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”

Dressing Up / Dressing Down

This week a photo popped up from the 1984 medical school yearbook page of Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam of two White classmates – one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robes.

Gov. Northam initially said he was one of the young men in the picture, then quickly recanted and said he was mistaken. Then in a Saturday press conference he apologized anyway, noting the photo was offensive and racist but adding he himself had not looked at the yearbook in more than 30 years and that his memory was not entirely clear.

He then further added, or rather admitted, that the very same year – 1984 – he did indeed do blackface as Michael Jackson when he entered a dance contest in San Antonio.  The governor, a medical school graduate whose yearbook nickname was Coon Man, was 25 years old at the time.

So. Many. Questions.

There have been many calls for the governor to step down but as of now he refuses, stating: I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me to duck the responsibility to reconcile.  Coincidentally, his lieutenant governor, the person who would replace him, is Justin Fairfax, a Black man.  Both are Democrats.

Racist actions, racist jokes, and racism generally have no party affiliation, class distinction or sexual persuasion.  On the other hand, given Electoral College POTUS’s statement of “…you had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. eighteen months ago and the proliferation of hate crimes across the country since by various white people shouting or wearing hats trumpeting Trump’s Republican clarion call of Make America Great Again, it is hard not to see this as otherwise.

That boy’s smirk will forever be imprinted on my brain

This is particularly true when one watches news footage of the Charlottesville rally and takes in the anti-Semitic taunts (Jews will not replace us!), the proliferation of White males wielding torches, some in hoods and robes, and the death of one young woman there to protest these actions that was mowed down and murdered by a car driven through the crowd by one of those supremacists.

It almost makes you long for the days of Gov. Northam’s blackface.

Well, almost.

Definitely #TooSoon

Speaking of the mid-1980’s, here’s a story:

Around that time, I was invited to a Halloween party.  I was close to Gov. Northam’s age and as such was also a bit enamored with performers whose look and talents I admired but could never measure up to in real life.

As an out gay guy I longed to do something outrageous but I was not yet ready to dress up as Liza Minnelli.  Still, my sister had left her black sequined blazer in my hall closet and somehow I had asked her if it was okay to use it to play dress up.  Being who she was (and I was), the answer was an immediate and overenthusiastic YES!!!!!!

You know I would have slayed

But who to go as??  Sorry, Liza was (still) out because I was not THAT out.  Yet.  Though I’m not even sure I’m that out now, which I suppose is its own kind of self-loathing.  But I was determined to use the jacket because, well, it was so, so… faaaabulous.

Wait, I have it, I thought.  I’ll do….

BILLY PRESTON!!!

This was a very versatile jacket

Who?????, you millennials might say?  Well, Billy Preston was a big pop star in the seventies and eighties that toured with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Little Richard, and had a series of hit records that included Nothing From Nothing, Will It Go Round in Circles and a duet with Syreeta Wright called With You (I’m Born Again).

Better yet, he wore sparkly jackets as loud and even louder than the one in my closet, had great hair (as I did at the time) was about my height and even rumored to be…gay!!!!

It was a no brainer.  I was going to be Billy.

Um, this story is making us nervous, Chairy.

So being the gay that I am I did several pre-rehearsals of the outfit days before with the jacket.  Only to get just the right pants, shirt and glasses to go with it. (Ahem) I gotta admit, it was pretty good.  But something was not quite right.  Hmmm.  Well, maybe….the hair.

Billy Preston not only had good hair but was known for BIG hair.  I mean, HUUUUUUGE.  Like a ginormous Afro.  I felt a little uncomfortable but this was my one chance to be comfortable being a little flamboyant.  So I went to a costume store on Hollywood Boulevard and bought the biggest and cheapest Afro wig I could find.  When I got home and put it on I gotta admit (once again), it and I looked….fabulous.

OK well, not AS GOOD as Billy

Still, on the night of the party, and me being the insecure gay that I was, um, am, I  began thinking, I could do better.  Looking in the mirror I saw this was really good but in my heart of hearts I knew this COULD BE….great!!!!

There was one basic physical difference between Billy and I, aside from our fingers’ ability to glide across the piano keys from one end to the other and, who was I kidding, it had to do with skin color.  I bent down in the closet, below the full-length mirror, and opened a wooden box I kept inside with a carving of the insole of a shoe and spied a cornucopia of POLISH.  Black, brown, taupe, white…No, it absolutely had to be Black!!!

And then….I STOPPED.

Um, Chair (Note: Not my name at the time but I’ve changed it to protect the guilty), what the hell are you doing???  Are you kidding???  You can’t!!!!

AHHHHH!!

Still, I longed to go that extra yard, to make that difference.  To be fabulous.  And really, who would know?  Just a handful of people at that party.

As I reached for the polish it was like the ghosts of every Black performer and person I ever knew slapped my hand down and gave me the stink eye.

I don’t think so, they collectively warned.  You will NOT have that thrill.  You CANNOT use this to get yourself off for five minutes and call it a day.  You WILL not.

Oh thank god #relieved

And so, I quickly closed the box, shamed I had ever thought about it.  More than 30 years later I am ashamed, to this day.  Only now I am actually appalled, so appalled I hesitated to recount this story.

We are all flawed and we ALL have our prejudices.  Some are right out there, some are just below the surface and others are so deeply engrained that we still fail to this day, to even recognize them, much less cop to them.

But here’s the bottom line to the Northam argument:

You can have murderous thoughts – we all do from time to time in our lives.  But that doesn’t make you a murderer.

This is helping me process Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.. keep going

You can also have racist instincts, sexist desires or homophobic leanings, but this will not make you any of those isms.  Unless you ACT OUT on them.

And the good news is that even if you do ACT OUT there is hope.  You can admit what you’ve done, take your lumps and chastisement, work to do better, go out of your way to make amends, and then remind yourself many times over in perpetuity that you will always NEED to do better in this area, and then pass on that message to others.

What makes you guilty, and one of the ISMS, is when you mumble and gurgle and squirm, twisting yourself into an amnesiac pretzel, all in the name of self-preservation.

Bye Gurl. Bye Boi.

If we’re to survive as a country of honest to goodness humans (Note: And so far the jury is out), we all need to rip the Band-Aid off and take our medicine before the collective We can get any better.

This doesn’t make me of any one of the rest of us much better than the Electoral College POTUS or Gov. Northam.  Just more evolved and self-aware than we were when this all started.  Which is at least a start in itself.

Billy Preston – “Nothing from Nothing”