Turning Back Time

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We all came to America in different ships – but we are all in the same boat now

– Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) outside the Capitol Building last week to a mostly young crowd supporting a Democratic-led sit-in demanding a vote on gun legislation

John Lewis has been a congressman for almost 30 years but is still best known to most Americans as one of the young protégés of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In that realm, he is also renowned as the young Black man whose skull was brutally fractured by nightstick-wielding Alabama state troopers during the 1965 March on Selma when he, Dr. King, and hundreds of others merely decided to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in non-violent demonstration in order to integrate the South.

Living legend

Living legend

Now 76-years old and bald, one entire side of Rep. Lewis’ head still very clearly bears the bold, visible scars of that fateful day. So as he encouraged demonstrators to never give up on their goals it is also unsurprising that a veteran lawmaker like himself would admonish them to also not give in to their anger over 200 mass shootings since 2006 (the latest of which was responsible for a record body count of 49 inside an Orlando gay nightclub) despite absolutely ZERO modifications of laws that allowed those gunmen to purchase their often quite sophisticated military grade weapons.

The way of peace is the way of love, Rep. Lewis shouted out towards the crowd as he went on to further share with them what he said Dr. King related to him all of those decades ago.

Hate is too heavy a burden to bear, so we need to lay it down – it is better to love.

And to even that he then added this 21st century addendum.

So with all of you working together — we can turn our nation around. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, Latino American, Asian American, Native American, Straight or Gay – we are all Americans.

My head is still spinning over this....

My head is still spinning over this….

I am hesitant to say a few unexpected tears welled in my eyes as Rep. Lewis spoke. As a gay guy of a certain age I have not yet grown used to national leaders openly including us in the multi-layered cloth of identities in this country. Yeah, I know it’s been at least a couple of years but I’m not sure you ever relax about this sort of thing when more of your life has been spent battling inequality than basking in the rewards of the opposite. In this way, I can only begin to imagine how he must feel as the purveyor of this message after what he has managed to live through.

By the way, I know his above quotes to be accurate because I watched him say them on live television during the many multi-hours of coverage this 2016 demonstration received and then sped it back using my Direct TV rewind button in order to write it down exactly and remember it. That’s yet another way the world has changed for the better since the 1960s. Not only do you get to see government and civil disobedience live and unedited, you have the opportunity to record it permanently in case you forget it, don’t pay attention in the first place or if anyone doubts you.

I have the power!

I have the power!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sixties, seventies, fifties and even forties for several reasons this week. No, they don’t all have to do with the passage of Brexit and the anti-immigration wave not only blowing throughout England but back on to and throughout this country via our current Republican presidential nominee. They also have to do with my home TV viewing habits via one of our own fave channels – at least in this household — Turner Classic Movies.

This month TCM’s been showing musicals from the 1960s and I was seduced into too many off hours of diversion in the last few weeks somehow – mostly recently several days ago by the film versions of The Music Man (1962) and Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Now don’t get me wrong, neither of these are great films but they are infinitely watchable and entertaining. So evocative are they of another time and place and naiveté that doesn’t exist anymore that it becomes impossible to turn away.

Saturated with glee

Saturated with glee

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to imagine that there is a town still as rosy as Sweet Apple, Ohio where all teenage girls looked like Ann-Margret; with fathers who had the gay sensibilities of Paul Lynde (Note: But you didn’t have to talk about them) and where the country’s biggest problem was just how on earth we could all handle the departure into the military of our own #1 word famous swivel-hipped pop star? (Note: And one with no discernible bloodshed because we clearly were fighting no discernible war).

Well, the only thing that could be better is viewing a kind-hearted con man re-energize one of our small towns citizen by citizen and, through his deeds (and unbeknownst to himself until the end), finding that he does have a soul underneath it all. So much so that he decides to leave his life of capitalistic crime, fall in love with and marry the local spinster librarian, and spend the rest of his life as a mere private citizen in the very town that at the beginning of the story he was determined to massively rip off?

Oh sweet Americana

Oh sweet Americana

Those are the thumbnail plots of Bye Bye Birdie and The Music Man and a pretty good representation of where we were sociologically in the early 1960s. No wonder such a significant portion of white America, not to mention white England, are nostalgic for the past and want to take our country(ies) back….there????

Yes. Make no mistake about it. That’s where they want to be. To a place that, well, never existed.

Because you can’t return to Sweet Apple, Ohio without returning to a time when Rep. Lewis types not only did not serve in Congress but would get their skulls bashed in or worse in some (many?) places if they dared to eat at the same lunch counter with you. And to return to the kind of Europe that Brexit proponents are suggesting – a time where citizens of one country were not free to emigrate and work in another nearby European country as legal citizens – means also going back to a place in history not that far removed from our most horrific example of nationalistic pride and anti-other/immigration gone amuck – Nazi Germany.   You just don’t get to say that brown and black and yellow and every shade in between of people are taking your jobs and your opportunities so you’re going to outlaw them from coming any where near you without also owning the idea that you are opening the door of advocacy for a time you would most likely publicly eschew.

Sounds about right

Sounds about right

This appears to be the dilemma now. Do we trudge forward in love as Rep. Lewis suggests? Or do we go back to the real time – not the fantasy of it – that Brexit, Trump, and the brewing worldwide nativism movements suggest?

As much as I like a good or even decently nostalgic movie musical – I’ll choose to follow a battle-scarred leader like Rep. Lewis any time of the day, week or year.

I mean what could happen, right?

The Speechless Mentor

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Older generations are de facto role models for younger generations whether we like it or not. I certainly never longed to be a role model for anyone, which is probably one reason I very pointedly and rationally made the call decades ago to not have children. It is a decision I don’t regret to this day. Me, be someone’s papa? Are you kidding? I only just recently made peace with all my own insanities and let me tell you, that was a decades long, full-time job. For which I not only was unpaid but also had to pay – quite a lot. Read into that everything it implies. And doesn’t.

No, this Papa can not hear you

No, this Papa can not hear you

Still, what I never considered was that if one lives an even semi-decent life, which I believe I so far have, it is inevitable that one takes on a type of parenting and/or benevolent leader role to someone – and probably more than one someone – who is less experienced and probably younger than you are. This is the way of the world and is even predictable. Be it in your professional field, your social life, or – though hopefully not – in your romantic exploits – we will all eventually find ourselves suddenly thrust into the position of being a mentor, semi-oracle, or an older, wiser and more experienced something to someone when we least expect it.

For me this came full throttle when I became a college professor more than 10 years ago. Now let’s be honest here, there is something appealing about having people occasionally seeking you out for answers, especially if you’re someone who fancies their thoughts and opinions as something more than the stupidity that passes for wisdom these days. This is also doubly desirable to happen later in life when we all of a sudden find ourselves kicked out of the prime opinion-making demographic against our collective wills.

Nice try, Hipster Grandpa

Nice try, Hipster Grandpa

Still…when you’re up on the pedestal you must deliver the goods. That means you need to have a few answers, reasons or at least pseudo explanations and/or excuses in your area(s) of expertise.   And even non-expertise. Because once you become a true mentor to someone (and I suspect though can’t be totally sure it works this way when you’re a parent) it expands way beyond what you cop to know about and well into the issues of what may come up in the course of any particular day for those who are counting on you.

And that’s why I’m here to say that finally – after almost a lifetime of being a know-it-all – and more than a decade of being a sometime mentor and role model:

I’ve run out of answers.

For mass shootings.

For homophobia.

For racism.

For religious dogma.

For gun control.

For global warming.

For the rights and wrongs and lefts and centers of all of it.

Especially the Donald Trump of it – All.

Seriously. No really…seriously.

The realization finally took hold this week after 49 innocents of all ages were gunned down partying at a gay club in Orlando, FL. It was the type of place we gays in the 70s had always hoped for but, much like gay marriage, never quite imagined would come to be – a nightclub with a queer bent where gays, straights and those in between who were of all ages and races, would actually choose to congregate on a Saturday night to party together or just blow off some steam. A place that wasn’t limited to the rich and famous and didn’t have bouncers denying one entry because a bigger and better name was literally on the other line.

And preferably without these cheeseballs

And preferably without these cheeseballs

When word first came out that this unbalanced shooter fit a familiar profile – a disturbed American male in his 20s – I merely rolled my eyes in sad and disgusted submission. When the death roll rose to 49, setting a new US record, and I realized Pulse nightclub was the type of venue I’d visiting many times in my life, it was in horror.   Once I heard the marksman was a married, Middle-Eastern young man with a Grindr account who at the very least seems to have dabbled in gaydom, it became a cruel inexplicable plot point from a bad TV movie – that is if they were still making TV movies the way that they used. Nevertheless, you get what I mean.

Though perhaps you don’t. Because I’m not even sure I do any longer.

In any event, my Notes editor Holly suggested I blog immediately and she was right. Except, I couldn’t.   My mind was a blank. I said I wanted more info but found after XXX numbers of mass shootings blogs I didn’t have anything quite wise or even semi-not stupid to say.

Is this too simple? too complicated? sigh

Is this too simple? too complicated? sigh

Then more facts began to roll in, more absurd political statements from you-know-who mounted, talking heads blathered and people cried all over television. As usual, Pres. Obama spoke eloquently but reading between the lines he seemed to be to be tongue-tied and frustrated. (Note: Yes, I do believe it’s possible to speak well and yet underneath it all be tongue-tied). What more or new could be said, indeed.

It broke a bit when Sen. Chris Murphy filibustered the Senate several days ago and after 15 hours got a little bit done. The key world is little — as in wee. A promise there would be a vote on an assault weapons ban and a bill outlawing anyone on our terrorist watch lists from casually walking into a Wal-Mart and buying a firearm. Pres. Obama just several weeks ago lamented the latter point in a very public speech and with the same particularly frustrated tone.

Still, that was not what really put me over the edge.

What did it were the Facebook posts from some of my former students and mentees. Searching out social media, public forums, their friends, loved ones and even acquaintances and former teachers – they were looking for answers.

Even Mother Monster doesn't have the adequate words

Even Mother Monster doesn’t have the adequate words

Now contrary to what some may think from a film and TV writing professor, not all of my students are left leaning Bernie Sanders Democratic liberals. Yes, seriously.   And it is to those that I fear I don’t have adequate words because to those in particular I can’t fall back on the usual party lines.

A Republican alum of my classroom who reviles Trump and feels lost politically wanted to know if it was always like this. Another former student of color and Fox News watcher rightly equated the Muslim hate with any racial animus and couldn’t understand why his friends and cohorts couldn’t recognize this simple fact. A third – a straight white guy who is a raging liberal but doesn’t fit the profile of many of the rest of them because he married young and already has three kids – felt the same way towards the anti-LGBT patter, excoriating all the phonies out there on the right and left claiming to be a friend of the LGBTs when their previous actions indicate anything but – and often the exact opposite.

I tried to compose something comforting to each of them as good and competent friends, elders, and mentors try to do. And each time I failed.

Me, all week.

Me, all week.

How do I, a Democratic liberal, tell a young person who was raised to be a thinking person that this is a blip in history and through a generational lens what’s happening now is an anomaly? Do I really know that? And do I really believe it? When as a pre-teen I saw footage of Bobby Kennedy being shot and killed during a presidential campaign and I didn’t believe any of the excuses? These three and the many others out there are far more sophisticated than I was at the time so I know they wouldn’t believe any of this now.

What I do recall is appreciating the lack of sure-fire explanation. The truth is hard to hear but what’s worse to listen to is callow dishonesty. It makes all that’s happened even worse. Like trying to fill a large gaping hole with only your own teardrops.

So this is what I have to offer. The truth is it’s for each of us to make sense of these matters for us – through many sources and (non-violent) ways necessary – and act accordingly. But the key word in that sentence is ACT. In some way. Or some sort. It doesn’t have to be big but it can be. It needn’t be small but that in itself would be more than enough. Talking to people is a start. Phoning a representative. Demonstrating. Providing comfort to someone. Changing your behavior in whatever way seems fit in order to create something…dare I say it…more positive. Perhaps towards someone. Or maybe – to help your cause. Make a teeny, tiny first attempt. And don’t listen to the naysayers who will try to convince you nothing matters. That’s ridiculous. And historically untrue.

Never give up

Never give up

Meanwhile, I leave you with a poem a friend of mine posted on social media that sums up my feelings at the moment. It’s written by Maggie Smith. No, not Lady Grantham Dame Maggie Smith. No one can be THAT talented. This MS is a poet who wrote something off the top of her head about her feelings and awoke several days ago to see that it had suddenly gone viral. See, ya never know.

Good Bones

By Maggie Smith

 

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

Pulse, composed and performed by Chris Ryan – a very talented former student making this place beautiful

 

Herstory

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Hillary Clinton made history this week when she became the first female nominee from one of the two major parties in the U.S. for president. Then several days later Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the darling of left, center and center-right wing sanity by giving a rousing takedown speech eviscerating Republican nominee Donald Trump as both a loud, nasty, thin-skinned fraud and a small, insecure, thin-skinned, wannabe tyrant.

Normally it’s not recommended to repeat adjectives like thin-skinned twice in alternating phrases but in this case it didn’t matter. Sen. Warren’s acumen at knowing just which buttons to push in The Republican Apprentice scored such public adoration that talk quickly grew that she was the leading contender for Hillary’s Veep spot (Note: One feels compelled to call her Hillary these days since that’s the catch phrase on her posters and how she signs all of her fundraising emails – at least to me).

We're all ears

We’re all ears

I, for one, was immediately thrilled at the possibility of two women on the ticket. I mean, how could they do any worse and what better way to get misogynist Trump’s goat, right? But looking across to my 87-year-old father, who I know has always loved Mrs. Clinton, as he calls her, and for just as long has always loathed that ass h-le Trump, as he refers to him, it occurred to me to ask –

Uh Dad, do you think having two women on the ticket matters to men in their 70s and 80s?

Silence. And then in one word he answered — 

Yes.

When I told him it didn’t matter to me he quickly retorted that I wasn’t in my 70s or 80s. When I mentioned it didn’t matter to him he just shrugged it off. How I interpreted the latter was, at this point in life I don’t really know why some people are so small-minded and I really don’t care. Can’t we just watch the basketball game or at least Turner Classic Movies?

Indeed

Indeed

I mean, how long do we have to endure the women discussion anyway? After watching news analysts of both genders questioning all day whether the nation could accept having a duo of females as our numbers 1 and 2, my mind began to drift to March 24, 2002. Do you know what day that was? I didn’t think you did. It was actually the evening that Halle Berry became the first African-American female to win best actress (Oscar, that is) and Denzel Washington became only the second African-American male in history to win best actor.

Yes, our TWO best American thespians that year were…Black! That hadn’t even happened before and that was 12 years ago. Not to mention we’ve actually had one Black # 1 in the White House for almost eight years since then. So given that more than another decade has gone by isn’t it about time two women were awarded both #1 and #2 in the same year?

The time is now

The time is now

Never mind that this is the logic by which an illogical mind works. It still doesn’t make it any less true. And are we really going to have a serious discussion about this? Can’t we watch Turner Classic Movies? I’d even consider tuning into a basketball g…. Actually, on second thought – No.

Of course, no sooner did Hillary win and Sen. Warren lambaste Mr. Thin of Skin that the barrage of Trump insults started again. (Note: Remember, he’s a self-proclaimed counter puncher who always hits bad hard):

By now anticipating such witty outrage, Sen. Warren’s staff actually bought the domain www.pocahontas.com that immediately redirects you to the Elizabeth Warren for Senate page. Among other things, it lists her personal blog and facts about the senator and where she stands on all of the major issues of the day.

(Note: For those still a bit confused, Pocahontas is the taunt this year’s Republican nominee proverbially hurls at the Senator, who he seems to be convinced is not, as she has claimed, part Native American. Though he never did try to pretend Pres. Obama wasn’t Black, Mr. Trump did first burst onto the contemporary political scene several years ago when he tried to claim our POTUS was not native born in the U.S,. as he and his birth certificate clearly state, and is therefore disqualified from being our #1 despite winning the office by many, many millions of votes. Twice).

A blast from the very recent past

A blast from the very recent past

However one feels about Sen. Warren, Mr. Trump or Pres. Obama isn’t it nice to be reading about the latest insult, punch back, scandal or near indictment that will ultimately never happen against Hillary – even if it’s just for a little bit? You’re welcome. But stay turned. This week the Drumpf-enator promises a national speech that will blow the lid off of how Hillary and Bill Clinton have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access through the Clinton Foundation and how she, in particular, used the State Department as her own private hedge fund during her tenure as Secretary of State.

This leaves me just about enough time to learn the rules of basketball. Which I’ll begin right after my five month marathon watching Turner Classic Movies in every spare waking moment that I have. What are your plans? And please don’t be insulted that I asked.

 

Things You Can’t Say

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It was one of those weeks. Suffice it to say – don’t ask.   But if I had said everything that I thought, desperately wanted to say or almost said – I, well…

But then I thought – what’s the point of a blog, anyway? To write everything your best self would never say — to your readers.   Perhaps you’ve had one or two of these same thoughts yourself. Or maybe one or two will inspire you to share some of your own with others? Just think how much better – or worse – the world would then be. And relish it.

To the cop waiting in his patrol car on the top of a hill in front of a shuttered park:

You don’t give a crap about safety. I could see it in your eyes as you barreled down towards me. No, you wanted to give me a ticket because you either had a quota to fill or you’re p.o.’d because you’re short – even shorter than me (5’7”) and it gives you a perverse unspoken pleasure. You hate your job AND you hate your life.

Starting off strong, Chairy

Starting off strong, Chairy

And for the record, I NEVER speak in the car actually HOLDING my cell phone. It’s always on speaker or Bluetooth. But my 87-year-old father is ailing and it looked like the number of one of his health care workers so when the remote failed and I couldn’t find the speaker button I just HAD to pick it up. I tried to explain this to give not an excuse but a context and didn’t expect a break from you. But what I got was a condescending nod and a walk-away. You’re a dick. And you’ll always be smaller than I am – in every area – no matter what arena we’re in. #Copette

To the brilliant Anthony Hopkins:

Transformers 6? Really???? I remember those days when you were doing Equus on Broadway. And this was decades before you won the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs. And well before you did Remains of the Day. Not to mention Nixon, Howard’s End and even Mask of Zorro. It’s brilliant you cashed in reprising Hannibal Leccter in Hannibal and Red Dragon. Mission Impossible 2 – we get it. Even the Thor movies sort of make sense following noble duds like Alexander, Titus and Noah. 

On second thought.... #maybenot

On second thought…. #maybenot

No Tony, I couldn’t turn down$5 million, $10 million, $15 million or whatever you’re getting. But can’t you simply be Iron Man’s grandfather? Or at least a Spiderman super villain? Did you have to go to #BayLand? Fine – alimony, child support or you might lose the house in Malibu. But if you’re simply doing this for some new kitchens, swimming pools or generational visibility, I’m done. Do not #MichaelCaine1980sMe.

To Mitt Romney:

I still disagree with practically everything you stand for and find every other word out of your mouth dripping with condescension – especially when it comes to pushy gay Jews like myself. But I will give you major props for being the only high profile Republican politician to publicly and vocally still refuse to endorse Donald Trump. Who would have guessed you’d out maverick McCain or out boy scout Paul Ryan.   Still, there’s an extremely low bar out there from which to excel. #Bully4Mittens.

I think I need to get my eyes check #saywhaaa

I think I need to get my eyes checked #saywhaaa

To Tina Fey:

You’re great but how many more American Express commercials are there? Two? Ten? And why? Why, why, why, why, why??? (Note: See Anthony Hopkins). One can’t help but think it’s the agents. Except, it can’t be. Not really. You’re too young to be Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation. And besides, those spots only aired in Japan. #YoureNotAlecBaldwin.

Paying for her daughters' college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

Paying for her daughters’ college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

To haters of L.A., NYC and San Francisco:

It’s ridiculously expensive to live here because too many people want to live here. This is not our fault. It is everyone’s fault. Yes, the air is cleaner in Cheyenne, WY and Bismarck, N.D. And houses are a lot cheaper in Waco, TX.

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

So? No one is twisting your arm NOT to relocate there (as much as Chip and Joanna Gaines may try). Or to move here. That being the case – please, can the eye rolls stop towards us when you’re talking in public about American values or in private about where you find the real people who make up this country? And we’ll stop dishing about how dumb you are. Or, well, at least I will. #Maybe.

To visitors in my home:

Yes, we have a movie poster with a picture of Judy Garland on it and another vintage one being framed from the movie All About Eve. This doesn’t only mean my husband and I are gay.

Guilty

#Guilty

It also shows that we have good taste in entertainment and like the color combination of red and cream and how it mixes with the blues and yellows in the rest of the house. (Note: Fine, #Gay). Not to mention, the Citizen Kane poster is too expensive, the Ordinary People poster is too depressing and nowadays Woody Allen gets people too upset. Plus, we can’t afford a Jackson Pollock and will likely never be able to. Still, we do cop to a lack of sports memorabilia, Star Wars toys, and gym class experience. In fact, I, for one, served as attendance monitor my entire senior year of high school P.E. class and never had to change into shorts or break a sweat once in 10 months. #CrazylikeaQueen.

To MSNBC:                                     

Rachel Maddow is my oracle and too often there is a false equivalency made between you and Fox News. Still, your non-stop pursuit of all things Trump is making it impossible to defend you to others.

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin' to do, make me sick??

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin’ to do, make me sick??

Know that it’s one thing to report the news in all of its bizarreness and quite another to broadcast an endless loop of the same incoherent blathering over and over and over again for hours with only a few added sound bytes every few minutes from each one of your paid commentators. Take some of the money you saved by unwisely firing Alex Wagner and hire someone with the guts to do something ingenious – like ambush a real politician against their will and ask them a question no one else has. Then film it. And air it. #SaveHowardBeale.

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

To Hillary Clinton:

Good speech. Your Trump hit lines most likely to persuade fence sitters to your side:

Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle.

– Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

– I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.

Now make some of the news reports true and choose Elizabeth Warren as your veep.  In a show biz age, she’ll give you the smartest, most solid and sassiest support to take on the Orange Clown.

To #Drumpf:

You’re a mentally ill racist. Go away and get some therapy. Or at least go away. Now be gone, before someone drops a house on you, too.