Skin Deep

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I used to joke that even though I appeared to be a white, gay Jewish male I was, really, a big Black woman – preferably one who could sing like Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson or, if I chose to go a bit more exotic, Nina Simone. Well, live long enough and any metaphor becomes obsolete and somewhat offensive – or even timely.

Chairy, is that you?

Chairy, is that you?

It’s difficult to know what one can joke about anymore. Certainly, it’s impossible to decide just what is timely. I decided late this week to bite the bullet and write about Rachel Dolezal, the just resigned former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who was exposed as biologically White after a decade or more passing as Black (Note: Though there was and is still some debate on just what constitutes being Black). But then the idiocy of our national obsession with Ms. Dolezal was swiftly shifted by the actions of one truly undebatable WHITE 21 year-old Southern male.

When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the historic Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the first Black churches in the country, and shot nine innocent Black people dead after spending an hour as part of their Bible study group on Wednesday night, the meaning of being Black in America once again became crystal clear.

It is not about releasing your inner Aretha Franklin. It is not about crimping your hair, fighting for civil rights, having friends and family members who are African-American in bearing, or possessing any appreciation or talent for rapping, soul food recipes, community service or the historical nature of oppression.

NoSMDH

To be Black in the U.S. means to be at risk and to always be, in some small or even miniscule fashion, and despite your apparent economic or social status, looking over your shoulder. It means to be in danger even when you feel 100% safe. And, if one makes the decision to survive and live a relatively happy life, it means deciding, given those parameters, to figure out a way to turn the other cheek on all that and – like all the rest of us – play the hand you were dealt to the best you can so you can fulfill your destiny.

On the other hand, what the hell do I know about being Black in America? What can any White person every REALLY know? Not very much. Because on some very, very teeny tiny level being Black in America is NOT yet like being like all the rest of us – as I just so cavalierly mentioned in the last line of the paragraph above. I guess I will have to be on a journalistic learning curve for the time being on that one for, as we now once again know, old habits die hard.

As a screenwriter and journalist I’ve imagined myself as characters in countless scenarios. I have been male, female and various other animals of all kinds of ages, races and heights with extremely moral codes and deadly murderous streaks. I’ve been a Hispanic single mother, a wealthy Black politician, a white female cabaret singer, a nerdy Jewish boy (Note: That one was soooooo easy) and, currently, a very young white newspaper editor from the Midwest in the mid 1970s with a penchant for justice so strong that I am now in the process of risking my job, friends and family for my principals despite all seeming logic to the contrary. (Note: Don’t worry, that character’s story WILL have a somewhat victorious ending. I mean, please – it’s Hollywood).

something like this...

something like this…

All of these imaginations, presumed personalities and dramatic machinations, as a therapist told me years ago, are merely outgrowths of a personal talent for invention, or more precisely, reinvention, that helps the real me deal with life. I concoct stories as a coping method to deal with difficult situations (both fictional and from my real life) and create my very own convincing beginnings, middles and ends around them. But this only works as a way to make me feel better about who I am and the events around me – as I have painfully learned over the years. Although it can certainly be the impetus for me – and perhaps my limited or maybe one day vast audience – for seeing the truth/my truth and creating personal change it is a fiction. In other words, it is not, nor can it ever be, real life. Meaning – it was not reality.

In other words:

One can’t walk in someone else’s skin because we are all born with our own very specific skin.

Marvel Studios made this abundantly clear in a recently leaked Sony email that reveals that in its contract for the Spiderman movies with Sony it is a legal requirement that the movie Spiderman’s human alter ego, Peter Parker, must always be CAUCASIAN and HETEROSEXUAL and that Spiderman himself NOT be a HOMOSEXUAL.

oh spidey....

oh spidey

As if there were ever a chance any of these could ever thus be so.

When a rumor recently floated that renowned British actor Idris Elba could one day be the future and first Black James Bond it created an international Twitter exchange, culminating not only with eventual denials from Elba but a public statement by 1970s movie star and former Bond co-star Yaphet Kotto that the mere idea of that was ridiculous and silly.

And that’s only in the movies. Imagine how uppity it could get in other areas. For instance, let’s take politics. Can you consider that one day that we might actually have…I mean, that there could sometime in the future really be…a Black president of the United Sates?

wait a second....

wait a second….

Oh. Right.

Of course, this says nothing of how Black you have to be in order to be categorized as BLACK. Pres. Obama is half-Black and half-White, which seems to count as being Black. Yet some years ago, it surfaced that Broadway star Carol Channing’s paternal grandfather was Black, making her about 25% Black. Yet this seems to be enough for her to still be considered White, though perhaps that’s just because she’s 94 years old and we’ve always thought of her as such. Still, it doesn’t make it good for the public racial future of Rachel Dolezal. She might have two children with a Black man who identify as Black and several adopted siblings who are Black but now that the closet door has been opened she can never truly change her public face – meaning skin color.

That this would count for anything seems so odd, doesn’t it? I mean, don’t we all require or at least hope our houses and apartments are painted a new, fresh color before we move in? Yes, that color has traditionally been white but lately eggshell, gray, putty or even…well, pick you choice are starting to become popular. Though not yet Black. Can you ever imagine Black walls? I mean, really….

I just can't get behind this...

I just can’t get behind this

My husband and I have just moved into a new home that is set against a hillside. It’s safe but over a three week period we’d noticed more than a small rock or two falling into our patio and decided to hire some experienced people to haul out some of the dirt and gravel and build some small barriers for reinforcement and ensure (as much as possible) the safety of ourselves and our dog.

The head of the crew we hired to do this is not Black but he is Mexican (Note: Let’s call him Walter, just for fun) and over the last few days we’ve bonded over a mutual respect for the machinations of Mother Nature and a shared penchant for somewhat politically incorrect humor. Walter and I have joked about everything from my lack of knowledge about plants and building things to the fact that all of his siblings have advanced and multiple college degrees in various “professional” occupations while he decided to go into the family business of taking care of the yards (Note: In his case it’s usually grounds, he’s slumming with us) of many of these same professional people.

the tao of snoopy

the tao of snoopy

Nowhere was this more apparent to Walter than when his working class self went to his local bank to cash a large (well, by my standards) check for supplies I had written to him personally. No sooner had he gotten to the teller for the deposit than a manager was called over to look over the check. After a few minutes, the guy looked Walter dead on and the following conversation ensued:

Bank Manager: This check looks washed.

Walter: Huh? What are you talking about?

Bank Manager: It looks like a fake.

Walter: Well, I saw the guy (Note: That would be me, Your Chair) writing it from his own checkbook.

Bank: Well, just remember, it’s gonna come out of your account if it’s no good.

Walter pauses, thinks. Then –

Walter: Well, okay, but I mean, I trust the dude.

Bank Manager: Okay, but — remember — it’s your responsibility.

um... what?

um… what?

The first thing I did when Walter related this story – after reassuring him about the money – was to ask him what the heck it meant for a check to be washed. He explained it’s when someone takes a check, washes off the ink and then fills in their own amount. Okay, I thought, that’s nervy and inventive – but these checks are brand new – is there something about my signature or writing that makes them look dirty?

My second reaction, as I thought about it, was outrage. I mean, really? Walter may be a big Mexican guy who lives in the hood, albeit in a nice house with a wife and two kids, and has an accent, but really – he has a business account there and he comes in all the time. Is he really going to pass a bad check?

This guy that questioned you about the check, this really pisses me off, I confess to Walter.

Ah, I don’t let those things bother me, dude. It is what it is.

Yeah, but I mean, I bet if I were trying to cash the check, I wouldn’t have gotten that remark, I tell him.

Probably not, Walter replies. But I’m used to it.

Of course, there are a whole bunch of things he could probably say about me, though it would have nothing to do with whether he’d cash my check.

Yeah, I hear that, Walter says.

One more thing, I tell him. I’ll bet this was a White guy, right? Probably like a middle-aged, middle class white guy, right?

Actually, Walter replied, it was a young Black dude. The Blacks and Mexicans, they got a thing going. But, well — I try not to take it personally.

Well, that makes one of us. I guess that’s some sort of start.  Though only kind of.

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.

giphy

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.

Camera Ready

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When I was younger I thought I’d be an in front of the camera guy. But as it’s turned out I’ve spent most of my life as a behind the desk fellow who is occasionally a behind or beside the camera consultant. However every so often, meaning not all that much, I am ready, willing and able in front of the camera and, if shot just the right way and caught at the correct moment, can be quite effective at the task at hand.

The latter will certainly not make me the gay male Oprah – one of my few printable fantasies of the last ten years – but, well, at least it’s a start. To what I’m not sure. But something tells me that with the way the media, information and general business and social interaction are going, it would behoove each of us to learn how to be in front of the lens in order to make our case, sell our story, or simply just be the best and most appealingly real (Note: Or even calculatingly unreal) version of us.

... because this creep could be around the corner

… because this creep could be around the corner

I was recently interviewed by the local news for a piece on noisy neighborhoods. More specifically, to speak about the nightmare house above us being illegally rented to huge party givers and events for upwards of $5000-$7500 per night on varying weekends and weeknights – and for usually more than half the month – by our lying scum of a neighbor who has ignored my previously very polite and in-person pleas to cease and desist.

Of course, I didn’t call him a lying scum of a neighbor on camera. I let the evidence speak for itself. Not that I had any control over what would be in the final piece or how it would be cut together. All the more reason to stick to the basic facts of what happened and let truth and reality do most of my talking.

Can you tell I'm saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

Can you tell I’m saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

I think I did fine but certainly could’ve done better. Maybe torture was not the best adjective to categorize this situation given we’re living in an age of waterboarding and beheadings, as my sister so ably pointed out. (Note: And what ARE family members for anyway if not to remind you of this kind of stuff). Actually, I did instinctually realize that after I said it but frankly, I couldn’t think of any other word to get the point across. It feels “tortuous” in my limited world. You try to sleep when Snoop is rapping outside your back door electronically amplified many times over until he reverberates throughout the rest of the house past locked windows, doors, bedrooms and even ramped up allergy air filter machines at 3 and 4 in the morning.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Of course – I didn’t refer specifically to rap music on camera. That wasn’t the point and I didn’t want anyone to misconstrue race (or musical taste) has anything to do with this. It doesn’t. But I’ve seen enough as a reporter, publicist, screenwriter and general media commenter and gadfly to know that one too specific slip of my tongue might’ve taken over the story in an entirely different direction. Yes, the music that was playing was mostly rap and because it involved loud speaking and a persistent beat it was particularly annoying. But I had to consider – would it have been any less upsetting if they were blasting Better Midler, Lady Gaga or the score from Les Mis? Well, maybe at first but that would quickly fade. I can recall being at a local diner too late one night when I was in high school where the broken jukebox played Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for two hours straight. We were stoned and hysterical laughing for most of it but eventually I did want to strangle someone – or at least knock over the revolving standee of cheesecake and baked goods right through the window and into someone’s – anyone’s – face. And we weren’t trying to sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning.

a different kind of torture device

a different kind of torture device

The sheer level of incompetency displayed by others (and even sometimes myself) when placed before the camera is continually shocking – okay, well then let’s just say surprising. (Note: See sis, I’m listening). And to be clear, I’m not talking about home movies or videos here. I’m referring to planned interviews, speeches – political, business or recreational – presentations, and general work or play versions of ourselves we project out into the world when we are knowingly being recorded or in a place where we will likely be. Not to mention, a lot of this behavior comes from professionals presumably being paid to know a lot better.

Here’s one very minor example that turned into a major story this week amid the debate over the blue/back vs. white/gold dress and Congress almost defunding the Department of Homeland Security:

In her post-Oscar comments on Red Carpet looks, E! personality and Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic, decided to publicly take the petite, bi-racial18 year-old Disney Channel actress/singer (and beloved Dancing with the Stars runner-up) Zendaya Coleman to task for her too ample….wait for it….DREADLOCKS!   Sitting stiff-as-a-board upright in the studio – flawlessly coiffed in designer duds and shot in the best TV lighting a basic cable channel like E! can buy, Ms. Rancic carefully considered the image of this young girl smiling in her designer white Grecian dress and carpet-ready new hair before sniffing:

She has such a tiny frame this hair overwhelms her. Like, I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…. and weed!

I'm more wondering why Zendaya was at the Oscars... but oh well

Dress aside.. was anyone else wondering why she was at the Oscars?

It would not have been relevant for me to even mention Zendaya being bi-racial had Ms. Rancic’s comments not played into some unfortunate stereotype a certain segment of the population has about…people who sport dreadlocks? The type of non-white persons we usually see wearing them? Something else? Hmmm.

Well, whatever it was caused a real crap storm. Ms. Rancic and the show quickly issued more apologies than George W. Bush ever did about the war in Iraq, Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne quit over the remarks and unnamed sources have accused Ms. Rancic of trying to channel perpetually politically incorrect yet hilarious former co-host, the late Joan Rivers, in a desperate attempt to be funny.

... and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

… and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

The latter could be getting to the heart of the matter. Which of us has not made some sort of offensive flub that unintentionally revealed our own prejudices or how ill-suited we were to public joke-telling? However, what made this flub particularly noteworthy was not only the willingness of the co-host to state it to everyone in the world but the fact that it was scripted. That’s right, Ms. Rancic apparently did not think of that line on her own but had it written specifically for her by one of the show’s…writers?

It’s true – someone sits in a room and actually gets paid for making up those kind of comments, jokes and/or mere witticisms… which sort of makes what was said a bit worse. Presumably, a professional joke scribe, director, crew member or network somebody might know better. Except when they don’t. Meaning, if one is going to traffic in borderline racist, sexist, and homophobic insults in order to get a few laughs and drive up the ratings – or one’s own pubic status – one has to take the hot hair heat that rises and inevitably blows back from employing that kind of strategy.

Ya hear that G?

Ya hear that G?

I remember working in marketing on a movie with the brilliantly talented actress Anne Bancroft, who had some really funny and interesting stories about her experiences over the years in show business that she shared in various press interviews. I mean, they were really good and they revealed small bits of herself again and again and again. But after a period of time I began to realize – wait a second, I already know this about her. Did I read it, did I dream it or was it…oh, right, it was essentially the same story. Savvy actress that she was, Ms. Bancroft learned early on the best strategy when faced with speaking about very personal experiences about you and your craft publicly. Give a few to them and keep the rest for yourself. Just update, alternate, embellish and recycle some of the best stuff a bit through the years and no one will ever notice. Except those whose job it is to go through the torture of countless interviews with you and most certainly they’d never tell. Oops.

It's ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

It’s ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

Of course, this isn’t a good strategy for the majority since most of us don’t have those kind of acting chops. Not to mention, she could also be very spontaneous and say hilarious and telling comments on the record at the right moment. But being a smart movie star she was also quite well aware of exactly how she came across and why. Always. It’s not about lying but owning who you are.

As one really high priced shrink once pointed out to me: There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything. But there’s also nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to think about whether you want or need to say it out loud.

Yes, it was expensive advice but worth every penny. I pass it on to you for free.

 

When Mute is not an Option

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My father seldom scolded me as a child but I do remember there was one instance when he threw up his hands, thoroughly exasperated, when I constantly answered him back on a subject I felt strongly about.

Dad:  You always have to get the last word, don’t you?

Me (in protesting voice):  No, I don’t!

Needless to say, this character flaw has continued into adulthood – as everyone who reads notesfromachair is aware of.

On the other hand, is it really a flaw?

There are many schools of thought on the art of having opinions and knowing when to voice them.  Admittedly, I have learned to zip it through the years if only to conserve the much-needed energy I know I’ll require in order to face the larger fight.  Yes, you find as time goes by that you can’t possibly engage every battle and, even if you could, your overall number of losses would inevitably increase even if the total stats in your win-loss column remains impressive to everyone else.  That alone can drive you crazy, as any fighter of any kind will tell you, myself included.

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

Still, what I have not learned nor have any interest in acquiring knowledge of is the ability to remain silent when that little voice in your head tells you it is imperative that you speak.  This is not the same voice that demands that you curse someone out, punch them in the nose or insult their parents, spouse or child when something or someone annoys you.   It is the wiser, more measured voice that implores you to fight back because you know this is a battle that must be fought or a voice that even in small measure has to be heard in order to counterbalance the misinformed, moronic or simply wrong-headed views of another person, group or even nation.

Such circumstances came across my computer screen any number of times this week (as they often do) and I spoke out – loudly, softly, directly, calmly and angrily, depending on the situation.  See, what I’ve also learned is that you can modulate your tone depending on who your audience is and how effective you plan to be in persuading the opposition to your point of view in the argument.  Contrary to what I used to think, that’s not called compromise or selling out your passion or values – it’s simply referred to as– GOOD STRATEGY.  (Or is it “stategery” – GW Bush).

Let’s look at some my examples in a category I like to call:

Nut Bag Fringe & The Religious Crazies (not a band) or The Extreme Right Wing

A common misconception

A common misconception

As a gay person, each day presents numerous challenges in the art of energy conservation and reigning yourself in.  Of course, this is the case for any member of any minority groups fighting for its rights as well as for the friends who love and support them.  But with the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality and the country’s now majority view that members of the same sex have the right to tie the knot, opposing factions have intensified their anger and attacks.  It’s akin to the barely coded and/or totally racist attacks against President Obama and African-Americans at large (Note: Any more comments on inner city laziness, Congressman Paul Ryan?) have had to endure since we elected the first Black man to lead the United States (or in this case – a man who is half-Black) in our more than two and half centuries of existence.  (Note #2: It might be worth recalling that during our first century African Americans couldn’t even vote and were considered “slave property” in many of these United States.  Those in the industry doubting this need merely to pop in their DVD of this year’s best picture Oscar winner, 12 Years A Slave).

Okay, no metaphor is perfect and perhaps I am overstating the comparison here.  I mean, we gays were never enslaved – only discriminated against, arrested, periodically beaten and just every so often killed by our oppressors.   But that in itself is a nice segue into the first of two public statements this past week that needed my answering.

#1: In a nationally-aired radio interview, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (D-MN) tried to defend the just vetoed Arizona bill (SB1062) that would have allowed any business to refuse service to any individuals said business choose not to serve on the basis of religious grounds. Said Rep. Bachman:

There’s nothing about gays in there (the law).  But the gay community decided to make this their measure. 

The thing that I think is getting a little tiresome is the gay community – they’ve so bullied the American people and they’ve so intimidated politicians that politicians fear them – so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.

boo!

boo!

Now, you can think Rep. Bachmann makes a whole lot of sense or is a whole lotta crazy but the fact remains she is a five-term Congresswoman and has a key position as a member of the House Intelligence Committee (Note: Uh no, not joking) overseeing the CIA and the rest of the United States’ intelligence activities.  She also won the Iowa straw poll in 2012 in her bid to run for the US presidency as a nominee of the Republican Party and speaks for a significant group of religious conservative power brokers within it.  Therefore, any member of any outside group ignores her at their own peril.

What needed answering – as I did on web comments and am doing right here – is Rep. Bachmann’s classic fact distortion about the Arizona bill. Yes, the bill is worded in such a way that it does not specifically name gays and thus allows merchants to refuse service to any people they choose on religious grounds. (Note: As if that makes it any better).  But what she leaves out is the reason for the bill to begin with and the primary cases cited by numerous lobbying groups in support of it.  And that would be Elane Photography vs. Willock – a case in which a Christian wedding photographer was sued for refusing to serve a same sex wedding.  Similar cases involving bakers and florists who chose to refuse gays and lesbians as customers have also been cited.

Don't forget we're also dealing with this logic

Don’t forget we’re also dealing with this logic

This is classic political manipulation akin to pending laws trying to limit early voting, decrease voting hours on Election Day and enforce stringent voter ID laws in states where no overwhelming voter fraud exists or time cutbacks are needed (e.g. Florida, Wisconsin, Florida).  But what is certainly well-known in these states is that the African American and other poor or minority community members – people who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats –  vote early, have limited time on Election Day and frequently don’t have driver’s licenses to easily identify themselves.

Now, as Aretha Franklin once sang, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

#2:  Here is a story very prominently quoted nationally this week and displayed on a website sponsored by Norman Lear’s watchdog group, People for the American Way:

Oliver North: GOP Must Oppose Marriage Equality Like It Fought Slavery

In an appearance at CPAC today, Oliver North denounced President Obama for treating military service members like “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment” and “apologizing” for America. North insisted that the US “has nothing ever to apologize for, not once” in its entire history.

Later, North said that the GOP must remain firm in working to ban marriage equality and abortion rights just as abolitionists fought to end slavery, warning that “if we as conservatives cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”

For those under 30, Oliver North was a key member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s before resigning in the arms for hostages scandal of Iran-Contra and is now a best-selling NY Times author, popular conservative commentator and host of his own television show on the Fox News Channel, War Stories with Oliver North.

Remember me?

Remember me?

When my longtime companion posted the North piece on Facebook this week with an angry comment, one of his Facebook friends, who incidentally is a gay man, commented that “political discourse would probably be less apoplectic if the left didn’t spend so much time publicizing extremist statements by right-wing loonies and if the right didn’t spend so much time doing the same by left-loonies, neither of whom were in positions in power.”

Oh, I so beg and begged in print to this guy, to differ.

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

When fringe talk gets national attention and begins gaining national power it is the very definition of political discourse to engage with it – much like a military man like Col. North would do and is doing.  It is imperative.  It is a requirement.  Yes, it’s tiring, but if you are so moved in opposition it is your obligation to answer back and not leave such exaggerated, misinformed statements unchecked.

Rather than dissect each of former Col. North’s arguments point by point, let’s limit it to his comparison of religious conservatives fighting against the right of gays to marry as something akin to the abolitionists who were trying to end slavery.  So the logic goes that allowing gays to marry will somehow enslave religious conservatives?  And those fighting in support of the religious conservative, anti-gay marriage views are akin to those people who wanted to abolish slavery and free the slaves?  How will gay marriage enslave religious people in the same way that African Americans were enslaved?  (Note: Doubters from any industry can rent or download 12 Years a Slave from Netflix and find the correct answer.  Which is:  They will not).

I think the jist is... see this movie!

I think the jist is… see this movie!

See, this didn’t take much time at all.  And it only took me mere moments to answer this guy online with it.  Maybe it changed his mind, maybe it didn’t, or maybe it gave someone else who was on the fence something to think about.

Well, as they say, both Rome and marriage equality weren’t built in a day.  Nor is any cause that gets your goat, or any point the voice inside tells you is worth fighting for or against.  In any arena, playing field, social event or family gathering and on any subject – personal or otherwise – that you know needs your support.  I can’t believe I’m going to end with a sports metaphor but when in doubt think of what hockey great Wayne Gretsky once said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

…And I don’t even like hockey.

Cage Match

chaplin-boxing

I have evolved to the point where I don’t automatically think in terms of winners and losers on any particular issue.  This, however, has taken a lifetime.  After all, I’ve always loved games, my Dad is a gambler and – most importantly – I am an American. 

The Inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States this week prompted some reflection – and not just about wardrobe and spectacle.

Truth be told — there is something about living in the United States that will make you competitive on certain specific personal issues of choice.  Otherwise, our country as a whole, and more specifically Las Vegas and my Dad, would never have been able to make any money over the years. (Note: Both have done quite well on and off and continue to thrive even at all of their ripe old ages).  Maybe it’s that we are a tough, relatively young country (despite our age) that started as a brash insurgent who dared to shove their nose up at Royalty.  Or perhaps it’s that we as a people (including my gambling Dad) only motivate ourselves to make the all-important knockout punch when it’s clear that we will lose everything if we don’t.   Most probably, it’s because like most animals we can’t resist a good blood sport. Vegas, Baby!

Giving in to our most base instincts was pretty easy this week.  The world was a cage match where the loser got bloodied and grinded into tiny little pieces while the winner ended up taking a victory lap with a smile, arms metaphorically raised in the air.  Yes, it’s true.  And you know you love it. This is still America so you can be the judge this week.  But here at notes from a chair we’ve already called the winners which, in some ways, is also uniquely American…isn’t it?

HILLARY VS THE MIDDLE-AGED (AND OVER) WHITE MEN

url

srsly boys?

Oh, guys, when will you learn?  In 2012, Hillary Clinton was voted the most admired woman in not only the U.S. but the WORLD, and you are clearly on the downswing somewhere between the model of the Delorean car NOT used in the Back to the Future movies and canned spam.  So why, why, why do you insist taking on this fight and trying to shame Sec. of State Clinton in a televised worldwide Congressional hearing by blaming her for the deaths of four Americans in the foreign service in Benghazi last year?  Because you could?  Well, you couldn’t.

Armed with a head full of undisputedly salient facts even after a severe concussion two weeks ago, Sec. Clinton spoke articulately, combatively and most importantly, smartly for more than seven (count ‘em!) hours to any number of hostile Senators seemingly bent on her destruction.  Yet she managed to destroy them through sheer passion, emotion and brainpower, simplifying but never dumbing down the extremely dangerous and complicated physical and political challenges we face in the Middle East.  We would like to say it felt a lot like what one former president she happens to be married to did with our quagmire of economic issues at the 2012 Democratic convention but this would be taking away credit from the current cage match at hand where the secretary of state was in a box all alone facing a whole new set of hostile opponents that kept on coming.

Lesson:  The average man might be physically bigger and stronger than the average woman and Sen. Rand Paul might want to proclaim publicly that if he were president he would have relieved Mrs. Clinton of her duties.  But there was no whiff of anything presidential about Rand Paul and certainly there was nothing at all average about Hillary Clinton or her appearance before them.

Right in the gut

Right in the gut

Decision: KNOCKOUT HILLARY (2016).

BEYONCEGATE: MRS. JAY-Z VS. THE TEXAS TORNADO

Oh say can you ... sing?

Oh say can you … sing?

Beyonce appeared live and sang The Star Spangled Banner at the inauguration this week but at this writing there is some (well, a lot of) doubt as to whether Beyonce actually sang live at the inauguration this week.  One fact no one disputes – Kelly Clarkson sang a rousing rendition of America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) that so completely soared into the musical stratosphere that usually verbose NY Senator Chuck Schumer could only react afterwards with this single word – “Wow.”

Why is this important?  Well, certainly it’s not important in the way global warming, world peace and the Oscars are (obviously).  But it is relevant.  Other than a great credit rating, what often seems to be lacking in the US these days is authenticity, and Beyoncegate, (i.e. was she or wasn’t she lip-synching) is as good example as any of the public being sold a bill of goods that through slick, beautiful and clever show business-like deception is not quite what it’s touted to be.  Uh yeah, that’s right.  Put a ring on it.

If we’re being told Beyonce will sing the National Anthem then the clear inference is that it is Beyonce actually SINGING the National Anthem live.  Otherwise, we can go home and listen to one of her recordings or stare at her in the flesh at a party.  Don’t get all cute on us and say she was singing and she was there – she just wasn’t live singing.  You know it’s not the same thing.  And don’t use the excuse that it was cold outside on inauguration morning and singers don’t do well in the cold.  I mean, would any of us love her any less if she hit a thin or even bum note?  I don’t think so.   Plus, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson (who is younger than Beyo) sang live.  As did Aretha Franklin (who is older than both Beyonce and Kelly combined) four years earlier at Obama Inauguration #1.

Ms. Clarkson’s rendition of America started out with a few thin notes and wasn’t perfect.  But it was the imperfection at the beginning and the mounting drama of the musical moments through the song to the end that made her performance such a wow.  We don’t really want a live performance to be as musically perfect as a recording if it’s going to sound exactly the same.  We’re there because we want some drama, some danger, some thrill of some sweat.  And no, the diva flourish of Beyonce yanking her earpiece from her head did not count in the same way as the huge smile on Kelly Clarkson’s face after she hit the high notes on the final verse of that song that even she doubted in the moment she could get to.

DECISION: TKO KELLY CLARKSON

THE 60s OR the 20 TEENS??

Oh.. hello Jon.

Oh.. hello Jon.

I started teaching a new group of screenwriting students who pitched their script ideas this week and I’m here to report that out of a total of 23 students in two different classes 7 proposed scripts that are set in the 1960s.

That comes out to roughly – 30% or close to one-third.

Luckily, there were none that took place in the eighties because as I continue to emphasize to students or anyone else that will listen that decade goes down as the ABSOLUTE WORST in history.  Greed, avarice, AIDS, big hair, horrible clothes and television shows like “Knight Rider,” “Baywatch” and “The A Team.”  Plus, I’m itching to drop one name in presidential politics but in the interest of staying on topic I am going to REAGAN reign myself in.

The sixties, however, were a different time.  Certainly there were so many awful moments – the fight for civil rights, the escalation of an endless war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy AND Martin Luther King.  Plus, there was even Richard Nixon to top off the decade.

However, what there also was plenty of was old-fashioned hope and a belief on the part of the young that if they worked and shouted hard enough the world could, indeed, become a better place.

I think that’s a large part of why today’s young people and many of the rest of us are still dazzled by the sixties.  That and the music.  And the sex.  And the drugs.  And the rock ‘n roll.   I am mature enough to guide them through all of that, having lived through those times myself.  But in doing so in the next few months I don’t think I can stop myself from asking if what was being fought for back then is being lived up to in its fullest right now.   The answer may lie in the upcoming Coen Bros. movie but, elusive guys that they are, I somehow doubt it.

DECISION: SPLIT

 

REPLICANT SETH TAKES ON THE OSCARS

Here is one of the new ads the Motion Picture Academy has just released for this year’s Oscars.

Seth-bot

Seth-bot

So – am I the only one who thinks this looks as if a replicant is the 2013 Oscar host and that the Oscars are so afraid of IT that they allowed IT to have ITS name get star billing above them?

The picture of the replicant is very funnyman Seth McFarlane and in this “air brushed within an inch of its life” photo he appears to be starring in a new remake of The Stepford Wives entitled Planet Stepford Men and the Audiences Who Must Love Him.  This is to say nothing of Oscar allowing said host, who most Oscar watchers barely know (let’s face it), get above-the-title star billing over a trademark that is one of the most recognizable in the entire over-developed world.

Clearly, the reason for this new “branding” is a merging between the old and the new.  The Oscars are old and Seth McFarlane represents everything young and hip, especially when he wears a tuxedo and clutches a gold statuette as if it’s a microphone he’s ready to sing a set of Frank Sinatra songs into.

Oh Academy, Academy, Academy.  Watch the tape of poor Anne Hathaway hosting with another young replicant James Franco.  Then, watch it again.  Now, once more.  Then consider — just because the artwork has already gone out on this one doesn’t mean it isn’t too late to rethink, regroup and refocus.  You do have Adele and half a billion potential viewers to work with.  You might also want to add some MOVIE stars while you’re at it.  Real ones.

Hold me

Hold me

DECISION: THIS ROUND SETH, FIGHT STILL IN PROGRESS 

BOEHNER & CO. VS. MICHELLE OBAMA & EVERY OTHER FIRST LADY IN YOUR LIFE 

Quite a trio

Quite a trio

“..We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall…” – Barack Obama, 2012

The idea is that the equal rights struggle of women, Blacks and gays is really the same struggle elucidated in the U.S. Constitution – that all the “Men” who “are created Equal” includes them and all other human beings.  That’s why it was particularly disconcerting to see Speaker of the House John Boehner this week voluntarily putting himself into the ring with two fights, one small and one big, he could never win.

The small one is the fun one and features the classic Michelle Obama eye roll that has now become a popular gif.

Just roll with it

Just roll with it

Apparently, that was in reaction to some joke told by Boehner about Pres. Obama smoking a cigarette after his speech (despite the First Lady’s well known desire to have the president quit for good) as Mrs. O was eating a salad while seated next to Boehner.   Okay – so Boehner doesn’t have the timing of Henny Youngman.  Or even John Mulaney.  And one presumes he was nervous because he didn’t ask to sit next to Mrs. Obama.  Or vice-versa.  Let’s count that a gimme.

But the second was the one where he announced publicly in front of thousands at the National Mall on Friday that he isn’t going to rest until he helps “make abortion a relic of the past” – which one can only take at his word to mean that no woman, no how will ever be able to get an abortion, even a young woman who is raped or that if an abortion is made available for that rare exception it will be seen as an immoral anomaly to a societal pariah.   Those remarks and statements like “let that be one of our most fundamental goals of the year” – that would be 2013 – were made at an event billed as a March for Life rally, one at which he delivered the take-away speech.

One supposes the Speaker is entitled to his opinion even if it runs counter to the vast majority of American women just as he is allowed to tell any type of joke he likes to any female, or male for that matter, of his choosing.  But if you were a betting person like my Dad, who would you like to wager on – the middle-aged white guy with the perpetual tan or the majority of American females, the ones now very well represented in Washington, DC by the likes of Hillary Clinton?

DECISION: YOUR FIRST LADY (and those of all ages) because they usually know best.