Our Date With Judy

Celebrating the Judy Garland Centennial

Once a year, from around age three until even today, I have a date with Judy Garland. Millions of us did. That’s because for years there was an annual showing of “The Wizard of Oz” on network television. For those too young, there used to be only about three channels on TV – NBC, CBS and ABC. And for almost four decades, one of those channels would fiercely bid against each other for the rights to broadcast the “Wizard of Oz”. And each year, between 1956 to 1991, “The Wizard of Oz” would win it’s time slot, and place in the top 25 watched programs for the year. It was an event. Because of this annual tradition, this 1939 musical became the mostly widely viewed film in cinema history.

One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories was watching the annual telecast of the “Wizard of Oz” on network TV. It was a huge deal, with big celebrities from Danny Kaye to Angela Lansbury hosting. For weeks we would wait in anticipation, after being constantly reminded by frequent commercials for the broadcast.

I must have been three years old the first time I saw “The Wizard of Oz”. My mom loved celebrating traditions, and she rose to the occasion by organizing a slumber party for me, my sister and a couple of the neighborhood kids. I still remember the awe I felt when Dorothy first opened that sepia toned door to Technicolor Oz, and first seeing the munchkins, Glinda’s bubble, the melting witch and of course Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow”.  

Maybe if my parents hadn’t fought so much, I would have understood better the concept of being homesick, but after the movie, the only question I had was why Dorothy was in such a hurry to get back to Kansas? In my mind, Oz had everything a child would want, talking apple trees, singing scarecrows and a hilarious cowardly lion; while Auntie Em and Uncle Henry and their farm seemed a little dour by comparison.

For Christmas that year, my sister and I got the soundtrack album of the “Wizard of Oz”, with both the music and dialogue from the film, so we could follow Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road whenever we wanted to. As a result, I had the entire movie pretty much memorized by five years old, and adults delighted in having me do my impression of the Wicked Witch, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!”

 Margaret Hamilton should have gotten an Oscar. She was only in the movie a few minutes, but she leaves quite an impression. There are tales of kids being too terrified of her, but I ADORED the Wicked Witch. In those days, before my parents got divorced, my Mom enjoyed sewing our Halloween costumes from scratch. Because my sister was older, I usually got her hand me down costumes, which wasn’t a problem when the costume was a clown or a leopard, but my dad wasn’t thrilled when in kindergarten, I insisted on wearing my sister Lisa’s old wicked witch costume from the previous year. To me, a witch didn’t have a gender; she was like Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Given my dad was very homophobic, I’m surprised he allowed it, but I do remember there was some controversy about it.

Fast forward a couple years later. My parents had gotten divorced when I was in 1st grade and my Mom, sister and I all moved to a small apartment in the “big city” of Akron, Ohio, where I still played that Oz record in our basement laundry room/playroom.

My parents wisely hadn’t shared the news with us that the actress who played Dorothy had passed away a few years earlier, but our new baby sitter showed no such restraint. 

“She killed herself,” the baby sitter said – inaccurately as it turned out, but I didn’t know any better. (She also told us once that a really vivid sunset was a sign of the apocalypse, causing me and my sister to go into a fit of crying hysterics, but that’s another story.)

So at seven years old I was left wondering what could make someone so beautiful and so talented be unhappy. That question still haunts me.

In the intervening years, my Mom got remarried and we all moved to the country. Though I never missed Oz when it was broadcast on television, by 3rd grade I had discovered horror movies and old Universal monster flicks. Then came my Star Wars “kick”. I was also a voracious reader, having read every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book our school library offered, and by 4th grade I had moved on to adult historical fiction, like “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, or any Reader’s Digest Condensed Books left around. For a fourth grader, I had some pretty sophisticated literary tastes.

But then around 6th grade, I got grounded from reading. My grades in school were mediocre and my mom blamed it on my constantly reading what she thought was fluff. She didn’t know you can learn more from Nancy Drew than a whole year of elementary school. There for awhile, I was hiding books in different parts of the house to read in secret, including a stash in my tree house, as well as a spot in a cement planter on our front stoop. 

But I was allowed to read non-fiction books, which included biographies. 

One day I was browsing a bookstore for something non-fiction to read when I saw a paperback edition of “Rainbow”, a biography of Judy Garland, so I scrounged up enough allowance money to buy it. I was finally going to get the answer to the question that had haunted me since I was seven years old: how can someone so talented ever be unhappy?

After devouring the “Rainbow” book, I went on a spree, reading every Judy biography published, hoping each time the ending would somehow be different. While I never did find the answer to my question in those biographies, I found out Judy Garland sure had accomplished quite a lot in her short life. She starred in 35 films, winning an Academy Award for Oz, and she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress (Star is Born) and Best Supporting Actress (Judgment At Nuremburg); and she also won a Tony Award, a couple Golden Globes and she was the first woman to win the Grammy for Album of the Year (Carnegie Hall).

Thru her music, movies and biographies, Judy Garland opened a world to me I’ll always be grateful for: the world of Harold Arlen, George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter; not to mention the movies of her husband, director Vincente Minnelli and the movies and music of her multi talented daughter Liza Minnelli, who I also first fell in love with as a child after hearing her as the voice of Dorothy in the animated sequel “Journey Back to Oz”. Liza’s voice just blew me away, it echoed Judy’s in its richness and sincerity, but was also unique.

Growing up in a small town can be tough on a kid who is different. Being called “fag” by your peers might not be a big deal if you’re not actually gay, but when you are hiding that secret, it becomes more of an accusation. How could people know? I thought being gay meant you liked dick, not MGM musicals! So I was a nervous wreck by 8thgrade. But no matter what was going on at home or at school, I always had Judy’s music to explore, to soothe or uplift me. No one does “joyous” like Judy. She became sort of a fairy Godmother who would visit when I put the needle on the record. Also, there was an inspirational part of the Judy Garland story – every time she got written off, she came back stronger than before.

Another aspect of Judy’s movie persona that appeals to the marginalized is that she was always the girl who had to prove herself – from Andy Hardy to Easter Parade – at first losing to the glamour girl, until everyone fell in love with her when she opened her mouth to sing. I didn’t know about the gay connection to Judy Garland when I first began exploring her career – I didn’t even know what “gay’ meant. But even after I found this out, like for instance that her funeral in New York was associated with the Stonewall Riots, I didn’t care if people thought I was “gay” too for loving her. I think I’m most proud of that part of me – I never let peer pressure determine what or who I loved.

Some people like to dwell on the darker aspects of Judy’s life, but I don’t. Her music is enough of a testament. All I have is gratitude she existed. So, thank you Judy Garland for all the years of pleasure you have given me by sharing your heart and soul with the world. 

Frank Sinatra once predicted, “The rest of us will be forgotten, never Judy.” But I think he is wrong. Thanks to the enduring appeal of the “The Wizard of Oz”, Judy is going to drag everyone who was ever in her orbit with her – through the years and down through history.

My One Degree of Separation from Stephen Sondheim

David Holliday

When I was a wee twink, I was in a production of “Camelot” starring Broadway veteran David Holliday as King Arthur. Every night, 8 shows a week for two months, I got to wear tights on stage as a paige to King Arthur, and best of all, at the climax of the show, I had the great honor of bringing King Arthur his famed sword Excalibur.

Now it might have been how great my 18 year old behind looked in those tights, or maybe not, but one night David asked me to dinner at his place. Like most actors, he was eager to share his Broadway bona fides.

His most famous role was probably opposite Katharine Hepburn in the Lerner and Lowe musical “Coco”, followed by “Sail Away” with Elaine Stritch. (You can hear his lovely voice on those cast albums.) He was also in Man of La Mancha on Broadway, and he played the King in a TV movie of “Sleeping Beauty” starring Morgan Fairchild (he played a lot of Kings). And he was the voice of Virgil Tracy in the first season of the cult British show “Thunderbirds”!

David’s Virgil Tracy from “Thunderbirds

But David got his start with Stephen Sondheim, who cast him as a Jet in the original production of “West Side Story” and as the understudy for Tony. Later on, he got to play Tony in the London production of WSS with Chita Rivera and again for the 1966 London revival.

He was a pal of Elaine Stritch and David loved the story of how one day, out of the blue, Judy Garland called him up to invite him to a birthday party she was throwing for Stritch. He was also besties with Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise.

He would send me Christmas cards every year for awhile (those tights were magic). But sadly he died in 1999 from cancer.

As Don Quixote

Anyway, here’s the cast album of West Side Story with David Holliday as Tony. He starts singing “Something’s Coming’” at the 4:08 mark.

David Holliday from “Coco”
A video tribute for David Holliday with his gorgeous voice singing “Dommage Dommage”

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Buzzing for Jesus

So, this afternoon some kindly, well dressed Christian lady with her equally well dressed two young daughters just randomly buzzed my buzzer hoping to talk to me about Jesus. I was expecting a UPS delivery, not deliverance.

She was already on thin ice when she greeted me with “I’m so sorry, I see I got you up from a nap.”

Instead of replying,” No bitch, I always look tired and disheveled, thank you very much,” I was gracious.

Refusing her religious pamphlet, I politely informed her I was comfortable with my decision to burn in hell; and unless she had a package from Amazon, she should please move on to her next address.

She then asked me which buzzer was mine, as she was planning on ringing the next apartment in my 7 unit building. “Maybe they want to hear the Good News I bring.”

“Look,” I said, getting a bit annoyed, “I know my neighbors, and they’re also comfortable burning in hell. We’ve made a pact.”

As they left the lobby, I complimented her two young girls, both adorably dressed in their church best.

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Barbies


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One night, back in college sometime in the late 1980’s, a buddy and I were hanging out at my apartment with a camcorder, and some beer, along with construction paper and a few dollar store Barbie knock offs; and we decided to make a movie we called “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Barbies“. (We were both huge Russ Meyers fans.)

The plot centered around Varla, a deranged, stiff armed, dollar store Barbie who – out of bitter jealousy over her lack of bendable arms and legs, plots revenge on the real Barbie who can bend and pose anyway she pleases.

A sub plot involved a kinky Ken and his dominatrix interior decorator named Barb Wire. Yup, we beat the comic book “Barb  Wire” by 6 years!

Enjoy!

 

music credit: “The Rich Man’s Frug”

I wish I could credit my friend, who  painted Barb Wire using White-out and magic marker and supplied her voice. I came up with the idea of shoving a coat hanger up her ass to give her some movement. Also, note the funny visual of Barbie on the phone, while literally being on a phone

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Introducing Barb Wire

Quiet Please, There’s A Lady on Stage

Karen Mason

There’s a line from the musical “Gypsy” when Mama Rose accuses her daughter Gypsy of trying too hard to sound like an intellectual, telling her “You read book reviews like they were books.”

Like Gypsy, I used to read concert reviews like they were concerts. Though I loved music, I didn’t have the dough to hang out in cabarets and piano bars. Instead, I lived vicariously through Howard Reich, the Chicago Tribune’s long time music critic whose column over the years introduced me to a multitude of musicians and helped nurture my unquenchable taste for Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, and thru him I also found out about a lot of new singers I might never have heard of, like a fresh faced newcomer named Madeleine Peyroux, whose debut CD “Dreamland” I rushed out to buy after reading Reich’s glowing review of her back in 1996.

Another artist Reich adored was a singer named Karen Mason, who got her early start singing in Chicago’s cabaret scene (according to her Wikipedia page, she was once a singing hostess at a place called Lawrence of Oregano!) before graduating to better things. If you’re unfamiliar with this 12 time MAC Award winning vocalist, it’s time to get you up to speed. In addition to being a famed cabaret artist, Ms. Mason’s credits also include starring in several Broadway shows, such as playing Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”;  she also originated the role of Tanya in “Mama Mia”, and she played Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray”. Additionally, Karen has appeared on TV in “Law and Order: SVU” and she was in the film version of “A Chorus Line”.

Though I became familiar with her name from reading reviews of her shows at the Park West or at Davenport’s, I never got to see her perform live until she was booked as the entertainment at an AIDS Benefit.

At the time I was hitched to a pharmacist and we attended so many of these events, as his employer Walgreens was a major sponsor and would buy up multiple tables and distribute the tickets to their pharmacists and executives. Over the years of attending these benefits, we got to see a lot of great acts, like the B-52s, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Koko Taylor among others.

No offense to the pharmacy profession, but pharmacists make for lousy audiences. I remember that one of these events was hosted by Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider, who was very pleasant and graciously introduced himself to my group of already over-served seat mates, who kept embarrassingly insisting he do the “making copies” guy from SNL, which he declined.

With the B-52s, these overpaid drunks got a band they knew, so they behaved, but Koko Taylor got no such respect. Neither did Karen Mason.

I was so excited when I found out Mason was performing at one these benefits because I’d read so much about her amazing vocal talent, but had never heard her in person.

Well, the pharmacists weren’t fellow readers of Howard Reich, so most of them had never heard of Karen Mason. Instead of shutting their free wine holes or leaving the room when Karen took the stage, these philistine boozed up bozos proceeded to talk over the music. Now, when they did this to Koko Taylor the year before, the event organizers went around chastising the loud mouths, but no one was coming to Karen’s rescue.

Except me.

I shushed more than a few of those professional pill pushers that night and despite their antics, I still managed to enjoy the vocal prowess of this amazing talent. Whether Karen noticed the talkative bores, she never let on.

When she concluded her set, I felt an impulse to apologize. I spotted her heading to the escalators and followed after her. There she was, a glittering gowned diva all alone riding a hotel escalator. So I sprinted up to her, “I’m so sorry that people were so loud, I really enjoyed your singing,” I told her.

Then I explained that these weren’t music lovers, but just a bunch of drunks who got free tickets and didn’t appreciate great music.

Anyway, Karen Mason is in town at Davenport’s this week and I’m so excited to be going. And if a mother fucker opens their mouth while she’s singing, I’m going to throat punch them.

Here’s some samples of the great Karen Mason, whose new album “Its About Time” is now available. Check her out and witness the perfect example of a great singer who is also a gifted actress.

Karen Mason in Sunset Boulevard

Karen singing “This Nearly Was Mine”

Karen celebrating equal  marriage, “It’s About Time”

Thanks For Nothing!

THANKS FOR NOTHING: a harrowing and not a bit uplifting holiday tale by JOHN SMITH                                           

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Steve Henry didn’t always have two first names. It was Steve Jelewski when we roomed together on Aldine. He was the struggling actor and I, the struggling writer. In between auditions and readings, we both worked for a catering company as bartenders for events both big and small. I still work there, while Steve went on to “greater” things.

Steve hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year and what a disaster it was. Some may call what transpired that Thursday a simple act of “miscommunication”, but I say it was an act of premeditated cruelty. l don’t know why Steve turned on me; we used to be so close, but that was before he was named “Hottest Hunk of 2006” by Soap Digest. Success had definitely changed Steve Henry.

In the world of daytime TV, Steve was a big deal, but not to people with actual lives who can’t stand to watch such drivel. When my old roomie was first cast on the show, I watched it just to give Steve notes on his performance which I dutifully mailed to him every week for almost a year.

For ten years he’s been playing the same over-sexed, womanizing Dr. Bruce Conroy. Steve won a daytime Emmy for the role and after watching him make love with the various women on the show, I’d say that Emmy was well-earned. Steve was a handsome guy who looked even better on television. Unfortunately, he’s one of those beautiful people who know they are beautiful. The love affair between Steve Henry and Steve Henry could rival any of the fictional romances depicted on his show.

During those lean years back on Aldine, we had made what I thought was a solemn pact: Whoever made it big first would help out the other one. I’m still waiting.

Oh, sure, l’ve had some success on my own. My play, “Depression”, was produced by a small theater troupe here in Chicago, but few saw it. The non-profit theater company who produced my play was dedicated to bringing culture to the homeless, so unless you were sleeping under a bridge last February, you probably didn’t catch it. I have a review from “Streetwise” which said, “the ending is uplifting when it finally arrives.” The review went on to say plays like mine could reduce the homeless population. This caught the attention of our alderman, who paid us cash for a Command performance in the alley behind his house. I couldn’t have been more proud.

My brief contact with the homeless inspired me to become more socially responsible. The way I see it, a lot of homeless people could get back on their feet if they were only more careful about their appearances. Layering on four dirty overcoats to apply for a job isn’t likely to result in a second interview. With that in mind the charity I founded “Images” installed over 40 full length mirrors all  around the cardboard shelters dotting lower Wacker Drive. We tried to expand our operation to include makeovers for the homeless, but our clients were more prone to eat the cosmetics than wear them. Plus one of our volunteer street aestheticians got stabbed, so we stopped that.

After Steve left to find his fortunes in New York City, we stayed in contact for a while. I was one of the first he called after landing his role on that stupid soap opera. He was terribly excited. “Lust in the Afternoon” had been a staple of daytime television for twenty-five years. It’s one of the many soaps that for some reason take place in a hospital setting. It puzzles me why soap writers think hospitals are such hotbeds of sex and romance. Hospitals are gross and smelly, and the patients look more like Walmart shoppers than Abercrombie models. Why not a tire factory?

“Flee at the earliest opportunity!” I advised him when he called to say he got the job. “Don’t sell out.”

“What’s wrong with the show?” he asked, his voice a bit cold.

“Look, I’ve been in a hospital. Nurses ain’t these beautiful anorexic bimbos,” I told him, “a great many of them have serious weight problems.”

“I see.” he replied. “Any other criticisms?”

I was just warming up. “Yeah, in real life, doctors don’t have names like Dr. Bruce Conroy, they’re more like Dr. Shakalakakrishna with accents so thick you’d be better off trying to decipher their handwriting.”

I further suggested that the show needed a reality check. Have a doctor amputate the wrong leg occasionally, or better yet have a patient die because they left a sponge in his chest due to all the flirting. In real life, the only time you hear the words “sex” and “hospital” together is when an orderly rapes a patient.

I never heard from Steve again, despite sending him my dutiful notes on his performances. Then one evening, a week before Thanksgiving, I was having dinner alone at a favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. Looking up from my copy of The Daily Nihilist, who should I spy across the room, surrounded by fans and showing off, but none other than Steve Henry, Hunk of the Year!

I had read in one of those gossip columns I hate that Steve had bought a condominium in Chicago to be closer to his family who lived in Evanston. This was the first time I’d seen him in one of our old haunts, which was understandable. Steve now had an image to keep, and hanging  out at Steamworks was something his publicist would probably frown upon. After finishing my linguini, I walked over to Steve’s table to say hello. It took him a few minutes to notice me and I was apprehensive to interrupt his love-in with his fans, but hell, he was my old roommate! I knew Steve in real life, while these people only know him from his character on television. “Steve!” I raised my voice, “How ya doing!”

Steve didn’t make the connection at first, grabbing my newspaper without looking up and autographing it “Best Wishes”, but as he handed the spoiled paper back, recognition swept across his face. “Oh wow! What’s up?” he asked, grinning just like old times. “Still writing those awful plays?”

“Sure, sure,” I answered, happy to hear the familiar gentle ribbing that marked our friendship.

“And let me guess, you’re still tending bar as a result?”

“Gotta pay the bills, you know.” I chuckled, remembering how often we quarreled about artistic integrity and his willingness to deep throat Satan for fame.

“Hey, what are you doing on Thanksgiving?” He inquired.

“Uh, nothing,” I replied, which wasn’t quite true. I was co-hosting dinner with my best friend, but fuck him, I thought.

“I’m having about twenty friends over for dinner.” Steve said, handing me a napkin with the address and time scribbled, “You think you can make it?”

“Sure!”, I was surprised and pleased by my celebrity friend’s invitation, and I only barely heard him mention it would be black tie.

“How fancy!” I thought.

Thanksgiving was only a week away. Thinking this could be my lucky break, I got to work typing out a spec script which I planned to ask Steve to submit to his producers on “Lust in the Afternoon”. I was ready to sell out like Steve, but with limits.

My concept for “Lust in the Afternoon” was to bring those snooty playboy doctors and slutty nurses down a notch. Rich-people problems are boring. How can Mrs. Joe Six-pack really, truly, identify with the snob characters who dominate these awful daytime shows – where even the lowest hospital nurse lives in Barbie’s Dream House? I mentioned this incongruous fact to a friend once who was a fan of this genre. “It helps if you don’t ask too many questions,” was her advice.

In my script, the banks have all failed and everyone immediately loses their money and has to live in a trailer park. I thought it was a brilliant concept and pushed myself to complete my script in time to present it to Steve at his intimate black tie dinner party to which I was now invited.

Thanksgiving day arrived and l stumbled out of bed around noon, bleary-eyed from yet another all nighter spent editing and revising my script. I shot some Visine in my red eyes, showered and pulled on my tux, which I luckily possessed for my catering gigs.

Cocktails were at four o’clock, but I didn’t want to arrive too early and appear too eager. So, I meandered in fashionably at four-thirty.

“You’re late!” Steve snapped as he opened the door. “The bar is in there.” He pointed to the living room as he took my coat. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”

“Well, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ to you, too,” I said laughing at his rude greeting. Steve used to always stress out when we hosted parties on Aldine, so this was all too familiar. I mixed my drink from the un-staffed, but well stocked bar. There were only about ten or so people milling about the room, none of whom were wearing tuxes. “How gauche!” I thought.

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One gentleman sat alone on a plush white couch. I sat down next to him and introduced myself. “I’ve known Steve for years,” I told him. “We used to be roommates. Success hasn’t changed him a bit.”

“Are you in show business as well?” The gentleman asked who I guessed to be one of Steve’s uncles.

“Oh, yes, I’m a writer,” I replied, a feeling of excitement enveloped me as I realized that this was my element. Success, glamour, money. It was all within reach.

“I’m actually working on a story idea for Steve’s show.” I incautiously let slip out.

“Oh?” he asked, leaning closer, his interest peaked.

“Yeah, I have a bigger vision for Steve’s character on the show. The writers he has now, well I’ve seen better writing on ‘The Love Boat’.”

“Is that so?”

“Just terrible.”

Then I suddenly realized I was dominating this conversation. “And what do you do?” I asked. “Are you related to Steve?”

“I’m one of those hack writers on ‘Lust in the Afternoon’.” The man replied curtly, “I didn’t know Steve was unsatisfied with my work.” he said, excusing himself abruptly.

I felt horrible, insulting this poor man, even if I was just being honest. I had to apologize before he told Steve. I found him in the dining room, which was being busily set up by the caterers in tuxedos, who, I noticed were the only ones besides myself who had bothered to obey the dress code.

I was too late, the old geezer was spilling his guts to Steve. I approached the two, and cleared my throat. “There’s your new head writer now.” he said before storming off.

“You know, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know he -“

Steve cut me off his voiced filled contempt, “First you show up late and now you’re insulting my guests?”

“I’m really sorry, l had no idea,” I tried to explain.

Steve placed his arm on my shoulders and led me back to the living room, Just tend bar and keep your mouth shut.”

“Tend bar?”

“That’s right. Just pour the drinks and smile and don’t insult my show or my guests.”

“Pour drinks?” I wasn’t quite comprehending things in this very awkward moment.

“That’s what I’m paying you for,” Steve said, pulling a money clip from his pocket and handing me two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

With one hand l took the money, with the other grabbed a full bottle of Absolut off the bar and swung it hard. I guess I’ve seen too many movies, because the bottle didn’t break like it does on TV. Instead of shattering like crystal, there was a sickening ‘thud’ when the bottle made contact with Steve’s gorgeous head. “Here’s your fucking drink!” I screamed, as Steve fell unconscious to the floor.

Later that evening, I finally had something to be thankful for when Steve declined to press charges. Steve said he didn’t want the publicity, which really meant he was afraid I’d “out him” to the Enquirer.

Success sure had changed Steve Henry.

Next Thanksgiving, I think I’ll just stay home and eat a low-fat turkey burger.

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Private Flagger

“Private Lane, on 14 Feb. 00, you made an unsolicited statement that you were gay. This admission and your sexual orientation could be prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the unit, and you are subject to separation under Chapter 15.” -Andrew S. McClelland. Company Commander, Fort Bliss Texas

Private Stacy Lane wasn’t looking to “be  all he could be” when he joined the U.S. Army, he was just looking to pay off his student loans. Even so, his three years in the military expanded his notion of who he was and what he could be. Flag dancing isn’t one of the courses offered in basic training, but after being discharged from the Army for being gay, flagging was one of the skills Stacy took home with him, that and a certificate in electronics repair and maintenance.

ENLISTED

Small towns aren’t often on the cutting edge of federal policy, but Graham, Texas (pop. 9,000), where Stacy grew up, was a very early innovator of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. The only sign of homosexual life in Graham was to be found inside the town’s lone florist shop, run by a couple of suspiciously single older gentlemen. But no one talked about it. Graham is a bastion of conservative Christianity, and the Lane household was no different. Stacy’s graduation from Abilene Christian University was very pleasing to his deeply religious family, but along with the notes of congratulations came the payment book for over $20,000 in student loans.

Though a military career wasn’t something Stacy had ever considered, he was bewitched by the Army’s generous offer to repay his student loans. And so, Stacy Lane enlisted in the Army, and dedicated himself to studying electronics repair and maintenance and completing his basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., before being shipped off to serve at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas.

SPARTACUS AND A COMPASS

Possessing a college degree entitled Stacy not only to the higher rank of Specialist, but also a private room. In an atmosphere drenched in homophobia, Stacy kept his sexual orientation closeted on the base. “You’d hear anti-gay comments everywhere, everyday, from just about everyone,” Stacy says.

Off-base, however, was an entirely different matter. Whenever he could, Stacy would slip away to a gay bar in nearby El Paso called the Old Plantation (or OP for short). The OP was Specialist Lane’s very first gay bar, and though it  was nothing to write home about, this smoke-filled dive sparked in him the hopeful thought, “There’s gotta be something better.”

Stacy soon discovered from “Spartacus”, the travel guide to all things gay, that something better was a mere three-hour drive to Albuquerque, N.M., where he read that there was a hopping gay dance club called The Pulse. The Pulse was everything the OP was not; the crowd was younger, the music fresher and, most importantly to Private Lane, “Everyone looked like they were having fun.”

Ecstasy has a way of lighting up a room.

BEAU JASON 

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The summer of 1999 brought a fresh batch of soldiers to Ft. Bliss among them a blonde haired boy of 18, named Jason, who was assigned to work in the electronics shop alongside Stacy. “He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen,” Stacy recalls. When Jason began tagging after him, Spc. Lane was thrilled to take this adorable but straight young lad – with liquid-blue eyes – under his wing. Together, they would hit the straight clubs in town, or hang out in Stacy’s private room playing on the computer.

On one of those evenings in the barracks, Stacy had been less than careful about keeping his double life under wraps. Turning from his computer, Stacy was horrified to see Jason flipping through a copy of a gay rag called “Circuit Noize” magazine –  THE guide to the gay dance party scene, and chock full of pictures of nearly naked men. Stacy could barely register his relief when Jason looked up from the magazine to comment, “Hmmm, these parties look like fun.”

“Uh, yeah,” was the only response Stacy could stammer.

Luckily, Jason thought having a gay best friend was the coolest thing that had ever happened to him, and immediately pressed Stacy to take him along on a journey to Albuquerque and to the electric sights and sounds of The Pulse.

Part II

Pvt. Stacy Lane never realized going into the Army would help him come out of the closet. What a relief it was to have a friend he could be honest about himself with. Jason didn’t mind at all that his new buddy was gay; he liked how the gays rolled.  To him, gays had more class, dressed better and knew how to party. After discovering Stacy’s secret, the only thing that changed was the bars they frequented. On weekends, Jason and Stacy took a pass on the tired watering holes of El Paso in favor of the dry glamour of Albuquerque, N.M. There, at a gay dance club called The Pulse, they discovered not only an alternative to the beer-swilling in El Paso, they found an alternative to beer.

Dropping ecstasy for the first time, Jason recalled the experience as feeling like his brain was taking a bubble bath. For Stacy, the experience was more revelatory: “It opened a whole new world. I made a connection about being gay and who I was”.

Jason made a connection that night as well, after the owner of The Pulse spotted this boy-Adonis gyrating atop a box on the dance floor. “Come see me.” the owner instructed, tucking a $10 bill into the waistband of Jason’s underwear. Later, the owner offered Jason a job dancing on the weekends.

For months this happy attangement continued. Stacy and Jason dutiful soldiers during the work week, but tearing it up in Albuquerque on the weekends. The owner of The Pulse even arranging for a helicopter to fly his new star in for performances. But all good things get ruined by the government eventually.

An organization that regulates how you make your bed isn’t one likely to tolerate recreational drug use. It was just before Christmas when Lane was called for a routine random “monitored urinalysis”, but he wasn’t concerned. The Army didn’t test for ecstacy, he thought. That was about to change, but Stacy hadn’t gotten the memo. Besides, Stacy’s mind was more focused on ringing in the millennium at his very first circuit party, the New Year’s Masterbeat Millennium party in Palm Springs, California.

The Party’s Over

Upon reporting for duty on the first Monday of the New Year, the platoon sergeant gave Lane the ominous order, “Talk to me after formation”.

Being handed scientific proof that his $30 Ecstasy purchase had been well spent offered Lane little consolation when he was informed that his pre-Christmas urine sample had tested positive for MDMA, the molecular signature of ecstasy. For peeing “hot”, Specialist Lane was reduced in rank to a Private and his pay docked and he was further punished with 45 days of extra duty and 45 days restricted to his barracks. Upon hearing this, Jason almost fainted.

Even before his buddy got busted, there were rumors circulating on base that a certain blond-haired private was working as a go-go boy in a gay nightclub. Serving your country is said to be an honor, but that’s because Uncle Sam is a lousy tipper. It became an open secret that Jason had been augmenting his meager Army salary by dancing in his undies at The Pulse.

Hearing the bad news that his partying days were over. Jason felt trapped. He was in a panic and he had to get out. The rumors concerning his part-time “job” gave him an idea. This straight boy was about to “come out”.

Learning A New Skill

Before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was tossed, declaring yourself a homosexual would get you discharged, but it would take many months. An investigation would be performed and paperwork filled out. Around this time, the Army also had become suddenly sensitive to gay bashing, stemming from the August 1999 beating death of Pfc. Barry Winchell, whose complaints of anti-gay harassment were ignored because, as Winchell’s Sergeant later testified, “everybody was having fun”. So, when Jason “outed” himself, the brass were protective of him to the point of ridiculousness. While Stacy toiled away in the hot sun raking gravel, Jason was given his own quarters and air conditioning.

“I would have outed myself earlier if I had known.” Stacy,  “He was treated like a king.”

Though Stacy badly wanted to follow Jason’s lead, he felt like he had to take his punishment. His honor wouldn’t allow him to give the impression that he was only coming out to avoid taking his medicine.

For 45 days he couldn’t leave the base. After working his regular shift in the electronics repair shop, he was ordered to perform extra chores like raking gravel or cleaning the latrines. In his alone time, Stacy’s mind kept returning to something strange and wonderful that happened to him at the New Years Eve party in Palm Springs when the mystical quality of hallucinogens were revealed to him on the dance floor.

“The music and the lights and the energy were all incredible. It was beautiful, and I was moved to where I couldn’t speak and I had to kneel down on the ground for a second to catch my breath.”

Overheated and sweating from all the dancing, Stacy suddenly felt a rush of cooling wind on his back as he knelt there on the edge of the dance floor. Then he felt a soft fluttering against his skin. Raising his head, Lane was awed by the beauty of what he saw. Like an angel with pink fabric wings, a man stood above him as a guardian, spinning a pair of soft pink flags gently over Stacy’s body as if to soothe him, and Stacy recalls feeling as if this ethereal flagger was somehow transferring energy to him through the twirling soft fabrics.

The moment seemed to last forever, but it was probably over in seconds, and when Stacy stood up, his only thought was how badly he wanted to learn how to flag just like his angel. “I’ve got to learn how to do this. I NEED to learn how to do this!”

While confined to base, Lane ordered a pair of flags from a website called Flag Troop, with delivery promised within three weeks. It seem like forever, but one day after lunch his flags arrived – along with a brief instruction book. Stacy took his package to his room, where he pulled out his new silver lamé flags and – completely neglecting the safety warnings in the instructions – he gave his weighted twin fabrics a feverish twirl and in the process, he knocked everything off the counters and hit himself in the eye.

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His early efforts were choppy and practice was not making perfect. He was becoming frustrated. Reviewing the instruction manual yet again, this bit of advice popped out to him:”Just feel what naturally comes from inside you, that is what flagging is truly about.”

Selecting Julian Marsh’s “Proud” mix CD, Stacy pushed back all the furniture and cleared off all the counters. He picked up the flags and began to twirl, and all of a sudden everything started coming together.  He was one with his flags and his music and with himself.

Some nights Jason joined in, bringing a miniature disco ball. They taped glow sticks to the ceiling fan and with the music pumped as loud as possible, there in the barracks, the two army boys danced shirtless about the room at their own private circuit party.

On Valentine’s Day, after completing his 45 days punishment, Pvt. Lane Lane declared himself a homosexual to his commanding officer, setting in motion his discharge from the Army. After discharge, Jason moved to Albuquerque, while Stacy packed his bags for Chicago. Despite their geographical distance, the two remain close friends.

You may have seen Stacy spinning his flags at one of the clubs, carrying on the mission that came with his mail-order flags: “Spread the art and the joy to people in whatever form it may take.”

In other words: “Be all you can be”.

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Baseball After 9/11 with Liza Minnelli

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Ten days after the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks, the City of New York as well as the rest of the nation was still in a deep state of shock. Music and comedy and sports had all paused during this time of national mourning.

For the NY Mets first game after the attacks, someone had the genius idea to invite Liza Minnelli to perform her iconic song “New York, New York” at New York’s Shea Stadium during the 7th inning stretch – for the first televised baseball game since that awful day.

The Mets were tied with the Atlanta Braves going into the 7th inning. The crowd was “subdued”, as the TV announcer describes it in the broadcast footage. The fans seemed to be just going through the motions – with not a lot of cheer in the cheering section.

Then Minnelli takes the field, escorted by a bevy of New York’s heroic firefighters and police. The footage from this  event is amazing in that the camera stays on the crowd more than Minnelli, and we can watch their mood change before our eyes – hesitantly clapping along at first, leading to full out flag waving jubilation at the end  – the whole stadium even matching Minnelli’s dance moves and the awkward kick line of the NY heroes behind her. At one point, a fireman spontaneously sticks his hat on Minnelli’s head and the crowd goes nuts as she gamely incorporates it into her choreography. Never before were the words, “It’s up to you New York, New York” more poignant, and all the more so being delivered in person by Liza Minnelli, New York’s legendary cheerleader-in-residence,

Check out the clip below and see how Minnelli stirs the somber crowd into a patriotic frenzy, with NYC firefighters and cops forming a kick line behind her.

Art and music can heal.

BITCH: The Maria Pappas Story

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APPLYING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT WAS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. THE OFFICE WAS CLEAN AND MODERN WITH NONE OF THE RAGGED, DEPRESSION-ERA DRESSED PEOPLE I IMAGINED. THERE WASN’T EVEN A LINE. THE INFORMATION DESK WAS MANNED – OR IS THAT PERSONNED – BY TWO WORKERS, MALE AND FEMALE, WHO BOTH SEEMED HAPPY TO HAVE SOMEONE NEW TO TALK TO. THE WOMAN GREETED ME WITH A SMILE AND ASKED ME THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF MY UNEMPLOYMENT.

“Were you laid off? Fired? Did you quit?’ She inquired, trying to determine which form I needed to fill out. Seldom are things so clear cut and likewise, my recent unemployment was no simple question that could be answered “yes” or “no”, “black” or “white”. Besides, having voluntarily quit, I wasn’t about to close any options that would make me ineligible for free government money.

“I was forced to quit.” I answered, hoping being forced out would count just the same as being fired. For unemployment  eligibility requirements, being fired is second only in desirability to being laid off –  quitting is for losers. The lady looked over her glasses at me, clearly needing more information. “My boss heard a rumor I’d called her a bitch,” I explained, “Maybe you’ve heard of her. Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer?”

“Oh, she is a bitch!” The woman declared. Everyone has a Pappas story.

And such is the reaction I’ve come to expect after falling into disfavor with the baton twirling Maria Pappas, newly enshrined Cook County Treasurer. But the odd thing is, up until Ms. Pappas turned against me, I thought she was great. It’s funny how sometimes you look back and smack your head and shout, “What was I thinking?” I’m having that kind of summer.

After being led into an immaculate, carpeted room, furnished with two conference tables and a dozen empty chairs, I got right to work on the stack of forms I was handed, using a borrowed #2 pencil from a box of thousands. Employment History was the first intimate detail of my life they wanted to know about.

I started at the Treasurer’s Office right out of college. Not that working for Edward J. Rosewell, who was the Treasurer before Pappas, was the reason I spent over thirty-grand in student loans. All my life my family warned, “You better go to college”, as if it were some magical place that transformed you, by association, into a highly employable individual. So I went to DePaul University and drifted back out a few years later armed with a Bachelors degree in English. Unfortunately, I had  graduated in the middle of a recession and for employment purposes, an English degree during a recession is about as impressive as an Associates Degree in Telemarketing.

My first job offer out of college was from a rental car agency. They wanted me and my English degree for a Manager Trainee position. They saw my potential! And they wanted to groom me for management! As it turned out, the only thing I was groomed for was a career in washing cars. I left within two weeks. The day I “quit” (by mutual agreement) I made a frantic phone call to a politically connected fraternity alumnus who wanted to get in my pants (I told him “no thanks”, as there was one ass in there already). He made a call to his buddy, Edward J. Rosewell, Treasurer of Cook County and as simple as that I had a job. It was a temp position at first, but because I was able to dress myself and not show up drunk – and I could run a computer – I eventually got a permanent position as an “auditing clerk”.

I was constantly interrupted from my form-filling by a stream of well- meaning, but bored workers wanting to assist. There seemed to be about three workers for every unemployed person there. Thanks to the booming economy, many of the people helping me fill out those forms were in danger of becoming unemployed themselves. How ironic that their job security goes up when everyone else’s goes down.

One guy wanted to help me find a job, and asked me what kind of work I formerly did for the Treasurer. I wanted to say, “No thanks, I’m just here for the free money”, but instead I described my work experience. Despite having absolutely no financial background, I had spent the last six years doing accounting-type work for the County. Reconciling accounts, computing interest and distributing tax money in the Treasurer’s Cash Management department. But the last thing I wanted to do was work with numbers again, but nevertheless, I was handed pages of available accounting jobs. I politely accepted them and continued to fill in the blanks on my multitude of forms.

“Reason for leaving?”

We were back to that question. I wasn’t always the model employee I ended up being under Maria Pappas. I started off in the Treasurer’s office wanting to make good. I rushed through each assignment, then proudly reported to my supervisor that I was ready for more. That is, until a co- worker took me aside and asked “What’s up with that shit? Take your time, slow down.” That’s the culture you find in some government offices, where promotions are reserved for the connected.

I thought working for Maria Pappas would be different. I had followed Pappas’ political career through the years, admiring her confrontational style. She was always bitching about something and stirring up controversy. I liked that. I rooted for her when she ran for the County Board Presidency against John Stroger and Aurelia Pucinski. I cheered her on when she twirled her baton every year in the Gay Pride Parade. When she announced she was running for Rosewell’s job, who was retiring under the scandal of an indictment for ghost payrolling and for placing his window-washer “room- mate” in a $70k job. I was excited about the prospect of working for this political maverick and when she took office, I transformed myself from lackadaisical county employee into Super Worker, eager to be part of the team.

There were a lot of worried faces within the rank and file as the day approached when Eddie Rosewell, a very sweet, energetic little Irish man – and the top vote getter for the Democratic party – would gallop off into the sunset (or possibly prison) and Ms. Pappas would take over the helm. Gossip and rumors filled the office. Pappas had a terrible reputation as an employer during her years as a County Commissioner. The gossip columns buzzed with her latest firings or of disgruntled workers calling it quits. One estimate pegged her as going through over twenty employees in an eight year span, which is a staggering figure when you realize commissioners are only allotted three employees. There were also rumors that called into  question Pappas’ mental health. Supposedly she had  her office swept for bugs – the electronic kind – afraid someone was spying on her. There were also tales of her employing handwriting analysis of people she didn’t trust, trying to judge character through their scribblings. There were so many, many rumors, I just discounted them all. At worst, I thought, she was a little eccentric.

On Pappas’ first day in office. I was appointed by her Chief Deputy, a wonderful guy named Mike Shine, to assist with computer related issues. The Treasurer’s office wasn’t exactly the information superhighway. When I first started, we were still doing spreadsheets on grid paper. I was good with the different programs like Excel and Word, while most workers couldn’t find the “On” button; and because of this I gained a reputation for being knowledgeable about computers, which Pappas’ people found to be of value. This is what I craved – what any worker craves – to be recognized and to feel needed.  I responded well to this new and unfamiliar stimuli. I found myself staying late and arriving early, working harder and what was really odd – taking work home with me! Because of my enthusiasm, Pappas’ top management recommended me for several different promotions, but for some reason, Pappas always turned my promotions down. I never took it personally which was a mistake, because it was personal, only I didn’t know it yet.

The first clue that working for Maria Pappas wouldn’t be all roses and lollipops came the second day she was in office. It was early December, with signs of Christmas all around, but for a half-dozen employees, their coal-filled stocking came early. It was expected that the new administration would want their own top management, but the people Pappas canned were hardly top management. Most were mid-level career employees who had worked in the office for ten or more years. Two of the workers fired were a gay couple, both approaching retirement. The biggest shock was when they fired Kelly, a young woman from my own department. Kelly started working for the Treasurer’s office right out of high-school, needing the job to support her younger siblings after their parents died. Kelly was an invaluable resource for everything related to the functions of the Cook County Treasurer. She was also six months pregnant when she was abruptly informed her services were no longer needed.

Everyone was freaked out by Kelly’s firing, including me, but I tried to remain calm. That was my reaction to everything that happened, “Calm down, I’m sure there’s a reason.” Even when Pappas made all the women  – and only the women – wear ugly blue blazers. They were hideous, baggy and had the effect of turning even the most shapely woman into a frump. You could feel the humiliation from the ladies when they were forced to put on these over-sized men’s cotton jackets. Males were required to wear white shirts and a tie, unless you were part of the janitorial service, she made the male janitors also dress in those awful blue blazers.  Women and janitors. Let that sink in for a minute and what that says about Madam Treasurer’s regard for women. (Given Maria’s psychology degree, maybe someone should ask her!)

The ladies hated those fucking jackets, but were all too afraid to complain. Except for one.

Pappas liked to hover about the workers, and when the blazers were distributed, she went around asking the women how they liked them. She questioned the wrong person when she asked Joyce. a fifty-something lady not known for her quiet nature. Joyce told Pappas she hated the jacket, “I feel  like we’re in prison,” she replied. Pappas seemed startled by this frankness and asked the lady seated next to Joyce for her opinion. The lady answered “They’re fine,” which caused Joyce to erupt, “That’s not what you said a few minutes ago!”

After several more futile attempts to promote me went down in flames, my supervisor took me aside, “Did you do something to piss off the Treasurer?” he asked. I was surprised by this, “No,” I replied, I honestly couldn’t recall saying or doing anything that would put me in disfavor with the Treasurer. She certainly didn’t behave toward me as if anything was wrong. Pappas had even bragged about my serving on the county Domestic Partnership committee – chaired by Congressman Mike Quigley, who then was the man newly elected to Maria’s old County Board seat; and also Greg Harris and Kelly Cassidy (before they were elected State Representatives).  My role was to draft a letter that all County officials would sign in support of extending benefits to LGBT domestic partners of Cook County’s 25,000 workforce. Our committee crafted and helped pass the Cook County Domestic Partnership Ordinance, and Pappas boasted to everyone that she and I were working “together” on this project (although her only involvement was not objecting to my attending the committee meetings).

Despite all of the signs, I still could not believe that Pappas had something against me.

“Are you finished with your forms?” The Unemployment officer asked, interrupting my trip down memory lane. I nodded yes, but her keen eye spotted information I had yet to fill in. “Put your previous salary here.” She said, pointing to one of my errant blanks.

Your former salary helps determine your winnings in the Unemployment Sweepstakes. County employees are not lavishly paid, unless you’re a former window washer. Rosewell gave me a secure job with benefits, but no lavish salary. Luckily, money wasn’t an issue for me. Like Pappas, I had  married well. Not nearly as well as Maria, whose husband is an owner of the Treasure Island grocery store chain, but well enough that when the shit hit the fan, I was able to walk away without worrying where my next meal was coming from.

During her run for Treasurer, all the Treasure Island stores had Pappas campaign signs in their windows. A precinct captain told me about Pappas campaigning at the Broadway Treasure Island, sitting on a table, puffing away on a cigarette inside the store. One of the employees, a young bagger, approached her about this, pointing to a very prominent “No Smoking” sign and asked her to put the cigarette out, to which she seethed, “I own this store!” Apparently this is the manner Pappas treats all of her subordinates. Very early on, we were given a memo instructing us on how she preferred the phones to be answered; a script ending with the chilling words “Phone Calls may be monitored for quality assurances.” After that, we assumed we were all being listened to, even departments such as mine where calls from taxpayers were rare.

No one could have convinced me that Pappas herself was the one doing the phone monitoring, until one day a worker in the Refund Department told me about a call from an irate taxpayer who referred to Pappas by every four letter word imaginable, without any contradiction from this employee. Later, an angry Pappas confronted him, demanding to know why he hadn’t defended her. “You instructed us that the customer is always right.” he replied. This rule, he found out, had some exceptions.

Another lady was written up twice for going into her own purse during work hours. Pappas had targeted her for ill treatment to get her to resign so she could give the job to a supporter and the fact that this poor lady had lost her entire family in a drunk driving crash a year earlier had no alleviating impact. They drove her to quit without pity.

The cumulative effect of all the memos, the blue blazers, the mysterious firings and the massive write-ups for petty infractions led to a state of paranoia, distrust and multiple forced resignations.

My turn came on April Fool’s Day. Pappas summoned me to her office for a meeting. I wasn’t the least bit nervous, assuming she wanted to talk to me about one of my projects. She invited one of her deputies to sit in our meeting, explaining as she closed the door, “I want a witness to avoid any confusion later.”

“Uh-oh,” I joked, “what did I do?” I had no idea what was about to happen.

“So, you think I’m a bitch.” Pappas said, taking a seat behind her massive desk, “and that I’m part of the Greek mafia.”

I was floored. She could have had me on the “bitch” part, as I’ve used that word liberally my entire life. It’s a great, all purpose word, and as a political friend later commented, “If calling Maria Pappas a bitch is a firing offense, then crank up the hiring mill.”

Pappas and the word “bitch” had a quiet wedding years ago. Former County Board President Dick Phelan made a big splash in the press when he called her one during a County Board meeting. Pappas was called a bitch so many times by so many people, I thought it was part of her name until they painted it on the front door.

She might of had me on the “bitch” remark, but the “Greek Mafia” thing was not from me. I tried to defend myself, but she kept insisting her informant, whom she would not identify, was “trustworthy”. Then her faced turned cold and sneering, “Quit!” she yelled, “If you don’t like it here, then quit!”

Walking back to my desk, I felt like a truck hit me, or I’d gotten kicked in the balls. I was bewildered that someone would do something like this to me and powerless to defend myself without knowing who was my accuser. Later in the day I attempted to speak to Pappas again, to iron out this mess. I was talking to her secretary when Pappas poked her head out of her office and hissed, “What are you doing here?”

By the tone in her voice I realized it was a lost cause. I returned to my department and typed up a letter of resignation and began looking forward to a long, luxurious summer collecting unemployment and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, now that I’m all grown up.

I’ve also made a decision to retire the word “bitch” from my vocabulary, I’m considering a switch to the “C” word. Bitch is still a great word, it’s just that I won’t be able to use it without thinking about Maria Pappas. I want to move on, you know.image

Wasted Away In Lake Geneva-ville

This pic is from a camping trip to Lake Geneva I took with my friends Tom, Giovanni and Jonathan. Unknowingly, our trip coincided with a Jimmy Buffett concert nearby and just our luck, our camp site neighbors were “parrot heads”.

We did not know this embarrassing fact about our neighbors until they loudly returned from the concert around 2am.

While I’m a very sound sleeper, my tent mate Tom was awakened by their loud, drunken campfire antics. I might have even slept through all their obnoxious laughing and yelling, were it not for Tom yelling every 5 minutes:

“Shut up!”

“We’re trying to sleep!”

Their parrot party went on past 5am, despite frequent warnings from the camp ground security guard. They would quiet down for a few minutes after getting a warning, only to start back up again when the coast was clear.

They finally passed out around 5am and the campground was at last quiet and we were able get some sleep

When we woke up around 10am, our noisy neighbors were loudly snoring in their crowded tent, their site littered with crushed beer cans and their campfire still smoking.

So we started packing up our gear to go home.

Loudly.

Each time we closed the car trunk or car door, it was with a bang; and I also kept “forgetting” to turn off my car alarm, so that every time we opened the trunk the alarm went off blaring.

Then I couldn’t find a lost shaker of salt, which required us to unpack and then repack the car, setting off the car alarm a few more times.

On our way out, with the car fully packed, we wanted to say good bye to our neighbors. So we paused the car in front of their tent and blew our horn until someone poked their head out.

“Goodbye!” we shouted painfully in unison to the bleary eyed, hung over Buffett bores.

My fear that our revenge scheme might have also annoyed the other campers was dispelled when we received a standing ovation from the other campsites as we rolled out of the campground.

Now I’m hungry for a cheeseburger. Hold the paradise.

Praising Pelosi

There’s a media drum beat against Nancy Pelosi, one of the most effective parliamentarians to ever hold the Speaker’s gavel. Don’t fall for it.

The reasoning goes that because the GOP use her as the boogeyman in campaign attack ads, Dems should dump her.

The truth is the Republicans would vilify anyone in that leadership role. They love to use Pelosi to stir up their base because she is a woman representing San Francisco, so there is a lot of underlying homophobia in their demonization of her.

The media obliges the GOP in this endeavor by asking every Democratic House candidate if they support her as House leader. But they never ask Republicans about Mitch McConnell, who polls 5% lower than Pelosi. That’s sexism. And how come we don’t see the media asking every Republican candidate how they are “wrestling” with their vote for Jim Jordan for House Speaker?

The Bernie left hate Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, because she supported Hillary. Well guess what, Pelosi not only got the Affordable Care Act and Dodd Frank passed, she also managed to pass the public option to the ACA that the same Berners accuse Dems of not supporting – though it passed the House and got the vote of every Senate Democrat, but failed in the Senate when newly Independent Senator Joe Lieberman blocked it. The Bernie folk would be very lucky to have her around to pass their proposed single payer bill if we retake congress. She has the track record of passing complicated bills. The Senate is where progress goes to die, not the House under Democratic control.

The best part of this is Pelosi has given her approval for red state Dems to say they oppose her, because she understands winning those seats is more important than her ego or career.

I can’t think of a male politician who would be as pragmatic a team player as Pelosi.

Voter ID Laws: The Latest Poll Tax

No, you do not need an ID to buy groceries – for the moment anyway. But some states require you to produce a specific ID card for you to exercise your constitutional right to vote.

One of my former hobbies was registering people to vote. I’d do it at street festivals or events and I’d even bring my stuff to parties. It was cool to register first time voters.

So, I have an opinion on voter ID laws, which are just an attempt to suppress minority votes and votes of other economically vulnerable people, who may move often and can’t afford $20 for a government ID each time they relocate. The discriminatory intent of these ID laws is plain to see when you notice they usually allow NRA membership cards but not college IDs to vote.

A person establishes their eligibility to vote when they register to vote, not when they attempt to participate. To register to vote, you have to establish your identity and address. Just like a state ID card, you do this by providing a postmarked utility bill or some other official correspondence received at your current address along with a birth certificate or some type of a photo ID.

You attest to your eligibility to vote when you register and swear under penalty of perjury that the info you provided is correct. When you go to vote, a copy of your registration is there that contains your signature. If a person’s address and signature match, that person should be allowed to vote. Voter ID laws are a thinly disguised attempt to suppress minority voting.

Here are Illinois requirements to register to vote.

Bernie is No John Lewis or a Democrat

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Putin couldn’t have done it without Bernie

Bernie and his Brats are trying to do a hit and run. They wrecked the election and are now attempting to flee the scene.

History unlearned, or worse, re-written, repeats. That’s why I stand up for examining truth. The Russian government may have installed Donald Trump as President, but they couldn’t have done it without Bernie Sanders, the guy who once honeymooned in the Soviet Union.

For some reason, the Bernie or Bust crowd seems thrilled with Trump beating Clinton, almost as if beating Clinton was always their only goal. Maybe they think Rust Belt voters would have swooned for a leftist socialist atheist who never held a job outside of government, but I don’t.

Now, after doing more than anyone to beat up Clinton, Sanders wants a say in a party he still hasn’t joined. He wasn’t a Democrat before he inserted himself into the 2016 Democratic Primary (a hijacking attempt that DNC leaders should have nipped in the bud by telling him to either join the party or be disqualified) and he isn’t a Democrat now, even after the destruction he caused.

The major reason Bernie never became a Democrat while seeking to lead the Democratic Party is because he’s a narcissist who never voted for anyone until he voted for himself. It is ALL about him.

Despite casting himself as a Civil Rights hero, Bernie Sanders never voted for any of the civil rights heroes of the Civil Rights era. He didn’t vote for anyone until he was into his 30’s when he voted for himself. He didn’t vote for Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey or McGovern. He didn’t care if Goldwater or Nixon won.

His supporters treat him like John Lewis while tossing the actual John Lewis under Rosa Parks bus (for daring to back Hillary Clinton).

Bernie trained his supporters to blame Hillary for the 1994 Crime bill that Bernie actually voted for. He claims he only voted for the bill because of the Violence Against Women Act, but he voted for each component of the bill – and he used to brag about his tough on crime votes, until he decided to paint Hillary as racist because she supported her husband for signing the bill Bernie voted for.

Here’s Bernie bragging about his tough on crime bona fides that he has since deleted from his resume.

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Here’s Bernie bragging about not giving a damn about voting in a 1987 article in the Gadfly, a University of Vermont student newspaper.

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Apparently, Bernie Sanders only liked to talk about politics, not do anything meaningful to change things like organizing voter drives or all the various things real community leaders do, for example: voting. (GOOGLE Obama, Barack or Clinton, Hillary for examples of effective community organizers.)

Some may question the relevance of Bernie’s narcissistic voting habits, but I believe it perfectly explains Bernie’s careless disparagement of the Democratic Party that so graciously endured his constant jabs at its leaders and longtime supporters like myself who have voted in every damn election since I was legally allowed to (and never once been called a “shill” until this year).

Remember when Bernie cried “rigged” over the Superdelegates? His supporters sure do. They still claim the election was rigged. Who can blame them when their leader said so?

Bernie’s top campaign advisor Tad Devine actually invented the superdelegate system in the 1980s, but that didn’t stop his fanatics from blaming Debbie Wasserman Shultz. The Bernie Brats know more about the hierarchy of the DNC than they do their own state governments.

Once Bernie was mathematically eliminated from the nomination, he changed his mind about those evil SDs. He needed them. Hillary had 18 million votes and he only had 13 million. What to do?

So he then called on those same dastardly SDs to reverse the election and nominate him instead of Hillary at the convention. His supporters then began harassing delegates at their homes. (It’s hard to distinguish Bernie’s and Trump’s supporters sometimes).

Bernie stayed in the race too long and held out the false hope to his fans that Hillary would get indicted over emails. His wife Jane even begged the FBI to hurry it up! He refused to concede when any other candidate would have to avoid dividing the party, but he wasn’t a Democrat anyway, so dividing the party he never cared for wasn’t really his concern.

Then WikiLeaks and Russia decided to get involved, selectively leaking hacked emails from the DNC suggesting (GASP) that longtime Democratic Party leaders might prefer nominating an actual Democrat to lead their party. The Bernie kids ate up the Russia propaganda like it was free college.

Hoping to change the outcome, his delegates disrupted the nationally televised Democratic Convention, an event meant to showcase the party platform and nominee.

The 227 year old glass ceiling got shattered when for the first time a woman became the nominee of a major party, but Hillary and her supporters were denied that celebration.

Instead of celebrating this history, instead of celebrating the achievements of a woman who has been an inspiration to millions world-wide, Bernie’s boorish delegates booed and interrupted speakers at the convention, including John Lewis. Even Bernie supporter Sarah Silverman got booed and she told them on prime time TV that they were acting like babies. Bernie more than anyone brought us Donald Trump.

Despite everything, Hillary was up 7-12 points in some polls 11 days from the election. It took the FBI Director’s last minute letter to defeat Hillary, but she shouldn’t have been in that danger zone where 80,000 votes in 3 swing States decided the election.

The answer to Hillary’s question on why she wasn’t up by 50 points against Donald Trump is: Bernie Sanders.