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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Ben Carson is Cray Cray

After Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson repeated his claim that the pyramids of Egypt were built by the Biblical character Joseph to store grain, this is what I imagined his former brain surgery patients doing:

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If I were a former patient of Ben Carson’s, I’d be petrified he might have left one of his honorary plaques in my skull. Below is a picture of Ben Carson’s billiards room and it continues his vast home’s theme of paying homage to himself. Like other walls in the house, this one is plastered with plaques he received for showing up to give a speech somewhere – anywhere. I’m guessing he wouldn’t show up at  a grocery store unless they gave him a recognition he could hang on his wall. Honorary plaques are like those little league baseball participation trophies, they signify nothing – except in Ben Carson’s relentlessly narcissistic mind.

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WARNING: the following image cannot be unseen.

Here is a painting in Ben Carson’s home of him and his presidential adviser  Jesus H. Christ himself! Dr. Carson claims God told him to run for president, so there is going to be an awkward conversation very soon between these two.image

Here’s another interesting photo inside Carson’s home. Carson loves the Bible so much, he allowed one of his few walls not reserved for pictures of himself, to be adorned by this misspelled Bible quotation from “poverbs”. It’s ironic that this message is about humility – at what point in Ben Carson’s life has He ever exhibited humility? He’s always the super hero in his tall tales.

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Why is it the Republicans have so many misfits in the running? I’m guessing Fox News and the Tea Party have decimated the Republican Party of electable leaders, and the Teapublican dominated primary system rewards the candidate who acts the most idiotic.

Trump Bible: A Newer Testament

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Donald Trump got asked about the Bible again!

This time the Donald tried to bluff his way out of it, unlike the last time when he didn’t even try.

Trump started this mess not long ago by claiming the Bible was his favorite book, but then hilariously couldn’t come up with one verse. So, when asked again to name his favorite Bible passage, instead of disappointing, Trump this time flat-out made up a Bible verse out of his own hot air.

In a recent interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump replied that his favorite Bible verse was, “Proverbs, the chapter ‘never bend to envy.’ I’ve had that thing all of my life where people are bending to envy.”

Trump said he was quoting from the book of Proverbs, but no search by any Bible scholar so far has turned up this Bible verse in Proverbs or anywhere else.

Many people will argue that Donald Trump is an intelligent person. I’d argue the contrary. I would even argue that an allegedly intelligent man, upon agreeing to be interviewed by a network with the word “CHRISTIAN” in the title would have had someone Google “Popular Bible Quotes” before the interview. But it appears no one bothered to do this for him, and this self proclaimed business mastermind didn’t plan ahead for what was an easily anticipated question. But then maybe Trump was actually quoting from an even Newer Testament, his own 1987 New York Time’s best seller “The Art of the Deal”.

I’m telling you. it’s really getting increasingly hard to tell the difference between reality and satire anymore – and as a blogger, I am grateful.

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In case you missed my earlier post “Trumped Up Bible Quotes”, here are the Bible verses I imagined Donald saying. It’s a little bit eerie how close mine are to Donald’s made up Proverbs one!

“Do unto others the way they do you, but a lot harder, especially if it’s that fat loser Rosie O’Donell.”

“It’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than keep Mexicans out of our country. But I’ll make bigger, wider needles and build higher fences.”

“When Jesus was crucified – like I was by Megyn Kelly, he had blood coming out of his hands and feet and whatever, I prefer alive martyrs myself, but he said some good stuff.”

“The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, because wanting is for losers. I’m a winner and I get what I want.”

“Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest….I got a string of very classy hotels, so I know a lot about that.”

#TrumpBible

Baseball After 911 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.

Refuseland: A Dystopic Christian Wet Dream

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I went to the post office and the clerk refused my rainbow stamp. She said I could go to the next county over to mail my letter.

Then I tried to renew my driver’s license, but the only person available was a Muslim female who couldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t her husband or brother.

After that disappointment, I attempted to file my taxes, but the IRS employee wouldn’t approve my charitable donation because he said he doesn’t approve of my church.

Boy, it sure is hard to do business with all these different religious preferences being expressed in government offices – and now my driver’s license is expired! Hopefully, I’ll be able to get home on a bus driven by an atheist.

I wonder how it is in Iran?

Trumped Up Bible Quotes

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Donald Trump says he loves the Bible, but when asked he couldn’t name a single verse. Twitter users have hilariously come to his rescue using the #TrumpBible hashtag. Here’s my Trumped up Bible offerings.

“Do unto others the way they do you, but a lot harder, especially if it’s that fat loser Rosie O’Donell.”

“It’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than keep Mexicans out of our country. But I’ll make bigger, wider needles and build higher fences.”

“When Jesus was crucified – like I was by Megyn Kelly, he had blood coming out of his hands and feet and whatever, I prefer alive martyrs myself, but he said some good stuff.”

“The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, because wanting is for losers. I’m a winner and I get what I want.”

“Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest….I got a string of very classy hotels, so I know a lot about that.”

#TrumpBible

Duggar Digs Adultery

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Now that family values spokesman (and Babysitter of the Year) Josh Duggar has been caught with his pants down again – this time cheating on his wife – it’s time for the Duggar family to pitch yet another new reality show to replace the money stream from losing their old one. Apparently it’s hard to feed 19 kids without counting on reality show money.

May I suggest:

“Christian Cheaters” where Josh helps snare cheating women by having sex with them.

“To Catch a Christian Predator”, where each week Josh catches himself.

Truth and No Consequences”, a court room where Josh judges everyone and everyone gets off scott free if they say the magic phrase, “Christian persecution”.

Duggars For Hire”, where Josh and his parents have to get real jobs now that their scam is over.

BONUS:

Exclusive photos of Michelle Duggar using her vagina as a Slip-n-Slide for Jesus to give birth to 19 kids (and counting)!

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Judy Garland and Stonewall

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No one ever claimed Judy Garland’s death started the 1969 Stonewall Riots that historians credit with launching the modern gay rights movement. But Judy’s presence looms over those riots like Glinda the Good Witch from the “Wizard of Oz”.

Judy is the Fairy Godmother of the gay rights movement largely due to her string of celebrated concert tours throughout the fifties and sixties – performing to sold-out houses wherever she went. Judy’s pill addiction kept her out of the movies, but she found great success on the stage, becoming one of the most popular and highest paid live entertainers of the 1960’s. Judy was a survivor and other survivors responded to her. People would read about Judy’s latest troubles in the newspapers and the next week she’d be wowing them at the Palace. Her live performances were legendary and at these shows, closeted homosexuals saw each other in DROVES and realized, perhaps for the first time, that they weren’t alone – that there was such a thing as a gay identity.

With being gay practically illegal nationwide, it must have been quite liberating to see Judy and as a bonus find out you were part of a bigger family – that there was a rainbow you could get over.

I know this sensation first hand, because I felt this same thing when I was a teenager in Ohio going to my first Liza Minnelli concert. I’d never seen so many gay guys in my life! The rush I felt at the recognition that I could be myself for the next two hours – that I was with family – that was beautiful for me and it must have been even more beautiful for guys in the straight laced 1960’s.

This highly visible gay presence at Garland’s concerts did not escape the attention of the national press, including a high profile article in Time magazine that made horrible, stereotypical fun of Judy’s loyal gay audience. From Wikipedia: Time magazine reviewed Garland’s 1967 Palace Theatre engagement in New York City, and wrote that a “disproportionate part of her nightly claque seems to be homosexual.” The review goes on to say that “[t]he boys in the tight trousers” (a phrase Time repeatedly used to describe gay men) would “roll their eyes, tear at their hair and practically levitate from their seats” during Garland’s performances.

The attached clip below is from an interview Garland did in Chicago while on her 1967 tour (interviewed by Irv “Kup” Kupcinet) where towards the end she is asked about the above mentioned Time article that cast aspersions on her fans and her “homosexual audience” and Judy angrily defends her fans, and casts some shade on the writer.

So, Judy didn’t start the Stonewall Riots, but her public funeral in Manhattan the very day (and night) of the riots helped fill the Stonewall Inn, when a portion of the over 40,000 fans who filed by Judy Garland’s open casket later went down the street to have a drink in her memory at the only real gay bar in town – the Stonewall Inn.

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