Don’t Other-ize Me, Bro!

There is a moment in Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman where a Jewish police detective, who has gone undercover as a KKK member, laments being put in this position by his Black counterpart.  It’s as if he’s forgotten (or never fully understood) the Ku Klux Klan were not only rabidly anti-Black segregationists but also virulently, and quite openly, anti-Semitic.

I’m Jewish, yes, but I wasn’t raised to be, says the character played by Adam Driver.  No Jewish rituals, no deep education about Jewish history, not even a bar mitzvah.  I was just another white kid.

Exactly.

Did someone say bar mitzvah?

Suddenly, and much to his chagrin, he’d been OTHER-IZED.

Somehow a movie set in the early 1970s has managed to become the most timely filmic statement now out there about Trumpism.  Based on the 2014 memoir of real-life Black police officer Ron Stallowrth, it tells the story of how Ron made phone contact with the KKK, pretending to be an eager acolyte, and worked with his White counterpart, Flip Zimmerman, to pose as his physical self while in their presence.

Two Ron Stallworths.

Part comedy, part drama and many parts many other things, it tells not only a racial story but speaks to the type of numbness all of us can fall into when traveling in circles where THEY are in the majority and WE are just the unwanted, or at least unfamiliar, INTERLOPERS.

To be OTHER-IZED is not a choice so much as it is a condition of where you live, where you travel and overall what you choose to do or need to do with your time.  A room full of jocks of many races can OTHER-IZE the lily Whitest of nerds just as a gaggle of snow White Hollywood BROs in power can OTHER-IZE any Brown-skinned woman of color – or any FEMALE of ANY color for that matter – who may be twice as smart and/or talented as any one of them.

Or all of them if you’re Oprah.

Gurl, you got that right. #badassbish

We are all nothing if not multi-tribal, depending on where we live, how much we make or what we do for a living.  The one tribe that trumped (Note: Ahem) all in the U.S. used to be American, but what being a REAL AMERICAN is seems to be quite up in the air these days.

In actuality, it seems to depend on which other TRIBE you belong to – or at least choose to identify with.  And with that comes a full handbook on who one needs to OTHER-IZE.

Yes.

The fact is, it is no longer feasible to be a part of ANY TRIBE where SOMEONE is not generally THE OTHER.

Right, that’s what it is Gretchen. #dontotherizeme

We here in the Southern Californian #Resistance headquarters seriously distrust Trump voters of all stripes – and that’s the best case scenario of when we’re not foaming at the mouth angry at what we see as the nasty, racist…well, so many things I can no longer count… those voters have allowed.

On the other hand, Trump voters all over the country call us snowflakes, and at best see us as weak and anti-working class – or so I’m told from the few of them that I can still bear to talk to.  At their worst, well they prove the very points we’re trying to make, probably daily, about them, though I’m sure they’d put it quite differently and probably a lot less delicately if I gave them the chance.  Which I’m not any longer.

I’m done.

The funny part is there are Black, White, Jewish, Hispanic, LGBT, straight, poor AND rich members on BOTH SIDES.  In that sense, we’re all getting OTHER-IZED daily, and perhaps hourly, by somebody, and often in ways we don’t know about as we go about our day.

Of course, there are times when we do realize we are being cast as THE OTHER, and it is at these moments we are faced with THE CHOICE.

I’m trying my best Jamie Lee!!!

Ah yes, you do have any number of CHOICES when you realize you’re the only _________ in the room – or at least woefully outnumbered, discredited or discounted in that person or group’s mind/think about those in YOUR TRIBE, depending on your looks, skin color or affect.  They are:

  1. BLEND – This is the easiest or hardest of the options depending on your denial system, how much therapy you’ve had, or both. Am I GAY????  Not a chance, I hate musicals and I have season tickets to The Lakers/Knicks/Eagles/_______.   Jewish?  Whatever gave you that idea, I don’t like those _______s any more than you do.

I was born in the 90s! I swear!

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny you’re Black if you are very dark-skinned or pretend you’re not poor if you are three months late on the rent and about to be evicted.   Though even in the latter case of ZERO money, there’s always the chance that person is just being…irresponsible.  #AreYouWokeYet?

  1. HIDE – This is not a pleasant alternative but there are advantages to just going along and being an under-the-radar, quiet part of a group. In my younger days I’ve heard straight guy locker room talk about women that offended me to the bone, not to mention bitchy talk among my gay brothers about lesbians that I should have stamped my feet more adamantly about. Yet too many times in my teen and early twenties I did neither.

Sadly, most of us are not always up for a FIGHT, especially when we have the luxury to sit behind the tallest person in class and go unnoticed.  At least metaphorically. I, for one, have also spent time with one or two Republicans I admit to have gleefully watched squirm at Southern California dinner parties rather than blow their cover to the other guests in the room.  Sure, I told myself it wasn’t my place to say or do anything to help them but these days I realize my sadistic inner self rather enjoyed OTHER-IZING them far more, in secret hopes that this would somehow wake them to their senses.

You tell ’em Cher!

  1. DENYOh, he can’t be a sexual harasser. My roommate told me he had a torrid affair with Mary Jane and she would never put up with someone like that.  And no, just because she’s from Paris and her visa expired and he’s an American citizen doesn’t mean she’s tolerating it or pretending they’re an item.  Please.  Besides which, she’s NOT marrying him for her green card to be with her lesbian lover!  Come on!!

Okay, perhaps the last example is a bit fanciful.  But it is possible to be into vintage and thrift stores and old school tech because you want to seem cool when you’re searching for work.  In the same way you can DENY you are RACIST by producing one of two Black co-workers or acquaintances of color even though there are dozens more who heard you use the N word when they were in the room.  And no, just because a videotape of that has yet to be produced doesn’t make it any less so.  Or mean that when it is it was somehow doctored. #ApprehensiveApprenticeTapePart1

Oh jesus, does this mean more Tom Arnold??? #HELP

  1. FACE THE MUSIC – The best alternative because even if you hide, blend and deny most effectively you will NEVER prevent EVERY single ONE of THEM from seeing YOU as something OTHER than THEY are. Implicit in this is that to some people you will ALWAYS be INFERIOR. And that’s in any version of the perfect world that is viable at this moment in time.

Yes, it’s easy to advise be yourself when YOU yourself don’t run the risk of being killed, permanently maimed or beaten up for doing just that.   But the way we’re going soon there will be nowhere for any of US to hide in certain circumstances. That is a condition that will be inevitable for pretty much ALL OF US at some point in our new GLOBAL REALITY.  #ThisISUs.

Meaning blending in, denying or hiding behind HATE simply won’t cut it anymore, if it ever did.  That is unless we want to live out the rest of our days as petulant junior high schoolers playing an eternal game of spin the bottle where we kiss the same people for all the wrong reasons in one unsatisfyingly long loop of endless hell.

“Too Late To Turn Back Now” – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (from the soundtrack of BlackkKlansman)

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Mission Implausible

By all accounts Mission Impossible – Fallout, starring the bionic version of Tom Cruise in more ways than you can count, or would want to – is a hit.

It opened worldwide this weekend and has already accrued about $140,000,000 plus ($60 mill in the US alone) at the box-office.

It is the best reviewed of all SIX films in the franchise, receiving positive reviews from 100% of our country’s top film critics – all of whom should be ashamed at the ease with which they have been lulled, co-opted and otherwise seduced into dropping their necessary job description of sometime party pooper.

That’s right.. I said it.

And it is a BIG hit with filmgoers, earning a 93% favorable audience rating also from Rotten Tomatoes  – the universal, and in this case, totally unreliable, arbiter of what is generally good, bad or middling at the movies.

For in truth, the only area the new M.I. movie excels in is seeming to be a wonderful, diversionary summer entertainment.

Yes, Mr. Cruise looks almost the same as he has for decades if you squint a bit in the way he seems to be permanently doing these days, though to his credit with exactly the same seemingly earnest, genial manner.

still short though #shade #lifts #imtallerthanhim

And sure, Mr. Cruise also appears to have just as much stamina as he ever did as he drives motorcycles through the streets of Paris at top speed, parachute jumps out of planes from 25,000 feet in the air, and gets in and out of helicopters that he himself glides up and down and through and past various mountain tops and other quite dangerous terrain.

And of course, ABSOLUTELY, for you doubters (Note: Or party poopers, because someone has to be and live in the real world), that IS actually the real Mr. Cruise DOING HIS OWN STUNTS – EVEN THE DANGEROUS ONES!!!

The filmmakers have given countless interviews stating it is this action star’s commitment to authenticity that makes his appearances in this franchise so convincing.

I’m so impressed

This, of course, is amusing in a film where nothing is convincing or makes much sense at all, even in those rare moments when the twists and turns are discernible. Though those are not to be confused with any other number of other scenes where some poor actor has an unsellable chunk of dialogue designed to summarize the objective of the next set action sequence and make it believable.

There was a time when summer action movies like Die Hard or Indiana Jones (#1 and #3), or even November releases like the Daniel Craig as Bond remake of Casino Royale, found a way to give us death defying thrills along with memorable and even vaguely human characters whose actions didn’t need to be explained but instead simply unfolded. These kinds of films were not so much deep but infinitely watchable diversions where fantastical still things happened and the day was still saved by seemingly superhuman, larger than life guys.

The difference was these guys were flawed, they failed – often fatally – and their outer shells didn’t look as if they had been dipped in formaldehyde and frozen for all time. They were slicker and wittier and quite a bit less wordy than any of us real people but when they spoke they nevertheless actually sounded as if they could be us if we were possessed with great luck, superhuman strength, a fab outfit (or two or three) and one or two fancy gadgets.

OK.. maybe not every gadget.

What they were not, or at least what they never seemed to be, were manufactured for maximum audience tastes – an amalgamation of major studio index cards.

A director, a writer, an actor or even a costume designer (or some combination thereof) somewhere along the way gave these guys a real soul and took him beyond a carbon copy of an action hero. Instead, they invented a true man who rose into the role of hero, often against his better instincts because at heart you knew that as far as the world goes, he was not crazy enough to think that HE, ALONE, COULD FIX IT.

Of course, the above might be exactly why we have a character like Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt currently burning up the box-office – a guy whose ex-wife even says she sleeps better knowing he’s on-the-job.

Never Forget

It’s an uber desirable contemporary fantasy to have this kind of slick looking guy come in and save us from our worst selves with no discernible super powers other than his own moxie and experience. It’s even more tempting that he be someone who has been around a long time but still seems ageless – with hair that’s a real color and outfits that don’t so much show off his wealth but the flattering lines of his body.

He’s almost like an Apple Edition of our much-needed 2018 action hero – a high tech version with all of the all-American qualities we need to take our country back.

Excuse me Chair, what am I.. chopped liver?

Now, if only he were real – or at least seemed that way. We could either put him to work immediately or use him as a model to train someone else to help get us out of the mess we’re currently in.

As it stands now, however, he’s a mere shell of everything we need. Much in the same way that we are a shell of everything we once were.  Or will be, unless we find out a way to rescue ourselves.

That’s our real Mission – should we decide to accept it.

Mission Impossible TV Show Theme Song

 

A New Horizon

What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

– Oprah Winfrey, 2018

It feels like a statement that Oprah has told us many times before and in many different forms and forums.

But those words had a searing and very specific timeliness on Sunday night when she delivered them amid so many other meaningful words, statements, stories, anecdotes, admissions and proclamations during a history-making acceptance speech at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards.

The speech was literally historical because she became the first Black woman to ever receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press. This is a career honor given for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment and as such is really the HFP’s equivalent of a life achievement award.

Still true

But more spontaneously historical were the honest, eloquent and ultimately optimistic thoughts she shared amid the tumultuous events the country has faced over the last year.

In one speech on one sort of significant but certainly not earth-shattering awards show Oprah managed to:

– Effectively address the legacy of sexual harassment in not just the entertainment industry but in all industries throughout the country.

– Laud the leaders and participants in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (Note: Dedicated to bring individual harassment stories out of the closet and help ensure new programs and laws are put in place) while revealing small personal pieces of her life and those of other far less powerful women who came before her.

PREACH QUEEN

– Proclaim that the press is under siege and reiterate its value firmly, definitively – and yet – without any trace of malice towards those who might not share in those feelings.

– Read the riot act about a culture broken to brutally powerful men who made sure women were not heard or believed if they dared speak truth to power that — THEIR TIME IS UP.

– And somehow convincingly proclaim to all of the rest of us that a new day IS on the horizon thanks to a lot of magnificent women in that Hollywood ballroom of entertainment industry notables AND some pretty phenomenal men without even the slightest whiff of cultural elitism or hysterical blue state angst.

No wonder Twitter almost immediately erupted with trending phrases like #OprahForPresident, #Oprah2020 or — even more simply –- just #Oprah.

Though don’t take my word for it. Listen to the whole speech here (and no, at nine minutes it’s not THAT long):

Up until last night there was not a chance in the world – or anyone in the world for that matter – that could get me to believe Oprah could, would, or should become president.

And yet there are few Americans in public life today – meaning the new Trump reality and our serious/quite perilous red/blue state divide – that can even begin to bridge the gap and speak to EVERYONE.

Is she a politician? No. Does she have that kind of experience? Uh, uh. Has there ever been anyone with her type of experience in the job? Certainly not.   Can a billionaire from a deep blue state really even begin to appeal to the majority or even plurality the country?

Me???

Well, when was the last time you asked all of those questions?

And how right were you then?

Not to be snarky but…. SNARK

In less than 10 minutes Oprah spoke to the hope and promise of the United States in a way we did not hear from one candidate through the entire presidential campaign nor a single day since.   This is because she spoke words written not for her but by her and about her.

Even if she had some help from a speechwriter (Note: I suspect after four decades on television she didn’t need one) what we listened to when she spoke were a few honest personal truths that became universal, a handful of simple facts that told a clear story rather than meandering down a path of confusion and self-righteousness, and a collective call to action that we could all work towards to create a better tomorrow that felt possible.

Sign me up, O!

Oprah didn’t accidentally stumble into this territory. She has that rare ability to communicate because she understands both the facts and the feelings they create among the people they affect. More importantly, she knows the story she is telling and builds a pyramid of both in order support it. She is then able to drop out what’s unimportant, emphasize what is, and DELIVER IT all in a manner we can both understand AND appreciate

The delivery part is essential. There are many, many smart – and perhaps even smarter – people and politicians out there but few who innately know how to stand before the world as themselves and effectively talk to the public (nee US) about anything important.

Plus she can get women to show up in droves #TIMESUP

Not sell us, but talk to us. Truthfully. And leave it to us if we want to buy into what they’re SAYING.

Yes, there are those who can talk to us. Others who can sell to us. And a handful in public life who can do both effectively. But Truthfully? I can’t think of any.

Except one.

Oprah Winfrey – “Run On”

I’m Just a Broadway Baby

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There is a lot being written about television and movies these days. Did you know this is the golden age of TV? It’s true and if I hear myself or anyone else say it one more time I’m gonna puke. This is because there are so many TV series and special programming events that it has all become inconsumable in any reasonable amount of time to keep up without spoilers from social media and well-meaning friends.

But like cmon Chair, don't you want to know who Barb is? #poorbarb #leggomyeggo

But like cmon Chair, don’t you want to know who Barb is? #poorbarb #leggomyeggo

As for films – there IS time to see all the great ones every year but not enough of us are willing to leave our homes to do so. Though when we do we’re usually happy we did. Except often it’s equally satisfying to wait and experience them on your own time. Or borrow someone else’s screeners. (Or, eventually, their Netflix password.) Be honest.

I'll get to you Alicia and Michael #alreadyweeping

I’ll get to you Alicia and Michael #alreadyweeping

THEATRE, however, requires movement, thought and the ability to leave your home or tablet and actually be somewhere else to watch something on someone else’s time. It also requires you to pay more and be plopped into an even larger room of people you don’t know. But when you do, and it works, there is nothing like it. The immediacy. The danger of something going horribly wrong – or wonderfully right. In fact, on stage they can sometimes be one in the same. And as an audience member you are guaranteed that exact moment you’ve just witnessed will never happen in that very same way ANYWHERE else again. Ever. And you thought you didn’t have the chance to experience anything unique or special anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have a very short weekend in NYC this Labor Day holiday where the significant spouse and I managed to squeeze in FOUR Broadway shows in less than 48 hours. Yes, you read that right. That’s what you do on a yearly trip here. Or any trip here for that matter (Note: Don’t write in about museums, restaurants, concerts and friends). And even if you can’t get to NYC to do it, every one of these four shows will be doing multi-city national tours within the next year. So you MUST go see at least one of them, no matter what your mood and finances are. (Note: There are BIG discount tickets available everywhere – check online).

LOL Discounts!

LOL Discounts!

WHY you may ask?

Because experiencing a work of art live with others will make you feel less alone. Because at least one of the four will speak to you in a significant way. And because, for a very short time, you will be part of something larger than yourself. Of course, you (we) always are. But it’s so easy to deny that in everyday life. Am I saying theatre is like religion?   Uh, no, not all. It’s be(tt..)… Right, okay, let’s not go there.

Instead – here are this weekend’s BIG FOUR. No, Tony award-darling, hottest ticket in town Hamilton is not among them because we weren’t going to fork over the $500-$1000 per ticket the scalpers were asking. Yes, 99% of my friends tell me it’s brilliantly done. But guess what – it’s not the only game in town on Broadway. Or in your town. And besides, it will eventually play there too in the next year or so.

FUN HOME

Come to the Fun Home!

Come to the Fun Home!

This is a memory musical piece played in-the-round and as told by the fictional version of cartoonist Allison Bechdel. She was the author brave enough to some years ago write an acclaimed graphic novel of the same name that recounted the story of her coming out as a lesbian along with the story of her closeted gay father and his eventual suicide. If that sounds depressing – or an impossible subject for a musical – it is neither. Quite the opposite and then some. This is yet another reason why one has to – sometimes – leave one’s house.

Alison Bechdel... Also creator of the Bechdel test (google it)

Alison Bechdel… creator of the Bechdel test (google it)

The creative team of Fun Home have recreated a seemingly bizarre family coming-of -age tale that they have somehow made universal and..well… mainstream. As I wrote to a friend, who is a friend of the author – because I just couldn’t contain myself – every moment seemed to land exactly right. The loneliness and isolation we all feel from time to time growing up; the inability to understand the drama happening right under your nose; searching years later as an adult (or even worse as an adult writer) for a way to piece together moments of your past that no one else wants to remember or claims they can remember; coming out to the world fully as yourself – whether you are gay or straight; and somehow taking all of these experiences and moving on with your life – or, if you’re a writer, trying to make your life into art.

Of course, this description sells the show terribly short. Let’s just say, I’m Changing My Major to Joan. Which you will understand immediately after you see it.

Rating: Five Rainbow Flags

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.26.59 PM

 

 

 

 

THE COLOR PURPLE

static.playbill

Yes, the musical was first on Broadway 11 years ago. And it was in 1982 that Alice Walker’s seminal book was first published. Not to mention Steven Spielberg directed a movie version in 1985 that’s been on TV nine zillion times.

You know... the one with Oprah

You know… the one with this lady

Which is the very reason to buy tickets to THIS Broadway production or see it on its inevitable tour. The story has never quite been told this way. The walls of the set are merely walls lined with chairs that are the show’s primary props – along with lighting and fabric. These are among the only few physical objects that retell the abuse, emergence and, sure, triumphant moments of ONE young Black woman born into what seems like the most impossibly awful circumstances in the post, post-Civil War South.

Yet to watch Cynthia Erivo emerge as a full fledged Broadway star playing the aforementioned woman (aka Miss Celie) or enjoy the gospel singing and acting chops of Heather Headley and the rest of the cast is not the point, thrilling as it may be. What is overwhelming is the simplicity of spirit and execution here that infuses the show with an electricity that allows it to become a bit larger than the life it explores. Actually, quite a lot larger – which is what happens when a big Broadway musical is done exactly right.

Rating: Five Chairs

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THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME

The Curious Incident of the Night-Time UK Tour

 Do you want to see a play about an autistic British teenager who is investigating the murder of a dead dog who you see on stage for the first five minutes of the play – a kid who almost never stops talking and occasionally screams a lot? Oh yeah, you do. You REALLY, REALLY do.

You won't regret it Liz

You won’t regret it Liz

Producers like turning award-winning books into all kinds of films, TV shows and sometimes even plays. But how do you take the internal, seemingly locked, limited world of this boy and make it even vaguely visual, logical or somewhat…interesting (?)…. to the very average minds of all the rest of us?

Brilliant directing, acting and writing helps. But that’s not enough. The conception of the entire piece might not have been possible a few decades ago before technology allowed us to see things on the stage and large/small screens that we had never seen before. Computer-generated effects of all kinds have taken us into worlds we couldn’t have imagined. Still, someone has to imagine those worlds. A machine can’t do that itself – yet – and it only helped do it here. A whole group of other artists created a universe that the writer wrote, the teenager experienced and the tech people facilitate. Now THAT’S progress. You’ll understand when you go out and see it for yourself. And then you will only begin to understand just how strange and unaverage the world we all live in really is to an outsider.

Rating: Five PIs.

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AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

american-in-paris

Have you ever watched an MGM movie musical and longed for it to come to life before your eyes? No really – you get to see the dancing, the singing, the colors, the costumes and the sentiment – or lack of it – as if it’s been pinched from out of a revival house, memorabilia store or perfectly etched museum-grade postcard.

The Broadway and future touring productions of An American In Paris is nothing more or less than that. Yes, adult men and women can indeed do ballet, jazz and Broadway moves while they belt out Gershwin songs in REAL (as opposed to reel) TIME. There are no five, six, seven or eight takes – or cuts between scenes – or close-ups with glam lighting the way they did it in the old days. I kept asking myself, why aren’t these people sweating and panting? How do you hit a note or not miss a cue when you are clearly not Gene Kelly or Leslie Caron and don’t have the luxury of NOT being compared to them??

Who is??

Who is??

No, this is not the cast of the film. Nor do they pretend to be. (Note: Okay, maybe a little). Still, it’s not nostalgia so much as it’s a live action REinterpretation of a time long gone. It is escapist, sure – but sometimes, well…don’t you want to NOT think about yourself or The Orange Clown for at least three hours?

Cause it’ll cost you (and US) a lot more to stay inside and keep thinking those same dismal thoughts in the long run – you can trust me on that.

Rating: Three Baguettes  (yum)

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Embarrassment of Riches

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I’ve met a few billionaires over the years. Let’s say five or under. And in case you were wondering – no, Oprah was not one of them. Though we were in the same room two of three times. Which I don’t count so much as meeting but being in the presence of her royal greatness. Yeah, I miss her and long for those simpler times when a Black woman from a poor background could try to enable the world to strive for their better selves. Rather than the present when it seems we have exactly the opposite.

Oh how I miss her

Oh how I miss her

Anyway, I only considered one of the billionaires I’ve met to be a truly happy person whose values were similar to mine and who, if push came to shove, I might even consider for U.S. president. This person’s moral compass was such that he judged people not by how much money they were making or had by accident of birth – or what possible connection or DEAL they could bring into HIS WORLD – but rather by their broader views on life. In other words, this person often hung out with and sought the company of poor people – meaning YOU AND I.

Don’t get me wrong.  YOU AND I does not necessarily mean those on the poverty level but individuals who make between $50,000-$250,000 per year. As well as others who make a little more (let’s say up to $1,000,000) and even a few who make much more (up to perhaps even $5,000,000).

By my calculations... that would the 99%

By my calculations… that would the 99%

Heck, there might have been a few here and there on the other end who made even less than the $50,000 cut-off – individuals whom he actually knew fairly well or were friends with those mentioned above and attended the many and varied social functions held at this person’s home. Some of these gatherings were casual, some were to raise money but quite often there were individuals of all shapes, sizes, ages (yeah, even children among the adults, can you imagine?) as well as incomes.

Certainly there was a respectable amount of multimillionaires and above but to watch this man walk around the room and actually listen to others as they shared their views of the world and he, in turn, revealed his with equal enthusiasm – was a genuine sight to see. He didn’t have handlers. There was sincerity in his body language and dialogue. When he engaged he looked into the eyes of the person he was engaged with rather than trying to clandestinely glance to or service what he perceived to be the more advantageous prey at his party.

Yes, he was the billionaire unicorn

Yes, he was the billionaire unicorn

I know all of the above to be so because some weeks after one of his parties about a decade and a half ago, this person accepted a dinner invitation to my humble abode. Incomes for writers fluctuate greatly and let’s say it was absolutely one of my leaner years. But show up for the very small gathering he did – engaged, joyous and happy to be there. I kept thinking — this person has given away more money than I will make in 10 lifetimes – and that’s being very generous to me. Why is he sitting in this funky bottom floor duplex apartment with worn, thin wood floors in desperate need of sanding when he could be luxuriating in several of his own luxurious homes? Or be chowing down in a five star hotel or restaurant with other power brokers or wheelers and dealers? Or better yet, charter his own private jet and fly him or his party of choice to Rome, Paris, Athens or, say, even… Palm Beach, Florida?

... in a home that probably looks something like this

… in a home that probably looks something like this

The simple answer is that this person wanted to be at my house. And not because he was slumming – or even running for office. The money was nice but it didn’t define him. He had his own foundation, still worked at his chosen profession, and continued to make and give away millions of dollars. But the money, the wealth and the privilege were not his brand. His personhood was who he was. And the corporations he owned was not this person. He was.

This man forever changed my perception of the uber-wealthy and shook up my views of just how one begins to navigate success and failure, poverty and riches.  It’s all in the game of how you perceive yourself and engage in the world. Is one lesser than, better than or, at the end of the day, on equal footing with others despite society’s too numerous to count measures and scales?

I can't really fault that logic

I can’t really fault that logic

To put it more simply — can you be a leader without being superior. Is there a way to win at what you do without inciting the hatred of your supporters for the other side and inciting them to moral and physical violence? If business really is a cutthroat and cruel arena where any actions can be forgiven because it’s not personal, how could it be that this particular person rose to the top of his, and then some, without doing any of it?

Well, perhaps he just got lucky. Or is an anomaly. Or secretly did just that and covered it up? No. He was just a guy with a lot of ideas and an inner belief in the world and in himself. In that order. Rather than vice-versa. He didn’t think so much about of making him or his company #1. He instead created a product and systems that facilitated connection – rather than alienation.

I'm starting to feel like this person might own a lot of hooded sweatshirts

I’m starting to feel like this person might own a lot of hooded sweatshirts… but no. #keepguessing

In the hours I spent with this person all that time ago he spoke a lot about wanting to continue to take what he had and use it to restore the environment to its natural state so it could be enjoyed by as many people as possible despite their means

This person loved the land and owned a lot of it – and I mean more PRIMO acreage in the most desire spots in both our urban and rural landscapes than you can imagine; and made sure that upon his death the state and federal government will take over such lands and keep and preserve them in perpetuity to their natural green habitats. The final part of the DEAL is that these lands will be open to the public to peruse and enjoy.

Channeling my inner Maria Von Trapp

Channeling my inner Maria Von Trapp

In other words, this land will not be developed into steel and concrete versions of mini-adult Disneylands that many of this man’s many, many friends could afford or would even choose to frequent. His desire is not to bring us back to a past where these lands can be GREAT AGAIN. Nor did he think it necessary to rip these lands apart at the seams in order to preserve them and bring back their greatness.

His thought was – and still is – to enable a place where we can all – everyone one of us despite our backgrounds – gather as many people together to share the land –and the infinite possibilities it evokes – as he could.

Well great, now I miss Mad Men even more

Well great, now I miss Mad Men even more

Funny enough, that’s the way he built the empire that made him rich. Not the other way around.

Final note: This person is listed as one of the top charity givers in the United States in the last 15 years with contributions in the many tens of MILLIONS of dollars. No other billionaire running for president at the moment is even in the ballpark.

Not even CLOSE.

Making America great again.  Indeed.

Now… It’s Over

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Some idiot at MSNBC cancelled Now with Alex Wagner and I’m pissed off. Can one be angry at an idiot who doesn’t know any better? Or is it more appropriate to be p.o.’d at an amorphous thing like a network that doesn’t have any feelings? How much of an effect will that have? Of course, I’ve met a lot of idiots who don’t have feelings so perhaps I’d be better off going with the individual just to make it all feel more personal to me. At least there is some satisfaction in that.

Yes, I realize most of you don’t know who Alex Wagner is or have anything invested in Now. Make of the last part of that last statement what you will. And know that I will explain more about both AW and Now in a bit.   For now, just be aware it’s a mid-afternoon news/talk/opinion show – one of a block of three such programs MSNBC has axed in order to mainstream itself with a CNN-type breaking news kind of strategery. Yes, strategery.

STRATEGERY, my friends

STRATEGERY, my friends

Apropos of that — back to the idiots.

I’ve read this monumentally stupid decision was the brainchild of new NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, who is anything but new. Or news. He actually presided over NBC in its news heyday of the nineties when he helped take its anchor Tom Brokaw from #3 to #1 in the nightly race for ratings among the three major broadcast networks’ Nightly News programs. But does anyone you know watch the Nightly News anymore? (Note: Jon Stewart doesn’t count and in another week he’ll be gone too – waaaaa). Certainly no one reading these words. Or writing them.

No love for Davey?

No love for Davey?

Someone should tell the 68-year-old Mr. Lack that his plan to insert recently deposed NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (Note: Yeah, the guy who was put on “leave” for fictionalizing portions of at least a few more than several news stories he reported on) into the slots occupied by the brilliant and effervescent Ms. Wagner (and others) is akin to me ordering my current film students to sit down in a room and watch Barbra Streisand movies from the 60s and 70s on a loop. Or replacing Jon Stewart with Bryant Gumbel. Well, now I fear I’ve really lost the under 25 crowd. My first instinct was to use the Olivia Newton John or Elton John or even Jimmy Stewart comparison but I doubt any of those would have fared any better.

... and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

… and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

I have an unhealthy addiction to what used to be MSNBC and Ms. Wagner in particular because like me they are smart, sarcastic and liberal yet also managed to be surprisingly fair and balanced. Again, make of that last statement what you will but, no, it is not an oxymoron in our current cable news landscape. Also, in Ms. Wagner’s case I suspect she’s a lot nicer than I am. Certainly, she’s more modest. As for MSNBC, up until now they have been one of the few news sources with commentators who are not constantly dumbing down the issues of the day for the “masses,” blanding it down to the point of snoredom or amping it up to the tenor of the Donald Trump parade hosted by Fox News. I was going to say Sarah Palin parade on Fox because I hate to give Trump any more ink at all. But then I realized that evoking Sarah Palin was as relevant as hiring Brian Williams to be the new face of change for a floundering cable outlet. Or giving zzz’s inducing Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd four more hours of daytime programming chores as your second new hosting face.  Kill me now.

Welp... it's about time for my mid morning nap  #snooze

Welp… it’s about time for my mid morning nap #snooze

What did/do I love about Alex Wagner? Well, for one thing she often referred to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee as Willard “Mitt” Romney (Note: His real name) and Donald Trump as the “Teflon Don” (Note: Too nice to be his real name). She could also speak as eloquently about Jay-Z as she could on Zero Based Budgeting, while on that very same show interview everyone from Ron Paul to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (Note: Imagine being fair with him???) to any bleeding heart liberal on the block with a combination of tough-minded accuracy and good-natured aplomb.

News goddess

News goddess

Oh, and did I mention she’s 37, of mixed race origin and is married to former Obama White House chef, close First Family friend, and now NBC’s newest Today show contributor Sam Kass? Not to be mercenary, but why would you want someone like that anchoring an afternoon chat show on your network in 2015? Instead, let’s contract with more straight, deep-voiced or doughy-looking white men because, god knows, they are the wave of the future. What’s an Obama Coalition, anyway?

I'll have what she's having

I’ll have what she’s having

One might surmise this is less about Ms. Wagner and MSNBC and more about the fact that… the Chair does not adapt to change very well. Hmm, that could be at least partially correct. One strategy to overcome one’s anger – aside from just letting it go – is to welcome change as an opportunity for something better. I mean, the chief message of Pres. Obama to the Obama Coalition was something like: We are the change we have been waiting for. Remember?

Well, that’s a nice thought but in this case it would seem to indicate that the answer to all of this would be for me to start my own network, find another program or, as a last resort, try to figure out a way to hang out with Ms. Wagner on my own. I’m not entirely sure which one is the most doable. Though certainly I could guarantee the one of the three that would be the most fun.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

That is, I suspect, the real issue. There is not a heck of a lot of fun in media these days. Or – there is too much of it. It’s entertaining when it’s supposed to be serious/serious when it’s supposed to be entertaining. Is Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly or even Fox News itself meant to be taken seriously? Have you ever tried to watch Fox and Friends? Every so often I tune in to the latter, one of several bizarre series on the top-rated cable network. Last week, when speaking of the surfer who got attacked and nearly eaten by a shark during a competition, one of the geniuses on that show wondered out loud why the surfing area wasn’t automatically cleared of sharks when there was a sporting event going on.

#Dowager4ever

#Dowager4ever

Yet on Ms. Wagner’s final program the Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart got it exactly right when asked about Thursday’s first Republican nominee presidential debate and the emergence of Donald Trump as its inevitable centerpiece. Mr. Capehart offered that the ratings would be high not because of a resurgence in political interest or a worry about the direction of the country. No, he said, it was mainly because it was a great potential entertainment event where you could sit in front of TV with a bowl of popcorn, a group of friends and play the drinking game of your choice as you watched Donald Trump eviscerate a stage full of – well, take your choice on what you want to call them, no partisanship here.

#srsly

#srsly

It is this kind of truth-telling that one seems to only get on shows like Ms. Wagner’s that I will miss. And yeah, I know I might be able to get it elsewhere. And it may even be better. Or it might not and I might be inspired to spend less time nodding my head at the television to people that I already know agree with me and being more productive in my life as a writer, teacher, husband and general citizen of the world.

As Gandhi once famously said – and perhaps this is where Pres. Obama got it from – Be the change that you wish to see in the world. In other words, don’t fight it.

#preach

#preach

Well, that’s a nice thought. But I’m still pissed off at MSNBC, Lack and the whole cabal for their misguided corporate stupidity. As such, in this situation I quite prefer the prose of Dorothy Parker, who many, many decades ago once wrote:

In my youth, it was a way I had,

To do my best to please.

And change, with every passing lad

To suit his theories.

 But now I know the things I know

And do the things I do,

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you.

Or, in 2015 vernacular: Bite me, MSNBC.

A Rainbow of Emotions

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In a moment where the nation reels in our own yin and yang versions of pain and pleasure – from the continued assassination of innocent Black people by White racists or the passage of marriage equality by the Supreme Court that ensures LGBT people can now legally tie the knot in all 50 states – it seems reductive to compare life to a Pixar movie. Yet it feels like no karmic coincidence that Disney has just released Inside Out – one of its most thoughtfully psychological animated films ever – not to mention one that in particular deals with how our upbeat innermost emotions must always co-exist with the ever present darker feelings not so way down deep in our soul.

Of course, none of us have the vivacious voice of Amy Poehler to personify our Joy (Note: Perhaps not even Amy herself) nor do we have the gleeful rantings of Lewis Black to substitute for our own virulent misdirected Anger at the world. Or even the pathetically depressing tones of Phyllis Smith, a former assistant casting director who we know as the frumpy, humdrum, monotone-voiced Phyllis on The Office, to so brilliantly express our own inner Sadness.

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

What we do have is real life – which is never as entertaining as the best or even very good Pixar movie. But it can be if we think about it just a little more than we indulge in our own pity or happiness parties (depending on our moods) without a thought to the karmic realities that comprise what we like to refer to as the rest of the/our worlds.

Full confession – I’m more guilty than most of not following the strategies I’m putting forth here for Living Your Best Life (Note: Trademark Oprah).

Say what now?

Say what now?

Not to be a giant buzz kill but on the day SCOTUS ruled on marriage equality most of what I thought about were gay friends who contributed to the struggle but didn’t live to see this day. This was due, in no small part, to the double whammy of the ruling coinciding with the nationally televised funeral for Clementa Pinckney, the senior pastor of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston who was one of the nine assassinated last week by a 21 year-old White supremacist after the latter had spent the previous hour in a Bible study class praying with them in their own aforementioned house of worship.

Pres. Obama eulogized Pastor Pinckney, also a state senator representing Charleston, and led the mourners in his own very compelling acapella version of “Amazing Grace” – certainly a first in POTUS history. Previously he and others have talked about the idea of reaching a state of grace and spreading that out into the world to others. Presumably this includes the forgiveness of those who have done a person wrong and nowhere were those teachings more apparent than from the mouths of the next of kin of the recently slain who only days before faced the accused murderer of their loved ones. Without exception they all forgave him to his face, or at least chose not to dwell in the bile he had elicited by looking backwards at the loss of all their relative or forward to all the blessings that would never be in the future.

This idea of grace, the ongoing struggle, the bright future – no matter what has happened to you and where it lands on the fairness scale – it’s a wonderful and noble thought, one that is an undeniably positive and useful goal. But full confession: It works for me only some of the time, and even then barely. Part of my personal fight is also fueled by anger and the quest for fairness – the idea that one is not roused to action until one – okay, me – is more personally impacted by the issue at hand.

This was a reason to think about all of the dead of the LGBT community, most especially the thousands from the AIDS epidemic, when marriage equality was announced. For, and this is my own personal belief, the movement would not have gained the steam that it had if not, in great part, due to the AIDS epidemic. Certainly, it wasn’t the only motor but just as certainly it clearly sped things up.

What would Vito think of today?

What would Vito think of today?

To be clear: we would all trade marriage equality in a nanosecond if we could wipe away the Plague and bring back those that fell – meaning died – in its wake. Clearly, we can’t. But what we also can’t do is to deny that the fact that this awful pandemic forced gay people to make themselves publicly known, many times against our own will or perhaps choice, and this inadvertently contributed greatly to forcing people to know us – the real us – rather than the sanitized version groups usually choose to present (or not present) to society at large. And that – along with a lot of grass roots work – is primarily what accelerated change and led us to where we are today.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – or Aunt Ruth as I like to call her – said as much in an interview last week – and I immediately surmised, in a moment of total self-indulgence, that these thoughts must ‘run in the family.’ Though I (and perhaps she) have been thinking this for years it’s hardly an original idea. I heard the filmmaker/novelist Clive Barker say pretty much the same thing about gay rights five or 10 years ago on Bill Maher’s Real Time (or perhaps it was Politically Incorrect – who can remember which fabulous liberal spewfest it was) – and clearly he is no relative of mine. The hair, the body, the horror – not a Ginsberg in his gene pool, let’s be honest.

Not a Ginsberg (but he's welcome anytime)

Not a Ginsberg (but he’s welcome anytime)

Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear that brother Clive (who has been out and proud for years), Aunt Ruth, myself and perhaps many of you don’t share something. And that is the recognition that the world is very much about the good and the bad each informing the other – the yin and the yang. That just as it seems one’s world is going to end, and perhaps in some ways it does, it is simultaneously the birth of something else.

caglecartoon

‘nough said

One supposes this is just our mutual human condition – one of many aspects of humanness we have in common, though so often we don’t want that to be the case. Still, it’s important to remember when the next big civil rights issue arises – that civil rights of all kinds for all people are intertwined. Charleston, Stonewall, Israel, Iraq, and ad infinitum back and forth through time. How often one writes about this (or performs it or films it) and how even more frequently the message is ignored, the world goes on and we continue with our days as if it’s all new to us or, even worse, in that particular case it doesn’t really apply. Bitchy, twitchy, witchy, kitschy and all else in between.

It’s important to recall our collective history and our mass behavior when one is feeling down – or perhaps even too hopeful. Not in so much a fatalistic, sad way but an inevitably accepting, understanding and eventually life-affirming way. Dark and light, light and dark, dark and light – neither of them lasts – certainly not forever – nor would you probably want either of them to on their own. If you really think about it. The folks at Pixar obviously thought about it for the six years it took to bring Inside Out to the screen and simplified it so even a CHAIR could make sense of it and use it to understand the current events of the day.

Go figure.