Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Threat to my marriage: Gay Unions? No way! George Bush? I'll say!

In his latest misadventure in bigotry, George Bush is speaking out against gay marriage. I will not be the first to say that this is code-language, bigot-speak, adapted from the old anti-miscegenation 'them blacks are after our wimmen' notions - now transformed into "those gays are after our sons." As a man who has been married to the same marvelous woman for fifty three action filled, 3D adventurous years, I feel I am one of the most qualified men in America to offer an opinion on the real threats to marriage among my countrymen. And George Bush is a big part of that threat. Like his ally and spokeswoman for the lunatic right, bimbo-fascist Anne Coulter, George Bush likes to wrap his bigotry in a moral fundamentalism that defies all sense, and in Bush's case reflects the cruelty of a loutish mind and an impaired moral vision. He cannot be unaware that the very anti-gay marriage law (covered over as "defense of marriage") that he proposes to write into law is an invitation to gay bashing, and that he puts innocent men and women's lives at risk when he suggests such legistlation to the Congress, even though one and all recognize that he is simply playing to his base with other people's lives, something he tends to do with war and peace. There are times when I think our President regards all life as some kind of big flat screen videogame with no real consequences for those whom he can manipulate. Still, there are real threats to any marriage and I would like to list them in the following paragraphs.

Real threats to ponder. Money problems. A decent minimum wage might do more for defending marriage than any other government act right now. A secure, well paid job is no assurance of a lasting marriage, but it sure helps. Another threat: Children. Nothing can tear a marriage apart as the unhappiness of our children, their school problems, their work problems, their marriages and divorces, and their illnesses. Speaking of illness, there is little to match cancer for threatening a marriage with stress, pain, and medical bills. And MS and Parkinsons do a good job of separating the girls from the boys. Indeed, medical advancements in these areas that might have been made have been delayed if not stopped by Bush's forbidden stem cell research - cures and good health might save many a marriage. Let's face it, the greatest threat to a loving marriage is death, not gays.

Now to get personal. George Bush is personally threatening my long standing marriage as no one else could possibly do. Here's what happened. I am a self confessed political junkie. When Bush speaks to the nation, I listen. wife is nearby or in the room and tells me to "turn that monster off." Almost from the beginning, when Bush first appeared on the national scene, she had a visceral dislike for Georgie Porgie. She hated his fake macho swagger, she despised his phony Texas drawl, she loathed his unctuous piety, and simply would not sit still to watch him in repose speaking to the nation or in action figure mode strutting on battleships. Elections came and elections went, State of the Union messages were delivered, but she refused to be in the same room with our President via television. She appears to regard it as a moral weakness on my part that I sit there transfixed by his speeches, determined to hear the very worst in the way of governance that he can offer first hand.

Now I do not like to be criticized for my taste in TV viewing, and if that includes a masochistic pleasure in watching our President, so be it. Who is she to grab the remote control and demand a Bushless world? Everyone knows that the remote belongs to the man in the family, even under the most extreme, provocative situations such as an appearance by our President. Why must I sneak about secretly turning on the TV, keeping the volume low, my finger on the mute button ever at the ready, hoping that my wife will not appear to shoot down my moment with George Bush? He has turned me into a furtive, politically unfaithful spouse. These differences about Bush watching may be signs of a deeper incompatibility that might well threaten our fifty three year old marriage but so far we have faced this Bush crises and prevailed. Question? How did I manage to be married for fifty three years when I am at best only fifty-two. There must have been an intra-uterine ceremony. Still, it has been a great marriage - filled with much pleasure and some pain - the way all good marriages manage to be - enhanced by the raising of two great sons. So, except for the matter of Bush's TV appearances - we feel we are safe 'till death do us part. And regarding gays? Who in their right mind can be threatened by other people's love, be they straight or gay, when the real threat to love is a ruthless President's manipulation of hate? So Happy Anniversary my darling. You're right, as always, but please stay away from my remote. Sherman

Strange connections: An actress dies and soldiers are murdered.

Last Sunday I attended a memorial service for an actress I had known when she had appeared in one of my musicals, just as I became aware of those two missing soldiers in Iraq who were later found murdered. On the surface these events seem to have little in common, but they are both about unfulfilled lives.

Susan Browning, the actress, had been one of the fine young talents on Broadway in the late sixties, a Tony nominee for her performance as the stewardess in Sondheim's "Company;" the girl who sang "Barcelona" to the delight of all who heard her. By the time I had met her thirty years later at an audition for my musical, she had experienced a failed marriage,a bout of alcoholism, and an eating disorder. She had changed from the slender young beauty of "Company" into an immensely stout woman - only her large, expressive dark eyes connected this Susan to the beauty that she had been. Her audition was superb. She was every bit the feisty, self-absorbed, witty character that I had envisioned for the writer Gertrude Stein in my musical. We immediately cast her in this romp about American's in Paris in the late twenties, and she did not disappoint us. Her performance was exceptional - full of wit, sparkle, and a charming wickedness, with a bit of risk that all splendid actors demonstrate on stage.

I got to know Susan from this regional theatre experience and we discovered that we shared a birthday, February 25th, joking that we could now never forget to send each other a card on that date. After a year or two we forgot. Susan - who later appeared as one of the nuns in "Sister Act" worked less and less frequently and finally retreated into a self imposed exile in her own apartment, a recluse who would not collect her mail or answer the telephone. A sad and lonely life - relieved only by her practise of Buddhism, and by her kind neighbors who took an interest in her well being until the end, comforting her in hospital, and seeking out her family to whom she had been long estranged. Members of that family spoke lovingly of the early Susan at her memorial, but at the end, like Blanche in "Streetcar" Susan depended on the kindness of strangers. Her own agents had failed to attend the funeral, sending an actor to represent them.

I had expected the memorial to be crowded with friends and fellow actors given the many Broadway shows and films Susan had appeared in, but except for a handful of family, and those West Side neighbors, there were only a few actor friends in attendance - those who had appeared with her in "Big River" a musical version of Huck Finn, and had fond recollections of her as a fellow cast member. I am afraid that a Buddhist memorial held in a small Upper East Side Unitarian Church on a fiercely warm summer Sunday held few attractions for most of her former colleagues who had not seen her in years. Susan, believing in alternative medicine, had refused to take her thyroid medication, and that together with her obesity had led to her death. Her reclusiveness had not encouraged her family, her old friends and acquaintances to share her last years. One of her neighbors remarked to me about her book lined apartment and her great intelligence, but few could fathom the mystery of so much promise ending so sadly. I suppose there is no good answer for the question of how a woman of beauty, intelligence, and great talent, could end her life in such loneliness and isolation. Stuff happens. And despite all the twelve step programs and the touchy feely belief that everyone can be saved from themselves, some can't.

It may seem a strange leap from the death of a lonely Susan Browning to that of the young soldiers who were captured and murdered in Iraq this week - but it is a leap I ask you to take with me. Ultimately, we are all connected by our common humanity. We all die alone, although in different ways. They too died alone and suffering, but in this case, not with the disappointments of a long life, but as young men abandoned to their fates by a government who had asked more of them than that government had been willing to give in return. Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Oregon, and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, brutalized beyond recognition, could not be easily identified when found. These young men had not made bad choices that led to ruined lives, their only bad choice was trusting in their government with its Rumsfeld doctrine, believing that they would go into combat properly armed and supported, and be welcomed as liberators rather than shot at as occupiers. Sent into danger in a Humvee without the necessary force to back them up, and isolated from the other Humvees who had gone off to chase insurgents, they were ambushed and outnumbered. One of these soldier's fathers spoke of the betrayal he felt in having his son die in this ill concieved, ill managed war. Relatives described Private Mechaca as "very nervous. He had never smoked, and he had started smoking. He was waking up in the night, very disturbed. He couldn't sleep well. He was very nervous, very jittery." He had seen the army as road to advancement in life. And he believed in what he was doing. But his young life ended on a road in Iraq, ambushed, brutalized, and murdered by persons unknown.

We are told that the chain of command is looking into this incident. Appropriate noises will be made, and more promises that young soldiers will not be left abandoned to the mercy of insurgents in the future, promises that cannot, and will not be kept in the endless fog of this war by this administration. Some deaths cannot be prevented. When an aging actress isolates herself and that isolation leads to her death it is a sad and cautionary tale about aging, depression and human nature - and what we do to ourselves. But when young soldiers are ambushed and murdered, it is a sad and cautionary tale about what is done to us by a misguided and arrogant government. These young men deserved better; not just to be mourned and forgotten after an investigation into the incident. In this case, the incident is the war. And the war is the Bush Administration.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Grossed Out

A curious change has occurred in the way we regard films, politics, and life itself. Figures, statistics, polls, box office results, have taken on a new significance in the press, and I suppose, in the minds of many in the American public. When I was growing up in the dark ages, or, as I prefer to think of that time, a golden age, there was a place for the box office earnings of a film - and it was on the business page. Today, The New York Times, runs the box office figures of the latest film in the Arts section. The Arts section? Do millions of Americans really hold their collective breath waiting to discover if "The DaVinci Code " has made it to top place in the box office, or if it has earned in its first week the millions necessary to justify its enormous cost? Do I care what the gross is? Do you care? I doubt it. I do care if it's a good film, that if I go to see it, it won't waste two precious hours of my life. Quality no longer seems the big issue in entertainment - financial success is the key. Sure, if films fail at the box office it is more difficult for the artists and businessmen involved to get the financing for other films - but success and failure are not to be measured by the standards of The Wall Street Journal. So, I am truly grossed out by all the talk of grosses.

Some of this I attribute to the winners and losers psychology that has overtaken this country. In these Bush years, the winners are the multi-millionaires whose numbers have increased exponentially, those who have bought and sold power,or real estate, and the losers are the middle class whose numbers are declining as outsourcing of good jobs and the "global economy" has taken away their livelihoods. Just as we are supposed to celebrate the box office grosses of the latest manufactured megahit, we are encouraged to enjoy the profits of a Wallmart or the cavorting of the Paris Hiltons, the Donald Trumps, and the other gross figures of excess. They are not disconnected. Popularity at any price is what they share. We will sell it cheaper - even if it hurts this society - we will profit from our proflicacy via a personal sex tape - or we will become a household name by domesticating the law of the jungle ("You're fired! And I'm admired") in a popular TV show.

Now, I like horse races. But only on the track. It may seem a harmless endeavor - this preoccupation with "what it made," or "what he/she made" or what he/she polled" but I think it harms people, it harms art, and it harms our political discourse. It coarsens the way we look at all aspects of life. It is a demonstration of the Oscar Wilde remark, "He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." I would less than candid if I denied my pleasure in the low poll ratings of Bush and his administration, but I would be happier still if the public's attention was focused not on the polls but on the lies, the misdeeds, and the criminal acts that have been committed by this administration. It is not sufficient that there is a general discontent, a malaise about this President and his people, it is important that the nature of the misdeeds be understood so that we, as country, never make such catatrophic mistakes in judgment again.

On another subject, the new Unity Party has been making its rounds of the various talk shows, promising a coalition of concerned Republicans and Democrats who wish to enter the next election with candidates who can break the hold that bi-partinship bitterness has on the nation. My instincts shout "Ralph Nader" - the spoiler - for whom we can partially count the blessings of the Bush Presidency. Why does this Unity Party seem to me a desire to save the Republican party from a well deserved defeat - one which will lead to a true investigation into its misdeeds - as oppossed to a genuine grass roots movement to reform our politics. The fact is our politics can't be reformed unless the Democrats come to power again and restore the balance of government power. The Republicans will own the Supreme Court for the next forty years, and it is essential that the Congress become Democratic soon. I have few illusions about the Democrats, they are sure to screw up in their own blundering, compromising fashion, but it won't be the Republican fashion, with a war brought on by lies and greed, and an environment so compromised that the world of our grandchildren will still be suffering from the Bush Administration's misdeeds. Without a thorough investigation of where we went wrong as a nation, we cannot correct our course. This is no time to kiss and make up in some "Unity Party" - a utopian dream that can only help to perpetuate our particular Republican nightmare.