Skin Deep

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I used to joke that even though I appeared to be a white, gay Jewish male I was, really, a big Black woman – preferably one who could sing like Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson or, if I chose to go a bit more exotic, Nina Simone. Well, live long enough and any metaphor becomes obsolete and somewhat offensive – or even timely.

Chairy, is that you?

Chairy, is that you?

It’s difficult to know what one can joke about anymore. Certainly, it’s impossible to decide just what is timely. I decided late this week to bite the bullet and write about Rachel Dolezal, the just resigned former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who was exposed as biologically White after a decade or more passing as Black (Note: Though there was and is still some debate on just what constitutes being Black). But then the idiocy of our national obsession with Ms. Dolezal was swiftly shifted by the actions of one truly undebatable WHITE 21 year-old Southern male.

When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the historic Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the first Black churches in the country, and shot nine innocent Black people dead after spending an hour as part of their Bible study group on Wednesday night, the meaning of being Black in America once again became crystal clear.

It is not about releasing your inner Aretha Franklin. It is not about crimping your hair, fighting for civil rights, having friends and family members who are African-American in bearing, or possessing any appreciation or talent for rapping, soul food recipes, community service or the historical nature of oppression.

NoSMDH

To be Black in the U.S. means to be at risk and to always be, in some small or even miniscule fashion, and despite your apparent economic or social status, looking over your shoulder. It means to be in danger even when you feel 100% safe. And, if one makes the decision to survive and live a relatively happy life, it means deciding, given those parameters, to figure out a way to turn the other cheek on all that and – like all the rest of us – play the hand you were dealt to the best you can so you can fulfill your destiny.

On the other hand, what the hell do I know about being Black in America? What can any White person every REALLY know? Not very much. Because on some very, very teeny tiny level being Black in America is NOT yet like being like all the rest of us – as I just so cavalierly mentioned in the last line of the paragraph above. I guess I will have to be on a journalistic learning curve for the time being on that one for, as we now once again know, old habits die hard.

As a screenwriter and journalist I’ve imagined myself as characters in countless scenarios. I have been male, female and various other animals of all kinds of ages, races and heights with extremely moral codes and deadly murderous streaks. I’ve been a Hispanic single mother, a wealthy Black politician, a white female cabaret singer, a nerdy Jewish boy (Note: That one was soooooo easy) and, currently, a very young white newspaper editor from the Midwest in the mid 1970s with a penchant for justice so strong that I am now in the process of risking my job, friends and family for my principals despite all seeming logic to the contrary. (Note: Don’t worry, that character’s story WILL have a somewhat victorious ending. I mean, please – it’s Hollywood).

something like this...

something like this…

All of these imaginations, presumed personalities and dramatic machinations, as a therapist told me years ago, are merely outgrowths of a personal talent for invention, or more precisely, reinvention, that helps the real me deal with life. I concoct stories as a coping method to deal with difficult situations (both fictional and from my real life) and create my very own convincing beginnings, middles and ends around them. But this only works as a way to make me feel better about who I am and the events around me – as I have painfully learned over the years. Although it can certainly be the impetus for me – and perhaps my limited or maybe one day vast audience – for seeing the truth/my truth and creating personal change it is a fiction. In other words, it is not, nor can it ever be, real life. Meaning – it was not reality.

In other words:

One can’t walk in someone else’s skin because we are all born with our own very specific skin.

Marvel Studios made this abundantly clear in a recently leaked Sony email that reveals that in its contract for the Spiderman movies with Sony it is a legal requirement that the movie Spiderman’s human alter ego, Peter Parker, must always be CAUCASIAN and HETEROSEXUAL and that Spiderman himself NOT be a HOMOSEXUAL.

oh spidey....

oh spidey

As if there were ever a chance any of these could ever thus be so.

When a rumor recently floated that renowned British actor Idris Elba could one day be the future and first Black James Bond it created an international Twitter exchange, culminating not only with eventual denials from Elba but a public statement by 1970s movie star and former Bond co-star Yaphet Kotto that the mere idea of that was ridiculous and silly.

And that’s only in the movies. Imagine how uppity it could get in other areas. For instance, let’s take politics. Can you consider that one day that we might actually have…I mean, that there could sometime in the future really be…a Black president of the United Sates?

wait a second....

wait a second….

Oh. Right.

Of course, this says nothing of how Black you have to be in order to be categorized as BLACK. Pres. Obama is half-Black and half-White, which seems to count as being Black. Yet some years ago, it surfaced that Broadway star Carol Channing’s paternal grandfather was Black, making her about 25% Black. Yet this seems to be enough for her to still be considered White, though perhaps that’s just because she’s 94 years old and we’ve always thought of her as such. Still, it doesn’t make it good for the public racial future of Rachel Dolezal. She might have two children with a Black man who identify as Black and several adopted siblings who are Black but now that the closet door has been opened she can never truly change her public face – meaning skin color.

That this would count for anything seems so odd, doesn’t it? I mean, don’t we all require or at least hope our houses and apartments are painted a new, fresh color before we move in? Yes, that color has traditionally been white but lately eggshell, gray, putty or even…well, pick you choice are starting to become popular. Though not yet Black. Can you ever imagine Black walls? I mean, really….

I just can't get behind this...

I just can’t get behind this

My husband and I have just moved into a new home that is set against a hillside. It’s safe but over a three week period we’d noticed more than a small rock or two falling into our patio and decided to hire some experienced people to haul out some of the dirt and gravel and build some small barriers for reinforcement and ensure (as much as possible) the safety of ourselves and our dog.

The head of the crew we hired to do this is not Black but he is Mexican (Note: Let’s call him Walter, just for fun) and over the last few days we’ve bonded over a mutual respect for the machinations of Mother Nature and a shared penchant for somewhat politically incorrect humor. Walter and I have joked about everything from my lack of knowledge about plants and building things to the fact that all of his siblings have advanced and multiple college degrees in various “professional” occupations while he decided to go into the family business of taking care of the yards (Note: In his case it’s usually grounds, he’s slumming with us) of many of these same professional people.

the tao of snoopy

the tao of snoopy

Nowhere was this more apparent to Walter than when his working class self went to his local bank to cash a large (well, by my standards) check for supplies I had written to him personally. No sooner had he gotten to the teller for the deposit than a manager was called over to look over the check. After a few minutes, the guy looked Walter dead on and the following conversation ensued:

Bank Manager: This check looks washed.

Walter: Huh? What are you talking about?

Bank Manager: It looks like a fake.

Walter: Well, I saw the guy (Note: That would be me, Your Chair) writing it from his own checkbook.

Bank: Well, just remember, it’s gonna come out of your account if it’s no good.

Walter pauses, thinks. Then –

Walter: Well, okay, but I mean, I trust the dude.

Bank Manager: Okay, but — remember — it’s your responsibility.

um... what?

um… what?

The first thing I did when Walter related this story – after reassuring him about the money – was to ask him what the heck it meant for a check to be washed. He explained it’s when someone takes a check, washes off the ink and then fills in their own amount. Okay, I thought, that’s nervy and inventive – but these checks are brand new – is there something about my signature or writing that makes them look dirty?

My second reaction, as I thought about it, was outrage. I mean, really? Walter may be a big Mexican guy who lives in the hood, albeit in a nice house with a wife and two kids, and has an accent, but really – he has a business account there and he comes in all the time. Is he really going to pass a bad check?

This guy that questioned you about the check, this really pisses me off, I confess to Walter.

Ah, I don’t let those things bother me, dude. It is what it is.

Yeah, but I mean, I bet if I were trying to cash the check, I wouldn’t have gotten that remark, I tell him.

Probably not, Walter replies. But I’m used to it.

Of course, there are a whole bunch of things he could probably say about me, though it would have nothing to do with whether he’d cash my check.

Yeah, I hear that, Walter says.

One more thing, I tell him. I’ll bet this was a White guy, right? Probably like a middle-aged, middle class white guy, right?

Actually, Walter replied, it was a young Black dude. The Blacks and Mexicans, they got a thing going. But, well — I try not to take it personally.

Well, that makes one of us. I guess that’s some sort of start.  Though only kind of.

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Your Evil Empire

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I received an email the other day that the Center Theatre Group will be presenting the first ever L.A. production of David Mamet’s 2009 Broadway play, Race, at the end of the month. Now, normally when there’s a new (or even newish) Mamet I’m there. Even if the play doesn’t quite work for me, Mamet’s a master provocateur and always writes about stuff that either interests me greatly or fascinates me deeply, albeit from a safe distance.

Yet I found myself physically recoiling at the idea of giving Mr. Mamet even one nickel since he’s turned into a right wing conservative and gone on a diatribe against brain dead Hollywood liberals. Not that I’m in an upper enough tier of Hollywood to even be considered as such but, well, I do live here, am a writer and most certainly am and always will be a LIBERAL.

Oh honey, going on Fox News... really?

Oh honey, going on Fox News… really?

By the way, many friends of my parents’ assured me this would change as I got older but it has not yet occurred – nor do I ever expect it to. Perhaps this is because when they said it they didn’t realize I was gay and thus failed to take into account the unlikelihood of me ever belonging to a political party that legislatively hates the idea that I exist. Well, what else am I to think when the overwhelming majority of the literature and leading voices from the Republican Party – an umbrella coven for conservatives that comprises one half of all major political covens parties (that would be two) in the U.S. – throw a major temper tantrum every time a new law is amended or passed guaranteeing me the same rights as everyone else?

Of course, what are they and any of us to make of the approximately 1 out of 5 LGBT Americans who still belong to said coven and, when confronted with the paradox, claim to be working for change from within? How do I know they answer this way? Well, that’s the response I’ve gotten for approximately 25 years of asking the question calmly. If any other excuses were offered I was probably seething, yelling or being physically restrained from strangulation (Note: theirs) at the time so I might not have heard them.

The gospel according to Kathy

The gospel according to Kathy

But back to Mr. Mamet and the five pennies of royalties (I’m estimating the amount based on his shelf full of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for drama) he will not be getting from me this time.

I do realize I am being a bit short sighted here. I mean, how are any of us to rectify our political and social points of view with our choices as consumers? For instance, I vowed I would never ever buy Barilla pasta again since last year their CEO proclaimed gays unfit to raise children — and haven’t. Yet last weekend I conveniently forgot this and a box of their multigrain rotini snuck into my basket at Gelson’s because I wanted to make something healthier and lighter for Sunday night dinner and the Significant Other wanted his favorite tomato eggplant toss to cheer him up.

Well at least after this week's news, I can go back to Target!

Well at least after this week’s news, I can go back to Target!

This summer a friend brought my attention to the website hollowverse.com, which has massive lists of the political and religious affiliations of the rich and famous in show biz and other bizzes. This dear friend, who is even more liberal than myself if such a thing is possible – and most certainly more virulently vocal about it (which doesn’t seem possible but is) – will do whatever is necessary to avoid the work of any single person on the list who voted against his beliefs. And if they do appear in or make something he does have an interest in seeing or buying he will be begrudgingly hard on them and their work now and in the future – voicing his disdain for them to whoever he meets – meaning many, many, many people. I can’t say I haven’t done this and still don’t continue to do so at times. On the other hand, I find it quite tiring at other moments and just want to turn it all off and put on HGTV – a place where no one has politics and everyone advocates for an open concept, or at least secretly longs for one.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

The other problem with that website, as I pointed out to my friend, is that like all websites it markets in the occasional inaccuracy. Case in point: it lists Anderson Cooper contributing to the Republican Party and, by inference, claims he is a member of that coven.

Trust me, Anderson Cooper is NOT a Republican,! I insist to my friend.

He’s gay, he’s best friends with Kathy Griffin, and he lives in New York. Plus, I know someone who used to sleep with him (Note: Which gay guy in America doesn’t) and, well, he would have mentioned something.

When my friend still wasn’t buying it I pulled out the Trump (not Donald) card:

Listen, he’s a Vanderbilt and is probably on one of their boards that contributed and his name got attached. Seriously!

I mean... this is who he's photographed with. Let's be real, people.

I mean… this is who he’s photographed with. Let’s be real, people.

That seemed to calm him down but only slightly and I’m not sure it will hold in the long term. Unfortunately, it also got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? Well, thank God (or whoever you imagine Her to be), AC doesn’t have a show on HGTV or I would be in serious trouble.

Of course, when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon came out vociferously against the Iraq War in the post-9/11 climate, they were lambasted in much of the mainstream media, referred to as anti-American by many others on the fringe (Note: Is there a worse epithet from the extreme right wing except maybe being gay, poor, an immigrant or an unwed mother on food stamps?) and, as a result, their star power suffered.

Then there’s Jane Fonda – who has still not been forgiven by a group of my friends’ more conservative fathers for her virulent opposition to the Vietnam War. Forget that the years have pretty much proven all three of them correct – well at least in my unbiased left wing opinion.

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

Yes, we can take this further and we will. What about………………..…Woody Allen?

Do you not go to any of his movies if you believe any of the accusations hurled at him about his personal life by his estranged daughter Dylan Farrow; his ex-long term girlfriend, her mother Mia Farrow; and his estranged son, MSNBC’s Ronan (formerly Satchel) Farrow? (Note: The latter could conceivably be Frank Sinatra’s child in the final analysis, making his expertise on the subject almost beside the point, though the circumstances of his birth certainly could contribute as to whether members of any coven at all believe the accusations (or anything else) coming from the mouth of mother Mia).

Oy vey! I don't think Ronan's jewish!

Oy vey! I don’t think Ronan’s jewish!

Well, if I were a character in one of Mr. Allen’s movies I might avoid answering the question altogether and say this:

I don’t feel entirely comfortable equating Woody Allen to the artistic works of, say, Leni Riefenstahl – who filmed aesthetically seductive Nazi imagery under the protective wing of Adolph Hitler and German nationalism in the 1930s. Still, is her work on Triumph of the Will and Olympia 1 & 2 any less, well – beautiful – because what it sells is abhorrent? Can’t you admire the art while repeatedly hitting the artist with 3 dozen baseball bats and a sack of manure until she dies, you nihilist you?

I found myself making this very argument in my mind last week with all the publicity surrounding the HBO broadcast of its Nixon by Nixon – a documentary that included never released secret tapes from the former president. (Note: Yes, there were more of them). I really loathed the guy and his politics, even as a young teenager. He smeared Helen Gahagan Douglas in order to win his first seat in the US Senate; hated the free press and sought to control it; and sold the country a non-existent bill of goods about a secret plan to end the Vietnam War in order to get elected president in 1968, taking four years plus to do it as many thousands of young men died needlessly. Not to mention finally capping it all off with using an illegal financial slush fund and his vast presidential powers in order to spy on political opponents via the Watergate break-in and then lying about it, thus bringing down his presidency and almost the entire country in the process.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dick!

Happy 40th Anniversary… DICK

Add to that the guy was a classic Jew hater (Copyright Woody Allen) as confirmed on his new (and old) tapes, his “friendship” with Henry Kissinger notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, as a young man I still did watch the entire 1977 broadcast of Nixon’s multi-part interview with David Frost about all things Nixon, including Watergate – and waited for him to say anything to make me understand where he was coming from at the time. So I did and still do want both sides. But with some people or in some cases we all finally just have to say ourselves:

Enough is enough and really, I have little to no interest in you or the warped POV you rode in on anymore.

This is not necessarily a good thing and the truth is I will probably weaken and watch at least a portion of Nixon by Nixon at some point because I like to stay current.  Yet this also doesn’t mean I have ever quite forgiven Diane Sawyer for going to work for Nixon in the White House (as a press aide from 1970-1974) through the writing of his memoirs in her younger days and then using that experience to advance her career. In fact, it’s always caused a larger dollop of doubt in my mind about anything she’s said as a news anchor despite her sweet as silk, honey-dripping delivery and smile. Yeah, she married Mike Nichols and show business friends who know her tell me I’m being ridiculous, petty and small-minded because I’d really like her if we met. And to this I answer:

I might be ridiculous and petty but someone with a truly small mind would not remember the fact that she worked to maintain and then rehabilitate the image of the most corrupt president in US history. AND got paid handsomely for it.

I just can't shake the "ick" factor here.

I just can’t shake the “ick” factor here.

Of course, everyone we support (even ourselves) has probably said or done something we disagree with or perhaps loathe. Certainly every time we buy a product manufactured by a corporation or large institution we put what little is left of our high-minded moral principles in jeopardy because if some magical fairy (Note: Not Me) were able to take the time to learn ALL the facts about what we just bought or who we bought it from, the world economy and everyone in it would come to a disquieting and paralyzing standstill.  I’m thinking Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream might be one of the rare exceptions, though that too could be wishful thinking. After all, there must be a conservative, anti-gay version of the two hippies who built that billion dollar empire somewhere in this world – though perhaps none living in Vermont who made their fortunes making highly fattening dessert items. Still, I can’t quite claim to know any of that for sure.

What I do know is that I have zero plans to see the new Mamet play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre this month or any other month, at least for right now. That’s MY five cents – for what it’s worth. It may or may not concern Mr. Mamet in the long run but is certainly not going to him any time soon.