Me Too (in more ways than one)

I’m one of the idiot men in the age of #MeToo.

It gives me no pleasure to write these words and I am not writing them because I have ever sexually harassed anyone – male or female.

Instead I am confessing because it hasn’t been until recently that:

  1. I realized the line where one goes from being a flirt to being a harasser remains surprisingly UNCLEAR to MOST MEN – straight or gay, young or old.
  2. I realized fully what it meant to be sexually harassed even a single time in the trajectory of one’s life.
  3. I realized why it’s vitally urgent to in some way go out of your comfort zone to call out such behavior even if you don’t like or know the people –- or most especially — if you do.

Let’s just say I was buffering for a long time.

The vast majority of we men don’t fully get it.  I had my first clue many months ago when the revelations came out against people in the industry like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.  I’d heard stories and been in the presence of both at parties over the years and witnessed their behavior up close.  Phony and full of themselves, a bit charming, a bit sleazy, a dollop creepy and 100% seeming to not be beyond using their positions of power to get, um sex – yeah.  But rape, forced ________ and actually violating the bodies of underage victims?

Probably no.

Okay, the truth is I probably would’ve said, uh, YUK, gone into denial, changed the subject and then later proclaimed rape was…highly unlikely. I seriously doubt THAT.  I mean, no one I know or have met in the business is capable of going….there.

Facing reality

If pressed further I’d also rationalize that – gay or straight – there was a difference between coming on to someone a little aggressively but then finally backing off — and rape.  Then I might have thought or said, okay, it is an assault when you’re aggressive after someone says stop and you don’t.  If you don’t stop when someone says nothing but they’re standing or lying there frozen, well….I’d reply –

I don’t know.  I wasn’t there.  You know I ‘m usually on the side of the victim, anyway!!!  I hate those types of guys!!  Why are we talking about this??

Because these days we have to talk about it – relentlessly.  These days we are ALL lay cops.  And lay lawyers.  In absentia of a justice and legal system that properly does its job we all need to get involved in some fashion.  Hopefully, it won’t always be that way.  But for right now, well, don’t count on it.

BUT I’M READY #dontmesswiththeChair

This began to become sharply apparent watching the reaction of the male members of the Republican Judiciary Committee these last few weeks when accusations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford surfaced against Judge Brett Kavanaugh days before he was to be voted on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The short story is when Dr. Ford was 15 and Judge Kavanaugh was 17 he got drunk at a party, lured her in a private room with another boy, pushed himself on top of her on the bed and began trying to assault/rape her while removing her bathing suit.  She screamed, he put his hand over her mouth to silence her but finally she got away and/or he stopped.

The other boy in the room claims to have no memory of the event.  Committee member Orin Hatch stated Dr. Ford was mixed up.  Judge Kavanaugh responded it never happened.

So who to believe?

A different kind of Me Too #complicit

Before you answer, let me confess it made me think of a few things.  The first was this time when I was 16 and I went into this higher end men’s store in Queens I’d previously gone to in order to buy a hip Nik-Nik shirt for a dance.  It was the 70s and I was excited because I’d already bought 3 inch platform shoes that would make the diminutive me feel more like a stud.  Yeah, short guys think that way.  Or at least they DID.

Anyway, this slightly balding guy with a moustache is very nice, waits on me, helps me pick out some shirts, blah, blah, blah.  It’s after school, I’m nervous, he tries to help me make a decision and in the dressing room, before I know it, he has his hand under my shirt and starts rubbing my chest, breathing too close me, saying I don’t seem so small.

UM….. WHAT?!

Well, I freak, he relents and that was that.  Until I tell my Mom, she drags me down to the store and confronts them, and the owner says ‘Okay, I’ll talk to him, but it’s surprising because he’s married.’

I remember thinking, um, well, it happened but now I’m so embarrassed I want to die, just crawl into the floor.  Why did we have to come back here anyway and now I can never come in this store again and I hope I never see any of these people on the street. I’m such an idiot. 

Oh, and I bet that guy knew I was secretly attracted to men and that’s why he attacked me.  I’m pathetic. 

This story is very sad, so it seemed like a good time to remind you that A Star is Born is coming out in 2 weeks. #itsthelittlethings #itgetsbetter

It would be five years later when I finally came to terms with being gay and to this day I sometimes think, could I have given the guy a look that said it was okay to do this?  Ugh, no yuk, he was soooo not my type.  I NEVER would have.  Then again, maybe it happened and I couldn’t control how I looked at him.  To which I still inaudibly respond, That’s impossible!  I’d never do that!  And even if I did, I had just turned 16 and probably looked 15 and had the sexual experience of someone 12 or 13 – what was this guy in his early 30s thinking???? 

The same thing the straight married guy I worked with at the neighborhood stationery store used to think when he continuously grilled me about girls I was dating, implied I was gay and then proceeded to hug me too tight for 30 seconds or a minute at a time, pressing his body up against my backside.

No, I never told anyone.  Until now.  I’m not sure what I would have said.  I’m not sure what else to write at this moment.  I only know it happened 40 plus years ago and I still think about it.

I also still think about that Nik Nik shirt #dontjudgeme

I began thinking about these TWO episodes – which never felt quite traumatizing but periodically bothered me over the years, after attending a screening of the indie movie Eighth Grade last month.  In it, a 13 year old girl is mentored by a high school senior and is being driven home by one of her friends who maneuvered to have the eighth grader be the last of the group he drops off on the way home.

The older boy has gone out of his way to be nice to said eighth grader and once they’re alone he stops his car and goes into the back seat with her where they just talk and hang out.  She feels sort of cool, also excited and yet uncomfortable.  But then he begins to make moves like taking off his shirt, her shirt, going in for a kiss and…Well, why spoil it.  She eventually admonishes him to stop, then demands it and finally, well….he doesn’t like it, says a few things she’ll probably never forget and it doesn’t go much further.

Nope. Na-ah. No way

This was an important pivotal scene in a 2018 coming-of-age dramedy that I was confident all six of the ultra-liberal Democratic gay friends also in attendance could agree was one of the creepiest things we’d ever seen.  I mean, who wouldn’t think this high school senior was totally wrong to do this to an inexperienced 13 year old he manipulated into being all alone with in a car he drove – a girl who was innocent and had barely hit puberty herself?

So you can imagine my shock when TWO of the SIX guys told me I was overreacting, that there was nothing wrong with what this boy did or tried to do to this girl in his dark car with the doors locked on a deserted road, and that this is the way teenagers are.

Ummm have I gone crazy??

When I tried to argue this girl would be traumatized the rest of her life by that incident somewhere in her soul I was told by each of them they’d gone through or witnessed similar or worse.  It was a big so what.  That’s what adolescence is all about.

Days went by and I wondered, what the hell is wrong with them?  How can people I know and respect even begin to think that way?  Did I misread something, aside from what I believed to be their value systems?  Then I began to consider, well, maybe I just had less experience as a teenager and this is the way it was for a lot of people and who am I to judge.

Seriously.

I continued to feel that way until the Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh debate began to surface and once again people began to take sides while we all fight it out on social media and in our minds, with all the memories they entail.

Over the last 36 years Dr. Blasey Ford told just a therapist, her husband and some close friends about her incident with the boy who would be Judge.  But now that he was about to be a key vote in the highest court of the land on any number of issues affecting women, not to mention all of us, she felt it her civic duty to come forward and tell the truth to the world in an effort to shed some light in some dark spaces none of us like to go.

When I first heard her story I remember thinking, this can never be proven, this will be nowhere with teenagers – who will care.  And then I saw the photos of them at that age.

I feel like I know these kids.

Brett had the same hair and dorky coat and tie I wore when I was his age and Christine looked like several girls I went to school with.

And then I wondered, how long did it take for her to truly accept what really happened?  And then I began to surmise how much can a 17 year old guy with the same type hair, coat and tie as I (and he) once had willingly forget, block out or even deny of his intimate teen years in order to survive?

Quite a lot, I would say, based on all of our memories.  Which not only include the times when people took liberties but also random TV sound bites over the decades.  Like the one in 1991 when Anita Hill was testifying about the harassment she received when she worked for about to be confirmed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and was asked this single question by a very middle-aged and very, very white, stern-eyed Senator Hal Heflin (R-AL):

Are you a scorned woman?????

To which Ms. Hill demurely shook her hand and barely audibly whispered:

“no.”

It was an answer to a question that should have never been asked in an 1891 court and an answer that was to be disbelieved by the only majority that legally mattered – the Senate Judiciary committee of all White men – in 1991.

This is why Clarence Thomas still sits on the bench some 27 years later.

I can’t even go there right now. #BYE

It is also why we must all now leave our comfort zones and try to see the world from the side of those who have been in any way, shape or form harassed, intimidated or violated.

Provable or not, and no matter how buried, those memories will NEVER go away.  But to talk about it, as most experts advise, creates a hornet’s nest of hearsay and makes it all almost seem worse.

Though perhaps the correct word is HERESY.  At least when it comes from someone who claims to have been victimized by a man either in power, or related to those who want him to be for their own selfish benefits.

Lady Gaga – “Til It Happens to You” 

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The End of the World As We Know It…

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.32.10 PM

It was 103 degrees in Los Angeles for several days this past week – a kind of hot, humid and stagnantly breezy heat we softies out on the left coast are unused to. Take a scalding, steamy shower with the door closed and then put your blow dryer on high and walk into it. That’s the best way I can describe it. And if you’re a young guy who can’t relate to blow dryers because you have one of those stupid side buzz cuts, just take my word for it and wear a hat. Please.

How do we make this go away?

How do we make this go away?

I suppose anyone with my receding hairline shouldn’t be criticizing the hip and happening pate of the moment, but someone has to. It’s like you all started shaving your head from the sides on the go with a portable electric razor but then, while walking by Nordstrom’s men’s cosmetics counter, a rack full of product fell off a loose shelf onto your head and all of the remaining hair on the top that you didn’t get to. Forget what the stylists are saying. In 20 years you will look back at these photos with a horror that we men of a certain age (Okay, me) now reserve for snapshots of us in leisure suits and Nik-Nik shirts. Trust me.

Dear God.

Dear God.

If I sound a bit annoyed, well – perhaps I am. It’s tiring to see the Republican Apprentice being cheered by yahoos at pep rallies all over the country as simultaneously one of the most brilliant and experienced women to ever surface in American political life gets pummeled daily in the public town square for using the wrong email. Why so many people have such a hard time believing a 67-year-old couldn’t quite understand the process of wiping her personal server clean (Note: Her “with a cloth?” answer sounded right to me), much less compute ahead of time the ramifications of owning one for convenience is beyond me. I’m not quite her age but at this point I’d buy almost anything for convenience – especially if I had a job where I had to deal with one commercial airliner, much less all of them, as I traveled all over the world on a daily basis. And that’s without even factoring in hair, make-up or jet lag. What a frickin’ nightmare.

Let’s face it, contemporary life has become a nightmare. Summer is winding down, we’ve just passed the 14th anniversary of 9/11 and the Presidential race, still a year away, has surpassed the reality show Paddy Chayefsky warned us about in Network. To make matters, worse, this is happening in 100 plus degree September weather all over the country as newscasters gleefully warn us of mammoth storms and tides and floods and pestilence and maybe even showers of frogs to come.

give-me-strength

Sidebar: My favorite part of the ongoing political fights these days are the tweets and comments pop songwriters are sending out when the likes of The Republican Apprentice or Kentucky’s own new favorite daughter, born-again, gay marriage eschewing country clerk Kim Davis, dare to appropriate their material as theme songs. When Kim flounced out of jail to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” current frontman Frankie Sullivan posted on the band’s Facebook page:

NO! We did not grant Kim Davis any rights to use ‘My Tune – The Eye Of the Tiger.’ I would not grant her the rights to use Charmin!

A cease and desist letter from the group’s lawyer followed.

But even better was what happened after the R.A. (that’s Republican Apprentice, again) decided it would be the height of irony to walk out to one of his frenzied crowds as REM’s “It’s End of the World as We Know It” blared.

Said REM guitarist Mike Mills: Personally, I think the Orange Clown will do anything for attention. I hate giving it to him.

To which REM frontman Michael Stipe added: Go fuck yourselves, the lot of you–you sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.

But imagine a world where one’s choice of entertainment has to coincide with your political and social beliefs? Well, frankly, I’d be fine. I could happily give up Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Chuck Norris and Kid Rock. Yes, I’d miss the occasional Meat Loaf (Note: The singer, not the roast) but other than that – really, I’d be good.

You can go too (we'll keep the Chair)

You can go too (we’ll keep the Chair)

As for the other side – well, stop to think about it. How much would THEY miss? How much would you pay NOT to have to go a fundraiser where Ted Nugent plays the main stage and Jessica Simpson does the lounge show? Or even vice-versa?

To my friends on the other side (yes, I do have some) – think about this. You’ve got Vince Vaughn and we have Tom Hanks. Doesn’t that tell you something? Did you even see the second season of True Detective?

Not to mention, we have Cate Blanchett brilliantly playing a lesbian in the upcoming love story Carol, along with Eddie Redmayne portraying Lili Elbe, one of the first transsexuals on record (in the early 1900s) in the soon-to-be-released The Danish Girl to look forward to. Of course, this has to counter our most public transgender woman in contemporary life, Caitlyn Jenner (Note: Though actually, she’s yours), going on Ellen DeGeneres’ show last week and not quite fully committing in favor of gay marriage and the R.A.’s continued national bashing of one our most famous contemporary lesbians, Rosie O’Donnell, in a presidential debate non-sequitur weeks before. Is there a yin and yang to all of that?

#undeniable

#undeniable

Well, one can only hope that Lily Tomlin wins the Oscar for her terrific performance as a deliciously bitter lesbian poet in Grandma to put us one step ahead on that score. And yeah, it can happen – go see the movie. And if you’re still not convinced and have already decided to root for Cate in a film you haven’t yet seen, why don’t you table it for just a few more years and give it to her for portraying Lucille Ball in the upcoming Lucy-Desi biopic Aaron Sorkin is writing. No, I’m not kidding.

I suppose this disproves the idea that it’s all a nightmare, even though sometimes it can seem so. Speaking of which, there are only two movies among the thousands I’ve seen (Note: I use to be a film critic) that have ever given me nightmares.

One was Requiem for A Dream, a harrowing tale of drug addiction based on the novel by Hubert Selby, Jr. and co-written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Mr. Aronofsky is for my money one of the 10 best American directors working today and if his first film Pi, a thoroughly original visual masterwork of paranoia in black & white, was too esoteric for some he proved with Requiem that by using more recognizable characters from everyday life in a realistic yet still somewhat stylized setting he could disturb us even more.   The image of Jennifer Connelly rolling around in a boxing ring will haunt me till the end of my days – of that I am at least 98% sure of.

I bet you thought I was going to post a picture of Jennifer.. nope... Jon Hamm is single #couldntresist #myhappyplace

I bet you thought I was going to post a picture of Jennifer.. nope… Jon Hamm is single #couldntresist #myhappyplace

The second was the original The Last House on the Left. It came out in 1972 and was a graphically nasty little movie about two girls who decide to get stoned on the way to a rock concert and are brutally tortured by a gang of escaped convicts, who in turn get brutally tortured by the grieving parents of one of the gals. It was so real and so horrible my group of friends who I dragged to it on the basis of an over-the-top ad my teenage self spied in the newspaper in 1972 wouldn’t talk to me for a week.

Notably, that movie was the first feature directed by the late West Craven, who went on to direct some of the most famous horror franchises of our era, including the original Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream movies. Mr. Craven, by all accounts a gentle, intelligent and quite erudite person in real life, died several weeks ago at the age of 76 – which might seem old to some of you but no longer feels ancient to your average baby boomer (even someone on the very low end of boomer status such as myself).

The twisted and delightful legend.

The twisted and delightful legend.

In any event, among Mr. Craven’s many other credits was 1999’s Music of the Heart, which starred Meryl Streep in the real life story of a schoolteacher who struggled to teach the violin to inner city kids in Harlem. Yeah, it was a bit old-fashioned but despite what you might have heard it’s watchable, sincere and sweet. It also goes to show that even those who create the sickest and most diabolically twisted images dialogue and manufactured story lines in the zeitgeist could have the potential for a sweet, sincere and inspiring side.

One wishes Mr. Craven was still around for many reasons – but one of them being to scare straight some of the sickies among us now polluting the public square and monopolizing the airwaves as they jam up the zeitgeist with a newer and more potent brand of their own toxicity. He could explain to them that just because the public is buying the crap that you’re making and selling doesn’t mean that you can’t evolve to something a little bit better that will last longer and that you can be proud of.