Sunday Evening Mic Check

Dr. Demento, every single Sunday, KMET radio…yeah!

Back in the day, Angelenos heard four hours of the good Doctor, from 6-10 Sunday evenings.  I played it while cleaning the kitchen, scraping roly poly fish heads into the garbage under a soundtrack of Weird Al Yankovic, George Carlin’s “Ice Box Man,” Cheech & Chong’s “Sister Mary Elephant,” and others.  My mother, passing through, sometimes broke out and sang the Doctor’s theme song, “Pico & Sepulveda.”

Through some strange quirk of fate, whenever Dr. D played Peter Alsop’s “Hopelessly Heterosexual” I was already in my room alone at my desk or lying on the bed, if not already under the covers. Admittedly, the song made me giggle a bit, especially since the singing and guitar playing were so goofy.  But at the same time, the lyrics made me feel very self-conscious.  I was glad to be alone when it played.

I’m hopelessly, heterosexual
I guess I’m kinda slow
Mom and Dad were all I had
That’s the only way I know, so
I’m hopelessly, heterosexual
I’m stuck with being straight
So man-to-man I’ll ask you
Not to ask me for a date!

This song represented one of the few discussions of homosex I encountered growing up, a subject otherwise unmentioned at home or abroad.  Mr. Alsop states on his website that the song was meant to be a farce, an ice-breaker to help lead kids with discussions about homosexuality, and how badly gays and lesbians are oppressed in society.  That’s all good, but Dr. D. didn’t spend time doing post song analyses; he just announced the credits and moved on.  So context became important, and a lack of context only made the song creepy for a young closeted black dude who hadn’t put two and two together.

Now I’m not scared to try it
But it’s not my cup of tea
I never even thought of it
Til you brought it up to me
And now that I consider it
I’d rather stay repressed
‘Cause I don’t feel excited at
The thought of you undressed!

Years earlier, on a spelunking expedition in the library or some hidden bookshelf in the house — I can’t remember which — I came upon David Reuben’s Everything you wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask).  In isolation, I wasn’t afraid to, so with the book on my lap, I asked.  And he told me:  I’m a pervert and a freak.  Swell.  Dr. Reuben also seemed strangely obsessed with the mechanics of queer sex, since nothing, in his scientific opinion, seemed to “fit.”  Interestingly, Peter Alsop’s protagonist had the same issue.  He sang with sheepish hesitancy:

But since we’re on the subject
And you know where I stand
What exactly do you do?
I guess, use your hand?
I mean, do you, how does,
What if, where will?  From behind!!
Oh well, I just, you know,
It was, (gulp!) NEVERMIND!!

Teenagers have a hard enough time adjusting to their body’s changes, its new wants and desires; queer teens even more so.  So I’m afraid the humor was lost on me.

Mike Harrison’s Harrison’s Mic aired right after Dr. Demento signed off, at 10 pm.  It was a two hours call-in show aimed at the late teen/early 20 year old crowd.  Subjects ranged from sports, to music, to homework, to advice for the lovelorn.  I listened to it in bed, lights out with the door closed.  Mike possessed a very laid back demeanor and was great at putting people at ease, making for interesting listening.

One night, someone called to discuss, in hushed, hesitant tones, their own questions about sex that they were otherwise afraid to ask.  My ears perked up with excitement.  Mike listened with a sympathetic ear, his smooth voice giving words of assurance, not judgement.  It was a revelation.  I felt like Horton that night, hearing his first Who.

I began to wonder, would he give me a sympathetic ear, too?  I wanted to talk about the hopelessly heterosexual dude, and find out if I really was as much of a freak as Dr. Reuben seemed to think I was.  Wireless phones did not exist at that time, so the phone cord snaked on the floor and coiled into my bedroom, under the closed door.  I don’t know how I got away with having the phone in my room and no one noticing, but I don’t remember getting uptight about it.  I just wanted to make that call.  I tried several times, but every time I got a busy signal and hung up with disappointment.  I had won tickets and other goodies from radio shows in the past, but Mike was a tough one to reach.  Lots of young folks stayed up until midnight listening, waiting to be listened to.

Then came that fateful time that the phone actually rang.  My heart began to pound.  Good God, am I going to be on the air? It rang and rang and finally a female voice answered, Mike’s producer.  She asked a question, but I don’t know what.  I couldn’t hear her for the alarm bells going off in my head.  What if someone I know is listening to this show and recognizes my voice?  My heart pounded in my dry throat.

And I hung up.

For many months afterwards, I continued to listen to the show every week, but without the phone in the room.  I never tried calling again.  I listened and waited for someone else to talk about the gay thing.  I don’t think anyone ever did again, but I waited.

I can’t look at his face

I can’t look at his face.  It’s too young and too fresh and too new.  I can’t look at his face.  It’s untested, unchallenged.  There are so many first lights he did not get to see, so many mountains he did not get to climb, or even envision, so many triumphs he did not get to claim.

I can’t look at his face.  It’s young and black, as mine was once upon a time, and I remember that face.  It beamed from the praise heaped upon it when UCLA said, come, study here.  It laughed at nonsense and hung out with friends.  It grimaced in disgust over problems profound and mundane.  It hadn’t learned to tell the difference between the two, yet.  (It’s still learning.)

I can’t look at his face.  Mine has seen nearly 30 more years.  His face could belong to my son, if I had one.  I cannot imagine loving a son like that and then his photograph being  the only reminder of his existence.  I’d go mad.

I can’t look at his face.  I cowardly scroll the screen so that his face is removed from view  as I squint my eyes and I read the account of his final moments on this earth.  Then I click away to some other page.  Insulation from not-going-there shields for a time, but wears thin over time.  “Seen this movie before” is a cruel cliche, the litany of names of those who had similar faces a travesty.

I can’t look at his face, and then console myself with “well, he’s in a better place.”  Hell, no.  A better place would be his bedroom.  A better place would be in the kitchen helping with the dishes or clamoring for dinner.  A better place would be with his mother and father, who were clearly a part of his life, bonding, learning, growing.  A better place would be with his friends, his girlfriend, his schoolmates, his teachers.  A better place would be watching stupid television, playing video games, reading books, surfing the web, tweeting, calling on his cell phone in ecstasy or boredom, not in fear.  Those are the “better places” for growing 17 year olds waiting to make their debuts in the world.

I can’t look at his face, because I don’t want to think about why the young man who owned it no longer walks this earth.  I don’t want to imagine the fear the face expressed, contorting so beaming a face into mortal terror, faced with a problem he should never have encountered.  I can’t look at his face because of the senseless, horrid, cruel, meaningless, disgusting, dirty, cowardly way it was taken from his parents and friends.  I can’t think about the evil force that so casually dispatched him.  I can’t think about the way, days and weeks later, no one of authority gave a good hoot about why this young man’s face is no longer on the planet.  I can’t live with yet another reminder that this type blatant, naked racism still haunts this nation 147 years after a Civil War that supposedly dealt with this issue; and with yet another example of the consequences of so many people still not believing that that war was about what it was about.

I can’t look at his face because it confirms that Baratunde Thurston was correct when he proclaimed that post-racialism is “some bullshit.”  Having a black man in the White House could not save this young man, because attitudes have not changed, unequal legal enforcement has not changed, gun-happy laws that empower those with guns to have at it have not changed.

I can’t look at his face because the weight of all this becomes overwhelming, and I despair.  But I must look, to honor his memory, to witness his death, to pledge not to forget, to strive not to let it happen again anywhere.

Trayvon Martin, age 17.

The author at age 18.

 

The Lies of a Storyteller – The Trouble with Mike Daisey

I received some nice feedback for my short story “Clyde” published a few weeks ago.  Thank you for that, and thanks to everyone for reading my stuff.  I truly appreciate it.

A friend asked if “Clyde” was in fact a true story.  I said quickly, unequivocally, and publicly (on Facebook) that it was a work of fiction.  It is so labeled on the site, but I can see how that might be missed.  The characters, Clyde, the nameless narrater, Reverend Schlep, all exist only as pixels on the screen, the result of shadows in my mind which I crystalized into words and sentences.  Because the story has verisimilitude — anti-gay bullying, sadly, is a fact of life — I do not feel a need to say it is “based on a true story” for it to be taken seriously; nor would I say such a thing for the sake of potentially getting a bigger audience.  To do so, in my view, would be the quick and easy path to success, one traveled many times, but one that ultimately strands you in a ditch.

I followed the initial Mike Daisey story about potential work place abuses at an Apple-contracted factory in China from afar, but with some interest.  I am, after all, a good, artsy Mac-using queen, so I felt I should be aware.  And the story itself is not entirely new.  There have been other accounts of employee abuses at Chinese plants contracted to manufacture iPhones and iPods.  I expect Mr. Daisey’s account received so much attention because of the details it contained — child labor, armed security guards, a worker with hands mangled from making iPads, and the like — and also, too, from the level of artistry with which he presented these disturbing stories during his one-man stage show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”  Mr. Daisey went on various news shows, including PBS’s This American Life and MSNBC’s The Ed Schultz Show, to discuss his findings, the result of a six-day visit to the city of Shenzhen, home of the Foxconn factory that makes Apple products.  He discussed his findings as journalistic facts.

The only problem, as we all know now, is that the most lurid details of abuse were all fictitious.  At first Mr. Daisey claimed the mantel of “artistic license.”  Then he back-peddled a bit and revised his show.  Even now, though, he appears to be more upset at being caught than at what he did, complaining on his own blog that folks are more upset about the fabrications than about the situation at the factories.  He writes:

Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made.

He also complains about being compared to infamous fabulists Stephen Glass, the fired  reporter from The New Republic, and James Frey, the disgraced memoirist.

Well, if the keyboard fits.

In his introductory comments on This American Life’s episode on the Mike Daisey controversy, titled Retraction, Ira Glass discusses the fact checking done, and not done, by the show prior to its first program with Mr. Daisey.  In particular,  the show had requested contact info for the translator that Mr. Daisey worked with in Shenzhen for corroboration.  Mr. Daisey said that the translator’s cell phone did not work anymore, so that she could not be reached.  The source, in other words, was unavailable.  Damn, if that doesn’t smack of Stephen Glass!  Unlike a Stephen Glass source, though, the translator was not a figment of the imagination.  She does exist and eventually was contacted by reporter Rob Schmitz, Marketplaces’s China correspondent, blowing Mr. Daisey’s story out of the water.

So here’s the deal.  Stephen Glass, James Frey, fired New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, and many others, it can be argued, committed their excesses solely in the name of self-aggrandizement.  “Love me!” they blared on their big trombones, and we listened and believed, even when the notes went decidedly off key.  Does Mr. Daisey, however, have an out because his excesses were motivated by altruism?  Hardly.  If anything, by blurring the lines between what is and what isn’t, he may have damaged the cause he cares so much about.

Remember that controversy way back in 1993 about violence against women and the Super Bowl?  The claim was that Super Bowl Sunday saw a drastic spike in cases of domestic violence, purportedly making it the most dangerous night of the year for women.  Turns out to have been a myth, and a long lived one that continues to the present day, according to an article by The Daily Caller from just over a year ago.  The article quotes Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who warns about the dangers of exaggerated claims to promote awareness of a cause.

Sommers explained to The Daily Caller that while such dramatizations may serve a purpose for some activists, domestic violence is too serious a problem for such exaggerations and opportunism.

“Women who are at risk for domestic violence are going to be helped by state of the art research and good information,” she said. “They are not going to be helped by hyperbole and manufactured data.”

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/02/01/super-bowl-domestic-violence-myth-persists/#ixzz1pdIvByBC

If Mr. Daisey had told Ira Glass, Ed Schultz, and others, that no, not everything in the play was 100% true, that he mixed and matched bits of info on working conditions in Chinese factories from various sources, that many of the characters were, in fact, made up, that would have been one thing.  But since he went on record saying that the material was based on factual information he gleaned by talking to workers at and near the Foxconn facility, his work, then, is required to adhere to strict journalistic standards and a fidelity to the truth.  In other words, you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t say that your material is based on actual stories told by actual workers on the one hand and then, when that is proven to be a lie, claim artistic license on the other.  The cheat comes from blurring the line between fact and fiction and not coming clean about what’s what.  To maintain credibility, you can’t do that.

I have the DVD for “Shattered Glass,” the 2003 movie based on the Vanity Fair article of the same name about the fall of Stephen Glass.  Great flick.  I recommend it for every HR director in the country.  As an extra, the DVD includes an interview Mr. Glass gave “60 Minutes” years after his fall when he was on a mea culpa tour, which coincidentally coincided with the release of his novel “The Fabulist.”  During the interview, he explained that he began his fabrication binge when, while working on a story, he realized that if he had just the right quote to end it with, the story would be perfect.  Lacking the quote, he made one up.

So it would seem to be the case for Mr. Daisey.  Lacking what he felt were enough stories to damn Apple and its use of the Foxconn facility, he made stuff up.  Again, to maintain credibility, for yourself and your subject, you can’t do that.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Mike Daisey could have written a play about atrocious working conditions at tech factories in China based on the facts at hand, but embellished with artistic flourish, including fictional characters — Clydes, if you will — to give the story grist.  By using the facts as a starting point, he could have put artistic license to good use and in the process captured the larger truths the story had to tell about First World countries foisting working conditions they would never accept for themselves upon countries hungry for increased development.  Hell, he even could have still called it “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” a catchy title which connects Apple and similar companies with the abuses documented at their suppliers’ factories.  The trouble is that Mr. Daisey didn’t stop there.  He went on a vendetta, against Apple and against Foxconn.  He wanted, as Rob Schmitz reports, a simple, A-B-C story that would draw an instant and immediate response:

[Adam Minter, a columnist for Bloomberg who has visited over 150 Chinese factories] says Daisey’s become a media darling because he’s used an emotional performance to focus on a much simpler message:

“Foxconn bad. iPhone bad. Sign a petition. Now you’re good,” Minter says. “That’s a great simple message and it’s going to resonate with a public radio listener.”

Storytelling is an ancient human tradition.  It comes in many forms and shapes.  In his blog entry, Mr. Daisey even calls Ira Glass’s “Retraction” story a form of storytelling.  Indeed, some of our best storytellers have been and are journalists.  Even within the realm of fiction, though, storytelling has rules which must be adhered to, the biggest being “Thou shalt not claim fiction as fact.”  To do otherwise is cheating.

I take offense at cheaters because, well, I don’t.  As hard as it is to get fiction published, I still don’t cheat and I admire and emulate others who operate by the same maxim.  It doesn’t matter the reason for cheating, altruism, self-aggrandizement, or some amalgam of the two, it’s still cheating.  And a storyteller must never cheat his or her audience.

A Killer Named Ignorance

The circumstance behind Tyler Clementi’s death sickens me to the core.  A young man with a shy smile and a whole life ahead of him ended his own life after his homosexuality was posted on the internet for all the world to see.  How was his gayness placed on the internet?  His roommate at Rutgers, Dharun Ravi, thought it would be fascinating (interesting?  titillating?  fun? who knows) to set his webcam to tape Tyler having sex with a date in their dorm room, and then to tweet the taping to others.

A jury has now found Ravi guilty of “invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest.”  He could face up to 10 years in prison and deportation to his native India, because he is in the US on a green card and non-citizen felons usually get deported.

I cannot recall seeing anything resembling remorse on the part of Mr. Ravi during this whole sad affair.  The young man seems arrogantly in denial of what has occurred, a young man bullied into committing suicide, and how his actions led to that horrible act.  Even during the trial he could have taken a plea bargain, which would have spared him possible jail time and deportation.  But no, he refused to take it.  He seemed hellbent to defend himself, to clear his good name.  That he thought he had a good name to defend boggles the mind.  Mr. Ravi is as clueless as he is, apparently, remorseless.

But a comment his attorney Steven Altman made stuck out for me and demonstrated that the cluelessness is not limited to Mr. Ravi.  The prosecution charged, and successfully proved, that Mr. Ravi acted out of antigay bias, that he wanted to intimidate and humiliate Tyler because he was gay.  Mr. Altman countered by saying during closing arguments,

“He hasn’t lived long enough to have any experience with homosexuality or gays. He doesn’t know anything about it. He just graduated high school.”

As ridiculous as that statement is, I can sadly see some truth in it.  It’s possible that Dharun Ravi lived a sheltered life which had little or no exposure to homosexuality.  He grew up in Plainboro, New Jersey, just a stone’s through from New York City, in a family that could probably be described as well off.  But never mind that.  Let’s assume for argument’s sake that what his attorney asserted is true, that Mr. Ravi really was not exposed to “others” until he got to Rutgers.  This still doesn’t excuse Mr. Ravi’s apparent lack of a moral compass, but that’s not what struck me when I read his attorney’s statement.  Rather, I saw instantly another example of the invisibility of queerness and the consequences it produces.  Homosexuality has always been and largely continues to be treated as an “adult” thing.  One does not “become” gay until 18.  There are no such things as gay pre-teens or even teens.  You wake up one day on or after your 18th birthday and BOING! you realize that you’re gay.  That’s how it works, right?

Well, no.  That’s how society would like to portray the issue.  But reality is something quite different.  Some of us have very vivid memories of attractions to the same sex, long before hitting the big 1-8.  Some of us have painful memories of how we rejected those feelings or hated ourselves for them.  Some of us had to claw our way through a lot of bullshit to realize that we weren’t evil wretches bound for hell.  Some of us even possess, nestled with the thorns of youth, triumphs, stolen kisses or just intimate glances.  Some lucky ones defied the bigots and lived lives out of the closet at an early age with the support and encouragement of family and friends, maybe even attending the prom.  Some of us have blogged about our experiences growing up gay.

I call it the Little Johnny double standard.  When Little Johnny likes Little Sally, it’s all “awwws” and “ain’t that cute.”  But when Little Johnny likes Little Timmy, it’s something less than positive.

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill calling for California schools to include LGBT history in their curriculums.  “History should be honest,” the Governor said at the time.  Honesty and education will go a long way not only in helping future Tyler Clementis accept themselves and love themselves, but it might also help prevent future, “sheltered” Dharun Ravis from turning into cowardly bigots who bully and torment people they don’t understand or accept.  Education is the only true weapon we have.  We must use it for things to get better.

A Lady Stands Up for My Sacred Sperm – Another Comment from Mr. Richard Foote-Long

Hello, this is Richard Foote-Long again.  Now, you little ladies out there scoffed at the sentiments of my last little commentary about the necessity of protecting My Sacred Sperm.  You demonstrated your disdain for my beliefs by the way you treated that great soldier of the cause Rush Limbaugh.  Mr. Limbaugh finds himself fighting to hold onto advertisers to pay for his fine programming, all because he called a spade a spade in regards to women who refuse to see the value and necessity of protecting My Sacred Sperm.  For shame, for shame.

But guess who gets to have the last laugh now?  A brave lady, a patriot in the highest degree, a saint of femininity, has come forth to further the cause to protect and defend My Sacred Sperm.  That’s right.  A member of the fairer sex.  Who is this wise woman?  I am talking about Arizona State Representative Debbie Lesko, the Majority Whip in the Arizona State House of Representatives.  That’s who I’m talking about.  This saintly lady has taken it upon herself to write, promote, and advance a bill which will empower employers of proper moral fiber to defend My Sacred Sperm from that vile creation known as The Pill.  You may recall from my first commentary, that I labeled the Pill the worst of the worst, the most obscene form of genocide against My Sacred Sperm.  Well, Ms. Lesko, a lady, clearly must agree.  So I have three words for you scoffing women:  Ha, ha, ha.

Ms. Lesko’s law will allow righteous employers to fire women who use the Pill for sexual purposes, in other words as a sperm killer.  Women could only use the Pill if they are treating legitimate medical needs.  Now I am a simple man and not a doctor, therefore I do not concern myself with those areas of the female anatomy not fit for public discussion.  So I cannot imagine any scenario where a woman would need to take the Pill.  If medical reasons do exist, however, then so be it.  This bill will allow the Pill to be used for such purposes, but not to threaten the work of My Sacred Sperm.  In other words, under the terms and conditions of this bill, it is OK for ladies to take the Pill so long as they also take a vow of abstinence.  Saintly ladies will always chose abstinence under the right circumstances.

So you see, all the ballyhoo about women’s rights and “birth control” — which we really know is just sperm control — is just a smoke screen for certain women to bully men.  Saintly ladies like Ms. Lesko, who adhere to the rule of LAW, know that My Sacred Sperm deserves deference and respect.  You women who think otherwise may have won a battle by scaring away Mr. Limbaugh’s advertisers, but you have not won the war.

Ms. Lesko’s bill has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so it is moving right along.  I salute Ms. Lesko and her efforts to protect My Sacred Sperm.

This has been Richard Foote-Long, and please, call me Dick.

The Romeo/Juliet Peep Show

The magic, they say, happens after the lights dim and the images begin to flicker on the screen.  In this case, though, for most, there would be little magic as the story was already known.  But for others who were young like me, black like me, and torn asunder by my queer loins like me, the movie represented the quintessential combination of anticipation and dread.

Somehow viewing Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet at some now-forgotten movie house became a ritual for the English classes at my school.  Seems like we did it at least twice, if not three times.  Field trips were commonplace at this school.  Once a few of the science classes went to the scene of a recently extinguished wildfire to observe how some plants have adapted to thrive and propagate in such a harsh environment.  We had no gym, so for physical ed sometimes we took a quick hop to a local skating rink and worked out to the Stones’ “Start Me Up” or other hits of the day.  Sometimes we went to Griffith Park and hiked in the hills.  Once a group of us made it all the way to the Observatory — and got in big trouble upon our return for making the group late getting back to school because of our extended sojourn.  The R & J trip saw the English teachers leading the pack.  I expect we had read the famous tragedy aloud beforehand in class, though I can’t recall now.  We often read the classics aloud in class, each of us taking parts.

The repeat viewing I do recall.  Though I’m sure most were glad to get away from the campus and do something different, that didn’t stop them from grumbling about seeing such a “nerdy” film.  Star Wars had already changed the film landscape by that point, so expectations for film watching were correspondingly higher.  Nope! my English teacher declared with her characteristic, ever-present smile, we’re watching a classic.  I didn’t mind the trip or the film and remembered it from the year before, though a phantom menace did shadow me, which I kept closely guarded.

These were the days before iPods, iPads, cell phones, and their ancillary activities, shuffling, texting, and tweeting.  But as with all kids of all ages, means of distraction were always at hand.  There were the old school handheld video games like Football or Star Hawk, their distinctive beeps immortalized on such tunes as Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” and The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.”  But then there was always good old-fashioned chewing the fat with your friends.  The teacher-guardians did their best to control both distractions, though at times the rowdiness reached a crescendo.

One such crescendo, the rowdiest, occurred about midway through the film.  I’ve since learned that it is a rather famous scene and one which caused quite a stir when the film debuted in 1968.  I didn’t know this at the time.  I just knew that for me, it caused the usual conflicts.  There they were, the two star-crossed lovers rising out of bed, the glow of morning light and youthful innocence upon their supple skin, strings playing the theme tenderly, all of this telling us that love making had taken place.  Then, Juliet turns around and shows a glimpse of her breasts, unobstructed by clothing.  Cue the howls and catcalls!  Hubba-hubba, woo-woo!  The guardians did nothing; it’s best to let some tempests pass on their own accord.

I sat in smugness, unmoved by the sight, falsely bestowing a maturity on my brow which I did not deserve. Perhaps my jaded detachment was a defense mechanism, a way of showing control over my groin which the deepest part of me knew, under the right circumstances, did not exist.  I longed for control, though, knowing what did stoke my fire.  Mr. Spock’s discipline served me well, at least superficially, though in reality it only delayed the day of reckoning, my ability to look in the mirror and see through the oneway glass that projected the false reflection I held for everyone else’s gaze.

After Juliet removed herself from bed, her beauty for all to see, her lover rose, his back to the camera and no clothing to hide his small, tight, well-formed ass from view.  It was the moment I secretly longed for, and then it was gone.  Two events interrupted my turn at hubba woo-woo.  First, the picture suddenly went to dark, even as the soundtrack continued.  Second, before the picture vanished, the crowd reaction was loud and absolute, even more so than for Juliet’s skin scene.  Eeeewwww!  Don’t look!  I ain’t no faggot, I ain’t looking!  And so on.

I strove for continued nonchalance.  Glancing behind me, I saw someone I knew who was a year ahead of me, sitting calming with his arm over some girl’s shoulder.  His face wore a bemused look.  Looking at him calmed me a little.  He possessed the detachment and maturity I longed for.  Neither Juliet’s T or Romeo’s A moved him to act out in any particular fashion.  I identified with his comportment and though others may have thought I possessed it as well, I knew that I did not.  For his inner calm came from the security of knowing and acknowledging who he was.  He sat with his girlfriend and they enjoyed the movie, to the extent possible with the raucous crowd in attendance.  My inner calm, however, was just a front.  I sat alone, knowing that I belonged to the group derisively called out once the man ass appeared on screen.  I was part of their ire and verbal assaults.  I longed to look at the scene, before the blackness truncated it.  Therefore, I was the faggot.  And the homo-bashing catcalls only strengthened my resolve to stay hidden from myself.

All was not totally lost, however.  Hope, though dormant, existed.  The picture eventually returned, still in the bedroom, still a glimmer of Romeo’s butt to be seen before he clothed himself.  And something else happened.  As the crowd simmered down and the rest of the movie flickered before us, I began to stew a bit.  Did they deliberately turn off the projector light when Romeo came on the screen, ass and all?  Did they aid and abet the homophobes?  I got cross thinking about it.  Why censor his ass when Juliet’s tits were there for all to see?  It’s good that I felt cross.  It meant that part of me even at that time recognized that I had as much right to hubba-hubba woo-woo as everyone else.  My indignation should have given me cause to hope that things would in fact get better.

Marriage Equality and the Turn of the Tide

February was a remarkable month for marriage equality.  Three state legislatures passed bills to allow same-sex couples to marry:  Washington, New Jersey, and Maryland.  In Washington and Maryland, the bills passed by an average of 54%.  This jibes with a Gallup poll from May of last year which showed, for the first time, majority support for marriage equality at 53%.

Yesterday, the Washington Blade reported that a growing number of Democratic senators — 22 at this writing — are calling for the Democratic Party national platform to include support for marriage equality.

And in a total switch-a-roo, in my poor, beleaguered state of California, a recent Field Poll found that a record 59% of registered California voters support gay marriage.  In 2008, vile Prop. 8, which ended gay marriage in the Golden State four months after it began, passed by 52% of the vote.  In the same Huffington Post article, Rebekah Orr of Equality California cautions that while the Field Poll results are all well and good, the poll covered registered, not likely, voters.  She notes that a similar poll in 2008 found that register voters approved of marriage equality by about 51%.  Still, 59 is better than 51; one can hope and speculate that the percentage of likely voters also increased by a similar amount.  Meanwhile, Prop. 8 itself continues to take a beating in the judiciary.  In this take-no-prisoners ruling, the adults have spoken:

Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.

We’ve come a long way, baby.  In 1996, fearing a repeat of the 1994 beating from Republicans, President Clinton quietly signed the silly and harmful Defense of Marriage Act.  President Clinton has since repudiated the act.  In 2004, part of the President Bush reelection strategy was to put anti-gay marriage initiatives in ballots across the country to draw conservatives out to the polls.  Sadly, the cynical and divisive tactic worked.  Today, one of the architects of this plan, Ken Mehlman, is not only out of the closet, but remorseful about his role in that campaign.

There is still much work to be done, and the progress made in Washington and New Jersey can sadly be undone by Sons of Prop. 8 initiatives in those two states.  Indeed, the whole culture war business that the Republican Party seems to be engaged in at the moment — including of all things anti-contraception rhetoric — only proves how much things have changed.  The change has provoked a strong reaction.  Opponents to change know they are losing.  They know that there will be more Februarys in the future, more state legislatures passing marriage equality bills.  Therefore, they are fighting harder and nastier than ever to stop it.

The nasties will continue their campaign against history, but will ultimately fail.  All we have to do is keep up the vigilance in the face of hate.

Clyde

When I was about 13 I had to endure a week at Reverend Schlep’s Summer Camp for Men and Boys.  It’s a right of passage in my family.  My grandfather took my father.  My father took my older brothers Mark and Karl, Jr., when they reached the right age.  Now it was my turn.  If you were wondering if the bastard must be an old fart, then yeah, that would be the right answer.

Reverend Schlep was this tall, fat man with knotted white hair on his head and on his chin.  He had no mustache.  He shouted so much that some of his spit would fly from his lips; the rest lingered around his mouth and crusted in his beard.  He looked like a rabid dog.  The wrinkles on his face came from scowls, not smiles.  Reverend Schlep rarely smiled, though he did have a sick laugh that he used to mock others with.

Reverend Schlep scared the shit out of me.  He screamed almost every word that came out of his foul mouth.  He kept the words in check when he preached.  But anywhere else he swore like a merchant marine.  He beat his kids and his wife, so the story goes.  So you can see why my dad got the habit.  She ended up committing suicide.

Sometimes old man Schlep would haul off and hit people during the sermon, if he felt like it.  The Lord told him to, he would say, and no one would question him.  But verbal abuse was his main weapon.  Women were his main targets.  Despite being a total misogynist fuck he had several “saintly ladies,” as he calls them, to take care of his needs.  Sometimes, I swear I saw bruises on them, too.

I had hoped that the old fart would have croaked before it was time for me to go to this camp of his.  He was big as a house, so I was sure his heart wouldn’t be able to take much more of the abuse his body gave it.  But he hung on.  Death didn’t want him anymore that I did.  He was older and slower, and he used a cane part of the time, but he could still get out into the woods with his flock of fledgling boys and their hopeful fathers.  My father wanted to go.  He went with the older brothers when it was their turn.  But he couldn’t get out of work that weekend, so I went solo.  That was a blessing, of sorts.  At least I wouldn’t have to worry about him riding my ass during the trip.  But he did give me a stern warning about not embarrassing the family name in front of Schlep.  Sounds familiar, don’t it?

Well, I didn’t let my old man down and I didn’t catch the wrath of old man Schlep.  I hauled ass that entire trip.  When we first got there, we had to do this hella long hike.  So right, we’re up in the Sierras like 6,000 feet or some shit like that, and we start off on this long hike.  Schlep didn’t lead it; one of the fathers did.  Most of us had never been so high up before in our lives, so we were struggling.  A few of the kids passed out, including this one guy.  I’ll get back to him.  But anyway, the story is that I pressed on.  I was nearly out on my ass, too, but I made it through the hike.  And after that, I set up my tent the fastest.  I gathered more firewood.  I did all the shit.  They weren’t gonna call me the sissy.

Alright, so this kid that fainted.  His name was Clyde.  Why is it that the guys who get it the most in life have to have nerdy names like ‘Clyde’ to make it that much worse?

Clyde was about my height, that is about 5′ 9″ or so, but he wasn’t stocky like me.  He had a narrow little rear, twig arms, a long neck, with a dominant Adam’s apple.  He had thin blond hair parted on one side and a narrow face with eyes that were kinda too big for it.  And he had a long, thin nose.  He wore these big old glasses with heavy, dark rims.  Basically, he was a geek.

So Clyde was one of the guys that collapsed on that first hike.  He just passed out.  I think the thin air got to him.  One of the other adults had to take him back to camp.  I heard that Reverend Schlep gave him a tongue-lashing.  Clyde did his chores alright.  Schlep always made sure to give him jobs that required some muscle – jobs like carrying the water to camp or moving boulders into a circle for campfires.  He did the best he could.  He was wiry, and determined to do right so that helped make up for his lack of strength.  You could tell that he was out of his league on a lot of it.  The one thing that he did do well was cook.  The night he was on the cooking team was the night we all ate the best.  He took simple stuff like canned refried beans and seasoned them into a meal.  After that, I thought hell, we should just let him cook.  He certainly seemed happier when he did.  But cooking was not one of the emphasized activities.  It’s girl’s work.  And men only did it when they had to.  Since Schlep didn’t bring any of his “saintly ladies” on the trip we had to take turns cooking.

The only other time when Clyde seemed happy was in the evening, before lights out, and everyone could pretty much do their own thing.  Some guys gathered in circles and talked about girls.  Some went to bed early.  The fathers and Reverend Schlep usually talked about something over at the benches to themselves.  But Clyde invariably sat alone in his tent with a flashlight reading a book.  No one would talk to him, unless they had to.  No one would kick it with him.  The first couple of nights, I hung with some of the other guys while they talked about girls.  It amused me.  I already knew the truth about myself.  But on the third night, after Clyde really did wonders with the dinner, I got curious about him.  It wasn’t romantic; anyway he totally didn’t seem queer to me.  But that wasn’t it.  I was just interested in him.  I guess you could say I admired him, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  I knew I was putting on a show at this thing, being all butch and shit.  I mean, I am athletic, you know what I’m saying.  But I was just putting on a front so that when I got home my dad wouldn’t beat the shit out of me.  Clyde wasn’t putting on a show.  He did the bare minimum and then went on being Clyde, despite how he got treated for it.  I don’t think I could have done that.

So right, on the third night, I went up to his tent and stood over him as he read.  He ignored me.  He usually didn’t say nothing unless you said something to him first.  So finally, I said ‘hi.’  And he said, ‘hi’ without looking up.  I asked him how it was going, and he ‘it’s going’ in a flat tone.  I nodded.  He was lying on his sleeping bag with his body in his tent, and his head and arms sticking out holding the book in his hand.  The flashlight lantern was sitting to his left.  I ask ‘Mind if I sit down.’  He didn’t say nothing for a moment.  Then he said, ‘I can’t stop you.’  So I sat down.  He just kept reading.  Didn’t say a word.  Finally, I leaned over to see what he was reading.  Poetry.

“Gertrude Stein,” he said, then he added, “Ever heard of her?”

I shook my head.

“Thought so.”

He was being a prick, in addition to being a nerd, and if I had been one of the other boys, I probably would have kicked the shit out of him.  But I wasn’t down with that, so I just kept sitting next to him.

“You like poetry?” he asked.

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Who do you like?”

I told him Poe, then I mentioned Langston Hughes, and that impressed him.  I actually had only started reading some Langston Hughes, so I didn’t know him too well.  But just saying the name was enough to break the ice with Clyde.

“Come on.  Lie down beside me.  Let’s read,” he said.

And I got in the tent with him, and we read.  After a while, we took turns reading passages to each other.  This went on for the next few nights.  During the day, I tried to help Clyde with his chores as well as doing my own.  Some of the other guys thought I was crazy, helping the nerd and tiring myself out.  But they didn’t give me too much grief over it.  I still had their respect, for the most part.  I didn’t care.  I liked Clyde.  He was a decent human being, and he liked to read.  In fact, he’s the reason I really got into reading.

One night, he came to my tent kinda excited, for Clyde.  He didn’t really get what you could call excited about much.  But he asked me if I ever read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and I told him no.  So he sat down next to me and we started to read it.  He really loved that book.

It’s a short book and it reads really fast.  I don’t think I’ve read a book more depressing, but still it was cool reading it with Clyde because he was so into it.

So, right, the last night.  Schlep has this ritual, that none of us knew about.  The fathers knew, but they didn’t tell us.  It’s an honor thing not to tell any of the initiates about it.  He gathered us all around in the campfire, like we did every night, and did one of his misogynist tirades.  Then when he finished, one of the fathers gave him this white rectangular box.  He held it tight in his wizened fingers.  He leaned forward to speak to us with this harsh whisper.

“This dress,” he said, “has been worn by every single sissy that has ever defiled this campground.  Every year, I pick a boy from the group who hasn’t earned his manhood, and make him wear this dress.  It goes to the boy who hasn’t followed God’s wishes in fulfilling his obligation to himself, or his fellow man.  This year, I give the dress to the boy who has repeated failed in nearly everything he does, who has faltered on every hike taken, and who has shown that he possesses no manly skills whatsoever.”

I sat smug.  I knew it wasn’t me.  I kicked ass on all the hikes.  I even lead a couple.  And I won the arm-wrestling competition the night before.  I knew that dress wasn’t meant for me.  Reverend Schlep rose his cane to point out the infidel.  As you could probably guess, he pointed at Clyde.  He looked perplexed and so did I.  ‘Cause I’ll tell you something, Clyde basically became one of Schlep’s ‘saintly ladies.’  A lot of the shit he did, he did for that asshole.  So now he reward was to have to wear this dress.  And boy was he nasty about it.

“Come on, boy,” Schlep ordered, “take the dress.  Put it on.”

The other boys started to chant, slowly.

Siiiiiissy-boooooy. . .Siiiiiiiissy-booooooy. . .Siiiiiissy-booooooooy. . .

Clyde stood up and slowed, awkwardly started to take off his clothes, in front of everyone, exposing his thin, wiry, underdeveloped body.  The cat calls started.

Check those legs out!  OOOoooooo-eeeeeeee!!

Finally, with a final awkward turn, he slipped the dress over his head.  He was barefoot.  He looked around anxiously at the pack of wolves that surrounded him.  I started to feel weird in my stomach.

“Come on, girly-boy!  Walk around!  Show us how you look!”  Reverend Schlep chided.

The whistles and cat calls came on full force, as Clyde started to walk around inside the circle, prodded and pushed first by Reverend Schlep’s cane, then by the sticks of various boys in the circle.  The fathers stood outside the circle, arms crossed, and smiled, probably relieved that it wasn’t their son.

“Here!  Put on some shoes, woman!”

Schlep threw some high-heeled pumps at Clyde, and he bent over and slipped them on.  He stumbled worse than ever in the fuck-me pumps.

“Look at him!  He’s a natural!  A natural whore!”

I looked at Clyde, with his goofy glasses and gaunt, pale face, and his wiry fingers sticking out of a laced cuff on his dress of chiffon.  Then I looked at the faces of the boys making the cat calls.  Their faces started to take on some of the same wrinkles and the same creases that Reverend Schlep’s face had.  Young Schleps.  I was suddenly surrounded by a group of Reverend Schleps.  I wanted to end this scene, to scream at all of them, but my voice failed me, like in those nightmares you have when you want to yell out, but you can’t.  I stared into Clyde’s face.  I don’t know what the rest of them saw, but I saw a man in pure hell.  I had never seen someone so ripped apart.  It was painful to see.  And I couldn’t do a damn thing, ‘cause if I had then they’d tell my old man that I defended the sissy boy, the one that got the dress.  And he would have killed me.  What a fucking loser I am.

I didn’t see Clyde that night.  We didn’t read together, so we didn’t finish ‘Catcher.’

The next morning I heard all this chatter and shit.  At first I thought folks were packing up, but that wasn’t it.  I stuck my head out of my tent and I heard them saying Clyde’s name over and over.  I could hear it echo all over the place.  It was kinda weird hearing so many people calling him, when hardly anyone called his name during the whole damn trip.

I got my clothes on fast and went out.  I asked one of the other kids what was up.  He told me Clyde had disappeared.  His tent was empty and no one knew where he was.  I ran to his tent and looked.  I saw his books stacked in the corner and his sleeping bag all rolled out and everything nice and neat, just like he usually kept it.  I jogged my head around.  I saw the fathers walking out among the trees, and many of the boys out with them.  Then I saw Schlep on one of the benches, sort of slumped over and leaning on his cane.  I sort of walked towards him.  I only thought he looked old before.  Now he looked like death on a dinner roll.  I thought I heard him muttering to himself.  Then someone screamed, you know, the blood-curdling kind.  Schlep looked up and I turned and ran.  I hauled ass to get to where the scream came from.  I never ran so fast in my life, up to that point.

And I came to the edge of this incline and saw down where one of the boys had gone.  I sort of scooted down and joined him.  He was leaning against a tree and I held on to it, too.  Below there, on the rocks, was Clyde’s body.  I swear I saw red.  The boy next to me was freaked.  I just couldn’t take my eyes of him.  I became transfixed.  Nothing else existed.  All I could see was Dead Clyde and all I could hear was the sound of the stream he body was lying in and the wind in the trees above.

One of the fathers came from behind.  He yelled at us to go back to camp.  And I just turned to him real slow and said in a real even tone, “Clyde is dead.”  Just like that.  I said, “Clyde is dead,” just like if I had said, “Oranges are orange.”  No lie.  I was gone.

I took the other boy, who was crying like a baby, and brought him to his father.  Schlep the Murderer was still slumped over on the bench, sort of aging before our eyes, like that dude from the Twilight Zone episode.

I went back to my tent.  I didn’t know what else to do but pack up.  When I started to pick shit up, that’s when I found it.  Clyde had left ‘Catcher’ for me, and I didn’t even realize it.  Inside was a note, two words on a torn piece of paper:  Finish It.  That’s when I closed my tent and started to cry.

The Silent Genocide: A Special Guest Commentary by Mr. Richard Foote-Long

(Ed.’s Note:  This guest commentary is best read while whistling “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”)

I write in support of a silent victim, one so denigrated that its silent screams often go unheard.  Even those who defend life to the utmost are deaf to the plight of these literally millions of victims.  If not murdered outright, these silent soldiers of humanity are prevented by unnatural means from fulfilling its destiny and purpose.  For many long years this has been the case, but no longer.  Thanks to stalwart soldiers such as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Congressman Darrell Issa, and others, the plight of these victims is silent no more.   These brave men have shown true courage and exercised an unfailing resolve to protect that which is most precious and dear:  My Sacred Sperm.

My Sacred Sperm brings forth life from lifelessness.  Now, you young ladies like to go on about your nine-month ordeal and about motherhood.  Motherhood is a most precious thing indeed, it is true.  But without the proper injection of My Sacred Sperm, the subject of motherhood is moot.

For too long, men have had to contend with methods not mentioned or sanctioned in any sacred text that prevent My Sacred Sperm from fulfilling its destiny.  First there was the sheepskin.  While it wasn’t the perfect barrier, it did create an undue obstacle.  My Sacred Sperm is to roam freely.  It is strong enough to handle what could only be described as a hostile environment, provided that no other obstacles are put in its path. The sheepskin, however, is not the end of the story.  Not content to leave well enough alone, next came the prophylactic of rubber, a torturous device that captures, contains, and smothers the life out of My Sacred Sperm.

These prophylactics, as vile as they are, do require the male partner’s willing participation.  Now, upright men such as myself would never be cowed into wearing such apparatuses on our person.  Undaunted, the enemies of My Sacred Sperm created other means of stopping or murdering the silent millions.  The diaphragm, for one, plumbs the depths of subterfuge.  Inserted without warning or knowledge, sometimes coated with pernicious substances to actively kill My Sacred Sperm, this thing is nothing less than a medieval device of torture and genocide.  Those of great stamina can burst this dam to the Well of Life, but not all men are able to overcome its passive resistance.  Shame to all women who would use such a device.

As evil as these devices are, none are as pernicious as that method of so-called “birth control” as “The Pill.”  “The Pill” rapes My Sacred Sperm of its manly essence by drowning it in a sea of hostile hormones.  It blocks My Sacred Sperm from reaching its target.  And it belittles My Sacred Sperm by making the environment so severe that even if it has done its duty, the resulting conception cannot attach itself in the Halls of Life to nurture and grow.  Thus, “The Pill” does that which is most unconscionable:  it neuters My Sacred Sperm.

For too long, My Sacred Sperm has had to endure this genocide.  But no more!  Thanks to the courageous work of the men cited above, and their colleagues, the plight of My Sacred Sperm is silent no more.  From now on, we will regulate and control all forms of so-called “birth control,” a phrase that is just a euphemism for sperm control.  There will be no more barriers.  There will be no more prophylactics.  There will be no more “pills.”  Henceforth, there will be nothing that will prevent My Sacred Sperm from fulfilling its duty as the seed, creator, and all-powerful granter of life, endowed by the Almighty Himself.

My Sacred Sperm will now be properly recognized as the holy water from which all good comes.

-Mr. Richard Foote-Long

CD Release Party & Reading

Friend John Iversen, long time AIDS activist based in the East Bay, recorded a CD of tango music last year.  He is holding a CD release party/birthday party this Saturday, February 25 at 7:30 pm at Studio 12, 2525 8th St. in Berkeley.  $12 admission; $10 students, disabled, elders, unemployed; under 7 free.

Yours truly will be reading at this event — my first reading in nearly 10 years I think.  Other performers include Wayne & Annie Haught, poet Wanda Sabir, Tommi Avicolii Mecca, and Amar & Sahib-Amar Khalsa.  If you’re in the area, come check us out.

“He sings tango like no one else.” – El Clarin, Buenos Aires