Bully Beware

You’re the meanest, most horrible, most disrespectful…..

Jees, what exactly did I say on the playground to that sixth grade schoolgirl back in the 1960s that her insults still ring in my ears to this day?

We didn’t have political correctness back then so it might’ve been awful.  Likely, she made a remark about something I did or said that insulted my masculinity or smarts or ability to succeed at something and I couldn’t take the criticism.

Oh no she didn’t!

Likely it was all three, but if you put a gun to my head it’d go with masculinity. For pre-pubescent boys,  it’s ALWAYS about masculinity.

Well, that’s the way it was back in Queens when I was 11 years old.  You say this, I say that, the insults escalate and suddenly one kid is called the meanest, the most horrible and the most disrespectful simply for fighting back.

Don’t mess with grandma

This is the world I grew up in and, even though he’s more than a decade older than me, that’s the world our American POTUS Donald Trump grew up in.

So when he said those very school girlish words about Sen. Kamala Harris the very day she was named by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to be his running mate for vice-president each immediately tugged at my memory.

The meanest, most horrible, most disrespectful.

Grade school, playground, bully, man, camera, Queens.

Check, check, check, check, check  and…checkmate!

I think she can handle it

Full disclosure:  If I’m being totally honest I won’t swear that  the above-mentioned 11-year-old girl actually said those words to me.  More likely they were said to some jerky guy saying something awful and likely sexist to her and I simply stood by and let him.

Picture 11-year-old pre-pubescent Donnie Trump brazenly spewing insults through the space between the swings and in front of all the younger kids, loud enough for all the teachers to hear, and you might begin to understand why that little girl had nothing left to do but to call him the meanest, most horrible and most disrespectful.

Then understand this —  that little girl is HIM.

Yeah, he wishes he was as good as me

You know… that senior citizen and just-filed-an-absentee-mail-in-ballot POTUS Trump. He actually opened his latest fundraising letter to potential Republican donors with it.

Yeah.

The first few lines literally read:

It’s soooooo 1956-1966.

Forget politics, forget red state vs. blue state and forget conservative vs. liberal. Instead, whenever you think of Trump from now through Election Day remember that desperate little girl on the playground.

Because if you get into the intellectual or political weeds trying to prove that to anyone on the other side that former California Attorney General Kamala Harris is NOT as liberal of a senator than, say, BERNIE SANDERS, you’re playing at the wrong game.

LOL

See, the real game is:  I’m rubber, You’re glue, whatever bounces off me sticks to you.

Or:  I know you are, but what am I….

There is no reasoning with a playground bully appropriating the words of the bullied 11 year-old girl who was bullied by him.  Or his merry gang of bully supporters.  Sure, you can try to tell the teacher or someone else in a position of authority but if your school was anything like mine, they were nowhere to be found at times like these.

Just like the Congress. (Note:  Well, at least the Senate).

The Senate’s Summer 2020 plans revealed

So it’s up to us to do the policing and not be side tracked by bully-speak.  Even though it’s tempting.  Very tempting.  So much so that whenever the insults get the best of me I picture 11-year-old Donnie in pigtails and a dress, carrying a giant swirly sucker (nee lollipop), as they did back in his day, and all quickly becomes well with the world.

Sure, we’ve all got Kamala’s back even though I suspect (note: know FOR SURE) that she can take care of herself.

Maya will help too! #moreofthisplease

But we need to worry more about our absconded mailboxes, walking our mail-in ballots to our local Board of Elections office, donating money, and talking up the Biden-Harris ticket to anyone who will listen through our MASKS.

MSNBC’S Rachel Maddow, my personal oracle, wisely tells us almost daily to: Watch what they do, not what they say. 

I would only add to that: VOTE – and make sure you do it in or deliver it to the place where it is most likely to be counted.

Shirley Temple – “On the Good Ship Lollipop”

So Long, Dear Friend

The death of Valerie Harper this week got me to thinking about TV characters and the people who love them.

This is Us.

You see what I did there.  Even in writing about television a TV reference sneaks in.

For those too young to remember, Valerie Harper played Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Richards’s talky, funny, Jewish best friend forever neighbor on the famed Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s.  She was so popular she was later spun off as the star of her own show, Rhoda, where she was given a fuller life, less catastrophic dates and, finally, a hunky man who became her husband in one of the highest rated episodes on TV at the time.

Picture Perfect

Of course, television being what it was/is, she eventually had to get divorced (Note: for no good reason, in my opinion) so the whole cycle of jovial unhappiness could begin again.

I grew up with Rhoda and she meant a lot to me, mostly because I knew her.  In the seventies there were 0.0 young Jewish New Yorkers on hit television shows and certainly none as instantly recognizable and human as Rhoda.  We all not only knew her, we were her on any given day.

And who wouldn’t want to be?

The head scarves alone!

Rhoda joked about her life being a mess but she wore vibrant colors, had perfect one-liners for every occasion and was smart.  Moreover, she was a survivor.  You always knew Rhoda would be okay and even if you couldn’t literally be her or have her physically in your life you wanted her to at least be in your living room or bedroom or wherever you watched television, with you, whenever possible.

Much of this was due to Valerie Harper’s ability to embody a well-written sitcom role, take her beyond the laughs and make her feel real.  It was just impossible to believe that in real-life she wasn’t Jewish, didn’t speak with a trace of a New York accent and had never appeared in a TV comedy before she became Rhoda.  But she wasn’t, she didn’t and she never had.

Yes way! #acting

Certainly, you don’t have to be a Jewish New Yorker to play one but back in the 1970s, and even now, many performers become so obsessed with playing us that they get the accent and the mannerisms exactly right to the point where they are not playing anything else.   They (nee we) become wawking, tawking hand-waving neurotics ready to mow down anything and anyone that gets in our way.

Okay, sure, we are all of that.  (Note: See Larry David on any given day, even though he long ago transplanted to L.A.).  But there are times when we also do color outside our given lines.  Rhoda always did that and without a very special episode where a beloved relative gets hit by a car and she has to deal with it seriously.  Or one where she’s chastised by everyone around her for making a bad joke about the accident. (Note: See Larry David again).

See? Relatable.

Of course, this phenomenon stretches across all ethnic, sexual and religious lines.  As a gay man I’ve cringed, ranted and left the room numerous times over the years as some straight actor badly pretended he was a certain type of homosexual male and then went on to win an award for said performance.

What? Who? #shade

Name your minority group and I bet you could, too.

Meaning, we all need our Rhodas.

Luckily times have changed and, with it, the level of writing, especially on what is now broadly considered to be contemporary television.   Given where cable and streaming series have taken us, it is not unusual in these times for many actors to transcend their actual selves and portray believable niche characters that bear little relation to whom they truly are in real life.

But they exist in a 2019 world where the roles are a lot deeper and niche is the new…Black? Asian? Jewish? Gay? Hispanic?

…or if you’re Andre Braugher: Black, Gay, and a Police Captain for the NYPD

It is also a world where, ironically, the brilliant work Valerie Harper did might today almost be required to be done by a New York, Jewish actress.  See if that gets you to thinking a whole host of non-PC as well as PC thoughts.

This is exactly the point where, for me, television comes in handy.  Every time things get too heavy or confusing in my life I know l can feel comfort in being able to wander onto the couch – or if it’s really bad, a bed – and spend minutes or hours with a whole host of non-existent people who, in those moments, are as real to me as anyone I’ve ever met.  By my count over the years:

Lucy Ricardo’s determination made show business not seem all that bad.

 Murphy Brown allowed me to hold out hope that in the end journalism would get the last  laugh, and word.

Let’s just not talk about the reboot, OK?

 Olivia Benson on the street reinforced to me that on balance there is someone to protect those of us who somehow managed to survive against all odds.

 Don Draper shamed me back to the gym for fear we (or the actor playing him) happen to meet on a busy NYC street (or preferably empty stuck elevator) during one of my yearly trips.

working on my time machine right now

Walter White scared me into always protecting myself by reminding me there can still be great danger around the corner because anyone could break bad.  

Liz Lemon made me feel sane and well adjusted, by comparison.

Jack Pearson helped me imagine a world where I really did want to spend time with every member of my extended family, and

Midge Maisel made me laugh, cringe and sometimes cry at seeing all of my dead relatives and their friends on the small screen in ways that I could never have imagined in the days when I first met Rhoda.

What is it about funny ladies in good headwear?

RIP good friend.

I will still miss you even though I can see you tomorrow and every day of the week for the rest of my life.

Rhoda Opening / Closing Credits Season 1