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Credos

I am of the belief that everyone believes in something. There wouldn’t be any reason to live if we didn’t have something to believe in—life itself, the care and welfare of our families, work, love, hope, whatever. The concept of believing is accepting something without absolute proof of its existence. This is what is known as faith. When we have proof of something, we say, “I know…” If we can’t prove it but accept it to be true, we’ll say, “I believe…” Since everyone does not believe in all the same things, it’s not fair to criticize or negate other people’s beliefs. We all should have the right to believe what we want and we mustn’t regard other people’s beliefs to be any less or more important than our own.

Some people contend that if they personally have not seen or experienced something, then there must be no such thing. I am not much of a skeptic, in terms of proven world phenomena, and I am humble enough to accept the fact that just because I don’t know something or have not witnessed it with my own eyes, does not mean that it does not exist. I have not seen the actual Taj Mahal, for instance, but I believe it to be in India, as I am told it is. I have never seen a comet or a duckbilled platypus, for that matter, but others have claimed that they have. How does anyone expect to see and experience everything there is on this earth and beyond, let alone the Universe, in the course of a single lifetime? So many things we just have to accept on faith.

I am a pretty good judge of character and can usually recognize bullshit when I hear it. So, although I’m not a gullible person, I don’t always have to see something to believe it. I tend to let logic and probability guide my beliefs. Then there are those who when they do encounter incredible sights, they still won’t believe it. They would rather think that they are crazy or delusional. So seeing isn’t always believing. There are just some things in this world that we cannot yet explain. It is erroneous to say, “There is no such thing as …” and then call it by a name. Simply, if there is a name for something, then it must exist, even if you yourself don’t believe in it, it is something merely theoretical, not yet experienced, or something dreamed up in one’s imagination (which I’ll discuss in a moment).

What do the following things have in common: Barnard’s Star B, black holes, brown dwarfs, cosmic rays, the earth’s core, the complete electromagnetic spectrum, francium, gravitons and quarks? They are all scientific objects that have never been actually seen. Then how do we know that any of these things really exist? Everything is not visible or tangible. Does anyone doubt the existence of love or truth just because we can’t put a finger on them? Some people are arrogant enough, though, to deny the existence of something just because they themselves don’t believe in it. Someone might say, “I’ve just seen a ghost!” Then the skeptic might reply, “Oh, you couldn’t have. I don’t believe in ghosts. You must be imagining things.” Well, just because you don’t believe in them, doesn’t mean that this person didn’t see one! We often hear this common movie line, stupid and hypocritical as it is: “What’s wrong? You look as if you’ve just seen a ghost!” Well, you say that you don’t believe in ghosts, so how do you know how someone looks when they’ve just seen one?

I happen to believe in all sorts of supernatural beings and the paranormal. I believe in guardian angels (I am sure that I have at least one of my own), ghosts and other spirits (although I don’t think that I’ve personally seen any), demons and demonic possession (I have known individuals who seemed to be possessed by some evil influences), dybbuks, incubi and succubi, extraterrestrials (how do we know for sure that we haven’t met any, since some of them are supposed to look just like us?), gargoyle protoypes (those figures must be modeled after something), sasquatches or Bigfoot, yeti (the Abominable Snowman), even the Loch Ness Monster. There are scientists who even study these elusive creatures. They are called cryptozoologists. If none of these things are real, are these people wasting their time and money on nothing then?

And I don’t deny the existence of the fairy world either, including your elves and gnomes and the like. I’ve never seen a leprechaun or a banshee, but then, I’ve never seen a real shamrock either. I believe that these supernatural beings and creatures simply exist on another plane, and most of us, I suppose, just are not attuned to their special world. The people who deny the existence of unseen and speculative societies and civilizations do so because they don’t want people to regard them as crazy for believing in such things. But since I acknowledge the fact that I am a little crazy anyway (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing), I don’t care if people think that about me. And what’s the harm in merely believing in all these things? People should be allowed to believe in whatever they want to without judgment or negative criticism from anyone. We all have that right.

What is real, anyway? Reality is a state of mind. If we think it, then it is. If other people claim to have experienced certain psychic phenomena, for instance, who am I to doubt their word? I believe that everyone has some degree of psychic power, and although some persons’ extrasensory gifts may be more highly developed than others, most neglect to use their power out of fear, skepticism or mere unawareness. I am certainly aware of my own psychic ability, but probably not its full potential.

Here is something that happens to me much too often for me just to discount it as mere coincidence. I’ll be sitting at home and a name will come into my head for no particular reason, and just seconds later the phone will ring and it’s the very person that I was just thinking of! Apparently, when the person decided to call me, it sent a telepathic signal to me to let me know. Sometimes I will think of someone while I am out on the street, and however unlikely, they will immediately appear! There is a common expression, “Well, speak of the Devil! We were just talking about you!“

There must be a great bunch of living psychics out there, in this country alone, judging from all the psychic companies that used to operate by telephone, although I don’t hear much about them anymore. Then there are your Gypsy fortune tellers and “psychic readers” everywhere you turn. I don’t know how people can throw away good money on such nonsense as that. It’s not that I don’t believe that there may be some bona fide psychics somewhere, but consider what you are paying for. What do they really tell you? Mostly things about yourself that you already know. And they give you general fortunes, not unlike those that you might find in Chinese fortune cookies. “You are going on a trip and will meet a stranger.” Well, everybody goes somewhere at some point, and we are always meeting new people. That’s not a unique prediction. “You just made a major move … You like working with your hands.” “Wow, she’s good! How did she know all that?!”

But even if they are accurate in their assessment of you, so what? Why pay somebody to tell you things you already know or even what you don‘t know, for that matter? “I see death in your future.” Well, duh! I also see death in your future! Everybody dies at some point. Give me an exact when and how. Now that’s a prediction! If something is destined to happen, it’s going to happen whether I have fair warning of it or not! Besides, most people pooh-pooh the future anyway. They tend not to heed the warnings of psychics and fortunetellers, until their predictions actually come to pass, then it’s too late to do anything about it. They are convinced only after the fact. You should have listened!

I have a theory about precognition. I believe time to be a pre-ordained continuum, that all of life’s occurrences are already laid out. You know, what will be, will be, unless somebody does something to change it. But as life is based on a series of choices, an attempt to change a past event would prove to be chaotic, if not catastrophic. Everything we do affects the outcome, especially dealing with people. For instance, if I had never been born, like if my parents had not gotten together, then every contact that I have had in my life with another person would never have occurred. Everybody’s life would have taken a different path. That concept applies to every single person. Therefore, every person’s mere existence has an affect on the world in some respect. That makes us all important to somebody.

Moreover, we think of memory as being able to recall only past events. But why couldn’t a person remember in the other direction? Memory could be a two-way street. Just as one can recall the past, some people could be able to recall the future as well. If we accept that everything has a place in time, then one person’s future is also somebody else’s past. So then these so-called psychics are receiving “memories” that have not yet occurred in their present place in time but in the future. Then, too, it is possible to alter the future, as nothing is absolutely set in stone. If we interfere with an event that was originally supposed to happen, it then becomes a new past or future memory. For instance, if a person gets wind that a certain plane that they are booked on is going to crash, and they decide not to take that particular flight and tries to warn others about their vision to no avail, and the plane actually does crash, at least they are spared by not being on it when it happens. They may not be able to prevent the event itself, but they can keep themself from being victimized by it. So if I suspect that that building is going to blow up or collapse, I’m going to keep my butt out of there!

I also have always been fascinated by time travel. I would like to visit past periods in history when desired, but only as an unseen observer. There are many times and places that would not be conducive to my presence or safe for me to be there, if you know what I mean. I am a bit more apprehensive about the future, however. New technology we will know about soon enough, as we are experiencing it all the time, but I don’t think that I would like to be privy to the fates of people that I know and care about and not be able to do anything about it. Imagine being like the character of Gary Hobson on “Early Edition,” knowing what’s going to happen a day ahead of time. I don’t think I would enjoy running all over the place trying to prevent disaster before it strikes. That would really work my nerves! I’m no hero. I think there should be some mystery to life. For me, it keeps things interesting.

I believe in faith healing, to a certain degree, the power of prayer and the power of the mind. I’m not much of a prayer myself, but I don’t doubt that it works for those who do. All prayer is, in essence, is wishful thinking—you know, wanting something badly enough to will it to come true. The human mind is a very powerful, as well as dangerous, thing. There is even a branch of research being conducted now called Noetic Science, which explores the power of the human mind and its potential to change the world in real physical terms. For example, I believe that sick people can think themselves well if their will and faith are strong enough.

Here is my theory about faith healing. Imagine that we are at one of those tent revival meetings with a charismatic evangelist at the fore, and they get to the part of the service when infirm members of the congregation are encouraged to go up to be healed of their particular malady. A man in a wheelchair rolls up, and Brother Whatshisname lays his hands on the man’s head and says, “Be healed, my son! Get up and walk!” The man, because he wants so badly for it to work, actually gets up out of his chair, stands, then takes a few steps towards the evangelist. “It’s a miracle! Praise the Lord!” But what if the man was already able to walk, he just didn’t know it? Maybe he was told that he would never walk again, so he never even tried prior to tonight. He could have been walking long before now if he had had the positive encouragement and belief in himself to do so.

We had a Ouija board in the house back home in South Bend, Indiana, where I grew up. I used to play with it with my mother, brother and neighborhood friends. And you can believe what you want, but those things really work! When we asked the board a question, the planchette would actually move without our guiding it. I think it has a lot to do with mental influence and will power. My stronger-willed friends could make the thing answer the way they wanted it to just by willing it so with their mind, even if it’s their subconscious at work. I think it’s similar to how a lie detector works. The wires that they hook the person up to are affected by their nerve impulses, which, in turn, move the needle on the polygraph. By the same token, by touching the planchette, we transmit impulses from our brains to the board via our fingertips. There is nothing magical or supernatural about it. It’s all neurological and mechanical.

I believe in the possibility of telekinesis, pyrokinesis and channeling. I believe vampirism and lycanthropy, as well as boanthropy, cynanthropy and galeanthropy, to be mental conditions (I didn’t say “disorders” because that would be a judgmental assessment), where a person has the delusion or takes on the behavior of vampires, werewolves, oxen, dogs and cats, respectively. They may drink blood and sleep in coffins by day. I believe in “Cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am,” so if a person thinks that they are a vampire, then they are a vampire!

I do have a hard time accepting corporal transformation, though—you know, people actually turning themselves and others into things. To me, that defies the laws of natural physics. How can anyone rearrange their atomic structure at will? Evolution is a very slow, indiscernible process. I have already accepted the fact that just because I cannot actually see something, does not mean that it’s not there. So invisibility is a real thing. I even accept the possibility of unassisted levitation. Since I contend that the human mind is powerful enough to counteract gravity, and that the mind may be able to move objects along a plane and possibly catch them on fire, then why wouldn’t it be able to lift things as well and make them float around the room?

I am fascinated by teleportation—you know, the process of transferring the actual physical body from one place to another. I love to travel, but I don’t like the time it takes to get to faraway places. Like on “Star Trek,” I would love it to be possible for Scotty to beam me over to Australia in a matter of seconds. I admit, though, that I am somewhat leery about the process itself. It involves completely disintegrating one’s bodily molecular structure and then reassembling it exactly (hopefully) in another place! Whew, that’s scary! What if something goes wrong in the process? Remember The Fly movies? As incredible a phenomenon as that may seem, I believe that some day it will be a reality, if it isn’t already.

I am not a superstitious person at all. I’m not afraid of black cats (some of my pet cats were black, including the one I have presently) or of walking under ladders, the number 13, breaking mirrors, spilling salt, or any of those other silly old wives’ tales. How can common, everyday activities, like opening an umbrella in the house, whistling in a theater dressing room or merely uttering the name “Macbeth” cause any kind of cosmic upheaval or influence anyone’s luck?

There are even certain religious aspects that border on superstition, like the ritual of baptism or christening, for example. Some people are firmly convinced that by sprinkling or pouring plain, ol’ tap water on a baby’s forehead or immersing their whole body in water will guarantee their place in Heaven. And not to do it, then that person is doomed for Hellish damnation. How preposterous! There are some Catholic TV detectives who, whenever they encounter a dead body, will cross themselves. I’ve seen it done by real life people as well in other situations. What is that supposed to do? That gesture has no more effect than to knock on wood or to clutch one’s pearls.

By the way, I hope that you are not one of those who fears the number 13. I find it pointless and stupid to omit the floor numbered 13 from apartment dwellings, hotels and other buildings, just because certain superstitious people are wary of living or rooming on that floor. Just because they call it something else, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Since the next ordinal number after twelfth is thirteenth, the floor now numbered 14 is still the 13th Floor, no matter what they call it! I may not like the number 9, but these same people don’t avoid it for my benefit. There may be more people who consider 13 to be a lucky number rather than unlucky, so why leave it out for those few others? The guilty parties that comply with the omission are only perpetuating the silly convention that it is by playing into people’s irrational triskaidekaphobia. They should always include it, regardless, and just let those phobic people deal with it.

I recently learned that a Las Vegas hotel (the Wynn) omits the 4th floor in deference to its Asian guests who deem the number to be unlucky. Apparently “four” sounds a lot like “death” in Japanese and Chinese. Now how stupid is that? If some Asian customers have a problem with the number 4, just put them on another floor. The builders didn’t have to leave it out just for them. With that absurd thinking, “nine” is “no” in German and their “six” sounds like “sex,” so why don’t they leave those floors out as well? Haven’t they learned that you can’t please or satisfy everybody?

I do believe in the powers of witchcraft and voodoo. These people would not be practicing these things for thousands of years if there was nothing to them. Actually, a lot of people have the wrong idea about voodoo. Thanks in part to Hollywood movies, voodoo has been characterized as an evil practice of casting spells and curses on innocent people, demonic zombies and sticking pins in dolls, yet most Voodoo practitioners actually do it for good and helpful purposes. The word itself is West African in origin (from Dahomey and Togo via Haiti) and means, “God, Creator or Great Spirit.” So there. I have actually known persons who claimed to be witches and warlocks. People who don’t believe in witches are denying an entire religion, or science, called Wicca. This, too, has more to do with naturalism and earth worship than with casting evil spells on people. There are always individuals who will use their special powers and influence for evil, but everyone is not guilty of ill will.

Most so-called supernatural beings have possible scientific explanations. I believe that ghosts, for example, are restless spirits that have unresolved issues or other unfinished business on earth. You may have heard of those haunting ghosts that make regular appearances in the same place (usually where they actually died) and do exactly the same thing each time. One explanation that seems plausible to me is that they are manifestations of some sort of ethereal recording, if you will, that merely replays itself over and over again. It’s sort of like a hologram.

I, myself, have never seen an actual ghost or spirit, but I would welcome the experience. I would regard such a sighting with interest and curiosity rather than fear and dread. Why do people freak out so to something that is basically harmless? I don’t expect that an ethereal apparition can cause one bodily harm, and reports say that they don‘t make actual contact with you, so what are you so afraid of? I would try to communicate with the entity to find out what they want or how I can help them to pass on. Maybe one of the reasons why they remain is because those who encounter them usually freak out and flee instead of trying to find out why they are there.

I am a fan of ghost stories. I have noticed that in movies about haunted domiciles it’s usually the children who first become aware of the supernatural presence(s) on the premises. Their innocence makes them more susceptible, and depending on their age, they have not yet been taught that they should fear the unknown. They regard monsters and other strange creatures with natural curiosity and fascination. That dead girl becomes the child’s friend and confidante. But then they have the problem of convincing their parents and other adults that there really is something present. Little Mary’s “imaginary playmate” is not real, she is told. But what if it is? Just because you can’t see it or hear it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Of course, evil spirits abound as well that do intend to distress us, but they usually make their intentions apparent from the get-go. They don’t bother first to try to win your trust before they inflict harm on you. They probably won’t even give you prior warning.

The same can be said of religiously-devout parents who talk to God on a regular basis and claim Jesus to be their good friend, but will turn right around and try to convince their young daughter that her “imaginary friend” is not a real entity and only in her head. “So, Mommy, you can have your fantasy confidante, but I am not allowed to have my own? That’s not fair! The thing is, though, my friend is real–she is standing right over there. Where is this Jesus guy of yours that you talk to all the time?”

I am a fan of magic shows and illusionists, and although I realize that they perform tricks that aren’t real, I enjoy trying to figure out how they do certain things. There is always a simple explanation when you know how it’s done. But there are some guys in the business who I believe to be real wizards, if there are indeed real ones in the world. They are Criss Angel, Mat Franco and Shin Lim, to name a few. These guys perform what appear to be impossible acts of magic. They seem to defy the rules of physics. I have seen them accomplish telekinesis, unassisted levitation and even teleportation. Instead of employing coverings of some sort, I have seen them change things right in front of our very eyes. I am not easily fooled, as a rule, but the things I have seen them do goes against all logic and possibility. Maybe magic is a real thing and there are actual sorcerers living among us. Well, witches are real. People believed in them enough that many suffered execution because of it. So why can’t sorcerers be a real occurrence, based on original, actual practitioners?

My friend, Lloyd, is a pooh-pooh naysayer when it comes to real wizardry, but as a self-proclaimed “Jesus Freak,” he does buy into all aspects of the Christ Mystique. He believes all the miracles and incredible events that are reported in the Bible, especially those having to do with Jesus himself, but hypocritically will tell me that magic is not a real thing when it refers to modern-day, practical application. He never witnessed any of those Biblical accounts but accepts them all on faith, and then will discount an act of magic performed before his very eyes.

He even contends that the magicians that disappear in one place and then reappear in another place have identical twins helping them. They all can’t have twins. How could they keep them secret? Somebody would know if they had a twin or not. The brother would not have a life of his own. He would have to stay hidden all the time and emerge only during his brother’s performances. I don’t think anybody would agree to that, even if it were possible.

I have dabbled in numerology only as a curiosity. I once took an Enneagram Test online, which asks a series of personal questions whose responses then determine one’s personality assessment. Not surprisingly, I turned out to be a Type 5 individual. In numerology, 5 is the Pentad, or Great Mystic Number, and the letters of the alphabet all have numeric value. The letters of my full name just happen to add up to 5, making it my special Life Number. I arbitrarily always choose 5, or multiples of 5, as my “lucky” numbers.  Suffice it to say, I really am a five, okay?

I have concluded that the number 5 has been a prevalent recurrence throughout my life. I was born during the 5th hour of the 5th day of the standard workweek on the 5th day of the month in the 5th decade of the century. I have five genetic siblings (that I know about)—four brothers and a sister. Although my sun sign, Virgo, is the 6th sign of the Zodiac (I missed it by one), there are five letters in its name. The name I go by primarily, Cliff, also has five letters. I made my stage debut performing, thus beginning my life’s career, when I was five-years-old. My symphony consists of five movements.

Those who were alive at the time remember where they were when President Kennedy got shot. I was in 5th period music theory class in high school when I first received the news. Sadly to say, I have been incarcerated five times in my life. I hope that is all. I am not a criminal, mind you, just an occasional victim of unfortunate circumstance, due to unwarranted police harassment.

I have only a casual interest in astrology. I think that there is something to it as a science, but I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t let the stars rule my life, by any means. I believe that there is something to personal biorhythms, though. I’ve done my chart periodically, and they have been amazingly accurate. I truly believe in what I call “karmic justice,” that what goes around, comes back around. Therefore, I am not a vengeful person. I don’t need to be. If someone does me wrong or causes me harm, I don’t bother to seek revenge. I just sit back and wait for them to get theirs. And they always do too, somehow.

I believe that more than one person can come up with the same idea or invention or even make up a word or coin a phrase, often simultaneously, it seems. I once was explaining the plot of a movie that recounted the events that lead up to a previously-written story. Since this sort of thing should have a name, I made up one of my own, or thought that I did. Since a sequel follows succeeding events, I frivolously coined the word “prequel” to denote those events which precede the already established. It was my own personal word which I had not used in public, so I was quite surprised when very soon after, I heard the media use that same word! I thought, What?! That really is the word for that?! What makes this more of an amazing coincidence, if that’s what it is, is that the first film with which I associated the term was 1972’s The Nightcomers, starring Marlon Brando, which introduced the characters who later became the ghosts in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. When I looked up prequel in the dictionary, I found that the word had come into common parlance in 1972, the same year I first used it!

The same thing happened again more recently. One of the female houseguests on the fifth season of the TV reality show, “Big Brother,” one day decided to give herself a mohawk haircut. You know, that’s the one with the straight patch of hair across the middle of one’s head, leaving the rest of the pate all bald. Well, this girl, Jennifer (aka Nakomis), did not cut off most of her hair but only shortened it on the sides. I considered her new ‘do more of a “faux-hawk” than a real mohawk. I thought to myself, Hey, I just made a clever bon mot. Then just a couple of days later I came across a magazine ad touting a new hairstyling product, saying that it is suitable for short hair, crewcuts and…faux-hawks! Well, I’ll be damned! Somebody beat me to it again. I guess great minds do think alike. I made up a word to describe a person who is not up on all his rules of proper grammar and syntax: a “mal-literate.” Let’s see how long it takes for that neologism to catch on in the media.

But the one that really blew my mind is an occurrence of my seemingly-influential will. This is what happened. It was late February 2008, when I was looking at the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday supplement of The New York Times, specifically the various reviews of the shows currently playing on Broadway. One of the articles cited a website to which users can suggest shows and parts they would like their favorite actors to perform. Madame Arcati is a character in Noel Coward’s comedy farce Blithe Spirit, who is an elderly, eccentric, psychic medium who rides a bicycle and who is held responsible when she inadvertently conjures up and then subsequently tries to exorcise the pesky ghost of the lead character‘s dead first wife. For a while at the time I had the notion that Angela Lansbury would be perfect for that role. There is also a musical version of the play, called High Spirits which played on Broadway in 1964 and starred Beatrice Lillie as Madame Arcati and Tammy Grimes as the Ghost. The 1945 film adaptation stars Rex Harrison as the harried husband, and Margaret Rutherford is a hoot as the moxie medium. Geraldine Page played the part in the 1987 Broadway revival of the play. I love her, too.

So anyway, I visited the interactive website and submitted my idea about Angela coming back to Broadway in a revival of High Spirits. I received a response from someone saying that due to her recent unsuccessful stint in the play Deuce, Ms. Lansbury would not be returning to the stage any time soon. Oh, well. I just thought I would put it out there.

So now it’s about eight months later when I was watching a Walt Disney documentary on TCM, narrated by Angela. TCM’s commentary host was the late Robert Osborne, who introduced, as well as offered bits of trivia and information about the features shown, and on this occasion, after giving us some of her career credentials, mentioned that Angela would be back on Broadway in the spring starring in Blithe Spirit! Now could that be merely a coincidence when I had made that very suggestion only months before? Did someone close to Ms. Lansbury mention my idea to her which prompted her interest? Of course, I had suggested the musical, but maybe Angela didn’t want to take on the musical version and opted for the play instead. Even so, it’s the same role that I wanted her to do.

When I went to see her in the play, and I would have waited for her at the stage door of the theater after the matinee, but Lloyd, whom I was with, didn’t want to wait around until Angela came out, so we didn‘t stay. I wanted to ask her how this project came about for her and to find out if I was in any way responsible. So until I learn differently, I am claiming to be the one who advanced her career by willing the great Angela Lansbury back to Broadway, which resulted in her winning her fifth Tony Award in the process! She is tied with the late Julie Harris, who also won five Tonys. Audra McDonald now holds the performance record with six Tonys to her credit, tying with the now-deceased director Mike Nichols. The record for technical achievement goes to Oliver Smith, who has won 8 Tonys for Scenic Design, and Jules Fisher also has 8 for Lighting Design. But the record is held by producer-director Harold Prince, who has won 21 Tonys!

Incidentally, someone was really wrong about Angela’s not wanting to do Broadway again, because even after Blithe Spirit closed, she next starred in a revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones, in which she even sang, followed by a revival of Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man. Now maybe I can get someone to produce a biopic of Pearl Bailey, to be portrayed by Queen Latifah.

In theory, I suppose that nothing is absolutely impossible. We just don’t know how to do everything just yet. It was once believed that human aviation, for example, was an impossible feat. How is a vessel that weighs 82,000 tons able to float effortlessly on the surface of the water? That still seems pretty impossible to me. Then consider all the other “impossible” things that humankind has accomplished over the centuries. Realize that at some time in the past, everything we now have was once impossible, until somebody figured out a way to do it. What we call science fiction is fiction only in the sense that the actual events of the story may not have yet taken place. The specific elements used in the storytelling are usually quite conceivably plausible, as in any tale of fiction. So then, it is more likely to be precognition on the part of the author or artist. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet, but it could or will someday.

Author Jules Verne wrote about space travel and modern submarines long before they came into practical being. Writer Arthur C. Clarke introduced videophones, e-mail, laptop computers and space communication satellites to the literary world years before we knew that someday there would be such things. And all those once fictional stories about robots, genetic engineering and cloning have now become a scientific reality. The new hands-free vacuum cleaner and sweeper that we see advertised is merely a modern version of Rosie, the robot maid from “The Jetsons” TV cartoon series decades ago. They even now have hospital robots that do the work that orderlies and candy-stripers used to be responsible for. Just like in the movies, doctors are now experimenting with brain transplantation, as well as transplanting the face and even the whole head!

In Fantastic Voyage (1966) a medical team was miniaturized in a submarine to microscopic size and injected into the blood stream of a human body, with the intent to localize a cancerous tumor (I think it was) somewhere in there and eradicate it. Now only 43 years later, instead of a submarine, they have come out with a “smart” pill (it’s called the iPill) that has been infused with computer circuitry along with medicine and programmed to target a specific malady in the body and fix it. Pretty amazing, huh? Fantastic, indeed! The fantasy films Christine (1983), The Love Bug (1969) and its sequels feature automobiles that are able to drive themselves. Well, now we actually do have a robotic car that drives itself. Is it scientific progress or demonic possession? We have also seen movies that feature cars that fly, and somebody has come out with an actual flying car! And do you remember Michael J. Fox’s Hover Board that figured prominently in the Back to the Future (1985-90) films? Well, that is now a reality as well.

A TV episode of “Elementary” did a story about a genetic research genius who found a way to manipulate certain genes to use to infect people with fatal genetic diseases. He was even able to duplicate DNA, which he used in order to frame someone else for a murder that he had committed himself. I wonder if the writer of that episode knows someone who can actually do that? If that is possible, which I don’t doubt that it is, it will get so that we won’t be able to trust even DNA evidence anymore, which, up until now, has proved to be so reliable in crime-solving. We now know about computer viruses and worms that are created to wreak havoc and even destroy our personal computers. On an episode of the new show “Scorpion” somebody has gone a step farther by which a vengeful cyber genius has found a way to infect a specific computer with a mysterious pathogen which makes the user deathly ill. Again, I wonder about the validity of that method of murder, or are these show plots giving people ideas? Visualization is the primary impetus for invention, discovery and wish fulfillment. An unforeseen concept must be thought up before it can be realized. Designers and architects usually sketch their ideas then create the tangible item from the drawing. I wouldn’t be surprised if those exotic, eldritch creatures in the Cantina scene in Star Wars (1977), for example, all really exist somewhere in the Universe.

I didn’t believe that our world would end on December 21, 2012. For one thing, I don’t see how the ancient Mayans could pinpoint a specific future date that accurately. But even if something does happen during my lifetime, I don’t think that it will be a matter of world destruction. The word apocalypse means “revelation” or “an unveiling.” Some believe that it may be the coming of the Age of Enlightenment. Interestingly, though, I find that I do believe in the legend of the Antichrist. There are several theories and opinions on who or what the Antichrist is. Most agree, though, that it’s a powerful political figure, but it may refer to more than one specific person. It could be someone in public office or in a high position, a world leader, like a Chief Executive or even the Pope!

From what I know about it, the events that will supposedly lead up to Armageddon are, in my opinion, quite plausible. There is already tangible evidence of global domination via our ever-increasing technology. It is entirely possible for a person in power to woo the people of the world to be his faithful minions and force us against our will, even those who don’t want to follow him. There may come a time when none of us will be able to buy or sell anything unless we have received the “Mark of the Beast,” which could be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, there has already been talk of implanting microchips into people’s children and pets (and adults, too), to be used as tracking devices, in the event that they ever get lost or abducted. But that would mean that they could always be located, even when they might not want to be. There would be no more privacy, even less than what we now enjoy.

Suppose they make it compulsory, that if we don’t accept the tracking implant, we will be imprisoned or killed. Or we could be recruited through our home computers. They could set up a certain seductive website, and when we log on to it, they would have our number, as it were. Already we are subject to numeric identification everywhere we turn. All our corporate dealings require account numbers, I.D. numbers (PINs), Social Security numbers, telephone numbers…numbers, numbers! Then with all the national unrest in the world, a major cataclysmic holocaust is certainly feasible.

The creation of artificial intelligence is also an inevitable probability. If they haven’t already, someone could figure out how to make a computer think for itself, without human influence or control. And as all knowledge can always be used for evil, what if someone programs a machine or robot with their own nefarious agenda? Maybe that will turn out to be the Antichrist. It would be acting on its own, and it would be virtually impossible to stop it. You can’t kill it, because it’s not a living thing; it’s a machine. Remember the Terminator films? What did I say about so-called science fiction’s not really being fiction? Those films, as well as Transcendence (2014), can be perceived as frightening cautionary tales, which I can only hope that the Powers-That-Be will take heed and govern themselves accordingly. I only hope to be long gone by the time all this comes to pass, if it ever does.

What is imagination? The images created in our minds must come from somewhere. I believe imagination to be random access memory, particles of matter floating around in space that eventually make their way into our mind’s processing unit. That would explain how more than one person can come up with the same idea. There is nothing new under the sun. I believe that everything has been thought of or experienced by someone else before us. Everything we encounter or “invent” is merely a reoccurrence, discovery, a variation or modification of pre-existing knowledge. All those monsters and creatures of fantasy and mythology that artists and writers conjure up for literature and visual media may be the result of pre-existing phenomena from somewhere in the Universe.

The unicorn, for instance, at least the equine variety, does not seem all that incredible a creature. The reason that we don’t see any around today is because perhaps they have been rendered extinct, like the dodo and the mammoth. Unicorns still exist, however, in the true sense of the word, meaning “having one horn,” in the guise of the rhinoceros and narwhal, also known as the sea unicorn.

Similarly, I don’t deny the former existence of dragons either. They have figured throughout medieval folklore and history by disparate cultures divided by time and distance. Could they all have imagined the exact same thing? Were all those people who spoke and wrote about them for centuries making the things up? St. George was said to have battled a dragon. If he was a real person, might the story be true? The dragon is a predominate symbol and cultural icon of the Chinese, in particular, and they even include it in their zodiac. All the other animals used are real, so why not the dragon as well? Even the ancient cartographers, when depicting uncharted or unknown regions on their maps, acknowledged their existence by writing on there, “Hic sunt dracone–Here be dragons.“ Maybe the traditional ones have all died out, have been killed off or the remaining few are in hiding somewhere. Although now endangered, we still have the Komodo dragon, which is very real and could be merely a smaller species of its much larger ancestor.

Dinosaurs did not completely die out either. They only evolved. Birds are really your modern-day dinosaurs, according to the animal scientists. Also similarly, I consider merfolk (half-human, half-fish creatures) to be a somewhat reasonable plausibility. They could be some kind of evolutionary, amphibious anomaly, perhaps the result of one of the instances of extraterrestrial cross-breeding or mutants from Atlantis, perhaps. Maybe they have chosen to remain elusive because of the common people’s reaction to them. Look at how they treated The Creature from the Black Lagoon, upon revealing himself, when all he was looking for was a girlfriend. There are many sea creatures that I have never seen live and up close, but I don’t deny their existence. Our oceans are vast and virtually limitless and unexplored. Nobody knows for sure what’s under all that water.

I don’t know what purpose your zombies serve, even if I believed in them. But if a supposed dead person can be reanimated to get up and walk around on its own, then they must not have been really dead. A body needs brain activity to motivate itself. The same goes for the legendary vampire who is supposed to be dead yet alive and immortal. I don’t believe in physical immortality. Nothing is forever. The earth someday could be destroyed by outside forces. It’s possible that even our own Sun will burn itself out some day, as all stars eventually do. Of course, I expect to be long gone if and when it does.

Dying is a part of life and is the only thing in life that we all absolutely have to do. It used to be that the only things we had to do were to die and stay our color, but, of course, the latter is not true at all, as people are forever changing their real color all the time. Another life’s certainty is that we all have to pay taxes. But do we have to? If a person never received a pay check or never bought or owned anything, they would not be subject to income, sales or property taxes. It would be difficult to get through life that way, but it is possible, I suppose. As far as I know, no one has been able to conquer death completely.

So then, I guess that dreams must work on the same principle as imagination. We are responsible for our own dreams because they are conjured in our own minds. An indication of my mental stability is that I have never had a real nightmare—you know, the kind that causes one to wake up screaming or bolt upright in bed. I have had rather disturbing or unsettling dreams, but none to the point of terror or audible distress. People love to blame everything that they don’t understand, or what they are unwilling to accept, on their dreams. It’s a vehicle for Denial. A little girl might tell her mother, “Mama, Daddy got into bed with me last night.” “Oh no, he didn’t, honey. You must have been dreaming.” But maybe he did. Were you watching your husband every minute last night? “I got up to look out the window and saw Aunt Hortense down in the garden.” “But your Aunt Hortense is dead. You were just dreaming.” “I don’t care if she is dead, I still saw her! And I wasn‘t asleep either.”

Aren’t people able to tell when they are awake or not? When I go to bed and then awaken hours later, I know that whatever I thought I experienced during that time must have happened while I was asleep. I can settle into my dreams, but I am always aware that it is a dream. I often dream about my parents and other dead friends of mine. I will go along with the dream, not even think that something is not right about it, but then it will later occur to me, ‘Wait! My father’s dead. Why is he in my dream?’ My dreams always occur in various locales and situations. I know that I am not in those places. I’m wherever I was when I went to sleep, lying in bed with my head on my pillow, for instance. What’s to question? Now, I often experience feelings of déjà vu, when I can’t remember if it really happened before or whether I dreamed it. But if I’m out walking around on the street and I witness something strange or incredible, I don’t have to ask myself, ‘Is this a dream?’ or, ‘Will somebody please pinch me to see if I’m awake?’ I know when I am awake.

I was at a party once where a group of people were discussing dreams, and somebody asked if we dreamed in color or in black and white. Such a question would never occur to me because I naturally assumed that everybody dreamed in color, just as I always do. Apparently, that is not the case, and I learned that some people do dream in black and white. So, why would a person, dreaming in black and white, think that what they were dreaming could be real? That would be like watching a black and white movie. At least in color, the dream would seem more realistic.

I am certainly not ready to die, as I do so much enjoy being alive. But although I do want to stay here for as long as I can, I am not afraid of death. It’s an inevitable reality to which we all eventually have to succumb. Our life is whatever we do with it, but we have no control over death, so it can’t be such a terrible and frightening experience. What would be the point of dying, other than to maintain the balance of nature and population control? I believe that death is merely another phase of existence. I contend that we do “pass on” to the next phase. I do wish that I could live as long as I want to, and choose to die when I am ready to. I don’t want to be 300-years-old and in poor health and physical condition, however. If I did get to live a long time, I would want to be able to enjoy myself and do things, or what‘s the point? I believe the people who claim to have experienced out-of-body episodes and those who have actually died and come back to life. There have been too many incidents of this phenomenon, with similar reports, just to discount it completely.

Moreover, I do believe that our souls and spirits (which are forms of energy) take on other forms after death, so I do believe in reincarnation. I don’t entirely understand how it works, though. There are several theories about it. Some believe that we keep coming back as other people, that we all were somebody else in a former life. There have been claims of people experiencing past life memories, which I think could be possible. Another theory about dreams is that they may be memories of past lives. For myself, I feel as if I might have been an Italian peasant woman in some previous life. I occasionally get images of a buxom, blousy, earth mother (ala Sophia Loren or Anna Magnani), standing over a stove, cooking, with a bunch of young children all around. That would explain my penchant for Italian men.

Some believe that they come back as other creatures, but I’m not sure if I buy that one. Why would I go through this lifetime as an intelligent, productive human being, then come back later as a lowly earthworm or something? Along those lines the Buddhists believe that if a person lives a good, moral life, they will come back as human, but if they were bad, then they will come back as some kind of animal. Another school of thought is that each time we die, we attain an increasingly higher level of intelligent existence, until we are eventually one with God. You know, just keep coming back better and better until we get it right. I like that one.

That would go along with my theory about the Meaning of Life. I believe that every living creature was created for a reason. Nobody asks to be born, and we have learned how to prevent it. So now that I successfully made it into the world—and I’ll be dead soon, relatively speaking—what will I do during the short time that I am alive? I think that I should contribute something to the world at large, or why else be here, not doing a damn thing except taking and using up precious space? So the meaning of life to me is, “Don’t just sit there…do something!” As a creative artist, entertainer, educator and writer, I believe that I have made and continue to make a significant contribution to the world. That’s indicated by the vast number of people over the years that have come up to me after my various performances and have actually thanked me for enriching their lives with my talent and gifts. I receive written notes and letters on a regular basis thanking me for my artistic participation in their lives.

I have conflicting opinions about suicide. On one hand, I consider it an act of cowardice—that someone should be so afraid to face certain adversities of life that they would kill themself as the easy way out. But on the other hand, I could look at it as a very courageous thing to do. I think it takes great nerve and courage to murder yourself. I suppose that both schools of thought are valid. We get both kinds; it depends on the individual and the circumstances. Some just get tired of living, as in the case of very old, sick people. But how can a 15-year-old suicide victim be tired of living already when they’ve hardly done anything yet? Some feel that their life has become too much to deal with. They don’t seem to realize, however, that whatever they are going through right then will eventually pass. Just have a little patience. Death, on the other hand, is permanent.

I don’t think that I go as far as to consider suicide a crime, though. No one asks to be born, so one should have the right not to live, if continuing to live is not their desire. People should be in control of their own lives, with regard to the right to die. Nobody has the right to forbid another person to take their own life, if they choose to do so. We can counsel them and try to talk them out of it, but if they really want to do it, they will. Therefore, I condone self-requested euthanasia, but only in extreme cases, when the patient’s situation is definitely hopeless, and it’s only a matter of time. If the patient is in dire pain and discomfort, for example, with no hope for recovery, this may be valid grounds for euthanasia, but only if the person themself gives their consent to end it all for them. I would be wary about coma patients, however, since they have been known to recover after many years, in some cases. And then, too, they didn’t give their explicit permission to “pull the plug.”

While we are on the subject of suicide, here is an interesting bit of trivia. In my decades-long quest of collecting records and songs, I have come to the conclusion that there is a song for virtually every situation of life. You can name any topic or idea, and there will be a song somewhere written about it. Suicide is no exception. In 1933 Hungarian pianist-composer Rezsö Seress published a song entitled “The World Is Ending.” When Sam Lewis put English lyrics to it in 1936, it turned into “Gloomy Sunday” and became known as “The Hungarian Suicide Song.” One line in the song proclaims, “My heart and I have decided to end it all.” An urban legend abounds that listening to the song has caused an incredible number of suicides over the years, as if they needed an excuse. Seress himself eventually committed suicide in 1968. The song was once banned from radio airplay, but even so, there are numerous recordings of it and by major artists. I have several versions myself, including Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Bjork!

If I were ever to off myself, which I don’t think that I will ever do—but I have learned never to say never—I would do it in one of two ways. I would simply take sleeping pills and just go on to sleep—no muss, no fuss. Or I would take the more dramatic approach by getting real stoned and throwing myself, appropriately, off of a high cliff. Consider it bungee-jumping without the cord. I love the sensation of falling, and if I am still conscious by the time I hit the ground, I can only imagine the feeling of my body being dashed to bits on the jagged rocks below or splattered on the pavement at that speed. Ooh! What a rush! I saw an absurd tabloid story one day about a man who supposedly had tried to kill himself about ten times and had failed. He declared, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to commit suicide. Even if it kills me!” You go, boy!

That’s Gratitude for You!

I have not posted anything new on here in a while. I do, however, occasionally make additions and revisions on existing articles.  Today being Thanksgiving, I thought I would reflect on what I feel thankful for.  It’s something that a lot of people do as part of their dinner festivities.  Since I live alone and have no immediate family nearby, family holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are just regular days to me, nothing special.  As I have spent 45 Thanksgivings in New York City, most of those were spent alone in my apartment.  A few times over the years I had dinner with friends at their places, other times a group of us will go to a restaurant.

I am the type of person who doesn’t complain or dwell on what I don’t have but always appreciate what I do have.  We should all be mindful of the fact that however bad off you think you are, there are always others who have it much worse than you do.

The thing that I am most thankful for is the fact that I am still alive and active. I have survived 71 years plus of life, whereas so many of my friends and acquaintances did not make it this far.  I survived the AIDS epidemic during its heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when so many were not so fortunate. Up until the last decade of so I have been blessed with good health all my life. I was never sick outside the common cold.  I’ve never even had a headache.  I never missed a day of school due to illness.  I must have a natural immunity to the flu virus, as I have never had it.  Typical to aging, my short-time memory has suffered in recent years, but I still have my wits about me and I can retain prior acquired knowledge and trivial facts.  I keep my mind sharp by doing crosswords and other puzzles, and writing is a great mind stimulator.

I am thankful to have a roof over my head.  I’ve never had a lot of money–I still don’t–but I have managed to withstand a New York existence.  I have lived alone for 43 years and have been able to pay my rent all by myself.  And I have accomplished that by never having a 9-to-5 job, but maintaining freelance employment throughout my adult life.  Most people find that amazing in itself.  I live within my means.  I don’t buy anything that I don’t have the available cash for, therefore I don’t incur any debts and I don’t owe anybody anything.  If I should want something that I cannot afford, I will just do without it.

Nowadays that my Social Security is enough to cover my rent, it is a great load off my mind.  So even during occasional employment slumps, I don’t have to worry about making my rent for the month.  I am grateful for all the breaks and concessions that I receive as a senior citizen, and I take advantage of everything that is offered me.  My insurance plan provides me complete medical coverage, which include doctor visits and follow-up care, hospitalization, prescriptions, plus eye care and dental coverage.

Even with my modest monetary means, I have all the comforts of home–my computer, TV, music-generator items, plenty of reading material, records and videos at my disposal.  Therefore, I am never bored.  I can always find something to do.  I can cook, sew, clean house and make minor household repairs.  The only thing I don’t have are a washing machine and dryer on the premises.  I still have to shlep to the Laundromat.  But, you can’t have everything.  I know people who do have a washer but are lacking a lot of things that I have.

My mother passed only three years ago, and I am thankful that she lived long enough to experience my adult life and musical career with me.  I am also thankful for the positive, stress-free upbringing I received from her as well as her unconditional love and support.  Although both my parents are now deceased, all my siblings, four brothers and one sister, are still alive.  I even have an uncle, my father’s brother, who is still with us at age 110!  I intend to follow his example.

I am thankful that I still have my voice and am able to do what I enjoy most, that is sing.  There is not as much paid choral work as there was in the past, but I still get occasional gigs and solo work.  I am grateful to have received a well-rounded education and always had many outlets and opportunities for artistic expression.

I am thankful to have many good, loving friends in my life.  When I hook up with somebody, it is almost always a lifetime commitment.  I have friends as far back as elementary school, high school, college and my Army years.  I love sex and I am proud to say that I can still get it up!

All things considered, I have much to be thankful for.  I love my life and I will hate to have to give it up someday.  So I am just going to enjoy it as long as I can.

Happy Thanksgiving Day, my dear Readers!

If I Were on “Big Brother”…

I have watched and followed every season and episode of “Big Brother” since its inception. Now don’t judge me. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t get on you about some of that shit you watch! But if you, too, are a fan of this particular reality TV show, maybe you will understand and appreciate my comments about it. Anyway, due to my devotion, I have learned a few things about how to play the game.

First of all, let me tell you that I would not go on the show myself, if given the opportunity. So this is merely a theoretical assessment. I don’t relish that kind of exposure to so many people. Although I am an exhibitionist (but not so much anymore, since I‘ve gotten fat), and whereas I love interacting with people and sharing my wit and wisdom, I don’t want everybody seeing and knowing all my business. I need my alone time. I would consider it, however, if it were an unmonitored situation, without the cameras everywhere, but that would defeat their purpose, wouldn’t it? Instead, I would like to be able to talk to the contestants directly and give them my unsolicited advice and offer my opinions.

But if I were a contestant/houseguest on the show, I would attempt to use the unheard-of tactic of complete honesty with the other players. On the very first day in the House, I would lay out my game plan and tell the others exactly what to expect from me. I would never intentionally lie to anybody, and when they are convinced that I am always truthful, then they might tend to believe everything I say. Truth and honestly could be contagious if given the chance, but I suppose that would be too much to hope for.

Every season the new contestants come on claiming that they are big fans of the show and have watched it every season. Then why don’t they learn from past seasons how to play the game? The players are always forming alliances and promising each other that they will protect them and never nominate them for eviction. Then they feel all betrayed when somebody that they trusted eventually turns on them, as they always do. As there can be only one winner, everyone will be put out eventually. They never seem to get that little fact. They act surprised and hurt when they catch somebody in a lie or when they go against their word. “He lied right to my face!“ Well, duh! You chose to believe him, so don’t blame him for telling you what you wanted to hear.

I would not want to be in any alliances with anybody. They’re only temporary anyway. Season before last the boys tried to establish an alliance with each other against the girls, but by the second week, a couple guys wanted out of it already. And last season, with only 15 people in the house, they tried to form an eight-person alliance. Now with two Heads of Household, who are both exempt, and four players being nominated each week for eviction (that‘s already six), that didn’t leave any extras to choose from. So, of course, that alliance didn’t last very long.

They will criticize and judge harshly the person who is playing only for themself and to hell with everybody else, when that is what they all should be doing. I’m not making any deals with anyone, and I don’t trust anyone. That way I can’t be disappointed. You can be betrayed only by someone you trust. I have no loyalty to anybody either. Whenever a player goes against another’s wishes, they will immediately turn on you. So, you are my friend and on my side only as long as I do what you tell me to do? Some will get mad when they learn that a player is coming after them. Well, that’s the game, to go after each other. Don’t take it personally. Aren’t you doing the same thing, or should be if you’re not?

Invariably, most houseguests will team up with another player (a “showmance” or whatever) and then swear to each other that they will protect each other and never put them up on the eviction block or vote them out. Don’t be telling anybody that. That’s a promise that you can’t possibly keep, for it will eventually come the time when you won’t have a choice. They might be the only one left to nominate for eviction. Maybe these two “best friends” have to face off in a one-on-one competition. So now they will have to decide whether to honor their pact, sacrifice themselves by throwing the competition and letting the other one win, or decide that all bets are off, to hell with you, I want to stay. That has happened, in fact, more than a few times.

One trusting idiot one season had the opportunity to take himself off the eviction block, but instead decided not to do it, thinking that his “friends” would all save him. Of course, he was promptly dispatched. I guess he learned his lesson.

Players are always boasting or making the claim that they alone was responsible for getting somebody evicted or saved. No one can do that all by themself. Both of those are a group effort. You are only one vote out of many. Just because the Head of Household nominates somebody, doesn’t mean that they will be evicted right away. They have opportunities to save themselves. The HoH does not get a player evicted. All they did was nominate them. Then it’s out of their hands. They‘ve even been known to boast, “I‘m getting rid of her ass this week.” But that’s not up to you. You don’t get to vote. Or you are only one vote.

“Everybody is against me and are lying to me. I can’t trust anybody in this house.“ Oh, boo-hoo! Get over yourself! Nobody, me especially, is impressed by your crying and feeling sorry for yourself. You just reveal your weakness by doing that. As Tom Hanks’ character says in A League of Their Own (1992), “There is no crying in baseball!“ My advice is to get it together, and don’t let the other players get your goat. Be strong. Just play the game!

If I find out a secret about somebody, I won’t volunteer the information unless I am asked directly about it. So if you have a secret, keep it to yourself, because once you divulge it, it‘s not a secret anymore. “I’ll tell you something, if you promise not to tell anybody.“ The problem with that is, that’s the same thing that they say to everybody that they tell, until everybody knows about it! One season when a player figured out that a fellow houseguest had a secret twin sister in the house, and they were both playing unbeknownst to the other players, instead of keeping that knowledge to herself and using it to her advantage, like blackmail maybe, she went and told other people, which did not help her game at all.

In the event that I get to be Head of Household and have to nominate somebody for eviction, don’t think that any of you are exempt. Don’t take it personally, because somebody has to go up, so why not you? As everyone gets the chance to save themselves every week, it does not necessarily mean the end of the line for them. So if you want to stay in the house, do what is required to guarantee your safety. There have been players who were nominated almost every time but managed to stay in the game until the very end.

So far, it was this season, in fact, there has been only one player who did what I would do. When she got HoH, she made this announcement to the entire house. “None of you will be coming to my room to discuss who to nominate or who you want to leave. I am not sharing my strategy with anybody. I am the Head of Household and I am making my own decisions. You will know who I have chosen when the time comes.” I love her for that. There was nothing they could say, because she wasn’t doing anything wrong or unethical. That’s what they all should do.

There is a player every season who tries to run and control the game. They will tell the HoH who to nominate and then tell the other players who to vote out. I don’t understand why so many of them go along with this guy and tend to do whatever they are told. Then when this “puppet master” eventually turns on one or more of them, they feel all betrayed and taken advantage of, when they are the ones who allowed themselves to be taken in by this person.

“I thought we all agreed to vote Ian out, but you went against the House.” ‘Well, first of all, I never agreed, and besides, I like Ian. I don’t want him to go yet.’ Don’t tell me who to nominate or who to vote for eviction. Whom I vote out is my decision alone. If you want a certain person to go up, then win HoH and you can nominate them yourself. Don’t ask me to do your dirty work for you. I would tend to nominate those whom I like the least, so to quote “Talking Tina” (the killer doll from a “Twilight Zone” episode), “You’d better be nice to me!”

I have heard players tell each other, “Everybody likes him, and he is a really good player. If we make it to the Final Two, I know that the Jury would pick him over me. So he has to go.” Well, if he is a good player and well-liked, I would think that he deserves to stay. If all of the better players are evicted, then that leaves only the tired ones there. So they would rather have a floater or someone who never wins any competitions to be a finalist instead of the better player whom everybody likes? If that’s their criterion, why even bother to play the game? Just sit around and bide your time until everybody else is voted out.

A case in point. There was one woman on there last season who merely coasted along the whole summer. She won no competitions and was put up for eviction almost every week, primarily as a pawn. But the other player up with her was the one that would get voted off every time. She was deemed as no threat to anybody, you see. So ironically the deemed worst player ended up in the Final Three and could possibly have won the game!

Looking at it another way, though, maybe that is a good strategy in itself. Just lay low for the whole game and don’t do anything. So the mere fact that they are not considered a threat by anybody is how they manage to stay in the game until the end, while all the other stronger players are being voted out around them. If they make to the end, by whatever means, that makes them a good player, doesn’t it? I’ve heard evicted houseguests complain, “She has floated through the entire game.“ Yeah, but she’s still there, isn’t she? And you’re not. She must be doing something right. My methods probably won’t get me to the end (but then again, they might), but I can leave the House with my head held high.

Simple Gifts?

THE FIRST DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 25, 2016

Dearest Marvin,

Thank you ever so much for the fabulous present. It’s really the most fun gift I’ve ever been given. The partridge is so cute, and he just adores his little pear tree. Of course, they do sort of dominate my one-room apartment, but I’ll make do, even if it does mean putting one of my favorite armchairs in storage. But I love your gift. I really do!

All my love,

Carol

THE SECOND DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 26, 2016

Dear Marvin,

Another present! What a surprise! Now, Marvin, Honey, don’t think that I’m not appreciative, but really, Sweetie, two turtle doves flying around an apartment can really make a mess. Remember my red carpet? It’s now two-toned. I know your heart is in the right place, but don’t you think the partridge world have been enough for one Christmas?

Love,
Carol

THE THIRD DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 27, 2016

Marvin–

If your latest gift is your way of telling me that you’re for the birds, then you have succeeded! Did you know that French hens cannot be domesticated and that their deadliest enemies are turtle doves and partridges? Did you also know that I have a cleaning bill of over $200 for the blood and feathers? Did you also know that I am now known throughout my building as “That Crazy Bird Lady”? No more! Please!

Carol

THE FOURTH DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 28, 2016

MARVIN!!

Let me tell you about calling birds! THEY CALL TO EACH OTHER! MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT! 24 HOURS A DAY! NON-STOP! Thanks to you, I am now on tranquilizers and wearing earplugs! Needless to say, I have stopped entertaining. Parties just don’t make it in a bird sanctuary! Now PLEASE!! BUG OFF WITH THE GIFTS!!!

Carol

THE FIFTH DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 29, 2016

Dear Big Sport!

When I got the five “gold” rings, I figured you were finally coming around to your senses by giving me something I could use. Naturally, I was wrong. Five minutes after putting them on, my fingers turned green!

Marvin, you are the pits! One more gift and I get tough!

THE SIXTH DAY

Quigley, Farquahr, Gribble and Stubbs
Attorneys at Law
200 W. 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
December 30, 2016

Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026

Dear Mr. Truelove,

My client, Ms. Carol Yule, has instructed me hereby to order you to cease at once the sending of geese, hens, doves and other birds or gifts of any kind to her. Should you fail to comply with this order, we have no course but to take immediate legal action.

Very truly yours,
Elbert Gribble

EG/ct

THE SEVENTH DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 31, 2016

Dear Mr. Truelove,

I am the downstairs neighbor of Carol Yule, and she has told me to send this bill to you.
For water damage to my apartment and possessions following flooding caused by seven swans overflowing upstairs bathtub.
–$3,500.00
Please remit at once!

Myron Schmeer

(P.S. from Carol Yule: “Marvin! See what you have done?! For God’s Sake–STOP!

THE EIGHTH DAY

THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Department of Housing
ORDER TO REMOVE VIOLATIONS

January 1, 2017

To: Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005

You are hereby ordered to take immediate steps to remove the following violations as specified under Section 4, Paragraphs 5 and 14, of the Residential Zoning Law, which states:
“No dairy farm or establishment providing milk produce, and no zoo or aviary may be permitted in a multi-unit dwelling.”

A.B. McChesney
Asst. Director
Dept. of Housing

THE NINTH DAY

Police Department of the City of New York
SUMMONS

January 2, 2017

Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005

By order of the Police Commissioner, you are hereby ordered to appear at Civil Court to answer the following charges:
1. Operating a cabaret with nine dancers without a license.
2. Using a private residence as a wildlife preserve.

Failure to comply with this summons will result in your arrest.

THE TENTH DAY

Acme Realty Corporation
245 E. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
January 3, 2017

Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005

Dear Ms. Yule:

It has come to our attention that you are in direct violation of the terms of your lease in our building at 1 Holly Street. In the aforementioned lease, you agreed that you would be the only person living in your apartment and also that you would keep no pets. According to complaints by other tenants, you are now sharing your apartment with 10 leaping men, 9 dancing women and 8 milkmaids, with their cows. In addition, there are reports of various numbers of swans, geese and other birds on the premises. We have no choice but to evict you, preferably before the end of the month.

Very truly yours,
F.C. Sweedle
Manager of Rentals

FCS/cmt

THE ELEVENTH DAY

Harley Stagmire, M.D.
Stagmire Clinic
234 E. 66th Street
New York, NY 10021
January 4, 2017

Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026

Dear Mr. Truelove:

I feel that it is my duty as a psychiatrist to warn you that your actions toward my patient, Ms. Carol Yule, are causing her great mental anguish and bringing on severe traumas. She came to me today in a hersterical state, screaming uncontrollably about “eleven pipers piping,” followed by other complaints I could not make out. I learned from her that you are responsible for her condition, which may require her to be committed to a mental institution. For her good, I must insist that you remain completely out of her life.

Sincerely,
Harley Stagmire, M.D.

HS/ct

THE TWELFTH DAY

Quigley, Farquahr, Gribble and Stubbs
Attorneys at Law
200 W. 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
January 5, 2017

Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026

Dear Mr. Truelove:

I regret to inform you that Ms. Carol Yule took her own life today. In her suicide note, she stated that she wished to repay you for all the things you have done for her. Therefore, I am obeying her last wishes by sending to your apartment the following of her personal possessions:

12 Drummers drumming,
11 Pipers piping,
10 Lords a-leaping,
9 Ladies dancing,
8 Maids a-milking,
7 Swans a-swimming,
6 Geese a-laying,
5 “Gold” Rings,
4 Calling Birds,
3 French Hens,
2 Turtle Doves,
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Sincerely,
Elbert Gribble

EG/ct

[The lesson to be learned here is that of karmic justice–what goes around, comes back around. Have a happy holiday season and a fabulous New Year.]

Sing a Song of Sacred Service

TODAY’S EPISCOPALIAN
(Sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance)

We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian,
We’re high & low & broad & wide & somewhat Bacchanalian;
We’re mystical, political, we’re secular and clerical;
We can be charismatic, but we seldom get hysterical.
We’re traditional and modernist and socialist-monarchical,
We’re protestant and catholic, but not too hierarchical;
About ordaining women we are teeming with a lot o’ views,
As well as on the Prayer Book that our Bishops say we gotta use!
We’re prosperous, by daily work, our stewardship is merited,
Abetted by the little bit that some of us inherited.
The portion that we give the Church is best described as comical,
But please don’t call us stingy–we are simply economical.

We’re very well acquainted, too, with matters theoretical,
In spite of being vague about our methods catechetical.
A knowledge of our church remains to most of us a mystery;
(Some day we’ll take the time to learn our heritage and history!)
Don’t ask us what we mean with our responses demigogical;
They sound so grand they must mean something highly doxological!
In short, we’ve just a smattering of elementary Sunday School,
Including cheerful facts about the meaning of the Golden Rule.
The Church accommodations, like the clergy’s residentiary,
Has been a perk only since the beginning of the century;
But still in matters practical that we all dabble daily in,
We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian.

We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian;
We do our work and no one seems to care if we act gaily in
Committee and Convention; we’re a competent and cheerful band;
Get four of us together and you’ll always find a fifth on hand.
We’re known for our diversity and heterogeneity,
(Be careful not to confuse that word with hermaphrodeity!)
On controversial subjects you will seldom find that two agree;
Episcopalians are each the World’s Leading Authority!
We’re educated, talented, creative and progressional;
So proud of our humility we don’t need the confessional;
We’re very open-minded in all matters strange and alien,
We’re only narrow-minded towards another ‘Piscopalian!
–Author Unknown

[Disclaimer: If you have read my A Critique of Catholicism, don’t assume for a moment that I am condoning this faith over the other one. I love humor, cleverness and wit, no matter what the sentiment or subject matter is. I did work at an Episcopal church for 25 years, but it was simply a job and nothing else. I hope you can just enjoy it for what it’s worth.]

Nativity Redux

What follows is a discussion of the traditional Nativity story that we all are familiar with and that many seem to accept as truth and historical fact.

In my opinion, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, as well as his conception, are highly suspect, to say the least. First of all, there is no proof that Mother Mary was a virgin. The passage from Isaiah (7:14), on which this assumption is based, reads, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” The original Hebrew text, however, never said so. The word which the New Testament renders as “virgin” is almah, which means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrew term for a virgin is betullah. The two words don’t exactly mean the same thing, do they? When the Greeks translated the Bible, they erroneously translated the Hebrew “young woman” as “virgin,” and it is this mistake that the Gospel adopted. I would think that people would be wary of translations, especially the Bible, which has undergone so many. Moreover, Isaiah did not mention any names or dates, so who’s to say that this Mary person is to whom he was referring? That’s making an unwarranted presumption right there.

No doubt there were many young women of marriageable age who had baby boys at some point, but we don’t know if Mary was one of them or even when it occurred. Isaiah might have been reporting on some girl who lived in his village and at the present time, for all we know. A virgin conceiving is nothing special or unusual. Everyone is a virgin before they have sex for the first time. Virgin brides often get pregnant on their wedding night. Even if this unnamed girl was a virgin when she conceived a child, that doesn’t follow that she remained so during her pregnancy and childbirth. People tend to read too much into things.

According to the Biblical account, Mary was already going with Joseph when she became pregnant. How do we know for sure that the baby was not his, or perhaps some other local suitor’s? Furthermore, some scholars report that Mary and Joseph had several other children after Jesus, so how has Mary managed to maintain her virginal status even until now, according to the Christian religions? Those other children weren’t all divinely conceived (either). Actually, the Catholics vehemently negate the sibling theory so that they can continue to regard Mary as The Perpetual, Sexless Virgin.

While I’m at it, I should explain the Roman Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception, for those who don‘t know what it is. The claim of “immaculate conception” has nothing to do with the physical birth of either Jesus or Mary. Mary, all authorities agree, was born in the usual, natural way. But as the future mother of Jesus, she differed in one significant aspect, that of “original sin.” Ever since Adam’s disregard of God’s command not to eat of the Forbidden Fruit, everyone, until the coming of Christ, was born with sin in their soul, except for Mary. Her soul, at the moment of its creation and infusion into her body, “was clothed in sanctifying grace.” The stain of original sin was excluded from her so that she would be worthy to give birth to the Savior. But how would anybody know that before the fact, as if it were pre-ordained? This is what is meant by her immaculate conception. So you see, Mary’s supposed immaculacy, as well as her virginal status at the time she conceived Jesus, are arbitrary, manmade conventions, not based on any real proof or truth.

I am wondering, too, if “God” wanted a son so badly, why didn’t He just create one already full-grown, like He did Adam? Why bother with the whole gestation and birth thing. A baby serves no useful purpose until it’s old enough to be able to work and do something. If Jesus was destined to die the way he did, they could have just cut right to the chase and foregone all that preliminary stuff. That’s another reason why I suspect that Jesus’ conception and Mary’s part in the proceedings were all very natural.

And what about this? Has it ever occurred to you that if Mary was a virgin, and as Joseph probably didn’t know how to perform a Caesarian section, her hymen would have to have been broken from the inside in order to give birth. Then that would mean that it was Jesus himself who busted his own mother’s cherry! Ouch!

(# …Where was he born? / Born in a manger… #) There is nothing in the Bible to justify the popular belief that Jesus was actually born in a manger. I’ll bet you that most people don’t even know what a manger is. The word, meaning “to eat,” in French, is a feeding trough or box for barnyard animals. Now, why would someone, under any circumstances, get into an animal’s feed trough to give birth? Mary might have placed her baby in there afterwards, however, as one of the versions of the Scripture suggests. It’s just another interpretation, but I don’t think that “she laid him in a manger” means that she laid him like a bird lays an egg or that she had sex with him.

Pictures representing the Wise Men worshiping Jesus in a stable surrounded by cattle and horses are not based on Scripture either. Nowhere does the Bible mention a stable in this context. Some scholars have suggested that the manger in which Mary was said to have laid her child was in the courtyard of an inn or caravansary, and others suppose that it was a grotto or cave near Bethlehem.

Twelve days after Christmas, referred to as the Epiphany, is the day that commemorates the arrival of the Three Kings from the East to pay homage to the Christ Child. Now whether it took just 12 days or much longer for them to get there, it seems a bit far-fetched that Mary and Joseph would still be in the same place. They only stopped there for the night so that she could have her baby. I don’t imagine that they took up indefinite lodging in the place. I would think that they would already be long gone by the time the Kings, Amahl and all those shepherds and other folks allegedly got there. “Uh, Joseph, dear, we can’t leave just yet. We’re expecting a lot of visitors.” “When, Mary?” “I don’t know for sure. Some day soon, I guess. Besides, look, we have all the comforts of home right here.”

 

the Three

 

It’s said that the couple were on their way to Bethlehem to be registered, but they must not had made it there yet. So was Jesus really born in Bethlehem or somewhere else entirely? And where had they planned on staying when they did get to Bethlehem? Their mission probably took more than one day to accomplish. But if that was Bethlehem where they encountered the fully-occupied inn, had they neglected to call ahead to make reservations?

And what about those “gifts” that the Kings presented to Jesus? Now what is a little newborn baby supposed to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were all symbolic in some way? The child neither understands the symbolism nor cares. He needs food and diapers. How practical is that other stuff?

You see, I am one who questions everything, instead of accepting it on face value. If it doesn’t make logical sense, I will comment on it. For example, how did all those people—shepherds, Magi and whoever else—find out where Mary and Joseph were holed up? They couldn’t have sent out a press release. The new parents didn’t even know where they were going to be. They ended up in that place only on a whim and as a last resort. Now the story goes, according to St. Luke, and let’s face it, it is just a story, a fairy tale, if you will, but instead of actual fairies, we have angels to play a part, okay?

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a Fairy Godmother, I mean, an Angel from God, appeared to some really freaked-out shepherds and announced that a Divine Baby Boy had just been born in their midst, and insisted that they go worship Him. “…And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Long pause) “That’s it? That’s all we get?  And why are you telling us anyway?  We ain’t nobody!  What are we supposed to do with this information?  We’re simple shepherds, not bloody detectives!  Now let me get this straight.  So you expect us to drop what we are doing, just leave our flocks unattended and go look for some damn baby who knows where, to do what, worship it? And this is on the word of…who did you say you were again?  An Angel from God?  Right!  Thank you, no.  I don’t think so.  Homie don‘t play that!”

But for those who did take up this alleged quest, how in the world did they find Him?  He undoubtedly was not the only baby born during that same time.  (This idea was explored and spoofed in Monty Python’s Life of Brian [1979]).  And certainly there were more than one manger throughout the land.  Did they do a farm-to-farm search until they found the right one? There was no kind of media communication in those days, no tracking devices, no GPS, nothing.  And again, why would the family still be in the same place by the time the others got there, who knows when?  Do you get my point about the implausible silliness of the whole thing?

The Planetarium in New York City gave a very interesting presentation one year.  It must have been around Christmastime, because the show was a speculative explanation about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.  That very bright “Star-in-the-East” which supposedly guided everybody to the Christ Child, was the result of the alignment of several planets, a celestial phenomenon that occurs only once every few thousand years. Some people at the time may have wanted to associate such an unusual occurrence with a very special manifestation or birth.  But even so, who is to say that Jesus was that special birth?  It is all conjecture.

And then it’s said that the Wise Men “followed the Star,” which led them to the Christ Child.  Now, how do you follow a star?  Can you follow the sun or moon?  Was this particular star moving all around and had a big, flashing arrow on it pointing, “This Way to the Kid”?  Or as one version of the scripture says, “The Star came and stood over the place where the young child lay.”  Come on, how can the exact location of anything on earth be physically determined, based on where a star is in the sky?  And then, too, they are giving intelligent conscience to a star!  How did this star know where the baby was or who he was, or cared?!

(# What month was Jesus born in? [Well, it wasn’t…] The last month of the year… #) (# Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say, Mary’s Boy Child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day… #) What is that, the Gospel According to Jester Hairston?  Nowhere, other than in certain songs, does it say that Jesus was born on December 25, Christmas Day.  That is not the case at all.  There was no such thing as “Christmas” until a couple of centuries after the fact.  It’s merely a man-established commemoration date, just like Columbus Day is.

That planet conjunction is said to have occurred in late February or early March. Others speculate that Jesus may have been born in August or September, based on the account that there were shepherds tending their flocks on the night in question. You see, they did this only during the blistering days of late summer when it is too hot for the sheep to graze in the daylight hours. So Jesus was not a Capricorn as people think, but possibly a Pisces, a Leo or a Virgo, if that matters to anybody. But Christmas occurring in the last week of December, and specifically the 25th, is no accident, but an arbitrary decision.

The early days of Christianity (about 300 years) were met with much persecution, by the Romans, mainly. They used to feed Christians to the lions as public entertainment. So people didn’t go around announcing that they were Christians. They tried to keep it pretty much on the down-low. So starting around 212 A.D., by holding Jesus’ Feast Day during the same season as the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Sacaea and some other established religious ceremonies, like Chanukah, Sol Invictus and the Mithraic Festival, the Christians could celebrate right along with everybody else without drawing special attention to themselves. That date works out well for the Catholics, especially, because seven days later is New Year’s Day, which symbolizes for them a new beginning and a new Covenant and all that.

So you see, the practice of changing and moving people’s birthdays around for convenience’s sake is not a new thing. Even the Sabbath for Christians, Sunday, is a result of an arbitrary change from the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday to the pagan’s weekly veneration day of the sun, hence the name. Incidentally, it is purported that the pre-Christian Persian God Mithra—called “the Son of God” and “the Light of the World”—was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. Sound familiar?

Dec. 25 is also the birthday of Adonis, Dionysus and Osiris, and the newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh. In fact, no aspect of Christianity is original. Everything about it is based on prior religious conventions, practices and symbolism, which makes me even more convinced that the whole Nativity Story, as we know it, is merely an adaptation. I don’t mean to make fun of anybody’s faith (well, maybe I do), but this is just another way to look at it and something to think about.

[Related articles: A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; Heaven and Hell; Jesus H. Christ!; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]

The Boy Who Cried “Kings!”

I have not posted anything new here in a while, although I am constantly adding to and revising my existing articles. Things happen practically every day which prompt me to comment on them. This is my Christmas submission for this year. I know that we are supposed to be all-inclusive nowadays and use “holidays” in our seasonal references, and I do that when it is applicable. If I ever submit a Chanukah piece or one on Kwanzaa, for example, then I will call it what it is. This just happens to be specifically a Christmas story, or more appropriately, an Epiphany story, as you shall see.

For those of you who don’t know or remember Anna Russell [1911-2006], she was sort of a music humorist, similar to Victor Borge, who in her concerts did demonstrations and sketches on various music-related subjects. The English-Canadian also sang and played piano. One of her most famous and popular routines is a hilarious synopsis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas. There are recordings of it available, if you want to check it out for yourself. Why the bit works so well is because it is funny even if you are not familiar with the operas themselves. One can enjoy a good story that they haven’t heard before. I only mention this because I am doing something similar with an opera of my own choosing.

My favorite one-act opera happens to be Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti. This is the first opera to be commissioned specifically for television, and it premiered on NBC on Christmas Eve, 1951. Since I know the work very well, having heard it often, studied it and even performed it several times, I am aware of the glitches and flaws in the story, which I am about to point out. Menotti himself did his own libretto, so he is the one at whom I will be throwing shade. It’s too bad that he is not alive to receive my critique. I hope you enjoy my irreverence.

The title character, Amahl, is a 12-year-old, “crippled,” shepherd boy, who walks with a crude crutch, which he made himself, he tells us. His mother, who is unnamed, is purportedly a widow, and Amahl’s father is never mentioned. We don’t know who the hell he is or how he “died.” Those are sardonic quotation marks, by the way.

The opera opens with a short prelude for string orchestra then segues to Amahl sitting on a rock outside his hut, playing on his makeshift pipe. But what we hear instead is a virtuosic oboe! I am already thinking, Gee, if he is that good a player, why isn’t he enrolled in a music school or playing in a youth orchestra somewhere? It is night and we don’t know what time it is, but Amahl’s mother calls him inside to go to bed.

You know about the famous Star-in-the-East. Amahl tries to tell his mother about this fantastic Star that is lighting up the whole sky, and it has a tail, no less! But instead of taking a look herself to verify his story, she just comes right out and calls him a liar. You see, he’s always making up stuff, so why should she believe him this time? She then informs her son that since they had to sell all their sheep and everything else of any value, they will have to become door-to-door beggars. This news actually delights Amahl. He sees it as a fun adventure. He is a little Pollyanna, that one.

As soon as Mother and son retire to their straw pallets, the Three Kings (and their Page) start their approach from wherever. We don’t know why they picked this hut at which to stop. You will see later that there were plenty other options. Was it the first one that they came to? They don’t say. So when King Melchior knocks on the door, instead of the Mother getting up to see who it is, she orders poor, crippled Amahl to hobble over to the door. I mean, it’s late at night, and she is the adult who should be the one answering the door. Whoever it is, they are probably calling to see her, not Amahl.

Then when he tells her that there is a king out there wearing a crown, of course, she doesn’t believe him again. The knocking continues, and twice more she sends Amahl to the door. The third time when he informs her that now the Kings are three, and one of them is black, that does it. “Oh, Lord, what am I going to do with this boy?!” Well, you could go to the door yourself, which she should have done in the first place. She finally does, and finds that everything Amahl has said is entirely true, including that bright Star with the tail that is guiding the Kings’ journey. She never apologizes to Amahl, however, for accusing him of lying to her.

King Balthazar sings, # May we rest a while in your house and warm ourselves by your fireplace? # The woman explains that she ain’t got shit to offer them, but they are welcome to come in anyway. The Mother then leaves to go gather some wood for the fire and leaves her young son with four perfect strangers. In this day and age, who would do that? Even then, it was not a smart thing to do. She doesn‘t know anything about these guys. They could be imposters posing as kings to gain people‘s trust. They might be combing the countryside, looking for children to sell into slavery and prostitution. Why did they pick this particular house to visit? It would have made more sense to send Amahl out to gather the wood.

But this gives the boy a chance to make amusing repartee with the Kings, especially with the hard-of-hearing Kaspar, with his vicious parrot and his drawered box containing precious stones, colored beads and licorice! (# This is my box…I never travel without my box. #) Amahl, at least, must have some suspicions when he asks the visitors if they are real kings and wants to know where they came from. The Mother could just as well have been present for the scene. In fact, these are questions that she should be asking!

The Mother returns with the firewood and actually accuses Amahl of being a nuisance. Then why didn’t you stay there with them then? So now she sends Amahl out to summon the neighbors to bring whatever they have to offer the guests. While he is gone, the Mother takes note of the gold and stuff in the room. Melchior informs her that the gold and other gifts are for the Child. # The child! Which child? # she inquires. They don’t know. They are only following that Star. They then do a lovely quartet, “Have You Seen a Child,” the Kings referring to the Christ Child, and the Mother referring to her own child, Amahl, who needs the gold more than some baby that they don‘t even know.

Now here is where it gets a little strange, or more so, if you‘re already there. Amahl is supposed to be out telling the neighbors about his distinguished guests. First of all, why didn’t his mother do all that herself while she was just out there? She might have had more credibility. Why would they believe anything Amahl has to say? They all know what a pathological liar he is, and his own mother doesn’t even believe him most of the time. And second, if it is late enough to be bedtime, wouldn’t the others all be abed as well? So Amahl had to wake everybody up with this fantastic story about these three Kings (and Page) at their hut, and they buy it?

But here they all come anyway. This is your standard opera chorus. Check out what they bring to the party: a big assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese, herbs, spices and sweets. Now, I ask you… If they have all this food and goodies at their disposal, why had they not shared any of it with Amahl and his mother before now? The poor blokes are in there starving, and these other folks are living high on the hog! What’s up with that? But they are willing to bestow all this stuff on some errant strangers just on the word of little lying Amahl. How did they know that these Kings even existed until they actually saw them in the flesh? The boy might be trying to con them for his own purposes.

Plus, the score has these choristers billed as Shepherds. So if they have flocks of sheep to tend, why did Amahl’s mother have to sell all of hers? With them all living so close together, how could they discern which sheep belonged to whom? I would think that they would have a situation like sharecroppers. If the people in the community all do the same thing, why wouldn’t they share what they have with each other? When they are first introduced in the opera, it’s made to look like Amahl and his mother are living alone in isolation wherever they are, and then we find out that there are all these neighbors nearby who are apparently doing all right for themselves.

Since I tend to question everything, I am wondering, to whom exactly did she sell their sheep, and what did the purchasers of same do with them? Also, where are Amahl and his mother going to do this door-to-door begging? Surely not these present neighbors, or they would have already hit them up. Is there another residential town or village nearby, and if so, why didn’t the Kings (and Page) go there instead of out here in the boonies?

Now comes the compulsory dance sequence. I suppose the Kings use this time to eat, because when the dance is finished, Balthazar politely tells them all to get the fuck out, so that they can get some sleep, as they still have a long way to go. There is no mention in the score whether all the vittles were consumed, and if there were any leftovers, did the shepherds leave it there or take it all back with them? The ensuing orchestral interlude, the same music that opens the opera, denotes the passage of time of several hours, I suppose, as the lighting outside the hut indicates it is now dawn.

The Mother is the first to awaken and immediately is fixated on the Kings’ treasure and sings an aria about what she could do with it “All That Gold.” The others must be really sound sleepers, because the aria builds in volume and intensity until near the end, when she is screaming fortissimo high G’s, and nobody wakes up! That is, until she actually seizes the gold, waking up the Page who is guarding it. It is at this point that the Page finally gets to sing something. We all thought that he was mute until then. He charges Ms. Thing of trying to steal their gold and demands that she give it back at once, and they struggle over it. Amahl tries to defend his mother by attacking the Page with hits and kicks.

The Kings, however, go easy on her, and Melchior even tells her that she may keep the gold, as the Christ Child does not need it. Isn’t that white of him? I mean, that’s the least they can do. After all, this impoverished woman took them in for the night, gave them a place to rest and sleep, fed them and entertained them. They should pay her something, don‘t you think? She is not in any position to be giving out free room and board.

Let me mention this about the Kings, incidentally. Melchoir seems to be the head King, as he has the most to sing in the opera, and Balthazar, the black one, has the least to sing. Oh, he gets to comment here and there, but he does not have a real aria, short as they are anyway, like the other two do. You can assess that decision by Menotti anyway you want to. I’m just saying.

As the Kings (and the Page) prepare to leave, Amahl, too, wants to give something to this mysterious Child. But wait! Amahl was outside when the Kings were talking about the Child. This is the first he has heard of him. So why didn’t he ask, “Who are you talking about? What Child?” And of course, the only thing he has of his own besides his pipe (oboe) is his crutch. So he offers that, saying that the kid may need it someday.

Get ready. It’s “miracle” time! Amahl holds up his crutch to give to the Kings and takes a step toward them. The Mother immediately tries to stop him, insisting, “But you can’t, you can’t!” But he can, apparently. After he has walked over and hands his crutch to Kaspar, Amahl proceeds to jump and caper around the room.

Of course, the Kings all believe that the boy has been healed by the grace of God through the Holy Child. Here is what I think. It really was no miracle. What happened was just this. What if Amahl was already able to walk and was never lame at all, but only was told that he was by his mother? It’s never said what Amahl’s specific affliction is. Does he have polio or something debilitating? Maybe at some time years ago he had trouble walking on his own, but if he had never tried to since or lately, how would he know if he could or not, until he tried? Even so, he was at least ambulatory, with the help of the crutch. He wasn’t paralyzed in a wheelchair or anything. So it was not some great miracle that he could walk without the crutch.

I don’t trust that Mother anyway. Maybe she wants to keep Amahl disabled, so that he will have to depend on her always. Some parents do that to their kids, you know. Keep them ill so that they will never leave them. As Amahl is enjoying his newfound mobility, his Mother warns him, # Be careful now, my darling, you must take care not to hurt yourself. # Oh, leave the boy alone! She sounds as if she does not want to him to be well.

Consider, too, that they will have a better chance at begging with a poor crippled child in tow to pity. I also contend that a person who is always doubtful of other’s words is usually because they are a chronic liar themself. Is she really a widow, for instance? We have only her word for it. What else might she be lying about? We already know that she’s a thief.

The Kings (and the Page) then make a strange request. # Oh, blessed child, may I touch you? # What? Why do they want to do that? Maybe they are pedophiles, after all! Amahl does allow it. I guess it is up to the individual director of each production where they should touch the boy. When the Page asks to cop his feel, however, Amahl is reluctant, as he is still miffed with him for assaulting his mother earlier.

Now “Mommie Dearest” is about to do something else very strange. Amahl wants to go with the Kings (and the Page) to give his crutch to the Child himself. And she lets him go! She has been so overprotective of him, but now all of a sudden, she is going to relinquish her only child to a bunch of strange, dirty old men? She doesn’t even ask where exactly are they going or when they will return? Doesn’t she care? They assure her, # We will take good care of him. We’ll bring him back on a camel’s back. # Uh, where are they getting this alleged camel from? If they have a camel somewhere, where is it, and why are they all walking? Yeah, I’ll just bet they will take care of him. Maybe they do plan on molesting him, selling him or pimping him out. If it were my child, I would go along with them. Why did she choose to stay behind? What is keeping her there? Her actions don’t make good sense. Maybe she wants some time alone with a local, secret paramour, perhaps?

As they are saying their goodbyes, here are Mother’s instructions to her son: # Don’t forget to wear your hat. # And what will happen if he doesn’t wear it? # Wash your ears. # Is that the only things that he needs to wash? The boy does not even own a toothbrush! # Don’t tell lies. # Take your own advice, bitch! Then Amahl makes these requests to his mother: # Feed my bird. Watch the cat. # What bird? What cat? They don’t have anything to eat themselves, but they have the means to take care of a fucking bird and cat?! I’m not making any of this up, you know.

So then off they go to who-knows-where. The Shepherds are up now, too, to sing us one last parting chorus. As our travelers make their way down the road, Amahl starts playing his pipe again (which still sounds like an oboe), and it’s the same tune as before. It must be the only song that he knows. The End.

Happy Holidays, my dear Readers!

[Related articles: Nativity Redux; Simple Gifts?]

Celebrity Anecdotes and Other Fun Stuff

Once upon a time as Peter Tchaikovsky was taking a walk in a forest outside of Moscow, he chanced upon a large stag with fulsome antlers. He immediately noticed two unusual things about the buck. It did not run away at his approach, and even more remarkable, there were at least a half a dozen hats of various sizes and styles hanging on the prongs of the beast’s antlers. The composer was astonished at the strange sight, but he was even more astonished when the deer walked up to him and indicated with its nose a sort of saddle bag straddling its back. The bag had pockets bearing the inscription: “TAKE ONE.” Intrigued, Tchaikovsky removed from one of the pockets a small card which read: “The Lee Hat Company of America invites you to sample its merchandise. I will be glad to lend you any of the hats on my antlers for a period of up to two weeks. No obligation and no money unless you decide to buy. Have a nice day.”

Just then the Mother Superior from a nearby convent happened along the path. She had apparently taken a vow of silence, for she uttered not a word of greeting to her fellow neighbor, but set at once to indicating with emphatic gestures to the stag that it should step aside and let her pass. When the deer did not move, the sister retreated about thirty paces down the trail, lowered her head, and began to run like an enraged bull towards the confused buck. Needless to say, Tchaikovsky was transfixed with amazement as he regarded the bizarre scene. Yet (and very few people know this), one of his most tender and beloved melodies occurred to him that day as he was watching that nun butt the loan Lee hart.

Oh, go ahead and groan! I don’t care!

Anyone who has studied music or sight-singing knows that the lines and spaces of the musical staff all have letter references which had to be learned. To help us remember them, our teachers came up with corresponding acronyms. All reading from bottom to top, for the lines of the treble staff, E-G-B-D-F, we were told that “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or as the Moody Blues named one of their albums, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. For the spaces, F-A-C-E, it was simply “face.” For the lines of the bass staff, G-B-D-F-A, we were assured that “Good Boys Do Fine Always,” and the spaces, A-C-E-G, was “All Cows Eat Grass.”

I am always making lists of all sorts of nonsense, and I came across a scrap of paper one day that had some sentences written on it that suggested a theme. I had apparently thought up some alternative mnemonics for the lines of the treble staff, so I’d like to share them with you. At least these are not sexist like the traditional one is.

“Eat Good, But Don’t Fast.” “Even Great Bodies Diet Frequently.” “Enemies Grapple, But Do Friends?” “Elvis‘ Guitar Broke Down Friday,” “Eydie Gormé Bedded David Foster (or any appropriate names).” “Eventually God Bestows Death, Fornicator!” And my favorite, “Elephants Got Big Dicks…Feet!”

When I get around to it, someday I’ll probably think of some cleverer alternatives for the other lines and spaces as well. Remember the old slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes, “L.S.M.F.T.—Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”? It could also stand for, “Loose Sweater Means Floppy Tits,” or “Let’s Screw, My Finger’s Tired!”

Opera singers, in particular, have been known to be quite catty with each other (or “throw shade”) upon occasion. There are a couple of stories in opera circles about soprano diva Zinka Milanov. She was once being interviewed and questioned about her up-and-coming rival Leontyne Price. “So, Miss Milanov, what do you think of Leontyne Price?” “Well, the voice is…okay, I guess, but I think that she should confine herself to roles that she is more suited for.” “Such as?” “Bess.”

Here is the other one. At the end of Puccini’s Tosca, the lead soprano jumps from a parapet to her death, and the stunt is traditionally staged with a trampoline to secure the singer’s fall. One night as Eleanor Steber, in the role of Tosca, was executing her “suicide leap,” she missed the trampoline and broke her nose when she hit the floor instead. Ms. Milanov, upon learning of Ms. Steber’s unfortunate mishap, exclaimed to the press, “You see? I told them that she was not right for the part.”

The spiritual gala with Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman (aka “Jes’ Enormous”) and conductor James Levine, in which I participated in 1980 in NYC, later went on tour to various places (without me, I’m sorry to say). During one of their stopovers (I don’t know where it was), Ms. “Battleaxe” was standing at the backstage bulletin board reading a recently-published review of their program. The article seemed to be commenting on how “these great, black divas” were one thing and “those wonderful, black sopranos” were something else and black this and black that. Kathy complained, “Why does this person have to say ‘black’ all the time? I hate that. Why can’t he refer to us as just great divas or singers or whatever?” Then she walked away in a huff. Ms. Norman was standing nearby and having overheard Kathy’s tirade, made this comment to whomever was in earshot, “Well, somebody had to tell her.”

Once while soprano Eileen Farrell was working with gay conductor Thomas Schippers, the maestro made a vocal criticism to Ms. Farrell that she apparently did not take too kindly to. She retorted with, “Tommy, I’ll make a deal with you. If you will leave the singing to me, I will leave the cock-sucking to you, all right?” (Ooh,::snap!::)

American soprano Isola (pronounced “I-so-la”) Jones was once being introduced during a radio appearance by someone who apparently did not know her at that time. “What is your name, dear?” “Isola Jones.” “We have here with us in the studio today that up-and-coming operatic soprano, Sola Jones.”

I heard this story about Evita Peron. You won’t find this scene in the Madonna movie. In case you are not aware, Eva Duarte (her real name) was a popular South American film actor in the early ’40s, until she married Juan Peron and became Argentina’s First Lady. During the same period, “Evita” was enjoying a less-than-friendly rivalry with Mexico’s leading actress at the time, Maria Felix [1914-2002]. I don’t suppose that they exactly hated each other, but I imagine that they sometimes competed for some of the same movie roles, and maybe even the same men.

Well, when Evita died of cancer in 1952, at the age of 33, Ms. Felix happened to be in Buenos Aires working on a film, so she deigned to pay her disrespects at Evita’s funeral. While Maria was viewing the body in its coffin, she was overheard making the comment (in Spanish), “Ah, together at last!” A mourner standing next to her inquired, “Do you mean Evita with her God?” Maria explained, “No…her legs.” As if she had any room to talk, being an alleged whore herself. Maria was married four times and had many lovers throughout her life. With her son, Enrique Lara, Maria had once planned to make a film about the incestuous relationship between a film star and her son. Although the film was never made, it was rumored that the subject was autobiographical. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

One of my favorite personalities is the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. There are many stories about her, and I have a few I would like to share. Now some of these may be just jokes that have been attributed to her, but from what I know of her, they all could as well be true. She did admit that she could never remember anybody’s name, and that’s why she called everybody “Dahling.”

Some friends of Tallulah once invited her to attend a High Episcopal church service with them, and since it was her first time, she was quite intrigued by all the pomp and circumstance of the liturgy. At the point in the service when the thurifer is processing around the sanctuary swinging his censer full of incense all around, Tallulah, sitting on the aisle, felt compelled to tell the guy as he passed her pew, “I think that your drag is simply divine, Dahling, but are you aware that your purse is on fire?!”

Once when our Tallulah was taking a dump in a public restroom, she finished her business then realized, to her chagrin, that there was no toilet paper in the stall. She became aware of a person in the stall next to her, so she politely asked, “Excuse me, Dahling, but I regret that there is no paper in here. Would you please be a dear and let me borrow some of yours?” The woman replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Miss Bankhead, but there is none over here either! I just finished the roll.” There was a pause and a sigh, then some rustling sounds of Tallulah getting something out of her purse. Tallulah then asked the woman in the next stall, “Before you leave, Dahling, can you change this five?”

Another time, a friend she was with asked her, “Tallulah, did you just fart?” She replied, “Well, of course, I did, Dahling! You don’t think that I always smell this way!?”

As you can see, Tallulah had no inhibitions and actually loved to shock people. I found this account in one of her biographies. When Tallulah and Marlene Dietrich were at Paramount Studios together in 1932, they had adjoining dressing rooms. Marlene wore gold dust in her hair, for a role she was playing at the time. Tallulah got some and put it on her pubic hair, then she would show herself to the crew and comment, “Guess what Marlene and I’ve been doing, Dahling.” Since they both “dabbled,” some even might have believed it.

Tallulah once granted an interview to gossip columnist Liz Smith, and when they had finished, Tallulah walked Liz to the elevator in her hotel. When the elevator door opened and they found it crowded with people, Tallulah said to Ms. Smith, “Thanks for the wonderful interview, Dahling,” and then just as the elevator door was closing shut, she added, “You are just about the nicest lesbian I have ever met.” (And she actually was, too.)

Tallulah once publicly defended a friend of hers who was being accused of having Communist leanings. It soon occurred to Tallulah that she really didn’t know if her friend was a Communist or not, so she asked her. “My whole family were Republicans, and I guess I’ve always considered myself a Republican as well,“ was the woman’s response. Tallulah replied, “A Republican? That’s worse than being a goddamned Communist, Dahling!” I’ll help her say. Her response to the notion that cocaine is addicting, “I know for a fact that cocaine is not addicting, Dahling. I’ve been taking it for years!”

This next story is really about movie director Alfred Hitchcock, who was known for his rather wry sense of humor, but it involves Tallulah as well. One day during the filming of Lifeboat in 1943, one of Hitchcock’s assistants came to him in a tizzy with a complaint about his star player. It had come to his attention that Ms. Bankhead was in the habit of not wearing any underwear on the set, even during shooting. “What shall we do about it, Hitch?” “Well, I’m not quite sure,” pondered the director. “I haven’t decided whether this is a problem for wardrobe, makeup or hair.”

This next happened during the filming of The Birds (1963). They were about to shoot the scene where the birds attack the children while they are leaving school. Real live birds were used for the close-up shots of the attacks. One of the schoolchildren was juvenile actor Morgan Brittany (billed at the time as Suzanne Cupito) who really had a fear of birds. She was so upset about doing the scene, she ran to Hitchcock and told him, “I am so frightened of those birds, Mr. Hitchcock. I’m afraid they might kill me.” Hitchcock patted the girl on the head. “That’s all right, my dear. This is the last day of shooting anyway.” After the release of the film, a journalist interviewing Hitchcock wanted to know how he got all those birds to perform on cue and to do their part as required. Hitchcock told the reporter, “We paid them very well.”

And speaking of performing birds… It’s been said that New York City has everything, and that includes specialty pet shops. One, Connoisseur Critters, reputed for having very talented, and high-priced, animals on hand for sale, is located near Lincoln Center, and a friend of mine, after visiting the store, had this report to relate. He went in only to browse. He feels the same way I do about paying a lot of money for pets. He likes birds, however, especially parrots, so he asked the store clerk to show him some of their more special merchandise. “That’s a pretty bird there. How much is it?” “$5,000.” “What?! Why so much?” “Well, that parrot can sing all the arias from every Mozart opera.” “It can? How about that colorful one right there? How much is that?” “That one goes for $10,000, and he can sing the entire Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle.'” “Get out of here! So what’s the story on that handsome fellow there next to him?” “I’m asking $15,000 for that one. He can sing all the arias and choruses from every Verdi opera!” “Wow! Too much! That’s incredible!” My friend was just about to leave the bird department when, in one of the cages, he spied an old, sad, disheveled, broken-down, decrepit, molting, pitiful-looking specimen of a parrot and said to the clerk, “That tired-looking number there must be cheap, at least. He looks like he’s on his last legs.” “Oh, but on the contrary, Sir. He’s worth more than all the rest. Try $20,000.” “You’ve got to be kidding! Twenty-thousand for that thing?! What can he do in his condition?” “Well, I am not entirely sure, but all the other parrots here call him ‘Maestro.'”

Dear Ms. Dix, I am a young man of half-past thirty-seven.
My friends say that I am not unattractive, though to be kind and true is what I have always striven.
I am open-minded about beverages as long as they are grape, brandy or malt,
And I am generous to practically any fault.
Well, Ms. Dix, not to beat around the bush, there is a certain someone who thinks I am pretty nice,
And I turn to you for advice.
You see, it all started when I was away on the road
And returned to find a pair of lovebirds had taken up their residence in my abode.
Well, I am not crazy about lovebirds, but I must say they looked very sweet in their gilded cage,
And their friendship had reached an advanced stage,
And I had just forgiven her who of the feathered fiancés was the donor of,
When the children caught a lost lovebird in the yard that we couldn’t locate the owner of.
So then we had three, and it was no time for flippancy,
Because everybody knows that a lovebird without its own lovebird to love will pine away and die of the discrepancy.
So we bought a fourth lovebird for the third lovebird, and they sat around cozily beak to beak,
And the third lovebird that we had provided the fourth lovebird for to keep it from dying, died at the end the week!
So then we were left with an odd lovebird, and it was no time for flippancy,
Because a lovebird without its own lovebird to love will pine away and die of the discrepancy.
So we had to buy a fifth lovebird to console the fourth lovebird that we had bought to keep the third lovebird contented,
And now the fourth lovebird has lost its appetite, and Ms. Dix, I am going demented!
I don’t want to break any hearts, but I’ve got to know where I’m at.
Must I keep on buying lovebirds, Ms. Dix, or do you think it would be all right to get a cat?!

Which reminds me… This rather odd occurrence happened in Tel Aviv, Israel, as I was leaving the Museum of Art after my concert there with the Collegiate Chorale in July 2008. Right outside the front door was a clowder of cats just hanging out around the entranceway there. I counted twelve of them. Apparently, there is a preponderance of stray cats in the country. I suppose they over-procreate, and there not being enough, if any, animal shelters to accommodate them all, unwanted cats are just left out on the street to fend for themselves. I noticed quite a few of them myself all over town while I was there. And they all looked very scrawny, I suppose from not getting enough to eat.

Well, these museum cats appeared to be no exception. My colleagues and I, those of us who love cats, were rather feeling sorry for these poor, hungry cats, when we noticed that a few feet from where we were standing was a man with a bag filled of what looked like to be some kind of roll or bagel, some of which he was attempting to sell to us passersby. But it occurred to me, this man has food to feed the cats, but instead of doing it himself, he’s there to sell it to us so that we can feed the cats! How twisted is that? I tell you, there is a hustler everywhere you turn.

I had never thought of it before, but that reminded me of the Bird Woman from Mary Poppins. Now she’s out there on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral every day selling bread crumbs and imploring, “Feed the birds, oh, feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” I’m thinking, ‘Bitch, you’re the one with the damned bread crumbs. Feed ‘em yourself. What do you need us for?!’

Here is a celebrity cat story that I mentioned in another post, but I think it’s worth retelling. When Zsa Zsa Gabor was a guest one night on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, she came on with her pet female cat, which was sitting on her lap, and she was stroking her while talking to Johnny. At one point Zsa Zsa asked Johnny, “Do you want to stroke my pussy?” Johnny replied, “Sure, if you move the cat out of the way.”

Broadway star Ethel Merman once was a featured guest on “The Loretta Young Show” on TV. Whereas Ms. Young was purported to be a prude and did not allow any swearing on the set, Ethel was known to be quite the potty-mouth. Ethel slipped up several times, prior to the show. The first time, when Ethel said, “You have a hell of a crew here,” Loretta chided her and told her that she must deposit a quarter in the “Curse Box.” A little later Ethel was heard complaining, “Where is the God-damned coffee that I ordered?” and Loretta again presented the box in which to deposit her quarter. Next, when Ms. Merman said, “Shit! What’s my next line?” and Loretta brought the box over to her, Ethel told her, “Loretta, here is a ten-dollar bill. Now go fuck yourself.”

Although he never came right out and said so, I think that everybody figured out that comic actor Paul Lynde was a big ol’ queen, and those who were not aware just were in denial, because he didn’t really hide that fact, did he? He was always himself on TV and in the movies. Remember when Lynde was a regular celebrity guest on the old “Hollywood Squares,” he frequently gave campy, witty responses to the questions asked him. I am amazed how he got away with it on the then-conservative network TV. Here are some of my favorites. When asked what the “D” in D-Day stands for, Paul answered, “Doris,” and said that the Pink Panther was a gay militant. “Do female frogs croak?” “Sure, if you hold their little heads under the water long enough.” When asked, “Why do the Hell’s Angels typically wear leather?” Paul quipped, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” “Besides politics, Paul, what is the other subject considered to be in poor taste to discuss at nudist camps?” “Each other’s measurements,” was the reply. “What is the most abused and neglected part of your body?” Paul said, “Mine may be abused but it certainly isn’t neglected!” “Paul, what would be a reason for pounding your meat?” Paul: “Loneliness.” “What state was Abraham Lincoln born in?” Paul: “Like all of us–naked and screaming.” “What good might come out of a forest fire?” Paul: “Roast venison.” “Which is prettier, a fairy or a pixie?” Paul: “Well, looks aren’t everything. But I’ll go with the fairy.” “What, if anything, brings tears of joy to a monkey’s eyes?” Paul: “Learning that Tarzan swings both ways.”

Bono and U2 were on tour somewhere one year, and when they first came out onstage for one of their shows, Bono began clapping his hands every few seconds. This went on until the crowd finally quieted down, and Bono said to the audience, “Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies.” Some man from the audience yelled, “Then stop clapping!”

There was a staged production somewhere some years ago of The Diary of Anne Frank with Pia Zadora in the title role. Pia doesn’t exactly have the reputation of being a great thespian, and her performance in this particular production apparently proved to be quite tedious, at least to one bored spectator. There is a scene in the play where the Nazi Gestapo are storming private homes looking for Jewish refugees, and while they were searching the premises where Anne and her family and friends were hiding, some disgruntled man in the audience yelled out to the stage, “She’s in the attic!”

Another stellar performance was Debby Boone as Maria in New York City Opera’s production of The Sound of Music some years ago. When Maria first falls in love with the Captain, all confused, she runs to the Mother Abbess at the Abbey for some counsel and advice. “There, there, Maria,” the Reverend Mother comforts Debby. “Now tell me, my child, what is it you cahn’t face?” (Sounds like “cunt face.”)

There is a story about humorist/writer Dorothy Parker that she and her other writer friends used to play a word game when they got together. They would challenge each other to use common words cleverly in a sentence. Two of Dorothy’s most famous concoctions are these. Horticulture: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Fornication: “Fornication like this, let’s have champagne!”

There are those who like to answer a question with a question. If an affirmative reply is appropriate, for instance, instead of “yes” someone might say, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” or “Is the Pope Catholic?” The one I like to use is, “Did Rose Kennedy own a black dress?” Think about it.

One of the appeals of The Boys in the Band being one of my two favorite plays (the other being Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), is the number of campy, funny lines in it, that I don’t hesitate to quote at appropriate moments in life. In the play, Michael’s party guests are trying to show him how butch they can be when his purportedly straight friend, Alan, arrives. The nelliest, most obvious one in the bunch, Emory, asks Donald, in a deep voice, “Do you think the Giants are gonna win the pennant this year?” To which Donald replies, “Fuckin’ A, Mac.” (I haven’t been able to discover what the “A” stands for, however.) I actually got to use that line one day in the subway station, while waiting for the D train at Columbus Circle. One train had just pulled out of the station when a young man approached me and asked, “Excuse me, what train was that that just left?” To which I replied, ‘Fuckin’ A, Mac!’ That made my day. I learned that there is a musical version of The Scarlet Letter which they have entitled, Fuckin’ A. Don’t you love it?

I toured for many years with Robert DeCormier, and occasionally we would have group parties while on the road. We were in Great Falls, Montana one year, throwing our lighting engineer, Laura Mraz, a birthday party in one of the motel rooms. Another satisfying moment was when they had brought out the cake and the Birthday Girl had made her wish, I softly said to her, “Blow out your candles, Laura.” In case you don’t know, that is the last line of The Glass Menagerie. I used this same person once for a pun that parodied a 1978 Faye Dunaway movie: “Eyes of Laura Mraz.”

Contrary to what is often said about New Yorkers, that we are an unfriendly lot, I’ve always found us to be helpful and accommodating when asked for directions and how to get about the City. Throughout Manhattan many of the numbered avenues and cross streets have alternate names in certain sections of the thoroughfares, to honor people who were influential to New York City history in some way. Like, Leonard Bernstein Street is located behind Lincoln Center and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. runs through Harlem. Some of the honoree street aliases are not that familiar. For instance, my block (and the next one east) of W. 43rd Street has the alternative names of Leon J. Davis and Adolph S. Ochs Street. I did some checking and found out that Davis was a U.S. labor leader and Ochs was a former owner of the New York Times, which was located on the very block and street. Once while walking on the Upper West Side, a gentleman stopped me to inquire about where Edgar Allan Poe Street was. I happened to know that one, having worked on that particular street for a time (in Paul Simon’s manager’s apartment) as a carpenter‘s assistant. So I recited, “Edgar Allan Poe Street / Is West Eighty-Fo’ Street.”

Once, while flying back to Newark from the West Coast, I was made aware of a woman sitting directly behind me on the plane who, every minute or so, would sneeze and then do a little giggle. This sneeze and giggle routine went on for some time, until one of the flight attendants came over to her to see if she could be of some assistance. “Excuse me, Miss, but I’ve been watching you and I am curious to know what is so funny about this chronic sneezing of yours?” The young woman explained, “Well, you see, I have this very rare allergy condition that whenever I sneeze, I experience the most incredibly fabulous orgasm!” “Oh, I see. So are you taking anything for your allergy?” “Heh, heh, I sure am,” she replied. “Ragweed!” (You go, girl!)

SHOULD HE REVEAL THE FAMILY SECRET?

Dear Abby:

I have a problem. I have two sisters. One sister plays the oboe and my other sister is a street prostitute. My mother died in an insane asylum when I was 5-years-old. My brother is a mass murderer who was just sentenced to death in the electric chair, and my father peddles narcotics to “special education” schoolchildren. Recently, I met a woman who was just released from prison, where she served time for smothering her newborn baby to death. Abby, I love this girl very much and want to marry her. My problem is this. Should I tell her about my sister who plays the oboe?

Undecided

Robert Hill and his new wife, Betty, were vacationing in Europe, as it happens, in Romania near Transylvania. They were driving in a rental car along a rather deserted highway. It was late, and raining very hard. Visibility was poor when suddenly the car hit a large puddle and skidded out of control! Bob’s attempts to control the car were for naught, as he swerved and smashed into a tree. Moments later, Bob shook his head to clear the fog. Dazed, he looked over at the passenger seat to see his new bride unconscious and bleeding profusely from the head. Braving the elements and not having a working cell phone, Bob knew that he had to carry her to find the nearest telephone to call for medical help. After a short while, he saw a light coming from a large old house. Frightened, he knocked at the enormous oaken door. A small, hunched man opened the door. Bob blurted out, “Hello, my name is Bob Hill, and this is my wife Betty. We’ve been in a terrible accident, and my wife has been seriously injured. Can I please use your phone?” “I’m sorry,” replied the hunchback, “We don’t have a phone, but my master is a doctor. Come in and I will get him.”

Bob brought his wife inside as an elegant man descended the stairs. “I am afraid that my assistant may have misled you. I am not a medical doctor. I am a scientist. However, it is many miles to the nearest clinic, and I have had some basic medical training. I will see what I can do. Igor, bring them down to the laboratory.” With that, Igor picked up Betty and carried her downstairs, with Bob following closely. Igor placed Betty on a table in the lab. The traumatic events finally caught up with Bob, who collapsed from exhaustion and his own injuries. Igor placed Bob on a nearby table. After a brief examination, Igor’s master looked worried. “Things are serious, Igor. Prepare a transfusion.” Igor and his master worked feverishly, but to no avail. Bob and Betty Hill subsequently expired from the injuries they sustained in their accident.

The Hills’ deaths upset Igor’s master greatly. Wearily, he climbed the steps to his conservatory, taking a familiar seat at a large pipe organ, a refuge where he has always found solace. As he began to play, a stirring, almost haunting, melody filled the house. Meanwhile, Igor was still in the lab tidying up. As the music filled the air, his eyes caught a brief movement. Astonished, he saw the fingers on Betty Hill’s hand twitch and Bob’s arm began to rise as well! He was utterly shocked when Betty and Bob sat straight up! They were alive! Unable to contain himself, he dashed up the stairs to the conservatory to share the miraculous news with his master. Interrupting the doctor’s emotional recital, Igor burst in and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Master, Master! The Hills are alive with the sound of music!”

It is often hard to shake
Catsup out of the bottle;
But when it does come out,
Instead of a little, a lot’ll.

In 2008 I answered an Instinct magazine challenge, in order to win the just-released DVD of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. We were asked to write an original verse or two about Johnny Depp. I decided to do a song parody on both subjects, as a sort of quasi-roast, and this is the result. There are 41 references to Johnny’s films and roles. It has been revised several times since my initial submission, and this is the latest edition. My entry did win the prize, by the way. You can find it with added video graphics on YouTube.

THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY DEPP
(Sung to the tune of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”)

Attend the films of Johnny Depp;
His acting’s dope, his roles are hep;
The characters he plays are cool,
He’s never attended an acting school;
He has a most impressive rep,
That Johnny Depp—
Killed in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

His movies range from bad to good,
From Private Resort to Ed Wood;
We watched his talent taking shape
When we learned what was eating Gilbert Grape.
For brilliance he deserves a nod
As Sweeney Todd—
Tim Burton’s favorite actor.

We’ve seen you get high, Johnny;
You do drugs in Blow,
Also, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
(What about From Hell, too?)

As Donnie Brasco, Johnny’s great,
A rare-book sleuth in The Ninth Gate,
His Barnabas Collins is a scream,
Is romantic in Arizona Dream,
A gypsy in The Man Who Cried,
He voiced Corpse Bride,
The Tourist, Lost in La Mancha.

Johnny won fans in many lands
When he played Edward Scissorhands.
He has bit parts in The Source and Platoon,
But stars in Cry-Baby and Benny & Joon.
Johnny frequently commits crime,
But is a good guy in Nick of Time.
Sometimes he does or does not marry—
Like, Ichabod Crane or James M. Barrie,
Dead Man and Cannes Man and The Libertine,
The Mad Hatter with Bonham Carter’s Red Queen,

Black Mass, Chocolat, Deep Sea, Don Juan DeMarco,
Gonzo, Public Enemies, Secret Window, Rango!

I love the films of Johnny Depp;
(We love the films of Johnny Depp)
He acts with vigor and lots of pep;
(He acts with vigor and lots of pep)
He plays Jack Sparrow as rather fey,
And Willy Wonka must be gay;
(Come on, right?)
But not Johnny,
Not Johnny Depp—
Appears in 21 Jump…
Street.

And finally, to all you kemo sabes out there–“Hi-ho, Silver, away…on the Orient Express. Into the Woods, Mortdecai!!”

Censorship

I detest the visual and verbal censorship that we are still subject to even in this day and age. For programs produced specifically for the TV medium, the writers tend to pre-censor themselves while they are writing. They usually know in advance what may not be acceptable, so they will do their own editing to get it to its proper state by the time it actually airs. The problems occur when they show theatrically-released films that the station moguls feel need to be edited for TV. Now, the original film editor has taken great artistic pains to present the movie just as they want it, but then the network overseers come along and decide what should be cut further. I would be insulted, if it were me. How dare they change my work like that?

I feel that if a movie has material that is deemed objectionable for TV audiences, then they shouldn’t air it at all, rather than censor it. Do they think that they are doing us a favor by putting a great movie that we want to see on network television and then editing the thing to death, leaving out pertinent dialogue and visual images? If I am seeing a certain movie for the first time, then of course, I won’t miss what I haven’t seen. But if I already saw the film previously in the theater and remember it, I am going to know what is being cut. I’m not talking about the editing done to make the film fit into a two- or three-hour time slot while getting all their paid-for advertising in as well. That’s another matter altogether. I am talking about what they do to the material that they choose to leave in.

I once witnessed the most ridiculous incidence of movie censorship in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988). The film uses a lot of sight gags, puns and literal humor. There is a scene with Priscilla Presley climbing up a ladder in a room of her house to retrieve something from an upper shelf to give to Leslie Nielsen, who is standing directly below her, supposedly looking up her dress. When the film played in the theaters, Nielsen exclaims, “Nice beaver!” Then Priscilla hands down a stuffed beaver with the line, “Thank you. I just had it stuffed.” An innocent double entendre, which I think is clever and funny.  But when it was shown on cable network TV one year, Leslie’s line was simply, “Nice _____!” which spoiled the joke for the visual image as well as the next line.

I don’t understand what the objection was about saying the word beaver, as the whole point of the joke is that the audience is supposed to think that he was saying something racy, when he really wasn’t.  By leaving out the word beaver, it forces us to fill in the blank with any word that comes into our own dirty minds.  So why omit the word for decency’s sake?  And for the people who don’t know the other meaning of beaver (a woman’s pudenda, by the way, for the uninformed), they wouldn’t get the pun anyway, so no harm is done in any case.  I wonder about the logical mentality of the person who made that particular decision and about the persons who went along with it.

Even today I still encounter films on cable TV where entire scenes of dialogue are bleeped to death, and then when the characters comment on what is being said, I’m at a loss wondering, What did they say?! It makes no sense to me to censor dialogue in a movie when that is the very thing that carries the story. If they don’t let us hear what is being said, then what’s the point of showing it? It’s not always profanity that is being censored either. They will bleep out words that are deemed offensive to some people, like nigger and faggot, for example, but these particular words are used for a reason.  If they are said to a character, it’s probably meant to be offensive to that person. It’s not said to the viewer personally, so why would we be offended?  Let us hear it too, then.  “I don’t like that character. He just called that black man a nigger.”  Well, you are not supposed to like him.  Maybe that’s the whole point.  If we don’t know how a person really feels about another, we might have unwarranted sympathy for that person.

I, myself, was subject to some senseless censorship when I appeared as a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” I was asked the question, “What is the common nickname given to Broadway in NY’s theater district?” I had answered correctly–“The Great White Way” and then added, “And for the longest time, that’s exactly what it was, too!” The studio audience laughed, and even Meredith Vieira had to help me say.  But when I saw the recorded broadcast later, my remark was conspicuously missing. The show’s producers had edited it out! How dare they! Here I am trying to show off some of my wit and humor to my TV audience, and I get censored. Maybe they considered my comment somewhat racist, although it was a true observation.  It was only unacceptable because it was about them. Well, so much for one’s freedom of speech.

The made-for-TV movie The Women of Brewster Place first aired in 1989. When they showed it again recently on the Centric cable channel, there were certain lines of dialogue blotted out.  This program was produced by and starred Oprah Winfrey, and it was she that was being censored.  Now what could she have possibly said in the script that was completely acceptable 28 years ago but now is so taboo that it has to be deleted?  Has our toleration of what we consider to be indecent decreased over the years rather than increased?  I mean, it’s Oprah! How bad could it have been?

How is this for more ridiculousness?  Did you know that when the Warner Brothers cartoon character Tweety Bird appeared in his first cartoon in 1942, his color was pink?  He was subsequently changed to yellow because some corporate censors thought that pink made him look naked.  Can you believe such nonsense?  It’s a bird–of course, he’s naked!  But then, he’s not really, because a bird’s being covered with feathers serves as a coat of sorts. A bird is naked only when it’s plucked clean of its feathers.  Those censors’ objection also carry with it racist connotations.  Why would a pink body suggest nakedness, if not for the fact that pink is the color of some Caucasian flesh?  Daffy Duck is black, but they didn’t think that he looked naked.

I can’t see any specific dress code when it comes to animal cartoon characters. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Pluto, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner don’t wear clothes, as a rule, except when they have on a costume, but Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Porky and Petunia Pig, and Goofy, among others, do wear pants and skirts, at least, which I don’t think makes them more human than the ones who go without clothes.  It seems to be an arbitrary decision for one character to the next. But why are they even taking such a thing so seriously? These cartoon characters aren’t real, but fantasy, so why must they even abide by the human conventions of vestiary modesty? Who would even think about their being “naked” if it were not pointed out that they are not wearing clothes? What does it matter anyway?

Thanks to our human forebears, nudity has been made to be an aberration rather than the natural normality that it should be. Since we are all born without clothing, to cover our bodies after birth is what’s unnatural. There is a double standard used with regard to humans and animals. People are socially required to wear clothes while animals are not. A person observed with clothes on requires no special terminology, but if they are unclothed, we say, “Ooh, look at that naked person there!” We never say, “Ooh, look at that naked dog or naked horse.” But if the animal were dressed, we would comment on that. “Oh, isn’t that cute! That hippopotamus is wearing a tutu and little ballet slippers!” You never hear, “Can you believe that? That man is actually wearing a tuxedo!”

Now what irks me about all this is that we don’t have the same rights as animals do. If they can run around “naked” in public, why can’t I do the same without being accused of “indecent exposure”? Indecent, indeed! I’m not ashamed of my bare body. I can’t help that it is what it is. I like to go unclad. Shouldn’t I have the same rights as a cat or a pig? I fail to understand this hangup or irrational fear that people have about their bodies.

Three friends, a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, went for a hike one day. It was very hot. They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake. Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and jumped into the water. Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying their freedom. As they were crossing an open area, who should come along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in time, the minister and the priest covered their genitals, and the rabbi covered his face, while they ran for cover. After the ladies left and the men got their clothes back on, the minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather than his privates. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you guys, but in my congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”

Not only do we not want anybody looking at our own naked bodies, we are not allowed to look at anybody else’s either. Some parents go to great lengths to hide any sort of nudity from their children, no matter how old the kids are. And if these parents are not able to keep tabs on their kids every minute, with regard to their TV watching, they can rely on the network executives to do their job for them. Phil Donahue once did a show on Nude Modeling. There was this avant garde photographer on who took pictures of naked people in public settings and passed it off as “art.” He was trying to challenge people’s attitudes about nudity and actually held a photo shoot with willing naked models right there in the studio during the show. But of course, the viewing audience at home didn’t get the full effect of what they were doing because the censors chose to obscure breasts and genitals on our TV screens. So the whole point of the show was lost to us home viewers.

They built a whole show around the tolerance of public nudity but denied those of us at home the chance to test our tolerance by not letting us see any. Does that make any sense? Not to me. I mean, do they think that we are powerless to change the channel if we are offended? We don’t have to look if we don’t want to. I happen to enjoy looking at naked men. So why should I be deprived just because somebody else doesn’t want to see it? But then, how did they know that nobody wanted to see it? They didn’t ask. They just took it upon themselves. We were watching the show, weren’t we?

Geraldo Rivera had some exhibitionist “showgirls” on his show one afternoon. One guest had the biggest breasts I have ever seen on a woman. She was a size 70 and she had on a very low-cut dress, so the things were practically hanging out. There was no way she could hide them anyway, even if she had tried. At one point in the show, she stood up, flopped them suckers out and started swinging them at the audience (I told you she was an exhibitionist). On my TV screen, however, right across where her boobs were, was a “CENSORED” sign. Well, now… Explain to me why it was all right to look at her exposed titties, even though they were only partially-covered by her garment, but as soon as her nipples were fully exposed, she gets censored? I’ve seen them do that before. Help me out here. Is the sight of a woman’s nipples supposed to be more obscene than the actual breasts themselves? Women can wear low-cut dresses and show all the cleavage they want, as long as the nipples are not exposed. They will let us watch a lactating mother breast-feed her baby, as long as the baby’s mouth is covering the nipple, therefore hiding it from our view.

An episode of “Picket Fences” had a character once say, “Boy, it’s colder than a witch’s nipple out there.” We all know that the expression is “witch’s tit.” But back then I guess they weren’t allowed to say tit. So, now I’m even more confused. They can show a woman’s tits on the screen but not her nipples, and they can mention her nipples but not her tits. Are you getting the illogical pointlessness of it all? And there is that old double standard again. Why is it perfectly all right for men to expose their breasts and bare nipples in public and on screen but not for women? That’s not fair. Is it because heterosexual men (and sapphists too, I suppose) consider a woman’s breasts and nipples, especially, to be sexual objects, therefore they must be treated as such and withheld from view like our other “naughty bits”?

How, and why, can certain parts of the human body be obscene or taboo? Who decides these things? It must be the men and their need to protect, or rather control, their women. There was a time, in some society somewhere, when a woman wasn’t allowed to expose any part of her body. She had to keep everything covered from head to foot. Even her head itself was subjected to hats and veils and scarves of some sort. It’s still that way in some mid-eastern and eastern cultures. Of course, men have never subjected themselves to the same restrictions. But over the decades she gradually began to give us glimpses of previously-forbidden territory—a neck here, an elbow there, oh-oh, there’s a bare ankle!—until the changing fashions started revealing almost everything.

Champion swimmer Annette Kellerman caused a near riot and scandal in 1907 when she appeared on a public beach in a revealing one-piece bathing suit and was arrested on the spot for “indecent exposure.“ People were shocked and appalled by her brazenness. Nowadays, with regard to swimwear, it’s the skimpier the better. It appears that the last bodily frontier is still female breasts and genitals of both sexes. Actually, they will show you someone’s bare ass or even a woman’s breasts before they show you their genitals, especially a man’s. I suppose it is because men vary so much in size and appearance, they feel threatened or inadequate when compared to other men who are better endowed. But that, to me, is the great fascination with men, the sheer variety. Women don’t have anything down front, at least that protrudes on the surface, so they all look pretty much the same, don’t they? Cosi fan tutte.

Then there is the matter of visual art.  In the case of certain human sculptures that are rendered with their genitals intact, some so to such lengths as to cover of even obliterate the offending parts.  Now I can sort of understand a person having feelings of personal modesty about their own naked body, but they shouldn’t project their prudish attitudes on a work of art.  It’s a statue!  It doesn’t harbor any shame.  Michelangelo’s David didn’t ask anybody to cover up his dick!  Whose benefit was it for, then?  If you don’t want to see it, don’t look.  I do want to see it!  

You will notice that many directors prefer to give us violent and gross images in their films over benign same-sex love scenes.  In Midnight Express (1978), for only one example, while heterosexual director Alan Parker has Brad Davis’ true-life character, Billy Hayes, who was gay, firmly reject the loving caresses of his fellow prisoner (which the real Billy Hayes did not do), he didn’t mind at all showing our hero being brutally attacked by a sadistic guard, biting off the guard’s tongue and then spitting it across the room in a spray of blood (which the real Billy Hayes did not do either)!

We are constantly bombarded with disgusting scenes of gratuitous violence and graphic shots of blood and gore in the movies and on TV as well, which are admittedly disturbing to a lot of impressionable viewers. But they must think that we would be even more permanently traumatized, for life, if we are shown a mere glimpse of a man’s exposed penis in a film. How shocking!  Something that we all have and can look at anytime we want to, we are not allowed to see on screen, but check out this decapitation and this man being gutted with his innards spewing out all over the ground!  Now, how cool is that! That’s something that you don’t see every day.

What’s even more maddening is the imposed verbal censoring on taped talk shows and others. In earlier days, when someone on “The Tonight Show,” for example, would say something risqué, it would be bleeped out, and the host and guests would go on and on about it with the audience and crew still laughing, and I’m sitting at home again wondering, What did they say? What was so terrible that they couldn’t allow my virgin ears to witness? When Comedy Central airs a standup comic’s act, much of what they are saying is bleeped out, even whole jokes and punchlines. I can’t understand the purpose or audacity of censoring a comic’s routine like that. Why show it at all? Or just do what they did with Eddie Murphy Raw (1987) when Comedy Central showed it one night. That film is so loaded with so-called foul language from beginning to end that it would have been pointless to censor every word. So that time they just put a warning before the film and at commercial breaks that it contained explicit, adult language. They should do that all the time. This way, we are told what to expect and don’t have to watch if we find constant cussing offensive.

On the daytime talk shows, the language often gets rather uninhibited, and the censors will either blot out the “offending” words or exchange them with a high-pitched beep, which I find to be much more annoying than anything the guests might have said. It’s very unfair for the studio audience to be aware of everything that is said on the show and not the home-viewing audience. The whole practice seems stupid and pointless anyway. What are we being protected from? Nobody can utter any word that I or everybody else has not heard before. Oh, it’s for the children’s sake, you say? I’m sure that every child knows all those words, too, having heard them right in their own home and elsewhere, most likely. But, if it’s a word that we or they have never heard before, then how do we know that it’s offensive?

If I am watching a movie at 4 AM and they bleep out a so-called dirty word, for whose benefit is that then? If a parent lets their young child sit up that late watching TV, then the youngster must be mature enough to hear a bad word and not be traumatized by it. I mean, come on! We can’t protect children from dirty language. They’re going to hear it sometime in life; you can’t avoid it. All we can do is tell them what is not acceptable in their particular household. If you don’t want your child to use a certain word, then just tell them so. Maybe I don’t mind if my child hears those words on TV.

Logo is one of the gay cable channels, all of whose programming is of an adult content. So why do they feel the need to censor certain words and situations for us adults? We usually have some idea what words are being bleeped anyway, so if it’s already in our conscious minds, what difference does it make if we actually hear the word or not? I admit that I am not crazy about chronically potty-mouthed people, but it’s still more desirable than that infernal bleeping sound.

What right does anyone have arbitrarily to make such decisions for everybody in a local area, as if everyone has the same tolerance level of decency? When the cop drama “NYPD Blue” premiered on TV, there were a number of local stations across the country that refused to broadcast the series because of its gritty, adult content. How can they do that, to make a decision like that for an entire community? Viewers should always have the option of what to watch. There are people in those areas who may have wanted to look at Dennis Franz’ bare butt. Those who are offended by partial nudity and raw language don’t have to watch the show. Just turn the channel.

Is it the presumption that since network TV is “free,” the executives think that that gives them the right to control and arbitrate our viewing? Well, the real fact is, most people nowadays have cable TV, and those who do, know that it is far from free. Whatever amount we pay for our cable, I think that should entitle us to demand an uncensored, unedited program. Fortunately, I do have a few available channels that show its films complete and uninterrupted. I wish they all would do that. They all could air their commercials and sales pitches in between programs instead of during them.

(# You say “e*ther” and I say “*ither”… #) Literary censorship is just as pointless to me. Can someone explain to me the purpose of using asterisks or some other symbol in place of one or more letters of an objectionable word, when we all know what the word is supposed to be, so why not just spell it out? If I type “F*ck you!” you know what I’m saying; I communicated my thought. So why is “fuck you” any more offensive than “f*ck you”? The symbol is not pronounced, so the word is still what it is.

When I was on the QuantumLink Internet years ago, I would occasionally be reprimanded by the system watchdogs in the chat rooms for cursing onscreen. I did it only to make a point. Other people there would use objectionable words but would substitute a letter or two for symbols instead of the actual letters. I would always proceed to point out the gross hypocrisy of that. Why is it perfectly okay for that person to say “sh*t” onscreen, and I get yelled at if I supply the missing “i”? So I’m a better speller!

Political commentator Keith Olbermann was on “The View” recently to promote his new book. Initially, they would not display the cover onscreen, and the author could not even tell us the title. He told us to ask for it at the bookstore. But how can we when don’t know what the title is?! When Joy Behar finally did, she told us that it is called Trump Is [Bleeping] Crazy, and a certain word was blurred so as not to be read by the viewing audience. It was obvious to me and, I expect, everybody else what the word is, so why can’t they just say it? When I looked up the book online, I found the cover to read, Trump Is F*cking Crazy. Okay, so that is the word I was thinking of, but how does substituting one letter for an asterisk make any difference? Leaving out one letter doesn’t change anything. It makes no sense at all.

An award-winning play came to Broadway a few years ago with the controversial title, The Motherfucker With the Hat. But they would never say or write the full title when it was referred to. Instead, asterisks were inserted in the second half of the word or that part was left out altogether. During the Tony Award ceremonies that year, it was simply “The Mother With the Hat.” Why would the author give a theater piece a title that couldn’t be uttered by the media? I have not seen the show, but I would assume that the title would have important significance and is most likely mentioned sometime during the play, but apparently, not outside of the theater.

When the stars of the show, Chris Rock and Bobby Cannavale, made the rounds on the TV talk shows to promote it, they couldn’t even tell the viewing audiences the name of the play. Now how silly is that? “Hey, I’m in a new play on Broadway, but I can’t tell you the name of it.” The mere fact that everybody knows what the censored word is, again, what is the harm in uttering it? That’s what I find so senseless about this kind of censoring. If the word is already in our consciousness, how does hearing it spoken out loud change anything? So, he just said “fuck.” The sky did not fall. Everything is exactly the same as it was.

Writers are subject to censorship and editing even when the material is not explicitly obscene. I related in another blog that certain lyrics of some songs done by the Flirtations, although benign (we never used profanity), still were deemed to be controversial and therefore had to be censored. There has been similar discussion about gay-themed children’s books, like Heather Has Two Mommies and My Two Daddies that don’t feature any profanity or violence of any kind, but because of the subject matter, i.e. gay parenting, some feel that they have to shield their impressionable youngsters from such deemed decadence.

Someone can always find something objectionable in virtually any literature to merit some kind of censoring.  There was the not-so-long-ago incident of some self-appointed book police who went on a mission to have such literary classics as Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn removed from all the city’s schools and libraries because of their use of racial epithets and attitudes. Come on, the man was just telling a story!  I just heard that as a compromise, instead of banning the Twain books entirely, they merely will be rewritten, the racist stuff either changed or taken out completely.  Can you imagine how much unnecessary work that is?  There is also a campaign to ban Gone With the Wind, I suppose because of its setting and slavery aspect.  Is Roots going to be next?

A popular choice when performing Shakespeare in high schools is to do Romeo and Juliet. But some have objected to that because of its subject matter, that is, romanticized teenage suicide, which is a common occurrence nowadays. The message that they get from the play is, “Our parents don’t want us to be together, so we’ll show them. Let’s just kill ourselves! Better to be united in death than alive and apart.” Of course, there is more to the story than that, but people will focus on any aspect that they choose to object to.

There is this thing that has recently cropped up with protesters objecting to statues and memorials that have to do with the Confederacy.  It’s gotten so out-of-hand now that, in addition to literature and certain movies, some people are re-evaluating practically every piece of public art and finding something offensive or objectionable about them.  If they are allowed to have their way, where will it end?

Why not get rid of all the statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Columbus that you can find all over the place, to name only three?  They all were slave owners.  In fact, let’s tear down the Jefferson Memorial and rename the Washington Monument, as well as everything else with those names on them.  Get rid of Columbus Day.  We don’t need to be reminded of that racist asshole every year.

Well, guess what?  Just days after I wrote the last paragraph, I heard on the news that two (so far) statues of Chris Columbus–the one in New York’s Central Park and one in Brooklyn–were vandalized and defaced.  There was even some protest of the Columbus Day Parade this year.  I’m just talking.  I didn’t expect anybody to take me up on it!  These people need to chill out and stop taking everything so seriously.  It’s as if they want to erase all references to unpleasant historical events.  The danger in that, however, is if we forget our dubious past history, there is the chance that we may repeat it.  Why not relegate these questionable items to museums where instead of being honored, they would be considered historical archives.  So then, those who don’t want to see upsetting images, don’t have to, unless they go specifically to where they are being privately displayed.

As for getting rid of the Columbus Day Parade, I would deem that to be a losing battle, especially for Italian-Americans.  The Irish have their St. Patrick’s Day,  we blacks have Martin Luther King Day, and the Italians celebrate Columbus Day, regardless of what anybody else thinks about it.    

Look at some of the words that were once considered abhorrent in polite Victorian society: belly, breast, cock, leg, pregnant, sex and virgin. Even up until a couple of decades ago no one could say pregnant in the movies or on TV. It was always “I’m going to have a baby.“ But that was not always accurate or appropriate, because the character would sometimes miscarry or terminate the pregnancy. A woman’s being pregnant does not necessarily mean that she is having a baby. That comment states an eventual outcome, whereas the other word describes the actual, present condition. I don’t understand the objection to the word. So a woman can be “with child,“ be “expecting” or have “a bun in the oven,“ but she couldn’t be “pregnant”? Who decides these things?!

Everything written probably has something in it that somebody somewhere is going to object to or be offended by. I mean, we have to draw the line somewhere! Otherwise, all human creativity would be in danger of being squelched. Therefore, I am opposed to any type of imposed censorship. I think it’s up to the artist to censor their own work, instead of some arbitrary mediator. For someone to tell me that I cannot use certain words or expressions would be rather insulting and controlling besides, not allowing me to express myself as I see fit. When I do use vulgarity (if you want to call it that), it’s part of an expression or I am trying to make a point about something. I don’t usually cuss just to be cussing. And let’s face it, vulgarity can be funny when it’s used sparingly. It is the basis of much of the humor in the world.

A psychologist is administering the Rorschach Test to one of his patients. He shows the guy the first inkblot and asks him what it reminds him of. “That’s a beautiful and sexy, naked woman fondling her breasts.” The therapist shows him the next inkblot drawing. “Oh, that’s a man and woman getting it on.” He shows him the next inkblot picture. “That’s a man in the process of self-gratification.” The doctor tells the guy, “I am rather concerned that you seem to be preoccupied with sex.” The patient replies, “I’m preoccupied with sex? You’re the one who keeps showing me the dirty pictures!”

By the same token, a word is not dirty or obscene in itself, but only as it is perceived in our individual minds. In that way, we can make any word objectionable. People on TV can say penis and vagina but they can’t say dick and pussy, unless it’s somebody’s name or they are referring to their cat or the house detective. But then, aren’t they the very same words, regardless of their different meanings?  So, why are they dirty then?  Apparently, it’s not the word itself but the intent or specific meaning of it.

When referring to waste material, crap, dung, feces and manure are allowed, but not shit; urine and even pee, but not piss, although one can be pissed off nowadays. Again, what’s the difference? It’s the same word. Subsequently, TV folk are now allowed to utter the word fart without being bleeped. Also, ass is allowed now but not asshole. In fact, they will bleep out only the “-hole” part of the word. (I fail to see the logic in that.) But you can say anus and rectum. People can have sexual intercourse, and as a result of the Austin Powers sequel, “shagging” has become popular, but fucking is still verboten. Why? They’re just different terms for exactly the same thing.

It appears that each new TV season gets more daring in its language. When “100 Centre Street” debuted some years ago, in every episode somebody had to utter the word shit as an expletive several times, despite what I just said about it. Now it’s in common usage on TV shows. Can fuck be far behind now, the last frontier of taboo words?  Well, the answer to that is “no.” On the pilot episode of “Atlanta,” a new drama last season on the FX channel, I heard one of the main characters say to another actor, “Fuck you!” And it became a regular utterance on last season’s “American Horror Story,” also on FX.  So, I guess now the word is finally out, as other cable channels have followed suit.

Some words have different meanings in different cultures. Let’s take the word bloody or bleeding, for example. In America, it’s a synonym for sanguinary, gory, gruesome, but in the British Commonwealth it’s considered a cuss word, sort of equivalent to our “lousy,” “goddamned” or “fuckin’,” as an adjective. (Other variations are blinking and blooming.) Bloody is said to be a bastardized contraction of “by Our Lady,” whereas its utterance used to be and perhaps still is by some considered blasphemous. So then, is bloody a bad word?

Another example would be the word fanny. Other than its being a woman’s name, in America it’s a euphemism for the rear end, or butt. But in Britain, it’s a slang word referring to a woman’s frontal midsection, namely her vulva. But even that is a euphemism, because the specific term is what is said to be the English schoolboy’s mnemonic acronym for Lord Nelson’s memorable victories: Copenhagen, Ushant, Nile, Trafalgar. Get it? So, in itself, how is fanny a bad word? As with most words, it would depend on where you are and how it’s used, wouldn’t it?

British actors use those words often on American television, and they are never bleeped out. I don’t know if these words are censored on English broadcasts or whether or not they are as strict or puritanical as our own media watchdogs. The whole point and cleverness of puns is the fact that many words have multiple meanings. Many jokes and riddles employ puns to provide the humor and punchlines.

When Zsa Zsa Gabor was a guest one night on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, she came on with her pet female cat, which was sitting on her lap, and she was stroking her while talking to Johnny. At one point Zsa Zsa asked Johnny, “Do you want to stroke my pussy?” Johnny replied, “Sure, if you move the cat out of the way.”

So I ask again, how can certain words be taboo? Is it a human need always to have some words that should not be uttered by anybody?  Freedom of speech is supposed to be one of our most-cherished Constitutional rights. The standards change from time to time, too, whereas certain words that are deemed unmentionable eventually become allowed and then are replaced with others that we can’t use.  Language and its words are in the public domain.  There should not be any word that we are not allowed to see in print or hear uttered.  With virtually every human concept and situation, there is always more than one way to express it.

Which brings me back to pointless and hypocritical censorship.  It’s not so much what you say, it’s how you express it. “Seinfeld” did a very clever and funny episode one season about masturbation, and they didn’t say a single bad word (not even the word masturbation itself) or make even a clarifying gesture, but with carefully chosen words, we knew exactly what they were talking about.

So then people can really say anything they want to on TV and in public as long as they choose the right words to use. Obscene gestures can also be disguised. On “Motive” the lead actor has a penchant for “flipping the bird” to people who piss her off.  But instead of her showing us doing it, she covers her hand with something and asks, “Guess how many fingers I am holding up?” We are supposed to assume just the middle one.

Have you seen this TV commercial? “Do you suffer from feminine itching? Use Vagisil!” Uh, pardon me? “Feminine” itching? Since women don’t have a monopoly on bodily irritations, they must mean something more specific than that. Here is my version. ‘So, you got an itch in your snatch, huh? Girl, you better get you some Vagisil!’ I have no idea what Vagi-Gard and Vasistat are supposed to do. The commercials don’t exactly say. FDS is a “feminine deodorant spray,” but it’s not intended for the underarms. So where, then, I wonder? Are women supposed to figure it out for themselves?

For equal time, men seem to have a problem with “male itch.” They, therefore, must be referring to the scrotum, which is exclusively male, or some kind of “crotch rot.” The area around and on our balls is more likely to itch than our dick. The Vagisil people also promote a euphemistic product for women which they tout as an “Intimate Moisturizer.” I think that is so silly. Why must they be so vague and mysterious? Just call it what it is. “Uh, excuse me. I need some Intimate Moisturizer, please. I can‘t seem to find it.” “Hey, Joe, do we have any more of that Pussy Lube in stock?!”

Some Changes Are for Good

(# …It’s just a matter of time… #)

If I were the Secretary of the Bureau of Weights and Measures and had the power to change our present calendar, this is what I would do. I would change the 12 months to coincide with the 12 Signs of the Zodiac. As it stands now, all the Signs overlap two months each. Why not begin the year on the Vernal Equinox with Aries and go from there? Half of the months would be 30 days long and the other six would have 31, with no need for a shorter month like February. It’s a much simpler system. The year begins at a specific astronomical designation and each month begins as the Sun enters a new Sign. The name of the month is the same as its Sign. At least half of the month names we use presently are obsolete or inappropriate anyway. September, October, November and December, for instance, used to be the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months, respectively, hence their names. What set the calendar off are the later-added months of July and August, who were named for the Caesars and who are dead and gone now, so the hell with them.

A good time to change over to the new calendar would have been at the turn of the millennium at the end of 2000. We could have extended the year for the extra 80 days and started the New Year on March 20 (or 21). The only major adjustment we would have to make is our birthdays, for the sake of preserving the astrological sanctity of our actual time of birth. We would just convert them to the new dates. So instead of September 5, my birthday would then fall on Virgo 15. Of course, there would be agencies and published charts to help you with your conversions, if you can’t figure them out for yourself.

Okay, now that I have reformed our calendar format, let me go a step further and do something about the time. I have been around the world—as far north as Alaska, as far west as Tahiti, as far south as South Africa, and as far east as Japan (well, Okinawa, actually). So I have traveled through many time zones and even crossed the International Dateline three times. I understand that with the size of the earth and where the sun is in different parts and at different times of day, we feel the need to adjust the hours accordingly. But once while I was on tour and traveling back and forth between several time zones and making phone calls to friends in various locations, I realized how confusing it is to keep track of what time it is in different places. Time is merely our method of measuring the hours of the day, and since it’s all relative, it doesn’t matter what we do exactly, as long as we standardize it in some way. The animal and plant kingdoms don’t care about time. They just do what they do whenever.

I realize that it would take some getting used to, but I wish that the whole world could be put on a common time system where it is the same time everywhere on earth. We could do away with time zones, changing our clocks back and forth twice a year, and constantly having to figure out what time it is in other parts of the world. We could still use Greenwich, England as Control Central, so that when it is noon there, it is noon everywhere else as well. Of course, in some places it will be nighttime, but so what? Noon does not have to be the so-called middle of the day. It just refers to 12:00 PM.

In fact, the word noon has changed its meaning over the centuries anyway. The original Latin connotation during Roman times meant “the ninth hour after sunrise,” but where in the world and how often does the sun come up at 3 AM? So why don’t we just dispense with terms like noon and midnight and ante meridiem and post meridiem altogether and just use the 24-hour system like the military and in most places of the world outside the United States? No matter where you are in the world, noon then would be 1200 hours while our present midnight is 2400 hours, regardless of whether it’s light or dark. So then the live Oscars telecast begins at 2000 hours (8 PM) in Hollywood, just as it does on the east coast. Since everything is recorded anyway, the other countries can air the program when it is convenient to their particular location.

While I’m on the subject of time measurement, I’d like to point out an observation that may be an error of international proportions, depending on how you calculate it, which concerns the current millennium.  Of course, we are eighteen years into it now, but this was newly relevant when I first wrote this. A millennium, by definition, is a period of 1000 years. Now if they started counting anno domini at Year 1 (The Timetables of History makes no designation for the Year 0), then the first one hundred years went from 1 to 100, the second century began with 101, and so on.  Therefore, the 21st century did not begin until 2001, the year 2000 being just the last year of the last century, the 20th.  So unless one of the last two millennia equaled only 999 years, the next one did not begin until 2001.  Why the anxiousness?  It was only one more year.  I’m not the only one who is aware of this, I don’t know why the media has not corrected this probable misconception.  Maybe they will get it right by the turn of the next millennium, or even the next century.

Although it is the exact same situation, you might notice that people are not so eager to advance to the next year when it comes to their birthdays, however.  They will hang on to the current year until the last minute.  Most don’t want to be any older than they have to be.  When people give their age, they tend to give the number of the last year of life that they completed instead of the year that they are currently living.  So they are actually the next year older than they claim to be.

For instance, if I want to, I can call myself 71 until my next birthday in September, although I am already in my 72th year of life. But for me, after each New Year, as my other friends, who were born in 1947, are having their birthdays, by the time mine rolls around, I have already accepted my next higher age number. What we refer to as a birthday is really the anniversary of the day we were born, which is one‘s first birthday. So your daughter’s “16th birthday” means that she really is starting her 17th year of life, but it is the 16th anniversary of her birth. On my next “birthday,” therefore, I will be turning 73, but I will be only 72 years old.

The United States is the only world power nation that does not employ the metric system.  I suppose that it is more useful, practical and more exacting than our system, but I wish that somebody had had the foresight to adapt the metric system at least as early as the fifties, when I was young enough to learn it.  Our system is so ingrained in me now, I haven’t bothered to learn the other one, short of using conversion tables and such.

Another primary teaching oversight, that I don’t understand, is why the number zero is not acknowledged when we are first taught to count.  One is not the lowest number.  There is an amount that is less than one, that is not even theoretical.  Since it is possible to have none, we need a number to denote it, and that number is zero.  Our series of number symbols begins with 0, not 1, goes to 9 then starts all over again with a new series.  Where does 10 come from if we have not yet established 0 beforehand?  To avoid confusion and common mistakes, I wish that the number keys on the top row of a computer keyboard would be arranged left to right from 0 to 9, respectively, rather than 1-0.  However, the keypad area on there does have them in the correct order.  What’s up with that?

Zeros figure into every kind of mathematical computation. Any number subtracted from itself is zero. In determining a negative designation, we first have to pass zero. In one form of Dominoes, players earn points by adding the pips on the ends of the layout formation. If one player has just made 15 points and another places the double blank domino to the configuration, they have thus added zero and receives 15 points also.  Due to zero’s prevalent use in everyday situations, it should always be included in our basic counting and numbering systems.  With a binary system, at least, zero is acknowledged and quite prominent.  It begins with 00, then 01, 02, etc.

Okay, I admit that I’m trying to make things easier for myself, and that may be somewhat selfish on my part, but I couldn’t be the only one who thinks this way.  I wouldn’t mind if the whole world were required to speak a common language, too, preferably English.  People in non-English-speaking nations would be allowed to continue to employ their own native tongue, so they all at least would be bilingual.  The most likely and most practical choice of a global language is, of course, English, and not just because it’s my own first language.  It’s already spoken by more people around the world, except for Mandarin Chinese, which has the most speakers worldwide—but please, don’t make us have to learn Chinese!

The attempts to make Esperanto the Universal Language has not worked out, so why not give American English a chance?  English is probably not so difficult to learn if begun early enough.  It’s already taught as a second language in most countries of the world.  As far as vocabulary goes, one advantage of modern English is that it is made up of so many other languages as it is.  As many of our words are foreign in origin anyway, we can just continue to add to it by culling specific words, especially nouns, from all the other languages of the world.  That’s how it is already, so everyone already has a good head start.  Then no matter where anybody goes in the world, they would be able to communicate verbally via English.

I believe that our speaking a common tongue might even bring us closer together as people.  Some might think these ideas of mine sound a bit Communistic, but even if they are, they have nothing to do with national politics or economics.  I consider it as more Socialistic.  I see it as a way of improving the world’s social conditions and simplifying things for all of us. Doesn’t that seem to be the wave of the future, simplification?

Another established convention that I would like to change is two lines of a very famous holiday poem.  You see, I like poetry that rhymes, and this one couplet bothers me as the only flaw in an otherwise perfect work.  It could easily have been corrected if done another way.  In Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), when he is naming the eight reindeer (he doesn’t mention Rudolph or Olive), it goes, “Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! / On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!” I’m sorry, but Vixen and Blitzen do not rhyme! That’s like when Carly Simon in her song “You’re So Vain,” tried to rhyme Saratoga with Nova Scotia [?!].

But there are two names in there that do rhyme, Dancer and Prancer. So why didn’t Moore put those two names at the end of the lines? One possibility would be: “Now, Blitzen! now, Donner! now, Dasher and Dancer! / On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Vixen and Prancer!”  What, who is Olive, you ask? You know. Olive, the other reindeer…used to laugh and call him names?

Only a little less annoying is the liberty taken with the rhyme scheme of the lyrics of church hymns.  The poets of some of these hymns go more for spelling similarities rather than true rhymes.  They commonly like to rhyme heaven with given and striven.  Some others are merit and spirit, beneath and death, come and home (sometimes womb), and Lord with word–but ward, which does rhyme with Lord, they make it to rhyme with guard.  But the one that always gives me pause is the hymn that features this quadruple non-rhyme: blood, food, God and stood.

My impressionability and appreciation of poetry stems from the cleverness of its construction and the rhythm and rhyme scheme.  I think that poetry should be a verbal challenge that follows certain rules.  That’s why I don’t fancy free verse poetry that has no restrictions or limitations to it.  Anybody can write anything and call it poetry.  For me, literary and poetic art are determined by form and content, the exception being that if the text is sung, then it doesn’t have to rhyme.  Comedic performance artist Anna Russell used to say, “In grand opera you can do anything, as long as you sing it.” That goes for any form of literature as well.