Friday, October 29, 2010

Spooked off

Halloween sucks.

Okay, I don’t hate it, but am I a bad gay man if I don’t just love Halloween?

It started when I was little. There were a few times - well, at least one time - when I was sick on Halloween and couldn’t go out. When I could go trick-or-treating, my mom and dad would always fight over who would accompany me, pushing my wheelchair and helping me say "trick or treat!" (For the record, Mom always lost and had to take me out.)

And it was tough finding a costume that looked good in a wheelchair. (This was before I got fabulously creative.) I was thrilled when I got the idea of being a black blob. I had my mom dye a sheet black and throw it over me. It was cool until the sheet began getting caught in my wheels.

Later, when I had my own place, I had another problem - handing out candy. Answering the door and giving out candy was a problem. Plus I didn’t really like being the real freak show. I began leaving the candy out on the porch.

One year, I skipped out and went to West Hollywood and met some Radical Faerie friends at the street festival there. My friends were adorable - like little boys in a candy shop way past their bedtime. But the scene was insane, with people constantly running into me and $10 parking to boot. Also, I gave a lesbian friend a ride out there and lost her two times. I should have put a leash on her.

The last straw came a few years ago when I left the candy out on a chair. It was a nice, sturdy, dining chair - from Ikea, with blond wood and a rattan seat. The next morning, not only was the candy gone, but the chair was gone, with pieces of it strewn up and down the street.

One thing I like about Halloween is the annual special column I write for the Claremont Courier, the latest of which follows here. Some people hate it. Good. That means I’m doing my job.


Oh, Horror of Horrors! Oh, Terror of Terrors! It is that time of year! Yes, once again, it is time for me to greet you, oh, Most Ghostly of the Ghostly, oh, Most Ghastly of the Ghastly, before your night of nights, when you rise up in all your heinous glory. This, indeed, is your season of seasons, the season of All Hallow’s Eve.

And, as always, it is the greatest of privileges for me, your humblest of minions, to have this opportunity to come before you and to wish you the best - or, er, the worst? - on this most auspicious of occasions and to report to you on the doings among the mortals in this all-too fair town of Claremont. I do regret that I’m quite far back in your receiving line, with 11 days to go until Halloween, but I can’t help be pleased with this date - 10/20/2010. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch - not anything like 10/10/10 - but you know what fools these mortals be with their numbers and their attributed meanings. Besides, if this was in Europe, today would be 20/10/2010.

But this, as you well know, oh, Raj of the Ridiculous, is America, and, as you also know well and as is common, this October 31, in a most delicious irony, comes right before Election Day. No doubt you’ve already heard lots about the perfectly ugly mud-slinging and the wonderfully nasty barbs, both in this state and all over the U.S, especially with the Republicans and the rabid "tea partiers" going all out and widely believed poised to take back at least some power from the Democrats. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, since it is pretty much a mirror image of what was going on under eight years of President Bush.

Claremont is also voting on a school bond on November 2, and there has been a nice amount of dust kicked up over the issue. There is even an organized group arguing against Measure CL, saying mainly that it is too costly in these recessionary times (whether or not the recession is over, as was recently touted - not unlike "Mission Accomplished!"), but I wonder if this is yet another vocal minority in this town that so prides itself in its educational institutions and strong sense of community. That a school board member has endorsed a "no" vote on the bond makes this all the more delightfully vexing.

I have to tell you, oh Saint of the Sniping, that there was no raucous town hall meeting this year, with people yelling and screaming and even hitting at each other, but you’ll no doubt be pleased to know that there has been a steady stream of letters in the local paper here, mostly on national issues like healthcare funding and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, from liberals and conservatives attacking each other, often in quite personal and nasty ways. The letters seem to be from the same people and are entertaining in a delectably weird way, and many people say that they are tired of them. The paper has tried to limit these letters from time to time.

I hope you’ll allow me to editorialize just a bit here. I am astonished, even as your underling in all things dark and dubious, at how people, like the "tea partiers" and other conservatives, rail against things that will surely help them.

Take healthcare funding reform. Not only do these people not want to help others, many of them, judging from the huge number of uninsured, don’t want to help themselves. I think these people are, as you’ll be happy to hear, either greedy (over and over, I’ve heard people say something like "I’m already insured, thank you....") or fearful, especially after September 11, and easily manipulated. Or both.

Then there’s President Obama. I have to say I actually feel sorry for the guy. Everybody wants to crucify him, either for being too much of a Jesus or for not being enough of a Jesus.

Excuse me for getting off track... You might be interested to hear, oh, King of Chaos, the there was a bit of a bruhaha this year over Claremont’s cherished July 4 parade. In this event beloved for kids riding by on bikes and groups of neighbors twiddling their thumbs in formation, there was a remarkably large contingent of people from different churches marching in support of same-sex marriage. This may or may not please you, but I know you’ll love it that some people were so upset that there has been a proposal to ban such "political" entries from this parade that supposedly fetes America’s freedoms. The really crazy thing is that the contingent won two first-place awards!

There is also the story of Bell, of which you’ve no doubt heard, with its outrageous salaries for its city manager and other officials. What does this have to do with Claremont? It turns out that it hasn’t escaped such a municipal mess. As a Los Angeles Times columnist pointed out, Claremont is stuck paying most of the hefty retirement pension for its former city manager, Glenn Southard, recently retired from Indio and known for his imperious attitude, lavish spending and bungling the Landrum shooting.

Mr. Southard probably should be given credit for bringing lots of businesses to Claremont during his tenure here. However, I’m not sure if he could save Claremont from the recession (oops - I forgot - it’s over!). There are perfectly lovely signs of the downturn, such as large, prominent stores in the Village, like Casa Flores, standing empty for months on end. And just in the last two weeks, the popular Cruise Night being closed down and Barbara Baretich’s remarkable horse statue being knocked over only adds to the gloriously sorry mess.

Before I leave you, I can tell you that, just this month, a 79-year-old Claremont resident, Joseph O’Toole, plead guilty to and could face 5 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 for attempting, with a partner, to export weapons to Somalia without a government license. This is terrorism, oh, Duke of Destruction, not unlike when, several years ago, a man held a threatening vigil outside of a local bank for months and was found to have a stash of high-caliber weapons hidden in his Claremont home. That Mr. O’Toole ran (unsuccessfully) for City Council here and was an outspoken leader of a group calling itself, without tongue in cheek, the Citizens for the American Dream, set up to foil an affordable housing project in Claremont - yes, the proposed site was too close to a freeway, but it also was in or near the most affluent part of town - will, I’m quite sure, warm whatever cockles are left in your cold, black heart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The right to tell them where to stick it

These people are sick. They need to shut the hell up.

Yes, Fred Phelps and his Westboro, Kansas Baptist Church - they of the infamous "God Hates Fags" signs - have been at it again. And they’ve up the ante, showing up and picketing at the funerals of slain U.S soldiers. They argue loudly and in the boldest of colors that the dead military personnel will or should go to Hell for fighting for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

See? These folks are sick. That’s some truly twisted, sick, screwed-up logic.

What’s more, they’re fighting for the right to do this. At the Supreme Court.

A couple weeks ago, in one of the first cases of the new session, the justices of the highest court of the land heard arguments stemming from a lawsuit filed by a father against Phelps’ congregants for picketing the funeral of his son who had been kill in the war in Iraq. The father, who is Catholic, felt not only that the protest marred and degraded the solemn rite but also libeled by the protesters saying that he raised his son in a bad way. The craziness was topped off by one of Phelp’s wacky daughters herself - not an attorney - arguing for the protesters, citing free speech.

Guess what.

I think she when right. I think the justices should rule in her favor.

I say this not only as a writer and journalist who believes strongly in a free press. This is more than taking a highly principled stand.

I say this as a gay, disabled man who fights everyday to get out and be an active, visible part of society. I want a man to be able to wear a hat with a Confederate flag on it, because I want to be able to go around in my bright, gay-pride rainbow tie-dyed overalls and with rainbow laces in my shoes.

I say this, because I want to be free to say that these people are - or act like (I’m a Quaker who sees God in everyone, remember) - sick, evil, twisted, stupid, heinous assholes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Facing up

I liked Jesse Eisenberg in "The Squid and the Whale," and I adored him in "Adventureland." Even more than Michael Cera (especially in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), he owns the market in playing the cute nerd - slightly scruffy, slightly hippie, slightly punk. So it was a bit of a surprise and a real treat to see him doing such a fine, fine job in playing an arrogant asshole as Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook co-founder, in "The Social Network.

Whether or not this portrayal is completely accurate and fair, Eisenberg is mesmerizing, contributing to the film being a terrific, absorbing two hours, with zippy direction by David Fincher, crackling dialogue by Aaron Sorkin and driving music by Trent Resnor (the new Danny Elfman?) of Nine Inch Nails. Making a heady intellectual property dispute downright thrilling, with intriguing characters, this is an old-fashioned, good, adult drama - the kind Hollywood used to be so good at making but rarely does anymore.

What I like best about the movie is the way it sharply evokes college life, especially on the east coast - running through a freezing midnight drizzle in a hoodie and flip-flops, studying alone under a bare florescent light in a tiny dorm room, riotous partying in centuries-old, stately, stained-oak rooms. Reznor’s steely music adds to the sense of loneliness and alienation felt even at the heart of this exclusive, clubby setting. This is one of the best depictions of the strange, protected, suspended life in academia since Mike Nichol’s production of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?"

The film and all its publicity made me think of how much Facebook has changed our world. A few days before its released, in a most bitter irony, a gay Ruttgers University student committed suicide after being filmed on-line, for all the world to see, having sex with another man. Although the roommate and friend who did the broadcasting saw it as a lark, it strikes me that this is the 2010 2.0 version of what happened to Matthew Shepherd.

I have to say that I suck at Facebook. I have heard about thousands of people going off Facebook because of it eating up time and being a substitute for face-to-face contact, but I hardly get on it.
Yes, it is good for getting the word out, like when I have a new blog post, and I’m sure I’m missing out on some things, but I don’t really care that Jane is enjoying a nice bowl of homemade asparagus soup, and I don’t want to spend hours playing games with animals. I understand all those people wanting face-to-face contact rather than Facebook.

Then again, on the day I saw "The Social Network," I had the extraordinary, moving experience of going to visit a friend I had been out of touch with for 25 years - half my lifetime. He had found me on Facebook.

Now, that’s a status update worth sharing.