Monday, May 28, 2012

One Nation...ONE.

This Memorial Day weekend, my friend Nick flew in from Chicago on Saturday for a visit and to celebrate my impending birthday (a significant one involving a ‘0’ and another number). As part of my gift, we (actually he) decided we should take a day trip to Baltimore to visit an old comedian friend who teaches at one of the universities there.

The plan was for Nick and me to meet in Philadelphia since he was staying in King of Prussia, Pa., and I was at my palatial estate somewhere on the Jersey Shore. I would leave my Hyundai in Philly and we would ride together the rest of the way. The weather was perfect and there was little or no holiday traffic to trigger my road rage.

If the sum total of your life’s experience with Philadelphia has consisted of eating cream cheese or watching The Philadelphia Story, you really should consider visiting, particularly if you are an American. From the moment you cross over the Ben Franklin Bridge, you get this great sense of history. Every single street in the historic district has a building, a museum or cemetery that provides a direct link to who we are and how we got here. And on holidays such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, that feeling is even more evident.

After I met up with Nick, we hopped into his rented, Cherry red Ford Focus and bee lined south down I-95. Settled in with the coffee and cinnamon buns we purchased at a local convenience store in Philly, the conversation, as it always does, had already skipped like a stone about three times across Lake Topic by the time we hit Delaware.

“Have you ever been to Gettysburg?” Nick asked.  I shook my head and declared that it was on my bucket list.

“Fifty-thousand dead over two days”, he said. “Imagine that?”

“As many as died in Vietnam”, I replied. “I can’t even imagine that.”

As we wended southward, our discussion covered almost as much ground as we would over the next several hours. Most of the talk was of comedy and comedians, material and nuance, and war stories from the road. Of course, in between topics, we torture and taunt each other mercilessly, but it is all in fun. Between Nick and I, there are limits and we know not to cross them. But God help anyone who disses either of us in the company of the other. That is where our friendship takes over.

The hour and a half car trip flew by as car trips do when the white line silence is filled with laughter and conversation. It was nearly two p.m. by the time we hit the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore. We found Doctor Ron; our old comedy alumnus turned speech pathologist, who had already put in a reservation at the chosen restaurant . In just a few minutes, the waitress paged us and we sat down for a leisurely Sunday afternoon lunch and reunion. I had a soft shell crab salad which was so delicious that I neglected to notice what the others were ordering.

The topics covered over those next two hours were many; comedy, of course being one of the main components. Politics was inevitable as we are all political junkies who never tire of the ridiculousness of our lawmakers’ bellowing, machinations, and inaction. Personally I feel safe that they are all there in Washington, both Democrat and Republican. At least we know where they all are and cannot do any damage to the real world since they can never agree on ANYTHING.          

We are unabashed and unapologetic liberals though, Ron, Nick, and I, so it was only a matter of time before we began a protracted discussion of the errors and prejudices of the Right, which included Ron’s dissertation and theories on the cognitive dissonance of the Tea Party and the Republican Party in general.

During our meal, I received a call from a friend of mine’s son. He lives in Baltimore and called to ask if he could hitch a ride back with us to Jersey to visit his mom. I said sure and we arranged a meeting time right near the aquarium. We three had a couple of  hours to kill and so we strolled around the Inner Harbor, laughed, talked, ate some killer gelato and eventually met up with my friend’s son at the appointed time to begin the journey home.

Hugs and goodbyes were made and we watched Ron disappear back into the world of academia. We were on our way back to the garage when Patrick, my friend’s son turned to the harbor and pointed something out to me.

“Right out there is where Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem.” With that, we turned and headed back to the car.

The ride back to Philly was uneventful, though we did get a bit lost. Nick and I parted ways, and Patrick and I headed to the parking garage to recover the Hyundai. Once over the Ben Franklin Bridge and back in Jersey, we stopped at the first 7-11 we could find, got some fresh, hot coffee for the last leg of the trip and headed out to the strains of Django Reinhardt softly filling the darkened car. Patrick didn’t know much about Django, but he loved the music; so I schooled him a little.

During the long ride on a pitch black road, we spoke about anarchy, purpose of life, career choices and art. Patrick is young, sensitive and completely unsure of what he wants to be. Having been there myself at one time, I listened and occasionally offered suggestions. An hour and a half later, I deposited him at his mother’s front door.

Once home, I fired up the computer to catch up on some email and news in the world, only to read this absolutely horrific story about what had happened in Houla, Syria. If you have not by now heard about it, 109 people, including 49 children, many of whom were infants, were slaughtered by what is believed to be ‘President’ Bashar al-Assad’s troops. Their goal? To suppress perceived dissidents who want Assad’s ass out of power and out of Syria.

To suppress perceived dissidents.

You know, it’s funny how sometimes a phrase like that can spark a multitude of other thoughts and lead you to places in your mind that have nearly been covered over in the dust of years of living. But that phrase, coupled with the historical significance of Memorial Day, Philadelphia and Baltimore, got me to thinking about my own country.

We are a nation of dissidents. Our very founding was the result of not being willing to tolerate an oppressive regime. And in the beginning it was the private citizens who formed militias and marched side by side with the Continental troops to defeat that regime. And like those Syrians who dared to stand up against someone so hideous that he would order the slaughter of children, our defenders, then and now, were willing to die to preserve us.

Because they sacrificed, I thought, I can sit here and write whatever I feel in my heart without fear of being imprisoned or killed. I could take that ride to Baltimore, discuss anarchy and art, and speak freely for and against my government. I can vote for my leaders, and know that it won’t be thrown in a wastebasket because it doesn’t favor a despotic, murderous animal like Assad or his thugs. I can make people laugh and tell the truth at the same time with no censoring but my own self-imposed kind. I can do all these things because someone who I have never met and some that have been close to me have felt duty-bound to preserve the ideal of America for all of us. Is it no wonder then that Francis Scott Key, who was being held aboard an enemy ship at the time of his writing the National Anthem, was so moved at the survival of an ideal, his ideal, that he penned those words knowing that four miles away there were dead and wounded Americans at Fort McHenry?

I have been both proud and ashamed of my country at various times in my life. I can’t really remember a time in my life when we weren’t involved in some kind of conflict. Some I have supported, but most I have not.  But I have never ever felt anything but awe at those who willingly chose to put it all on the line for the idea of America. I don’t know that I could. But because they did, we don’t have murderous animals like Assad here, killing citizens who can’t defend themselves. We trust enough in one another, in our armed forces, and yes, even in our sometimes chaotic government to not turn the guns on us.

Some have called us the world’s police force. Sadly, I might have to agree with that statement from time to time. Ours should not be the business of intervention or nation building. Our job, our primary goal should be to show the world that the idea and ideal of America works through a peaceful example. And I think we do that fairly well overall. But when animals like Assad and company kill their own people without regard for their value simply because they give the perception of being a dissident, then it is time to offer help. We did it in Europe during World War II; and in Libya, and a number of other places. We need to do something for these people; and if we do, if it comes down to yet another armed conflict, our defenders will defend them too, without pause and without hesitating.   

My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty....of THEE I sing.

To my fellow Americans who believe that their ultra-conservative, nearly intractable positions aren’t worth the effort of constructive dialogue with those who oppose them ideologically, let me say this.

In Gettysburg and Anzio, Normandy, Viet Nam , Korea, Okinawa, Guam and Pearl Harbor and hundreds of other places lie the remains of those who have died for my right be and speak, opinionate and live my life in the best way I know how. Here in my home, there are those whose lives will never be the same because of an instant in time. They didn’t ask my religion, my race, my sexual preference, or my gender identity. They didn’t care if I was a Republican or Democrat; the only criteria for their willingness to die for me was that I was an American, and when I felt it was necessary, a dissident American.

Here is where religion is separated from government. Here, you can be different. Here is where we have all brought our cultures from our ancestral homelands. They may seem strange to some of you, but it is our right to have them, and to add them to the tapestry of this sweet land of liberty. And though you may not be killing innocents in the streets, when you plot and plan to take our rights away, you are as guilty as Assad’s minions. You are committing a traitorous act when you do those things and you shame the souls who have died for us. Sure you have the right to try to manipulate the system to favor you and your kind, but you will not win because too many of us value what Francis Key saw that morning in the Inner Harbor... the survival of liberty as it exists nowhere else in the world.  

I am a proud American. I have seen a lot in the time I’ve been on this earth, some of it magnificent and wonderful and other times ugly, profane and heartbreaking. But I always view it through American eyes; that is to say my opinions and feelings are colored by a combination of my innate ethnic heritage imprinted on my DNA, and the American experiences of my not-so-distant immigrant past. I believe in the idea and ideal of my country and I thank the people who have defended that ideal on today, their day. Because of them I was able to sit on the steps in a mall at the Inner Harbor and speak freely with friends. Their sacrifice is the reason I am able to reach out to you today in this blog.  And if you don’t appreciate that the preservation of that right alone isn’t enough to die for, then you have become complacent and taken liberty for granted.   

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat and everybody thank a service person along with their higher power for having the good fortune to be an American. Abbondanza!  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

StandUP, Ya Big Fraidy Cat!

Is there a worse job in the world for a terminally insecure person than standup comedy? You take someone who, in normal daily life, shudders at the very thought of being judged by checkout people at the supermarket for buying two pints of  Moose Tracks ice cream (Do you really need two, fat ma’am?) versus one and you throw him or her up in front of a room full of strangers. Then, you expect them to stand up and say words that they’ve written in the privacy of their own room, for the purpose of eliciting laughter (and thus more approval) from people they will most likely never see again.

On the other hand, you take the same confidence-challenged person and lo and behold, the room full of strangers actually laughs and applauds wildly! For a brief moment in that performer’s career, life is an Etch-a-Sketch and suddenly, if not temporarily, all the fear, pain, distrust, disappointment, anxiety and heartache which brought said person to said stage disappears in an emotional screen shaking; at least temporarily. Very soon thereafter, when the adrenaline wears off, all of those doubts start to creep back until the next performance and hopefully, the next healing.

The problem is you never know just which side the coin will land on. Heads, you walk off that, you float off that stage to the roar of approval, or tails, you slink off into the shadowy darkness of the bowels of the club, avoiding stares from the audience and your peers, and curse the day you ever learned to form a complete sentence. And later, on that long, dark drive back to the safety of your home, you wonder (often aloud) to yourself, what in God’s name am I doing? 

But it’s just a Jersey gig, you say. Or Wednesday. Or Shrimp night. Or some shitty bar where tomorrow night is karaoke.

“It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things”, you proclaim to invisible you sitting in the passenger seat, as you tear down the New Jersey Turnpike. But you know that it’s a lie. How you did up there matters to you and no one else because you took that leap of faith and stood up there in the first place. You have that little voice inside you that has screamed in your head over and over since you were young enough to think that you had the moxie to triumph over all of this. You are the chosen one. And while every person in that audience will have forgotten your name by the time they leave the club, you will carry that show, for good or for bad for years to come. And so you go back again and again, not looking for killer shows (although that would be nice), but consistency of performance levels.

Over time, you develop a thick hide. Most of the time, you learn to laugh off the horror nights and remember the killer sets. In that sense it’s a lot like childbirth, or so I’m told. To be honest, while I was at my birth, I don’t remember much about it. I can only imagine that it was not unlike my first marriage or being beaten on the soles of my feet with wet bamboo rods. Horrors like that definitely deserve to be forgotten. From my mother’s viewpoint however, I’m sure it was quite different. 

Fear is at the core of it all, isn’t it? Fear of failure, of pain, of success, it’s all the same. Fear can kill you, ruin you or debilitate you. Fear can chase you, catch you and ensnare you.  It can make you powerless and freeze you right where you stand. It is the bully that stands on the corner each morning as you walk to school, waiting for you. It is a wall of fire that roars in your face and dares you to test your tolerance for the pain it can inflict. All you have to do to be swallowed up by it is to give in. Once that happens, it’s all over.

Take me for instance. I live in constant fear of everything, and right now I’m frozen solid. I can’t move right or left, up or down, which is kind of weird, because suddenly, everything is going right for me. My shows have been going quite well, I’m getting bookings, and the possibility of a play about my life could actually come to reality. I’ve got everything going for me. So, why am I so petrified?

Come on Julia, don’t be a dumbass! You just stated why you’re afraid. You might actually be successful for a change and you don’t know how to handle it.

Hmmm... Interesting point, horribly nagging conscience. And what is it in particular that is causing this?

Must I do everything? Think a little won’t ya?

Well let’s see...shows are going well, blog is going well, the Comedy Test Kitchen is going well, the comedy competition is coming up...


The comedy competition write...must compete...

That’s it isn’t it? Tell these nice people what’s going on.

Sigh. Alright, here it goes. Now you have to understand that I absolutely suck at competitions. From the time I tossed a ping-pong (age 6) in a futile effort to have it land in a tiny goldfish bowl at Palisades Amusement Park, to trying out for the football team in another vain and humiliating attempt to prove my manhood, to Star Search and Letterman, I have always seriously, undeniably, majestically and miserably crashed and burned in an awful metaphorical conflagration, the likes of which made the Hindenburg explosion seem like the pilot light on your stove.

Are you getting the picture so far? Good. Now with these images in mind will someone please tell me what in God’s name I was thinking when, after a twelve year absence from the stage, I up and entered, not just a comedy competition, but one for women only? And, not just the competition, but the professional category of that contest! Me, a sixty year old, transgendered, newly out of retirement, arthritic, lesbian comedian; what the hell was I thinking?

It was an impulse, a whim; I swear. But now that I’m that I’m entered....

Have you ever had one of those defining moments in your life? You know, the ones that scream out at you “If you walk away from this and don’t deal with it, you will carry this with you for the rest of your life like a cinderblock around your neck.” Well this is it for me. This is the time I need to decide if I am going to let fear beat me yet again.

It’s not that this contest will make or break me. I have too much skin in the game already to let a contest define me. But this is about ME letting ME break ME. This is about making friends with me for a change, and believing that win or lose, I will not shame myself under any circumstances.

It’s only May, and right now I’m quaking in my fuzzy slippers over something that won’t happen until July. Logic tells me that if I let this fear get a hold of me, they will have to carry me in on a stretcher come show time. So, there’s only one way to deal with it. I have two months to work, to write, to rehearse, and perfect my sets. I have two months to believe that I can do this. Two months to take back my life.

In the last twelve years I have allowed myself to be shamed over my decision to live the life that was in my heart and soul. There have been times when cruel words and even crueler actions have driven me to places so deep inside that I never wanted to come out. But I refused to trade one prison for another, and instead I turned to the spirits that surround me, and they lifted me up to face another day, and all the days that followed.
Ten months ago, if you had told  me I’d be back doing the thing I love to do more than anything else, I’d have laughed at you. But I’m here. I’m doing it. I’m friggin doing it!!!

You can do that too; every one of you. Tomorrow, the next day, or soon, face a fear and walk through it, all the while screaming at it with every ounce of strength you have inside. What you’ll find is that fear doesn’t exist. It never did. It’s the monster under the bed and it grows inside you if you feed it. The only way to starve fear is to deny it what it wants; your mind and your willingness to give in to it.

I will probably look at this post tomorrow and wonder what drug I was on when I wrote it. Sometimes stuff just bursts out of me like the alien in the movie, um... Alien. But I would be less than honest if I refrained from putting my truth on these pages. Some of you may think, “She should keep that stuff to herself”, but I suspect that more people than not have been held back by the same feelings which I’m going through right now. And sometimes all you need to know is that you aren’t alone or crazy in feeling the way you do about something. So, if someone reads this and it sparks them to move forward, would that just be the coolest thing in the world?

Over the next couple of months, I hope to post my progress on this endeavor from time to time, both the good and the bad. I hope you share with me some of your victories too, because sometimes it gets a little lonely around here, and I like to hear from you.

So.... onward and upward for us all! And by the way, thanks for listening. I feel better now.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza! 


Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Weight of the World

My friend Nicole called me the other day to tell me how excited she was that the warm weather was finally coming to the East Coast.

“Oh Julia, I can’t wait! Pretty soon I’ll be lounging around on the beach, and I’m already working on my tan!” Just what I need to hear. Keep talking, Nicole, as I continue to develop my secret formula for cellulite spackle.

For me, the thought of summer sets off a continual loop of the “Jaws” sound in my head at the very idea of not having layers of clothing to cover my body with. Why only this week, I had the landscaper come in to trim the layer of winter fur from my legs and underarms. For Nicole though, it is an awakening; a time to let the world bow before her magnificence, while I silently plot to inject her with ice cream and pie as she sleeps. 

Please. She’s a size four cougar; gorgeous. Of course she’s excited. On the beach, her blonde hair flows in slow motion like a Cover Girl commercial as she sexily snaps her head around to remove it from her eyes, all while men gasp at the very sight of her. I swear that white stallions show up in herds on the beach, begging for her to ride them bareback through the pounding surf, just so they can brag to their horsy friends.

Even her perspiration streams are perfect. They form obediently down from her thorax into her cleavage and instead of it puddling up and forming huge sweat stains on her bikini top, angels come and remove it, and then I’m sure, drop it as a gentle mist upon a rainforest somewhere in the tropics. It never forms on her forehead, as it does on mine, or drip down from her temples, as it does on mine, or cover her eyeglasses so that she looks like she’s constantly crying (she has 20/20 vision of course). There is also no pasty, white gunk dripping down her sides as the result of her deodorant melting. She is perfect.

“Why don’t you come with me to the beach, Julia?” I have to hear this EVERY friggin year. And every year I have to sternly raise one eyebrow and glare menacingly at her.

“Really, Nicole? I’m supposed to go to the beach with YOU? Oh yes, there’s nothing I like better than to use up the last of my dwindling self-esteem, plop my big, fat, atrocious looking body next to yours and watch as nuns decide whether or not to give up their vow of chastity just to be with you.”

“Oh stop!” she says, waving her dainty, skinny hands at me. “You’re not that bad”.

Not that bad. No, if ever the world wakes up to the fact that taut, glistening thighs, stunningly perfect breasts and flat, fatless stomachs are no longer things considered beautiful, perhaps then, I would be able to be ranked in the category of not that bad.

Oh I know that I should be happy with the gifts that I have. I’m reasonably intelligent, have a pretty good sense of humor and ...oh shit, who am I kidding? I’d give those things up in a heartbeat to be a mindless, gorgeous automaton. Where Nicole worries about what type of sunscreen is best for her, I am seriously contemplating using any of the twenty or so miracle cures for “ugly back fat” that find their way into my spam folder each week. Where she contemplates a tasteful tattoo of a dolphin or some friggin Chinese characters extolling the beauty of life, I am researching the death statistics from lapband surgery. 

True, she works out five days a week, and walks several miles a day, while I practice the ancient art of Nah-ping one hour a day. Yes, her entire diet consists of nuts, berries, and skinless chicken, while my dietary choices usually come down to trying to decide if a cinnamon donut has fewer calories than the powdered sugar kind. The results of this study, by the way, are not conclusive; more extensive research is needed.

Yeah, I know that like government, when it comes to our dietary choices, we all get the body we deserve; you are what you eat, blah blah blah. But what about genetics? I’m sure if you put her DNA under a microscope against some of mine, Nicole’s would be just as slim and perky as she is, while mine would be lounging on the sofa eating a bowl of Bosco-topped ice cream

Okay, let’s say that I perhaps could adjust my eating habits. What would be the benefits?
Sure, I would be able to buy clothes in the regular sizes departments of stores and not have go straight to the plus sizes, where everything looks like it was designed by Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith Show.

While we’re on the subject of women’s clothing, can someone tell me why when big, fat guys have to shop for clothes, they get stores with dignified names like He Man, Big and Tall Stores, and we get places called the Dress Barn? Really, a barn? What are we, cattle?

“Alright Tex, round those pretty little heifers up and put em’ in the barn! Yeah Curly, kick that fat one in the ass and shove her into one of the dressing stalls. Oooooo-wee, she’s a biggun, ain’t she? ”

Yes, it would be nice to go to the beach and not have to make the walk of shame from my blanket to the water, and then have to stay in the water for five hours until after sundown when everyone has gone home in order to avoid a repeat performance.

Now some of you might be reading and yelling at your computer screen, why do you care what they think, Julia? And to you I say thank you, but I think the fact that you are yelling at your computer screen indicates deeper psychological problems than mine. You really should seek therapy. Nevertheless, I appreciate the sentiment and it is a question that I have asked myself repeatedly over the years. Trust me when I say that nothing would give me more pleasure than to proudly waddle down to the beach in all my adipose glory, jiggling and bouncing my flab in front of the lean, zero body fat, perfectly tanned gods and goddesses that populate the Jersey shore. I would love to offend them and wish that I could revel in their choice little comments such as “how can she do that” or “someone should speak to her” or “she’s frightening the children”, but I can’t; because somewhere not so deep down inside, I am ashamed of how I look and I know that they are right. I should take better care of myself. The question is why don’t I?

Being fat for one’s entire life is like being chased through the jungle by a starving tiger. You want more than anything to survive and will run at top speed for as long as you can. But at some point, you are just not going to be able to outrun the tiger and sooner or later you will become desperately exhausted. Once you reach that moment you are almost grateful that she’s going to eat you because you don’t have to fight the threat any longer. I think I am at that point.

Being overweight has been an issue for me since childhood. I’m sure it has contributed to my becoming a stand-up comic, because as we all know, stand ups are in desperate need of acceptance. The stage is the one place in all the world where we can be ourselves, and despite the difficulties we face in the real world, can function in a socially acceptable way.

Being a comedian also brings instant gratification, which is the same thing food does for us. Whatever is lacking in our psychological library, we find onstage. And unfortunately for us (fortunate for the audience), the more screwed up we are, the funnier we tend to be. And one can either fight the tiger or embrace her; in that ‘death’ of submission to the world as it is, there is rebirth and freedom.

I guess what I’m saying is that we need to learn to love ourselves despite all of our imagined shortcomings. Some of us are deigned to be like Nicole, while others are destined for other things. We all have gifts, you know? And just because some magazine or TV show wants us to believe that physical perfection is the key to Nirvana, we don’t have to buy into that. If you work at developing a good body, do it for yourself, not for others. If you are of an intellectual bent and really couldn’t give a rat’s ass about being buff, fine. Follow your bliss and your heart, and internal peace will unfold in your life. Just embrace the tiger.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a powdered sugar donut waiting for me in my research lab.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

You Got Spunk? They Hate Spunk.

Who can turn the world on with a smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? President Obama, that’s who!

Unless you’ve been under a rock all week, you probably know by now that on Wednesday, my President came out in favor of same-sex marriage, exactly one day after North Carolina voted to amend their constitution which now defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

WAY TO STICK IT TO EM’, MR. PRESIDENT! These right wing crazies need to understand that they are in the minority and that America is a country that embraces diversity. What’s more, you’ve shown everyone a lesson on tolerance and acceptance and...wait, wait...something’s wrong here.

Who am I to be reveling in the refreshing candor of a politician who is obviously using this as a campaign ploy designed to pander to one-tenth of the population of the country? Why, If I want to rub North Carolina’s face  with the gooey icing of my patented cream cheese frosting that sits proudly atop my freshly baked victory carrot cake, wouldn’t that make me a lowly, jealous and angry slug of a human being? I mean, if I did the happy dance over taking away someone’s right to take away someone’s right, am I not reducing myself to their level of inhumanity?

Well, hell yeah I am. But who cares? For the first time in the history of this country, the person at the very top of the political food chain has stood with us on this issue. And so to the people of North Carolina I proudly say, suck it!

If ever Americans needed a clear line of demarcation between the strength and character of this President and Mitt Romney, this was it.  With those few sentences, my President proved once again that he is a man of character and conviction who is not afraid to stand up for what is right and just.

Of course, I would be more than remiss if I did not acknowledge his point man, Vice-President Joe Biden, who opened the door for my President on last Sunday’s Meet the Press by acknowledging that he too supported same-sex marriage.

At first I thought this was just another one of those embarrassing Uncle Joe ‘oops’ moments. But three days later, when the President was coming out, I realized that Uncle Joe is as crafty as a fox; a silver fox. This move had all the precision planning of the Bin-Laden hit, minus Seal Team Six.

Romney naturally, was speechless and released a somewhat limp response and reiterated his continued support of hetero marriage only. This has been his position from the get-go and maybe the only one he hasn’t flip-flopped on since he began running five years ago. I’m not surprised though considering that it was the Mormon Church’s influence that overturned Prop 8 in California. It’s strange that this would come from them considering their relatively recent abandonment of polygamy.

Both of these endorsements (Obama and Biden) mean nothing of course, and yet they mean everything. To the people of North Carolina who want to believe that we are going to go back in the closet and return America to a white-dominated patriarchy, this was a big, giant thumb-nosing. To the millions of GLBT people who want nothing more than to have first-class citizenship, this was a major step forward to that end; for no sitting U.S. President has ever done what my President did last Wednesday. And while it doesn’t change what happened in North Carolina, it does present a clear choice to Americans in November. Will they choose the man who supports the views of the far right on retro-fitting vaginas to suit some delusional pre-World War II view of women, who had to be shamed into allowing interracial marriage, who even now have the chutzpa to inject religious views into what is clearly a civil issue? Will they choose to elect a man who flip flops more than an Aunt Jemima pancake on a hot griddle, but whose religion is surprisingly lily-white and would deny America’s Aunt and beloved icon membership to same? And finally, will they elect a man who clearly is so out of touch with the mainstream that he believes corporations are people?

Barack Obama is not perfect to be sure. But I believe with all my heart that this man has the best interests of the American people at the top of his agenda. From his handling of the automobile crisis to the banking situation, to gay rights, he has stood his ground and done the right thing against almost insurmountable odds.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we are at a turning point in this country. There is a dangerous movement afoot by the extreme right to undo the very roots of our Constitution and put in its place a quasi-theocracy, which can only turn into tyranny. But this is not about religion; this fight is about a white patriarchy being forced to turn over the reins of power to the very groups they have so successfully oppressed for the last 200+ years. They are so fearful of becoming a minority that church pastors are now commanding their flocks to procreate in an effort to stem the tide. It’s really kind of sick.

As a case in point let’s take a look at Shaun Winkler.

  See Shaun. Shaun is running for Sheriff of Bonner County in Idaho. Shaun has lots of friends in the Ku Klux Klan. Shaun likes his friends so much that he became an Imperial Wizard.

Spot, the dog, is afraid of Shaun. So is Puff the cat.

Shaun likes fire and religion. He likes it so much that recently he invited the media to watch him burn a cross to show how much he cares. Remember, Shaun is running for Sheriff.

“We look at it more as a religious symbol”, said Shaun to his media friends. “Mainstream society looks at cross lighting as a symbol of hate, but it predates the Klan by hundreds of years”.  Shaun is correct. Emperors of ancient Rome used them to hang early Christians on and then set them on fire to provide light for their parties.

Shaun has a kinder, gentler side though. “Most people don’t know that we don’t just oppose the Jews and Negroes. We also oppose sexual predators and drugs of any kind,”
said the wizard. While he doesn’t condone the use of using humans as torches, he believes that immediate hanging is an acceptable form of punishment for drug dealers and those convicted of being sexual predators. Spot and Puff think Shaun is insane because he says that his personal beliefs won’t guide the way he would act as sheriff. Both Spot and Puff and Dick and Jane laughed until they peed themselves when he said this.

They won’t be laughing if he gets elected.

Whether you want to believe that this polarization of America is racial or not, I can’t help but believe that the vitriol I’ve seen directed at my President would not have happened if he were white. Sure the Republicans and Democrats would have bickered over issues, but that is the nature of a two party system. But this is a struggle for power to control the future of this country. And if you don’t believe that, take a good look at what Mitch McConnell said almost immediately after President Obama took office.

"The single most important thing is for Obama to be a one-term president"

That’s their goal. Not jobs, not economic growth. Their goal is to restore America to a lily-white power base and to legislate the rights of all Americans to conform to a twisted view of what they believe America should be. And you, as an American, ought to be outraged that you are being used for that purpose.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!

Friday, May 4, 2012

You've got to be taught.

The other night I was watching the movie Going My Way, which stars Bing Crosby as the hip, piano playing priest, Father Charles O’Malley. There he was, taking his ghetto kids to baseball games, pulling them off the street and forming an all-boys choir, all while saving an ailing St. Dominic’s parish from foreclosure by simply stalling the banker who held the mortgage until he could produce a hit record to pay it off. And when a fire destroys the church shortly before Christmas, Father O was not dismayed. He simply erected a makeshift chapel. His indomitable spirit was an inspiration to everyone in the movie. In the end, he is called away to rescue yet another ailing parish and leaves quietly and humbly during the Christmas Eve ceremony, but not until he sees the reunion of elderly Father Fitzgibbon and his mother, who have been separated for forty years. Every time I watch it, I think to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if that’s the way life really was?

Meanwhile, back in reality, there is Sean Harris, pastor of the Barean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, who, in last Sunday’s sermon, told his congregation that effeminate boys should be punched by their fathers and sent outside to dig ditches to make them more manly. He also suggested that if boys show signs of “limp wristedness” fathers should “Crack that wrist”. In other words, beat your kid straight.

Harris had some good, Christ-like advice for female children too. For them, he suggested that while it was alright for girls to play sports as long as they did it for the glory of God (Jesus apparently loved field hockey), girls should “girl up” afterwards and wear dresses, be pretty like a girl and “smell” like a girl, whatever that means. I’m sure he has done extensive research into how girls should smell or he wouldn’t have made such an idiotic statement, although I’m not really sure why girl-smell is important to Sean Harris when it comes to salvation. To the best of my knowledge, even though there was a seemingly wayward girl in Going My Way, Father O’Malley never smelled her in an effort to put her on the right path in life.

The impetus behind Harris’ zealous tirade was that this week, North Carolinians are voting on a bill, which if passed, would alter their state constitution and define marriage as between one man and one woman . His goal was to rile up the faithful, grab a voter registration card on the way out of the church, and register that day so they will never again have to worry about homosexuals coming in and defiling the sanctity of marriage. For that you can read the life and times of John Edwards or New Gingrich.

Ostensibly, Harris’ did the old chestnuts in his sermon; gays are an abomination, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, how God designed you to be a man or a woman and to question or alter gender was a horrible thing, etc. But I went and listened to the entire sermon, all 55 fire and brimstone minutes of it; I strongly urge that you do the same. And while the anti-gay rhetoric was as usual, repugnant, there was another overt message that was even more stunning to me; at one point, he began urging his congregants to begin cranking out babies because the Muslims were beating the Christians in that race. He actually fears that Muslims will take over the world with their sheer numbers! So his argument wasn’t so much that gay folk can’t be good parents, it’s that man on man sex can’t result in reproduction. Talk about social engineering!

Of course, Sean didn’t really spend too much time on lesbians and I suspect that was for two reasons. First, his view of how society should be structured is blatantly patriarchal. Women need to be pretty and attractive and barefoot and pregnant.  Secondly, women can reproduce, but only by a man. He doesn’t think much of artificial insemination or two moms. No, there must be a man present in the child’s life because who else is going to dole out the punches? No comment from him on those straight couples that need it to have a baby.

Sean was emphatic that everyone needs to be married and cranking out kids. He was also pretty bellicose in pushing his belief that there was no reason for divorce. “Work it out!” he screamed. Tell that to the woman whose getting beat up on a daily basis by her man or whose kids are being abused by the same.

I could go on and on about Sean Harris’ ‘sermon’, but let me wrap it up here. After it went viral on YouTube, he recanted his call to beat and punch effeminate male children on Michelangelo Signorile’s Sirius Radio talk show.

“I had no idea the video would be chopped and posted in the blogosphere in such a manner in which the entirety isn’t understood”, he said. Again, I reiterate; go to the Barean Baptist Church website and listen for yourself. I think the context is quite clear. And that brings me to the second part of this entry, which deals with the results of Sean Harris’ Godly advice.

On June 4, 2012, CeCe McDonald, a black, transgendered woman will be sentenced to three years and five months in prison for the death of Dean Schmitz, a white man, reports the Huffington Post.

Mr. Schmitz was apparently doing the work of the Lord on June 5 of last year when Ms. McDonald, who was transitioning at the time, had the audacity to walk past the bar in Minneapolis where Mr. Schmitz and some other patrons attempted to “masculinize” her by throwing a glass at her face, taunting her and her friends with epithets such as “faggots,”  “niggers” and “chicks with dicks”. Feeling threatened by Schmitz and company, Ms. McDonald defended herself and stabbed Mr. Schmitz to death.

What’s tragic about this story is that one man is dead, and a woman who by all accounts was just in the wrong place at the wrong time is now going to jail, all because of the type of hate that many churches all across America are disseminating through their congregations. And that, “Pastor” Harris, is what your kind of preaching does. Issuing a retraction may be good for covering your ass from lawsuits and DYFS investigations, but I’m guessing that you and your kind put out hate-filled speech like this regularly. The shame of it is that you do it in the name of Jesus.

So, we’ve gone from Father O’Malley’s loving care to the dirt of Sean Harris’ plan for ‘social cleansing’ in just a few short paragraphs. And since I love movies so much, I’d like to leave you with some lyrics from South Pacific.  I can’t think of a better way to address the Sean Harrises of this world.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to b e taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

That’s it. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!

You've got to be taught.