Letter from Los Angeles
January 2010
© 2010 Joel

The second decade of the 21st century–we made it!. Sounds like science fiction, does it not? Yet with all our gadgets, science and technology we remain earthbound, plagued by disease and war, and as vulnerable, perhaps more so, than we ever were before. But people still love, people still pray, and people still hope for hope, paradoxically on both sides of the political aisle.

Our country, meaning every one of us, faces an worrisome economic future, new twists in the wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, terrorist threats we thought we had under control, environmental challenges, a health care system, with deference to Mr. Limbaugh, that is second to many, and disappointment in government all around.

A Nigerian born misanthrope sets his Calvin Kleins ablaze instead of blowing up Detroit and–surprise! –we think of terrorist attacks once more. The political party that was voted out of power, and on whose watch 9/11 occurred, is bent on destroying President Obama and regaining political control. Some call the past ten years The Lost Decade. Look at the financial giants and tell me that everyone has lost.

We like to name our troubles and are tempted, depending on our point of view, to chose among Republican, Socialist, Religion, Immigrants, Wall Street, or Fox T.V. As a moderate liberal my hand shoots up for items 1, 5 and 6, but that’s too partisan still because my more conservative friends are as dissatisfied as I. Our common enemies are older and far more permanent and go by names like Fear, Ignorance, Immaturity and Mutual Mistrust.

Though this all seems beyond our control, it is not.

Quote of the Year Ago Month

“Why do you need to be bribed to have your interest aligned with the people who are paying your salary?” Barney Frank responding to the banker’s balking at a cap on executive pay in February, 2009.

Quip of The Month

“Damn those doctors and their unnecessary tests! Mine just gave me ten tough words to spell.” Joel

Movie Recommendations

Three good pictures in as many weeks- faint! A Single Man, The Young Victoria and The Loss of a Tear Drop Diamond, the recently discovered and never before performed Tennessee Williams script, portray characters from privileged backgrounds being tested by their pain and feature actors, especially Tear Drop’s Bryce Dallas Howard and Ellen Burstin, who merit the highest praise. So, delight in a masterful artistic experience without being mugged to, winked at, or even having to “feel good.”

Undies

Given the multitude and magnitude of the challenges that face the President, this Obama skeptic thinks that, given human imperfection, he’s doing as good a job as can possibly be done. And for the record, I believe that Barack Obama is as capable of protecting his country as the conscientious John McCain or charlatans Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

New charge account regulations have finally been put in place, Among them, late payments no longer automatically trigger a rate raise. Deadlines have been extended and payments will now be due the same date every month. Payments will be credited first to the higher rates on accounts that carry more than one. We can thank the President and Democrats for that.

Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK, wanted his sons in politics because he understood that the seat of American power was in Washington, D.C. Today that seat is on a street called Wall.

Ever get nostalgic for the War on Terror? A New York Times writer explains that “You cannot declare war on a tactic (terrorism),” and that “wars are more fruitfully declared against proper nouns (Germany, Japan) than common nouns (terrorism, poverty),” to which I add drugs.

On Bill Moyers Journal last month progressive Robert Kuttner, speaking of health reform, observed that no social movement the likes of Lincoln’s abolitionists, FDR’s dispossessed or LBJ’s champions of civil rights accompanies our situation today, a point all the more brilliant because Joel thought of it first. So, the lady or the tiger? A make or break idealistic frontal assault or working within The System via an incremental approach?

Disheartening–very–that, as Moyers’ other guest, Matt Taibi accurately relates, our country is about “capital, not capitalism,” and that “corporatist Democrats” in Congress run their Party “as a business.” Democrats have plenty to answer for, too.

Republican Behavior: Inimical to (Almost) All

“Tod didn’t laugh at the man’s rhetoric. He knew it was unimportant. What mattered was his messianic rage and the emotional response of his hearers.” Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust

"You don't understand my views and I don't want to understand yours, and that's the difference." –A Republican to a Democrat in Massachusetts, Jan. 9, 2010.

I am calling in all my chips as an objective and trusted observer to rail against a Republican Party and a conservative movement I can no longer stomach or ignore. Today’s GOP is as irresponsibly uncooperative as it appears incapable of realistically appraising what is happening in our world. I view the Republican’s philosophy and behavior as inimical to the interests of almost all, and I hold them heavily responsible for many tragic historical turns.

The Republican base, aka movement conservatives, have coalesced around a clutch of demagogues on the airwaves and in Congress with a religious and formidable zeal. They have no connection with the country club Republicans of old. In place of an honorable political tradition called conservatism they’ve substituted ignorance and fear.

The New Republic’s Leon Weiseltier has opined in The New York Times, “It was circa 2003 that the promised land of the Internet began to look increasingly like a wasteland. Finally we had a “national conversation,” and look at it! In our worship of The Machine, we chose to exempt it from rudimentary standards of facticity and decency. Instead it became an engine of outrage and sensations.

The electronic mobs began to form: this was the perfect technology of polarization. We came to inhabit a culture of angels and devils, in which a person’s first thoughts are his best thoughts, and the wildest statement of a belief is its best statement. Attention deficit disorder is no longer a disorder in America. Attention is now the disorder.”

Weeks earlier I had written in my journal, “Political discussions these days begin and end with wildly exaggerated, emotionally wrought assertions of mistruth.”

Recently, I was treated to an online impersonation of the American Revolution’s Samuel Adams in which the enraged “Adams” likened threats from the current Administration, specifically taxation and prohibitions against praying and carrying guns, to those of 1776 and concluded that the wisest course is to be prepared for violent confrontation once again.

Within days of reading Weiseltier I got this from a conservative gay friend.

Conservative Vs Liberal

If a conservative doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.
If a liberal doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.

If a conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.
If a liberal is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.

If a conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
If a liberal is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.

If a conservative is down and out, he thinks about how to better his situation.
A liberal wonders who is going to take care of him.

If a conservative doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.
Liberals demand that those they don’t like be shut down.

If a conservative is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.
A liberal non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.
(Unless it’s a foreign religion, of course)

If a conservative reads this, he’ll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.
A liberal will delete it because he’s “offended.”

To which I answered, in part, “Conservatives vs. Liberals makes me sad. You know I rarely argue politics–my time being better devoted to victory at the polls–but that I have priorities and values just like everybody else. Convictions differ from the ideology, the orthodoxy, the almost religious certainty of the left and of the right.....Portraying liberals as interfering jerks is as about as useful as calling conservatives a bunch of heartless bums and resembles the name calling and sand throwing common to every playground in the world.

I have no fight, only disagreements, with uncompromising but heartfelt conservatives like yourself and liberals who are the same, but the sentiments of ‘Conservatives Vs. Liberals’ are the kind of sarcasm that divides people and drives them further apart. This I oppose.”

Growing Up Gay Part 4: Brrrrrr, Purrrrr,–and Grrrrrrr!!!

Imagine a gay college teacher in 1962 whose long term partner has just died in a crash. A distant cousin breaks the news and announces the funeral is for family only, and a neighboring old flame of the opposite sex is the only person with whom the survivor can safely mourn. This is the central predicament of the movie A Single Man and the background for my continuing saga of Growing Up Gay.

I’ve never enjoyed dancing, disco or ballroom, with woman or with man. So at a welcoming tea dance at NYU in the fall of 1960 I sat alone and swayed to the overture to some of the most unpleasant years of my life.

My world had suddenly turned quite cold. Juvenile preoccupations, distractions, illusions and comforts, too, dropped away as I passed from growing boy to young adult, with the added twist of being unequivocally gay in a society that despised my guts.

Worse, I had to face the issue of sex itself. Because I thought that sexual relations were limited to woman and man, I hated the “s” word and did everything possible to avoid the topic or even the thought. As an eleven year old I had asked my parents, “The Royal Family and the Eisenhowers don’t do THAT?” (I’m still not certain they ever did)

So avoidance became this otherwise healthy teenage boy’s middle name. Church! No one could expect a pious little Christian Scientist to be caught doing THAT. Work! I would get lost in work. I enjoyed watching actors hurrying to the theater and commuters scurrying into town, too busy, so I thought, to think of THAT. My sublimation paid off handsomely and I made Dean’s List every time.

I made a different kind of list at home. In spring of 1962 my high school/ Sound of Music buddy Lloyd and I were walking near his home in Riverdale, N.Y., the topic of conversation the usual Boys In The Biz. I know what you’re all waiting for: patience, please!.

I had just read a novel, later an unsuccessful film, called The Custard Boys, in which two same sex schoolmates in wartime Britain take a ride in the British heath, or hay. “I should like to see you” is how the hot for its time little moment began, and ended, but I had gotten the idea. I described the scene to Lloyd as we pondered whether our Boys In Show Business didn’t mean we, too, were “like that.”

Suddenly we’re back in Lloyd’s place, and who comes home smack in the middle of everything but Lloyd’s mother and her boyfriend Win, whom we had dubbed Lose. From the bedroom we just shouted, “Don’t come in” and everyone went on their merry way. Romantic, no?

Maybe because I hadn’t dated since my loveless senior prom and people were talking, or because Lloyd and I held hands outdoors when we thought no one could see, but overnight the teen aged boys in my neighborhood–Irish Catholic–began shouting “Hey, faggot! Hey, gay!” whenever we walked by.

My father’s specialty being unconditional love, he said not a word. My homophobic mother told me to date “or else.” The last time I saw each of my grandmothers alive I got disapproving looks and inquiries about going out with girls.

One of Lloyd’s mother’s less endearing habits was intercepting his letters and reading them first. When she came upon my description of the young men I had seen in Washington, D.C., a classic to this day, we were suddenly “out” to her. Although Edna continued to encourage Lloyd to date for appearances sake, she accepted our relationship and told Lloyd that when she was in theater she had a “colored” boyfriend herself.

Things turned nasty–very. The Irish Catholic grocer lady down our street glared and asked why I wasn’t dating girls. A Jewish tailor’s assistant at my weekend job explained that in “his” religion “spilled seed” was a sin, and detailed what would happen if his son “spilled seed” himself. My mother’s former hospital roommate–Jewish–called one afternoon when my mother happened to be out. I asked how she was feeling and thanked her for the call. “I know all about you,” she shot back. “You’re sick, and you’re killing your mother, too!”

Anyone saying that to me today would have trouble putting on her makeup or, for a man, shaving because they would no longer have a face. Back then I limited my exposure to Catholics and to Jews for years to come. That was a long, long time ago and nothing of the kind exists within me today. Members of both those faiths are among my and humanity’s dearest friends.

I was far too jumpy at the time to sense the beginnings of something great. In 1964 a high school buddy’s mom named Lily Haacker came to me with “I think I know about you, Joel,” as had all the others, adding, “I think it’s fine, and don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t!”

And at NYU, after the “roommate” of one of my professors died in his sleep, I overheard the department chairman tell him “Bill, I heard about Tom. I’m so sorry. How long had you been together?” And again, “Jane and I are so sorry.” This with Stonewall still five years away.

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