What Price?

It’s been said many times that everyone has a price.

What this means is that people will do anything if they are paid enough money or given what they want.

So the question we all need to seriously ask ourselves during these very turbulent times is:

What is YOUR price?

Is it safety from real or imagined enemies, foreign or domestic?

That is to say, doing whatever it takes to bar morally unknowable immigrants (Note: nee…all of them?) from entering our country? Or is it prohibiting any morally questionable person in support of such a policy from dining in your restaurant, not to mention, continuing as president?

Perspective

What is YOUR price?

Is it about ensuring our country thrives financially, as well as ethically?

That is to say, making sure you have a president whose first priority is cutting taxes, creating old-fashioned jobs for the long ignored and appointing Supreme Court justices who will once it again make it difficult or illegal for women to get an abortion? Or is it ceasing communication with family and now former friends who believe in all of the above, while screaming at the top of your lungs in their faces, or from the rooftops or on our airwaves, to counter their selling out our most precious American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy for all?

What is YOUR price?

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

You see where this is going. I had planned on continuing but the list and the metaphors could be – and are – endless as we approach July 4, 2018 – the 242nd anniversary of American independence.

Several days ago I watched What Price Hollywood a 1932 film directed by George Cukor about a spunky waitress who serves drinks to a charming, drunken Hollywood director that gives her a bit part in his movie, guides her to stardom and then dissipates into a state of alcoholic disrepair as her life blossoms.

The plot has since been appropriated by numerous movies, including the many versions of A Star Is Born (Note: The new Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga one opens Oct. 5, and yes, I’m counting the days). Still, this does not mean it is any less ironic or timely.

Click for the OFFICIAL countdown (to the minute) #really #REALLY

There is no reality where you can get everything you want without it costing you something. It wasn’t the waitress’ fault the director became a hopeless alcoholic and ruined his life but because he was such a great mentor and friend it breaks her heart. That is the way the drama works because that is the way the world is – we achieve things and the norms and/or people we counted on and loved quite suddenly, at least to us, fall by the wayside.

A more contemporary comparison might be Indecent Proposal, a 1993 film where billionaire Robert Redford offers happily married Demi Moore a flat $1,000,000 to spend the night with him, no strings attached. After discussing it with her high school sweetheart husband, the financially strapped Woody Harrelson, and reassuring him of their forever love, the couple agrees to the Faustian bargain and… well… it goes as Faustian bargains go if not for test marketing and a somewhat tacked on Hollywood ending.

Girl how did you think this was going to pan out? #dowagergetsreal

Meaning, if someone is going to pay you $1,000,000 suffice it to say it IS going to cost YOU – a lot – and it may not be measurable by mere currency.

It certainly seems like US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, has the right to retire from the bench anytime he wants. Yet when I read this week that he was not so subtly reassured of his legacy beforehand by the White House, and that his eldest son worked for years with Trump on real estate deals at Deutsche Bank, the institution that loaned Trump a BILLION dollars, I couldn’t help but cynically and rhetorically ask the justice, and myself, – what price?

Me… all week

Of course I will never know if a price was exacted or if this justice – the Republican who was actually the swing vote in making gay marriage the law of the land – was swayed by any of it, or by them.

So it’s instead easier for me to stew over the millions of Americans (Note: And perhaps a handful of Russian bots) who voted for and still support a president who consistently calls the press the enemy of the American people or very bad people on the very day that five journalists were gunned down in their Maryland newsroom by a crazed shooter with a vendetta against their paper. Did Trump’s words contribute to egging the guy on in that particular moment? Again, we’ll never know. But for any of his supporters who still get joy from and continue to revel in how he’s characterized one of the foundations of our democracy – the free press – again I ask – what price?

And then – well, there are the immigrant kids in those cages. Mostly brown. Many fleeing violence in their home country – the way my grandparents and friends’ relatives did when they escaped the Nazis and came here in the 1930s and early forties. Or the way my internist’s family did when he was smuggled out of war torn southeast Asia in the 1970s. Or how my dental hygienist managed it when her family ran for their lives from Iran in the 1980s.

Today in America

None of them were forcibly separated from their parents by the US government when they arrived at our borders seeking asylum (Note: The latter a legal right of ANYONE arriving at our shores. Asylum, that is).

So for those currently chuckling with satisfaction at or apoplectically angered by those of us marching in the streets who are outraged that non-English speaking three year olds are being forced to appear ALONE in court at a hearing where they are responsible for telling their own immigration story THEMSELVES before an adult in a big BLACK ROBE who towers above them, I ask – to every last one – again – what price?

And to consider if what they’re losing is worth what they’re getting in return. Financially, morally or, really, even in practical terms.

Broadway United – “We Are The World”

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Who Run the World?

Generally I’ve always liked women more than men. On the surface, this would seem ironic for a gay man. On closer inspection, it’s really not.

When I was growing up it was just easier to be closer to the gals. I didn’t like traditional “guy” things like playing sports, though I did collect baseball cards and loved the NY Yankees in particular. In fact, I actually knew (and still know) their entire starting lineup from 1966.

OK.. and their smiles didn’t hurt either

Oh, don’t be so surprised. I’m certainly not.

We’re all a bit of an imperfect puzzle and if you’re homosexual those imperfections feel that much more complicated, especially to mainstream America.   Yes, even still.

But let’s table the rainbow soapbox for the moment and stick with women. I did for decades in every which way but sexually. They shared my interests in the arts, or even if they didn’t they liked hearing about it. They really listened to me when I spoke, liked to engage in discourse and seemed to generally care even when the world didn’t.

Not to mention, they seemed receptive to my opinions, so much so that at one point towards the end of high school and all through college there were almost too many women in my life to handle.

Yep, that’s me!

I remember late one afternoon my stepfather being absolutely flabbergasted at the beautiful young woman who had come over to hang out with me for the first time (Note: In retrospect, she was pretty stunning. And smart. I looked her up on Facebook recently and she has become a respected lawyer).

But even at the time I knew he couldn’t fathom how this short, slightly less than macho, snide young man he had lived with for the last five years could EVER attract the attention of the gorgeous creature he couldn’t stop staring at in our entryway.

A John Hughes rendering of the situation

It amused me to no end that I had the secret that would always elude him, and too many straight men, especially in the late sixties and early seventies.

I was actually INTERESTED in her. Instead of being interested in HER.

I won’t go into the Mika Brzezinski/Joe Scarborough brouhaha this week (Note: This can fill you in. Or this.)…

…Other than to say when the current ELECTORAL POTUS insults you on Twitter with bon mots like crazy, low I.Q., dumb as a rock and his requisite reference to any attractive female who challenges him – their BLEEDING from one orifice or anotherwell, you know you’re doing something right.

You’ve gotten under his skin.

Shakespearean in scope

Still, what’s gotten under my skin this week is Friday’s UNANIMOUS ruling by the 9-member Texas Supreme Court reversing the city of Houston’s decision to extend health and life insurance benefits to the spouses of city employees in same sex marriages.

Instead of these benefits being an automatic right based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago legalizing gay marriage across the country, these Texas judges want a trial in Houston where this issue can be fought out in court. Though how this can be anything but a waste of time and taxpayer money is beyond me since same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

It is interesting to note seven of those nine judges were men. Two were women. All were Republicans. I maintain if any one of the many women I grew up with – especially the now adult aforementioned woman in my entryway who stepdaddy stared at all those decades ago – were on the court the ruling would surely not be unanimous. There would be at least one dissent. Which would be a start.

Let’s not forget that Wendy Davis is a proud Texas woman. #theydoexist

Still, I grew up in NYC and not Texas so perhaps mine is as irrelevant and regional an opinion and argument as the one coming from the Texas Supreme Court ruling will (hopefully) eventually be.

Fortunately, there will be THREE women from my neck of the woods – all of them from the various, glorious boroughs of NYC – on the US Supreme Court when later this year they hear the case of the Denver baker who in 2012 refused service to a gay couple that merely wanted him to bake them a wedding cake.

Yes, that one’s actually going to trial.

Even though on a recent episode of The View the baker, Jack Phillips, said:

I don’t judge people when they come in. I try and serve everybody.

Summon some Alice realness right now #eyeroll

Still, he chose NOT to try and accommodate the two about-to-be married young men, previous customers of his establishment, when they merely asked for a cake for their wedding reception. In fact, he told them it was against his religious beliefs. Even though it is against the law for a public business like his to refuse this service.

I can only imagine what Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor will make of this. Actually, I intuitively KNOW what they will make of it based on decades of experience with women like them – women who have spent years making their voices heard to those who choose to listen – or not – to them.

YES. YES. YES.

These are women who, in turn, have devoted their entire adult lives listening to others in an attempt to level the playing field for many who have come after them and have, for various and nefarious reasons, also not been heard and valued for what they had to do or say.

The trouble is there are once again NINE Supreme Court justices and this time a full FIVE of them are straight white males (and the other is Clarence Thomas). Not to tar them all with one brush.

I mean, it is 2017.

Cmon man, get with the times!

Who in their right mind would do that to someone based on their sex, or sexual preference, even if they have said things and done things in the past and present with which they vehemently disagree?

Well, certainly not anyone in their right mind. Certainly, no one in the highest echelons of the court.   Or the government.

Which begs the question of just when WILL we elect a woman president and how much worse IT (Okay, HE) will have to get before we finally come to our sense and do so?

“Respect” –  Aretha Franklin

A Rainbow of Emotions

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 12.44.10 PM

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.