That Person

Not gonna lie, this was not a great few weeks. 

A weekly blog that covers the intersection of pop culture and social issues is probably not the best place to tell you my dear friend of 50 plus years died quite unexpectedly two weeks ago.

But what the hell, she did and I’m devastated, angry, sad and grateful to have had her in my life at all.

And yes, to you lay therapists out there, I am feeling all of those feelings – at the same time.

Of course, those feelings won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has ever experienced the death of a loved one – be it friend, family or a little bit of both.

And my dear Deb was A LOT of both, and then some. 

Actually, she was much more than that. 

She was fun and bold and brave and saved teenage me from a life of denial, depression and, well, utter dullness.

As teenagers who would both grow up to be gay, we became best friends way back when and then, some years later, eventually… dated???

Well, sort of.

That was a teeny segment of our relationship, but one that many gay men and lesbians of a certain age will identify with.  The best friend who somehow was thought of as, or became, your “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” when you were a teenager or even in your very early twenties. 

Except that, well, a relationship that works perfectly on every level except the sexual one pretty much ensures they’re not your girlfriend, and definitely not your boyfriend. 

What they become, after some growing pains and years of therapy and a lot of luck, is that person.  Your touchstone.  The one.  That enduring extended family member who knew you then, chose to grow with you, change with you, endure you and love you in a way no one else really could (or can) because they’d never have the history and, certainly, not the context.

There’s a shorthand when you know someone this long.  Memories that ebb and flow, some really good or even great but none of them, even the most mundane or unsavory ones, ever truly bad because by this point you’ve weathered the storm and gotten through all the shit that comes at a person in more than five decades.

If you’re fortunate enough to still have that person in your life you get to laugh at the ridiculousness of what you thought so many times was the end of the world while remaining bonded in the reality of having both survived, this long, together, with any shred of sanity and humor left.

As it turns out, you realize together, you were nowhere near as insane as you both knew you were back then (and even sometimes now).  As for humor, being funny is what got you through and allowed you to survive.  What a gift it is to still be able to make each other laugh by saying so little.   The appropriate eyebrow raise or mind read at an oddly opportune moment will more than do. 

But only with them. 

The one who saw you for who you really were, long before you chose to, and decided to stay and find how it would all turn out.

Loving you for who YOU were every step of the way.

Of course, this is a two-way street.  You don’t get to have a person like that for so long unless you are willing to love them and see them for who they really were.

But that’s the easy part.

The hard part is when one day they’re not around for you to do it anymore.

Yeah, they’ll always be with you, all those memories make you one of the fortunate ones and blah, blah, blah, life goes on.

But not in the way you knew it. 

Deb and I both loved theatre and among our favorite plays was Our Town.  Yeah, we both particularly loved Albee and Tennessee Williams but there was something about that much-maligned Thornton Wilder classic that truly spoke to us and, in some hipster crowds, we took a lot of crap for it.

So it is not lost on me right now that all I can think about is the ghost of Emily, the young (Note: Spoiler Alert) dead girl in her grave at the cemetery at the end of the play, looking and marveling at her simple family and town going about their mundane tasks on a typical day in their mundane lives.

And her disembodied voice, as she asks that iconic question —

Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?

Followed by the Stage Manager answering —

No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.

And Deb taking it in, nodding along, and helping me, as usual, to make sense of it.

See, that’s the thing. At the moment, none of that makes a whole lot of sense.  Even though we talked about it a million times.

Bette Midler – “Friends”

OK Fine, It’s Me

It was confirmed to me this weekend that I am, indeed, a coastal elite.

How else to account for my amusement and constant head-nodding recognition of me and mine while watching HBO’s sort of movie/Zoom session/play turned into a cable film of the same name?

Guilty as charged

Written by Paul Rudnick, a guy who is funny but yet not someone whose work I’ve ever much liked (In and Out, Adams Family Values, even his gay play/movie Jeffrey didn’t speak to me with much honesty),  no one is more surprised by my reaction to his above mentioned – okay, let’s just call it a Zoom-A-Thon – than liberal me.

Of course, that could be the reason.  Because these days I find that I’m not really liberal at all.  That’s how well I know myself.

Instead, I’ve been categorized as a slightly left of center traditional Democratic voting white guy with privilege who has spent the majority of his charmed life living  in big cities on either coast.  Sure, I sweat about things but mostly I rant, complain and sort of stand up for my principles when and if I’m pushed hard enough – but only if that push is a shove.

At least I still look cute

Granted, I am some of those things on any given day.  I mean, which of us does not embody some stereotype of our particular census group at a specific moment in time.  But I’m also a lot more than that.  Plenty more.  Not to mention I stand up for sh-t far more than my friends and family would like.  And often in public.

This seems to be the issue the majority of critics are having with Coastal Elites. It presents as five separate monologues by the kind of people I know or have met or might cross paths with, via what looks like five separate socially distanced chats, four of them on Zoom.

The Fab Five

The monologues are incredibly well-delivered by the likes of Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever.  In turn, they play a NY Jewish “liberal” retired teacher gone ballistic; a gay unemployed actor melting down in West Hollywood; a philanthropist trust fund kid trying to contain her fury and fears; an online meditation guru unhappily dealing with her conservative family; and a thoroughly overwhelmed Wyoming nurse temporarily working in a New York City hospital.

With that cast playing those characters, all in the midst of this mess of 2020 politics and pandemic, how could you go wrong?

Okay, the truth is most critics, social media commenters and audiences have had it with Zoom.  Isn’t it enough we have to live it?  Must we now have it shoved down our throats in a cable movie?  What could possibly be fun or even meaningful about SEEING that small screen on our clearly larger screen.

Sorry, Marcia. #moreofaJanfan

Right, I get that but mostly, well, I don’t.  I’ve sort of come to appreciate Zoom communication.  For one thing, it sure beats sitting in a meeting live with lots of people you’d prefer not to ever have to deal with again live, or at least pretend to enjoy sitting through or next to at any office meeting.

Zoom or otherwise!

Would that you could turn off your inner camera and actually disappear from a room.  How cool would that be?

For another, Zoom has gotten us all to learn a piece of technology we all would have previously avoided like, well…the plague.

Sorry, too soon?

Well, that seems to be the problem for many of the naysers.  The tone of Coastal Elites is somewhere between comedy and drama.  A mix of theatre tweaked laugh lines honed for TV that move the tone up, down, around and through everything from the Menace that is POTUS, the pandemic that will soon have killed 200,000 Americans (Note: Yay, we’re #1! 😒) and the existential angst that only elites like me and these characters have the time to worry about.

My new inspirational poster

I don’t know, after spending the last six months working and living at home, and being told by medical professionals that in the next 12 months don’t count on the prospects being much better, I’m getting a bit freaked out in the mind here.  What the f-k is wrong with characters that feel the same way?  And since when can’t social commentary be, um, amusing and yet on another level, be about something?

Remember the Tony Award-winning play Six Degrees of Separation?  Sure, it was a lousy movie but the source material was pretty good.  And speaking of lousy movies most of the critics once thought was meaningful, have you seen the Oscar-winning best picture Crash lately?  Or revisited the Oscar-nominated Grand Canyon?

Perhaps those critics should (Note:  But you don’t have to, save yourself) and not get back to me.

Don’t even get me started

Bette Midler delivers one of her best screen performances in years as this New York Jewish lady of a certain age coastal elite.  Someone who couldn’t contain herself any longer and ripped that red MAGA hat right off the head of the smirking, Trump-loving provocateur who dared cross the line with her at her local Manhattan Starbucks.

I knew that woman and love that woman because, well, I AM that woman.  Or my mother and aunt sort of were.

Well, now I’m just being redundant.

In addition, who better but Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy to be an out gay actor fretting about queer representation at his most recent audition.  Try not thinking about your gayness with White, I mean, Mike Pence in and around the White House.

I never would’ve imagined Issa Rae playing a wealthy young woman who went to boarding school with Ivanka Trump but that’s probably because I have a middle-aged, late sixties/early seventies view of who went to boarding school.  If anything, that makes me far, far, FAR from being part of any elite.

She sure is

Sarah Paulson can make us believe pretty much anything but presenting this sort of new age guru who can barely deal with her Trump-loving family in the Midwest on a recent trip was an unlikely yet kind-of-inspired juxtaposition with a twist.

And in the clean up position, Kaitlyn Dever really delivers as a young, out-of-town nurse working in a NYC hospital at the height of COVID in April.  The young star of Netflix’s Unbelievable as well as last year’s best buddy flick, Booksmart, more than anyone else, brought a certain kind of even-handed pathos that was able to wrap up the show and make it, in total, much more of a journey than simply a series of rants and clever monologues.

A star on the rise

But that’s my take.  One from a coastal elite who is clearly the target audience for this type of thing. So sue me if these days we want some meaning but also want to be amused for just a few secs on and off.   That doesn’t minimize the issues if, at the same time, you accept that no one piece of art can possibly generate the depth to deal with it all, or even huge chunks of it, effectively.

You can’t even address it all on social media, try as so many of us might, and think as so many of us do.

Me, on my better days

Take it from the source but to my mind what myself and likely more than a few of those non-elites out there are looking for right now onscreen, in a movie (Note: Remember those?) are at least a few glimpses of  honesty – a sense of some angsty reality mixed in with… maybe a smile or two we may, or likely may not, be getting in real life.

If that doesn’t please the critics, well, tough sh-t as me and mine might say.  It certainly gave me/us some relief and something to think about for 90 minutes.

Bette Midler – “One Fine Day”