Our Friends and Family

As Russia is just about to invade Ukraine, and the U.S. and its European allies are just about to retaliate by crippling Russia economically, and the combined fallout from those actions are just about to start the 21st century version of World War III, I spent my Friday night with my good friend Midge Maisel.

No, thank YOU!

Not only that, I plan to spend Sunday night with my new friend Sam, as played by the magnificently freaky Bridget Everett, and might even this week, if I have time and have to escape that badly, finally check in with my four-decade old frenemy Tammy Faye Baker via the unique metamorphosis of Jessica Chastain. 

Though I considered loving Lucy (and Desi) a second time if Nicole (and Javier) will have me (Note: As if THEY (or anyone else) have a say these days about ANYTHING I do).

I’m talking about the fourth season of The (indeed) MARVELOUS Mrs. Maisel, the new episodes of the first season of my fellow freaks on HBO’s Somebody Somewhere and the reverse of nostalgia (Note: Rage?) provided by the 2021 feature film I’ve thus far resisted, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

You need this show in your life

Not to mention my favorite film (or is it streaming platformed movie) of 2021, Being The Ricardos, which didn’t get a best picture Oscar nomination but should have.

And no, I don’t care that you didn’t like it.  I was thoroughly and totally entertained.

As for Russia, F them and the Trump they rode in on.

We’re all here now, right?

I write all this to remind myself, and anyone within earshot (or brain-shot), that TV and movies, especially these days, are important.  

These people are our friends and family because too often our real family and friends are not to be had or enjoyed at the snap of our fingers.

Even if they are, who knows if they’re our 2022 definition of safe to be around without wearing a f’n mask?  

The good ones probably are but when this week we hear that the U.S. Surgeon General’s 4-year-old kid gave him and his wife and their other kid symptomatic COVID all bets are off about what’s safe.

I surrender!!!

Screw Bill Maher and the rest of his acolytes who are over masks.  Safe is safe and sometimes only a pre-selected and pre-screened handful of a virtual few can provide true comfort and joy in an age of duress.

Duress meaning not so much threats or pressure but looming and persistent international insanity.

It might seem strange that a gay male adult of advancing years such as myself could find pleasure in spending time in 1960.  But the brittle, sarcastic wit and survival skills of Midge Maisel reminds me of just how much I have survived and just how much I’ve used my humor, brittleness and sarcasm to get me through in the past.

Bonus hats! Bonus Milo Ventimiglia!

Plus, um, the clothes.  I couldn’t fit into them but there is something inspiring when you take the time to match your hat and shirt with the color of your wallpaper.  That kind of attention, that effort, well, it does make you believe that anything is possible if you can get yourself motivated enough.

As for Somebody Somewhere, it’s not like I’ve ever lived in, or even been to, small town Kansas.  I’m a New York City boy whose idea of exploring the heartland was the two years I spent in grad school and working in Chicago.  

Me? A country boy?

However, what Sam and her non-traditional cohort of friends point out to me in each edgy half-hour segment is just how small town everyone’s life truly is when you strip away the big buildings and your own ego.  

No amount of sophistication can diffuse the internal rage you inflict on yourself because of the actions of some friend, family member or acquaintance the kid version of yourself endured in the past.

Not to mention, it’s nice to remember that big can be just as small and equally as lethal if you don’t figure out a way to get over yourself and be honest and bold from this moment going forward.

But what the first season of this show helps remind me most is that no one, not any one person, can do this alone.  We like to think we’re one-man bands in survival and endurance, especially those of us who see ourselves as survivors.

Really makes you think about how talented Bert is.

Yet watching Ms. Everett and company I’m reminded that often it’s only when you stop pretending and admit that you’re at your absolutely crappiest in the presence of someone you’d normally never tell anything to, and certainly never deign to hang out with, that you learn anything valuable about yourself.

Meaning insanity IS doing the same thing (or person) over and over again but expecting different results. (Note:  Thanks Einstein and sorry for the parens).

I can’t explain why I am once again tempted to be in the presence of Tammy Faye since she and her then evangelical hubby remind me of many of the hypocritical bigoted, destructive and hateful forces that truly changed American society for the worst.

Poor Jessica with those eyelashes!

Not only do we still feel their effects today but understanding the personal foibles that caused them to create a movement that is still with us in an even more poisonous form somehow makes it all worse.  

Many of us got her, and them, then.  I mean, is it really that difficult to understand those were the actions of several deluded and damaged people?

But perhaps that’s exactly the reason to spend a few hours with her now. To remind ourselves (Note: Okay, myself) that it’s nice to understand but it’s even better to use that knowledge to move around, over and right damn, gub through them.

In order to diffuse the bomb you need to know what makes it tick, if you want to use World War lingo.

Which leaves us with Lucy (and Desi), who so many of us still love. 

Lucy forever!

I can count on one finger the number of TV characters from the fifties who have survived to this day.  And still make us laugh uproariously.  And are still loveable.

One. 

Finger.

This provides me, and you, with perhaps the greatest gift of all.  

To know that survival is, indeed, possible.  Especially if you are able to laugh at yourself and the world as it quickly unfolds, and sometimes upends, all around you.

I Love Lucy Theme

2022 and Beyond

As we enter into the third year of the COVID pandemic, I’m optimistic.  

Did you know the flu epidemic/pandemic in the early 20th century lasted two years and perhaps beyond into a fourth wave? 

What makes us think we’d be any different?  Besides our vaccines, we have a lot more ways to get close and get infected.

Never leaving the house again

It’s so easy to think the horrible will never end, the future is bleak and that it won’t EVER be as good as it was.

When I catch myself going down this rabbit hole I’m reminded of what the late, great Stephen Sondheim lyricized in the vastly underrated Merrily We Roll Along.

…That’s what everybody does

Blame the way it is on the way it was

On the way it never ever was…

On a lighter metaphor, movies were not supposed to exist once television was born and theatre, well, that would soon be spoken as widely as Latin.

The Tao of Moira

So much for prophecy.

Movies are still here but the way we access them have changed.  The same with theatre.  And television.  And music.

Who remembers DVDs, VCRs, eight tracks, tape decks and…radio?

I mean, radio as a primary art form that’s on the front page or brain of anything?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

But on that latter point, who listens to PODCASTS?  

New Pod from a Chair Episodes coming soon!

You are so no better than your great grandparents.

Social media is not the revolutionary means to the end of the world but the evolution of a world where change knows no end.

Yeats famously prophesized in a 1919 poem, the center cannot hold and we’re still here. 

This despite the fact that phrase was pilfered and rephrased by any number of 1960s social revolutionaries who saw the end coming, and was recently used as the title of the Netflix doc on the life of writer Joan Didion, The Center Will Not Hold.

RIP Joan

Totalitarian reign and pushback.  They leave Afghanistan, we desert Afghanistan. Our weapons of mass destruction, they lied about weapons of mass destruction, our existence teeters on the brink of mass destruction.

This is not to minimize any one of the above issues or their many cousins that are nipping at the heels of all of our destructions.

It is simply to remember that despite all of these changes certain core issues and ways of humanity are ALWAYS the same. 

It’s simply the players, scenery and mode of import that makes it feel different.  To US.

I imagine this is what both Sondheim AND Betty White knew well before their ends.

We’ll miss you girl

On that note, it’s hard to lose our beloved elders, isn’t it?  But by anyone’s measure, living to 91 and 99 is almost more than we can ask given the realities of human frailty.  Yet, we never get enough of people we love, like and admire from afar and near.

This is a particularly heart ripping truth when it comes to our closest friends, family and loved ones. 

Death can be random and cruel, particularly when it comes to the young, but it’s also rote and predictable.  It’s always been the way of the world.  We can extend life a bit but THAT will also NEVER change.

At least as far as we know. 

That is, unless you have Irishman level de-aging tech available to you

Which brings us back to the exciting but scary part that has so many of us freaking out about 2022; what we DON’T know.

Which is….A LOT.

My late second Mom, an avid reader, once told me when I was feeling hopeless and down that life was like a great book, you never know what will happen when you turn the page. 

Expect the unexpected, weather the storm of horribleness and celebrate every second of luck and good fortune that will inevitably come your way.

This, if you have a field

If this sounds like a Forest Gumpism, a movie I could never stomach, it doesn’t to me.  Her advice wasn’t akin to life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get, even though it might be read this way now.  Rather than being about the randomness of life, I took it as the certainty that a good piece of story will always deliver to you; the ups and downs, the inescapable heartache and the always to be counted on moments of joy.

Though perhaps, for me, it was simply the book/story metaphor.  I could relate a lot more to that than some stupid container of processed sugar able to undo you or reward you beyond your wildest dreams depending on what road you decided to paw.

OK but pizza might work

It could have also been the messenger. 

My second Mom, meaning my stepmom – a parental figure who only becomes such by coincidence of marriage but can truly emerge as a lot more than that depending on who they and you are – was not a habitual advice giver and problem solver.  Though always, she was honest.  Some would say to a fault.

So when she took the time to challenge me with a metaphor of what life truly was (and would be) it compelled me to listen.  And woke me up from my malaise in an instant.

I think this idea is what sustains me through so many problematic moments, both personal and societal.

OK, but also pizza

That the secret is that not one of us, the most talented or smartest or even both that any human can be, will solve any of these issues on our own.  Nor are we likely to even manage to get through them.

We depend on each other.  Not only the people we love and trust but on all of those charlatans who we loathe. 

The best of them show us the way to survive and grow.  The worst of them try and seduce us into drowning in their bile and cynicism.

Except this guy. F*** this guy.

Not that I haven’t been known to be a cynic or offered my own bile out into the world, dressed up and spewed out as wisdom at times.

It takes a long time, often a lifetime, to become wise enough to understand what is being offered (and why) from each source and to move forward in the best way possible.  And I believe the most difficult part of this is recognizing that you – yourself – can be quite an unreliable narrator. 

They (Note: Whoever THEY are) say trust yourself, but that doesn’t always work.  When you suspect you – yourself – are not to be trusted you need to turn to people like your second Mom, one among a small handful of someone elses that we all need to cultivate, that inner circle of truth, and then decide what the best options are.

You can’t sit all alone in your room and figure it all out yourself.  That’s myopic and creepy and just plain dumb.  And it will NEVER get you through 2022 in any sort of meaningful or even pleasing way.

Deep thoughts

Once I realized this small fact and made it into a strategy, I became more optimistic.

A group effort with you at the helm but never as sole narrator and dictator, benevolent though you might think you are.

No ONE of us is to be entirely trusted.   But together, with the benefits of our small group (Note: Which doesn’t mean isolating from the thoughts and logic of the rest of the world at large), we will see a way forward.

Through 2022 and into plots twists and turns we never could have imagined or pulled off by ourselves.

“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” – Jennifer Hudson from SING