The Way It Is

Did you have a good Thanksgiving holiday weekend?  I did. 

We had a small group of family and friends over for the first time in three years for turkey day.  I cooked and, gotta say, it was one of those meals where everything went right.

The bird cooked perfectly and I barely basted it.  The roasted sweet potatoes with apple, honey and maple syrup, was fantastic.  Cornbread stuffing made separately worked really well.  Roasted brussels sprouts felt perfect.  Even the green salad with pomegranate seeds was a standout, not to mention the homemade corn bread I made in my spare time, as well as the excellent cranberry sauce my sister-in-law made.

Ina approved!

It wasn’t all good news, though.

There were 22 people killed and 44 injured in seven mass shootings over Thanksgiving week.  That’s an average of one a day, for those who are now too overwhelmed or saddened or stumped to think about it. 

Of course, I thought about it.  But there was food to buy, cooking to get done and timing and plating to figure out, culminating with me watching some of the new Broadway musicals on NBC’s Thanksgiving Day parade (Note: Ugh, don’t bother.  And yes we’re speaking to you, Some Like it Hot!) on that all too treacherous morning of the big meal.

Don’t even get me started on this

Well, treacherous is a relative term.  Obviously.

But it’s not like the five that died and dozens more who were injured four days prior at that beloved Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ party spot, Club Q, thought a few hours of their partying prior to Thanksgiving was particularly dangerous either. 

And even though I’ve never actually been inside a Wal-Mart (Note:  Yeah, that’s correct), it’s safe to imagine that the six human beings blown to bits by a disgruntled employee would never have imagined in their wildest dreams that being in that location would prove to be the most treacherous place on earth for them two days later.

Sigh.

The great intellectual and writer, the late Susan Sontag, published a devastating short story, The Way We Live Now, back in the mid-eighties.  It described in snippets of conversation that felt casual and gossipy but were anything but, the new normal that the AIDS epidemic in NYC had wrought.

Life would never return to the naive everyday-ness that we had previously dared to intermittently consider to be treacherous. In fact, most of what we considered pre mid-eighties treacherousness would be considered quaint, and then some, from then there on.

Nothing about Ms. Sontag’s prose was melodramatic, studied or even particularly special at the time.  But that’s what made it unique. She was merely reporting the conversational facts of deterioration, disease and death as if they were an itemized prep list of thoughts, tasks and snarky tidbits one could encounter before, during and after a typical Thanksgiving holiday dinner.

A must read (click the pic for the link)

In essence, she was telling us we would grow used to anything if we had to because even with the grotesquely awful there were plans to be executed, events to attend to and meals certainly to be made.  What was going on outside was awful but, well, we’d just have to modify.  Amid the medicines, hospital visits and funeral plans, the rest of us would still get hungry.  Right?  After all, there was nothing we could do about it, anyway. 

Having lived through the dreadful beginning and middle of AIDS as death sentence in the eighties and nineties, I can’t help but feel a familiarity of those times to the way we live now – in 2022.

It’s not that gun proliferation and violence is a new virus in our midst, the way AIDS was back then.  It’s that it has begun to metastasize in a scarily virulent way.

The new normal

There have so far been 606 mass shootings in the US in 2022, as opposed to 610 in total in 2020 and 690 last year (an all-time high).  We could still be #1 by the time this year is out but no matter where we fall, or fail, we will certainly be competitive with the worst of the worst before 2023 rings in.

There are now more guns that people in the US. (Note: 393 million guns to be exact), the majority of which are owned by white men, who are more than likely to identify as rural and Republican.

No, I’m not racial profiling.  Here is an exhaustive story from CNN in June. 

And a front-page story in the NY Times this weekend casually chronicled the latest trend in a new kind of non-verbal public discourse – the armed demonstrator.

This should not be normal

Sure, it’s our right to carry a weapon if we have a permit.  But in June in the US we had an average of one armed demonstration per day.  What this means is that packin’ right wing protestors, sometimes led by the Proud Boys or Oath Keeper members,  routinely show up at public events in places like Phoenix or Nashville carrying sidearms, long guns or other such paraphernalia because…they can.

If it scares you, well maybe you should be scared.  Or not.  Our freedom, your choice.  Or, well, perhaps it’s both.

It’s worth noting lots of these events also seem to happen around abortion clinics, or gatherings sponsored by the LGBTQ community.  Sometimes they’re even near places where people vote.  Or where certain other minority groups choose to congregate. 

This feels right to me

This is not surprising since 10 states have extremely lax laws regarding firearms, allowing pretty much any gun owner the legal right to carry a weapon in a crowd, a government building or even restaurant serving Thanksgiving dinner. 

So if you found yourself in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia or Washington over the holiday and made it out alive and unscathed, consider yourself one lucky dude, dudette or non-binary celebrant.

I myself felt relatively safe in Los Angeles this week, despite all you maybe have heard about our uptick in crime.   They might have guns, sure, but they’re not free to carry them anywhere.  At least not by law.

… and I’m never leaving

Besides, they’re mostly looking for Rolex watches and I was never big on expensive jewelry.

But that’s the way I, and we, live now.   At least here.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Because it was exactly six months prior to Thanksgiving that 19 small children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX and the only thing that changed were the lives of their relatives and friends.

Lana Del Rey – “Looking for America”

History Repeats and… It’s a Sin

HBO Max’s It’s A Sin is a new five-part limited series about a group of gay men and their friends in Great Britain who lived and sometimes died during the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1981-1991.  It is a critical hit and a must see.

Nevertheless, as a gay man who lived through it in the US, but didn’t die, it was the last thing I wanted to see or be reminded of during these pandemic days.

And yet…it was the first thing I began watching the very moment it dropped here in the States this week.

Why?

Wait! Hear me out!

Well, many reasons.  But the best that I could come up with is this begrudgingly timeless quote from an author long ago.

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.  

William Faulkner, 1940

Writer extraordinaire William Faulkner first gave us those words in a short story he published in Harper’s in 1940.

They have since been quoted many times, most recently by both Barack Obama and Peggy Noonan in an attempt to address the issue of racism in the late aughts, and will no doubt be referred to many more times over.

Perhaps you prefer it in one of these standard internet formats

As a writer for none other than the Hindustan Times explained to us just three years ago, Faulkner’s words remain particularly prophetic because the past inevitably seeps into our present, informs it, even has a bearing on our future. The past cannot be wished away; neither can it be denied. 

I would add this is the case no matter how expert we are at pretending and no matter how determined we are to move forward.  The past, and its lessons, will ALWAYS resurface, whether you want to recognize them or not, and at times and in places you least expect it.

To not acknowledge it, learn from it, and at times live with it as you go on, is to be doomed – as too many countless others have warned – to repeat it.

How cliché.  And yet, how undeniably true.

Take it from someone who is alive and well and just qualified to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

And I didn’t even have to dress up!

Denial is a big part of It’s A Sin, but so is celebration and joyousness.  Watching it reminded me that despite all my protestations to the contrary, those times were not solely tragic and funereal, colored forever in doom, gloom and sores of every type imaginable.

In fact and to its credit, none of the characters in this series are any ONE thing, and that goes not only for the young friends in their twenties at the prime of their lives but those middle-aged, older and even younger.

They are all a result of how they’ve allowed their experiences to shape them, the ways in which they choose to forge ahead or remain stagnant, and the harshness with which they treat not only others, but themselves. 

How they existed and what they did back then is particularly resonant because of the harrowing drama of those times. 

There was smiling! There was joy!

But as we all now sit in our homes (Note: Or wander freely), masked or maskless, hopeful, scared or bitter deep into our very cores for the future, it’s hard not to see our times as still yet another variance of their times.

Every decade has its costs and its joys and, if we’re lucky enough, we get to live through each to the next and adjust accordingly.

And I’m still here! #trying

No one is saying denial doesn’t work in limited doses.  I, for one, would have never sat down and written an original screenplay many decades ago that got bought and made had I accepted the true odds of that ever happening to a novice like me writing about the subject matter I chose to write about at that time. 

Indeed, sometimes the only way forward is to defiantly block the facts in order to springboard you into defying the odds.

We humans all do this to some success and to some extent.  However, experience also tells you (note: okay, ME) that this can’t be your ONLY strategy.  Inventing your own reality means you also may be blind to the crumbling of the world around you with the thought your alternative world and your alternative facts will protect you.

Exactly this #nevergetsold

Sadly, it’s not so.  Not in the AIDS era of the 1980s, not in the latest pandemic era of the 2020s.  Not even in the Deep South 1940 of Faulkner’s times.

The key is to be observant enough to acknowledge the cracks and take action before the crumbling starts.  Patch it, consult an expert about re-cementing or entirely knock down the walls you think you smartly built before it’s too late. 

All this construction has me longing for HGTV

Yeah, right, who wants to do that?  But in doing so you might even let in those ideas or persons you banished to the outside and find out for sure if you were right or wrong about them all along.  Imagine if you realized you were ignorant, selfish, misguided or had even misjudged while you still had time to do something about it?

This was the story of those five Londoners and their families in It’s A Sin just as it is the story of our survival in the midst of the worldwide pandemic we are now continuing to barely live through.

Any type of pandemic, much like any armed insurrection, is not any one person’s fault.  Even if the worst, most xenophobic tropes were true and it was proven that a Chinese lab mistakenly unleashed CoVid-19 to the world and purposefully covered it up, that still couldn’t be blamed for the degree of medical severity we are now experiencing.

Yes, shall we??

The politicization of masks, choosing economics and widely opening back up too soon over quarantining, turning our backs on our most vulnerable (note: essential workers, the poor, the non-Whites) and willingly letting them die early on and perhaps inadvertently become super spreaders through no fault of their own; a decided lack of interest in recent years of top international leaders to operate as a true global community and closely work together to ensure our mutual survival – arguably ALL explain the basic shutdown of the world as we once knew it.

Meaning, a virus, is a virus, is a virus.  And people, are people, and continue to be, people. 

All the homophobia, limited thinking and personal wall building and/or destroying won’t change the facts or the outcome once the stark realities of life has its way with you.  Or us.

History is, at its best, a colorful kaleidoscope.  But it isn’t always reliably pretty. 

What it is is reliably prescient.

“History Repeating” – Shirley Bassey

Check out the Chair’s newest project, Pod From a Chair , now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!