Dream Teams

Are you losing your mind yet?

I don’t know about you but I most certainly am.

More than once a day I think of myself in a celebrity box on The Hollywood Squares and I’m not even famous.  Nor has The Hollywood Squares really been a thing since around the time I graduated college.

But ZOOM – here we magically all are, perhaps multiple times a week, in a virtual new reboot of a TV game show where we play to the camera, try to seem intelligent and attempt to crack jokes when all else fails.

I don’t even want to see what 50th day looks like #itsnotpretty

Except, of course, we don’t have writers.  Certainly not judging by any of the countless Zoom chats I’ve been on.  Instead, midway through 2020 we are all solo acts, responsible for creating our own material and literally living and dying by each choice we make both inside and outside the grid.

It’s enough to make you long for the glory days when everything you said in your square was rehearsed and scripted for maximum effect.  Sure, you didn’t always get to be your absolute true self but at least you didn’t have to think about who and/or what that was 24 hours a day. Note: I’m including sleep time because, well, haven’t YOUR dreams been more than vivid lately?

This seems normal now

For those of you who don’t know, The Hollywood Squares was an addictive daytime and primetime game show in the sixties and seventies (and rebooted shortly in the late 90s) where celebrities each occupied a box in a glamorous life-size tic-tac-toe board and answered true or false questions on a myriad of topics of the day.  It was then up to a contestant to agree or disagree with the celeb, thus earning them an X or O and eventually prize money.

If you can’t quite picture it in your mind give it a few months and I’m sure some enterprising souls will come up with a Zoom version app and make a mint charging you for your own intellectual property.

This is too much to process

But back to the real Squares.  By far my personal fave was center celeb, Broadway, TV and movie actor Paul Lynde, who occupied that prime spot for almost a decade and a half.  Mr. Lynde was the funniest and outwardly gayest performer in the entertainment world during those years, quite a feat since he was never out at all, at least in how we traditionally define it.

If you want a sense of how it was back then with Paul and those of us who loved him, it went something  like this:

Moderator Question:  Paul, you’re the world’s most popular fruit.  What are you?

Paul’s Answer:  Humble.

.. with his signature giggle  #icanhearthispicture

Of course, I can’t recreate the sniggering, snide delivery (Note: Well, certainly not these days, if we can’t be face to face) but you get the picture.

This particular Paul question came courtesy of a short, snappy profile of him in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly.  It’s officially called the PRIDE issue and in it the magazine devotes itself to pioneering LGBTQ entertainers and storytellers – past, present and future – and the many ways they have influenced culture, and in turn, our world.

Pour the champagne!

Lovely as it is to be noticed, by far the standout item in this week’s magazine is the bizarre cover, well, drawing, of noteworthy  LGBTQ celebs of the last century in what could best be described as the gayest nighttime cocktail party you will never experience.

It’s a virtual queer dream team of a party with the likes of Queen’s Freddie Mercury beckoning Janelle Monae over to his side of the room; Marlene Dietrich grabbing Cynthia Nixon by the waist and pretty much ogling her; and Ellen DeGeneres with her arm so tightly wrapped below Rock Hudson’s elbow that he can only barely make eyes at the hot – well, I’m not quite sure who he’s making eyes at but rest assured from the expression on his face there must be a myriad of hotties he’s focused in on at some unseen corner.

And to top it all off there’s good ole RuPaul in a red gown and black satin gloves, flounced across a baby grand piano, making goo-goo eyes at – yes, you guessed it – Elton John.

If you didn’t know better you’d think the media was dominated by gay or gay sympathizing liberals who had nothing better to do than to gang up on straight America and subvert their traditions by showing them just how much fun you can have by not insulting the minority of your choice and, in fact, being inclusive.

NPH knows

Of course, the bigger message of the photo is, much like a fantasy sports league, it gets you to thinking of the dream teams of your choice in all kinds of areas and just how they might rescue you, or us, from the doldrums of Zoom chats and quarantine.

For instance, can you imagine if we could bring back Marie Curie and Jonas Salk to a medical cocktail party of choice with, say, Anthony Fauci, recently demoted vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright  and well, let’s throw in Albert Einstein for the hell of it.  What might they all come up with, aside from witty chatter and medical cures, or even talk about?  If not a cure or a shot, at the very least I’d bet they’d have plenty to say.

You know he’d be good at parties

And how about a political confab with Abe Lincoln, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Golda Meir mixing it up with Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, okay I’ll say it, Donald J. Trump?  Trump says Lincoln was his favorite Republican so he’d make it, right?  Or would we have to invite Hitler Andrew Jackson?

Personally, I’d much prefer an afternoon run at a dog park I’d rent exclusively for Lassie, Lad-A-Dog and Nana because I’d get to bring my Jack Russell Rosie, my sister’s Havanese mutt Louie and several other friends’ pooches if they could make it down here in time.  Not to mention, well, every other pooch I and any of my friends and family once owned and loved as part of our family in our pasts.

Sorry not sorry

Which is sort of the point of a dream team, isn’t it?  Or even a tic-tac-toe board of celebrities on The Hollywood Squares.  To bring out the best of us by coming up with exactly the right answers to all the top problems and/or questions of the day.  And to make us feel a bit better in the process.

There was a time when a game show could do it with just a team of good writers and a handful of well-known performers.  The U.S government generally accomplished  this with a small Cabinet and a handful of clever appointees through  every single Administration in the last century while also managing to avoid the most severe consequences of several severe global pandemics.

Don’t mind me as I weep

These days, um, we have Zoom chats, the Gang that Wont Shoot Straight Under Any Circumstances in the White House and Operation Warp Speed to do the deed.

I hate to say it but not even a cocktail party with every LGBTQ star in the history of the world, can take my mind off of that.

Sorry, Entertainment Weekly.

Aretha Franklin – “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”

I See You, You See Me

A dear friend told me months ago to watch the new short form Netflix series Bonding because I had liked Special, another short form Netflix series, and that this one, too, struck similar coming-of-age chords for LGBTQ people like ourselves.

Of course, I never did because, well, who has the time? There is too much white supremacy to not look away from, too many racist Twitter feeds to respond to (Note:  Because if I don’t, who will???) and far, far too much programming already backed up on the DVR that I’m already pretending that I’ll get to but know I never will.

I promise I’ll get to you Sandra… PROMISE!

Nevertheless, a stolen August weekend several hours away with still other dear friends frees you up for all kinds of things.  These include: philosophical talks, ocean views, good food and wine and…bonding.

Both kinds.

One of the coolest things about being an LBTQ young person these days is that you get to see yourself more fully represented in films, television and elsewhere.  Though not fully acknowledged, you are at least not relegated to lurking in the corners of the big and small screen as a coded center box on The Hollywood Squares or as a closeted and/or severely depressed third act revealed killer in some edgy Hollywood detective movie.

or you’re Liberace.

That is pretty much what I experienced as a 17-year-old gay kid and a big part of the reason why I now find shows like Bonding to be such a delight.

Why does a 13-18 minute per episode/seven show season about a NYC female psychology grad student/dominatrix and her aspiring stand up comic gay male assistant/best friend from high school resonate with me so deeply and, well, queerly?

There are many reasons.  So many, many, many.

Oh, calm down.  It’s not even barely remotely about the S&M, at least not in a sexual way.

Chairy, give the fans what they want #hehehe

Nor is it because it is set in NYC and has an absence of heteronormative-espousing straight male white supremacists controlling the narrative, though that helps.

Instead, it is because during its very short season Bonding managed to reflect back to me a version of myself in both its male and female protagonists.  I got to see the pain, the struggle and the triumph of getting beyond the scars of childhood wounds with characters whose sensibilities reflected the types of thoughts and challenges that I actually experienced at the time in my own world. 

This is me.

It didn’t matter that I was their age decades ago or that the world in which they now live in is a very different place than it was way back then.  What does matter is that the smart, somewhat nerdy gay guy and his female best friend (who sort of have sex on the night of the senior prom but don’t) now have the kind of loving, oddball relationship that is/was me.

No, I never donned a leather mask and urinated on…(oh gosh, never mind!) for money.  Nor was any one of my friends bold enough to be a sex worker in leather even though I can recall one or two gals I know meeting up with men they don’t know in weird places where they proceeded to…well, never mind again.

You’re leaving us hanging!

Still, by using this as a setting and embracing the gay of it all and single white female sex of it all and the general insecurity and uncertainties of one’s twenties and all, without being leering or exploitative AT ALL, something happens.  We, the audience, get beyond the window dressing of what at first glance make these stories feel rarefied and extreme.

These are two people.  They date and go to school.  They live in the kind of small and/or drab unenviable apartments most of us did/do in our twenties.  More importantly, they are plagued by the same existential questions of:

1. How will I fit in and forge enough of my own path where I don’t sell out my soul?

2. Will I find love or am I even capable of it?

And, most universally —

3.Where is home and how do/will I even begin to know how to get there or recognize it if it ever arrives?

Srsly, watch Bonding. #plug

These are the ongoing tasks of not only every young person but of every member of a generation no matter what age they are or will become.

What’s different in 2019 is that audiences get the opportunity to take these journeys with LGBTQ characters in the leads, with Black, Brown and Yellow people in the leads, and with members of either sex of any age or non-binary disposition in the leads.

And play to audiences who will WILLINGLY go along for the ride.

Euphoria is also on my DVR. Don’t at me.

There was a moment not so long ago where you’d get feedback at a writers’ pitch meeting on stories such as these like:

  1. Why does this character HAVE to be gay? Or –
  2. The people in this world feel really specific rather than relatable. Or –
  3. There isn’t enough of an audience to justify spending time with two leads who are so fringe and, too often….unlikeable.

Yeah, you might still get some of that.  But more often than that it’s –

  1. Wow, that’s an original voice we really could respond to in this format. Or –
  2. Is that based on a real story? Because that will be a real plus in reaching out beyond yours, and our, niche markets. Or –
  3. We need it now. Yesterday.  YES!

At the end of the day commercial storytelling is still a business.  But right now we live in a time when a weekend of entertainment away can also mean finding yourself seen (and heard) not only in areas where you didn’t expect to be but on platforms where you were previously very much being silenced.

It’s not everything but for today…….I’ll take it.

“This is Me” – The Greatest Showman