Friday, December 23, 2011

I Have No Enemies

A recent e-mail from The Human Rights Foundation tells the story of Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese academic who received the Nobel Peace Prize just over a year ago. Two years ago he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for writing and promoting Charter 08, a manifesto that appeals for freedom of expression, democratic elections, and human rights in China.Not surprisingly the Chinese government refused to let him collect his prize, and even imprisoned his wife to keep her from going to Oslo to accept in her husband's stead.

Two years ago he gave a profound and moving statement in court, "the finest articulation of the struggle for freedom in modern China..." I'm posting this here because at this time of year a message like this is an important reminder of how blessed we are in this country (for all its problems) and because, as the HRF says, Liu's message is "a profoundly moving declaration of the power of love against all odds." 

I've edited the message for space reasons, but I think you will still find it remarkable, and I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it.  

Happy Holidays!



I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement*
Liu Xiaobo
December 23, 2009

     In the course of my life, for more than half a century, June 1989 was the major turning point. Up to that point, I was a member of the first class to enter university when college entrance examinations were reinstated following the Cultural Revolution (Class of '77). From BA to MA and on to PhD, my academic career was all smooth sailing. Upon receiving my degrees, I stayed on to teach at Beijing Normal University. As a teacher, I was well received by the students. At the same time, I was a public intellectual, writing articles and books that created quite a stir during the 1980s, frequently receiving invitations to give talks around the country, and going abroad as a visiting scholar upon invitation from Europe and America. What I demanded of myself was this: whether as a person or as a writer, I would lead a life of honesty, responsibility, and dignity. After that, because I had returned from the U.S. to take part in the 1989 Movement, I was thrown into prison for "the crime of counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement." I also lost my beloved lectern and could no longer publish essays or give talks in China. Merely for publishing different political views and taking part in a peaceful democracy movement, a teacher lost his lectern, a writer lost his right to publish, and a public intellectual lost the opportunity to give talks publicly. This is a tragedy, both for me personally and for a China that has already seen thirty years of Reform and Opening Up.
     When I think about it, my most dramatic experiences after June Fourth have been, surprisingly, associated with courts: My two opportunities to address the public have both been provided by trial sessions at the Beijing Municipal Intermediate People's Court, once in January 1991, and again today. Although the crimes I have been charged with on the two occasions are different in name, their real substance is basically the same--both are speech crimes...But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my "June Second Hunger Strike Declaration" twenty years ago--I have no enemies and no hatred...
     Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love...
     If I may be permitted to say so, the most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.
     My dear, with your love I can calmly face my impending trial, having no regrets about the choices I've made and optimistically awaiting tomorrow. I look forward to [the day] when my country is a land with freedom of expression, where the speech of every citizen will be treated equally well; where different values, ideas, beliefs, and political views . . . can both compete with each other and peacefully coexist... I hope that I will be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech...
     There is nothing criminal in anything I have done. [But] if charges are brought against me because of this, I have no complaints.
     Thank you, everyone.

*This English translation by Human Rights in China was originally published in issue no. 1, 2010, of its quarterly journal China Rights Forum, entitled "Freedom of Expression on Trial in China," available at www.hrichina.org/public/contents/category?cid=173549, and is reprinted here with permission.
Translator's Notes
(1) Lin Zhao (林昭, 1932-1968) was a writer who, in 1962, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after criticizing the government during the Hundred Flowers Campaign. In prison, Lin famously continued to write critical commentary in her own blood after her writing instruments were confiscated. She was executed in 1968.
(2) Zhang Zhixin (张志新, 1930-1975) was a dissident member of the Communist Party of China who criticized Mao Zedong and the ultra-left during the Cultural Revolution. She was imprisoned in 1969, and was tortured and gang-raped. Prison guards slit her throat prior to her execution to prevent her from denouncing the government before her death.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in Hollywood

It's 1992 or '93. Christmas Eve, around 10:30 p.m. I'm standing on the tennis court of movie legend Robert Stack, looking up at the stars in the mild Southern California night, thinking what a kick my mother will get out of this story...

For several years - from 1988 to early 1995 - I lived in Los Angeles, where I had moved in hopes of becoming the next great screenwriter. But shortly after I arrived and settled in I decided that what I really wanted to do was act.

So I quit my job at the little graphics studio in Burbank and began to pursue my passion, taking acting lessons, having my headshot taken, doing extra work and attending any number of casting agent "workshops" (code for paying someone to be seen).

And to pay the rent -- until my inevitable discovery and explosion onto the silver screen --  I wound up as a cater waiter, working primarily for a friend who had a staffing service which provided servers for functions in private homes, large and small. I worked a lot at the Beverly Hills home of the gazillionaire former owner of Universal Studios and his wife, who had armed security on their property and their own gas station outside the six-car garage. You know, just folks.

Being 3,000 miles from home I rarely came back to the East Coast for the holidays, and one year I was asked if I'd be willing to work on Christmas Eve at a private party, for which I'd be paid extra, naturally -- always a good thing.

The party was being given by Robert Stack and his wife, Rosemarie at the home in Bel Air where they had lived since 1958. There were only about six of us working this particular gig, setting up and serving the meal being prepared by the Stacks' French chef.  We got to the house -- a great, low-slung mid-century modern place set back off the road -- where Mrs. Stack greeted us, a charming, attractive woman with a no-nonsense approach, and gave us our instructions.

Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack in "Written on the Wind"
So there we are, arranging tables and chairs on the enclosed patio, when out strolls Robert Stack, looking pretty much exactly as he appeared in "Airplane!" Gracious and down-to-earth in casual slacks and a sweater, he approached us and said, "Hi, I'm Bob Stack. Anything I can get you?" Or words to that effect. He even hung out with us a bit, pointing out the sliding glass door that Desi Arnaz, in his cups, had walked into decades before.

The dinner went fairly well, although I committed a faux-pas of some kind involving a bottle of wine I shouldn't have opened and a salt shaker that shouldn't have appeared. The guests that night weren't numerous, but very Old Hollywood, among them Caesar Romero and columnist Army Archerd and another film legend, Cyd Charisse -- older of course, but still beautiful and still in possession of the gorgeous legs that had once propelled her through lavish dance numbers in MGM classics like "Singin' in the Rain" with Gene Kelly.

After dinner, as we cleared and cleaned up, a distinguished-looking gentleman sat down at the piano, and the guests gathered around to sing Christmas tunes, including the standard "Silver Bells". I learned later that the distinguished-looking gentleman at the piano was one of the duo who had written "Silver Bells". Then we had a few minutes during which we were on our own, waiting for the guests to leave so we could finish cleaning up, which was when I stepped outside and wandered onto the tennis court.

When everyone had gone all of us staffers gathered in the foyer to collect our pay from Mrs. Stack and say goodnight. I happened to mention that years before I had been at the Sherman Oaks home of a high school friend who had gone on to become an actual Hollywood producer, the man behind "Airplane", "Robocop" and "Starship Troopers" among others, and he had a print of the 1956 Douglas Sirk classic "Written on the Wind" starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and Robert Stack. I told her how much I had enjoyed it -- overblown and histrionic as it was -- and Mrs Stack told me to tell that to her husband, as that was one of his favorite pictures. He later told us that he had been cheated out of an Academy Award nomination for it. (If you haven't seen it you must! If only for the performance of Dorothy Malone as the boozy nympho heiress of a Texas oil fortune who, when not out seducing gas station attendants, spends most of her time alone in her room, drinking and dancing to wild Latin music in capri pants and filmy negligees.)

Looking back, it was one of the few moments I recall feeling at peace that year. My partner Robert's health had been in steady decline, I was always scrambling to pay the bills, auditioning and being disappointed. I was often plagued with what I later learned was clinical depression, so I suppose it was the sense of reflected glory that lifted me up -- the notion that some of the glamor and acclaim shining off the guests inside somehow lent me more...importance.  In any event it was quiet out there on Robert Stack's tennis court, the night was mild, the moon was shining.

Funny where you find those peaceful moments -- unless you're a Zen master and peace and calm are the norm. It's almost a physical sensation, that washing-over you feeling that leaves you a bit limp, but also content and hopeful in the face of ... whatever might be looming ahead. I thought maybe my mother would be suitably impressed by my Christmas eve with Robert Stack story, overshadowing the fact that I hadn't exactly become the success everyone hoped I would be. I don't recall if I ever told her about that evening, but if I did my guess is that her first question was not about what Cyd Charisse was wearing but rather "Did they pay you extra?"

Monday, December 12, 2011

"O, ****baum!" or Here We Go Again!

Black Friday this year had no sooner come and gone -- along with Cyber Monday -- than the news stories began, as regular as clockwork: some state or city government somewhere has banned the term "Christmas tree" and instead recommends use of the meaningless "Holiday Tree". Because the very word "Christmas", as we all know, is offensive. To someone. Somewhere. I can barely bring myself to write the word, much less say it out loud. Hold on a moment...

...I was right. I just tried to say the word out loud and I choked on it.

This won't be the last such story. Soon there will be examples from all over the country of towns where nativity scenes will be banned from the lawn outside the city hall, and festive municipal celebrations that will include the lighting of the traditional "Holiday Tree". ACLU types will defend these decisions, while people with more common sense will argue against such ordinances; some places will remain unfazed and uphold the ban on the word "Christmas", while other places will give in to the public outcry and risk the end of the civilized world by referring to the big, brightly-lit fir tree in the town square as a Christmas tree. The next thing you know it's January and the focus is on some hapless Republican presidential candidate, what kind of Christmas the nation's retailers had and Lindsay Lohan going back to jail for five or ten minutes. The controversy dies away. Until next year.

The offended parties vary from year to year and locality to locality: the ACLU can always be counted on to pop up here and there in their Grinch gear, and the atheists -- that is, the capital A-Atheists -- are routinely offended by any number of references to God or Jesus. And not just at Christmas, but year-round.

My question is: if you don't believe in anything, how can you be offended by people who do? It's one thing to be ticked off when someone makes a bad joke about your religion, but if you have no religion, where's the offense? I mean, a crèche in front of city hall is hardly the same as a billboard off the Interstate that says "Atheists Are Doody-Heads!"

I think that people are less offended than insulted. While Christians (of all stripes, Protestants and Catholics, etc. and so on) are still in the majority in this country there are, of course, people of many other faiths, some of whom may feel that this whole part of the year has been highjacked by said Christians and they're tired of it and it's not fair. (Giant menorahs have been popping up in malls and on  the lawns in front of municipal buildings for some years now.) But as has often been pointed out, no one has the right not to be offended. What about the tens of millions of Christians who see their religion bashed every year about this time? (For that matter, all year long. Christians, like white males, are one of the few groups it's okay for people to make fun of who claim to prize diversity and understanding above all else.

Besides, the roots of the Christmas celebration as we know it are pagan. It was the celebration of the gods Saturn and Mithras and involved feasting and drinking and giving gifts and decorating the house with greens. In the 1600's it was outlawed in England and the Colonies altogether because of its pagan beginnings.

So there, atheists: Christmas originally was about false idols and getting drunk. Very much as it is today.

Get over it.

(Coming up: Christmas with Robert Stack)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Safeway Girl vs Lionel Barrymore

I started to respond to this photo on Facebook, where one of my friends had posted it, clearly in support of its message, which appears to be that Safeway is raking in tens of billions of dollars in order to pay its CEO an astronomical (and probably undeserved) salary, and to keep their warehouses unsafe and dangerous places to work. I decided to write something a bit more trenchant than "Oh, balls!" but it quickly became clear I'd need a little more space to make my points, so here goes.

(Let's leave aside for the moment the appeal to our heartstrings, the sad-yet-feisty little girl with the eerie stare and the unemployed daddy, holding up the damning Safeway financials -- which I don't for a moment believe she printed -- before going out to clobber Claude Daigle and steal his penmanship medal. Oh, wait, that's "The Bad Seed"...)

First of all, while it's true Safeway made over $41 billion in 2010, it's also true that their cost of revenue -- i.e. cost of doing business, buying and shipping the food, paying for the electricity, stuff like that -- was: (the following amounts are in millions) $29,442.5 , leaving a gross profit of $11,607.5. Then there were general and administrative expenses, like salaries for the 180,000 (give or take) people Safeway employs (most of whom probably have families), which came to $10,448.1, leaving an operating income of $1,159.4, a before-tax income of $881.2 million and an after-tax income of $590.6 million. It costs money to run the business and pay all the people and pay the rent so they can sell the food and other goods at reasonable prices at their many stores, food and goods which are purchased by many millions of families and individuals considered part of the "99%".  (Figures from Money Central at MSN.com)

As for what the CEO took home, the almost $11 million Steve Burd earned in salary and benefits and bonuses and whatever, amounted to something just shy of .0027% of Safeway's gross profits in 2010, so it's not as if he's robbing them blind. They're paying him what they think he's worth, just as in the same year the LA Lakers paid Kobe Bryant over $21 million, and the New York Yankees paid Alex Rodriguez $33 million. Why don't people get all hot and bothered over the salaries of sports stars? (For that matter, Congress is chock-a-block with "fat cat" millionaires, many of whom have recently been accused of insider trading: where's the outrage over that?)

In any event, what a CEO takes home and the value of his house (or his car or his wardrobe) are immaterial. Sure, the figures may be cause for envy (I won't see that kind of money in my lifetime), but it makes no difference, unless you believe that it's all a zero-sum game: that someone's success automatically means someone else goes hungry or is otherwise impoverished. But it isn't. The truth is, like it or not, most wealthy people aren't mean, greedy, grasping fat white guys in ill-fitting three-piece suits, chomping cigars while kicking widows and orphans for sport, (think of the Lionel Barrymore character, Mr. Potter, in "It's a Wonderful Life), who just happened to fall into huge vats of unearned cash -- as suggested by those who continually refer to wealthy people as "fortunate".  Oprah Winfrey is worth about $3 billion, but it's my opinion she didn't just get lucky. She's a smart, keen businesswoman. Talented yes, but talent alone isn't enough. She's worked hard, and continues to do so and along the way she's changed peoples' lives and employed God knows how many in her various businesses.

As for the unsafe warehouse and the charge that Safeway would rather pay lawyers so they can keep their warehouses dangerous: I don't know the facts of the case, but it's safe to say that no company is going to deliberately maintain unsafe conditions, deliberately putting employees in danger of injury or worse. A sentence like "Safeway would rather pay lawyers to fight OSHA than make their warehouses safe..." is ridiculous on the face of it. It's like saying some restaurant would rather pay lawyers than serve food that isn't riddled with salmonella. If you ask me, anyone who'd make a claim like that is probably leaving something out of the story of how and why Daddy got fired.

Too much public policy and debate nowadays is based more on emotion and "feelings" than on facts. Just because a lot of people don't like capitalism doesn't make it wrong or evil, and demonizing a company because it makes a lot of money doesn't take the place of understanding -- even very generally -- how business works. It's easy to sit around and say your student loans should be forgiven and the minimum wage should be $20 or $30 and some of what "they" have should go to "them" or "us" because it's "fair". But who decides what's fair? What's fair to you might not be remotely fair to me, so I'll just take some of what you've got, okay? It isn't "fair" for you to have two cars, so I'll get the government to take one and give it to me.

No one wants to talk, discuss, engage, listen or learn. Or take a few minutes to do a simple Google search for some facts and figures. It's all anger and name-calling, or sad puppy eyes and pictures like the Facebook Safeway girl that get the attention. And I think that is at the heart of what's taking us on a long walk down an ever shorter pier. Sorry to say.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Enough!

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all! This was a different holiday, as the last few have been as the family has dwindled. In spite of there being only four of us (Chris and my brother and sister) we had a terrific meal at one of New Jersey's deservedly famous diners. In the course of things, several times today I've stopped and thought of all I have to be thankful for, including my friends, and Chris and sobriety and, of course, my health. It was a beautiful fall day here in South Jersey and tomorrow and the rest of the weekend promise to be as lovely. I have a good job where I work with terrific people and I have a raise to look forward to come the new year. I have more than enough.

That said, enough with Black Friday. E-f'ing-nuff! For weeks now we've been bombarded with those idiotic TV commercials about apparently psychotic women training like athletes for Black Friday shopping. Screaming and crying as they plot and plan their strategy to attack the local Macy's or Penney's or Sears. Or WalMart -- you know, that mythical WalMart where all the shoppers are cute-as-pie suburban moms and dads, all height-and-weight proportional, scrubbed clean and dressed real nice in outfits they haven't been stuffed into like kielbasa and that completely cover up their derrieres. Yeah, that WalMart. Stores have been trying to outdo each other in how early they're opening to offer their Doorbusters. (There's another word I wouldn't care if I never saw or heard again, Doorbusters!)

 Of course, this all makes great fodder for the evening news: nitwit news reporters interviewing people who've been camped out since two in the morning, their sale circulars marked up like top-secret D-Day maps.

Nitwit Reporter: So, what brings you out here so early?

Psychotic Shopper: Oh, the sales. You know, it's Black Fry-dee. 

Nitwit Reporter: So you're hoping to get some good deals?

Psychotic Shopper: Yeah, you know, 'cause it's Black Fry-dee...

The world is going to hell, but this is news.

This all begs the question, why do I get so exercised about all this? After all, in another day or two it'll just be the usual Christmas season saturation, but the Black Friday nonsense will have ended. I mean, apart from the fact that it really is annoying.

It's simple, really, I guess. I just don't have that big family any more and I don't need to worry about how I'll afford all the gifts I need to buy and what will I get So-and-So, she's so picky...? I think I miss it. And as the family grows smaller I'm reminded that I'm not that little kid who used to get to stay up until midnight on Christmas eve with my grandparents and my siblings and cousins, eating party food and watching "The Night Before Christmas" and "The Nativity" with the Mabel Beaton marionettes...

And of course it all seems to come so much faster now, whereas all those years ago it seemed like an eternity between the day school let out and Christmas eve. Now it's more like, "Christmas?! Again? Didn't we just have Christmas?"

Like most people I complain about it, but still manage to get a little joy out of it. And now that my own family has become smaller, maybe I can do something this year to make another family's holidays a bit brighter.

In which case I'd better get to bed: it's Black Friday tomorrow and I need my rest!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Some Things to Think About

Not new to many, I suppose, but always worth a look now and then.



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lost: Turtle

I guess I'm a writer. No matter what I do, I'm thinking about writing: going back to work on something I've started, starting something over or starting something new.

Last weekend we went to a wedding in Westchester County, NY -- Chappaqua, to be exact, where the Clintons have a house. We arrived early on Saturday and Chris indulged me by joining me on a drive over to Ossining, to see if I could find John Cheever's house on Cedar Lane. I've been working on a one-man show about Cheever, using his own words from his stories and novels, letters and journals, but it's been difficult to find the story and the structure. Still I soldier on, and I thought if I saw the house where where he had lived it might give me a jolt. Of some sort. I've seen pictures of it and fully expected to be able to find it, to pull over for a few minutes, maybe even catch a glimpse of Cheever's widow (in her 90's now) who would come down the lawn to the road and, on learning why I was there, ask us in for coffee or a drink, show us around -- "Here's where John would do most of his writing... This was his favorite chair... Those were his slippers; would you like to have them?"

Suffice to say none of that happened. But it got my mind going again, unwinding, going back, restructuring in my head the material I've put together. I'll get it one day and the whole thing will come pouring out.

Likewise I saw a production of "August: Osage County" today at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia, a gorgeous production with an array of wonderful performances in a play that's brilliantly deceptive. As I left the theater I was awed by the mastery, the humor and insight of the writing. Yup, that sure did deserve a Pulitzer Prize! But ultimately, after a few hours to think it over, and to read a dissenting review of the original Broadway production, I found it left a kind of bad taste in my mouth -- I'll be glad to share with you why another time -- and I think, ultimately, it's a bit hollow at its apparently brilliant core. And my thoughts went back to another play I've started that I now think I have a better handle on. Thank you, Tracy Letts. So I won't write the big, gay farce -- it'll be funny, for sure, but a little dark, too and it will have heft and hopefully people will come away with something to think about. Of course, I have to write it first, but at least now I have a handle.

Meantime, I might turn back to a little poetry. I pulled out a manila folder full of old poems from my days in Los Angeles, when I was part of a group of writers that took part in regular readings at A Different Light Bookstore on Santa Monica Blvd. in Silverlake. Sundays at Seven, it was called. Some of us wound up being published in a little collection of work with the same title, and when I came back east I was invited to take part in a reading at A Different Light in Manhattan. My selection: a poem entitled "Lost: Turtle". I just read it again after a long time and it is, I think, rather fine. Let me know what you think.

Lost: Turtle


Out here where houses are solid and wide
and the trees, celadon and bottle-green,
scrub the sky, on a telephone pole a sign:
Lost: turtle.


Printed in a father's hand,
exasperated father
whose promise of replacements --
puppy, kitten, neon tetra --
meet son's small voice upraised
like a little fist: No! No!
Another will not do, and so:
Lost: turtle.


Forever, I'm afraid,
plodding and unnoticed as an old waiter,
in the shrubs, in the tall grasses
fizzing with insects.
Lost. Turtle.


Yet son sleeps soundly, fists unfurled
as father, empty glass in hand
sits on the dark edge of a bed,
feeling for an instant what the boy feels.
It grips his heart and makes him shiver.
It is hope. And it is in the house.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Circadian Rhythm Disruption, or The Sunday Blues

And here it comes again: the days are shorter, I'm getting up in the dark and leaving work in the dark, and Saturday has its share of activity, and Sunday starts with a big pot of coffee and Sunday news shows and that "I'm going to get back to that (fill in the name of your) project today!" 


Then it's checking e-mail and having something to eat and the end of "The Shining" on TV, a brief nap and then... it's after 3 p.m. and the light is changing outside (where you haven't been all day), but it may not be too late to get something done. 


But it is. Yessir, it's Sunday afternoon. Again. And right on time come The Sunday Blues.


It's something I've been experiencing for years -- okay, decades -- and for the longest time I thought I was alone. Then today I decided to Google "Sunday afternoon blues" and discovered page after page about this disorder and its possible causes. (In addition to other blog entries about the malady, some poetry, even music: The Jack Rabbit Slims and even Eine Blues-Interpredation nach einem Jam-Track im Double Trouble Style, which is pretty good.) But there was also an article from the NY Times called "It's Sunday Afternoon and Here Come the Blahs", which includes a number of scientific/medical/psychological theories about the causes of TSAB, including one from as far back as 1919 by a Hungarian psychiatrist, Sandor Ferenczi, who noticed a weekly resurfacing of repressed memories among his patients.


There's also information about circadian rhythm and how the electric light bulb disrupted centuries-old human sleep patterns, and theories of seven-day rhythms in humans, internal clocks resetting, and so on.


But there are also plenty of quotes from just folks (mostly women who are reportedly the most affected by TSAB), all of whom describe exactly what I'm feeling right now. E.g. Rory Stockel who works for HBO and says "I know part of it is anxiety about the coming week... But it is also a lonely, empty, sad kind of thing that grabs me every Sunday about 3 o'clock." 


There was once a female comic, whose name I've forgotten* but whom we'll call Mary, who used to tell stories about her everyday life and then ask the audience "Have you ever felt that way?" At which she'd pause and then say "No, Mary, just you." For years when I talked to people about my Sunday blues and asked if they had ever experienced the phenomenon, they would shake their heads "No" and I'd think, "No, Fred, just you."


But it turns out that once again I find I'm not alone. Still blue, but I have company.


*In my search for the name of this female comic, I came upon the website of a woman I'd forgotten about, Maria Bamford (her website is here) who I recall being hysterical -- and the memories are correct. In one of the clips on the site she says "I never really thought of myself as depressed as much as paralyzed by hope!"


Maybe that's it...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Home again, home again...

...jiggety-jigg!

It was a wonderful week. It's over. It's going to take a while to come back to earth or "real life", whatever that is.

Meanwhile, lest I share TMI (as the kids say) look here for an album of photos from the trip.

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, September 30, 2011

This Too Shall Pass

Last full day of vacation. In between plans for dinner (I have yet to have my lobster and steamed clams);what to do today (the weather is perfect, probably the last "summer-ish" day of the fall, so the beach is on the agenda); and which of the myriad souvenirs, tchotchkes and items of on-sale clothing to buy to take home (do I really need an antique Chinese jar, or the bronze sculpture of an acrobat balancing on one hand?) ... among all these considerations I am concentrating most on enjoying what's left of the vacation. As usual I looked forward to this week away for months, convinced -- like the kid I used to be -- that it would never arrive. And when it inevitably did it went much too fast.

But as my mother used to say, "This too shall pass". And it applies equally to the pleasant and the unpleasant events in life. Intellectually I know that vacation doesn't last forever, but there's always that glimmer of hope, irrational as it may be, that one week will somehow stretch into two or four or, better, just go on indefinitely -- perhaps in some alternate universe where I stay on the beach, eat lobster and shop for half-price treasures, while the "other" me goes to work, shops the supermarket and balances the checkbook.

Yeah.

But the truth is that the older I get the faster time seems to pass, and the quicker the things I look forward to come screeching up then whizzing by. As the years pass I find myself talking about Christmas or tax day or the next colonoscopy using expressions like "It'll be here before you know it" or "It'll be over before you know it".

So vacation will end in a couple of days. (We head for home tomorrow but will have all day Sunday to decompress.) I'll go back to work on Monday. And maybe it's another of those functions of being older, but I'm really not stressed about it. It will be what it will be. It isn't that I don't care or that how I perform at work doesn't matter, but I feel as though I'm heading back with a renewed sense of confidence, calm and self-possession. It's not that big a deal. This too, etc.

Of course inasmuch as I had been planning on early retirement when my job came along, out of the blue, I know that my tenure at work has a definite expiration date. And it's not that far off. I enjoy what I do, I love the people I work with but I do look forward... You know, it'll be here before I know it.

And let's face it, if you stay on vacation forever, you'll never know what happens in the rest of your life. Transient though it all may be, you'd probably miss some wonderful stuff. Which sooner or later will pass. So it's the moment we really have, the right-now. That's all.

It's a beautiful Cape Cod day outside. I've had my coffee and a big cinnamon roll. The beach awaits. I'm outta here.

This too shall pass. In fact, it's passed already.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The weather is here, wish you were beautiful...

About 9:45 p.m., now, on Wednesday night. Spent the day strolling Commercial Street, window shopping, browsing. Lunch of fried clams (whole, belly clams -- not the strips) overlooking the bay and the harbor. I had a small financial fire to extinguish... nothing serious, no one died -- just slightly embarrassing. I noticed a rather large discrepancy as I checked my bank balance online, and had one of those heart-stopping moments I used to have much more often in the days before computers and online banking and Excel spreadsheets made it more, you know, automatic. A call here, two calls there, brief discussions with a handful of customer service people and my financial advisor, and it was all straightened out.

But it's a testament to the atmosphere in P'town (among other things) that I was able to get through this petite crise without melting down and letting it ruin the day -- to say nothing of the rest of the week. I just told myself that it would all work out and, in the meantime, we had enough to get by till the end of the week, we'll manage, etc., etc., blah, blah... And we went strolling and had lunch and that, as they say, was that. No big damn deal.

I tell you, it's the air up here.

Not that life would be all skittles and beer if we moved here (which we've often talked of doing). Unlike in many other parts of the country, the real estate market here is still fairly robust -- it's Cape Cod, after all, and a very choice part of it. So anything livable would cost. Make that "co$$$t". For example, there are "condos" here that started life as motel cabins or a a few rooms in an old house (like the one we're renting this week) that, depending on their location in town, proximity to the water, the view, etc., go for anywhere from the high $250's to half a mil or more.

In addition, the weather here is fierce during the winter months and, though P'town has become a much more year-round destination it's easy to imagine going just a little stir crazy given how isolated it must feel come February and March. Good, strong friendships would be a necessity.

On the other hand, the Provincetown zip code boasts the largest concentration of same-sex households in the country.

10:21 p.m. The wind has picked up and rolls off the bay in great gusts that rattle the windows. There's a fog horn in the distance. The air is full of the sea.


Make of this what you will. But this place is unlike anywhere else.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The News from Provincetown

I've been here since Saturday -- Chris arrived Sunday afternoon, having attended his father's memorial service in Maine -- and it wasn't until sometime around yesterday afternoon that I began to feel as though I were really on vacation. Away. Time off is one thing, extended time off is yet another... but time off in a peaceful location by the sea, hundreds of miles from home is something entirely different.

Yet I must continue to remind myself that I don't have to do anything, I don't have to be anywhere or report to anyone about some terribly urgent matter that cannot wait lest it negatively impact the future of someone I've never met...forever. This morning I had a donut first, then breakfast -- scrambled eggs, toast and linguica, Portuguese sausage made in New Bedford and not generally available anywhere but this part of New England. A pot of good coffee. And when I've finished this post, maybe, an iced cinnamon roll.

Provincetown hardly changes, year to year. Stores open and close, of course, while others have been in business for decades. Restaurants come and go, depending on the trends, while others are mainstays that serve consistently good food no matter the season. In season, Commercial Street is packed with day-trippers and vacationers, window-shopping and having their pictures taken with the seven foot drag queens handing out cards for their shows. (Observation: there are always a number of posters around town advertising appearances by lesbian comedians -- comediennes? -- who seem content to go onstage as themselves to do their thing; while I don't think I've ever, in all the years I've been coming here, seen a poster for a male entertainer who wasn't wearing a dress and a wig the color of Kool Aid. I'm just saying...)

Off-season, the streets are quieter and the sales have started -"50% Off Entire Store!"- meaning that, at least in the case some of the men's shops, there's a lot of inventory that's now only rather expensive, as opposed to "are you fucking kidding me with these prices?!" expensive.

The beach, of course, does change, the shoreline constantly eroding and being built back up. The marsh one traverses to get out to the far reaches of Herring Cove is never the same year to year, yet always seems the same: the tidal pools, the grasses and scrub pine and beach plums. The smell of the sea. The tidal pools full of minnows and the crabs with the black shells, decorated with gold calligraphic patterns, burrowing in the sand at your toes.

I've been coming to Cape Cod since I was a kid. My mother was born and raised here. I've certainly been to other seaside resorts, other beaches in other parts of the world. But there is nowhere like Provincetown, tucked into a crook at the far end of the Cape, surrounded by water, its air and light unlike those of anywhere else I've ever been. It isn't home, it may never be, but it always feels like it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Strange Days

I don't know why, but it seems the last few weeks have been...strange. Have you ever gone through a brief period -- a few days, a week or two -- where the air seemed different, the "vibe" seemed off, somehow; and you were never quite sure what the next step should be?

I suppose it's partly the weather: it's been tempestuous, for sure, although where we've been spared much of Nature's real wrath, so far. The storms and tornadoes seem to have done their damage all around us, while sparing our neck of the woods. And of course, it all started with that earthquake, which was disconcerting (as earthquakes generally are, no matter where); the moreso because it happened in Virginia, and we felt it in Philadelphia! Strange.

I've been settling into my job a little more each day and developing a real relationship with my boss. In addition to filling in in another department, juggling two jobs, essentially, and cementing my reputation as someone indispensable to all and sundry. I was told over and over, by several people, that it would be a good year or more before I began to feel comfortable and they were right. In October I should be up for a review and I hope the good outweighs the bad; that the things I did that worked will overshadow the missteps. Still, I can't help feeling from time to time that I really don't know quite what I'm doing. (So I'm reading a book, "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" which is, in its way, teaching me that what I think about a given situation, what I project about tomorrow and what I feel about myself are just thoughts... not facts.)

And on top of it all, I'm involved in two productions for the Philadelphia Fringe Theater Festival: with my improv group, Tongue & Groove and the Hear Again Radio Project, which performs old time radio scripts live, complete with live music and Foley sound effects.

And then Bell's Palsy!

About ten days ago I began to feel feverish and had a scratchy throat... but only on the right side. I thought I was coming down with one of my sinus infections and so had my doctor phone in a prescription for a Z-pack and started the antibiotic. Then last Saturday I was on my way home from a performance, driving, and trying to whistle. But I couldn't. My lower lip, the right side, wouldn't cooperate. It felt numb, as though I'd had novocaine. And when I tried to squeeze my eyes shut tight, only the left one really shut! The right one closed, but... wouldn't cooperate.

By Sunday morning people were telling me to get to the ER, so Chris accompanied me to Cooper Medical Center in Camden where, after a lot of intake and interviewing and paperwork, I was variously diagnosed with Bell's Palsy -- which is caused by a virus and can make one side of your face droooop hideously; a trigeminal neuralgia, which is very like Bell's Palsy but with the addition of sharp, shooting pain; or Lyme disease, although that's a remote possibility.

I'm on Prednisone, now, a steroid; and Valtrex for the viral part of it (the same virus that causes herpes), but the palsy goes on. It is the weirdest feeling in the world to look at yourself in the mirror, grinning widely, and seeing your face NOT doing what you think it should be doing. The right side of my mouth just sits there, droopy. My right eye is a little lazy too, but not terribly. At least I'm not frightening small children in the street. No Phantom of the Opera mask needed. Thus far.

But strange... this is one of the strangest things I've been through yet. It upends your whole life -- you're not really sick enough to stay in bed, but something is... off. Like the slanted floors in an old amusement park funhouse. You're moving forward, but slowly, off-kilter, slightly in the wrong direction.

Strange.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another Terrific Movie...You've Probably Never Seen

Northridge quake aftermath
Well, the earthquake wasn't enough so Irene had to barrel through! We made it through pretty much unscathed: power stayed on, no leaks, no downed trees. I think we lost cable service for five minutes and I was just furious! Situations like this give one perspective, eh? Anyway, having lived through the Northridge earthquake in L.A. (left: now that was an earthquake!) ...

...and a horrendous mudslide that destroyed the house we were living in at the time, this was the proverbial piece of cake.

We also took the opportunity to watch some movies and I was reminded of another of those terrific little movies that a lot of people may never have seen, "Going in Style", starring Art Carney, George Burns and method acting guru Lee Strasberg. It's about three men, widowers, living together in Astoria, Queens: Joe (Burns), Al (Carney) and Willie (Strasberg) are tired and bored and living on Social Security, which barely gets them by. Then one day one of them comes up with the idea of robbing a bank, just to put a little zing into their lives. And if they get away with it, so much the better.

Get away with it they do, but this isn't just a caper movie about three cuddly old codgers. While it's often very funny, it's also very sweet and poignant. It goes without saying that Art Carney gives a wonderful performance, and Lee Strasberg is good-- a little muted but very good. But George Burns gives the performance of his lifetime here. He was best know for those "Oh, God!" movies, but he really hit his stride with "The Sunshine Boys" and "Going in Style". Director Martin Brest takes the viewer on a real journey with three very real, human characters living real lives.

You'll likely cheer at several points and get a little misty and smile and applaud... infinitely worth it!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PR Shame: Associated Press and the Dictator

Consider this from the Huffington Post, by Thor Halvorssen and Pedro Pizano of the Human Rights Foundation:

"Fidel Castro just celebrated his 85th Birthday. One would think that after 52 years of running a police state in Cuba, the media would accept that Castro is a brutal oppressor and tyrant. Comparable, no doubt, to any of the totalitarian despots still alive today. For example, Bashar al-Assad in Syria (41 years of dynastic tyranny) or Teodoro Mbasogo Obiang in Equatorial Guinea (31 years of bloody oppression). Yet, surprisingly, when it comes to North Korea and Cuba, one of the most trusted wire services in the world, the Associated Press (AP), cares more about business than about journalistic ethics and the truth.


"Now consider this recent press release from the Associated Press commemorating Fidel Castro's birthday:




"Castro is proclaimed by the AP as an "iconic" leader and a "source of inspiration for many people throughout the world." Ché Guevara is lauded as a "revolutionary hero" in the picture captions. Castro is no more "iconic" than Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, or Pinochet in historical context. However, it is highly unlikely that the AP would try to sell pictures and collections of Hitler as an "enigmatic" historical figure who is "still a source of inspiration." Castro and Ché may, indeed, be a source of inspiration for ignoramuses, washed-up ideologues, tendentious institutions, or people who still believe that he accomplished some "good things," (much as Hitler "created jobs" or Mussolini "made the trains run on time" or Pinochet "saved Chile from communism") but it is shocking that the AP would sink this low to make a buck."


You can read the whole article here. It's unbelievable to me that so-called "journalists" can be so ignorant of historical fact... willfully or otherwise.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Working Too Hard on Broadway

Last week I received an e-mail message from Playbill.com with a special offer for discounted tickets to see Daniel Radcliffe in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". I scrolled down and clicked on the link for the preview video, and was treated to a montage of choreographed scenes from the show to the tune of "Brotherhood of Man", one of the "big numbers" from the show. Intrigued I found the whole number on YouTube as presented at the Tony Awards.

It's very athletic, gymnastic, aerobic, intricate and involved... there's so much going on every moment that you can become short of breath just watching it. I have no idea what incredible shape those dancer/singers must be in to do that night after night. And after the first couple of viewings I told myself that this was a must-see; I mean if one number was that amazing...

But there was a nagging little voice in the back of my mind that was telling me that, as impressive as the number was, it wasn't quite... right, somehow.

But I posted on Facebook and linked to the video extolling the surprising performance of Daniel Radcliffe who really can sing and dance. Shortly thereafter a friend posted a comment, wondering if musical numbers have become more aerobic. He included a link from the film version (1967) featuring Robert Morse (whose casting as a shrewd and canny business man in the series "Mad Men" is a stroke of genius). The difference between the two numbers was striking.

In the film Morse's character, J. Pierpont Finch, is trying to convince the head of a large corporation not to fire his top staff. It begins slowly and builds and builds and has the added benefit of Morse's dimpled, gap-toothed appeal. I then checked out the same number from the Matthew Broderick B'way revival and noticed that, there too, the number starts out a bit slower. The chorus doesn't immediately start jumping and whirling and doing all the odd steps and moves it does in the current revival (push-ups, knee-walking, really?). The choreography is simpler and focuses on the characters! There's no conflict in the Radcliffe version. The number starts out way up at number 10 and has nowhere to go except out of control. It's like a very impressive, six-foot tall wedding cake that looks fabulous but tastes like...nothing much.

Onstage there must always be conflict. There must be something at stake, even in a classic piece of musical comedy fluff. If every character in a show agreed with each other right away, there would be no "Hamlet", no "Importance of Being Earnest", no "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", no "Oklahoma!" or "Sweeney Todd". The show would be over before it began.

And a show like "How to Succeed..." has stood the test of time. The story and music are still appealing to audiences 40 years after its debut. It doesn't need what I'd call "all that foolishness".

Check out the current version here -- then take a look at the 1995 revival. See if you don' get what I mean. (The movie version is also available on YouTube, probably closer to the original staging.

I just thought it was kind of interesting. More isn't necessarily always better.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

  A recent article I received via email gave me something to think about, and I thought I'd share. It's from a website which used to be called spiritualwealth.com but which I think has changed names... 
   Summed up here, though, it basically talked about the rationalizations we live by (from the title of a recent book about same) and how we use them to justify ourselves to the rest of the world. The authors of the book suggest that an excuse is a lie we tell to others; a rationalization is a lie we tell ourselves. To wit:
  • Everybody does it.
  • I'll save even more if I buy nine of these.
  • After a crummy day like this I deserve these shoes.
  • You only live once.
  • He'll only spend it on liquor.
  • Einstein had a messy office.
  • If God didn't want us to eat baby sheep, He wouldn't have given us mint jelly.
   (There are many more. Unfortunately you have to join a website (a pay site) to read whole articles, but I think you can get regular email messages if you contact customerservice@spiritualwealthinfo.com.)
   Basically, it's what psychologists call "self-justification bias", which refers to the decisions or beliefs we arrive at for emotional reasons and which we support or defend by cherry picking data that supports what we're saying.
   "As Socrates declared, 'the shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what you would appear to be.'"
   I do it all the time. But, like those new shoes (or whatever I've used to try and make myself feel better) the comfort of the justification only lasts so long. 


Darn that Socrates!



Monday, August 1, 2011

"Ridiculous!" Across Party Lines

I knew I wasn't alone: everybody's had it with these nitwits in Washington and the games they're playing. The majority of them really are behaving like children -- blaming, pointing fingers and having little jumping-up-and-down tantrums. The few who seem to have concrete ideas of any kind are, of course, portrayed as terrorists and extremists and blah, blah, blah...

According to the Washington Post, referring to a WashPost/Pew Research Center poll, "Asked for single-word charactertizations of the budget negotiations, the top words in the poll -- conducted in the days before an apparent deal was struck -- were 'ridiculous', 'disgusting' and 'stupid'. Overall, nearly three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word; just 2 percent had anything nice to say."

Two percent! Which alternate-universe version of planet Earth are they living on? These are the people who think Washington can solve all our problems. Somehow. Someday. *sigh*

You can read the full article here.

I also saw somewhere else today that, in another poll, a lot of Americans seem to think the best days of the country are over, that we're slowly sliding toward oblivion or, worse, Europe.

I have nothing to add...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

White Pines Productions

Here's a link to the web page of White Pines Productions, which sponsors the creative group I've started working with. Check it out and if you're in the Philly area, see if you can't make it to one of their events. (I'll be appearing in "Cromwell and Fox", a staged reading, on Wednesday.)

George Maharis

I don't know why but as I was checking e-mail and finding out who today's Hunk-of-the-Day was (I forget) I suddenly remembered George Maharis who, in the late 60's was on a TV series called "Route 66". I had a crush on him then -- of course I didn't know why at the time -- and with all the very different and divergent ideas people have of what a "hunk" is, I guess I still do, in a way. He was gay (which I didn't know at the time, though apparently all of Hollywood did) and very manly in a kind of "deep", non-threatening way. Not plain by any means, but not exactly the boy next door, either.

I found a tribute of sorts to Maharis at a blog called "gayspecies". It's sort of all over the place and I have only been able to skim the rest of the blog, so if anything there offends, upsets or confuses you, don't blame me. While I don't think Maharis necessarily deserves his own chapter in the Gay History of America -- whatever that would be -- he was a pioneer of sorts when all the other Hollywood "hunks" were "dating" women and almost getting married every other week. I'm sure there's much more on the Net. (A Google search turned up a picture of a tuxedoed Maharis apparently singing with Judy Garland on her TV show. Not surprisingly, I guess, considering that somewhere along the way he released an album called "George Maharis Sings!" Where the hell was I that night?)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Creative Commons

Elstowe Manor
Talk about being blessed! Last Monday I joined (a few weeks late) an endeavor called Creative Commons, a project of Philadelphia's White Pines Productions and actor/diretor/author Ben Lloyd. There a group of artists of varied disciplines -- chiefly theater, but also writers (moi included) and musicians -- gather to develop, try out and share projects, ideas and dreams. The group has been meeting on Monday nights at the Elkins Estate in Elkins Park, just outside Philadelphia. 


The estate is 42-acres and contains five buildings, the most notable being Elstowe Manor and Chelten House, both Horace Trumbauer designed mansions. Elstowe Manor was the summer home of William L. Elkins, a prominent Philadelphian businessman who was integral in the formation of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the establishment of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


I had gone with the beginnings of a play, which I read to the others in attendance and from whom I got some very good, and helpful, feedback. Proof, if any were needed, that even a solitary artist like a writer eventually needs another pair of eyes and/or ears to move forward.


The Gallery at Elstowe (© Nate Klett, Flickr)
But the most wonderful part of the evening for me was when we (there were eight of us all told) moved into what had once been Elkins' art gallery, an enormous -- make that cavernous -- space with paneled, brocaded walls and hand-painted beams twenty feet above. We each took one of the little gold-painted chairs that are used for the weddings that are held in the estate and sat in the gallery as one of the group, a young man who is also an actor, played the violin. A Bach partita. It might have been #3. No matter, when it was over the violinist was drenched in sweat (the air wasn't on in the gallery) and the rest of us were transfixed. To be so close to that music, live, transcendent, flawless... it almost literally gets inside you the way a recording, or even a performance in a concert hall can't. I really was filled with the sense that I was not just fortunate, but blessed to be there to hear it. To be a part of it. And more, to have the life I have, with its ups and downs and uncertainties, and my Head, which continues to do its best to keep me off-balance and anxious. It's difficult to describe, but that feeling has stayed with me, even as life has become a little more stressful (as I knew it would) after a period of relative peace and contentment. But only a little. And I can go back to that room at the Elkins Estate any time, to hear and feel the music and remember that I wasn't just blessed that Monday night. It's all the time.
All the time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Good (Gay) News and Not-So-Good...

There's a terrific article in the August issue of Men's Journal magazine (which is a terrific magazine overall: I highly recommend a subscription) titled "Pro Sports' New Gay Agenda". While the magazine's content is available online, this particular article isn't, so I thought I'd share portions of it, because it's very encouraging. (To read the whole article, buy the mag. There are also articles about Jeff Bridges, , how the axis of the art world is shifting toward L.A., and 39 ways to eat a tomato.)

Basically, the article discusses how professional sports are increasingly aware of, and involved in, taking a stand against gay bashing and bullying. "In the past few months" writes Kevin Gray, "a small but steady stream of  straight athletes -- including the New York Rangers' Sean Avery and the Phoenix Suns' Grant Hill and Jared Dudley -- have (promoted) gay rights or tolerance at the prompting of activist groups. "We've known for a long time that if you're going to reach 13- to 16-year-old boys on this issue, our next generation, you need athletes," says Eliza Byard, executive director of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education network (GLSEN) which is behind the Think B4 You Speak campaign to battle antigay language among teens. that doesn't mean she and other activists are always successful in enlisting players. "Some turn us down because it's not their issue...they don't want to make this their battle."

Ben Cohen!
"British rugby star Ben Cohen learned about the plight of gay youths in a very vivid way. Two years ago, his manager told him that a gay fan, taken by his skills as well as his rugged good looks, set up a Facebook fan page for Cohen that attracted thousands of followers -- many of them gay. 'It was flattering,' Cohen says. But it wasn't until these fans started using the page to share stories about being beaten up in school and mocked on the rugby field and in the locker room that Cohen felt a painful stab of recognition -- he hadn't always been politically correct in his own dealings -- and the realization that he needed to do something. 'A lot of people were telling me about the pain and anger they've felt for years,' he says. 'They feel isolated and alone. I felt I had a responsibility.

"Today he runs the Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation, an antibullying group. He spent two weeks this spring touring U.S. high schools talking to kids about how to identify gay-targeted bullying and stop it... Some of his proceeds go toward helping GLSEN with its education efforts." (I don't know about you, but personally I don't mind having Ben Cohen on my side. Or anywhere else, for that matter.)

In other news, further evidence of the intolerance of tolerant people and the harm they can inadvertently cause. According to columnist Kevin McCullough, "Activists, and to some degree their mouthpieces in the media, have conducted witch-hunts designed to hurt not just the ones who have different ideological viewpoints, but ... disrupt the charity that people who disagree with them advocate for... It is...hurtful to the innocent people in need of help, and it is an attack on free speech, association and the practice of religious freedoms.


"In Los Angeles, California the founder of TOMS shoes was so harassed by ... activists, they all but forced Blake Mycoskie, TOMS founder, into a near apology for appearing at an event in which Focus On The Family recorded an interview with the shoemaker. The purpose of which was to inspire listeners to help put needed shoes on the feet of African AIDS orphans. Secondarily, Focus hoped it might also inspire listeners to begin their own companies ordered around the economy of compassion, and budgeting for those in need. 


"Activists launched online petitions to attempt to pressure customers from shopping with TOMS shoes because of some imagined "alignment" with a supposed "hate group." Though the only institution to ever classify Focus On The Family as a hate group is a group that could easily qualify for the designation themselves - The Southern Poverty Law Center - at least by the standards they use to define "hate."


"The irony of the matter is that Jim Daly, Focus On The Family's president, has purposefully chosen to engage those who disagree with some of Focus' positions on public policy, and has even attempted to find common ground on things like reducing abortions, increasing adoption, and in the event of the TOMS shoe event -- give foot coverings to African AIDS orphans who might otherwise step on something that would cut their feet, develop infection, and damage their health, if not take their (lives)."


Make of it what you will. But, shoes for AIDS orphans... I'm just sayin'...


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who Else Auditioned for "Mary Poppins"?

Sorry I've been so incommunicado... the last couple of weeks slipped (or schlepped) by and I hardly noticed. Summer doldrums? Can't say, but I apologize...

Hopefully THIS will make it up: the voices are, for the most part, spot on and absolutely hilarious! (Hopefully you're old enough to recognize some of these stars... There are more from these guys - Punchy Players - so stay tuned... or check them out on YouTube.

Enjoy!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Little Sweetness

Two things happened recently that, while unrelated, reminded me of the surprising sweetness of life that comes up when you least expect it.

Last week at work a student came by my office to sign off on some paperwork to go to the State Board of Nursing, so she can take her boards and earn her nursing license. She was a lovely young woman, poised and well-spoken and what I think is now called "queen size". She certainly looked as though she would be a wonderful nurse, the kind of calm, sweet presence you'd like to have at your bedside if you were hospitalized.

So she double-checked some of the personal information that goes to the State Board and completed an online survey about her experience in nursing school and, as she left, she thanked me and I wished her luck. Then she stopped in the doorway and took from her purse one of those little pamphlets from the Jehovah's Witnesses, "Jesus Christ: Who Is He?" and handed it to me and said something like "Just for you to take a look at..." Then she was gone.

It had been a week or so of hard work, it being the end of the quarter with a lot of paperwork and other plates to keep spinning, and I had been feeling overwhelmed and a little panicky, wondering if I'd been performing up to snuff. All of which serves to bring me down. And then this beautiful young woman comes by and brings with her a sweet, calming presence, a beautiful smile...and a pamphlet.

The front of the pamphlet features a picture of Jesus, I presume, in a coarsely spun robe, sandals and a short, curly haircut. Unlike the typical long-haired Jesus artists usually portray. He's sitting on a rock, speaking, his hands in front of him, gesturing. He looks a little like Mandy Patinkin in "Yentl".

And I opened the pamphlet and glanced through it and was able to take a little comfort from it. I wasn't converted, I wasn't struck with a bolt of lightning -- I think it was the memory of Sunday school when I was a kid and the feeling of security I got from the stories about Jesus. It was a nice feeling, comforting somehow. And though it's been almost two weeks now, I'm still thinking about that student and thinking how lucky her future patients will be.

The other thing was just something that happened on the way home from the market tonight. We got to a stoplight just outside of town and could see, across the highway intersection in the high school parking lot, a carnival. One of those traveling carnivals with the rides that can be folded up and hauled away -- a merry-go-round, a Tilt-a-Whirl-- as well as games of chance and stands selling cotton candy and candy apples. It was just dusk and the western sky was that pale blue-green color that follows the setting of the sun. The horizon was blushed with a dusty rose and the lights of the carnival rides sparkled and flashed against it in a way that made it all seem perfect, meant to be, but only for that moment. Parents with small children in tow were going in and coming out, exhausted and exhilarated. It was so beautiful and so simple and reminded me of similar carnivals I had been to as a kid. Nothing fancy, but thrilling nonetheless. Real. And a kind of calm settled on me and made me smile. Then the traffic light changed and we had to move on.

I love it when life surprises me that way, touches me and reminds me that it's all okay: this is just the way it was meant to be.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Little Perspective











Pulitzer Prize-winner John McPhee once said the dramatic history of the Earth can be summed up in a single sentence: "The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone. "

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great News Blog

I hope you'll all take a look at Metro Mashup/the Blinq blog on philly.com, to which my friend Kevin Riordan contributes (along with a group of other journalists and writers). He also has a regular features column on the online version of the Philadelphia Inquirer. News, opinion, video and it's not just for Philly, people! Check it out...

Katy Perry Bravely Gets All Divulging About Healthcare

"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."  G.B. Shaw


Katy Perry, who as I understand it is a pop recording star with masterworks like "Ur so Gay" and "I Kissed A Girl" to her credit, is totally brave. She was interviewed for the Special Summer Double Issue of Rolling Stone magazine and, in addition to assuring the world that she's for gay rights and that she's a gay rights activist ("I say that proudly") she boldly came out for free healthcare. “Anyway, not to get all politically divulging and introspective," she said, "but the fact that America doesn’t have free health care drives me f*cking absolutely crazy, and is so wrong.” Thanks for not getting all divulging, Katy.
     But, as they say on TV, that's not all! Perry went on: "I think we are largely in desperate need of revolutionary change in the way our mindset is. Our priority is fame, and people’s wellness is way low. I say this knowing full well that I’m a part of the problem. I’m playing the game, though I am trying to reroute."


(It's true, Katy. Every morning -- before I've even opened my eyes -- I send up a little prayer for more fame. "Please God, I pray, make me famous! And screw the wellness of the little people.")



     In spite of the fact that she knows she's part of the problem and is trying to "reroute", whatever the hell that means, forgive me if I don't for a moment think that Perry drives down to the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles every morning to give away some of her millions to the day laborers standing on the corner looking for work. My guess is, admitting she's part of the problem is enough work for one day and just how far do you expect her to go? 


     According to the Best Reviewer website, La Perry's net worth is around 15 million and she earns approximately $130 a minute. (The Since you arrived on this page at 3:46 p.m. Katy Perry earned ticker is mesmerizing!) And, forgive me again but anyone who thinks healthcare should be "free" needs to get a clue about what "free" means. Especially when it comes to governments. I mean, if that's the case, why shouldn't groceries be free, or shoes or tickets to Katy Perry concerts? Dammit, why do we have to pay for anything at all in this fame-obsessed nightmare we call America?


I guaran-damn-tee you that three hours in a dingy, antiseptic-smelling clinic somewhere, waiting for "free" healthcare would give Katy pause: "Mmmmm... maybe we could come up with a different system where I could pay if I want to and just the icky people would get the 'free' care...?"



     Maybe I'm being too tough on Katy. After all, she's had her share of trauma and heartache -- and from an early age: “I started praying for [breasts] when I was, like, 11,” she said. “And God answered that prayer above and beyond, by, like, 100 times, until I was like, 'Please stop, God, I can't see my feet anymore."

P.S. Fearing that I was being too harsh on someone of whom I have only a passing awareness, I listened to a bit of "Ur So Gay" on iTunes and discovered that the first two lines of "Ur So Gay" are: "I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf, while jacking off listening to Mozart."  Brilliant. Cole Porter is applauding in heaven. Even taking into account the fact that she's not addressing a gay person in the song; and even assuming the whole song is supposed to be "ironic" -- why would I take her seriously about anything?  No, I have no qualms about mocking Katy Perry.