist. Still, it’s fair not to have to delve back down into the depths of an uncomfortable subject that you don’t believe is pertinent to the news at hand and, as always, you have every right to make an abrupt exit.

However, what seems quite unfair is to snidely look down from your now very, very high pile of money, access and – there’s no other way to say it… privilege – and make snide, cutting remarks about people who are doing their very best to tell the stories that places like Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, Fox, Sony and Walt Disney Studios have no desire to tell anymore. One could also say it’s behavior unbecoming not only a superhero but any actor who has ever successfully played one.

And, finally, the very definition of LAME.

Brave New Bruce

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I spent several hours with Bruce Jenner in the eighties. It was on the patio of either his manager or publicist’s house in Beverly Hills and I was interviewing him about a new production company he was starting. Or well, maybe it was at his house. I can’t recall. And anyway, that’s not what was important.

What is important and what I do remember quite distinctly is that Bruce Jenner was in full tennis whites – shorts and a collared short sleeve shirt – and that he was beautiful. Not sexually beautiful necessarily – although perhaps he was – but physically attractive in a way that did not fit the binary we’ve established for gender identity.

Mr. Jenner had the floppy straight hair I had always coveted framing an oddly androgynous face that seemed not all male yet in no way female. He also (still) possessed the massive legs of an Olympic athlete. A decade before he had won a gold medal representing the US in the decathlon – a grueling 10 event sport that is routinely acknowledged to be one of the most physically demanding competitive events in all of sports. I remember thinking – this guy is big but just doesn’t seem strong enough to do that. Not to mention, there’s nothing hyper-masculine about him. Where was the physical verve, the testosterone, the veiny muscle definition of a guy guy? Oh well, maybe he just got tired of training. Also, he spoke in a gentle, caring manner that reminded me of a neighborhood librarian I once liked when I was a kid – not the person who only some years before was awarded the defacto title of jock of the world.

Yes, I really did want that hair (and still do, really)

Yes, I really did want that hair (and still do, really)

I remember thinking at the time, oh well, I must be stereotyping. I guess one of the joys of being a reporter is that if you do your job right, you learn something new on every story.

Oh, and one last note before we change the subject — there was absolutely nothing SEXUAL about him. (And trust me, I was on the lookout for that at that time). Not a whit. Well, perhaps if I had been a woman. Which I most clearly wasn’t and, as it turns out, he most unclearly – was.

Hindsight may be 20/20 but none of these observations could have prepared me 30 years ago for what I heard several days ago on ABC’s 20/20 as I watched Mr. Jenner’s two hours of revelations about himself to Diane Sawyer. Proclaiming to the world that ‘I Am A Woman,’ he confirmed that, yes, he is transgender, yes, he wears women’s clothes at night and has sporadically donned dresses at various hours and in public for most of his life, and that most definitely yes, he is in the process of fully transitioning from male to the female he always felt he was inside. It was also announced simultaneously elsewhere that the E! Channel will in late July begin broadcasting an eight-part documentary series focusing on Mr. Jenner’s journey as a transgender woman which he very much hopes will be able to do some good in the world.

Followed by cameras on his own terms

Followed by cameras on his own terms

It is not at all lost on me that I never gave even a second thought over the years to any of my observations about Bruce Jenner after that one time I spent with him. Just as I am also positive that his recent announcements have in no way shaded, colored or in any way informed, influenced or twisted any of what I know I felt and/or experienced at the time in his presence all those years ago. I figured he never quite looked me in the eye and fidgeted a bit because he was more of a physical guy and not very articulate. The vagueness to his focus – well, perhaps he was being shoved into this interview and had other places he’d rather be. The fact that he didn’t seem terribly interested to engage in the usual give-and-take conversations I always seemed to get out of my interview subjects – hmm, it was probably just that I was too gay for an Olympic hero, or too east coast ethnic for this perfect specimen of mainstream Christian Americana, or even worse – just not worth the time for a guy they’d put on the cover of a Wheaties box.

As is often the case with such feelings – wrong, wrong and WRONG. My insecurities were ALL ABOUT ME. They had NOTHING to do with him – meaning, the other person. A good psychiatrist might call it projection. Even a mediocre one could figure it out and call it that.

But there is also something else going here. How we treat transgender people or those hiding in a closet or, in fact, ANYONE we think we know but don’t — or even that other someone we are meeting for the first time.

Sometimes you can't see everything in just one glance

Sometimes you can’t see everything in just one glance

We often have absolutely NO CLUE what their really story is.   At least not after one meeting. Oh sure, anyone can defy the odds with a lucky guess, or even an educated one. But the ugly truth is – we never entirely know what’s going on in someone else’s mind or life – and certainly not entirely what’s inside another person – even when they are as close as the very dearest person to you.

In other words – as George Eliot so wisely first wrote in 1860 in her novel The Mill and the Floss:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

(Note: Yes, George Eliot was really a she – her real name was Mary Ann Evans – and No, I did not know she first coined the phrase off the top of my head (see above note) – I had to look it up.

Also good advice

Also good advice

I have taught three transgender students in the last 18 months – that I am AWARE of. Not a shocking number but still not NOTHING and more than the total number I’ve taught in my entire 10+ year teaching career. (Note: That is, I think). You might assume their presence would be unsurprising to a guy like me but indeed it was not. What I can also report back is that each one of them – every single one –were the BEST writers in their group. This is not to generalize and say that Bruce Jenner would be a great writer if I had taught him but only to mention that clearly this is a community of people filled with talent who have something to say. Which is no different than any subset of people we all encounter everywhere.

Therefore, it might be appropriate as Mr. Jenner goes through his transition and we all become more educated and aware of this new subset of human beings who have nevertheless existed for quite a while under our collective radar, to be a little nicer and a lot more understanding. I’m all for zero censorship in art, but could it hurt Conan, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and a ton of other talk show hosts/comics to desist with the Jenner jokes for awhile?

Let's take it down a notch, Ok?

Let’s take it down a notch, Ok?

That goes twelvefold for the tabloids, the paparazzi and the salacious infotainment shows. Yeah, I know he’s got his own docuseries on TV and is a public figure but really, it won’t kill anyone’s careers to lay off for a bit. And that goes for the rest of us at the office, through email or in the privacy of our own homes. There’s enough salaciousness to go around. How about following the Duggars to church and recording some of the public sermons they’re listening to – and then discuss, email or pass around social media? Or insert another Kim/Kanye reference somewhere, anywhere, and to anyone – Lord knows they won’t mind. At least, I don’t think they would. Though I guess I shouldn’t say for sure.

They didn't even mind when Amy Schumer threw herself in front of them... literally. #goAmy

They didn’t even mind when Amy Schumer threw herself in front of them… literally. #goAmy

The amount of bravery it takes to go on national television and speak your non-mainsteam truth to an international audience is, well, immeasurable. I don’t know about you but I find it challenging to be consistently real every minute of the day without the cameras rolling. Heck, Ben Affleck just lobbied a PBS series on family genealogy to OMIT the fact that one of his distant relatives from centuries ago was a slave owner from an episode they had already filmed about the actor. Imagine what lengths any movie star goes to in order to hide the real truth about any potentially controversial area in their contemporary lives for fear of reprisal? I don’t have to imagine, I’ve seen it happen time and time again over the years from a sometimes front row seat in the entertainment industry. What Mr. Jenner has told the world pales by comparison in the salaciousness department. And by a lot.

So say the Queen!

So say the Queen!

As a gay person, one’s journey to come out is among life’s most significant events. That’s because try as we might to be like everyone else, we’re in the minority and will probably always be. In turn, that means there will always be a portion of the accepted majority who will always see us as different, other or just plain sick and inferior.

As times change and being gay is now cool among most of the younger generation and even some of their elders – and certainly far less controversial to the mainstream than the young version of me could ever have imagined when I interviewed Bruce Jenner all those years before – it’s time for another group to stand up and take the heat: the transgender community.   They have an unexpected new public face – a 65 year old man who has been married three times, fathered six kids, is grandfather to many more and has raised even more than that. He was also once the most famous male athlete in the world with a gold medal to prove it. And now he’s telling us that he’s going to become…a woman?

Yeah, he is. Deal with it. He’s earned the right by living in his own skin. We have a Black president who is the product of an inter-racial marriage, genocide is now going on in Syria, the Holocaust really did happen and the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist.   Now which one of those is the most shocking anyway?

A Very Special Nosh

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This weekend was spent celebrating the life on my fabulous Second Mom, Shelly – which culminated with a wonderful celebration at the home of the Chair. Well, people said it was wonderful. Of course, what else would they say in this circumstance? Well, I suppose they could choose to say nothing. Though that is seldom the case with my family or friends.

And besides – it was fabulous.

Instead of a funeral, for decades Shelly told us all she wanted was a party where people ate, laughed, told stories and had fun. For those of you who haven’t been to a life celebration for a cultural Jew at the home of a cultural Jew and a lapsed Italian Catholic – both are whom were raised in N.Y. – let me just say it will probably take about a month to get rid of the smell of deli food and smoked fish from the house. Not to say that there isn’t another room that reeks of sugar and has remnants of chocolate chip cookies, black and whites and babka. And note: I am sure of the latter because the pooch seems to be obsessed with any number of corners or crevices in spots she usually ignores in search of the last remaining morsel or crumb.

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I kind of don’t want the place to ever be fully clean because that means the celebration will be officially over. On the other hand, who says that has to be true? My experience with death is that it’s awful, hurtful, horrible and inevitable. Yeah, you’ll find no false bromides here. Still, after awhile what I have also experienced simultaneously with all of that pain is the joy, good fortune and exhilaration of having known someone in your life who touched you so significantly as to make you feel so deeply awful about their loss. I’ve come to realize that is a celebration in itself that never ends.

It is in this sense that you never fully lose anyone. You can’t because no matter how upset, bitter, angry or sad you become there are moments when you will also be able to remember something silly, something wicked or still something else that was just plain them. And it WILL make you smile. Eventually. Even when you’re sure that it never will.

The broken heart mends

The broken heart mends

Of course I could just be fooling myself into believing all this crap because it makes me feel better. That is a possibility. And certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time. Nor the last. However, I don’t think so.

In honor of Shelly I leave you with our usual song – but one I forever associate with her. Yes, she loved Neil Diamond. But I mean, who didn’t in the seventies? And even now?

See ya at the deli counter.

Powerful Women

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My stepmom, who I loved very much, died this week – the same week that Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president. If Mrs. Clinton succeeds she will be the first woman to run our country. My stepmom – who from now on I will refer to as my Second Mom because that is what she really was and that was how I felt about her – ran and successfully raised a blended family of five children from two very different sets of parents for almost 45 years. This was not a first in the world but was certainly one of the firsts in a plethora of blended families that began en masse in the U.S. as a result of the changing social mores of the very early 1970s.

Meet Shelly

Meet Shelly

When my folks split up in 1969 it was not so much rare but extremely uncommon. Divorce was slowly on the rise and the myth of the idealized, perennially happy nuclear unit one saw advertised in the media was being exposed for the smoke and mirrors bit of real imperfect unreality it often most certainly was.

Numerous women have run countries of note over the centuries – Cleopatra, Indira Gandi, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher immediately come to mind – especially if one leaves out post B.C. royalty, which I most certainly am happy to do since I believe the anointment of kings and queens should stop at one’s high school prom. But interestingly enough, no female in our last 250 years has ever had or come very close to getting the top job in the United States.

This lady excepted, of course

This lady excepted, of course

That the most powerful country on Earth for many decades, if not centuries, has never had a female at the helm feels counterintuitive. This is especially true when I consider that many women like my Second Mom have proven time and again they intuitively know how to run things – especially people, bringing out the best qualities in them and their encounters with their environments.

Of course, this might not hold true across the board. We all have heard and/or experienced isolated parental horror stories. But overall these are often about both sexes – the horrible, harridan mama and the absent and/or abusive papa. So taking those many tales as a whole we can safely say that this argument at best produces a wash. Which leaves us once again with the question of the day – why are women so often undervalued and why do we not fully appreciate them in the moment of their greatest triumphs?

I've been saying this for years!

I’ve been saying this for years!

My Second Mom had the unenviable task of intermittently (meaning each summer and for various weeks in the year) incorporating the two existing children of the man she had married into a new life with this new husband who in turn she was asking to become the father and therefore breadwinner to the three other children she was bringing along from her previous marriage. Really? Now that I’m two and a half decades older than she was at the time she took all of this on my mind reels at her task at hand. It’s taken all I could muster to handle her death this week. Merely getting out of bed and doing the work I’m tasked to do – which doesn’t include raising ANY kids at all except myself – has me pretty much hog-tied. (Note: I think that is the first time I’ve ever used the term hog-tied in a sentence but nevertheless it somehow felt appropriate). And I’m a man. In 2015. Not a female with five children aged 3-15. In 1971.

A toast to my Second Mom

A toast to my Second Mom

Yet she did this, for many years, and with great humor, wisdom and a big open heart. There are really no books to teach such things. I had barely become a teenager when we met and was sharp, smart, had an attitude and determined to hate her. In other words, leave out the hate part and I was pretty much what you read now. Yet it took a simple game of bowling with my Dad and my much younger sister for her to totally win me over in less than five minutes. How does a Mom, much less a Second Mom, manage to do this? Was it her fringed, faux suede poncho, her long, wavy auburn hair, her penchant for throwing in a snide retort in every fourth sentence? More likely it was the fact that she immediately got me.

To be a great parent is to understand things about your children that they themselves haven’t realized and to guide them into discovery, acceptance and, finally, joy in being the best of themselves. She knew I was gay before I did (Note: I used to wonder how but now well, I mean I can’t even believe I once asked that question); realized I should be a writer way before anyone else in my family ever thought I should; told me I could achieve and handle stuff I felt sure I never could or secretly fantasized I might; and comforted and held me when I was hurt and scared, even when I was far into my adult years and on the surface seemed way, way, way beyond mothering. I couldn’t ever repay her for those many moments and even in recounting this tiny portion feel as if I can barely write about it. On the other hand, if she were here right now I know she’d smile and tell me I was being ridiculous and to just wait – I could not only handle this but a lot, lot more that I had in front of me. (Note: Damned if she wasn’t right again on all counts. Oh well).

shelly's advice

shelly’s advice

To do this sort of thing not only against all odds but to a sometimes hostile audience, is a feat that I will not quite ever understand. It can’t be a guy thing for this not to compute because certainly there are great Dads in the world who have exactly these qualities and understand innately how to do it. Just as there are females who can’t and don’t. Yet like all things great – these types of people are rare. Like all great leaders.

lead·er

  1. the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

It takes all of the above qualities and more to effectively run a country – especially one of the size, stature and power of the good old US of A, which thus far has rejected every Mom in its history from ever getting the opportunity to do so. Talk about unappreciative, ungrateful or just plain clueless kids. Well, ahem, I guess that’s par for the course. We kids never quite realize the stuff we should until it’s almost too late. The important thing is we do realize it at some point, take what we’ve been taught and put it into practice.

#YES

#YES

Make no mistake – Hillary Clinton should not be elected president because she is a woman and a Mom. Those assets are only a small part of the experience she brings to the job. But to pretend that these are not assets and to not add them to the list of her many qualifications is its own form of acting out – like the mouthy teenager who believes their Mom is an annoying pain who is constantly crawling up their butt for no reason instead of a person with the patience of a saint who is infinitely smarter about certain things because of their experiences and love of their job.

Hillary Clinton has been:

  1. First Lady of the state of Arkansas
  2. First Lady of the U.S.
  3. U.S. Senator and the first woman to represent the state of N.Y.
  4. U.S. Secretary of State
  5. A respected lawyer
  6. A tireless human rights advocate and
  7. A national punching bag who has been dragged through scandal more times than most any one of us reading this AND has lived long and large enough to tell her tale to the world.

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I am not quite sure why at 67 someone with that history still aspires to endure a grueling 18-month election to be the leader of the free world but if I had to guess it would probably be precisely because that person has the sort of history that they do. People make their own choices (Note: Hard Choices – yuk yuk) and it is never an accident the uber-successful are where they are. I tell my students this every time they question me about why a gigantic movie star is a gigantic movie star. Plenty of people have talent but it does take a Village of determination, among other qualities and people, to get there.

See, she gets it!

See, she gets it!

As I posted on social media earlier this week, one might not AGREE with Mrs. Clinton (Note: Why did we all feel, from her earliest days on the national scene, that we have the right to call her “Hillary”) on the issues and instead have their own candidate of choice. But to scream that somehow she is unqualified, not intellectually up to the task or – and this is the most popular – morally lacking (uh, consider her predecessors in the last 50 years) is to be just plain…MAKING STUFF UP. In 2007, I once heard the blogger and former Republican now turned Democrat Andrew Sullivan whining disgustedly on television to Bill Maher that he can’t imagine listening to that voice for the next four years in some pathetic effort to devalue a Hillary Clinton presidency. And that’s coming from a learned guy who agrees more than disagrees with her on any given subject. This gives you just a preview of what is to come in the next couple of years, and then even more, should she get elected. So fasten your seat belts, as both Margo Channing and Ralph Nader once warned.

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Yet if nothing else Hillary Clinton has certainly proven she can take care of herself on that and many other scores. Like many women of her time, she’s had to wear many hats in a large variety of styles and shapes over the years. My Second Mom wore a lot of hats, too. In fact, one of my favorite things she once told me occurred when we were walking through some overdone Las Vegas hotel into some fancy five star restaurant. She had her hair tucked into an unstylish short brimmed cap and when someone took notice of it she turned to me and said, “Oh fuck it, I don’t look like those other women anyway.”

No, she didn’t. She looked, and was, a lot better.

Hillary 2016.