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.

 

Cinematic Pros and Cons

Part One–Cinematic Complaints, Gripes, Observations, etc.

I have been an avid movie fan for as long I can remember, a penchant that I reckon I got from my mother. She started taking my brother and me to “the show” when we were still pretty small, and we continued to go on a regular basis when we were old enough to go by ourselves or with our friends. We had seven movie houses in town from which to choose, all showing different features at any given time. This was long before the multiplexes of today turned up.

Sunday afternoon especially, during the ’50s and ’60s, was movie-going day. A bunch of us school chums would turn up there together and make a party of it every week. But I actually watched the movies, rather than going there to make out with the girls. We’d always get at least a double feature, along with cartoons, shorts and newsreels, not like these days. Drive-in theaters also thrived during this period, and Mother used to take us kids to them often as well. Most of the films from that era that are shown on TV now, I saw them when they were first released.

Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King were very frightened children, afraid of everything, especially of things macabre and supernatural, but grew up to be two of the most famous writers of horror fiction. I, too, had a dreaded fear of horror and “scary” monster films as a child but later grew to relish them. To show you how impressionable I was when I was 8 or 9, the first time I saw Claude Rains as The Invisible Man (1933), the scene when he is in his hotel room and unwraps the bandages on his head, leaving nothing there, I freaked! I had bad dreams about that for days! When I see that scene now, it’s so non-scary, it’s almost comical.

While I was stationed in Okinawa during my stint in the Army, movies were my main source of entertainment. I went sometimes as often as 5 times a week. Admission was only a quarter! I continued my frequent movie-going when I moved to NYC, sometimes attending 8-hour marathons and several-day festivals. For a while now I no longer have the inclination to spend that much time sitting in a movie theater. I have better use of my time. I still watch a lot of movies, more than ever in fact, but at home on my TV set. Being a lover of films, I am also able to point out negative aspects of the movie-watching experience.

We always get a news report of which new movies made the most money on their opening weekend. But just because a certain movie took in several million dollars its first time out, is no indication how good the film is. It just means that a lot of people went to see it right away. See if folks are still flocking to see it in the following days, after the word has gotten around about the picture. Plus, since ticket prices have skyrocketed as of late, it doesn’t take them as long to earn a million dollars as it did years ago. There is no film that I am willing to wait in a long line to see, something that is going to be around indefinitely. I’ll see it when I see it.

Almost every film made eventually comes to TV, and to DVD format even before then. I’d rather watch them in the comfort of my own home anyway, where I can pause it or run it back at my leisure, if I miss something or want to see it again, and make use of subtitles, so as not to miss any of the dialogue. Part of the enjoyment for me is being able to make comments during the viewing of a film, something that isn’t condoned in the theater.

Oftentimes in movies when the characters themselves make dates to go to the cinema, they seem to go just for the sake of going. They are seldom concerned with what is playing or even the schedule. “Would you go see a movie with me tonight?” “Sure.” “Swell! I’ll pick you up at 7.” Well, what are you seeing, and what time does it start? Don’t they care? Who is that nonchalant in real life? With the number of films playing at the same time and for what they’re charging for them, who goes to the show just to be going and not even care if they arrive after the picture has started?

I was surprised one night, though, while watching an episode of “Medium” on TV, when the lead character Allison DuBois (played by Patricia Arquette) and her husband went to see Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) that evening. I thought it interesting that they would cite a specific movie in the script, until the next commercial break came on and there was a preview advertisement for that very film, which had opened just that week! Hmm, a little sponsor manipulation there?

More recently, on “America’s Got Talent,” Howie Mandel, one of the show’s judges, said of a contestant’s performance one night that it was “epic.” I thought that was an unusual word to use in that context. What does that even mean? So as I was consulting my dictionary to check the meaning–“heroic, grand, majestic,” by the way (but still a strange choice of words, in my opinion)–a commercial break came on just then for a car ad. What I heard then was, “Our prices are epic…Come in for one of our epic deals.” They must have used “epic” at least three times during the sales pitch. Now was that mere coincidence or deliberate intent on Mandel’s part? Of all the words he could have used, why did he choose “epic” at that particular time? Don’t you think, as I do, that it was all pre-arranged?

I don’t like to go in after the picture has started, unless, like in the old days when I would be able to stay and see the part I missed.The first time I went to see The Ten Commandments, in 1956, I sat through the entire film twice! But that is not the case anymore, as they clear the theater and won‘t start the film again until sometimes as much as an hour later. Who wants to wait around that long for the next showing?

Every year on the Academy Awards show, they mention five nominees each in the categories of Best Short Film—Live Action and Animated, and Best Documentary—Feature and Short Subject. Excuse me, but where are these films shown, please?! These are 20 separate films that nobody ever sees! Why don’t they show them along with the regular feature, like they used to in the old days? We at least used to get a cartoon or serial chapter. We don’t get shit anymore, except tedious previews and commercials.

And that’s another thing! There are now more car commercials on TV than anything else, so the last thing I want to see at a movie theater is another goddamned car commercial! Who in Manhattan is constantly in the market to buy a new car?! Give us a break! So it appears as if all these filmmakers crank out these wonderful (presumably) short films and documentaries year after year and nobody except the Academy voters (if they, even) get to see any of them.

I am a big fan of mysteries and suspense thrillers, particularly, and having seen so many of them, I know all the standard plots and twists, and I have an uncanny knack for figuring out whodunit. I have on occasion merely perused a cast list of a TV or movie drama and was able to pick out the murderer even before I saw the thing. Whenever you see the names William Atherton, Jere Burns or Titus Welliver, for example, in anything, it’s a good bet that they will be up to no good.

I do the same with the mystery novels that I read. I was often ahead of the story while I was reading Dan Brown’s books, for instance. His recurring character, Robert Langdon, is supposed to be so smart, but I was figuring out what was going on in the story long before he does. I realize that writers tend to withhold certain information from their readers and viewers and expect and even hope to keep us all in the dark until they themselves reveal something important. But it sometimes feels as if they are insulting our intelligence. I couldn’t be the only one that has figured out what’s going to happen; it seems so obvious to me.

On “Murder, She Wrote,” for another instance, at times the killer would let something slip which proves their guilt, and Jessica Fletcher would not catch it right away. Then at the end of the episode when she is exposing the culprit, only then would she remember what the guy said earlier. Well, duh! We viewers all heard what they said. How did she miss it? How does that character know that the victim was shot twice? Nobody ever said so. Again, the writers are insulting our intelligence. “These people are so stupid, they always miss the obvious clues we give them.“ Well, I don’t!

My idea of a good, carefully-crafted murder mystery is one in which I don’t guess the outcome of the story. And although it doesn’t happen often, I am pleased to report that I still do get surprised from time to time. The climactic twist in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, for instance, I sure didn’t see that coming. He really got me that time. No, I will not spoil it for you, in case you haven’t read it. Another way that I amaze myself is when I anticipate a character’s dialogue exactly. Situations become so predictable, I just know what they’re going to say, before they say it.

I still love television and movies, but I’ve gotten rather jaded, I suppose. No horror film has given me a thrill or a rise in a very long time. I’ve seen all the tricks, all the gimmicks, all the special effects used in films. But I keep on watching just the same, vainly hoping for a fresh innovation, a real fright or a never-before-seen screen image.

The movie sequel is certainly nothing new. When movie characters are first introduced and become popular with the public, they are undoubtedly used again and again in follow-up films. But I wonder if people actually write these movie producers begging for more of the same of a certain movie, or do the studios just take it upon themselves to produce them unrequested? For instance, the first Police Academy movie (1984) wasn’t all that great to begin with. So who asked them to make six more sequels of the thing?! I sure didn’t! And, come on, did we really need a remake of that 1958 debacle Attack of the 50 Foot Woman? The second one was just as horrendous as the first one!

And what’s with this remaking of movie classics? Some great films are virtually perfect and don’t need to be improved upon. I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Although I do like both the Redgrave sisters, Lynn and Vanessa, their remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991) didn’t even come close to being as good as the original with Bette and Joan. It was totally unnecessary—as was George Romero’s own color remake of his Night of the Living Dead (1990). The only real change was the ending. And why the frame-by-frame remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho? Does that make any kind of sense?

In the last few years the Syfy Channel on cable has produced a series of preposterous hybrid creature action features. You can figure out what they are supposed to be from their titles alone. They first came out with Sharktopus (it has tentacles, no less), followed by Dinoshark, both in 2010 and Piranhaconda (2012). Sharktopus was then pitted against Pteracuda in 2014 and Whalewolf (2015). Next we were given Croczilla and Lavalantula, which features volcano-produced giant spiders (both 2015). There is also a sequel. “They’re bigger! They’re hotter!” They’re more ridiculous! Can they stop?!

Sharknado (2013) was such a big hit for the network that they produced five more sequels! The title of Sharknado 6 is The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time! (2018). We’ll see about that. They said that with the Nightmare on Elm Street series, when after Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), They made Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), then Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) and then a remake of the first Nightmare, ostensibly starting the whole series over again! Similarly, after what was supposed to be the fourth and final Final Destination in 2009, they made yet another one, Final Destination 5 two years later. It would seem that it’s not really over until it’s really over.

Apparently, some producer seems to have a fanatic obsession with sharks. In addition to the aforementioned entries, there is also Swamp Shark (2011), Zombie Shark (2015) and Roboshark (2016), which actually was not too bad. In 2017 we had Atomic Shark, Toxic Shark, Trailer Park Shark, Dam Sharks!: “Sharks use human bodies to build dams” (!), Empire of the Sharks, and the derivative Planet of the Sharks, in which, instead of the former apes, sharks now dominate the earth, led by a mutant alpha. Add to those 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012), 3-Headed Shark Attack (2015), 5-Headed Shark Attack (2017) and 6-Headed Shark Attack (2018). What, no four-headed Shark, you are probably asking? Well, I wondered about, too. It turns out that the five-headed one started out as four and grew another head during the course of the film!

Wait, they are not done yet! So far this year they have produced Nightmare Shark, Santa Jaws, Megalodon, Frenzy and Deep Sea 2, all shark features. That’s makes 28 shark movies, not counting the several Jaws features from the ’70s and ’80s and others made in between that decade and the present one. I expect there will be more to come. I am not making any of this up, by the way. These are actual movies with plots and everything. I have watched only a few of them myself. I wonder who thinks up these things? How they got some major stars to appear in these schlock films must be the large salaries offered them.

If the killer tomatoes and the killer doll Chucky of the Child’s Play series weren’t ridiculous enough, I recently saw Attack of the Killer Donuts (2016), I kid you not, starring C. Thomas Howell, and somebody came up with a murderous Cookie Monster in the guise of a possessed gingerbread man! The film is called The Gingerdead Man (2005) and stars Gary Busey in the title role and directed by Charles Band. This silly film has so far spawned two sequels!

One cable channel seems hell-bent on exploiting real life murders, each with their own series, no less. There is “Killer Women,” hosted by Piers Morgan, “Killer Couples,” “Killer Kids” and even “Killer Clergy”! They also regularly exploit the famous killers who have made the news over the years, like David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, the Menendez Brothers, and Jack the Ripper is a constant dramatic staple. I can only assume that enough people are watching these shows to keep them on the air. It seems that nothing is taboo anymore as far as TV fare goes. One of the History Channels on cable has been dubbed “The Hitler Channel,” because virtually every program that they air has something to do with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

I have become annoyed by this recurring trend of feature films that don’t give us any opening credits. Some don’t even give us the title of the film at the start. In the case of a multiplex, we can only hope that we wandered into the right theater. At times we will get just the title, but nothing else until the end. I like to know who’s involved with the picture and who’s appearing in it before I see it, so I’ll know who to watch for. I want to know who did the music and who is directing, especially. If it is a period piece, I’d like to know who did the sets and the costumes. Those theatergoers who are in the habit of leaving as soon as they see “The End” on the screen, don’t seem to care about any of that.

I am one of those who does stay after a feature film to view all the credits. I view movies as an artistic experience, not only for the entertainment aspect. I am most interested in knowing who everybody is. By staying, I have actually seen the names of people that I know personally. Imagine how thrilled I was to see my own name listed among the end credits of Philadelphia. I want to know where it was filmed, which they will tell you at the end. What is that song and who is that singing right now during the credits?

As a fan of soundtrack and movie scores, I also find that some of the best music is reserved for the very end. John Williams, for instance, one of my favorites, usually has great End Credit music to listen to. Without the visual distractions and limitations, they can really let it all out then. Some nominated songs (and Oscar winners) are sung during the end credits of a film. When I finally got to see An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), I kept waiting to hear “Up Where We Belong,” which had become a hit before I saw the movie the first time. It was sung during the closing credits!

I consider a movie is not over until the screen goes blank. That goes for TV shows, too. That’s how I learn who the industry people are, by remembering certain names when they keep turning up again and again. This proves to be more difficult on TV, however, because in the attempt to start the next scheduled program, they tend to cut the end credits or scroll them by so fast or too far away to read anything. That cuts off the ensuing music as well. There are some films that give us more footage during and even after the end credits. During the end credits of Wild Things (1998), for example, film snippets were inserted here and there that filled in some gaps that we didn’t get to see during the movie. They helped to clear up certain questions that we had about the film. Oh, well that explains a lot!

Here is another interesting case in point. (Spoiler Alert!) At the end of Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), teenage schoolboy Sherlock is in mortal combat with his professor and trusted mentor, who turns out to be the murderer and head conspirator of the story. When this guy disappears under an ice floe, it was made to look as if that was the end of him. So after all the end credits finish rolling, we get another scene of a man checking into a hotel. We don’t know who it is at first, until he signs the register as Professor Moriarty, Holmes‘ subsequent lifetime arch nemesis. Then his face is revealed, and what do you know? It’s the same guy that we had just presumed was dead!

I think that is a fabulous unexpected twist, which the people who left the theater early never got to see. And that was perfect the way it was done. Putting that scene before the end credits wouldn’t have had the same effect as it did at the very end. It was like the postscript of a letter. “Oh, by the way, before you go, wait a minute and check this out.” Sometimes they will tack on a brief scene at the very end that sets up the sequel. They will drop a name or mention some unknown entity. Who is that? or, What does that mean? Well, I guess we will have to come back for the next one and find out.

I am not pleased about some other cinematic innovations either. There must be corporate employees who sit around and think up more ways to bilk moviegoers into getting more money out of us. The constantly-escalating ticket prices certainly are not enticing me into the movie theaters as often as I used to go in the past. Whenever a new, eagerly-anticipated film is released, whether it be Titanic, Star Wars or a new James Bond, they think that gives them an excuse to raise the ticket price from what it was currently. So now that becomes the new price. If people are willing to pay that much for a movie, they surmise, then there is no reason to revert back to the old price. But even that is not enough for them. Let’s give the people some gimmicks to enhance the movie-going experience. 1985 saw the return of 3-D after a 30-year hiatus, and Imax appeared as a regular entity at about the same time, both which justify a higher ticket price than a normal showing.

The latest thing is 4X, which is sort of a virtual reality experiment. I saw the Ben-Hur (2016) remake in this format, and I am not all that impressed with it. It’s too much, in my opinion–overkill. In addition to the film being shown in 3-D, the seats rocked and shook throughout, which, to me, felt dizzying after a while. We got spritzed and rained on, and gusts of wind blew at us from all directions. It seemed a waste, as there were only four other people in attendance, but I expect that the price of the thing may have something to do with the lack of audience. The theater was charging $28.50 for the movie and $25.50 for children and seniors! That is utterly outrageous.

I did not pay that amount, however, because I was at a multiplex and had gone there to see something else, and Ben-Hur just happened to be playing in an adjacent theater, so I decided to check it out. I’m glad that I did. Now I know to avoid it in the future. There is no single movie, I don’t care how good it’s supposed to be, that I would spend almost $30 to see. This is most likely other people’s feeling as well, and is why there wasn’t a bigger attendance. I expect this new gimmick will be a flash-in-the-pan and suffer the same fate as 8-track cartridges and laser-disks. (Remember them?) Who is going to pay that much for a movie that may turn out to be a piece of shit?

How do these theater owners think that charging those exorbitant prices is going to lure more and more people into their movie houses, when it is most likely causing the opposite effect? If we wait a couple of months every film made eventually comes to TV and/or on video format. There are a great number of movie channels that come with our basic cable TV, and it’s already paid for. The basic plan for Netflix is only $5.43 for two films a month, plus one can watch them in the comfort of their home, which is more fun anyway, in my opinion, as I elaborated earlier.

Have you ever noticed that up until the last decade or so, except for occupational uniforms, all adult male actors in Hollywood films were required to wear suits and ties? It seems that the studio costume designers concentrated most of their efforts on the women, because the men all wore the same thing all the time. Check it out. The next time you see an old movie from the ’30s through the ’70s, notice what all the men are wearing in every scene. It doesn’t matter what the situation is or what they are doing. Even after work when they are sitting at home relaxing, they will have on a business suit or sport jacket or tie. The height of absurdity was in a film I saw with Fred Astaire, George Burns and Gracie Allen, called Damsel in Distress (1937). There is a scene in an amusement park Funhouse where the trio are dancing, carousing, sliding and rolling around on the floor. The two men are dressed in suits and ties, and Gracie has on a dress and high heels! Go ‘head, y’all!

Other random examples: In the 1951 comedy Rhubarb, there are several scenes at a baseball stadium—and I’m talking hundreds of extras to fill the stands—all the men that appear on camera are dressed in suits and ties, and the women have on dresses and hats! Come on, who wears formal attire to a stadium baseball game, and why?! In Romance on the High Seas (1948) they’re on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and now that I have done cruises myself, I know what people wear. They dress up only for evening dinner—and not every night either—but during the day everyone goes very casual—shorts, T-shirts, tropical wear. I have never seen anybody walking around the ship and in Caribbean port stops during the day, as they are in the film, dressed in suits and ties and dresses!

In Picnic (1955) there is a town picnic held in a park with physical games and activities, and the men are all wearing suits and ties during the three-legged races and while they are crawling around on the ground. Didn’t those producers see how stupid and unrealistic that was? And have you ever noticed what they make actors wear for police uniforms, especially old sitcoms? They must all come from a common wardrobe source because they are all the same. We recognize the players to be police officers by their distinctive costume, but real police uniforms don’t look like that. You will find that kind only in old films.

And while we’re on the subject of cinematic dress, what sadist came up with the nonsense of dressing for dinner? I’ve seen films where a pretentious, aristocratic (white) family has houseguests and instructs them, “In this house we always dress for dinner.” Then they all come down to the table dressed to the teeth—the men in tuxedos, tails even, with starched, white shirts and collars, bow ties, the works, and the women decked out in full regalia, tons of makeup and jewelry everywhere. How can they enjoy a meal with all that shit on? I like to be comfortable when I eat. I don’t want anything tight around my neck or be afraid to spill anything on my freshly-laundered, neatly-pressed clothes. It wasn’t until I went on the first cruise ship that I discovered that that really goes on. Every few days during any cruise, formal night is suggested, when all guest passengers are asked to dress up in tuxes and evening gowns for dinner and after. I do go along with it because everybody else does it. But I wouldn’t do that every day, and certainly not in my own home.

Has it ever occurred to you while watching adventure movies or disaster films or when the characters are trapped somewhere or confined for long periods of time, that they never have to relieve themselves, or at least they don’t let us see them going to the “bathroom”? It’s not that I want to see people taking dumps on screen all the time, but they can at least make an allusion to it occasionally, to add to the realism. And if they did “go,” I’d be curious to know what they use to wipe their butts with.

In The Poseidon Adventure (1972), for example, it was many hours before the surviving passengers were finally rescued, but during all that time, nobody had to go to the toilet, and after that huge meal that they all had just before the ship capsized. Here’s one delightful exception. My favorite dialogue exchange from The Main Event (1979) was when Barbra Streisand has to share a barracks with all men at a boxers’ retreat in the woods. She asks trainer Whitman Mayo where the restroom is. He told her that it is outside. She asks, “Where, outside?” He replies, “Anywhere.”

Anyone who has learned to speak on a two-way radio correctly, knows the basic terms of communication. I was taught radio protocol during Basic Training. “Over” means that you have finished talking for the time being and now expect a reply. “Out” means that your transmission is completed and you do not expect a reply. So what idiot first came up with the signoff “over and out”? It makes no sense. The two words cancel out each other. Yet the phrase has become so commonplace in the movies and on TV, I often wonder how so many writers, directors and the actors themselves, who constantly utter this incongruous phrase, can all be so misinformed.

Now, “roger, out” works fine. That means, “Message understood; goodbye.” I suppose that at some time along the way, the two phrases got confused, the wrong one won out, and it has never been corrected. Sometimes a character will even try to read somebody. “Goodbye! Over and out!” So there! Of all the movies I’ve seen, I probably can count on one hand the times someone has correctly used “Out” when he signed off on the radio or transmitter. It reveals the phoniness of the character, because a real person doing that particular job would know the correct terminology to use.

Another military term that is often wrong is the acronym “AWOL.“ Most think that it stands for “absent without leave.“ But as an Army veteran, I know that it actually stands for “absent without official leave.” The word for the “O” is important and is there for a reason. “Absent Without Leave” does not mean anything by itself. The fact that a soldier abandons his assigned post without permission from his unit superiors is what makes it an infraction.

“I will take care of the matter the first thing in the morning … Have that report on my desk first thing in the morning.” That is certainly an impractical, overused movie phrase. The very first thing I do when I wake up (and not always in the morning either) is look at my clock to see what time it is, then I get up and go to the bathroom. In order to submit a report to someone’s desk, one has to get up, do their ablutions, dress, maybe have breakfast, leave the house, travel to work, arrive at the office and then deliver the requested report. So that’s not exactly “the first thing in the morning,” is it? I know that it’s just an expression, but why not say what they really mean? If they don’t want to give a specific time, just say, “As soon as you come in to work” or “At my earliest convenience”?

Check this out. In the movie musical Singin’ in the Rain (1952) when Jean Hagen is preparing to lip-sync the title tune (with Debbie Reynolds behind the curtain doing the actual singing), she tells the house orchestra to do it in the key of A-flat. And then they play it in the key of E-flat instead! More recently and conversely, in The Ernest Green Story (1993), the star, Morris Chestnut, is leading a jazz combo at a school dance. He tells them to play the song in E-flat and they proceed to play it in A-flat! In Romance on the High Seas (1948) Oscar Levant is talking to Doris Day when the ship’s whistle blows and he says to her, “E-flat. That’s your key,” suggesting that he had perfect pitch. But it wasn’t E-flat. It was an F.

So in all these cases, why didn’t they just change the line in the script to coincide with the music and actual pitches? Did they think that nobody in the world would know the difference? I am one who always checks when a musical pitch is mentioned in a drama. I want to know if they’re naming the right key or pitch. I am pleased when they do. Like, in Victor/Victoria (1982) when Julie Andrews’ nightclub audition is rejected, before she leaves, she warbles a high note that breaks a glass in the room. The proprietor asks, “What was that?” Robert Preston, sitting nearby, replies, “B-flat,” which it was. Or, when Whoopi Goldberg is giving her nun’s chorus a music lesson in Sister Act (1992), she has them sing a D Major triad, which it actually is. So the non-musician viewers can learn something right along with the characters on-screen.

It seems that Hollywood producers, in general, take us all to be music illiterates. When a non-musician is playing a piano, for instance, or rather sitting at it, as the camera is not on their hands or keyboard, their body movements are often incongruous with the music we hear. It’s so obvious that they are not really playing. When a movie or TV character is “playing” a wind instrument, I hardly ever see them actually breathing. They just hold the thing up to their mouth. If the actor is so clueless as to realize that a wind instrument requires air to play it, even if they are faking, the director or somebody on the set should enlighten them. I find myself yelling to the screen, ‘Breathe, bitch!’

I always catch things like that. I would make a good continuity consultant for films, making sure that everything matches up and check for anomalies and inaccuracies. I have spotted misspelled and incorrect signs. In the Ancient Rome section of Mel Brooks’ History of the World–Part I (1981), as the camera is perusing the town, all signs and lettering that have a “U” on them are spelled with the Roman “V”. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, so I don’t remember specific examples. I do remember, however, catching a sign for “USED CARS” instead of “VSED CARS” (I think it was). Oh-oh, they missed one!

If a certain song or piece of music is performed in a film, I will check to see if that particular music existed at the time of the setting of the film. Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012) takes place in 1972. Two of the songs played during the film are “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield and Carpenters’ “Top of the World,” both which came out in 1972. I thought, Okay, somebody is doing their job. But then we hear Barry White doing “My First, My Last, My Everything,” which did not come out until 1974. Aha! I gotcha!

And how about when a regular actor is required to conduct a chorus or an orchestra? Pitiful! Couldn’t they at least learn a basic beat pattern? They give no preparations, no cutoffs. If it is a rehearsal, the director or conductor will stop the chorus or orchestra, give a musical direction, and then they will all start singing or playing together in the same place, when they haven’t even been told where they should resume. That’s what rehearsal letters and measure numbers are for. And during an actual concert, they will begin a big symphonic work somewhere in the middle of the piece and want us to believe that it’s the beginning, as if nobody is going to know the difference. I hate having my intelligence constantly insulted. I do realize that there usually is not enough time to perform the whole piece, but they can start at the beginning and then make the necessary cuts, which would at least denote the passage of time. A recent exception is in Whiplash (2014) when jazz band director J.K. Simmons actually does give music instructions, preparations and count-offs to his musicians. It was so refreshing and rare to see that in a film. I have since learned that Simmons is a real musician, who studied music formally. Aha!

Did you ever notice that when actors are performing a play-within-a-play or rehearsing a scene from a play, they always have to overact so that we will know that they are “acting”? Anne Baxter always overacted in everything she appeared in. (“…Oh, Moses, Moses! You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!…”) I like her, though.

Now, this may be only a movie and TV thing. Everybody, blacks and whites, like to dance, but black people tend to want to dance to danceable music, whereas white people don’t seem to care and will dance to anything. They will be in a restaurant or somewhere and they’ll get up to dance and the music playing will be some slow, rambling, rhythmless ditty with no kind of beat to it, and the white folks will be dancing back! I always think, Do they want to dance just for the sake of dancing and to hell with the music? To me, music is dancing’s raison d’etre. If there is no music to guide you, why bother? I mean, one can sing acappella but it’s sort of pointless to dance acappella, especially with another person.

Although most moviemakers try to go for “realism” in their films, I think that they all fail miserably when it comes to the depiction of bodily blows. It works in two opposing ways, though. During fight scenes, there is no way that a normal person could withstand some of those licks. Repeated blows to the face with a bare fist would at least draw blood, fracture something or cause some damage, but some of these guys come out with nary a scratch. They get kicked and beaten with clubs and things all over their bodies and they keep right on punching. But then, when one guy does knock the other down, he’ll yell at him to “Get up!” I’m thinking, Why should he get up just to be knocked back down again? Or maybe it’s an etiquette thing. It’s not polite to hit a man while he’s down, so they make him stand up first? If someone is going to beat the shit out of me, I certainly don’t expect him to follow his Amy Vanderbilt manual!

Now the other way it works is that it’s far too easy to knock people out in the movies. A simple tap on the noggin will knock a guy out for hours. One does not need a bludgeon or mace to render someone unconscious, mind you. Light pottery and bottles work just as well, but be sure to use a bottle with the liquid still in it, to give it that added weight and dribble. Furniture’s good, too, like chairs and lamps, but my favorite knocker-outer is the canvas painting over the head. You know, the cheap watercolor that breaks through on impact? Boy, I’ll bet that really smarts!

And speaking of unconsciousness, sort of, did you ever notice when in a hospital scene a patient has been in a coma for a long time, but then they finally wake up and their family and friends rush in to see them? Shortly, some hospital personnel will come into the room and tell the visitors that they have to leave because the patient needs their rest. What?! My goodness, the man has been in a coma for five years! How much more rest could he possibly need?! I often wonder if these scriptwriters and directors actually listen to some of the lines that they make their actors utter.

How about movies and TV shows that regularly feature burning buildings, like “Rescue Me” and the current “Chicago Fire”? When they show the firefighters going inside the buildings to rescue people, the flames are always in little patches here and there to give the actors and crew room to maneuver themselves through. I am pretty sure that fire does not confine itself to convenient patches like that. When a fire starts, it spreads and catches on to everything in its immediate vicinity. A fire that starts in one part of the room doesn’t just leap across unattachedly to burn up that place way on the other side of the room. If fire did not spread from a single source, how did that little fire that started in the wastebasket end up burning the entire house down? It’s so obvious in these dramas that those fires are created for the sole purpose of filming. It’s as if the fire has conscious intelligence. The boss flame instructs, “Hold on, guys! Leave a path right there so that the stars of the show can get through safely.” Then as soon as they get outside, the place immediately is engulfed in flames. “Okay, guys, they’re gone now. We can do our thing. Let‘s turn this mother out!”

Another unbelievable time is in Independence Day (1996) when Vivica A. Fox is trying to outrun a marauding fireball while carrying her young son. She is in a sort of tunnel or enclosed passageway but encounters a conveniently-placed niche in a side wall which they and their dog manage to retreat into, just as the fireball catches up with them. There is no door or anything with which to cover the hole, but instead of the fire filling up the open space, it miraculously passes over it, continuing on its merry way, as they watch it go by. I thought, Wasn’t it nice of that fireball to spare the lives of those good people? Just previously, poor Harvey Fierstein wasn’t so fortunate, however.

And where did they get the cinematic idea that common bullets have a deadly effect on everything? No matter what it is—monsters, robots, extraterrestrials (the Blob!?), spaceships, anything—they will shoot at it! It’s the shooting at dead things that I find particularly absurd. Someone will see a ghost or vampire or zombie or somebody that they know is definitely dead, but they’ll shoot at them anyway, just in case, I guess. Now if this person has figured out how to defy death, what do they think a mere bullet is going to do to them? I mean, how do you re-kill a ghost, and why even bother? White men are just so trigger-happy in the movies. You know, shoot first and ask questions later. (They seem to be that way in real life, too!)

But it seems that many of them have selective marksmanship. Oh, they do all right on the minor characters and stunt extras, shooting them off rooftops and off of horses and such, but when the hero is trying to run for cover, the bullets always manage to miss him. They will hit the ground at his feet or hit the building or objects next to his head instead. But in the event that he is actually hit, it’s never fatal. The same bullets that killed everybody else in the film, only slightly wound the hero. And while the crooks or psychopath can walk up to these insignificants and remorselessly blow them all away, no questions asked, for the star and heroes of the film, it is customary to hold them at gunpoint. Instead of shooting them dead on the spot, the villain has to talk to them and confess to all their misdeeds, which then allows enough time for somebody to arrive to rescue them.

I don’t see the point of holding a gun on somebody. If you’re not going to shoot, why are you pointing it at me? If there is something that you want from me, just ask. Threatening me with a gun is not going to make me comply more readily. Another thing that I wonder if it ever happens in real life, is when a character goes out on a ledge of a building, or bridge over a river, and just stands there, sometimes for hours, with the purported purpose to jump. If they really want to jump, why don’t they do it? What are they trying to prove by standing there indefinitely? I would think they would make their mind up before they go out there. Now if they really don’t want to kill themself and are only trying to attract attention or are doing it as a cry for help, I still don’t see how standing out on a ledge accomplishes anything. They must not want to jump or they would have done it immediately, instead of just standing there. Shit or get off the pot! And then somebody will crawl out onto the ledge with the guy to try to get them to go back inside. Why do they have to go out there, too? They can talk to them from within.

Some person or persons are holding somebody captive—they are kidnappers, some other abductors or maybe a fugitive of some kind. So the police discover where the crooks are hiding out, and instead of sneaking up on them to take them by surprise, they make their approach with their sirens on full blast, which of course, alert the crooks of their arrival. Why are they in such a hurry and make so much noise? I mean, the fugitives, or whoever, are in hiding, so they’re not going anywhere at the moment. But they will if you let them know that you’re coming.

This always elicits editorial comments from the audience when they do it in the movies. It’s usually a male/female couple—husband and wife or just boy and girl or father and daughter or hero and heroine—and they are on some mysterious mission somewhere, in a haunted house or somebody’s hideout or it could be anywhere. The man, or the masterful one of the two, you understand, intends to go check out something on the premises. He will invariably tell his companion, “You wait here”—his thinking, I suppose, is that there could be something in there that will harm her. But maybe the danger is right there where they are and not in the place where he is going. So then he will go off and leave her for the monster or bad guy to abduct her or kill her while she is alone. Why don’t they stay together to help each other or at least to have one witness present when something ominous happens?

A woman exclaims, “Ahhh! I just saw something at the window!” Then the others just arriving on the scene will question and doubt her vision. But if someone had stayed there with her, they might have seen it, too. Even with a group (that has an as-of-yet-undisclosed murderer among them), someone will suggest, “Let’s split up! You go there, you go that way, and I’ll stay here.” Don’t they know about safety in numbers? The serial killer is not likely to strike if everybody stays together. But that’s the reason they do that, I guess. But it’s so cliché and predictable. An oft-uttered line: “I can take care of myself.” Yeah, right. Famous last words.

“I know him. He’s not capable of murder.” “She couldn’t have done that awful thing. That’s my daughter you’re talking about!” “Stay away from that one. He looks like a criminal.” And my favorite: “Do I look like a murderer to you?” First of all, I believe that everyone is capable of committing murder. It may be unlikely and difficult for some people to take a human life, like me, for instance, and our actions are based on the choices we make in life. Fortunately, most people choose not to commit murder, but we all certainly have the ability to do so, if not the inclination. How much effort or brute strength does it take to poison somebody, push them down the stairs or off a cliff, or run them down with an automobile? What does a criminal look like? What a prejudicial comment to make. I don’t put anything past anybody. “He’s not a killer.” A person is what a person does. Maybe he is not a career killer, but there is a first time for everything. Anyone who commits murder is therefore a murderer. Their looks or station in society don’t have anything to do with it.

I am always bemused by TV and movie murder mysteries that rule out a certain suspect because of their particular occupation, affliction or because they are a friend or relative of the murdered victim. “I couldn’t have killed him. He was my brother and I loved him.” Well, who do they think it is that commits crimes in real life, people with no families or acquaintances? They are always somebody’s best friend or parent or child or sibling or somebody they know. Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz both had parents. People are seldom murdered by total strangers. It does happen occasionally, as in the case of some serial killers who pick their unknown victims at random, but not in most other cases. It’s usually somebody close to home. If people weren’t known to murder members of their own family, we wouldn’t have words for it—matricide (mother), patricide (father), fratricide (brother), sororicide (sister), filicide (son or daughter; infanticide, if it‘s a baby), mariticide (husband) and uxoricide (wife).

And then during a murder investigation, when the police or a detective questions the people involved with the case, they always get so indignant and defensive when asked for an alibi or when it’s implied that they may be a suspect. “Inspector, are you suggesting that I had something to do with Madame’s death?” I mean, when someone gets murdered and they don’t know who did it yet, then everybody is a suspect until they can prove that they are completely innocent; no need to take it personally. Somebody did it! What makes you exempt? So your business partner just got murdered, you want to know who did it, but I should automatically rule you out because you were friends? Why? Maybe you are “The Guy.”

I had a good friend who was brutally murdered in his Village apartment in 1982, and as far as I know, his killer was never discovered. My name and number were certainly in his address book, so why was I never contacted and questioned by the police? I mean, I could have done it, for all they know, or I might have some information or some idea who did. Nobody asked me anything. I wouldn’t have been insulted. It would have shown me that at least somebody was doing their job. But since Fintan was just another dead faggot, nobody gives a shit. These guys have such a lazy attitude. Many of them would rather speculate a mysterious death to be suicide or accidental than doing any actual work on the case. Too much paperwork. They can’t be bothered.

Sometimes a murder suspect is a politician, a judge, the head of something or a well-respected member of the community, perhaps, and when the detective(s) on the case want to question them, they will get from their boss, “I can’t let you accuse that person of anything unless you have absolute proof.” They are not so reluctant and cautious with us peons, however. They are always arresting innocent, regular folks when they have no evidence whatsoever on them. You know, lock them up now. We can build a case against them later. Why give those big shots a break, just because they think they are so important? Even in real life, it’s those with the money and power that are able to commit the major crimes and get away with it. Some use their social standing to avoid suspicion, but they are the ones who I would want to question.

And it’s usually someone that you least suspect, or it wouldn’t be a mystery. So don’t rule out that “innocent” little kid or their mother or the twin sibling or the kindly neighbor or the trusted babysitter or the well-respected town philanthropist or the world-renown scientist or the butler or the police commissioner or the sheriff or that director of the day care center or the judge or the chief of staff at the hospital or the coroner or the Senator or the parish priest or the Mother Superior or the camerlengo or the “best friend” or that blind woman or that guy in the wheelchair or that little old lady or even the star of the drama, as a murder suspect. All the aforementioned have been the guilty party at some instance, by the way.

In fact, if a physically-disabled character is included in a murder mystery story, they are the one who I will pay the most attention to. They are certainly not above my suspicion. Many have been proven to be quite capable of committing murder. I don’t really know that woman in the wheelchair. How do I know for sure that she can’t walk? It turned out that she really could, by the way. That “blind” guy was not really blind either. One story features a paraplegic man who managed to murder his wife in her second-story bedroom, although everyone assumed that he was unable to make it upstairs from the ground level, which he could. I saw a character once pretend to have cerebral palsy so that when he killed a man, nobody suspected him. When he was called as a witness to testify, the prosecutor says, “Why are you harassing that poor, crippled towel boy?“ Because he is the murderer! Pity does not work with me when I am trying to identify a killer. In trying to solve a murder, one has to keep an open mind and not make assumptions based solely on appearances.

And don’t think that children don’t commit murder on a regular basis. It has been discovered that adult serial killers and mass murderers started offing people when they were very young. Most did not wake up one day when they were 30-years-old and decide to start killing people. This aberration most likely started years ago. The aforementioned reality-based “Killer Kids” profiles juvenile sociopaths who have committed murder, some as young as four-years-old! Some don’t believe that children can be capable of sinister acts. They will say, “But he’s only a child!” And I say that evil has no age limit. There really is such a thing as a “bad seed,” born with no moral conscience or sense of right.

The reason that certain people get away with murder and other heinous crimes is because they and everybody else think they are above suspicion. I suspect everybody. I am an equal opportunity accuser. I don’t care who or what profession they are or what their physical disability happens to be. That’s why I am so good at picking out the culprits, because I am not impressed or dissuaded by the characters’ particular situation or relationship to the victim(s).

An investigator will ask, “Do you know of anyone who would want [the victim] dead?” “Oh, no, Lieutenant, he was loved by everybody.” Well, everybody didn’t love him, because somebody just killed him! Another presumption: “So-and-So couldn’t have killed her, because he doesn’t have a motive.” How do you know? If you don’t know who did it yet, then you don’t know what the motive is either. There is always a reason, no matter how unlikely or absurd. Also, just because someone has a strong motive to murder somebody, it doesn’t mean that they actually did it. “Sure, I hated the bitch’s guts, but I didn’t kill her.”

And not having an alibi is no proof that they are guilty of anything. “She doesn’t have an alibi for the time of the murder, so she must have done it.“ An innocent person doesn’t need an alibi, do they? I would concentrate on the guy who does have an alibi. It’s the guilty party that makes a point to establish an alibi in order to divert suspicion from them. In practically every case, the real killer does have an alibi. We have found on many occasions that a person does not have to be present at the actual scene or even at the exact time to kill somebody. They can hire somebody to do the job for them. They can confuse and obscure the time of death by changing the clocks or by preserving the body in some way to delay rigor mortis. They sometimes even move the body from where they are actually killed. Where there is a will, there is a way. So with careful diligence, a presumed iron-clad alibi can be broken.

If I may digress for a moment, I have an alibi story to relate, as ridiculous as it is. Some years ago I was the victim of identity theft, when my wallet was stolen, and the person who stole it was using my name as his own. When the cops tracked me down, instead of the thief, to question me about my criminal activities, I found out that they had a rap sheet on “me” for burglary, armed robbery, sexual assault, all sorts of shit. When I tried to tell this idiot that it wasn’t I who did all those things, he refused to believe me. You see, I wasn’t really Cliff Townsend. I am an imposter. The real Cliff Townsend was the guy on his rap sheet. “So, if I am not Cliff Townsend, why are you talking to me?” This other guy’s description did not even match mine. Different ages, different sizes, but we are the same guy.

So here is what I am getting around to. On his report “I” was supposed to have robbed a bank in Chicago in 1971, the entire year of which I was stationed in Okinawa! How can I be in two places at once? Well, I’ll tell you. This genius explained to me that I could have flown the 22 hours from Okinawa, committed the robbery and flown the 22 hours back again, before I was even missed! But even if that were possible, who would do such a thing? I hated those long-assed flights the two times I had to do them. Why would I do it again for no reason? They have banks on the island. I wouldn’t have to go anywhere to rob one. Then, too, if they know who this guy is who did all this stuff, why have they not caught him yet? Why are they picking on poor, innocent me? I haven’t done anything.

As I was about to say, before I rudely interrupted myself… I believe I would make a good detective because I am one who does not just accept everything on face value. Good detective work requires an imagination and thinking outside the box. If several murdered victims have been found with puncture marks on their jugular and drained of most of their blood, it couldn’t be the work of a vampire because the investigator does not believe in them. So how many people have to die before they consider the possibility? The cops’ denial and failure to believe something is how killers are able to operate. Some make it a game or art form and plan their capers very carefully. Never assume that a murderer wouldn’t go to all that trouble to commit the crime, because in order to pull it off, they really would go to all that trouble. It’s the ignoring of certain little details that help them to get away with it, but these same details are what ultimately trips them up. I wish that the cops were more thorough in their crime investigations in real life. If they were as diligent and dedicated as, say, Columbo or Ben Matlock or Quincy or Adrian Monk or the CSI team, then maybe there wouldn’t be so many unsolved murders.

I don’t believe there is a “perfect murder.” Killers always make a mistake by leaving some sort of incriminating evidence at the scene or somewhere, and all it takes is careful investigation to get at the truth. These TV sleuths have solved murders from cigarette butts and little pieces of scrap paper left at the scene, for example. The slightest little thing can be all important, but if they don’t look for it and explore every aspect of the case, however, they won’t find it. Columbo once solved a case by finding a tiny down feather from a pillow on the deck floor of a cruise ship that the killer had left behind. How did it get there? Everybody else had ignored it, thinking that it didn’t have anything to do with anything. One killer on “Columbo” took a bite out of a little piece of cheese, but left it at the scene, which was enough to identify him from his tooth print.

“I saw what you did. You’re insane. I’m going to report you to the authorities!” “Oh, really?” BAM! “Now tell somebody!” Why don’t these people keep their mouths shut? Don’t announce what you’re going to do, just do it. And don’t call a crazy person crazy to their face. They may not want to prove you wrong. Also, don’t they know better than to threaten a person’s life publicly, because when that person turns up dead, who always gets blamed? In front of a whole room of standers-by, someone will proclaim, “If you touch her again, I’ll kill you! … I’ll get you for that! I’m going to make you pay with your life!” First of all, you shouldn’t make idle threats to people, if you don’t really mean it. But even if you are serious, don’t do it in front of witnesses. That just gives them an opportunity to frame you for murder. “Yeah, talk to David, Lieutenant. He and Sal got into a heated argument and I heard him threaten the other’s life.”

Here is another scene which pops us in crime dramas frequently. I cannot believe that this is a real-life scenario, as it is so ridiculous. The police have practically captured a perpetrator and are about to arrest him when the guy will grab a nearby woman or child, usually, hold a gun or knife to their head and tell the cops to drop their weapons or they will kill the hostage. And then the cops actually obey and lay down their guns! What?! I don’t believe that any police training would instruct their officers to relinquish their weapon on the insistence of an armed criminal. That doesn’t make any kind of sense. “So if we lay down our weapons, you’re the only one who still has his. Why don‘t you lay down yours as well?” Nobody ever calls their bluff. “Look, we know who you are. You’re trapped, and we’ve got you covered. You can’t get away, because we’ll find you wherever you go. You’re not going to shoot anybody. What do you think will happen to you if you do?” Then you have the guy who will start running to avoid arrest. Where do they think they are going? The cops know who you are now. You’ll be caught eventually. You might as well just give-a da up.

People are individuals with their own personal ways of doing things. Why is it when anyone is packing to leave home in a scene, they all do the same thing? They take an old, generic suitcase (the kind hardly anybody uses anymore) out of the closet and starts throwing clothes into it, without any regard to selection. Then someone will enter the scene and ask the inevitable question, “What are you doing?” Duh! “I’m scratching my ass. What does it look like I’m doing?!” Whenever someone is searching for something in someone’s home or room, they can’t just check behind and under things and look into drawers and niches without upsetting things; they always have to trash the place, emptying drawers onto the floor and knocking everything off the shelves and tables.

Actors don’t care about making a mess on the set because they don’t have to clean it up. That’s the film crew’s job, you see. They will leave the lights on when they leave rooms and won’t close doors and windows back when they pass through them. If you’re trying to be a sneak and don’t want the people to know that you have been there, then be more careful in your search. I wish, even in real life, that people would learn to put things back where they got them.

It seems that men don’t carry wallets either. Whenever they have to pay for something—drinks, a meal, or cab fare—they always have the exact amount of loose money in their pocket. At least I’m assuming it’s the exact amount. They never ask how much anything is. They just give the server, bartender, cabdriver whatever they have in their pockets, and it’s always enough. If it happens to be too much, however, they always let them “keep the change.” (They’re so generous.) Women, too, keep loose money in their purses.

Even that cab ride scenario in itself is unrealistic. I have ridden in taxis many times and in different cities, and anyone who has, knows that we are required to pay our fare when we reach our destination, while still inside the cab. It’s only in the movies that you see people exiting the cab first and then paying their fare through the window. I don’t know of any instance where a cabdriver would trust anybody that much to allow that in real life. Once in Hollywood, California, I had a cabdriver who insisted that I show him that I had money before he would even agree to take me where I wanted to go!

I have noticed that anytime actors are shown in bed having just had sex, they are always under the covers. Is that a real thing? Do people actually have sex under the covers? Why? It seems rather restricting. I think that’s only a cinematic convention, to prevent us viewers and the crew on the set from seeing the actors’ naked bodies, if they are, in fact, even naked. I have noticed, too, that men seem to be able to obtain instant erections when they are having sex with a woman (or man). He will walk up to her, pull her dress up and immediately stick it in, no preparation or foreplay required. He doesn’t even take his pants down or off. Even if he’s horny, I would think that he needs some sort of stimulation or at least a howdy-do before he’s ready for instant penetration. I mean, is he walking around with a hard-on all the time–semper paratus?

Also, when a man, particularly, is completely nude for any reason, especially when it is a frontal shot, he will more often than not cover his genitals with his hands. This occurs even when he is “alone.” It is obvious that it is for the viewers’ sake, because otherwise, who is he hiding himself from? I was quite disappointed with Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys (1995), in the scene where he is in an asylum pretending to be crazy, and he takes all his clothes off and runs around the ward naked, but covering his genitals as he romps. That didn’t seem true to his characterization. If someone gets naked in a public setting, it’s usually to shock or impress the onlookers. Why conceal the very thing that everybody wants to see? And if he was as crazy as he wanted us to believe, modesty would not even enter into it. The director can always get around not showing us anything, but for me, Brad’s covering himself like that compromised his character and the actor’s integrity.

Part Two–Movie Clichés

As an amusing (I hope) diversion, I hereby set about to illustrate the commonplaceness of modern moviemaking by providing a list of the other most worn-out, tired, overused movie clichés and conventions.
1. Someone walks up behind someone and without speaking, places their hand on the person’s shoulder. (Who does that in real life?)
2. Someone backs up into something ominous. (I guess if they actually watched where they are going, they would see the thing before they are supposed to.)
3. Someone flees into a room and then stands with their back against the door (for the person or thing to reach through and grab them).
4. When they are supposed to be quiet, someone will make a giveaway sound.
5. When somebody is in a place where they shouldn’t be, someone outside will announce their approach by making noise or speaking loudly, which warns the interloper(s) within and gives them enough time to stop what they are doing, to hide or to flee before the other party enters the room.
6. A fleeing woman always stumbles and falls at least once. (Lummox!)
7. When someone, usually a woman, while carrying a tea or food tray or bags of groceries comes upon a shocking scene (especially a dead body), invariably they will scream and then drop the tray or bag onto the floor, rather than setting it down on a nearby surface.
8. When there is a mixed gathering and all the lights suddenly go off in the room, the women always have to scream.
9. They always wait until impending dusk to go to destroy the vampire. (What did they do all day?)
10. Manmade monsters eventually always destroy their creators.
11. The Disappearing Corpse, aka Now-You-See-It-Now-You-Don’t. Someone encounters a dead body, a mysterious or menacing face at the window, a monster or some other strange creature, some important piece of evidence. But when they turn their head or go to get somebody to come see it for themselves, the person or object is not there anymore, which discredits the original witness. If they can’t see it right now, then it must not have been there in the first place, right? Things don’t just disappear.
12. The innocent party is discovered standing over the just-killed dead body, with murder weapon in hand.
13. The Murder Frame-up, whereas the murder weapon or some other incriminating evidence conveniently turns up in the innocent party’s possession or found in some place belonging to them, and it never occurs to the arresting officers that it was put there in order to frame the wrong person. The real murderer would not leave the blood-stained knife (the actual murder weapon) lying on the front seat of his own unlocked car, for example, would he?
14. People or things hiding in the back seat of automobiles. And why don’t they ever check behind the door when they enter or search a room?
15. When someone needs to make a sudden getaway, the vehicle won’t start.
16. The telephone wires are always cut so that the victim(s) cannot call for help, although now with the prevalence of cordless and cellular phones, this has become less a problem in modern dramas. In fact, on most TV shows and films these days, it seems that all the characters are equipped with their own cell phones, which allows them to make and receive calls anywhere and at any time. Of course, in an emergency, these phones will have a dead battery or they will be out-of-range to make the call.
17. There is a modern trend that has cropped up as of late with characters throwing away their cell phones at will. They will be riding along in a car and the phone will ring, and out of annoyance or frustration, they will toss the phone out of the window (or into the river or wherever). One guy did it to show his wife that she was more important to him than a phone call. How stupid and impractical is that? As expensive and coveted as smart phones are, they just toss them away without a thought? Who would do such a thing? If they don’t want to answer a call, just don’t answer it or just turn the thing off!
18. While talking on the phone, one party will hang up or get cut off while the other party will continue to speak and call their name, even though there is an audible dial tone present, and repeatedly press the button as if that will bring them back on.
19. People don’t say “goodbye” or sign off when ending a phone conversation; they just hang up.
20. When a character (it even could be an animal or an infant) falls victim to illness, attack, injury, unconsciousness or even death, there is another character on hand who repeatedly calls the other’s name, even though the other person, or creature, is unable to hear them or answer. Like when somebody is underwater drowned or drowning—Man in boat: “Bonnie! Bonnie!” Bonnie: “Even if I could hear you calling, I am not able to answer you, because I am at the bottom of the ocean…dead!”
21. Then there are the ones who will enter a house or other dwelling, call out somebody’s name, does not get a response, but will proceed to carry on a conversation when they don’t know who the hell they’re talking to. Sometimes they will reveal secrets and other personal stuff to the very person they mean to conceal it from. Why don’t they find out who is there, if anybody at all, before they start blurting out important and private information to the wrong party or nobody?
22. When someone shooting a gun runs out of bullets, they throw the gun away; or just because the villain or monster they just hit with something fell down, they think that they are dead and will drop their weapon. They also tend to turn their back on the suspected nut instead of keeping an eye on them. It’s as if, for the sake of the story, I guess, the director instructs the actor, “Be sure to keep your back to the guy with the knife or other weapon, because if you’re looking at them, they won’t be able to sneak up on you to clobber you.” “Okay.”
23. The fugitive climbs to a high place and then falls off or gets thrown off.
24. All psychiatrists and therapists are nuts themselves.
25. Classroom scenes begin just before the bell rings.
26. Immediately after hearing something pertinent to the story, a character turns the radio or TV off. Even when they turn it on, it’s right at the point of the announcement, and always on the correct station!
27. A cat comes screeching through an open window.
28. Somebody slips on a banana peel. (Come on, who ever does that in real life?)
29. Nobody likes anchovies.
30. Someone is always disrespecting street mimes.
31. Cinematic Slow Motion. (I really hate that one.)
32. The Double-Take.
33. The comedy Chase Scene.
34. In any chase scene someone always has to upset or collide with some sort of sidewalk concession: a newsstand, a fruit or flower stand, etc.
35. When someone is being chased on foot, they will hide behind a building or duck into some sort of niche and the chasers will keep running right on by. (So who are they chasing?)
36. When someone is being chased on foot by a vehicle, instead of going off to the side to get out of its path, they will try to outrun it. That goes for big boulders and fireballs, too.
37. People run out into heavy traffic and don’t look either way while crossing.
38. Drivers turn and look at their passengers to talk to them while they are driving fast on a busy road. Can’t one talk and listen to people without looking directly at them?
39. Directors must love to blow up automobiles. Whenever there is a fatality: a crash, going over a ravine, flipping over, anything, the car often explodes or bursts into flames.
40. The Close Call: When they move out of the way before the thing falls on them or get out of the building or vehicle just before it explodes or grab on to the rescuer just as the rope bridge collapses or the frayed cable snaps.
41. Whenever a “sexy” woman (usually white) appears on the scene, she is accompanied by a blues saxophone or muted trumpet on the soundtrack.
42. More often than not, graveside funeral scenes are held while it is raining.
43. No matter where it is—an apartment, an upstairs bedroom in a house, a hotel, motel or other business establishment, public restroom, whatever—there is always a convenient exit for escaping—window (equipped with fire escape, trellis, ladder, tree or ledge) or back door. I have been in many indoor public restrooms in my day, and I have never encountered one that has a window to the outside. It’s only in the movies.
44. What kind of security is served with having the door(s) of your house or any locked building made of glass or containing glass partitions, when all the intruder needs to do is break the glass and unlock the door, which often is the case?!
45. The only card games that actors know how to play are Gin Rummy, when it’s two people, Poker when it’s a group, and less frequently, when young children are involved, Go Fish.
46. Whenever film characters receive packaged gifts, the boxes are never wrapped completely, as they would be in real life, but rather have lids so that they can be opened with expediency.
47. When a direct question is addressed to two (or more) characters, they will both (or all) answer at the same time with different responses. It’s obvious to all that they are lying, but one will try to cover their tracks by explaining with more lies.
48. When we are allowed to view the paper or computer monitor when someone is typing something, the text is always letter perfect. They never make any mistakes, even the hunt-’n’-peckers.
49. It always annoys me when somebody rips up a check, document or contract and just tosses the pieces into the air wherever they happen to be, and then just walk off and leave the litter strewn about.
50. If you’re watching a scene that is unusually strange or weird and it seems to be too fantastic to be true, don’t worry, it’s only some character’s dream.
51. In movie flashbacks, when someone is relating what has occurred previously, we viewers often witness scenes which don’t involve the character who is telling the story. I wonder, How does this person know what took place in this particular scene when they weren’t even there at the time? Of course, I do realize that the director (or screenwriter) is merely filling in the gaps of the story for our benefit, whether it involves that person or not.
52. Everybody in TV and Filmdom Land (and we’re talking millions here) all have the same telephone exchange of “555-.”
53. The expressions “first thing in the morning” and “over and out.” More recently we have “rocket science/scientist” and “brain surgery/surgeon,” which is used to epitomize high intelligence or, facetiously, a lack thereof.
54. The most-used piece of classical music in screendom must be Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, with Boccherini’s Minuet running a close second, the most-often-sung lullaby is “Hush, Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word,” the most-popular church hymn is now “Amazing Grace” (replacing “Rock of Ages”), and the most-common rendition of that is on bagpipes! I suppose that all these ditties are in the public domain, therefore the users don’t have to pay royalties on the music.
55. The most-oft-uttered phrases are, “I’m sorry,” “I promise,” “That’s impossible!” “Call an ambulance (or 911)!” and “S/He’s dead.” And they always ask someone else to call 911. They never do it themselves.

[Other articles dealing with movies: Lost in Translation–The Sequel; Racism via Show Biz; Walt Disney, a Racist? Who’d’ve Thunk It

We Are Not Alone

There are those who still doubt the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrial visitation. They think that because we don’t yet have the technology to visit other planets, nobody else possibly can either. If “Man” can’t do it, it can’t be done. But suppose they are here (I wouldn’t swear that they aren‘t), apparently then, our civilization is not the most advanced or the most intelligent, is it? There have been simply too many reported accounts of UFO sightings and abductions (and many of them have not been disproved) for us just to disregard all of them. Sure, there have been definite hoaxes and some sightings have been explained or proven to be fake, but that does not mean that there have not been genuine ones as well.

The same person who believes in God, which they have not seen, will flatly refuse to accept something that they have actually seen. I have heard this exchange. “Look, Dear, a UFO!” “No, it’s not. I don’t believe in UFOs.” “Then, what is it?” “Well, I don’t rightly know.” So, “Dear,” if you don’t know what the thing is, then by definition it is an unidentified flying object, isn’t it? hence the name! Hello?!

There are historians who are convinced that there really was a lost continent of Atlantis, which purportedly sank into the sea, although there is some conjecture about whether it was the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean. At any rate, it is agreed that before it disappeared the land was inhabited by extraterrestrial beings from who-knows-where. It is believed that these are the people who built the Egyptian pyramids and maybe the ones in Mexico as well. They apparently had the technology that we don’t (they actually got here from somewhere, after all), their being able to move and stack all those stones of such massive weight.

It is also believed that these beings from another world have mated with the native Earthlings to create a new evolutionary race. That would mean that there are aliens, half-aliens, their offspring and descendants living among us to this very day.  I can appreciate the possibility that other-worldly visitation is not a new thing.  Who knows what went on on this planet millions of years ago?  No one is still alive who would have witnessed it.  We have only fossils, archaeological finds and deductive speculation to guide our beliefs.  I, myself, am not arrogant enough to discount the whole thing as preposterous or impossible.

It is rather anthropocentric of us, as well as unrealistic, to think that this tiny planet (relatively speaking) on which we live is the only place in this vast Universe to sustain some kind of life.  Those who do contend this notion seem to base all the possibilities of life on our own limited capabilities.  When speculating on the likelihood of lifeforms on any of the other planets, in our solar system alone, we always use our own peculiar situation as a criterion.  That planet is too hot or that planet is much too cold to sustain life.  But just because they are too hot or cold for us mere mortals, does not mean that no other creatures in the Universe may be able to withstand such extreme temperatures.  The composition of our bodies is adapted to conform to this planet’s particular situation. I would think that the other planets operate pretty much in the same way, whereas their inhabitants’ physical makeup is such that it is impervious to extreme heat or cold.

Since the planet Mercury does not rotate, it always keeps the same side to the sun. So one half of the planet is extremely hot and bright, while the other side is extremely cold and dark. But how about along the area where the two hemispheres divide? Might there be some moderate degree of temperature and light somewhere along the cusp that might sustain life as we know it?  Venus is covered with a thick layer of clouds.  We can’t even see the actual surface.  Who knows who or what’s under there?  Just like our own ozone layer, and because of its proximity, maybe those encompassing clouds serve as a safety cushion against the direct rays of the sun.

Mars is the other planet most likely to harbor some sort of life similar to ours.  It lies right next to us and is not all that far away, relatively speaking. The other outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and maybe others, too, that we don’t know about yet), are all too cold for us to live on, but there could be certain lifeforms who are adapted to subzero temperatures.  Just like I wouldn’t want to live in the Arctic regions, but the people and animals who live there don’t seem to mind the cold.  Those outer extraterrestrials might dwell underground where they have a special heating system, created by possible volcanic activity.  Everything does not have to be on the surface, you know.  Or they may not require any form of heat or light.  That’s why they live where they do!

With all the planets orbiting and revolving around in space, I’d like to believe that they are serving a more important purpose than only that, in the scheme of things, just like our Earth is.  And as small as our Earth is, relatively speaking, that harbors so many lifeforms, it’s hard to believe that Jupiter and the other humongous planets are completely devoid of anything.  That would be such a waste of space.

If there are extraterrestrials somewhere out there, why is it often assumed that they are hostile and would come here for the sole purpose of annihilation?  It’s probably because, knowing us, that would be our mission with regard to them.  We expect everybody to be like us, I guess.  Maybe their visits and abductions are more about study and curiosity about us Earthlings rather than about global conquest and aggression.  If they are already here among us, they apparently are operating on the down-low.  I don’t personally know any, do you?

I have something to say about Pluto.  A few years ago somebody–I don’t who it was exactly–made the decision to take away Pluto’s status as a true planet and has now deemed it as a “dwarf planet.”  But it’s still a planet, in my opinion, its size notwithstanding.  It does the same thing as the other planets do, that is, rotate and revolve around the sun, so its diminutive size is inconsequential.  I expect that the “people” living on Pluto don’t think that their world is so tiny.  Our Earth is not so big either, as compared to the much larger ones, but it looks humongous to us.  In the scheme of things, size is relative.  So I eschew that unfair demotion and will continue to acknowledge Pluto as a bona fide planet.  So there!

[Related article: Conspiracy Theory, Part 1–1969 Moon Landing]

On Being Gay

Just as I have submitted several essays about being a person-of-color in America, I am also giving my other identity equal time. This particular blog (one of five) deals with some gay history, background, terminology, assessments and reasons for being. May my readers continue to find my articles educational, enlightening, humorous and entertaining.

The word homo has two entirely different meanings. One is the Latin word for “man,” therefore a noun, and the other is a Greek prefix meaning “the same.” By shortening the word homosexual to homo, the Latin meaning has been usurped in favor of the Greek prefix. Now homo has come to mean queer. But we still have the option to reclaim the original meaning. If someone should call me a homo, I won’t be offended. I will simply reply, ‘Yes, I know that I am a man. What’s your point?’ “Are you a homosexual?” ‘Sure, I enjoy having sex at home.’

The word homosexuality was coined by a Hungarian physician, Karl Maria Benkert (or Kertbeny), in 1869, in an open letter to the Prussian minister of justice, who called for a repeal of laws persecuting homosexuals. So before that time, and even since, some of the more archaic expressions used to refer to a gay man have been: androgyne, androtrope, auntie, backgammon player, bent, bird, bugger, bum boy, bumjumper, buttercup, catamite, cornholer, fairy, fart catcher (!), finocchio, fruit, fruitcake, ganymede, gentleman (or usher) of the back door, goody-goody, gunsel, homophile, invert, jessie, la[h]-de-da[h], limp wrist, lizzie or lizzie boy, mary, minny, molly, nance (plus [Miss] Nancy and nancy-boy), nelly, 175er (derived from Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code of the 1920s which made harsh criminal provisions against homosexual acts), pansy, pederast, percy boy, poger, ponce, poof (also pofter, pooftah, poofter, poove, pufter), quean, shirt lifter, sod or sodomite, tommy or tommy dodd, uranian (referring to the muse Urania, who was said to be the protector of homosexual love), urning and willie boy. Some outmoded terms used for homosexuality are: androgynism, cut sleeves (of Chinese origin; stay tuned for the explanation), homogenitalism, homophilia, intersexualism, mental hermaphroditism, similisexualism, uranianism and uranism.

Emperor Ai, the young Han Dynasty ruler who was emperor from 27 to 1 BCE, was besotted with Dong Xian. Ai doted on young Dong, giving him riches, weapons and eventually making him supreme commander of the armed forces. The story goes that the two lovers were in bed one night, and Dong fell asleep on the arm of Ai’s robe. In order to rise without waking Dong, the Emperor cut off his sleeve and slipped away, leaving his beloved to sleep undisturbed. This tale gave rise to the phrase “the passion of the cut sleeve,” a Chinese euphemism for same-sex love.

According to historian John Boswell, the first public use of the term gay, in the sense that it is used today to refer to homosexuality, was probably in the 1938 film Bringing Up Baby. Cary Grant, appears in a frilly negligee, and when asked why he is wearing such a frock, he exclaims, “Because I went gay all of a sudden!” (And the truth shall set you free!)

German lawyer and gay rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs [1825-1895] was the first person in modern history publicly to acknowledge his homosexuality in 1867, while speaking to a conference of jurists in Munich. The word heterosexual first appeared in the 1890s, in American medical journals. “Hetero-” means “other than usual” or “different.” (But I thought that people don’t want to be different.) Interestingly, the term originally referred to individuals sexually attracted to both sexes.

I suppose that most folks probably are familiar with the origin of the word lesbian to denote a female homosexual. Sappho [ca. 630-570 B.C.] was a Greek poet who was born and lived on the island of Lesbos. Much of her work was passionate love poems about young women, which prompted her homeland to be associated with girl-on-girl love. Now due to the fact that men and women still reside on Lesbos and therefore are referred to as Lesbians, many of the inhabitants feel that the term, as it is used to denote gay women, insults the identity of the people living there, particularly those who are not gay. I can respect that and understand their complaint.

There is a better word we could use that I think is more appropriate anyway. Sapphist (and sapphism) refer to the actual person who is suspected to have been a gay woman. Of course, it’s probably too late to make a universal change in terms, but at least I can do my part by adopting the other word in place of lesbian, the exception being when the word is used in a direct quotation. The term may be already catching on, however. On Ovation’s “The Artful Detective” (aka “Murdoch Mysteries”) there is a romantic relationship situation with two female characters, and they are being referred to on the show as sapphists. So I guess somebody got the same idea as I did about it.

There was a time when sapphists had a problem of even being acknowledged. When Queen Victoria was once asked to sign a Criminal Law Amendment Act, which provided for the suppression of brothels and imposed stiff penalties for homosexual conduct, she crossed out all references to sapphism. “Female homosexuals,” Ms. Vicky insisted, “simply do not exist.” “They” (the Queen) were not amused by that finding. Interestingly, my computer’s word processor program that I use, which has a built-in vocabulary for the spell-check feature, apparently does not have those words (sapphism, sapphist) in its word database. When typed, they show up as underlined alerts, to be modified or corrected. Just like Queen Victoria, it seems that whoever created the program is also denying these women’s existence.

(# …Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer?… #) The word queer, incidentally, was first employed in 1925 in the American theatrical periodical Variety. I once came across a magazine article arguing the use of the word queer as interchangeable with gay. One faction would like the word queer to replace “gay and lesbian,” while the other group contends that queer is not a substitute for gay. They say that “queer is a separate subcultural identity and movement that spans many subcultures, some if it from the gay movement, some from dyke culture, some from punk rock, death rock, avant-gardism, fashion rebellion, ‘genderfuck,’ and general kookiness/quirkiness. One need not be specifically homosexual to be queer. There are hets who are ‘queer,’ but even this defies the very essence of queerdom, because the main thing about being queer is that queers resist labels and categories.” (But isn’t queer itself a label?) “Queers do not want to be ‘gay,’ which means assimilationist, homosexual, normal. They want to be different, odd, strange, independent.” I mention this only to let those “real queers” out there know that I am aware of their movement, but I choose not to be part of it. Just so you’ll know, I do use the two terms interchangeably, so my queer is the common, everyday, B-flat, gay and sapphist variety, not necessarily the Radical Faerie or other subcultural variety.

There are several historical theories about the possible origin of the words fag and faggot as a pejorative for gay men. 1. The most common belief is that faggot referred to the bundle of sticks and twigs used as kindling for burning your sodomites and your buggers at the stake. This medieval practice goes as far back as the 14th century. 2. In British slang around the time of World War I, cigarettes were often referred to as “fags.” Despite their growing popularity at the time, they were frequently regarded as unmanly, compared to a cigar or pipe, and men who smoked them were ridiculed as effeminate. As a result, cigarettes came to be identified with homosexuality, and gay men came to be called fags themselves.

3. In 19th-century English public and private schools, there was a system of hazing, or “fagging,” under which the lower classmen were obliged to perform certain duties—such as polishing boots, running errands, or merely obeying whimsical orders—for the upperclassmen. And yes, the younger boys also provided sexual favors for the seniors. To be one of these flunkies or sex slaves was to be, in the slang of the day, a fag. 4. As far back as the 16th century, faggot has been a term of contempt applied to a disagreeable woman. The term, in this context, may eventually have been applied to gay men, since they have often been seen in much the same contemptuous light as women and generally regarded as objectionable or disagreeable. So you can take your pick. I offer a non-derogatory defense of the word faggot in my article, Political Correctness.

(# …But if, Baby, I’m the bottom, you’re the top. #) For my less-worldly readers who are not familiar with the Top-Bottom mystique, the “top” is the aggressive, or dominant position or role taken during a sexual act, while the “bottom” is, conversely, the passive or submissive position or role. Many homosexuals like to identify themselves as one or the other, but there are those of us who are not strictly either and call ourselves “versatile.” I don’t have a strict preference; I can go either way, depending on whom I’m with, the situation and/or what mood I’m in at the time. This is a routine that The Flirtations used to use in our show. We’d tell our audience, “You all have heard of the Four Tops? Well, here you have the Four Bottoms!” They would also punnily introduce me, the bass, as “the Bottom of the group,” (although in actuality, of the four of them, I am the only real top, by default most of the time).

A useful term in gay parlance is “T,” and it has a colorful history. It came out of slave times. You see, when the house slaves of the antebellum South were serving the old belles on the plantation, they used to eavesdrop on the gossip at their tea parties. Those belles would be dishing about what Beauregard was doing with Melindy Sue and who was sneaking around in the woodpile with whom. Sometimes the slave women would become so engrossed in all the gossip that they would stop paying attention to what they were doing and spill the tea. Then when they got back to the kitchen, the cooks and helpers would ask the servers, “Well, tell us, Girlfriend, did you spill the tea?”—meaning, did you hear any good gossip?

After the war was over and the slaves were freed, many of them went into “domestic work,” where they continued to use the expression “spill the tea” to mean “give me the juicy dirt.” Many of the rich Southern women’s sons grew up to be gay, and these rich queens brought the expression to the bars, where it was shortened to T, meaning “truth, pertinent facts, gist of, story, dirt,” etc. Now, to avoid possible confusion in gay terminology, you should be aware of the British slang word tea, which means urine. Thus we get the expression “tearoom” or “T-room” (aka “throne room”), meaning public toilet, especially one that is known for its cruising and/or sexual activities.

There is a type of nocturnal spirit that allegedly has sexual intercourse with people while they are sleeping. But here’s the catch. The heterosexists who realized this creature have given it gendered form when it does its thing. When the human partner is a woman, the spirit must be in male form and is called an incubus. When a man is getting it, the spook, called a succubus, is in the form of a woman. But since the thing is invisible (you can’t see it, you just feel yourself having sex), how can its actual gender be determined? In the case of a blow job, for instance, a mouth is just a mouth. The pleasure or effectiveness derived from same depends on one’s individual technique, not their gender.

As we humans seem to have the need to personify everything, different names for the two genders had to be given to this unseen entity for the benefit of our own peace of mind. I mean, we can’t be cavorting with phantom, homosexual spirits, now can we? What would people say? “I am really worried about our friend Bruce. He says that he has nightly sex with a disembodied spirit.” “Really? Does Bruce know who she is?” “Well, that’s just it! He claims that it’s a man!” “But how can he tell?” “Exactly. How can he tell?” I, personally, would prefer to be done by the succubus, because I like the name, if you get my drift. And if I choose to make my succubus male, that’s my prerogative. Who can tell the difference?

I actually have experienced this phenomenon several times in my life, so I know that it exists. What happens is, I feel a weight on me, holding me down on the bed. I am unable to raise myself or sometimes even move, so I know something is there, although I don‘t see anything. Maybe young men having “wet dreams” and girls experiencing dormant orgasms are the result of “succubusian” seduction. That would explain how one could achieve ejaculation/orgasm without actually touching oneself. They are getting a little extraneous help. And while they are asleep, yet!

I hereby offer some common and not-so-common, published explanations for why people are gay (with my own editorial comments). “Homosexuality is a hereditary genetic trait passed on from one generation to the next.” (Yeah, so?) “Homosexuality is a natural sexual impulse within all of us, it’s just that certain individuals express it more than others.” (I’ll buy that.) “Homosexuality is caused by hormonal imbalances; male homosexuals have unusually high levels of estrogen, a female sex hormone, in their systems. Other theories claim that gay men have too much androgen, a male sex hormone, in their systems.” (Well, which is it? Besides, that sounds as if they are describing nellies and butches, who are not always necessarily gay.) “Male homosexuals were raised by a dominant, smothering mother and a weak, indifferent father.” (So, no boys in this situation have a chance to be straight? How about brothers who grow up in the same family situation? One may be gay and the other may be straight. That occurs even with twins. Parental influence don’t have anything to do with how we turn out. I don‘t agree with that one at all.)

“Young people become gay by seduction, molestation and/or recruitment by experienced adult homosexuals.” (I don’t believe that. One cannot make someone gay if they don’t have the natural inclination for it, just like you can’t make anyone straight if they are not.) “A child raised or treated as a member of the opposite sex—for example, a little boy dressed up like a girl or given a doll to play with, or a girl being allowed to play with trucks and football—will grow up gay.” (Yeah, right.) “Social or legal acceptance of homosexuality leads to its spread; if young people see homosexuality accepted all around them, they’ll think it’s okay to be gay and will become gay themselves.” (And maybe not, too.) “…because of a traumatic sexual experience with the opposite sex.” (That’s a good enough reason, although I have not heard of many women who were raped by a man turning to women as a result.) “…because of guilt feelings or ‘castration anxiety’ associated with having intercourse with women.” (Hunh?!) “Men with small penises become gay because they are afraid to have sex with women.” (Do they think that women are the only size-queens?) “…because they are too unattractive or too shy to make it with the opposite sex.” (Well, don’t give those trolls to us—we don’t want them either!)

Other absurd suspected causes of homosexuality are: astrological influences, having too many women teachers (what is too many?), loud disco music, masturbation (I’m guilty), smoking marijuana (guilty), undergoing a vasectomy (Oh, come on!). And my favorite: an aboriginal society in New Guinea believes that men will become homosexuals if they eat the meat of uncircumcised pigs! (Well, hot dog!) But wait, there’s hope! There have been some suggested “cures” for homosexuality: “the love of a good woman” (Yeah, that should do it), anaphrodisiac therapy, aversion therapy, diet therapy, drug therapy, physical therapy, radiation therapy, shock treatment, lobotomy, castration, torture, exorcism and death. Oh, that last is a good one. Let’s cure homosexuality by killing all the queers!

I don’t understand how these so-called physicians, scientists and specialists, who are supposed to be intelligent, logical and open-minded, can come up with those ridiculous remedies and deem them to be effective. First of all, they must be presuming that being gay is something that needs to be cured. And then, how is shock treatment or cutting off part of one’s brain supposed to fix the “problem’? There is no guarantee that it will change your sexual orientation, but if it does, at what cost? It could kill your sex drive completely so that you won’t want to do it with anybody, male or female! Fortunately, it appears that all those antiquated, reversion therapy tactics are nowadays considered passé and unacceptable.

You know, it’s rather ironic that as prepubescent youngsters, it’s acceptable for boys to hate the company of little girls and retain only other boys as their close friends and companions. But then, when they reach puberty, their mindset is supposed to turn completely around and now start directing all their attention to the girls, whom they just only a while ago couldn’t stand. Conversely, a young boy who initially hangs with the girls and then later ignores them for the attention of his male friends, must be harboring gay feelings.

Take my own situation, for instance. When I was in elementary school back in South Bend, Indiana, during school recess while the boys would be out on the playground playing softball and basketball, I would be over jumping rope or playing hopscotch with the girls. So, I’m a bit confused. Those schoolboys can admit to hating girls and would rather hang with other boys and still be regarded as normal, heterosexuals. But the boys who prefer the company and companionship of girls over their male schoolmates are accused of being aspiring queers. That may be true in most cases, but that’s fucked up!

I think it has to do with what straight men think of women in general. You see, little boys who are potentially-het, don’t yet have any interest in sex, therefore they don’t have any use for girls. But when they get older and those libidinous hormones begin to kick in, it’s then that they start sniffing after the girls, because they want to have sex with them. I mean, that’s all girls are good for, aren’t they? Since the gay boys, who I believe are more precocious in sexual matters, already know that there will never be any sex involved, can establish their female relationships much earlier. That certainly was my case. That’s one indication that gay people seem to be more evolved as human beings than straight people are. But why is it always the gays who receive the negative criticism?

In the stage play and subsequent movie Tea and Sympathy (1956) the main character, Tom Lee, is a sensitive 18-year-old prep school student who is more interested in music and reading than in athletics and is promptly regarded by the other boys to be a sissy. They don’t come right out and call him gay, but they give him the epithet, “Sister Boy.” Tom most likely isn‘t really gay–he’s only perceived to be. In fact, he is secretly in love with his housemaster’s wife. One scene in the film has Tom participating in a sewing circle with the campus wives. Of course, the school jocks give Tom the business for his choice of company and activity. These women are off-limits for dating and sex with the boys, so why on earth would a normal guy want to hang out with them socially? He must be like them, right? Whereas with most straight men, if a certain woman is not a potential sexual conquest for him, he has no use for her at all, while gay men like women for their mere being and don’t regard them as sexual objects.

People tend to use the word like with a sexual connotation. For many of them, “Do you like women?” translates to “Do you ‘have erotic feelings for’ them?” The straight guy who claims that he likes women, more often than not, really means that he likes what he can get from them, like sexual and other favors. When a straight man spies a woman who he considers to be attractive, what is his real reason for showing interest and pursuing her? He wants to make it with her! “She looks like a real nice girl.” Well, they all look like real nice girls. Why are you singling that one out specifically? If he just wanted to talk or be friends with her, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like, would it? His ultimate goal for her, therefore, must be a sexual conquest.

That is certainly evident in the periods of time and places where women had no social standing, power or influence whatsoever. Their bodies were all they had to offer a man. Of course, he usually had to marry her, but that was her goal anyway. Even now, a straight man’s interest in any woman must be sexual, or why else would he bother with her at all? I suppose it is possible for a straight man and woman to be just platonic friends, but it’s probably not such a common occurrence. And some guys don’t even wait for compliance from the woman. They want it badly enough that they will take it anyway, whether she agrees to it or not.

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If gay men didn’t like women, as many contend, why do so many of them become transvestites/drag queens/female impersonators? Who dresses up on Halloween as somebody whom they can’t stand? Many become hair stylists, makeup artists, fashion designers and photographers, among others, whose very jobs are working closely with women on a regular basis. They didn’t choose to work on a female-deficient oil rig in Alaska, for example.

The gay icons of the entertainment field are mostly women. It’s the gay men who love Mariah Carey, Cher, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Lady Gaga, Judy Garland, Madonna, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, the female characters of “Dynasty,“ and have made cult classics out of “Designing Women,” “Desperate Housewives,” “The Golden Girls,” Mommie Dearest, “Sex and the City,” Valley of the Dolls and The Women, for example. One of my personal favorites is Tallulah Bankhead.

For straight men, they admire John Wayne, Cary Grant, Elvis Presley and action heroes like “James Bond,” Tom Cruise and Samuel L. Jackson. They prefer films about manly men over those tacky “chick flicks“ their girlfriends and wives drag them to see. I happen to love the cable-TV channel Lifetime, which caters to feminine sensibilities and situations, but I have heard straight males tell me that they wouldn’t be caught dead watching “that women’s channel. Ugh!”

So ironically, it’s not gay men who dislike women. On the contrary, we don’t have anything against women with regard to their gender. We just don’t want to have sex with them. That’s the big difference. Most of your misogynists are heterosexual. It’s not we gays who exploit and abuse women and make them the regular victims of rape and murder. Most gay men have at least one close female friend, and unlike straight guys whose girls and wives would like them to be exclusive with only them, gays can have more than one girl friend. I once made a list of my straight friends, both male and female, and not so surprisingly, there were many more women on the list then there were men. And let’s not forget the fact that many gay men are or were very close to their mothers, who are women, by the way. Many straight men, unless he, too, is a mama’s boy, tend to bond more closely with their dad, another man.

I am one of those who happens to believe that we are all born the way we are going to be, as far as our sexual orientation goes. No one turns gay or straight later in life unless they already are. How we choose to manifest these natural inclinations when we become physically sexual is then up to us. I did not make up the standard rules of proper sexual behavior, and not knowing who did, I don’t feel obligated to follow some unknown person’s regulations.

The way I see it, God put two types of our particular human species on this earth, male and female (discounting true hermaphrodites), and we all have been given the free will to choose toward whom we direct our affections. Therefore, all men have the choice of women, men or both, and all women have the choice of men, women or both. That’s it. It’s that simple. Then hermaphrodites and transsexuals, too, have the same choices. I suppose then that would make everybody basically bisexual by nature, but with a decided preference, if you will.

Consider these analogies. Some of us are left-handed instead of right-handed, but that does not make either of us wrong. That’s just how we turned out. We have a two-party political system in this country. If one chooses to be a Democrat instead of a Republican, that does not make them wrong. It’s their choice. It is the same with our sexuality. Which sex we direct our carnal interests to is either a choice or just how we happened to turn out. People in the world all have different desires and interests. Why do we all have to do the same things? Everybody does not want to be married and raise a family. Those who do choose to make babies in the traditional manner are required to go the male-female route, but those of us who are not interested in procreation don’t need to be with the opposite sex, if that is not to our liking. In fact, with all the artificial methods available to us now, men and women don’t even have to have actual intercourse with each other in order to conceive.

Many humans contend that we all should stay with our own kind. Why don’t they apply that notion to gender then? Maybe men should cohabitate only with other men and women only with women. The etched-in-stone proclamation that every man and woman on earth are obligated to have sexual relationships only with the opposite sex is completely arbitrary and elitist. I am so sick of that tired, stupid and pointless defense of heterosexuality that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” That statement is no more valid than if someone says, “Mother Goose created Jack and Jill, not Jack and Bill.“ The fact of the matter is, God did make Adam and Steve, Adam and Yves, and Madam and Eve, too! These people don’t seem to realize, or care, that they are basing their entire case on a myth. Any intelligent, logical person knows that Adam and Eve were not real people. (Check out my For the Bible Tells Me So blog, if you need convincing.) It’s all made up. So if there never were any Adam and Eve, how do they justify their position then? What else do you have for me?

Some people argue that homosexuality is a “crime/sin against Nature” and “an abomination against God” and all that other judgmental rhetoric. If everyone would come to the realization that sexual relations can occur for purposes other than actual procreation, then they would see that it doesn’t matter with whom one has sex. Deeming homosexuality to be wrong is being judgmental and unfair besides. If I don’t intend to make a baby with a woman, then how can it be wrong for me to have recreational sex with a man? My not wanting to have non-procreative sex with a woman is my prerogative.

Since the Almighty Creator is responsible for all Its creations, why can’t everyone accept the fact that homosexuals are also God’s plan and we are put here for a useful purpose, just like everyone else? Consider, too, that this planet would be more overcrowded than it already is, if it weren’t for the non-breeders that keep the population under manageable control. That’s an important function right there, although I‘ve never heard an antigay advocate acknowledge that fact. Maybe they think that it’s too insignificant a point to mention, or they probably never even thought of it. I don’t take anything for granted.

Although we know that single gay people and couples do have children on a regular basis by whatever means, they are always planned and wanted. We are not the ones that have multiple children indiscriminately with no aforethought a lot of the time. It’s these thoughtless, irresponsible, heterosexual breeders that are most contributing to the overpopulation of the world, not we gays. It’s not the children of gays who are suffering from starvation and pestilence in Third World countries. But we are the ones that some people want to prevent from making families. We also set the standards for aesthetic good taste. I mean, would you let some het decorate your summer cottage on Fire Island?

In all seriousness, though, the fact remains that homosexuals are no different than anybody else, in terms of their “human being.” Every heterosexual characteristic, function, physique, personality, opinion, viewpoint, occupation or lifestyle has a homosexual equivalent. A person’s sexual orientation should be no more an issue than the brand of toothpaste that they use. And majority should not be a determining factor of what is right or wrong. Even if there are probably more straights in the world than there are queers, it does not mean that the smaller group’s basic human rights should be compromised or even ignored. With all the diversity of human experience, the individual social groups will never all be equal in number anyway, so each minority group should be afforded the same importance and respect as the majority.

There is a predominate bias in our society on the side of the espoused, clothed, housed, attractive, lean, tall, able-bodied, healthy, sane, literate, right-handed, young adult, American, male, Caucasian, Christian deist, heterosexual, motorist. And anyone who is a member of society outside of this very specialized gentry is subject to some sort of discrimination and/or persecution. Therefore, different standards of living are imposed upon single people, nudists, homeless people, ugly people, overweight and fat people, short people, physically-challenged people, the sick and shut-in, HIV+ people and PWAs, the mentally-ill, illiterates, “southpaws,” children and the aged, foreigners and immigrants, women, nonwhites, non-Christians, including agnostics and heathens, queers, and people who don’t drive. There are only a few individuals who don’t belong to any of the social groups I just mentioned, but the majority of people in the world are in at least a few of them. I, myself, fit into ten of these groups, so I know how it is.

One conservative survey says that over 2 million American homosexuals are married or at some time in their life have been married. Actually, I suspect that the number is much higher, and even if it isn’t, that is still a lot of people leading dishonest, double lives. Most have admitted knowing or at least suspected that they might be gay when they got married, and the rest were in major denial about it, so why did they go through with it? Because they have been brainwashed to reject their true sexuality for the socially- and morally-accepted one. They try to convince themselves that being married will “straighten” them out. Never mind that eventually they create frustration, resentment and betrayal for their spouses, their families and even themselves.

All this can be avoided if children are taught to recognize, acknowledge and accept their homosexual tendencies when they first become aware of them, and then encouraged to go with these feelings rather than doing what is socially-expected of them. But then some marry with the full knowledge that they are gay, with the hope that their marriage will absolve them of any public suspicion of their homosexuality, and some people are gullible enough to buy into it. If they’re married, they just couldn’t be gay. I have encountered so many gay married people in my life, especially men, that I am not impressed or deterred by anyone’s marital status. The proclamation, “But he’s married!” does not influence me in the least. ‘So? Your point being…?’

(“Of course, people do go both ways.”) Let me say a word here about the often-misunderstood, so-called bisexuals. Some people contend that there are no real bisexuals (those who get equally turned on by either sex), just confused individuals in some degree of denial or sexual identity crisis. I believe that there are a few true bisexuals in the world–I know one or two myself–but I’ll bet they are in the minority, because more often than not, they will strongly prefer one sex to the other. I think that many may be basically gay in their heart but will occasionally dabble with the opposite sex. For instance, if a man who is married is having affairs exclusively with other men, he may consider himself bisexual because he’s married to a woman, but if he’s out fucking guys every chance he gets, I’m sorry, that’s just a married faggot. The same goes for women. She may enlist a man to give her children, but if she has been shacking up and muff-diving with her girlfriend for 10 years, those kids’ mother is a dyke.

Then some of these so-called bisexuals will get all indignant when you call them gay. “I am not gay, I am bisexual!” they’ll say. But, my dear, you still are gay. In my opinion, bisexuals are just special types of gays, just like sapphists and transsexuals are special types of gays. If one is not exclusively and strictly heterosexual, then they fall under some category of gay identity. You know, it’s not always about the physical act of sex anyway. Sexuality is a state of mind. I think, therefore, I am, not necessarily what I do. I knew this guy at college who admitted to me that he often dreamed and fantasized about other men, although he claimed not to have acted upon it…yet. So he didn’t consider himself gay because he hadn’t had same-sex.

One can be a lifetime celibate and still be gay or straight. I have friends who are as gay as I am; they just don’t have sex anymore. Being gay brings with it a certain sensibility and mentality which goes beyond the physical sex act. There are your virgin teens and even those older, who think that they might be gay, and their parents will tell them, “How do you know if you haven’t had sex yet?” But that’s just it. If someone has gay feelings and thoughts but has not yet done anything about it, then they probably are gay. I always did like girls growing up, but I never considered that I might be straight because I didn’t desire to have sex with any of them. I always preferred boys.

During my travels I have encountered certain individuals (some quite unattractive, I might add) who claimed to be bisexual. (What, do they have sex only twice a year?) But I interpret that as their being so desperate for love and sex that they will do it with anybody who will have them, male or female! You know, first come, first served. It at least broadens their options.

There are individuals who, because they still have not accepted the idea that two men or two women can have a relationship on equal terms, feel that they have to effect the manner of the opposite gender to attract a same-sex mate. That’s why we have your nelly queens, your butch dykes and your transvestites and transsexuals, not that I have anything against them. But I believe that these people think that they cannot relate romantically to someone of their own sex unless they act the opposite or seek someone who plays the opposite role, therefore justifying their particular proclivity. This is not just my theory. I have heard certain ones confirm this idea. One woman, when she found that she had feelings for other women, rather than accepting the fact that she might be gay, concluded that she must be a transgender and proceeded to have a sex change. So that makes things right then, huh? I love men because they are men, and not because I think that I am a woman by design. I am all man myself.

If I were sexually attracted to women, I would get a real one, not a man that is pretending to be a woman! I had a (purportedly) straight friend who had an inclination for quite masculine, but straight, women. Every girlfriend that he was involved with seemed like a big, ol’ bulldyke to me. When I brought this observation to his attention, he even admitted that he did indeed prefer manly women. I have known others with similar penchants. I think that they find themselves attracted to men, but they are in denial of their own gayness, so they get as close as they can to a man—without crossing over completely—by going with butch women, therefore they can still call themselves straight. In the same way, I expect there are women who have similar leanings towards very effeminate straight men.

Then there are the guys–I don’t know how to classify them–who enjoy making it with “chicks-with-dicks.” These are the pre-op trannies who appear to be women in every way, except they have chosen to retain their penises. As prostitutes, especially, they seem to do very well, as they satisfy the woman aesthetic for these guys, but they also provide that something extra to play with. Although I have not yet experienced it myself and despite my earlier claim about my preference for realness, I could make it with one of those “she-males,” if I ever get the chance, just like I wouldn’t be turned off by a “man” with a vagina! Look out, Buck Angel! As long as there is some instance of the “male element” present, I could probably get into it.

There is an emerging queer subculture in America among young black and Latino men that is not a new thing but is receiving some attention for a while now. Actually, it is not exclusively a “black thing,“ as everybody’s doing it. These “Down Low” individuals, or DLers, regularly have sex with other men but don’t consider themselves gay. Some have wives and maintain girlfriends, yet continue to make it with men on the sly. You see, these closeted gays, er, guys, associate being gay with the white community and effeminate sissies, neither of which they are. So they can even admit that they enjoy having sex with men, but as long as they act very butch and play the top, for the most part, they are not really gay, you see.

Since the animal kingdom does not concern itself with our human morals, we should expect that homosexuality would occur with them as well. There is studied evidence of same-sex attraction in 63 distinct mammalian species, among others, but unlike us humans, they are all open about it and not at all judgmental. They don’t know from closetness. They don’t consider what they are doing is wrong, and they don’t care what anybody thinks about them anyway. A few cases of note. In 1989 it was discovered that a significant amount of the male sheep at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Sheep Experimental Station in Dubois, Idaho was gay. Upon observation, they found that the gay rams were into anal intercourse with the other males, but there is a serious problem among them—most of them are tops and have trouble finding another one to stand still for him to mount! Human gay males should be so lucky! With us, there is an overabundance of bottoms, and good tops are an endangered species!

Potential sapphist sheep, too, have a problem of visibility, since female sheep solicit sex by standing still, and it’s very rare for a female to mount another female. So if there really are sapphists in the flock, there is no way to tell. I would hope that these poor, neglected ewes are at least getting some action from their attending shepherds, as they have been known to do. And I wonder if these bestiophile shepherds target only the ewes? Wouldn’t they probably suck a ram’s rod if given the chance? You know where they get virgin wool from, don’t you? From very ugly sheep!

Roy and Silo are a pair of gay penguins who lived together for twenty years in the Central Park Zoo. They had been observed cuddling and cooing and, I imagine, other things too. They were profiled in the New York Times and other publications across the world. The couple are also proud parents. When the zookeepers presented them with an egg, the two took turns sitting on it for several weeks until their daughter, Tango, was born, who turned out to be a sapphist herself! Long may they all prosper.

It appears that movies and TV, too, have begun to acknowledge the existence of homosexual animals. In Legally Blond 2: Red, White & Blond (2003) lawyer Reese Witherspoon discovers that her pet male chihuahua, Bruiser, has a mutual sexual attraction to judge Bruce McGill’s male rottweiler. One scene has him confessing to Congress and to the Court that “My dog is gay!”

An episode of the TV series “Eli Stone,” another lawyer show, once took on a case of two male life-companion chimpanzees living at the zoo who are separated when the Powers-That-Be realized that the two are a romantic couple. It’s not enough that some tend to meddle in other people’s love lives, they don’t even want our animal friends to be themselves, especially if they happen to be gay. The defense lawyers assigned to the case actually had to fight in court to get the two chimps back together. Fortunately, they did win the case, the lovers were reunited, and I suppose lived happily ever after.

Research scientists in Washington, while experimenting on fruit flies (don’t ask me why), discovered that by transplanting a certain gene, caused the insects to form all-male courtship circles, or orgies. When female fruit flies were added to the mix, male suitors rarely abandoned their partners to court them. Furthermore, when a group of “heterosexual” males was mixed in with the larger group of genetically-altered homosexual males, the straights began to act gay as well. The study, reported in the June 1995 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to the growing body of evidence that there may be a genetic component to sexual orientation. But you know, what bothers me is, with all the much-needed disease research for mysterious ailments like AIDS and cancer, why is our good money being spent on stupid, pointless studies such as this? Who gives a damn whether a fucking fruit fly is gay or not, for Chrissakes?! Do they pose a direct threat to the status quo, or something?

But while I am defining terms for the “homosexually-challenged,” you should know that there is a human version of “fruit-fly.” It’s a straight man who loves the company of gay men and likes “buzzing” around us, your male equivalent of a “fag hag,” if you will. But, of course, to be non-sexist, I suppose that both terms could apply to either gender (I certainly know some male hags). But now the term has been updated to “fag stag,” which I like even better. It has a butcher connotation to it than fruit-fly. Now I am about to coin another term to denote a gay man who likes the company of women more than a little bit, even more than he does men—a “hag fag.” Let’s see how long it takes for that to catch on.

Late astronomer Carl Sagan recalled this story in his book The Cosmic Connection. In the ’60s while Sagan was visiting a dolphin research center on St. Thomas, he had a sexual encounter with a dolphin named Peter. He tells of being in a large indoor pool playing ball with Peter when he felt “some protrusion” against him as the animal passed. The dolphin persisted and it soon became apparent what the protrusion was and what Peter wanted. Although flattered, Sagan reported that he was not prepared to go there. I guess Peter was not his type, huh?

I have learned that your cetaceans (marine mammals) are particularly keen on group sex activities with one another. When whales mate, for example, they do it in threes, with one female and two males. It seems that the second male is there for “mutual assistance,” and because of their size you can understand why they might need a spotter, if you will, in performing the sex act.

As a result of the current rise of homosexual visibility in the media, there has also arisen a new gay sensibility among the heterosexual community. Outside of the sex, formerly-diehard straights have begun to embrace the gay lifestyle, eschewing the threat to their ego and peer image. This “metrosexuality,” as it is called, has your straights, men primarily, now paying closer attention to fashion, personal grooming and body image, for example. Certain behavior that used to be considered “faggy” is not so much anymore, now that straight men are doing them. These “fauxmosexuals” work out at the gym, they shave off their body hair, get bikini waxes and facials, even pluck their eyebrows, in order to look more attractive for their wives and girlfriends. They try to be more sensitive and “get in touch with their feminine side,” which seems to please their women. They have found that they less need to compete for the attention and affection that these same women get from their gay male friends.

The “boy groups” around today and of the recent past, like Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, ‘N Sync, etc. originally were concerned with the fanship of only teenaged girls, primarily, but soon figured out that they could expand their popular appeal by getting the attention of gay men as well. They don’t have to have sex with them, just tease and titillate them a bit. So they started taking off their shirts and showing off their bodies. It works for me! Their album and video sales tripled. The same goes for women entertainers. A “dykon” is a gay icon specifically claimed by sapphists, and “lezploitation” attempts to play up the sapphist angle in media images and advertising. A “yestergay” is a once-gay man who now claims to be hetero, while a “hasbian” refers to a reformed woman, like actor Anne Heche, for instance.

I remember the actual moment that I finally acknowledged and accepted for all time the fact that I am a homosexual. During my last year at I.U., I was involved (not sexually, only platonically) with a young woman named Kathleen, a fellow music student who played French horn and piano. We adored each other and became really close friends. We spent a lot of time together. She even accompanied me on piano while I practiced and performed on my oboe. I thought I might have been in love. Heck, what did I know? When I left Bloomington in January 1970 and moved back to South Bend, I did not see her again until the following October while I was stationed for five days at the Oakland Army Base awaiting my overseas flight to Okinawa. By that time Kathy had moved to Oakland from her hometown Bethesda, Maryland and was now sharing a house with a guy I didn’t know and a bunch of assorted critters.

I sneaked off the base one night and found my way to her house in town. And just seeing her that one last time resolved any unrequited romantic feelings that I had harbored about her since our prior separation. I finally had closure. So by the time I got to Okinawa and had settled into my new life abroad, I was completely over her. I was in my barracks one afternoon writing a letter home to my friend Leo. I was telling him about my visit with Kathy and that I had finally gotten her out of my system. It was at that moment that I had an epiphany and realized that I didn’t regard any woman in an emotional or lustful manner, but that I truly loved men and would spend the rest of my life exclusively as a happy homosexual. And do. I was 23—although I had been having sex with men for ten years already. If I was going through an adolescent phase, I apparently never got over it.

[Related articles: Conspiracy Theory, Pt. 2: The AIDS Epidemic; Gay Pride and Homophobia; Sexism and Gender Issues; Let’s Have an Outing; Marry, Marry, Quite Contrary; My Combatless Tour-of-Duty; Parenting 101; Political Correctness]

More Name-Dropping

I have had the opportunity to hobnob and “rub elbows” with quite a few celebrities during my travels and performing engagements, even to have conversations with them. I have related many of my encounters in the course of recounting my career and travel activities in my other blogs. So what follows now are those chance meetings that I have yet to tell you about.

I did a gig with Gregg Smith one Sunday evening in 1988 at the Schubert Theater in NYC. The program was new choral works and scenes from modern plays, so there were some prominent actors involved along with the singers. Eric Roberts (whom I like) was scheduled to appear, but when I arrived at the theater, my friend Jon informed me that Eric was sick and would not be there tonight. “But I think you will approve of his replacement.” Ooh, was he right! It turned out to be Matthew Broderick, whom I happen to love even more than Eric. He was there to do a scene with Christopher Walken from David Rabe’s The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel. The two had just recently worked together in Biloxi Blues (1988). As we were all gathered in the “Green Room” downstairs before the show, I had a chance to talk with them both. Before that time I once sat directly behind Matthew at a showing of Fright Night (1985) at the Waverly Theater in the Village.

Waiting backstage later, I struck up conversations with both Martin Sheen, whom I also love, and the late Ron Silver, who wasn’t so bad either! I got autographs from both Martin and Matthew. Martin was quite friendly and nice to me. John Savage was there, too, but I didn’t get to speak to him. At the after-show reception at the famous Sardi’s Restaurant across the street, I got to meet Danny Aiello and the late Jill Clayburgh. I was really in my element that night, starfucker that I am.

I have a passing acquaintance with actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein. We have spent some time together on four occasions. The first time was March 1991 when he came to see The Flirtations perform at Eighty-Eights, a Village cabaret. He actually recorded an intro for us, which was used later for a Flirtations Retrospective venture.

The second time was October 1992 at Town Hall when we shared a dressing room for a benefit show that Harvey and the Flirts were doing. That same night I also met the late Joan Rivers, who was hosting the event. The third time I ran into Harvey was at Yankee Stadium during the Closing Ceremonies for Gay Games IV in June 1994. We were both performing that day as well. Harvey took me to his holding area to meet author Armistead Maupin. That day I also met Olympic skaters Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, and singers Cyndi Lauper and Lillias White.

The most recent time that I spoke with Harvey in person was the summer of 2002 outside the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd St., where he was appearing in the new (at the time) musical, Hairspray. My French friend, Gilles, and I were passing by one night after the show and people were there waiting for Harvey to come out of the stage door exit. Gilles seemed not to be convinced that I actually knew Harvey or that he would remember me, so we ourselves waited for him to emerge. When Harvey eventually came out and saw me standing there, with outstretched arms he walked over to me and greeted me with a big hug. We even chatted a bit. Now Gilles is impressed! I even have Harvey’s home phone number, although I have never used it to call him, as I try to respect people’s privacy. I use Facebook instead, whenever I have something to tell him, like congratulating him on his Tony win for Kinky Boots and receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame.

I first met late author/lecturer Quentin Crisp in 1988, through a mutual friend, at one of his neighborhood eateries in the East Village, where he lived. We next met up on the set of Philadelphia, then again at the photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar. While I was in high school, Mr. Chapman took his harmony class to a lecture forum given by composer Henry Cowell. We got to meet him and talk with him about his music and his composition techniques.

Photo shoot for Harper's Bazaar [top to bottom, left to right: Quentin Crisp, David Drake, Jon Arterton, Roberta Maxwell, me, Anna Deavere Smith, Ron Vawter, John Epperson (aka Lypsinka), Jimmy Rutland
“Philadelphia” photo shoot for Harper’s “Bizarre” [Cast members are (top to bottom, left to right): Quentin Crisp, David Drake, Jon Arterton, Roberta Maxwell, me, Anna Deavere Smith, Ron Vawter, John Epperson (aka Lypsinka), Jimmy Rutland]

I want to tell you about the time that I attended an informal tea party in Paul Simon’s Manhattan apartment. At that time, Paul was purportedly romantically-linked with actor Shelley Duvall, and she was living with him as well. Shelley phoned Paul’s regular handyman, Fintan Connolly (an Irish carpenter and my good friend), one evening and asked him if he would come to the house to hang some planters for her. He then called me to ask if I wanted to go along to the job with him. He had previously told me about Paul’s apartment and thought that I might like to see it. So of course I agreed to join him.

I met Fintan at Paul’s building on Central Park West and 69th Street, and we went on up to the apartment. Shelley answered the door and let us in, however she seemed a little apprehensive about this strange, black man at her threshold. But I quickly put her and her visiting female friend at ease. I have a way with folks, don’t you know. It must be my winning charm and humor. I soon had them talking and laughing with me as we drank tea while Fintan went about his task.

This was 1977, before I was very familiar with any of Shelley’s movie work, although I had seen most of the films that she had cited for me that she had appeared in. Brewster McCloud (Yeah, I saw that), Thieves Like Us (Yeah, I saw that), Nashville, Annie Hall (Yeah, I saw them, too), but I didn’t remember her in any of them, I’m sorry. She, being a little, skinny, vapid white child, just didn’t leave much of an impression on me, I guess. Her current film, at the time, was 3 Women, which I had not yet seen, but I did eventually. I became more familiar with her work later on in Popeye and The Shining (both 1980). Fortunately, though, she did not hold my lack of recognition against me.

The apartment was as spectacular as Fintan had told me it was. I didn’t get to meet Paul that night, however. He was working—I think he was taping a TV special at the time—but I hope that I get to meet him in person someday, so that I can tell him that I was once in his home and that I did a choral arrangement of one of his songs, “Song for the Asking.” I had lost track of Shelley for some years now, but she showed up on Dr. Phil’s show recently, and she is a real mess! She’s old and fat now, very haggard and suffering from dementia and paranoia. She hadn’t even accepted the fact that Robin Williams is dead.

I have met and spoken with actors Pat Carroll, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (I even have a letter from them), Colleen Dewhurst, Michael Greer, Estelle Parsons and Tom Villard, and singers Ferron, Janis Ian (with whom I have corresponded by mail after we met during the Winnipeg Folk Festival and even exchanged CDs), Cleo Laine, Odetta (who gave me her phone number, although I never used it) and Kay Stevens.

I have spoken with actor/dancer Chita Rivera on two occasions. I once rode the elevator with her at a rehearsal studio where we both were working—she in the original Chicago, I on The Wiz. Then I approached her again years later at Lena Horne’s 80th birthday tribute at Lincoln Center. That night I also met Nicholas Ashford, Cicely Tyson and Ms. Horne herself. I met the lovely Phylicia Rashad when she emceed a Flirtations gig at St. Thomas Church in New York. I asked Phylicia that night, while I was getting her autograph, ‘Where is that fine husband of yours?’ Ahmad was at home babysitting. (They have since divorced, and their daughter, Condola, is all grown up and is a working actor herself.) Phylicia even remembered me the second time we met, almost two years later!

I met and spoke with Dionne Warwick (my idol) on two occasions: when she autographed a poster of herself the first time I saw her in concert, Bloomington 1966, and when I actually got to sing with her in NYC 1993. (She participated in Revelations with us that year.) We now are friends on Facebook, where I can write her anytime I want to. When I saw Nancy Wilson in concert back in 1966 in Bloomington (the then-unknown Joan Rivers was her opening act!), I went backstage to meet Ms. Wilson afterwards and get her autograph, and she let me kiss her on the cheek!

While attending the Philadelphia Music Conference in October 1995 (I was there to promote my CD, Out Here On My Own), I had the opportunity to meet and chat with singer Mary Wilson, formerly of The Supremes. I met and chatted with actor Kathy Najimy in Washington, DC. The Flirtations were there during a gay pride rally held on the Mall, and we were hanging out in the holding tent. While there, I also saw Cybill Shepherd, who was there to make a speech, and I got my first glimpse of RuPaul, standing nearby, decked out in a red, white and blue, stars and stripes outfit. I was struck at how tall he is.

I met actor Robert Klein at a NY cast party. I met and chatted with actor Paxton Whitehead at the State Theater at Lincoln Center, when he was doing the NY revival of Camelot with Richard Burton (who actually walked by us while we were conversing). I had seen Paxton in a play in Ottawa, Ontario, when I was there with Harry Belafonte.

While ushering for the 2000 revival of Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice at the 2econd Stage Theater, I got to chat with actor Michael Emerson (of “Lost“ and “Person of Interest“), who was attending the play. I met composer Ned Rorem at a choral concert I was singing in. I have chatted on occasion with opera greats Placido Domingo, Marilyn Horne and Leontyne Price.

Actor F. Murray Abraham once spoke to me when we passed each other in the hallway at a rehearsal space in NYC, and Danny Glover and I spoke to each other as he passed me on the street one night. I spoke to Robin Williams one day, while he was out jogging near Central Park, and I once recognized one of your lesser-known character actors waiting for a bus at Columbus Circle with his young daughter. I went up to him and said, ‘Why, you’re Stefan Gierasch, aren’t you?’ He replied, “Uh…yes, I am!” He seemed surprised that I even knew who he was. He was one of the heavies in Silver Streak (1976).

The day after I saw him in the Broadway musical Urinetown, I saw actor/singer John Cullum crossing the street where I was riding by on my bike. I stopped to speak to him, to tell him that I enjoyed his show and his performance in particular. He seemed very appreciative. I tried to speak with actor/poet Maya Angelou one night after a dance concert I was singing in, who was not so gracious, as if she didn’t want to be bothered. Maybe she didn’t. I met singer Julie Budd at a callback audition for Boynton Beach Club. She didn’t get the gig either, by the way.

One day when Lloyd and I were having lunch at one of our favorite eateries near Lincoln Center (Ollie’s), at the next table was actor Jeffrey Wright. As he was leaving, I introduced myself and told him that I really liked his work. I had a lot more I could have discussed with him. I would have asked him how it was to work with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino (on Angels in America).

Another time, at the Westway Diner, near where I live, Tyne Daly sat at the next table for lunch. We learned that she was in rehearsal for a new play at one of my neighborhood theaters. She had lost a lot a weight since I saw her last. I told her how I so much enjoyed “Judging Amy” and that Maxine Gray was one of my favorite TV characters. She also seemed appreciative.

While on tour with Gregg Smith in Los Angeles, I was having dinner with two friends of mine, and we spied singer Sheena Easton at a nearby table. Later when I imparted this bit of news to the other group members, they asked me if I had asked Ms. Easton for her autograph. I told them, ‘Of course not. She didn’t ask me for mine.’

Those whom I know (or knew) from having a working relationship with them are Lucine Amara, Dave Brubeck, John Bucchino, Ray Charles (the sighted conductor), Kate Clinton, Lea DeLaria, Sally Fingerett, Flor de Caña, David Friedman, Tret Fure, Ronnie Gilbert, Philip Glass, Marga Gomez, Jerome Hines, Geoffrey Holder (who directed me in Amahl and the Night Visitors), Pat Humphries, Leonard Jackson, David Massengill, Melba Moore, Richard Muenz, Holly Near, Anders Paulsson, Peter, Paul & Mary, Falumi Prince, Rhiannon, Romanovsky & Phillips, Anna Russell, Peter Schickele, Pete Seeger, Fred Small, Suede, Linda Tillery, Lucie Blue Tremblay, William Warfield, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Karen Williams, Cris Williamson and Paul Winter. I know singer/songwriter Thomas Wilson Weinberg, and I knew Glenn Hughes (the Leatherman), formerly of Village People.

My first regular Sunday church job in NYC was at the Broadway United Church of Christ (Unitarian), where Metropolitan Opera star Samuel Ramey and I made up the choir’s bass section. Also in that same choir was tenor Earl Rogers, who was one of Mitch Miller’s original “Gang” members, and in the alto section was Nan Lyons, the author of the mystery novel Somebody Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, from which the 1978 film Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? is based.

Other name celebrities with whom I have shared the stage and/or worked alongside (other than operatic situations) but with whom I did not have any personal dealings, include Karen Akers, June Anderson, Julie Andrews, Patti Austin, Amanda Bearse, Ed Bradley, LaLa Brooks, Betty Buckley, Andy Bumatai, Pat Buttram, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Carol Channing, Cyd Charisse, Rosemary Clooney, Cy Coleman, Barbara Cook, John Dankworth, Taye Diggs, Gloria Foster, Pete Fountain, Jack Gilford, Dizzy Gillespie, Allen Ginsberg, Savion Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Eydie Gormé, Randy Graff, Joel Grey, Al Hirt, Hal Holbrook, Celeste Holm, John Houseman, Phyllis Hyman, Iman, Dana Ivey, Judith Ivey, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Jarreau, Judy Kaye, Alan King, Patti LaBelle, Nathan Lane, Patty Larkin, Steve Lawrence, Hubert Laws, The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, Wynton Marsalis, Marsha Mason, Letta Mbulu, Andrea McArdle, Robert McFerrin (Bobby’s dad), Howard McGillin, Sir Ian “Sirina” McKellan, Liza Minnelli, Russell Oberlin, Freda Payne, Rosie Perez, Lou Diamond Phillips, John Pizzarelli, Jane Powell, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lou Reed, Tony Roberts, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, John Rubinstein, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Short, Valerie Simpson, Billy Stritch, Billy Taylor, Tommy Tune, Leslie Uggams, Suzanne Vega, Crystal Waters, Lynn Whitfield, Wilhelmina Wiggins-Fernandez, Joe Williams, and a host of male and female opera divas and “divos.”

I have sung under conductors Dino Anagnost[ic], Leonard Bernstein, Elio Boncompagni, Richard Bonynge, Leon Botstein, Sergiu Commissiona, Anton Coppola, Robert Craft, Lucas Foss, Margaret Hillis, Manfred Honeck, Abraham Kaplan, Christopher Keene, Dennis Keene, Vincent La Selva, James Levine, Henry Lewis, Zubin Mehta, Jorge Mester, Ennio Morricone, John Nelson, Imre Pallo, Eve Queler, Gerard Schwarz, Maxim Shostakovitch, Alessandro Siciliani, Alfredo Silipigni, Johannes Somary, Jean-Christophe Spinosi and Richard Westenberg, among others.

Some big names who were performing in the same area and at the same time that The Flirtations were appearing, but for whatever reasons people chose to see us over them, are The Allman Brothers Band, Mariah Carey, Jim Carrey, Chicago, Crosby Stills and Nash, Janet Jackson, Elton John, Tom Jones, Richard Lewis, Barry Manilow (who was playing right across the street from where we were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Liza Minnelli, The Oak Ridge Boys, RuPaul, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ravi Shankar, Nina Simone, Sting, Loudon Wainwright, Wynonna and Weird Al Yankovic.

As an usher at the Playhouse Theater in NYC, I once seated former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and actor Rod Steiger. I even sang for Jackie O. once (I was with Steamboat Gothic) at the Metropolitan Museum. Also in the audience were Betty “Condom” and Adolph Green. I once sat back to back in adjoining booths with John Kennedy Jr. at a Manhattan restaurant and I sang at the funeral of John Jr.’s uncle Stephen Smith, at which Ted Kennedy gave the eulogy. I sang at a funeral where actor Cyril Ritchard gave a eulogy, the funeral of former NYC mayor John Lindsay’s brother David, and at the funerals for choreographer George Balanchine and musician Morton Gould.

Actor Estelle Getty heard The Flirtations perform at the Rose Garden nightclub in West Hollywood. I once sang for actor Paul Sorvino at his home church in Tenafly, New Jersey and years later passed him on the street. Actor Sam Waterston attended a couple of Holy Apostles Church services while I was singing there.

Steamboat Gothic used to take advantage of the theater crowd by singing on the streets in the Broadway district. One evening actor Barnard Hughes came by on his way to work (he was starring in Da at the time) and dropped some money into our basket. We also used to do street singing in the Village, and a couple of times Hair producers Tom O’Horgan and Gerome Ragni were in our audience.

Others whom I have spied in the audience or backstage where I was performing or was told that they were there, include Marian Anderson, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leon Bibb, Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack, Evander Holyfield, Janet Jackson, Derek Jeter, James Earl Jones, John Kander, Spike Lee, Jan Miner (aka Madge the Manicurist), Jackie Mason, Mary Tyler Moore, Ken Page, Luciano Pavarotti, Thomas Quasthoff, Luise Rainer, Tim Reid, Nipsey Russell, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Clarise Taylor, Ivana Trump and Oprah Winfrey. Some state and province governors have attended my performances, among them, those from New Jersey, Oregon, Texas (Anne Richards) and Prince Edward Island, and assorted mayors. While he was Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau attended one of Belafonte’s shows when we played Ottawa.

One of my first gigs with The Flirtations was a benefit for labor leader/civil rights activist Cesar Chavez’ grape boycott protest rally, “The Wrath of Grapes” in Boston, October 1989. I don’t know if they still do or not, but Columbia University used to bestow an annual honorary degree on a popular celebrity, and I was in the attending chorus on two occasions when the honorees were Duke Ellington and Alfred Hitchcock, only months before they died.

I don’t have many regrets in life. I accept the bad with the good. The many mistakes I have made I have used as learning experiences, but I do regret some of my missed opportunities. I wanted to be drawn by Al Hirschfeld before he died in 2003. I had the chance once some years before when the celebrity caricaturist was at the annual Lincoln Center Library Bazaar, but I regretfully passed up the opportunity, as I had hoped that he would someday do me on someone else’s commission. What an idiot I was! I don’t remember what he was charging that day, but it wasn’t much. I could have afforded it, if I hadn’t been so grand about it. Well, it’s too late now. I missed my one chance.

I went to see a production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene at Manhattan School of Music once, and before the show, Weill’s widow, singer/actor Lotte Lenya, who was in the audience, was asked to stand. I was looking all around the theater for her and discovered that she was sitting in the seat right next to me! Lloyd and I sat behind composer Marvin Hamlisch at a Dionne Warwick concert in Radio City Music Hall, and I sat directly behind composer Stephen Sondheim at the dress rehearsal of Sweeney Todd, when the NY City Opera did it the first time there.

Once, while driving on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood with Michael Callen, I noticed that the car directly in front of us had a license plate which read, “JACKEE” (Harry). I was at an audition for something one day, and I went to the restroom to pee. I recognized the man at the urinal next to me to be Art Carney. I saw opera diva Eleanor Steber fall flat on her face getting off an elevator at Juilliard Music School one day. Actor Mary Alice was right behind me in line at the UPS office one day as was TV talk show veteran Joe Franklin at my local Duane Reade drugstore.

I once stalked actor Robert DeNiro for several blocks in the Village. I love him. While I was a patient in the hospital the first time, singer/actor Ethel Merman was also a patient on my floor. I saw her pass by my room one day. But when I asked my nurse about her, she tried to play the “nut role,” like it was some big secret that Ms. Merman was a patient there. She didn’t have to lie to me. I wasn’t going to bother the woman or blow her cover. Since she died soon after anyway, what difference would it have made?

I went to see my idol Burt Bacharach when he played at B.B. King’s supper nightclub a few years ago, and at my singles table sat an elderly gentleman who turned out to be another prestigious songwriter by the name of Jerry Ragovoy. Upon chatting with him, I found out that he is the one who wrote Garnet Mims’ “Cry Baby,” Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and The Rolling Stones’ “Time Is On My Side,” among other ‘60s R&B hits.

Living in Manhattan, I see celebrities all the time on the street, out shopping, eating in restaurants or just doing their thing, like regular folks, which they are. I have seen in person, here and in other locales, when they were not working, René Auberjonois, Emanuel Ax, Alan Bates, Joseph Bologna with his wife Renee Taylor, Kathleen Chalfant with David Rasche, Cher with her then daughter Chastity, Dennis Christopher, Van Cliburn, John Davidson, Tate Donovan, Robert Duvall, Wesley Eure, Morgan Fairchild, Joan Fontaine, Tony Franciosa, Leonard Frey, Penn Gillette, Martha Graham, Rex Harrison, Helen Hayes, Maurice Hines, Vladimir Horowitz, Lauren Hutton, Vincent Irrizary, Mick Jagger, Leslie Jordan, Robert Joy, Jack Klugman, Spike Lee, James Lipton, Shirley MacLaine with Bella Abzug, Jackie Mason, Kevin McCarthy, Paul McCrane, Demi Moore, Rita Moreno, Cynthia Nixon, Patrick O’Neal, Keith Prentice, Hal Prince, Lynn Redgrave, Rex Reed, Robert Reed, George Reinholt, Geraldo Rivera, Leon Russom, Jay O. Sanders, Grant Shaud, Wallace Shawn, Richard B. Shull, Carly Simon, Daniel Stern, Eric Stoltz, Yma Sumac, Regina Taylor, Brenda Vaccaro, Nancy Walker, Felicia Weathers, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Paul Winfield.

Residing on a somewhat busy street, with shops and theaters, I often see celebrities on my very block. I have left my building at times or returned to find directly in front or next door the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, comic Mario Cantone, actors Zach Braff, Randy Harrison, John Scurti, Martin Short and Yanic Truesdale. I encountered Donald Sutherland with a cast on his leg, standing right outside my apartment building one day as I was leaving. I don’t know why he was there—I could have asked him, I guess—but we did speak a greeting as I passed. I found Lucy Liu as well on my front steps as I was leaving the house one day. This time I actually said to her, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do! What are you doing here?“ She was there with a friend, whom I didn’t know, just hanging out.

I have lived in the same apartment for over 40 years! The only other tenant that has been here longer than I have is Mrs. Beatrice Rosado, a sweet, Puerto-Rican lady, whose husband was the building superintendent when I first moved in here in October 1978. When he died, his wife took over the duties, but she does not do it anymore. Mrs. Rosado is always telling me building gossip. She once imparted this story to me, that I have not yet been able to verify, is that famous gangster Al Capone used to own and reside in this very building! He lived in the basement apartment which is directly below me! However, the dates and timelines she gave me don’t add up.

Capone was in Alcatraz during most of the thirties and was released in 1939. Then he moved to Florida and died there in 1947 of advanced, untreated syphilis. So when did he live in New York? Unless he maintained two homes, there and here, which I suppose could be possible. Mrs. Rosado claims that she was living here herself when Capone was living here, but she also said that she didn’t come here until 1956. So how could she have known Capone when he had already been dead for nine years? I think she is confused. She is 98, after all. But isn’t that a great story, if it is true, that my building’s former landlord was Al Capone?!

I also learned, and this has been verified, that late actor Richard Castellano (The Godfather, Lovers and Other Strangers) once lived in one of the front apartments on my floor. It has been confirmed that Castellano did have mob connections and probably was here at the same time that Capone was. I learned that he was a great help and consultant to Francis Ford Coppola during the making of The Godfather (1972). I got the greatest surprise when I finally saw the film again after so many years. During one scene when Castellano appears on the TV screen, I was thinking to myself that this guy used to live right down the hall from where I am now, when at that moment in the film, his character, Clemenza, is leaving his house. Remember that much of the film is set in NYC. Castellano says goodbye to his wife and gets into a car with two other men and says, “I have a couple of stops to make this morning. First, we need to swing over to 309 West 43rd Street…” (!) I gasped and clutched my pearls. I was flabbergasted to hear my actual home address mentioned in a major motion picture, and a Best Picture, at that! If I ever meet the director Coppola, I intend to ask them if that line was in the script or was it an ad lib by Castellano, commemorating his former residence.

When I first moved into this building (but I did not know who she was at the time), actor Sally Kirkland was my floor neighbor. When she moved out, the next tenant was a hat designer who worked out of his apartment making and selling his own creations. Diana Ross was one of his regular customers and she was seen on several occasions by other tenants either going to or leaving Frederick’s apartment. I never saw her here, however.

So far, since I’ve been here, the premises has been used several times as a movie set. In fact, it was Sally Kirkland who suggested our building one time for shooting some scenes for a film she was working on. The movie crew set up right in my hallway and the front stoop was used as Sally’s residence in the movie. The movie might have been High Stakes (1989), but I have not yet seen it to confirm it. Before it was filled in with a new building a few years ago, there used to be a thruway alley next to my apartment building. I liked having that alley there, as it served as a shortcut through the block when going from 43rd to 44th Street or the other way.

On September 29, 1995, the production staff of the long-running TV series “Law and Order” used our then alley for a scene in one of their episodes, which required them to set up one of their special strobe lights in my bathroom! I watched them shoot the scene right outside my window. They also filmed another scene right in front of my building. The episode first aired on November 22. Talk about your sinecure! They paid me $100 for the use of my apartment for a few hours, and I didn’t have to do a damned thing. I have since learned that I may have gotten gypped. I have some friends whose residents have been used for TV episodic filming, and they were paid at least a thousand dollars a day! Maybe the fee has gone up since 20 years ago, or they just got over on me. The alley has been used for filming on two more occasions (when I was at home), but those other times I did not get any special compensation.

Those whom I have encountered at on-location movie sets or as guest speakers somewhere when I wasn’t performing myself include, Lauren Bacall (The Fan), Benjamin Bratt with Jerry Orbach (“Law and Order”), Judith Light (Gay Games), Jack Nicholson with Randy Quaid (The Last Detail), Faith Prince, Ally Sheedy and Michael York.

Those whom I have seen live in concert, that I was not involved in myself, include Burt Bacharach (twice), Blood Sweat & Tears with David Clayton-Thomas, The Bobs (three times), Chanticleer, Ray Charles, Chicago (3 or 4 times), The King’s Singers (twice), Gladys Knight, Ramsey Lewis, Johnny Mathis, The Persuasions, Lou Rawls, Joan Rivers, Rockapella, Sweet Honey in the Rock (twice), The Swingle Singers, Take Six, Tiny Tim, Tuck and Patti, Dionne Warwick (5 times) and Nancy Wilson. When I was still a child, my mother took me to a Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue once, but besides Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jackie Wilson, I don’t remember who all performed that night. That was so long ago, and I didn’t retain the playbill.

There are other celebrities who have touched my life in one way or another, directly and indirectly. Let me tell you a few noteworthy alumni who attended Central High School and/or hail from South Bend. Hollywood film director Sydney Pollack was from the Class of 1952, and actor Lloyd Haynes (he starred in “Room 222” on TV) was my godmother Odeva Haynes’ nephew. Actor Michael Warren (“City of Angels,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Murder One,” “Lincoln Heights“) sat right next to me in Spanish class one year. My dad and stepmother were friends with his parents, and Mike and I still write to each other on occasion. The late rhythm ‘n’ blues saxophonist Junior Walker grew up in South Bend and attended Central before he moved to Battle Creek, Michigan to form the All-Stars for Motown. Actors Chad Everett and Vivica A. Fox were born in South Bend, but grew up somewhere else.

The homestead of Schuyler Colfax (who served as Vice-President to Ulysses Grant), which subsequently became a civic center, is situated only one block from my high school on Colfax Avenue, and I once played in a piano recital in the very building. Other Indiana University alumni, besides those already mentioned in another post, include actor Kevin Kline, who was enrolled in the I.U. Music School at the same time I was there. We used to speak to each other in the halls. Olympic gold medalist swimmer Mark Spitz was there at the same time I was, but I never met him. Remember the ’60s Memphis group called Booker T. and the MGs? Well, Booker T. Jones was at I.U., too, while I was there, playing trombone in the Symphonic Wind Ensemble while I was playing my oboe. Country-western singer Janie Fricke sang in the Singing Hoosiers with me at I.U., as did Brian Farrell, who became a TV actor.

Other opera alumni, besides Pamela Hebert, include David Arnold, Kathryn Boleyn (I knew her as Holly Day), Rodney Godshall, Elizabeth Hynes (formerly Mary Jane Fink) and Richard Stillwell. I also knew cabaret artist Joel Silberman while there. Religious commentator Zola Levitt, who had his own Sunday morning show on the Family Channel, once wrote a review of our production of The Blacks for the campus newspaper. Our former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, lived on my floor in Wright Quad during my years at I.U. and served as Lowe House’s graduate counselor, sort of like a “house mother.”

I met actor Tim Robbins at his sister Adele’s wedding in NYC, at which I sang. I know Tim’s whole family, having worked with both his father Gil and and his mother Mary (both now deceased), and I toured with Adele as a DeCormier singer, the tour on which she met her husband Brian Powell. I ran into Tim again years later on the street right around the corner from where I live. He remembered me, and I asked him about his family. I also once toured with the singer husband of actor Inga Swenson (110 in the Shade, “Benson“), and I knew Carly Simon’s current husband, Jim Hart, before she did. I used to ride with him to an amateur choir gig out on Long Island, and he would tell me how he had such a thing for Ms. Simon. The next thing I heard about him was that he had married her! How’s that for going after what you want?

When The Flirtations played Oberlin College in April 1993, we had an after-show meal with some of the students at one of their campus eateries. At our table was a charming young woman named Francesca, who was a friend of the woman who was promoting us. As we were leaving the restaurant, I noticed that the walls were covered with various opera posters, one of which was for Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini. I pointed it out to Francesca, and she casually mentioned that her mother once appeared in that opera. Interested, I inquired, ‘Oh, your mother is an opera singer?’ “Yes, she is.” ‘So, who is your mother?’ “Shirley Verrett.” ‘Get outta here! I love huh!’ She‘s dead now as well.

I used to sing with veteran actor Harry Bellaver’s daughter, Lee, while we were members of the NYCO Chorus. The son of character actor Mario Siletti (he played Mario Lanza’s father in The Great Caruso {1951} and was the “knife-thrower” on a classic “I Love Lucy” episode, the one in which Lucy had to tell the truth for a whole day), also named Mario and a former actor himself, was a good friend of mine. Mario Jr. starred in the original production of Little Mary Sunshine with Eileen Brennan.

Another friend, Laurence Taylor, now deceased, who was a musician, composer and lecturer, was a direct descendant of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor. I also used to know a guy in South Bend named Jim, who was a cousin of actor Bonnie Bedelia. Singer Holly Near, with whom I worked on several occasions, is Kevin Bacon’s cousin, and Kelsey Grammer’s cousin, John Grammer, is a member of the church where I worked for many years. I used to see him almost every Sunday. Another of our regular parishioners is a retired Episcopal priest named Stephen Chinlund, whose son is actor Nick Chinlund.

Habitués was first produced at the 13th Street Theater, which at the time was run by Edith O’Hara, who is the mother of actor sisters Jenny and Jill O’Hara. Although I haven’t met him yet, I did meet the parents of composer Frank Wildhorn (of Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel). Sy and Sandy Wildhorn were on the 2004 World Cruise on which the New York Vagabonds performed, when we became acquainted. We even performed one of Frank’s songs, “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde, in one of our shows on the ship.

James Earl Jones’ actor father, the late Claude Earl Jones, lived in my neighborhood and I saw him on the street a few times. I used to own (I don’t know what happened to it) a flat, black felt hat that once belonged to late actor Godfrey Cambridge. It was given to me by a friend of mine who once worked as Cambridge’s houseboy.

This is my diary entry for October 3, 1979, the day that Pope John Paul II first visited NYC. “If a soothsayer had told me even a month ago that on this day I would be up at 8:30 AM, then go way downtown to Wall Street and for one hour stand out in the wind and the pouring rain, without a coat, for the purpose of merely getting a quick, passing glimpse at an old Catholic Polock, I would have laughed in their face!” The next time he was in town (October 1995), I didn’t bother to go anywhere to see him.

I got to see President Eisenhower when his motorcade passed through South Bend in 1960, but I have not met any U.S. Presidents in person myself. But interestingly so, my brother Earl was once close friends with one! During the seventies, Earl worked as the sports director for the local YMCA in Midland, Texas, and he used to shoot hoops with George W. Bush Jr., when he was living there as well. Earl and Dubya are the same age and were running hoes (pals) for several years. They played basketball together at the Y almost every day, and Earl even visited Bush’s house often and ate meals with him and his family. Earl told me that he was present when George Sr. first announced at dinner that he was thinking of running for President! Being not at all interested in political matters, Earl was totally unimpressed. He thinks now, however, that maybe if he had played his cards right and stayed in good with the Bushes, he might have ended up with Colin Powell’s or Condoleeza Rice’s former job!

My father, Earl Sr., was sort of a bigwig in city politics, although he never served public office himself. He knew all of our mayors and civic personnel. I don’t know how he qualified for such an honor, but in April 1980 my dad received a telegram from President Carter, inviting him to the White House to meet with his senior advisors to discuss foreign and domestic affairs. Somebody must have thought that he had something to offer, although I can’t imagine what. But just before he was planning to go, Dad got sick and could not make the trip. That must have been a great disappointment for him. A habitual gambler, my dad once told me that while in Las Vegas, he once got to play cards with actor/comedian Redd Foxx.

[Related articles: On the Road with Cliff; You Better Work!]

“You Better Work!”

My book, Candid Talk: The World According to Cliff Townsend, turned out to have a two-fold premise. In addition to being an autobiography of my life so far, it also includes a philosophical treatise of how I regard the world and my opinion on just about everything. Those of you who have kept up with my blog articles have seen my opinion discussions but not so much about me specifically. As you will see, I have enjoyed an interesting and exciting career, and I’d like to share the highlights (and some lowlights) with you.

Although most of my life’s employment has been music-related, I have participated in a bunch of other work endeavors as well, as I expect you all have at some time or another. My work history was somewhat difficult to sort, as much of it overlaps between more than one article. So this is what I’ve done. My blog, School Days covers my scholastic history, with a detailed emphasis on my college years, My Combatless Tour-of-Duty deals with the two years I spent in the Army, and my concert tours, cruise adventures and other work that involves travel are recounted in On the Road with Cliff.

That leaves this article, which covers everything else I have done while situated in one place, including my résumé of acting in plays, musicals, operas, radio, TV and movie appearances, recordings and other jobs that don’t involve performing. You can take the articles in any order, as the events in each one are pretty much chronological with some cross-references. There is one additional blog entitled More Name-Dropping, which covers my celebrity encounters and sightings that are incidental to my other work-related articles.

I suppose that my first position of responsibility was while I was at Linden Elementary School (I was there from 1952-’59), when I served for a time (not for pay) as the scorekeeper for our school’s basketball team. The coach was my math teacher, Mr. Algie Oldham, who picked me for the job because of my apparent fondness for numbers. I also served as a school crossing guard at Linden. The first paying job I had was the summer that I was trying to graduate from high school (in 1965), when I worked for the South Bend Street Department, for minimum wage, as a street cleaner and paver. I even got to lay hot asphalt. # Hated it! #

During the four months after I left Bloomington for good, before I was drafted into the Army, again when I got out, and for six months prior to moving to NYC, I served as a substitute teacher for the South Bend public school system. Since I had once considered a career in teaching–the college degree I was going for initially was a Bachelor of Music Education–I applied for the job on a whim. As you will learn, if you don‘t know already, I have no college degree and not even a teaching certificate. But they desperately needed subs, apparently, and I guess they figured that since I did graduate from high school and had had four years of college, I must know at least as much as those still in grade school. I was kept pretty busy, based on my availability. I got to go around to different schools all over town and was assigned to various classes and subjects. I had 31 engagements in all.

At about the time of my release from the Army, as I loved it over there and did not want to leave, I had considered staying in Okinawa when I got out and getting a teacher’s job at the American high school. But as I would have to separate stateside, I just couldn’t see making that 18-hour trip two more times. What else helped me to decide what to do was that for the first time in years, I got very sick the night I flew back from there. I don’t know what I had, but I really felt like shit during the entire flight. All I wanted to do was go home and get into bed. It took me a week to recuperate as it was.

When I was a student at Central High School, my classmates, for the most part, were well-behaved. Teachers were always able to maintain order and I don’t remember classes ever getting out-of-hand. In my day most kids came to school to learn. I had the opportunity to go back to Central one day to sub. I couldn’t believe how things had changed in only 7 years. I didn’t have any trouble with any of my other classes at the other schools in town. The students were always respectful of me. But that day at Central, I thought I had stumbled into Romper Room by mistake. Those delinquents were running around the room, throwing things and yelling at the top of their voices. I sat there in bewildered disbelief. My repeated attempts to restore order were all in vain. They acted as if I were not even there. I wondered, What could have happened in such a short time? They must have been part of the new generation of undisciplined youth who have no respect for their elders. Those same kids are now probably the parents (or even grandparents) of the ones who are wreaking havoc in our schools today.

So this brief stint did satisfy my aspirations as a teacher. Although I did enjoy it at the time, it let me know that I didn’t want to do it for a living. But as my life seems to go in cycles, I was again some years ago offered a teaching job. The Jonas Bronck Academy, a public middle school in the Bronx, was looking to incorporate a music program in their curriculum, as they had never had one. So I was given two classes of 7th-graders one day a week. But after only three weeks I was given the sack. It seems that things were not progressing fast enough to suit the administration. I began in November with only a few days’ notice. I was not provided with any music materials with which to work, not even a piano. Yet they expected a major choral presentation by Christmas time.

Nobody, however, bothered to relate that little fact to me when I took the job, not that it would have mattered. That wasn’t enough time to do anything, let alone get a whole show together in five weeks. It really would have been only five hours, since I had them for only one hour a week! The professional choruses that I work with get more rehearsal time than that to prepare music that we already know very well. These kids had no musical training or experience whatsoever. What did they want from me, magic and miracles? They couldn’t have been too serious anyway, with that one hour a week stipulation. I needed to see the kids every day in order to get anything done. (“What we have heah is a failyuh to communicate!”) What I resent is their not telling me what they wanted from me and then complaining (not even to me but to my boss) that I was not fulfilling their wishes. Tell me what you want and I will let you know what is involved and whether it’s doable or not.

It’s like the time when my quartet, Quatraine, got the chance to sing for minimalist composer Philip Glass. He had written a choral piece and wanted to hear how it sounds. We took a stab at it, sight-reading the best we could, but Glass was not satisfied with our interpretation. But then he failed to articulate to us what he wanted. We are all consummate, adaptable musicians. Just tell us what the hell you want, and we will try to accomplish it! What I think it was, he didn’t even know himself what he wanted, so he couldn’t very well tell us anything. Actually, I don’t think that we were the ones at fault. I blame the music itself. Glass didn’t like it because it was a piece of shit in the first place, and rather than acknowledge that fact, he chose to blame us for how it sounded. “Don’t blame us for how it sounds. You wrote it!” I don’t care for his style of music anyway. It’s monotonous and tedious. Someone once said, “Listening to minimalist music is like looking for a change in the wallpaper.”

Actually, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t mind teaching again. I have a lot of knowledge to impart on young minds, even older minds. When I was a little boy, I thought for a while that I wanted to be a doctor, but later on I realized that I didn’t want to spend that much time in school. I also once thought that I would be married some day with a whole bunch of kids. Well, you see how that turned out! Oh, the naivety and frivolity of youth, huh? The other odd jobs or non-paying responsibilities I had before moving to NYC, are babysitter, summer vacation Bible School instructor, flute instructor, youth choir treasurer, church usher, janitor, banquet pianist, house cleaner and painter.

During the summer after my freshman year of college, I served as a counselor for my neighborhood youth center in South Bend. I just needed to be there to chaperone the kids during daytime activities and at their nightly dance socials. The following summer I had a job, briefly, on a factory assembly line for Bendix aviation parts, another incidence of mindless labor. # Hated it! # One of my co-workers had such a limited vocabulary, as the only adjective that he seemed to know was “fuckin’.” I used to hide in the restroom during most of my shift, reading Valley of the Dolls. I subsequently got “laid off.” Thank you!

I became a part-time, professional freelance performer when I moved to NYC in December 1972. Since that time I have worked as a singer, dancer, actor, supernumerary/extra, choral conductor, accompanist and instrumentalist. I have dabbled in many odd jobs as well during my years in NYC, not all for pay, some music-related, some not. I have been a music arranger, transcriber, theatrical producer/director, record producer, vocal coach, choral contractor, collator, courier, copyist, composer, caterer, coat checker, carpenter’s assistant, pipe organ maintenance apprentice (lugging tools, holding down keys for tuning and making repairs on the pipes and console), mover, juror (I was even the foreman the first time I served), Broadway theater usher, voting polls registrar volunteer, envelope addresser/stuffer, human guinea pig for pain research experiments at Bellevue Hospital (Don’t ask!), model, houseboy, prostitute (Yes; although I never asked for money for sex, when it was offered, I took it. I’m not ashamed!), and participant in a homemade porno film. I wouldn’t call what I did “acting,” exactly, but I was paid for my performance.

I once helped move and assemble a large, modern sculpture for public display on the lawn in front of City Hall in Manhattan. The creation of this book and blog site, in addition to the other literary works I’ve done, makes me an author as well. I’ve tried my hand at poetry, plays, lyric-writing and some short stories as a youth. I have compiled a list of celebrities’ real names, which could become a reference book if I ever decide to try to get it published. I also have written a murder mystery screenplay intended for a cable TV series.

So maybe I will tell you about those pain experiments that I subjected myself to. During my first few years in New York, not having a regular full-time job, I would take almost anything that I could find, so when I saw an ad in the paper asking for volunteers for some pain research experiments, out of curiosity and the fact that I would be paid, I decided to check it out. I had two or three sessions at Bellevue Hospital, where I was hooked up to electrodes of some kind to various parts of my body, and they shot me with electrical charges to determine how much I would be able to withstand.

I found that I apparently do have a higher-than-usual tolerance for pain, and it appeared that my administer was rather enjoying testing my tolerance, by turning the juice up more and more when I did not readily respond. Is this some kind of S&M scene? Why are they even doing this, and for what purpose? They did pay me, as promised. It wasn’t very much, I don’t think, but it was not a too unpleasant experience, as it turned out. This was the first and only time that I got to try acupuncture, too. I suppose that the research staffers needed people to practice on. That, I had no problem with either.

I also participated in a medical study that was testing for a certain gene which causes kidney problems. All I had to do was give blood and answer a series of survey questions. This led to a follow-up focus group seminar to discuss our experience with the study. I was paid with several gift cards from Best Buy, which had enough money on them for me to buy a blender, stereo headphones, a telephone/answering machine unit and an mp3 music player. So I consider it worth my while to have done that. I also submitted to a sex research survey, where I was required to relate my sexual history and activities. I’m not sure why they needed such information, but they were not judgmental at all, which made me feel at ease and forthcoming. These three sessions paid me cash each time for my participation.

I must have been born to sing and entertain. None of the odd jobs that I have had in my life I would want to do as a career, expect for performing and making music. That is something that I never tire of. I don’t know how this all came about. Maybe she heard me singing in class or somewhere. But in 1952, when I was only 5-years-old and just in kindergarten, I was somehow encouraged by my teacher, Miss Toosey, in cahoots with my mother, probably, to perform “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” at Christmastime for the local PTA, or some invited audience. I don’t remember now who they were. I learned the song by listening to Bing Crosby’s recording of it. I was dressed in those cute little kid’s pajamas with the attached feet and the buttoned butt flap, and I was carrying a lighted candle in its holder.

There used to be a popular camp expression among black gay men (I don’t hear it used anymore), when a performer did an exceptionally-fantastic job, they were said to have “peed.” “I went to Leontyne’s recital last night, and honey, Miss Girl peed!” Well, that’s what I did on this occasion—but literally! I managed to get through the song all right, but due to intense stage fright, I urinated and made a puddle right there on the stage! I was too freaked out to be humiliated. If anybody was aware of my unfortunate incontinence and laughed, that didn’t bother me either. I love to make people laugh, by whatever means. (An epithet given me when I was in college is “Tifford Clownsend”) In that the thunderous applause I received undoubtedly had something to do with it, the experience must have struck something in me (despite my initial trauma), because I have been performing ever since, the end of 2018 marking 66 years in show business!

I have since gotten over any stage fright or nervousness that I may have harbored in those early years, but I do remember a few times that I “lost it” in performance. My church’s Sunday School used to assign us kiddies short verses at Easter, which we were required to memorize and then recite at the Easter Sunday service. One year I had quite an ambitious poem of several stanzas long to learn—I remember only the first two lines now, “When the stone was rolled away / On the dawn of Easter Day…”

Well, I memorized the whole thing, had it down! knew it forwards and backwards, and got up there on Sunday morning to recite it. I was doing pretty good, too, until I happened to catch someone’s eye in the congregation, and I lost all concentration. The thing went completely out of my head! I was so mortified, I don’t even remember if I ever regained my bearings. It was a while before I was able to look at any audience directly. Of course now, I love checking out specific people in the audience and playing to them when I am performing.

At my second student piano recital, I was to play “Deep River,” a lovely arrangement that my teacher, Miss Feiwell, had given me to learn, and I could play it well, too. I even had it memorized. I still play it today. When my turn came that day, I sat down at the piano, and I sat there, and sat there. I had no idea what piece I was supposed to be playing! My mind was a complete blank. Miss Feiwell finally came over and prompted me. ‘Oh!’ Once I got into it, I was fine. But that terrible moment of uncertain silence seemed an eternity.

The only time that I was physically unnerved was in high school when two schoolmates of mine and I performed a wind trio for a musical talent program held at the South Bend Unitarian Church. I had arranged “Lift Thine Eyes to the Mountains” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah for oboe, clarinet and French horn. I wasn’t emotionally nervous, at least I don’t think I was. It wasn’t the first time I had played in public. But when we got ready to play, my body began shaking all over, like I was having convulsions or something. I couldn’t understand it. Try playing a wind instrument (I was on the oboe) when you can’t keep your head or hands steady. I’m sure that I spoiled our big moment for the other guys.

Of course, it’s perfectly normal for performers to be subjected to inadvertent “brain farts” from time to time. We all have them. It happens to the best of us. For a long time now, I have overcome any performance anxiety or nervousness. I think that those feelings come primarily from insecurity and not being prepared. If one has their shit together, why should they be nervous?

Singing has been my main function in life, and not a single week has ever gone by, since I started, that I didn’t have the occasion to sing somewhere for something. Even during Basic Training, I got to sing while we were marching along to the rifle ranges and training areas. I feel I need to sing every day, even if it’s just a TV jingle or theme song. Some people equate singing with self-contentment. They sing or whistle or hum only when they are happy. I’ve been caught singing to myself in a public place, and somebody will comment, “Well, you seem happy.” ‘Do I? I’m just singing.’ I don’t need a reason to sing. That’s what I do. I can feel like shit some days, with no voice, and will still be trying to vocalize. People have been known to sing when they are deeply depressed. Haven’t they heard anyone sing the blues? I feel so fortunate to have had constant outlets for musical expression during my entire life.

You may have heard certain people claim that they have a special musical skill called “perfect pitch,” which means that they are able to discern or identify any sound frequency without any external help or reference. Well, as I tell anyone who makes such a claim, ‘Nobody’s perfect, all things being relative.’ This particular skill, and most good musicians have it, including myself, I call, more appropriately, “acute pitch memory.” When one repeatedly hears the same 12 pitches over and over, they are bound to stick in your mind at some point. I’ve been hearing them for 71 years, so I think that by now I should know what middle C sounds like. And then once a pitch has been established, you now have a reference to find any other in the tonal spectrum. I’ll be singing in a chorus and I’ll give the pitch to the next song. So the person next to me will ask, “Oh, do you have perfect pitch?” I’ll tell them, ‘No, the piece we just finished ended in D. So D is going to be the same in this piece. The pitch doesn’t change from one song to the next, you know.’ My pitch sense certainly is not perfect, by any means, but I know an A from an E, for example. When I am required to pick a pitch out of the air or guess at one, I usually don’t miss by more than a half-step.

I don’t remember the exact moment that I realized that I could actually read music, but it must have occurred sometime during my high school years, when we rehearsed from actual sheet music. I’m the type of person who learns by repetition. With music especially, I can hear a piece only a couple of times, and I know it already. I can’t do the same things over and over again without retaining knowledge of what I am doing. That’s why I can’t understand professional musicians who have entire careers without ever learning how to read music. That’s like someone deciding to become a surgeon and not bothering to study anatomy. “Oh, I’ll figure out what everything is and where as I go along.”

Singers, especially opera singers, are notorious music illiterates. And some of them will brag about it, like it’s some great accomplishment. Country picker Roy Clark announced on TV once that he couldn’t read a note and seemed proud of that fact. I thought, Well, that ain’t nothing to brag about! Hie thee to a conservatory! Prolific songwriter Irving Berlin never learned how to read music, and it’s reported that Jerry Herman and Paul McCartney still haven’t learned, after all those hit musical shows, songs and compositions that they have “written.” I can’t understand why these people can’t learn just by doing repeatedly.

My exceptional sight-reading ability, and that includes rhythmic proficiency, as well as diction, language and interpretational skills, are the reasons why I have been able to maintain constant work. Many choral jobs give a minimum of rehearsal time, so the best readers and musicians are the ones who get the gigs. Most chorus directors don’t have the time or inclination to be teaching notes to people. And for my part, I don’t have the patience. For me, one of the greatest pleasures of singing is to be able to pick up a piece of music I’ve never seen before and perform it at sight. It has gotten back to me, when someone has inquired about my sight-reading ability—”Can he read?! That Cliff can read fly shit! Get up there on the music stand and he’ll read you!” I very seldom anymore encounter music that presents any kind of serious reading challenge.

Well, yeah, I’m good, but as I said, nobody’s perfect, and I did meet my waterloo once during a live performance of Stravinsky’s Les Noces, in front of New York’s City Hall, soon after I moved here. My friend Donna Brown, who was at the time a conducting student at Juilliard, hired me as a “ringer” for the gig. She had been working with a group of young amateurs who knew the piece quite well, I thought, but Donna thought that they needed some professional help. That’s what a ringer is. We help out amateur groups who may be deficient in certain sections. I have done many ringer jobs as part of my freelance activities, because I can just come right in and sight-read the concert, if need be.

But Ms. Brown had too much confidence in me on this particular occasion. One does not just sight-read Stravinsky on no rehearsal, I don’t care how good you think you are! I had never seen, sung or even heard the piece before that day. It’s very tricky, rhythmically, with mixed meter throughout, typical Stravinsky. I got down there to the job, Donna handed me a score, and on no rehearsal, we launched right into the piece. I thought the kids were fantastic. They had obviously worked on the thing a lot and had it down pat. I’m already thinking, These kids are doing just fine. Donna doesn’t need me here. Being totally unfamiliar with the music, I promptly got lost. I’m standing there watching the notes go by—lost back! In a too-loud whisper, I asked the person next to me, ‘Where the fuck are we?!’ I hate being unprepared like that. Donna still paid me, nonetheless, and if I hadn’t needed the money so badly, I would have felt a little guilty about taking it.

A few years later Donna again hired me for a ringer job. By this time she was serving as the music director at Reverend Ike’s church in Harlem. Rev. Ike was a popular, flamboyant, though charismatic, evangelist. I learned that he just died recently, but I had not heard anything about him in a long time anyway. On this occasion he was having some big to-do one Sunday afternoon at his church, and Donna asked me to come help out her choir. This place looked more like an auditorium, as it had a curtained stage at one end. I don’t remember what they sang that day (although the music was not difficult this time), because I was rather “detached” during the singing. You see, Donna neglected to tell me what to wear to the gig, if she even knew herself.

Church choirs usually don robes or other vestments, and I had come there directly from my regular church job earlier that day, so I didn’t get to go home to change. I was not wearing a tie, which is apparently what was required. So since I was “out of uniform,” instead of standing with the choir, I was asked (not by Donna but by some other person there) to do my singing from behind the curtain, where I would not be seen! Have you ever heard of anything so idiotic? They didn’t give a hoot about my vocal contribution—I just had to be dressed properly! I felt utterly humiliated and even more, rather ticked off. That time I was glad to take the money! I think I learned my lesson that day about these impromptu, Donna Brown ringer jobs.

When people ask me what do I do and I tell them that I am a singer primarily, they will then ask, “What (or where) do you sing?” My reply is, ‘Whaddya got?’ or, ‘wherever they’ll have me.’ I’ll sing anything, and I don’t limit myself to any one type of music or to one vocal category, therefore, giving me more work opportunities. I am considered a bass-baritone by classification, but having been blessed with a very large vocal range (Bb below the bass staff to top-line F on the treble staff, on good days; that’s three-and-a-half octaves), I have, on occasion, been required to sing all the other voice parts as well.

I know some musical snobs who will tell me, “I am a soloist. I don’t do chorus.” Yeah, and you don’t work much either, do you? Singers who tell me that, I am inclined to question their musicianship, because more often than not, the reason that they don’t “do” chorus is because they can’t or find it to be too difficult. They probably can’t read or count or they haven’t learned how to sing with other people or blend for an ensemble sound. Good choral singing is not as easy as some people might think. It requires teamwork, everyone working toward a common goal. The word ensemble itself means “together,” and singing in unison (meaning, “one sound”) is especially not an easy feat. Everyone has to do the same thing at exactly the same time. Doing your own thing does not work in a chorus.

I love ensemble singing, especially acappella—that is, singing without any instrumental accompaniment. I like to rehearse, when I’m learning new music, but some conductors tend to over-rehearse, and that’s when I get annoyed. Okay, we’ve done it several times now, it sounds fabulous, let’s move on to something else…please!

My interest in acting was instilled in me at the same time as my growing passion for singing. I appeared in my first stage show when I was in first or second grade, playing a forest squirrel in a musical version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I actually wrote and starred in a little playlet as a class assignment while in 5th grade. I wasn’t so retentive about saving things in those days, so I have no tangible evidence of it. I don’t remember what the assignment was or what the play was about, I only remember having done it and that it had a “traditional family” setting.

I got to participate in practically every school show produced during my elementary and high school years. One of my favorites was The Trial of Billy Scott, a play with a court setting and an English language theme. The title character was on trial for using improper grammar. The witnesses represented the parts of speech and had such names as Addie Adjective and Adam Adverb. I enjoyed playing the Judge, at which I got to bang my gavel a lot and tell everybody to shut up.

In addition, my church operated a Theater Guild group that put on plays several times a year: Christmas and Easter pageants and a play for the summer months. I had a part in all of them as well. Some titles that I remember are: Appointment in Galilee, Barabbas, The First Supper, Simon Called Peter, Sarah and the Sax, Sure As You’re Born (in which I played a father whose teenage son turns into a girl overnight!), They Put on a Play, and one that I don’t remember the name of, in which I played a mischievous, Dennis the Menace-type character named Oswald Carpenter. I appeared in a junior-high production of Tom Sawyer, which I discuss in my blog, Racism via Show Business.

There was an adult community amateur theatrical organization called the H.T. Burleigh Company (named for the Afro-American composer) and directed by James Lewis Casady, who was also Central’s drama teacher, and Ms. Josephine Curtis, which put on occasional operas and operettas. One year, when I was about 12, they did Bizet’s Carmen (in English), and I, as well as a bunch of my homies, were cast as boy (pretend) soldiers in the children’s chorus of Act I. Carmen was my first opera, it was the first one I ever listened to on record, and it is the opera that I have performed the most times—so far, 58 performances, not counting the numerous run-through rehearsals I’ve had of it.

The other shows I did with Central’s chorus and drama club, the Barnstormers, were Carousel, The Hither and Thither of Danny Dither (a fun show), The King and I and The Mouse That Roared. I rehearsed Leave It to Jane but ultimately didn’t get to do it, because on the night of the performance, I was attending Spanish Contest in Bloomington. Poe was a production of the author’s stories and poems dramatized and/or set to music. (# Helen, thy beauty is to me like those Nicaean barks of yore… #)—and we once did a summertime revue which featured the music of Rudolf Friml.

While attending Indiana University in Bloomington, I participated in seven musicals, four of them being performed in campus banquet halls, in which we used the entire space, sort of like “theater-in-the-surround.” In addition to doing chorus in two separate productions of Camelot , I had the bit part of one of two of Morgan Le Fey’s flunky entourage, referred to collectively as her “Court.” The two of us were dressed in black leotards, and when our mistress would enter and yell “Court!” we had to scurry down ladders from the balcony at the back of the hall and then back up again when she exited the scene. One of our Morgans was played by future professional opera diva Pamela Hebert.

The choreographer for Finian’s Rainbow was Steven Gelfer (now deceased), who was in the original cast of Cats when it opened on Broadway. One of my fellow choristers in that same show was Gary Tomlin, who with me played the two Geologists. Gary went on to become a successful TV producer, director and writer for such daytime dramas as “All My Children,” “Days of Our Lives,” “General Hospital,” “One Life to Live,” “Passions” and  “Sunset Beach.”

I enjoyed doing 110 in the Shade, which is the musical version of The Rainmaker, because it had a picnic scene in which we actually got to eat real food (catered sandwiches, potato salad and other stuff) at rehearsals and every performance. I love free food wherever I can get it! I must have worked behind the scenes for The Boys from Syracuse, because although I remember the production of the show very well–the songs and all–I don’t remember actually performing in it.

The music department, employing students and faculty members, performed a major opera every single weekend of the school year. As Wagner’s Parsifal was an annual occurrence, most music students got to participate in it at least once while there. I, myself, was in the chorus one year as well as in a summer session production of his Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

During my last year there I ventured out of the Music School to do the I.U. Theater production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks, a Theatre-of-the-Absurd piece. This was my biggest role to date in a major dramatic work. I played The Governor, a pompous, character part, and I got to do an extensive monologue and even a mock dying scene! We did six performances in November-December 1968. My mother and sister made a special trip down to Bloomington to see me in it.

Partial Cast of I.U.’s production of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” (left to right: Don Saine, Thursa Crittenden, me, William Ferguson

My several jobs while I was stationed in Okinawa for 17 months (October ‘70-March ‘72), at different times, were a gate guard at a missile site, playing oboe and clarinet in the 29th Army Band and serving as the company mail clerk. My other extra curricular music activities consisted of singing (and conducting for a while) with the local Sukiran Choir and with the Okinawa Choral Society, which were made up of military personnel, resident American civilians and their spouses. For specific details, see My Combatless Tour-of-Duty.

How I got into the island’s choral scene was the night I wandered into Sukiran Chapel during a rehearsal of Bach’s Magnificat. I was sitting in the back of the church listening, then when the chorus took a break, this white man came over to where I was sitting and asked me if I sang and if I could read music. I answered ‘yes’ to both questions, and he immediately invited me to join the chorus. That is how I met Jim McGuire and got involved with the Choral Society. See what kind of person he is—so friendly and unprejudiced? I loved how he made no initial assumptions about me. I wish everybody was like that.

I actually ended up playing solo oboe in the Magnificat instead of singing in the chorus, and next when I was passed over for the bass solos in the Mozart Requiem, I ended up playing 2nd clarinet in the orchestra. When I helped get my bandmate, Bill Kreutzer, the job of conducting the Choral Society, I then got to do more solo work, and before I left the island, I got to work on Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar with them.

The Okinawa Choral Society Dancers (left to right: me, Gini Ashby, Terry Morella, Bill Clark and Connie Garza, doing the "Jingle Bells Calypso" for our Christmas concert in 1971))
The Okinawa Choral Society Dancers (left to right: me, Gini Ashby, Terry Morella, Bill Clark and Connie Garza, doing the “Jingle Bells Calypso” for our Christmas concert in 1971))

You’ve heard of beginner’s luck. For the very first show audition I ever attended in NYC, I got hired. It was for a New Jersey dinner theater production of Man of La Mancha (March-April 1973), in which I played one of the singing Muleteers. The show opens in a Spanish prison with me strumming a guitar (I did my own playing, thank you) and chanting to accompany an exotic dancer. (# Ahhh, ahhh, esta fuego, esta fuego, ahh! #) One night during the overture, while we were waiting for the curtain to go up, one of the cast members, Jim Ackerson, gave me this mock introduction. “Now appearing on the Club Bené stage, let’s give a warm New Jersey welcome to that lovely, new Flamenco singing sensation, Señorita Esta Fuego!”

I also was called upon to accompany the Muleteers with my own guitar on “Little Bird, Little Bird.” I was just learning how to play the thing and I foolhardily volunteered when the director asked if anyone played the guitar. I did, however, learn the few chords required for the song, so cast, crew and audience were none the wiser about my convincingly-deceiving beginnership.

I had so wanted to do the part of the Innkeeper. His scene includes some dialogue and a good song, during which he dubs Don Quixote “Knight of the Woeful Countenance.” But alas, somebody else got the part. This was a quite physical show for me. There were a couple of choreographed fight scenes, where I was required to do some falling and tumbling across the stage. I was young and spry in those days, so it was rather fun. Appearing in that same production with me was Nancy Lane, who went on from there to star on Broadway in the original cast of A Chorus Line. She later had a recurring role on TV‘s “Rhoda.”

The very next year and at the same place and time, I did another Finian’s Rainbow. This time I had to “jump diva” with the producers about my salary. On the day before we opened, I discovered that there were two pay scales: $50 a week for the three principles and $40 for the chorus and dancers. Isn’t that pitiful, even for then? I was being offered only $40, although I was doing chorus plus four other minor but important roles. I even had three featured solo numbers. I thought that I deserved the higher pay, as I was doing more in the show than even the one-role principles. They resisted until I threatened to quit. I told them that if they could find somebody to replace me by tomorrow night, go ahead and do it.

Of course, they couldn’t, so they realized that I had them over a barrel, and they had to pay me what I asked for. It was the principle of the thing. I knew that $10 was not going to break them, and I refused to sell myself short. One of my costars, as the other “Passion Pilgrim Gospeleer,” who performed “The Begat” with me and Senator Rawkins as a trio (it’s supposed to be a quartet), was the then-unknown Armelia McQueen, who went on to star on Broadway in the original cast of Ain’t Misbehavin’, and from there to Hollywood to work in motion pictures (Sparkle, Ghost, Bulworth) and commercials.

I have starred in two summer stock productions of Show Boat, portraying Joe (who else?). The first one, the following August 1974, was at Surflight Summer Theater in Beach Haven, New Jersey, where I received the best review of my career. Reporter Knight Cragin (whom I don’t even know and have never met) wrote in The Beachcomber, “The highest accolade of the evening must go to Cliff Townsend as Joe. What can be more beautiful than a silhouetted figure whose every muscle is engaged in producing pure, perfect sound? Mr. Townsend’s rendition of ‘Ol’ Man River,’ backed up by a surprisingly-powerful male chorus, is evidence of one of the most professional voices we have heard at the Surflight in many a year.” How about that? Surflight was owned by the same people who produced the shows at Club Bené, and as they did ask me directly to do Joe for them, I guess they hadn’t held our prior salary dispute against me.

The second time I did the show was 1982 at Genetti Dinner Playhouse in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Although it was August, I caught a terrible cold from being assigned to lodge in a cold, damp room, which caused me to lose my voice two days before the show opened. I can usually sing with a head or chest cold without it affecting my voice, as long as it doesn’t settle on my vocal cords. But that’s just what happened this time. The management did move me to a another room, but the damage had already been done. I didn’t completely get my voice back until about the second night, but I must have been good enough to merit some favorable reviews from the local papers.

“Show Boat” Cast at Genetti Playhouse in Hazelton, Pa., 1982

This time the producers of the show gave me a special “And” billing in the printed programs. You know, when they list all the cast members and then at the end, you get “…and Cliff Townsend as Joe.” I consider that quite an honor. Another actor in the cast of this production was Michael Gargiulo, who currently works as a TV news anchor on NBC. Now 35 years later with the New York Vagabonds, I was still receiving rave reviews from the masses for my rendering of “Ol’ Man River.” Of course, now that I am older, the song has more meaning for me and I can give it the proper emotional justice.

In the fall of 1974 I played in the pit orchestra for an Equity showcase musical called For the Love of Suzanne, where I quadrupled on clarinet, flute, oboe and recorder. Then a few months later (March 1975) I was the woodwind section again for a Brooklyn prep school for boys production of Damn Yankees, in which I played alto sax, clarinet, flute and recorder.

The following September I had the good fortune of being involved in a show with folksinger Oscar Brand, John Raitt (Bonnie’s dad), Jean Ritchie and Gil Robbins (Tim’s dad, who used to sing with the folk group The Highwaymen). Sing, America, Sing was a musical history of American song. It was a grand production with singing, dancing and skits, and it played for two weeks at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Among my character portrayals in the show were John Henry and Muhammad Ali. To capitalize on the upcoming Bicentennial recognition, the show was subsequently taped to be shown on PBS, and it did air several times during the next few years.

I was originally offered $500 for the broadcast, which was the fee for the dancers and ensemble, but I exerted my clout again and held out for more money when I learned that the featured players were getting $750. I was originally hired to do just ensemble, but as the show developed, and since Oscar liked my work, I was given more to do, several solos and featured spots. Again I was doing more in the show than some of the major headliners. After watching the run-through of the show for the taping, the TV folks agreed with me and decided that indeed I was entitled to the larger amount. I didn’t even mind that I didn’t receive better billing, as long as they paid me! Just show me the money! That $750 paycheck was the largest I had ever received at that time.

My own Bicentennial contribution was to be an all-black version of 1776, which I co-produced and directed with my friend Leo Warbington, as well as acted in (as Secretary Charles Thomson) and did the choral arrangements. We thought it would be a novel and revolutionary approach to have the members of the Second Continental Congress and creators of the Declaration of Independence to be played by Afro-American actors. Observing black men discussing and arguing about slavery and British tyranny really put a new perspective on freedom and our American civilization. It certainly would have made people realize the absurdity and the hypocrisy of it all.

We did put on a one-night showcase performance in June 1976, which was intended as a backers’ audition, but that’s as far as it went. It’s not that the show wasn’t any good. I think that it is a brilliant piece of work, and we had the talent and the know-how. It was that there were conflicts of interest, a lack of commitment by some and no money to pay people to do what needed to be done. But I enjoyed the experience, nonetheless. If I had the financial means, I would love to attempt it again, and do it right next time.

In September 1976 I was back at the Kennedy Center in a show produced by the U.S. Labor Department and billed as a “Bicentennial salute to the American worker in words and music.” The show was called Something To Do, and it starred Pearl Bailey, with music by Morton Gould and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh. I was in the ensemble chorus again (with Robert DeCormier at the helm), but I had some featured solo bits as well. The songs were great.

One night after rehearsal, “Pearlie Mae” invited a few of the male choristers, me included, to have a snack with her and her daughter, Dee Dee Bellson, at the Howard Johnson’s across the street from the Center. She apparently preferred the company of gay men to the women of the chorus (an apparent fag hag). We had such a grand time camping and laughing with her that night.

Alas, Pearl and Morton and Bob and Carolyn are all gone now. My major disappointment is that the show (as far as I know) was not formally recorded. I so wish we had done an “Original Cast Album” for posterity. I don’t understand why it wasn’t done. I mean, these were major composers and a major entertainer. Were they not thinking? It’s an artistic event that may be lost forever.

The Wiz (which is, of course, a reworking of The Wizard of Oz) was my first Actors’ Equity show, performed in-the-round at Westbury (Jericho, Long Island) and Valley Forge (in Devon, Pennsylvania) Music Fairs for two weeks in June 1979. That show really kept me busy. In addition to my speaking roles as Dorothy’s Uncle Henry, the Royal Gatekeeper and the Lord High Underling, I also played a Maniacal Laughing Stranger, a Quadling (one of Glinda’s escorts), a Winkie (one of Evilene’s flunkies), sang in the pit chorus (quartet, actually), turned the house during the tornado scene and served as Understudy for the Cowardly Lion! They had me running from beginning of the show until the end. I had to do eight quick costume changes.

What a fabulous show! I had so much fun playing multiple characters, allowing me to stretch my acting chops. Fortunately, I did not have to go on as the Lion during our run, as I had only one rehearsal and I was in no way prepared to do it. I wish that they had filmed the piece like it is instead of completely changing it for that abysmal 1978 movie version that Diana Ross ruined. Our Glinda was played by Ann Duquesnay, who won a Tony Award in 1996 for Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk and fellow cast members Richard Allen, Neisha Folkes, Ira Hawkins and Edward Love went on to do movie and television work. Although Westbury is still in operation, the Valley Forge venue closed its doors in 1996.

When I got the call in the late spring of 1989 to portray Daddy Warbucks in an elementary school production of Annie, I readily jumped at it. Every couple of years I feel the need to do a play. New York City Opera had satisfied my “stagelust” for the last 5 years, but that was all choral work, and I had not yet joined The Flirtations, so a chance to do a character part where I get to sing solo (and even dance somewhat!), too, was appealing to me. I didn’t know that I would be working with such rank amateurs, though—I mean the other adults involved. I don’t fault the children. Of course, they were all amateurs. But most of them behaved more professionally than some of the grownups. Principal players would come to rehearsals only when they felt like it, and even when they did deign to show up, they would be unprepared. I made every rehearsal and always had my shit together. So I stuck it out for the two performances in June, and I was pleased with my own performance. I never received a cent for all my hard work, although I initially had been promised some kind of compensation.

And, in case you are wondering, no, I did not shave my head. Why should I? I didn’t make myself white either, did I? I once attended replacement auditions for the Broadway production of Ain’t Misbehavin’. I must have somewhat impressed the producers with my audition, because they asked me afterwards if I would be willing to gain some weight in order to look more like the corpulent Ken Page, whom I would be replacing. I didn’t protest to them at the time but I thought later, Why do I have to look like Ken Page, just because he was the first one to play the part? I realized later on that Page’s characterization was supposed to be Fats Waller, who was fat. So they had wanted me to emulate Waller, not necessarily Ken Page. Now my gaining more weight would not even be an issue, as I am already there! But as it turned out, it didn’t matter anyway, because I did not get a callback.

Here is a life-imitating-art scenario. An episode of “Boston Legal” (one of my favorite TV series), had a court case where a little grade-school girl is being denied the role of Annie in her school production because she is black. Her lawyer, Alan Shore (played by James Spader), argued, “Why can’t a black child play Annie or anything else?”, especially since this girl is much better than the little white girl who is up for the same part? So now years later there really is a movie featuring a black Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) and with Jamie Foxx playing the “Warbucks” character, whose name and position have been changed to reflect modern times. I take satisfaction in that I got to do it first.

In January 1996 I did an Off-Off-Broadway, 12-performance run of Thomas Bogdan’s L’Amour Bleu, which is described as a “musical masque on gay themes.” I was one of a five-man vocal ensemble. In December 1997 I did a 12-performance run of Bob Kindred and Anne Phillips’ Bending Towards the Light—A Jazz Nativity, which has been an annual Christmas presentation since 1985. I was merely a member of the chorus this time, performing with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Tito Puente, Lew Soloff (of Blood, Sweat & Tears), Grady Tate and Clark Terry, at the Lamb’s Theater on Broadway. In December 2003 I was again hired to participate, but this time as part of the solo jazz quartet used in the show. We did it in Trenton, NJ that time.

My next recurring solo stage project (December 1999) was a modern, one-act Christmas opera entitled Elijah’s Angel and written by Robert Kapilow and Jim Friedland. In this I portrayed Elijah, a woodcarver who makes a wooden angel as a Christmas gift for his young Jewish apprentice, much to the chagrin of the boy’s orthodox grandfather. When I was first offered the part I had just one week to learn the thing (22 pages of music), but I did and, by all accounts, an exceptional job with the role. I was even asked back the next three years to do it again. I wish I had a recording of this performance as well. But thankfully, all of these jobs were for pay at least.

My friend and New York Vagabond colleague, Gabriel Raphael DeAngelo (do you think that he might be Italian-Catholic?), taught music at a high school in Westchester County, NY, and every year he would put on a musical for the community, using his school kids. In 1999 the production was The Music Man, and he asked me to participate with the show. He wanted a few professional voices to “enhance” the student chorus, and since I do like the show, I agreed to do it for him—three performances plus a dress rehearsal.

In the show are four roles for a barbershop quartet that get to do three featured numbers, and quite difficult ones at that. The first song that they do, “Sincere,” went so badly at the dress rehearsal, that Gabe was about to cut it from the show, but I talked him into letting me work with the boys before the next night’s first performance. After only a minimum amount of musical coaching from me, not only did we get the song up to performance level, but it turned out to be one of the best-received highlights of the show. They then became my personal responsibility during the run of the show. It was I that the boys came to when they had a musical question and when they wanted to rehearse their numbers. To give you some idea of the difficulty involved, here is my own Clifftones rendition of “Ice Cream / Sincere.”

In addition to singing along on the chorus numbers, I conducted the orchestra at the times when their regular conductor would be playing trombone (we were in another room, out of view of the audience). I also helped Gabe move furniture and stage props and even held the backstage curtain open for mass exits and entrances. I didn’t mind at all remaining behind the scenes on this occasion. This was their show, but they apparently appreciated my assistance and encouragement. And Gabe did pay me for my time and effort.

A few years later Gabe asked me and a few other singers to help him out with his high school production of Anything Goes. All I had to do this time was sing the little bit of chorus there is in the show. It was actually a waste of my time and their money, in my opinion, because I believe that our contribution did not add all that much. I don’t think that their performances (four this time) would have suffered at all without our input. I feel that way about many of the ringer jobs that I am called upon to do. It’s really cheating, or false advertising, if you will, when an amateur group boasts its competence and then hires professionals to augment them in performance. That says that the director does not trust his people to do an adequate, quality job by themselves. If I were these choristers, I probably would resent it. But since these ringer jobs provide a major portion of employment for me, I can’t be against them too much. When they want me, I always comply. I just take the money and run!

In August 2010 Gabe elicited my help again for a summer children’s theater production of the Arlen-Harburg The Wizard of Oz, put on by him and his choreographer wife, Francesca, and held in a high school in White Plains, NY. This time Gabe hired some friends and me to work behind the scenes as the stage crew for the show. We had to move sets and props, raise and lower backdrops, and then strike everything when it was over. The cast was made up of teens and tweens, all girls, except for one boy who played the Wizard and Professor Marvel. The kids all did a good job. They danced well and knew their lines.

In February and March of 2001 I was involved with a different kind of theatrical production. It is called Wayang Esther: A Javanese Purimspiel, which is an operetta by Barbara Benary that uses shadow puppets and gamelan music to retell the Book of Esther, which recounts the basis of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The format of wayang kulit is an ancient theater tradition of Java, in which ornately carved, flat leather puppets are used to tell stories as well as to entertain. Gamelans, by the way, are exotic-sounding, makeshift metallic percussion instruments, which are played with mallets. This time I got to play the evil villain of the piece, Haman, who, as the King’s (Ahasueros) Prime Minister, went behind the King’s back and ordered the elimination of all the Jews in the empire, not knowing or caring that Queen Esther was also a Jewess herself. So Hitler was not the first with a similar mission. But unlike Hitler, Haman’s genocide plot was thwarted before he was able to carry it out.

In addition to Haman, I also did the character part of one of two Conspirators who plots to murder the King, and I was part of the solo quartet that performed all the chorus numbers. It was not required that we memorize the play, as we merely provided the voices for the puppets. But I still had to act and use different voices for my characters. We did eight performances at a tiny theater in Tribeca (a neighborhood in lower Manhattan) and one more in Rockland County.

One year later, in late January 2002, I inadvertently became involved with a semi-professional, Mystery Dinner Theatre production of The Reunion at Bonnell High, a musical play put on by the Theatre Fellowship of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. In the play, Bonnell High School’s beloved music teacher, Norman Conway, has recently fallen to his death from the campus bell tower. Was it suicide, or was he pushed? The many suspects are all gathered at the school’s alumni reunion, where over dinner the audience members discern clues by which to solve the mystery, the winners receiving a prize. The reunion dinner serves as a tribute to the dear, departed Norman, at which his colleagues and students perform musical numbers while they discuss among themselves what might have happened to him.

The playwright and director, Beth Kuhn, with whom I have worked in the past, asked me to arrange the song “(You Gotta Have) Heart” from Damn Yankees for acappella quartet, to be sung in the show. I did a rush (but quite adequate) job on the arrangement, but it turned out that they didn’t have a bass to sing the bottom part. So I agreed to come in at the last minute to sing the part myself. There were three performances of the show, but I could not do the last one because of a prior (for pay) engagement in Connecticut.

In December 1986 I got involved with a for-fun jazz chorus, directed by composer-arranger Ned Paul Ginsberg. We met once a week to read through Ned’s vocal jazz charts. That is where I met Michael Callen, my Flirtations colleague, for the first time. One whole year later we finally got to perform, as the New York Singers’ Orchestra. The group disbanded immediately after, which is just as well, because I was quitting anyway. I decided that a year of my time for no pay was all they were going to get from me.

But Ned and I did not lose contact over the years. He once hired me to record a demo for a song that he wrote, and in August 2007 he called me again to see if I would be interested to work on his new project, a musical entitled Boynton Beach Club, which is based on the 2006 movie of the same name (lyrics by Michael Colby). It’s about a senior citizens community in South Florida and deals with love, dating, sex, loss and friendship. The show contains some decent, tuneful songs. Ned had us audition some numbers for Susan Seidelman, the writer and director of the film, who was interested in directing the musical version as well. Even a demo recording was made of some of the songs, and one of them, “Dirty Old Men,” features five male characters, all in their sixties, who speak of themselves in lecherous terms as they ogle a young, female nude model whom the men are sketching during a weekly art class.

Some months later I ran into Ned at the grocery store (he lives in my neighborhood) and he asked me if I had ever done any acting (well, duh!) and would I be interested in repeating the part of Milton (one of the lead character’s wise-cracking, card-playing buddies) in his show, as the project was still on and progressing. I told him, ’Yeah, sure!’ and he said that I would be hearing from him about it.

Well, when I received an e-mail from Ned with the cast breakdown, I was totally floored! Among the names on the list were Robert Cuccioli (who starred on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde and Les Miserables), Ernestine Jackson (Guys and Dolls and Raisin), Donna McKechnie (Promises, Promises and A Chorus Line) and Karen Ziemba (Steel Pier and Curtains). By going after reputable veterans of Broadway musicals, they must be serious about this thing!

In June 2008 we did a semi-staged reading of the entire show for an invited audience of prospective producers, backers and other interested parties. I had very few spoken lines but I had several solo bits in six of the songs. Alas, Karen Ziemba, who had a leading part in the play, got sick just before the performance and had to be replaced. Among those who attended the reading were Len Cariou, who starred in the film version and Merle Louise, the original Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd on Broadway. During rehearsals I got to chat with Ms. McKechnie at length. She looked fabulous and still sounded good.

The next year I got a call from Ned that they were doing another showcase of the show and he was hoping I would repeat my role. But first I must audition for the new director for his approval. Alas, Gabriel Barre decided to go with somebody else instead of me. His lame excuse was that I don’t have enough acting experience. What, he doesn’t consider 57 years enough?! If he didn’t want me, why didn’t he just say that? Why do people have to make up stuff, thinking that they are sparing my feelings? Just be honest. Ned, at least, was disappointed that he didn’t use me, when it turned out that my replacement was not so good. I did attend the performance and I quite agree. This guy was not as good as I am, and I would admit it if he had been. I don’t regret it that much, though, because at least I got to be in the original production with all those Broadway stars.

But it wasn’t over yet. Ned contacted me again at the first of 2011 to hire me for another reading of the show (with revisions) and a trimmed down cast, which required us to play multiple parts. We did the reading in February, in a rented rehearsal studio with an invited audience of prospective backers. And a year later we did the show yet again, but in Florida! We were flown there and back and did four performances in a real theatre in Lake Worth. This time out I got to work with Alan Campbell (who starred in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway with Glenn Close, Betty Buckley and Elaine Page), Heather MacRae (daughter of Gordon and Sheila), and Nora Mae Lyng and Barbara Walsh (from Forbidden Broadway). I was paid each time, too. We’re still hoping for a staged production some day on Broadway, perhaps, or even Off-.

In 2010 I was pleased to be offered the lead role in a non-theatrical but semi-staged production of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Lost in the Stars, which is a musical version of Alan Paton’s novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. I played a South African preacher who discovers that his errant son has shot and killed a white man, who happens to be the son of an acquaintance of his. I had four solo songs to sing in the show and we included enough of the dialogue to tell the story and to set up the musical numbers. This one-performance event took place on Father‘s Day in June 2010 in a church, with piano accompaniment and their amateur Community Chorus to provide the choral ensemble. This role was an appropriate fit for me. I was even the right age for the character, and the songs I got to do showed off my baritone voice. The pay was pretty good, too, for the minimum amount of rehearsals I was asked to attend.

The same ensemble decided to do the same show again in June 2013, but I wasn’t asked back to do it again. They had money to hire an orchestra this time. I attended the performance out of curiosity about my replacement. This guy, too, was not as good as I think I was, and several people connected with the prior production told me as much and told me how much they missed me. It was explained to me that politics was involved, and the people who were funding the project wanted Gregory Sheppard specifically to do the part. I didn’t mind all that much. I got to do it before, and I was spared the extra work required, as the dialogue scenes this time had to be memorized.

I got to act in a few straight plays, too, here in the City (and I do mean “straight”!). The first was a set of three original one-act plays (all dealing with death) with an all-male cast by T.J. Camp III, collectively called Habitués. The first play, Shark, consists of six characters, and I had a starring role as a golf caddy at a restricted country club. The play ends with the murder of one of us–not me. But I wasn’t the killer either.

In the second, The Return of Captain D.B. Amatucci, I had to play a corpse. I was really serving as a human prop, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do on stage. The 30-minute play is set in an Army morgue in Vietnam. Every night I had to lie on a table, butt naked (although the director had the good taste to cover me, except my head, with a sheet), in full view of the audience for the entire duration of the play, while the action went on around me. I had to keep my breathing indiscernible, and I couldn’t cough or scratch or anything. It was sheer agony. I have the greatest admiration for those people who can play living statues.

The third play, Fit for Consumption, is about three men trapped in a coal mine and contemplating eventual cannibalism in order to stay alive, while the rest of the cast members, me included, served as the wall of the mine. Dressed all in black, all we had to do was stand there on a dark stage. You know, it’s harder not doing something than it is to do something. I was in two productions of Habitués (for no pay) in two different Manhattan theaters (November 1973 and March 1974).

I did not get paid either for The Left-Hand Mirror by William McQueen, my first Broadway show, which played only four performances in 1977 at the now-demolished Bijou Theater. In this piece I was required to seduce and make out with a sexy woman at a party. That was really a stretch for me!

I got into the opera chorus scene in 1976, where I have been introduced to new and obscure works as well as the old standards. To date, I have performed 63 different operas from A to Z (Abelard and Heloise to Die Zauberflöte) with 31 different opera and dance companies. For those interested in which ones, I have listed them all at the end of this article. I did 7 seasons with the New York City Opera Associate Chorus (at Lincoln Center), 7 seasons with the New Jersey State Opera (in Newark) and 8 seasons with the New York Grand Opera, which performed in Central Park in the summertime. Other companies operated out of Hackensack, NJ and Stamford, Conn.

The operas in which I have had solo bits are Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, in which I played the Page twice and understudied King Balthazar another time. I did Parson Alltalk in a concert performance of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha in Morristown, NJ. I got to do both the Customhouse Sergeant and the Customhouse Officer in two productions of Puccini’s La Boheme in Central Park. In La Contessa dei Vampiri by David Clenny (a schoolmate of mine at I.U.), I sang the role of an Italian vampire! I did a semi-staged, concert performance of Puccini’s rarely-produced second opera, Edgar, in which I sang the small role of Gualtiero plus soli chorus.

I first appeared on the Metropolitan Opera stage on Christmas Eve 1975, when, due to a shortage of supers (non-vocal extras), I was asked to fill in at that night’s performance of…wouldn’t you know it!—Carmen. All I was required to do was to walk across the stage during the parade scene in the last act, but I was given shoes that didn’t fit, and they wouldn’t stay on my feet. I pretty much hobbled out on the stage, dragging my shoes across with me.

I didn’t make my official singing debut at the Met until July 1984, when I appeared there with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, performing (in the chorus) their most popular work, Revelations, which is a set of traditional spirituals set to dance, and that I got to do for many years. That same weekend I also debuted at NY City Opera in The Magic Flute.

The production that I enjoyed doing the most at NYCO was Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, which we did in two separate seasons. It was quite a physical show for the chorus, which I liked. There was choreography for us, dancing, fighting, cavorting in a brothel, and a great auction scene where we all took on characters and actually got to act. The sets and costumes were fabulous and very stylized. I had to wear whiteface makeup, with black or red lips, and a picture taken of me in my getup appeared with a review in New York magazine.

Appearing in The Rake's Progress at NYCO
Appearing in The Rake’s Progress at NYCO

I once did, what I call an “instant Aida” because it was a major production with large chorus and orchestra, the works, performed with no rehearsal whatsoever! I was called on the phone, told the when and where, and we all showed up at the theater on the night of the performance and did it. We were fitted for our costumes right there on the spot. The director gathered us all on stage just before the curtain arose on each act and gave us our blocking. I was amazed at how well it all turned out.

Another scheduled big production of Aida in New Jersey never happened. It was to be done in a stadium with a “cast of thousands,” live animals (even elephants) and everything. But before we even began rehearsals, I was contacted that the show had been cancelled, and since we had committed ourselves to this production, turning down other work that may have come along at the same time, our union insisted that we be paid anyway. It was the biggest check I ever received for doing absolutely nothing! I did feel justified, however, because that money made up for some of the professional singing jobs I have done over the years that I didn’t get paid for but should have (like the aforementioned Annie, for instance!).

Another time that some people wasted some money (well, I didn’t waste it!) was when I was hired as a ringer for a minor opera company out of New Jersey to sing chorus and a bit solo part in La Boheme. There were two separate productions in different places, but under the same auspices. I was offered a fee of $300 for 3 rehearsals and a staged performance, which I accepted, although I believe that their amateur chorus would have done just as well without me. Four trips to Harrison, NY was not so bad, and I got a ride each time. When it was time for the second show, two weeks later, in Bayville, South Jersey, I was paid an extra $50 to sing just one word in the third act! I didn’t have to do chorus or anything else.

There are three bit solo parts for bass in the 3rd Act (six short lines altogether) of a Tollgate Official, a Customs Officer and a Sergeant, which, if necessary for economy’s sake, all can easily be done by one person, as I have done myself on earlier occasions. So they hired another guy, probably for the same fee, with which to share these few lines. Darren Stokes, the other singer, got the larger share, and I was left with a single one-word line (#Vuoto.#–Empty). This was a waste of money, in my opinion, as he or I alone could have done it all, if not me, then he. But, hey! If they want to spend their money unnecessarily, I will just take it, and run. However, since it took 9 hours out of my life to do that one word, with the travel and the waiting around, I think my time is worth more than fifty dollars. On numerous occasions I have certainly made more money in a shorter length of time.

But then I sometimes get conned into doing more work for less money. In 2017 I got asked by a colleague to sing bass in the small chorus of a semi-staged, abridged, summer production of Treemonisha. As I wasn’t doing anything else at the time, I agreed to be a part of it. The fee offered was $300, which already seemed ridiculously low for the time and work involved. The four trips I had to make to Newark, NJ were for three rehearsals and a performance, transportation costs not included. But then they tacked on another show, Nat Turner to be done a couple of weeks later, which required several more rehearsals and trips out to New Jersey. I then learned that the $300 fee was for the whole shebang, not just for the Treemonisha. That means that the first opera paid only $150 by itself. I considered it an insult that they would even ask me to work for mere peanuts, and I only went through with it because I had made the commitment. I was not obligated to do Nat Turner, however, so I gracefully did bow out before rehearsals began.

I sometimes rationalize that any amount of money is better than none, but I also have to draw the line and not sell myself too cheaply. I figured out that the time and commitment that I put in for Treemonisha came to just $5.47 an hour. I have set my absolute minimum wage at $10 an hour, and if you can’t manage even that, then don’t call me. I would rather not work at all than be disrespected like that. I have more than earned my dues, and I should be paid accordingly for my time, expertise, experience and worth.

My most recent singing gig was in August 2018, when I was asked to participate in a world premiere choral experience. The piece is called In the Name of the Earth and was composed by John Luther Adams. The acappella chorus comprised of four separate choirs, about 600 singers in all, and the text was to celebrate North America with geographical place names. The work also employs sound effects of wind, waves, bells tinkling and rocks tapping. The piece was intended to be performed in Central Park in the great outdoors, but it rained on the day of the performance and had to be moved inside to St. John the “Unfinished” (the Divine). From what I could tell, the singing was glorious, but the music itself left something to be desired. It was redundant and repetitious. A friend of mine who attended, later told me that he had finally discovered a form of music that he hates even more than rap. I was in no position to disagree with him.

Although I did audition for the Met opera chorus several times, I never got in. I was so sure that Porgy and Bess would be my way into the Company, and I think I did a good audition, too, but they still didn’t hire me. David Stivender, the chorus master at the time, just didn’t like me, for some reason.  I realize now that life had other plans for me.  If I had gotten into the Met chorus back then, I might still be there. That job is a commitment. It’s like being in a Broadway show.  It doesn’t allow any time to do anything else but that.  It pays so well that people don’t want to leave, and it’s good employment security.  So while I’m tied down to the Met, I would not have been available for the New York Vagabonds, for one thing, when it came along, and I would have missed out on all those fabulous cruises that I got to go on, which was a new experience for me, versus something that I had been doing for many years before, that is, opera chorus. So you see, things happen for a reason.  It’s like when Jennifer Hudson got eliminated early from the “American Idol” competition.  If she had won, her career would have taken a different path and she probably would have missed out on Dreamgirls, which earned her an Oscar.  

All during my 15 years doing opera chorus, I was very conscientious about learning my parts. I would write out all my lyrics and memorize them (most of them were in foreign languages), and then make a practice audio cassette tape to sing along with. But about the same time I was beginning to get busy with The Flirtations (in 1990), I found that I wasn’t enjoying the grind so much anymore.

The last show I did at NYCO was Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, which was very difficult to learn and quite tedious. Then soon after, I agreed to do Verdi’s I Lombardi at New Jersey State Opera, which had a lot of chorus, was very wordy, and I did not completely learn it either. And although I loved the music, I was not enjoying the experience. So it was then that I decided it was time to hang up my jock. I no longer have the inclination or patience to learn new operas. Besides, even before I quit, my opera assignments were getting to be more and more scarce. For my second season there I was given 6 shows and 45 performances. For my last season I was given only two shows and 14 performances.

When I do operas now, they are usually concert versions, which I don’t have to memorize, or one that I already know so well and requires a minimum amount of preparation, like Carmen or Aida, for example. So The Flirtations had come along just at the right time. When that job was over, people asked me if I would be going back to City Opera. I told them, ‘No, I’ve had it with that whole scene. Been there, done that.’ As it turned out, it would have been only temporary anyway, as the company did not survive subsequent new management.

My Steamboat Gothic colleagues, Leo and Phil, often would amuse ourselves when we were together by reading through vocal trios of various styles and periods. Several we committed to memory and would perform them extemporaneously at parties and other social gatherings. We had a campy parting song that we loved to do whenever the three of us were in the same place and ready to leave together. It’s the Three Ladies’ Trio from Act I of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It proved to be quite the crowd pleaser every time that we did it. Now that both Leo and Phil are dead, I thought I would never hear it again. But since one monkey (and not even two) don’t stop the show, I realized that I don’t need those guys. I can do it myself. And did! So here it is. Have a listen.

(# Mister Sandman, would you believe, we want a superman like Christopher Reeve?… #) Here is a celebrity anecdote that involves me. It was a thrill for the Flirtations actually to get to sing the previous lyric to actor Christopher Reeve himself when he emceed an AIDS benefit concert at Manhattan Plaza apartment complex right here in New York in March 1992. Of course, this was before his fatal injury. I was watching him when we sang the line, and he was visibly taken aback and clutched his pearls in surprise. After our set, Christopher told the audience that he was flattered and “I don’t think that I’ve ever been honored quite like that in a song before,” he said. I yelled from backstage, ‘Oh, honey, I’ll bet you have!’

I got to meet and chat with Christopher later at the reception, and I noticed a young woman who I didn’t know nearby in the room with us and assumed that she was there with Christopher. Some years before I remember reading about Christopher’s longtime involvement with a woman named Gay Exton. I didn’t know that that relationship had ended. I mean, who can keep up with these movie stars?! So I turned to this young woman, who was standing quietly by, and asked her, ‘Are you Gay?’ She was naturally confused and not too pleased by my question, but Christopher, understanding my query and attempt at a pun, explained that he was no longer with Ms. Exton and that this was his new wife, Dana. I apologized, but they both assured me that no offense was taken. I found them both to be quite charming. I’m sorry that I never got to see either of them again before they died. But I did manage to get a picture of Chris and me together (sorta).

Me only partially with Christopher Reeve
Me only partially with Christopher Reeve

(# …Give him two legs like Greg Louganis, but make him public about his gayness… #) Thus went another line in our version of “Mister Sandman.” But when Greg did come out publicly during the Gay Games IV in 1994, we changed the line to, # …a jock who’s public about his gayness… #. We sang this song when we appeared on the gay variety TV show “In the Life.” When the show aired in Chicago in November 1992, before the line change, we learned that the names Louganis and Reeve were actually deleted from the soundtrack (as if nobody would be able to fill in the appropriate rhymes themselves)!

According to Bruce Marcus, the senior vice president of corporate marketing and communications for Chicago’s PBS station, WTTW, “Having those names in there we felt was an implication that the two individuals are gay, and we have no information with regard to that one way or another, and we felt it was an improper format to do that.” Come on! How is that implying anything of the sort? We are just saying that we want a man like those people. If we had said that we’d like a muscleman like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, that wouldn’t be implying that Arnold is gay.

I think that this Marcus guy is the one making the implication, not us. Just because he doesn’t have any information regarding such, doesn’t mean that we don’t. And since it was all right with Christopher himself when we did it, and Greg is, in fact, openly gay, who were they protecting? How dare they do that to us! We were furious. See my article on Censorship for more senseless and absurd instances of censoring.

Several years after my meeting Joan Rivers at Town Hall when I was with The Flirtations, I got to spend some time with her again in March 1999, at her NYC triplex apartment, no less! Joan was throwing a birthday dinner party for a large group of her non-celebrity friends, on the night before she was to leave for a trip to Alaska, and she requested a male quartet to entertain her guests. How did I get the job? I have connections and know the right people. Actually, it was through Gabe DeAngelo. He is the one with the right connections, apparently.

We were not yet officially the New York Vagabonds, but we all eventually became so years later. The four of us (Gabe, Joseph DeVaughn, Mark Wolff and I) dressed as “lumberjacks,” and in addition to “Happy Birthday,” we sang three snowy, winter-related songs: “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” “Winter Wonderland” and my arrangement of “The Sleigh.” Joan was very gracious to us, and she looked “mahvelous”! Joan is one of those who looked better in person than on TV. She took a picture with all of us, signed my copy of her book, Enter Laughing, and I gave her my solo CD as a gift.

Pre-Vagabonds with the late Joan Rivers

During my career I have performed with 193 vocal ensembles to date, amateur and professional, many being for no pay or just for fun. During my early years in NYC, I sang with a mixed acappella madrigal quartet called Sweet Harmony. Mary Ann Fleming Bleeker was our soprano, Rae Anderson, alto, Leo on tenor and me on bass. We used to sing on the streets in Greenwich Village during the days before “buskering” became fashionable, and would often be reprimanded or even run off by the local cops on the beat, but it was great fun. The acappella West Side Singers used to meet once a week at each other’s places to read through pop standard arrangements that members of the group would contribute.

Me with Sweet Harmony (left to right: Leo Warbington, Rae Anderson and Mary Ann Fleming Bleeker)
Me with Sweet Harmony (left to right: Leo Warbington, Rae Anderson and Mary Ann Fleming Bleeker)

In more recent years I was involved with a similar situation, only this semi-amateur group (they still don’t have an official name) is hosted by Jacques Rizzo, who arranges vocal jazz charts to read through, once a month when they meet. All-in-a-Chord, another mixed reading group, never got around to performing in public, but tried to meet almost every week, when it was convenient for us. I sang with the New York Vocal Jazz Ensemble (aka Vocal Jazz Incorporated), which was once auctioned off as part of a Public Broadcasting station’s (NY’s Channel 13) fundraiser. We were used to entertain at Lucy Townsend’s (some white child) birthday party in Rye, NY.

I sang with the Triad Chorale (I still refer to it as the “Tired Chorale”) for several years until its eventual demise. I have performed with New York’s Ensemble for Early Music, the acappella male quintet constituency. I’ve sung with various “Choral Societies” around the City as a ringer mostly, and as an adult, with the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Brooklyn Boys Chorus and the Newark Boys Chorus. I’ve helped out friends with their own groups, too, over the years for no pay (but sometimes I got paid). These include Leo’s New World Singers (which became the Whitney Chorale, later changed to NY Vocal Repertory Association to NY Vocal Spectrum), Susan Glass’ Glass Menagerie, Patricia Rogers’ Classical Productions and Joseph DeVaughn’s Fifth Avenue Gospel Singers (or FAGS, for short).

One aspect of my vocal career that has remained consistent is singing in church choirs. Ever since my high school years until the present day, there has always been a “church job” available to me. I sang for years, for no pay, in the Pilgrim Baptist Church Senior and Youth Choirs in South Bend until I went away to college. My mother and grandfather, Mark Amos, were also members of the Senior Choir, so it was sort of a family affair with us. Mama even directed the youth choir for a while! As a young man, Papa Mark sang with his own male quartet, The Harmony Four, for several years.

My first paying (church) job was a solo position in a local Protestant church in Bloomington. I also soloed at various base chapels on Okinawa, which were basically non-denominational, in addition to my regular Sukiran Choir gig. Fortunately, with NYC having so many places of worship and the financial means to pay for musicians, I have been able to supplement my income in this way even when there was nothing else going on for me. As a regular or as a sub, I have experienced services of all sorts of denominations—Protestant (a Baptist church in Harlem, Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Unitarian), Roman Catholic and Jewish. I even did a Greek Orthodox service in Passaic, New Jersey once, which was conducted entirely in Greek. I found the music to be quite tedious.

I held my choir position at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea (a High Episcopal parish) the longest, about 25 years altogether. I first went there in 1982 when my friend Frank Santo became the choirmaster and stayed until he died in 1992. I didn’t care for his successor, Donald Joyce, so I quit for several years. But when Donald died in 1998 and my friend David Hurd took over, I went back again and remained there until May 2013 when the church music budget was depleted and the professional choir was discontinued. David is a first-rate musician, and the choir was quite exceptional, even though half of the 14-member ensemble were volunteers and didn’t get paid. They all were fine readers, and the music we did was quite varied and often challenging. Since David is an accomplished and quite prolific composer himself, he got the chance to showcase his own works often.

During the same weekend one year, I got to play both Radio City Music Hall and the Main Assembly Hall of the United Nations Building. The occasion was working with Italian film composer/conductor, Ennio Morricone. He needed a chorus to sing some of his vocal compositions, and I got the gig.

I have done solo turns in major choral works, sometimes with full orchestra, including several Bach Cantatas, Brahms and Fauré Requiems, Dvorak Mass in D, Dubois’ The Seven Last Words of Christ, many Messiahs, the Saint-Saëns Christmas Oratorio, and I have performed several different musical settings (including Bach’s) of the St. John Passion, portraying Jesus. On Good Friday of 2003 (and it was a good one, for I sang four services, at three different churches, and earned $480 in one day!) I had the honor to perform “Were You There” acappella at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before a packed audience. Although it is never done, due to the solemnity of the service, I received an enthusiastic applause anyway, when I had finished. It was even taped and televised, and I was called back the very next year to do it again.

During the Jewish High Holy Days in 1981, I was hired to serve as Cantor at the Yom Kippur service for the Jewish community of Fire Island! A friend of mine got me the job, and I accepted without really thinking about it. In those days I couldn’t afford to turn down any work. But in the midst of the service, I became very self-conscious and felt so out-of-place. The people there were nice enough, and I did a good job. They even complimented me on my “impeccable Hebrew.” But I remember thinking, What am I doing here?! You mean that they couldn’t find anybody else to do this service besides me?! And then they didn’t pay me right away. I didn’t even have enough money to get home. My return train ticket on the Long Island Railroad took me only partway, so I hid in the restroom from the conductor until we got to Jamaica, Queens, where, with my one token, I got the subway for the rest of the way.

Of all the jobs that I have had, I have never had to yell to my boss, ‘I quit!’ and none of them has ever told me to my face, “You’re fired!” I guess I or they have not done anything that terrible to demand it. However, I have been let go, laid off, terminated, transferred or reassigned from one job to the next, and some positions I did leave on my own. Okay, so I suppose I was fired from the Flirtations, but they didn‘t really say the words. But it has worked out all my life that every job that I have ever lost, I didn’t regret it because they always led to something better or at least as good. Under normal circumstances, if you quit or get fired from a job, it only means that someone is not entirely happy with your performance. No need to fret, this just frees you to pursue other interests. To me, no job is worth enduring just because it pays well, if I don’t like what I’m doing. My sanity and peace of mind are much more important to me.

Since I have lived in NYC, I have been fortunate enough always to maintain freelance employment. That means not being tied down to one particular job or employer, but rather free to take many jobs as they occur. In the case of freelancers, employers don’t have to fire you. If they don’t like your work or no longer require your services, they just don’t ask you back or call you again. I try not to take it personally when that happens. They must have their reasons, and I don’t question them. I don’t have to plan “vacation time,” for I can take off whenever I want to, as long as it doesn’t interfere with current gig obligations. After so long a time now, I would not have it any other way. I love the variety of being able to do many things, instead of the drudgery of a routine everyday job. And I have done it all without the services of a personal agent or manager.

Amazingly, I have never had to resort to a regular “9 to 5”-type office job, for example. I came mighty close several times, when things got so bad I thought I would finally have to go out and get myself a “real job,” but then a tour or show would come along just in time and get me over the slump. Like the time I applied for a job at ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) as a song monitor. That’s where I would have listened to the radio all day and make note of the music played so that each composer can receive royalties for the airplay of their songs.

For the job, I was tested for my musical knowledge by playing “Name That Tune.” I had to listen to an instrumental tape and identify the songs on it. There must have been 100 songs on there. I missed only a couple. I didn’t get them wrong, I just didn’t know them. They must have been impressed that I knew the titles of that many songs, and they were about to hire me for that position until they found out that I was an errant actor/musician still making the rounds. I understood that they wanted somebody full time who was going to be around indefinitely, and they knew that when I got a show or a tour, I’d be out of there. As it turned out, I did get a tour very soon after that.

In addition to the organ maintenance work I did occasionally, I also worked for a short while as an carpenter’s assistant. Two of Fintan’s regular clients were singer Paul Simon and his manager, whose name I don’t remember. When the manager guy bought an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Fintan and his crew were hired to fix up the place for habitation. I must not have had any pressing engagements at the time, so Fintan gave me a job working with him. I plastered and painted walls, laid floor tiles, swept and cleaned. I don’t mind good, hard work for short periods. In fact, I rather enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t like to do it as a life’s career.

I was once asked (in July 1983) by the then rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles, where I was employed at the time, to go clean the Chelsea apartment of one of their elderly parishioners (an old white lady) whose daughter had been neglecting her for some time. Why am I so nice? I agreed to do it as a favor to Randy, and he did offer to pay me. I soon found out why he asked me—because he and none of his staff wanted to do it, not even her own daughter! Chile, that was the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest place I had ever been in! The old woman was sick, probably senile, and could no longer take care of herself, so nothing had been done in there for many weeks, maybe months.

First of all, the roaches had taken over the place! There was discarded trash and garbage everywhere. There were unwashed dishes and pots in the sink. The old lady was literally lying around in the squalor. Where were Kim and Aggie (the two English clean queens from “How Clean Is Your House?”) when I needed them? With much disgust I tried to do as much as I could. I, at least, got rid of the trash and straightened the place up a bit. When I left there, I made it quite clear to Randy that I would be forever unavailable for any similar requests in the future. I don’t mind doing my own housework. In fact, I prefer it, and I never let things get that bad.  But I don’t like to clean up after other folks.  A charwoman for hire I am not!

It was during this same period that I found myself often wallowing in self-pity, telling myself that I was doomed to be poor all my life and would never have enough money to live comfortably. But my friend, Eilif, helped to remind me of the power of positive (and even negative) thinking. If I had kept telling myself that I would never amount to anything in life, then of course, I never would have. I used to have a sick, secret fantasy to spend some time in prison where I would be gangbanged by a bunch of brutish men. But Eilif wisely advised me to put that thought out of my head once and for all, because if I dwelled on it long enough, I somehow would make it come about.  Conversely, if I set positive goals for myself, I could make those come to pass as well.  Of course, he was right on both counts.

I was receiving other cosmic messages about the same time. I randomly picked a particular fortune cookie one day, after a Chinese meal, that rendered this prophetic message: “Your problem lies not in a lack of ability but in a lack of ambition.”  Ooh, a fortune cookie throwing shade!  It was then and there that I decided to clean up my act and get my shit together.

My whole life turned around for the better when I auditioned and became gainfully employed at City Opera in 1984.  It was the first job since I moved here that garnered a regular weekly paycheck, which allowed me to build a savings account.  That led to my five-and-a-half-years association with The Flirtations.  I did not have any more serious financial worries until some years ago when work became scarce for a while and I had depleted most of my savings.

To date, there are at least 160 commercial recordings, that I know about (long-playing records, cassette tapes and compact discs, some on the market and some out-of-circulation), as well as self-produced, homemade recordings on which my voice appears.  You can find me on Bette Midler’s 1976 release, Songs for the New Depression, singing backup on the “Tragedy” cut.  I’m singing (in the chorus) with Grace Bumbry and Placido Domingo on Eve Queler’s recording of Massenet’s Le Cid and on the 1981 remake of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s opera, Four Saints in Three Acts (I even have a few solo lines as St. Jan—# …Saint Settlement aroused by the recall of Amsterdam…Saint Genevieve meant with it all… #).  Don’t try to make any sense of that.  It’s Stein after all.  i doubt if she even knew what it means.  Actually, I was in two separate productions of the opera.  The recording we did was the result of the concert performance at Carnegie Hall, but then a couple of years later I did a staged production at a public school auditorium on the East Side.

I am on the well-received Missa Gaia/Earth Mass with the Paul Winter Consort and the Berlioz “Tedium” (aka Te Deum) with the Voices of Ascension (both of which were recorded live in concert at the Cathedral of St. John “the Unfinished”). I’m doing chorus on Johannes Somary’s ’Tedium’ [Te Deum] for the Millennium, James Adler’s Memento Mori: An AIDS Requiem and Andrew Imbrie’s Requiem with the Riverside Symphony. I am on an album of cat songs with Garrison Keillor and Fredericka von Stade (which did not sell too well and is already out-of-print), as well as four others with the Robert DeCormier Singers.

I participated on a new recording of Revelations for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and did backup chorus on Roberto Sierra’s Bayoan. Arthur Sjogren’s Pro Arte Singers concerts are all recorded as are those of The Glass Menagerie, and I appear on five and ten of them, respectively, to date. I am also in the chorus of tenor Peter Buchi’s An American Voice, an album of Americana and patriotic songs.

I have made independently-produced recordings as well, including two with the Singing Hoosiers, one with the Choral Society of Okinawa, two with The Flirtations, as well as six various compilation albums on which the Flirts appear, including a children’s album on which we perform “The Three Little Pigs.” I was the Wolf. (# “…Now listen here, you House of Ham, I’m gonna turn you into Spam!…” #)

Stars of the Streets is an album featuring NYC street musicians, on which Steamboat Gothic does one song (“Vive l’Amour,” our theme song). It was recorded under the arch in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The New York Vagabonds have one album of our own, plus appearances on a couple of others. Avant garde composers/musicians Lisa Karrer and David Simons’ used me on their chamber opera recording of The Birth of George, and I participated on a fundraiser CD for the Sinai Free Synagogue, at which I sang for five years in a row for their High Holy Day services.

I have also participated, in a solo capacity, in recording sessions of whose results I am not entirely sure about.  I’ve worked with Tom Chapin (Harry’s brother) on a children’s album, with the Tom Limbaugh Band, with Phillip Johnston on his The Dream Detective demo, on which I am featured on eight out of the twelve tracks, a demo recording for Barbara Benary’s Wayang Esther, and several sessions with the Gregg Smith Singers, some of which made it onto discs, including live concerts and the world premiere of Dmitri Tymoczko’s (a composition professor at Princeton University) The Agony of Modern Music.

Composer-pianist Paul Bogaev’s setting of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for chorus was recorded by a group of professional studio singers, and we were hoping that the song would be included as an extra bonus feature on the DVD of Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), but I have no knowledge that it is. In 2004 I was hired by Dan Goggin, the composer of the smash musical Nunsense, to record a Traditional Latin Mass that he had written, with a small chorus. Recently Ned Ginsberg hired me again to record some songs that he had arranged for solo male singer and chorus. The 12 songs were based on Biblical characters. (# …Ruth made a choice to stand loyal and true… #)

I was one of a solo quartet who recorded a song {“Rebecca”) for Dominican composer/guitarist, Ricardo Gautreau.  Several of the Collegiate Chorale’s Verbier concerts are out on CD release, as well as the Bach/Bloch performance we did in Israel. Plus, there are at least 80 other music videos (including YouTube), tapes, radio and TV broadcasts and recorded concerts on which I have appeared.

But my proudest vocal achievement is my self-produced solo album entitled Out Here On My Own, which was released on December 15, 1994, 22 years to the day that I moved to NYC. It was Michael Callen who inspired me in the first place. We were in Provincetown, August 1993, when Michael approached me with the suggestion, “Cliff, why don’t you do a solo album!” He was doing one of his own at the time. It immediately got me to thinking, Why don’t I? What’s stopping me? It’s certainly about time that I did one! Exactly one year later, August 1994, I was in the recording studio, although I had finished the arrangements of all 19 songs by early February, in five months’ time. I think that’s pretty remarkable, considering the fact that I was on the road during most of that time, and the sequencing of the backing tracks had to be done at home via my computer.

August was the first break of any real length that we had in our schedule that year. I am also quite proud of the fact that I paid for the entire project myself. It cost me $12,600 in cash, and I didn’t ask for a single penny from anybody! I don’t like to owe anybody anything, and this way, all proceeds are my own. I actually got off pretty cheaply, by today’s standards. The biggest expense was the recording studio itself, more than half of the total amount. Manufacturing was only $6000. I would have spent a lot more than I did had I not done most of the work myself, that is, the preparations and overseeing the entire production. I needed an engineer in the studio and a photographer to take my cover photos. Otherwise, I did everything else myself.

Since all of the musical accompaniment was synthesized, I didn’t have to hire any live musicians. I even did my own backup where it was required. Because of my vocal versatility, I was able to provide all the voices needed for some of the arrangements, including tenor, alto and even soprano! That was the most fun for me, singing with myself. I used to play at that as a kid, using two cheap tape recorders, but of course, the sound quality that way was something to be desired. I was glad finally to be able to do it in a real studio with top-rate equipment. Ray Charles had his Raelets, and Ike and Tina Turner had The Ikettes. I call my backup group (me) on the album, appropriately, “The Clifftones.” I wrote my own liner notes as well (“Cliff-Notes”) and typed and copied a lyric sheet for all of the songs.

What kind of music is on my album? You name it, it’s probably on there. I have pop covers, show tunes, ballads, jazz, rhythm ‘n’ blues, rap (well, it’s a dramatic poem, really), barbershop, spirituals, soft rock, novelty numbers, patter songs and opera, and the accompaniments range from acappella to full orchestra. I like variety in everything that I do, and my own versatility allows me to indulge my eclecticism. I had expected to get most of my investment back eventually, but I didn’t do it as a moneymaking venture. If it makes money, that’s all well and good. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, too. I did it because I wanted to, and it was time. Just like this blog site, I consider it a gift to my family, friends and fans. It’s also my stab at immortality, if you will.

I have now joined the ranks of the ever-increasing number of independent record producers. In selecting a name for my record label, my first choice was “Euterpe” (the Greek Muse of music), but it was apparently already taken by someone, as was “Cliff,” so I had to settle for “Risco” (which is Spanish for “cliff”), my third choice. Risco Records. It has a certain rring to it, don’t you think? So I’m rather self-indulgent.

At Linden I had a wonderful English teacher, Mrs. Vera Johnson, who took a special interest in me. She would sometimes give me extra assignments, I suppose to keep my mind occupied, so that I would not get bored. One of these projects was to memorize a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar entitled “Li’l Brown Baby.” The poem was written in a Southern black dialect, as much of Dunbar’s poetry is, but at the time I was studying it, I didn’t much like speaking that broken tongue, having learned to speak “proper” English, you see. But I learned the poem and reluctantly agreed to recite it for a special school assembly.

So now let’s cut to the summer of 1993. I am in Dayton, Ohio (Dunbar’s hometown) riding in the car with my then boyfriend John Z., as we passed the street that Dunbar’s house was on. When informed of this little historical fact, I was reminded of the Dunbar poem I had learned those many years ago and proceeded to recite it right then and there. I was surprised that I still remembered it all after so long. Well, John was absolutely enthralled. He just happened to be putting together a cultural arts program in town in a few weeks and asked me to be a part of it, to sing a song and perform the Dunbar poem. Well, I did, and it was a big hit with the audience. Being older now, I can appreciate Dunbar’s dialectic poetry, and I now understand where he’s coming from. The poem is now part of my basic repertoire, and as a tribute to Mrs. Johnson, who introduced it to me in the first place, I decided to include it on my album. That was a wise choice, as it has been praised and enjoyed by my fans.

I subsequently revised the poem to reflect the modern occurrence of same-sex parenting, by changing the narrator’s spouse Mariah to Jeremiah. I didn’t think that Mr. Dunbar would mind, being dead and all. Also, I wisely procured the backing tracks to most of my songs so that they can be performed live, karaoke-style, when I am asked to sing solo. I’ve even had the chance to use them a few times already. I have since accumulated enough material for a second solo album, the recorded tracks being saved on my computer, which allows me to make copies of my own customized discs as desired. Now, give a listen to my revised rendition of “Li’l Brown Baby.”

I have since done a follow-up recording to Out Here On My Own, and it’s entitled, Cliff Townsend Still Going Strong. I have many more songs in my repertoire that I wanted to do arrangements of and record. This new installment contains 45 songs on two discs.  Due to my love of overdubbing, I have included some of my acappella arrangements that I used to do with Steamboat Gothic and the Flirtations.  For this set, I make my own copies at home as needed, instead of going the factory duplication route.  Throughout this posting, you will be treated to a few selections from these recordings.

As an instrumentalist, I have performed with at least 10 bands, orchestras and ensembles, and the instruments on which I have performed in public are the alto saxophone, bass fiddle, bassoon, celesta, cello, clarinet, drums, English horn, flute, French horn, guitar, harmonica, jingle bells, kazoo, marimba, melodica, oboe, organ, piano, recorders (soprano, alto and tenor), slide whistle, snare drum, tambourine, trumpet and violin.

I began taking piano lessons in March 1963 with Miss Dorothy Feiwell, when I was 15-years-old. As we didn’t have a piano in the house, I was allowed to use the ones at Pilgrim Church on which to practice. In fact, I never had my own piano all the while I was taking lessons and all the years that I needed one. I eventually obtained an electronic keyboard-synthesizer that I used for all my pianistic needs. That unit has since been replaced with a better grade of electric piano.

My very first musical instrument, of an autodidactic nature, was the harmonica. I had one when I was quite young, and I used to make up tunes on it, my first attempts at any kind of composition. The next instrument I took up after the piano, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, was the oboe. I got a fingering chart and basically taught myself how to play the thing…in only three days’ time! I was the only oboist in Central’s band that year so I also got to play in the orchestra. During the semester, I entered Band Contest as well as competition in two ensembles—a woodwind trio and quintet—and received a superior rating in all three divisions. I also made Solo First Chair Oboe in the All-City Orchestra that year.

At I.U. I played with both the Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Varsity-Civic Band and played recorder with an early music group called Collegium Musicum, each with which we even went out on brief tours occasionally. While I was in Okinawa in 1971, I had my biggest solo moment on the oboe, when I played the Haydn Oboe Concerto (accompanied on piano by Bob Howell from the Army Band) before a large audience for the annual Ryukyu Music Festival. When I got to NYC, I played second oboe in the New Symphony Orchestra for a while.

I picked up the clarinet and recorder that year, too, and under college instruction added flute and bassoon to my repertoire. I learned that concert bassoonist and I.U. faculty member Leonard Sharrow was to be on my bassoon jury, so for my final exam I worked up and played a Vivaldi Concerto that Mr. Sharrow himself had previously recorded. I did a good job with it, and he seemed impressed and quite honored.

My BME degree program required that I take String (violin, cello and doublebass [I missed out on learning the viola because there was a limited number of them and they were all taken]), Brass (I chose trumpet and French horn) and Percussion Techniques. The courses required that we actually learn how to play these instruments, and we were tested in order to get a passing grade. Fortunately, I did well on all of them at the time, but have not touched any of those instruments since.

I bought an acoustic guitar and an alto sax while I was in the Army and worked on them on my own. Saxophones have the same fingering pattern as the oboe, so I got the hang of it right away. The guitar proved to be more challenging, and I would have stayed with it had it not been stolen. I never replaced it, however. I also had a little, cheaply-made bamboo flute that I probably won at a local carnival or something. With that I had to figure out the fingerings myself, as it appeared to be makeshift and no instructions or fingering chart came with it. The wind instruments that I still have in my possession are an oboe, a reconditioned flute, a soprano recorder, a tin whistle and a kazoo, if you consider that an instrument.

I made my formal conducting debut of an instrumental ensemble in the summer of 1995 in Elkhart, Indiana. I was in town (South Bend, that is) to attend my first high school class reunion that is held every five years. It took me 30 years to finally get there. A few days later, while my friend Bradley Pfaller and I were attending Your Elkhart Municipal Band concert, the band’s director, Arthur J. Singleton, who was my high school band director, and without any prior preparation, called me up from the audience to conduct his band in a concert march. By all public accounts, I must have risen to the occasion admirably.

Thanks to Bill Chapman, I was quite fortunate to have studied music theory in high school, which, in turn, got me into arranging and orchestration. This one-term course, Harmony, as it was called, taught us about intervals, modes, cadences, form and analysis, and we learned how to take dictation. That’s being able to notate a musical example just by hearing it. Leo’s being a horn player, I used to write out orchestral horn parts for him and his colleagues to practice. This introduced me to the concept of transposition before I completely understood how it worked. At least it gave me notation practice. I soon branched out to woodwind ensembles and other chamber music, then naturally, to choral arranging.

To date, I have done vocal arrangements of 177 songs, 162 instrumental works and 10 original compositions, including a five-movement symphony for full orchestra, which I finished in 1993, a woodwind quartet, a piece for percussion instruments and a piano etude, which were college music course assignments.

I told you that I was required to take Percussion Techniques at I.U., and one of our assignments for the course was to write a piece for percussion instruments and have our efforts played in class. I came up with The Woody Woodpecker Song (or Woody‘s Tune) and scored it for marimba, 4 timpani, cowbell, maracas, bongo drums, cymbals, temple blocks, snare drum and gong. Although only one minute long, it earned me an A, and I passed the course besides. It is one of my favorite works. Let’s have a listen.

So far I have done only three original choral works. My friend and colleague Lloyd once commissioned me to write an Easter anthem for his church choir, which I did, and Alleluia, Christ Is Risen has become part of his amateur choir’s repertoire. To celebrate the new millennium, I suppose, I finally did something that I had put off for 35 years—that is, setting Max Ehrmann’s inspirational poem, Desiderata, for acappella chorus. Ever since I discovered the work back in college, I had told myself that someday I would set it to music. Being the great procrastinator that I am, however, I only finally got around actually to doing it in the year 2000. After shopping it around to several choral conductors whom I work with, I eventually got a taker. My choir director, David Hurd, put my piece on our annual concert program. It got its world premiere performance on March 29, 2006, and although we could have used much more rehearsal, the piece went fairly well, all things considered, and I believe it was favorably received by the audience.

In 1930 German composer Ernst Toch wrote a very popular piece for four-part spoken chorus entitled The Geographical Fugue. It employs only a few place names that are repeated over and over. I got the idea in 2016 to write my own expanded Geographical Fugue, based rhythmically on the original but using all different words and giving it six parts, each part pertaining to a different part of the world: the United States (mentioning all 50), Eurasia (all the countries of Europe and Asia), Africa (and surrounding islands), Canada (all the provinces and some cities), the Caribbean (island nations in the Atlantic regions, including Central and South America), and Oceania (Pacific regions and other island locales of the world). I have entitled my piece Another Geographical Fugue.

How my symphony came about was, back in 1987 Lloyd made a musical proposal to me, to both of us, really. He said, “Why don’t we each try to write a symphony?” As it was with the solo album suggestion, I thought, Why don’t we? And I immediately took up the challenge. Lloyd got discouraged after only a few days and never pursued it any further, although he did manage to compose a suite of quite inventive orchestral pieces. I love arranging, but I think that writing that symphony was the most fun I ever had. I wrote two of the movements practically right away and had started on a third when I got sidetracked with internet trivia games, which took up a lot of my spare time, so I put it away for about five years. But because I don’t like to leave things unfinished, I eventually went back to work on it and didn’t let up again until it was all done. I wrote two whole movements while I was on tour with the Flirts. I was composing in my hotel rooms and even on the plane during flight!

My symphony, too, is made up of diverse elements. It is written in standard sonata form, and it is tonal, for the most part, although there are sections that may sound atonal to the untrained ear. Each movement is totally different in style and content. The first movement is a Fanfare for brass and percussion, the second is a March for full orchestra, the third is an Intermezzo for strings alone (written in 5/4 time), the fourth is a Waltz for everybody again (the main theme is dodecaphonic, that is, twelve-tone), and the last movement is a Galop and Polacca for woodwinds, strings and timpani.

It was this experience more than anything else I have done that gave me the idea that I might be a genius. All the while I was composing, I was constantly being inspired and not knowing where it was coming from. The music seemed to be writing itself, all I was doing was guiding the pencil along, as well as my hand on the piano. I got to thinking, Is that what genius is—transcendent, creative inspiration? That’s what the dictionary says it is. I don’t mean to brag on myself, I’m just trying to understand this thing! I am so proud of this achievement. I really love my Neoclassical Symphony, even if I did write it. I don’t think that’s being immodest. What, am I supposed to tell people that I don’t like it? Whether it’s great music or not is subjective, as all art is, but I have to like it myself, don’t I?

Being the composer, and as with all my musical works, I have complete control of how it sounds, so if I am not satisfied with something, I just change it until it’s the way I want it. So, of course, I have to like the finished product. It’s been reported that some of the masters, like Dvorak and others, too, would decide that they did not like something that they wrote, and would just destroy it–burn it up or throw it away! I don’t understand that. If you don’t like it, then fix it! There must be some part of it that is worth saving. I am always revising the things that I do. I am hardly ever completely satisfied. But I never discard anything as being worthless.

Actually, I did spend time in a real prison once (other than the time that I was an overnight inmate myself). Leo served as conductor of the New York Housing Authority Orchestra for a while, and the week before Christmas 1974 the group went to Ossining, New York to entertain the inmates at Sing Sing Prison. I just went along for the ride, as I like to experience new things. But I’d rather see the inside of a prison as a visitor than as an inmate. The orchestra performed before a captive audience that day! That is how and when I met Janet Wolf.

In early 1975 the orchestra’s manager, Janet Wolf (who claimed to have been a mistress of Arturo Toscanini!), commissioned me to arrange a medley of Irish songs for their upcoming St. Patrick’s Day concert in March. I took up the task, but Ms. Wolf imposed an impossible deadline that I failed to meet, so I didn’t finish it in time for them to perform it. I am a perfectionist and I don’t like to be rushed when I’m working on something. I have to do things in my own time. So I abandoned the project and put it aside for the next 22 years!  I eventually went back to work on it in 1997 and got it done.  I re-scored From Ireland With Love for small orchestra with the hopes of a better chance of having it performed somewhere.  But this like my symphony has yet to receive a live performance.

There is one piece of mine that has and does receive repeated live performances, but it is not an original composition but rather an adaptation. Of my several woodwind quintet transcriptions I have done over the years, one of my favorites and the most popular is Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. I tried to get Boosey and Hawkes (who handles all of Bernstein’s music) to publish my arrangement, but they pooh-poohed it and turned me down, telling me that they had too many arrangements of it already, which is a lie. I checked. My transcription is one of a kind. An oboist friend of mine got his quintet to perform it, and then the horn player from that group showed it to another quintet that she played with, and they wanted to do it as well. So Boosey and Hawkes didn’t want to make some more money off of me? Then to hell with them! I can lease out the piece myself. And do! I even sold one to a quintet in Honolulu! When Quintet of the Americas added my chart to their standard repertoire, they chose to include it on the album that they recorded in 1992. They do a really good job, and it’s not easy either! Give a listen.

With my computer setup—plus Cakewalk music-sequencing program, Korg 8 synthesizer keyboard, Mackie mixer and Proteus2 orchestral sound emulator module—I have been able to make MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) recordings of many of my works, including my symphony, so I can listen to them anytime I want to. And do. I had originally thought about producing a live performance of the work myself, as I did with the album, but the financial economics would not allow it. I figured out that if I put the required orchestra together to do the piece, it would cost me a few thousand dollars more for only one performance than it cost to produce my entire album. What I would like is for an existing orchestra to perform it, whereas someone else would be footing the bill. But I have been really remiss in soliciting an ensemble to do it. I am always hoping that it will happen someday.

I did a transcription of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks for concert band that I finished in 1972, but that still has not been performed either. That was a tremendous amount of work, as you can imagine. I also have done an orchestra reduction of the work for piano, which at least I can listen to whenever I want to, having recorded it. In 1983 I prepared Purcell’s opera Dioclesian for Leo so that it could be performed, which involved writing out all of the orchestral and choral parts from the full score by hand. This was years before I had a computer and a music-writing program. This did receive a public performance.

Music copying and transcribing must be labors of love with me. With all of these major works—the symphony, the Strauss and the Purcell—as well as most of my other arrangements, I wrote out everything (scores and parts) by hand, and I have never received a penny for my efforts. I have, however, done arrangements for other people, on commission, for which I did get paid. Most people I know just can’t be bothered with music writing, but I love it. The actual task of manuscript and music calligraphy is what I really enjoy. That being said, and with the welcome advent of computerized music notation programs, like Finale, Sibelius and the others, I no longer need to present handwritten scores. I like the look and legibility of printed music.

I have also had the pleasure in past years to put musical programs together. While I was in high school, I produced several musicales for Pilgrim Church and for several years I planned Christmas concerts (and provided a vocal quartet) for a Catholic Church in Tenafly, NJ. In 1985, I put up a notice on the Juilliard bulletin board, asking for student players for some reading sessions I was setting up. I offered money in the ad and got a response. I had several woodwind quintet arrangements lying around that I wanted to hear. So I got a group together, and we played them. I even audiotaped the sessions for posterity. Any of my arrangements that I want to hear, I can now sequence them myself. I have found that some of them are too difficult for amateur execution anyway.

With my Kawai digital piano I have started sequencing/arranging some four-hand piano transcriptions and orchestral score reductions, like The Nutcracker Suite, Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th symphonies, movements from the 7th, 8th and 9th symphonies, one of his string quartets, the Fifth Symphonies of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky (also his 4th and one movement of the 6th), Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony, and various other works for said medium. It requires many, many hours of exacting work, but the finished result for me is well worth the time and effort.

I have appeared on television too many times to keep track. Since mostly everything is taped and by traveling so much and because of repeated showings, I am not always in the place where I am being shown and I have not always known when I was on. But the very first time was the mid-’50s when I was a little boy; I don’t remember how old I was exactly (7 or 8 maybe?), but I actually starred in a commercial! I was with my mother and brother in the studio audience of a local kiddie cartoon show hosted by Cooksey the Clown. This was the days of live TV and when they often did their own commercials. I was selected out of the audience to demonstrate a portable TV set, a newfangled notion at the time. All I had to do was hold the model set, stand there and smile at the camera. “See, it’s light enough even for a child to carry!” Cooksey assured his viewers, as I shamelessly mugged.

During my high school years there was a local TV studio dance show for teenagers called “Hoosier Favorite,” sort of the South Bend version of “Soul Train.” I went on that show several times with friends. That is the same studio where the Central Glee Club performed every Christmas (so that was four times for me) and where my Deluxe Barbershop Quartet (consisting of, besides myself, Bradley Pfaller, Freeman Smith and Leo Warbington) made two TV appearances.

I appeared on Okinawan television, as well, in a special holiday program, “Christmas Eve with the Sukiran Chapel Choir,” for which I wrote the narration. Sweet Harmony was interviewed on the NYC local news a couple of times, I appeared on Canadian TV with Harry Belafonte, and on a local morning show in Washington, DC to promote Sing, America, Sing. That was the same day that my nephew Jeffery was born, on my birthday.

I have appeared twice on PBS’s “Great Performances,” in a concert of spirituals with Kathleen Battle[axe] and Jessye Norman [aka “Jes’ Enormous”] (which was released on videotape and CD format as well) and for the gala opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark (October 1997). I was on “Live from Lincoln Center” (in NY City Opera’s Carmen) and “Entertainment Tonight.” I was twice in the chorus for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center that “E.T.” reported on. I appeared on “48 Hours” (December 2005) singing Christmas carols with an amateur chorus. I also once appeared as a guest on “Damn Right,” a New York-based cable call-in discussion show.

The Flirtations appeared on nationwide TV several times while I was with them. We were on “Good Morning America” twice, once on “Donahue,” on “In the Life” and “Network Q” a few times, and on the 1992 HBO documentary “America Undercover: Why Am I Gay?” which aired many times. We also made appearances on New York public access cable shows, and during my travels with the Flirts, I appeared on local TV shows in Cedar Rapids (Iowa), Denver, Madison, Phoenix, Tucson and Washington, DC. We did a singing interview with Terry David Mulligan for “Much Music,” the Canadian version of our MTV. While in Hamburg, Germany the second time, we performed live on a TV variety show, as well as being interviewed for a couple of other local TV spots there and in Nuremberg.

The Flirts’ appearance on “Donahue” in May 1991 was a lucky opportunity for us as well. I don’t know how we got the gig, but the producers called and asked us to appear on a special show, namely the first televised gay wedding. We serenaded the happy couple, Michael Marlowe and Wayne Watson from Philadelphia, during their on-air nuptials, then we got to sing each time Phil went to commercial. Since the show originally aired live, I had a friend record it for me so that I would have a souvenir copy. We discovered, though, when we watched the tape, that Michael Callen’s microphone was not turned on for the entire broadcast, so his voice part is missing from the soundtrack! How could such a thing happen? Those people are supposed to be top-rate sound engineers. How could they not know that all the voices were not being picked up? And we had a sound check before the show and everything! When people would tell me, “You all sounded really great,” I would reply, ‘Well, you should hear it with all five parts!’

We were seen by millions of viewers that day and when the show aired in other parts of the country. I had perfect strangers coming up to me months and years later with, “Didn’t I see you on ‘Donahue’?” In July 1992 The Flirtations were actually mentioned in The National Enquirer tabloid, in a follow-up article which tried to create some kind of a scandal about the gay married couple. To be mentioned in The National Enquirer for any reason, we felt that we had really arrived!

I made New York radio appearances with the Robert DeCormier Singers, the Gregg Smith Singers and Steamboat Gothic. The Flirts made local radio appearances in Berkeley, Bern (Switzerland), Buffalo and Oswego (NY), Halifax (NS), Hilo (Hawaii), Houston, Kansas City, Karlsruhe (Germany), Kentwood (Michigan), Philadelphia, Provincetown and Waltham (Mass.), Seattle, all across Canada and on National Public Radio. We did both TV and radio spots in Austin, New York, Tampa and Vancouver. I alone was interviewed on Bert Wylen’s radio show in Philadelphia, “Gay Dreams,” to promote my solo album after its initial release.

I always try to do something major for myself to celebrate my birthday every year. In 2003 I got to fulfill my longtime dream of going on a TV game show and winning some money. During the first season when the New York-produced “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was hosted by Regis Philbin, I found it next to impossible to get an audition for the show. One had to phone a certain number and answer confusing questions, that is, if you got through to them at all. After several failed attempts, I eventually gave up.

The show later went into syndication with Meredith Vieira as the new host. Now interested parties could inquire about an audition by visiting their website and applying right online. This method proved to be much more conducive. I was given an audition date, took and successfully passed the preliminary quiz and interview at the ABC studio, which then qualified me to be a contestant on the show. Fortunately, all the questions on the qualifying test that they gave us had been used before on earlier broadcasts of the show, and since I watched it on a regular basis, I remembered the correct answers to several questions that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’m sure that is why I did so well. I was elated when my name was called as one of the few high scorers.

My taping date was September 17th. I arrived at the studio at 0900 and was there until 1900 that evening. It was like being on a movie set as an extra, just waiting around for hours to do your scene. I didn’t even get to go on. There were nine other contestants there that day, and I was the ninth to be picked. They tape four shows a day. I was just about to go on for the last show of the day when the time’s-up horn sounded. So I had to return the very next day, a Thursday, to finish what I had almost started. I teased my production assistants with, ‘Since you all made me sit around here all day yesterday, you’d better pay me something for my time!’ Being the first contestant for the show that day, I got to make my entrance with Meredith. I used my show biz shtick and stage decorum during my appearance, and the crew there all found me to be an entertaining contestant. They all were very nice to me and ever encouraging.

The format of the game changes from time to time, but when I was on, there were three money amount levels to aspire to: $1,000, $32,000 and the ultimate, one million dollars. The dollar amounts were divided into 15 multiple-choice questions. Of course, everybody wants to win the million, including myself, but I had decided before I went on, to make my goal at least $32,000, which is the 10th level. The way the game is set up, with each dollar amount, you have the option of quitting with the money you have already won or going for the next question. As long as you answer correctly, you get to move up to the next level. But if you get it wrong, you end up with $32,000, $1,000 or $0, depending on where you are.

I successfully made it up to the $64,000 level and was going for $125,000. I did not quit then because I was sure that I knew the right answer to the question. The question: “The Spanish phrase, ‘Oro y plata’ is the state motto of which state?” The multiple choice answers given were: Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Texas. I reasoned that since the phrase means “gold and silver” and I remembered that Nevada is nicknamed the Silver State, I chose Nevada as my answer. It was a guess, I didn’t know for sure. Alas, I was wrong. The correct answer is Montana (which I verified when I got home). If I had quit the game then instead of answering, I would have left jubilantly with $64,000. But missing it knocked me back down to $32,000, which was my original goal anyway, so I am grateful just the same. So I gambled and lost. But that’s often the case, isn’t it?—which is why I don’t do it, as a rule.

I don’t even regret my decision to go for it instead of quitting. I would rather lose by at least making the attempt to answer than to bow out when I just might have the correct answer. That would have upset me more. I didn’t have any money until I actually had it, so I didn’t really lose anything. Besides, the audience don’t much care if a contestant misses a hard question. They don’t know the answer themselves. But it’s more exciting when someone goes for it and gets it right. I mean, we are there to play, aren’t we? No guts, no glory.

I had intended to send out a major e-mail announcement and reminder and phone people a few days before the scheduled airing date, which I was told would be October 31, Halloween. Instead, my episode was shown two weeks prior to that date on Oct. 17, giving me no advance warning. I just happened to be watching the show that day and had a videotape in the machine ready to go. Since the show airs earlier in the day in NYC than it does in South Bend, I was able to call my mother ahead of time, who then alerted my siblings and town locals so that they could catch me on the tube later that day. Unfortunately, I had no chance to let anybody else know about my impromptu TV appearance.

I have been part of the studio audience a few times for a couple of shows taped here in NYC. Jon Arterton and I attended one particular “Geraldo” (Rivera) show, because Michael Callen was one of the guests. I got to sit on the inner aisle and I appeared on camera whenever Geraldo came out to talk with the audience.

For my birthday one year, my friend Joseph DeVaughn got us tickets to attend “The View.” Although I am a fan of the show, it’s not the one that I would have chosen to see live. Joseph didn’t consult me about it beforehand. I would have preferred to do Rosie O’Donnell’s show. The difference being that Rosie’s show was more fun and she gave out lots of gifts to her studio audiences every day. I love getting free stuff, whatever it is. We didn’t get shit at “The View,” at least, not that particular day. I watch the show on a regular basis, and they are always giving stuff to the audience–books, movies, CDs, whatever the guests are promoting that day. The guests on the day we were there were Tom Bergeron and Andie MacDowell, neither of whom were hawking anything. They were quite blasé guests besides.

A common thing at live studio audience shows is to have an aspiring comic or some as-of-yet undiscovered actor to work the crowd and get them revved up for the show. We had a young woman this time. I don’t remember her name, but she was likable. My anonymity was thwarted again, however, when the woman asked us if there was anyone there having a birthday and Joseph raised his hand and pointed to me. Oh, Lord, here we go! She asked me my name and what I did and made everybody sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Then she made me go down front to where she was and had me sing something for the audience! With all their whooping and hollering and egging me on, and being the shameless ham that I am, of course I had to comply. I mean, I couldn’t let down my adoring public, now could I? I did a snippet of “Feeling Good” to more cheers and ovations. I thought to myself later, Damn! I can’t go anywhere and stay quietly in the background. I am always outed.

Ten years to the month that I appeared on “…Millionaire” I got to go back as part of the studio audience. I went there with Lloyd and our friend Connie. Cedric the Entertainer was the host at this time. My enthusiasm and excitement about some things certainly have diminished over the years. The experience neither impressed me nor delighted me and turned out to be a tremendous waste of my time. Five-and-a-half hours for what? Being a live audience member for a TV game show is the same way I feel about attending an opera performance. I’d much rather be up there performing myself than watching as a sideline spectator. At least the last time on the show as a contestant, I came away with a shitload of money. This time all I got for my time and effort was a commemorative T-shirt and a pencil!

In 2008 I got to participate in the development of a new TV game show. I received an e-mail one day asking for contestants for “Paycheck,” a show being pitched by the Bravo cable network. I registered my interest, was sent a survey questionnaire to fill out, I did two interviews—one on the phone and the other in person—and was then invited to do a practice run-through of the game on three more occasions and was even paid each time for my participation. During these rehearsals, the other contestants and I were allowed and encouraged to offer suggestions about the game. One of the casting directors, Kevin (cute), previously had worked for “…Millionaire” and he apparently got my name from their past contestants database, which is how and why I was contacted.

The format of the game involved answering trivia questions along with observation skills and personal impressions. Part of it was trying to determine the other players’ yearly salaries, based on their appearance and from facts revealed about each other during the course of the game. The staff and crew were all very nice and laid-back, creating a very pleasant and informal atmosphere, and the meeting venues were all conveniently-located, the second one being right across the street from where I live! It was fun to be in on the early development stages of a real TV game show, whether it gets picked up by the network or not.

About 20 years ago I went to an audition for a new TV pilot that I found in one of the weekly trade papers. Auditioners were required to prepare a short monologue, so I decided to do a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (not the more famous “To be or not to be” speech, but another one). While I was sitting in the waiting area before my audition, a large woman passed by, regarded me for a moment, then she spoke to me. “Excuse me, but are you an actor?” ‘Yes, I dabble occasionally.’ “Have you done any commercials?” ‘Well, not lately. None to speak of.’ “Well, I like your looks. My name is Sue King and I work for a casting agency for commercials. Here, take my card and call me at your earliest convenience so that we can set up an appointment. I think I may have some work for you.”

Well! I felt like Lana Turner must have felt when she was allegedly discovered at Schwab’s Soda Fountain in Hollywood. Oh, I didn’t get a callback from the audition, by the way. But I did call Ms. King and went to her office to see her, and she interviewed me and was impressed with my talent credentials. She told me that I was a “certain type” that casting directors frequently ask for. So I signed up with the J. Michael Bloom Agency that day. I didn’t have to pay them a fee or anything, and they called me several times to send me on casting calls.

When I did eventually get a callback from one of my auditions in January 1997, I was hired for a two-day commercial shoot for Mastercard. I appreciate the work but I wouldn’t want to do it on a regular basis. Too boring! The first day was indoors at a midtown antique bric-a-brac shop. I was a mere extra, serving as a background browser. We put in a full eight-hour day with an hour break for lunch (catered), and the work consisted of doing take after take after take of the same commercial. Since a standard TV commercial is only 30 seconds in length, you can do a whole lot of takes in seven hours’ time. And we certainly did!

The featured players were a couple shopping who found a particular item that they didn’t have the cash for, so they whipped out their Mastercard to pay for it. All I had to do was walk from here to there checking out the various tacky items lying about. I’m not even sure if I was picked up on camera during the shots, but I still had to do the same thing every time. Movie shoots can be tedious and monotonous, too, but with a film there are many scenes to shoot, and they can’t spend too much time on one thing, because of deadlines and budget restrictions. I wondered just how many takes did they think they needed, since they all seemed, to me, to be virtually the same, each one no better nor worse than the last one. But, I guess, with only one commercial to work on all day, they had to fill the time by doing it over and over again ad nauseum. It seemed like an awful waste of time and money.

But at least we were indoors that time. The very next day, the shoot, also for Mastercard, was held outside, in the Wall Street area of Manhattan on one of the coldest days of the winter season. Besides the cold and the sheer boredom, just like the day before, I literally had stayed up all night, so I was a virtual zombie all day. I had to report to work before sunup and they kept us until 1600, doing the same 30-second scenario numerous times. Some guy, probably a tourist, had had his wallet stolen, and he was chasing the thief down the street to try to get his credit card back. This time I was cast as a street construction worker, serving only as background to the scene. I was coupled with another male actor, so at least I had someone to talk to between takes and try to keep me awake. They did provide a delicious lunch for us, though, and I was paid well. I don’t know how much money they spent those two days, but as far as I know, neither commercial ever aired, at least not locally.

At least I have had the good fortune to appear in a few major motion pictures. I was an extra in the films Times Square (1979) with Tim Curry and the TV movie Dream House (1981) with John Schneider and Marilu Henner. For those appearances as an extra, I employed a useful little tip that I learned from Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo. Remember the “I Love Lucy” episode when Lucy was in Hollywood and got to work on a movie where she was a showgirl descending the stairs with a huge, heavy headdress on her head? Well, she kept screwing up until the director “killed her off” and had her carried out of the scene on a stretcher, with her face covered. But in order for her friends back home to recognize her, she painted her name in big, white letters on the bottoms of her shoes for the camera to pick up.

I have a personalized jacket that was custom-made for me while I was in Okinawa. On the front is my name “Cliff” and the Japanese equivalent right under it. On the sleeves are a “VIRGO” patch, an “INDIANA” patch and one of Mr. Zigzag, the logo guy for that brand of rolling papers. Across the back is stitched in big white letters “OKINAWA, ’70-’72” with a map of the island and a big red torii gateway in the middle. For Times Square we were allowed to wear whatever we wanted for our scenes, so I wore my special jacket. I was required to walk down the block on 42nd Street (where it was filmed), and right at the beginning of the movie when the title is flashed on the screen, I can be seen walking away with my back to the camera. The picture is purposely out of focus, and I would never have recognized myself if it hadn’t been for that telltale jacket with that unmistakable red torii as big as life! Thanks for the tip, Lucy. I don’t wear the jacket anymore, as I have outgrown the thing, but I will always keep it as a souvenir. I have one other very brief appearance later on in the film (just a few seconds), leaning up against the outside of a movie theater.

"Lucy, you've got some 'splainin' to do!"
“Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!”

 

"Hey, there he is!"
“Hey, there he is!”

 

Similarly, in Dream House I can be seen at the very end of the film, in a freeze frame over the credits, the only one in the crowd wearing a bright, red bandanna around my head. ‘Look, there I am!’ For Times Square I answered a casting call that I found in one of the trade papers (Backstage or Show Business), and for Dream House I knew the casting director, who offered me the job. Times Square did not fare well critically or at the box office. I don’t see it even shown on TV. And although Dream House is a TV movie with major stars, they haven’t shown that anymore either since the first time it aired.

I was not actually hired for Taxi Driver (1974), as I was all the others, but I have it on my résumé just the same. I was only passing by the day they were filming at Columbus Circle and I happened to get into a shot for only a quick second.

I can be heard singing on the soundtrack of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Director Woody Allen selected the Church of the Transfiguration (aka “The Church Around the Corner”) in Manhattan for a scene in the movie and for which he needed a choir. I just happened to be a member of that particular church choir at the time (singing alto!), so we were hired to take part in Woody’s award-winning movie. There is one shot of the choir for about a second, but I don’t see myself. I must be behind that big pillar that is in the way. I was well-paid, so I don’t care much that nobody saw me. Woody himself would agree—“Take the money and run.”

My screen appearance as a member of an all-black gospel choir (singing in Hebrew in a Jewish synagogue!) in Edward Norton’s Keeping the Faith (2000) provided me a romp with some prominent actors, starfucker that I am. I was on call for three whole days in July 1999, the longest I have ever worked on any film. After the gospel choir had done our scene on Day One, I was retained to serve as an extra, first as part of a congregational crowd, then later on as more specialized background.

As it was getting late that first day, and we were just sitting around doing nothing, Edward Norton, who was starring in the film as well as making his directing debut, passed near me at some point. I wanted to know how much longer he planned on keeping us there. I couldn’t resist yelling out to him, ala Ralph Kramden, ‘Hey, Norton!’ Of course, he got the joke, even if he hadn’t heard it many times before, I’m sure.

On the third day I was used as background for a scene at which some of the principal players were in attendance. The scene where Ben Stiller is talking to Rena Sofer and Holland Taylor, I can plainly be seen standing directly behind them in the shot. Besides Edward and Ben, the actors on hand whom I got to meet and even chat with during my three-day stint are Jenna Elfman, Ron Rifkin and Eli Wallach. I missed speaking to Anne Bancroft, who is also in the film, and porn publisher Larry Flynt when he visited the set, but I did get to meet singer Luther Vandross, also visiting. The film receives frequent TV airings.

Due to a friend’s referral, I got a call in June 2002 from an independent film producer, who asked me to audition for a movie she was casting. I was sent a script and asked to prepare a scene for a screen test. I felt like a working movie actor, being wooed to star in a major film! The working title of the film was Adverse Possession, and the part for which I was being considered was an important supporting role of an aging, classical and jazz musician, a flautist, who is suffering from psychosomatic Parkinson’s Disease because of his anger and guilt over his perceived responsibility for the death of his wife and child forty years earlier. The scene was about four pages of dialogue, but with my character doing most of the talking. I was just going to go in and read it, but while I was looking it over the day of the audition, I found it easy enough for me to memorize, which seemed to impress the director and producer a lot when I performed the scene off-book.

I left there thinking that I had a good chance of getting the part. But when the producer called back a few days later, she told me that I did not look old enough, that the character should be much older than I appeared to be. How lame of an excuse is that? Haven’t they heard of makeup?  Cicely Tyson was not a hundred and something when she portrayed Miss Jane Pittman!  This woman did, however, tell me that they might need a singer for a wedding scene and would I be interested in doing that?  ‘Hell, yeah!’ I told her.  But she never called back, and if the film ever did get made, it was done without my contribution.  It felt nice to be considered anyway. Another missed chance for movie stardom.  Oh, well!  Next!

My “next” turned out to be an opportunity actually to work as an extra on a film. A friend of mine who gets extra work on a regular basis told me of a non-union open call at the office of Central Casting one day. They were looking for ordinary city people who have “musical rhythm.“ I went to audition on a whim, filled out some forms, which apparently registered me for future casting consideration, and did a little dance for them. They thanked me, and I left.

About a week later I got a callback from them, offering me a day’s work the following weekend on a new film, entitled Friends With Benefits, and starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. I say that this was really work because the job required that all 600 of us (they refer to it as a “flash mob”) had to learn an elaborate, choreographed dance routine to be done with music, and the filming took place in the atrium of Grand Central Station! We are all supposed to be train commuters, you see.

Although we were told to report at 12:30 on Saturday, July 31, 2010, we were not called to the set to film until 12 hours later, when the trains stopped running and they could close up the station. After taking the first couple of hours to learn the two-minute dance routine, we just sat around the holding area until time to start filming which started so late that most everyone was tired by the time we had to do it. What we had to do was quite energetic, too. There was jumping and bending and turns involved, and we did about ten takes of the thing.

We finished at 0330 on Sunday morning, and I, for one, was pretty much exhausted. Being non-union, the pay was not very much. So I got paid the least for the most actual work I ever did on a film. At my previous experiences, all I did was serve as background and got paid more money for it. This time I was placed front row center of the mob, so I was able to find myself when I saw the finished product in the theater and later on TV. It’s right at the end of the movie, practically the last scene. I did not get to speak with Justin, but he did pass right by me during the shot. This is another box-office flop which has become a TV regular.

Our First Magazine Cover

My picture, alone and with the Flirts, appeared many times in many newspapers and magazines all across the country and abroad, including Entertainment Weekly and Harper’s Bazaar. We even made at least eight, that I know about, covers of local magazines in various places. Just after the release of Philadelphia, my hometown newspaper, the South Bend Tribune, did a feature story on me, sort of a “Local Boy Makes Good” tribute. Most of it was my own review of the film. Over the years the Tribune has regularly reported on my various career activities, my mother serving as my unofficial press agent, before she got sick.

In addition to publicity posters and flyers, the Flirts’ pictorial images have appeared on T-shirts, calendars, and even cocktail napkins! Just our name, not our picture, appeared on another T-shirt, a sweatshirt and was included on a promotional coffee mug once, and a fan of ours in Portland, Ore., who is a potter, made us all personalized mugs with our own names on them! I no longer have mine, however, as I dropped it one day and broke it. Lummox! I loved that mug, too! The group name and Michael Callen’s were both used as entries in a published crossword puzzle, and a cartoonist friend of TJ, Annie Gauger, created a comic book about us called “Sparky’s Visit,” depicting the group members as nondescript animals and changing our name to “The Sensations.”

The group’s name also appeared on the marquee of many of the theatres at which we were playing, and we once even got our name “in lights” when we played the Intermediate Theatre in Portland, Ore. in December 1991. We once got one of those plane banner messages advertising our concert performance in Pensacola, Florida, that flew over the local beach. The Flirts received album entries in both 1994’s The Gay Music Guide and its 1996 follow-up, Out Sounds, as well as an entry in the 1992 edition of the All Music Guide.

Of course, nothing compares with my big money win on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, but I have received other achievements and awards over the years. Way back in elementary school I was awarded certificates for “Outstanding Achievement” in reading, art, the Honor Roll and for “Meritorious Service” on the school safety patrol. Upon completion of the 6th grade, Linden would bestow the titles of “Outstanding Boy and Girl” (sort of like elementary valedictorians), and I was sure that I would get it, as I consistently had the highest grade-point average of any student there. But my homeroom teacher, Edward Myers, who was the basketball coach and later became school principal and who made the choices for Outstanding Boy and Girl that year, picked the less-worthy Gerry Hudson, who happened to be one of his team players. Gerry himself knew that he did not deserve the honor. He had often asked me for help with his lessons. For the graduation and awards ceremony I was the one asked to deliver the address to the class. Uh, why me? I wondered. Shouldn’t that be Gerry’s job as so-called top student? But I did it instead. I recited, from memory, Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem, If.

One of my disappointments of not being chosen Outstanding Boy was that the winner’s name was added to a plaque, which hung on the wall in the front entranceway of the school. For years after, I hated seeing Gerry Hudson’s name up there in embossed bronze instead of my own. Jean Walker was our Outstanding Girl that year, and I had no problem with her eligibility. It’s all for naught now, however, because the names and plaque are no longer there, since the school was demolished years ago.

I have even forgiven Myers for passing me over. In an article published in the South Bend Tribune some years ago, I learned that Ed Myers was a World War II Army veteran who was stationed in Okinawa when the war ended. And like me, he served as the mail clerk for his unit. He soon discovered that many of the men to whom he delivered letters were illiterate. So he would read the letters to the soldiers who couldn’t read and would even pen a reply to them. That’s when he decided to be a teacher. I can’t help but wonder if he had known that someday I would follow in his footsteps as I did, maybe he would have been more respectful of me, and I of him had I known those things about him. As he is dead now, I can’t even talk with him about it.

In my junior year of high school, due to my excellence in Spanish, I was selected to represent my school in the state Spanish Contest, held at Indiana University in Bloomington. I didn’t win anything, as it turned out, but it was my first time that I got to stay overnight out of town. I would practice the language by translating poems and song lyrics into Spanish. I did A Visit from St. Nicholas and several songs from Hair and Messiah, for example. But I think that my most gratifying assignment that I ever did for second-year Spanish was when I translated Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” into Spanish, memorized it and then recited it for the class. I had quite the retentive mind in those days. My teacher, Mr. Aguirre, as well as the whole class, all were quite impressed, that is, once they figured out what the hell I was doing!

In February 1978 The News World newspaper sponsored the “Abe Lincoln Memorial Clean Limerick Contest.” I submitted a couple, which they published, and I won the First Place cash prize of $20.75! Hey, I wouldn’t have paid that much for them! My winning entries are included in another post.

I received a 3-page feature “Spotlight” in Will Grega and Randy Jones’ Out Sounds Gay Music Guide after the release of my solo album, Out Here On My Own. It included a 4-star review, interview, pictures, and I made the Top 25 list of Best New Albums for the year. Along with the other Flirts, I am mentioned individually on the Thanks page of Michael Callen’s book Surviving AIDS.

I met a French independent filmmaker, Olivier Kossa-Dos Reis, some years ago and upon hearing my solo CD, he decided to use my recording of “If We Only Have Love” for part of the soundtrack of his short film, A Lost Man. The 7-minute color video was premiered at the L.A. Gay Film Festival in July 1998.

I have yet to win a Games (magazine) T-shirt as a consolation prize for their many contests that I have entered over the years—not that I need another T-shirt, mind you. It’s just the principle of the thing, sort of a status symbol, I suppose. But I did finally get my name mentioned in the November 2003 issue of World of Puzzles, Games’ sister publication. One of their puzzles in an earlier issue, “Alpha Bet,” required solvers to think up same initial first and last names of famous real people for each letter of the alphabet. Examples: Alvin Ailey, Betty Buckley, Charlie Chaplin, etc. The added challenge, the “bet” part, was for anybody to beat the game editor’s list of 21 names. Well, I not only beat their list with 25 names (I never did come up with a name for “U.U.”), I created a theme list to submit to them. All but three of my names were composers! The editors must have been impressed enough with my list to mention my name with regard to this accomplishment in their Editor’s Message.

There is a clever parlor game that cropped up some years ago, although I don’t hear much about it anymore, that is known as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” (an obvious parody on the play and movie Six Degrees of Separation [1993]). The game—or challenge, if you will—is based on the notion that one can connect Kevin Bacon with virtually any movie actor, by way of their films, in no more than six links of the chain. For example, let’s try to connect Kevin with Bette Davis. Kevin starred in Diner (1982) with Mickey Rourke, who was in Rumble Fish (1983) with Dennis Hopper, who appeared in Giant (1956) with Elizabeth Taylor, who was in National Velvet (1944) with Angela Lansbury, who co-starred in Death on the Nile (1978) with Bette Davis. We did that in five steps. I also have a 4- and even 3-step connection. Kevin was in Footloose (1984) with Dianne Wiest, who starred in Edward Scissorhands (1990) with Vincent Price, who appeared in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Whales of August (1987) with Bette Davis!

A while ago I responded to a contest in Instinct magazine who asked readers to make a Kevin Bacon movie connection with one of the stars of Hollywoodland (2006)—either Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins or Robin Tunney. I submitted a two-step connection for each actor, which apparently made me a winner. I was sent a DVD copy of the film as my prize. A friend of mine one day alerted me to the fact that I, too, have a cinematic connection to Kevin Bacon, and he did it in only two steps. You see, Kevin was in Apollo 13 (1995) with Tom Hanks, who starred in Philadelphia (1994) with Cliff Townsend!

I have come to the conclusion that I truly enjoy writing, and I continue to get literary inspiration. Other than what I have already cited, I have written a murder-mystery screenplay, which I hope will be developed into a TV series.  Everything that I do always has an element of humor attached to it. This is indicated in all of my blog articles, even the serious ones, which those of you who have kept up with them know.  I can’t help myself.  Even my murder scenario, about a diabolical serial killer, contains much very dark humor.

You know, I find it amazing that I have accomplished so much in my lifetime. I am not always aware of it when it’s happening, but when I see it all laid out in print, I am compelled to ask myself, ‘When did I do all this stuff? When did I have the time?’ But apparently I did. That’s why I am never bored. There is always something to do, and I always manage to find the time to do what needs to be done. I certainly appreciate the life I have had, and I hope to have many more years to enjoy it.

These are the operas in which I have performed: Abelard and Heloise / Aida / Amahl and the Night Visitors / Attila / Un Ballo in Maschera / Il Barbiere di Siviglia / La Boheme / I Capuleti e i Montecchi / Carmen / Cavalleria Rusticana / La Cenerentola / Le Cid / The Civil Wars / La Contessa dei Vampiri / Il Corsaro / Dido and Aeneas / Dioclesian / Dom Sebastien, Roi du Portugal / Don Carlos / Don Giovanni / Il Duca d’Alba / I Due Foscari / The Duenna / Edgar / L’Elisir d’Amore / Faust / Die Fledermaus / Four Saints in Three Acts / Frankentata / Il Furioso All’ Isola di San Domingo / La Gioconda / Il Giuramento / Herodiade / Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk / I Lombardi / Lucia di Lammermoor / Lucrezia Borgia / The Magic Flute / Manon / I Masnadieri / Medea / Mefistofele / Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg / The Mighty Casey / Moses und Aron / Nabucco / Norma / Othello / I Pagliacci / Parsifal / Porgy and Bess / The Rake’s Progress / Rigoletto / La Rondine / Samson et Dalila / Simon Boccanegra / Tosca / La Traviata / Treemonisha / Tristan und Isolde / Il Trovatore / Turandot / La Wally.

[Related articles: My Combatless Tour-of-Duty; On the Road with Cliff; School Days]

 

Conspiracy Theory, Part II–The AIDS Epidemic

“A.I.D.S.: America Isn’t Doing Shit!”

That statement comes from a graffito I spied scrawled on the outside wall of a building in Atlanta, Georgia, as I was passing by in a taxicab back in 1993. My first response was, ‘Ooh, read! Ain’t that the truth?’ Well, the acronym is not so much appropriate today as it was during the early days of the epidemic, as great strides have been made for prevention and management. But for too long, “Silence = Death” was our country’s slogan. There are several published theories about why AIDS is here and how it came about. One of them I came across, which I find to be plausible, is that AIDS is part of the evolutionary battle between healthy and unhealthy human ecology.

“The virus is a symptom, not a cause. There are certain evolutionary forces which look blind or uncompassionate to us, and they really are as they affect individual innocent human beings. But as with earlier plagues in history, there is a ruthless evolutionary intelligence which has as its purpose the elimination of unhealthy or overindulgent human practices. The earth is going through one of its periodic cleansing upheavals, which in the past has led to the decimation of populations, and which has kept human occupancy at levels that the planet could support. There is nothing compassionate about this blind evolutionary intelligence, and we have every right to intervene against it and take matters into our own hands to alter it. But we will need to get very smart about the effects of what we do and how we behave as a species, if we hope to succeed against that intelligence.”

There is a certain irony in that theory in that, although it is the unrestrained and unconscious heterosexual breeding that got us into this planetary mess, it’s the queers that have been made to bear the major brunt of the pandemic. We homosexuals are not the ones responsible for overpopulation, but rather the contrary, and we are not really any more promiscuous than the average hetero. But, of course, we get blamed for the situation, like everything else. We still hear it said that AIDS is God’s punishment to those sinful, degenerate homosexuals. But there have been queers for all times, so why then, all of a sudden, did “God” decide to do something about it? And why would God use a virus to get rid of us, rather than just striking us down dead in our tracks? I believe there must be some human intervention involved.

But if AIDS is caused by a virus, as many still believe, the virus doesn’t know, or even care, who it is infecting. “Hey, Mort! What do you think of this guy?” “Well, he’s a goddamned homo!” “So then, let’s get him! How about that little cookie over there?” “Hey, that’s a baby! We can’t do anything to her! Come on, it’s those perverts that we’re after! Don’t you know a faggot when you see one?!” It seems to depend on specific behavior or their circumstances, not about who or what somebody is.

The previous account is the more idealistic explanation of the problem, I guess. This next is a more cynical approach. My earliest suspicions about the origins of this present AIDS crisis go back to 1981 during the first months of the epidemic. Maybe there is some degree of paranoia on my part, but I suspected then (and I still have not completely abandoned the idea) that it was none other than our trusting and incorruptible U.S. Government who introduced the AIDS-causing viruses into the Gay community. I mean, it had to have come from somewhere. It didn’t just happen. I can even tell you why and how I think they did it. So I admit that I do have a suspicious nature, but I’m sorry, I don’t put anything past our Government. I know that others have implied the same thing since, but they heard it from me first.

Just like about 40 years ago I suspected that the rise in breast cancer in women was linked to the taking of birth control pills. People I mentioned it to, of course, pooh-poohed my idea. So one night the news comes on with the announcement that it has been discovered that there is a definite link between birth control pills and breast cancer! Duh! In this particular case, however, I am not suggesting that the Food and Drug Administration knew about the drug’s harmful effects beforehand. But then again, if there was a lot of money involved, I certainly wouldn’t swear that they did not know that anything was wrong with it.

Even so, it’s supposed to be their responsibility to know such things. Consider, too, that the decision-making men would be more concerned with personal profits than with the side effects it has on women, as they don’t take the pills, don’t get pregnant or have to worry about resultant breast cancer themselves, although as of late we have found that men, too, can and do get breast cancer. So, I guess nobody’s safe. It has also been determined now that talcum powder may be responsible for causing cervical and ovarian cancer in women, another non-concern for men.

I don’t know why the American public is so naïve and trusting when we already know about the Government’s history with political assassinations, suspicious aeronautical hoaxes and chemical and biological warfare experimentation. In the ‘50s they conducted potentially-dangerous atomic testing in Nevada and Utah without any apparent regard for public safety and the radiation fallout that would occur.

During the same time and I suppose without the producer’s (Howard Hughes) knowledge or concern, a major movie for RKO studios was filmed nearby (and downwind of) that testing site. The film is The Conqueror (1956), and it cannot be mere coincidence that 91 (that they know about) members of the cast and crew who worked on that production, all contracted terminal cancer in the following years after filming. Some of the victims include the director Dick Powell and stars Pedro Armendariz, William Conrad, Thomas Gomez, Susan Hayward, John Hoyt, Agnes Moorehead and John Wayne.

As far as I know, there never has been an admission of culpability from the Administration or any compensation to the families of the stricken. When the Defense Department (or whoever) eventually figured out that they were probably responsible, they didn’t even offer an “Oops, sorry, my bad!” As the movie itself turned out to be a real stinker–it has been deemed as one of the “50 Worst Films of All Time”–these great movie stars all died for nothing. Even Hughes himself was ashamed of the finished project and kept it under wraps for years. I have not seen the film, but I am curious about it. It is generally agreed that John Wayne is terribly miscast as Genghis Khan! Look it up on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) for more details.

Those powerbrokers on Capitol Hill don’t care who we are or how important we may be to the world at large. They killed President Kennedy and his brother, Martin Luther King (troublemaker!), also a famous and hugely-popular movie star, Marilyn Monroe, and investigative reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, because of the Kennedys’ possible mob connections, and the women must have known too much about something and had to be silenced for it. Those people do not play! There is a substantiated rumor that it was our own CIA who orchestrated Nelson Mandela’s conviction and incarceration.

In the ’30s and without their knowledge or consent, the Powers-That-Be deliberately infected hundreds of poor, Southern blacks with syphilis in order to study the untreated effects of the disease. During the Vietnam Conflict, they freely used the chemical defoliant Agent Orange on our own soldiers, knowing full well of its carcinogenic effects, due to contamination. Then they have the audacity to criticize and reprimand Syria for using chemical substances on their citizens. What hypocrites we are! There were other, similar experiments done on retarded persons as well, without their consent, of course.

Those who are old enough may remember the infamous Atlanta Child Murders. Between 1979 and 1981 the city of Atlanta, Ga. experienced a mysterious crime spree when the murdered bodies of at least 30 young boys, all black, turned up at different times and places in the area. The fact that it was a whole year and after 14 bodies had been found before local law officials finally considered that the murders may somehow be related, says a whole lot in itself. After all, this is the South, and black youths disappear and turn up dead all the time, don’t they? What’s the big deal? What do you think the response would have been if even one white child came up missing or dead? But eventually, it did become a big deal when the victims’ families and concerned citizens wanted some kind of action done. Public pressure then forced the police at least to deliver a suspect for the murders. And you know that they have been known to pick someone, anyone, and then build a case against them.

So one day Afro-American Wayne Williams conveniently just happened to be seen driving away from where the most recent boy had been found dead. “Hey, guys, how about him? Let’s make this boy our scapegoat.” And they did just that. Williams was arrested, charged with the murders of all the boys, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. There are many, however, including some of the parents of the victims, who have always believed in Williams’ innocence. There was no real evidence to tie him to the murders. It was either merely circumstantial or completely manufactured. Besides, what earthly reason would an intelligent, articulate black man have to annihilate others of his kind? That’s the kind of shit that white folks do, isn’t it, especially in the South?

Many suspected, I included, that members of the Ku Klux Klan were the ones responsible. There was definite evidence of lynching activity by the Klan during the time of the killings, so they are the most likely culprits, in my opinion. But of course, no action was done against them, because some of them are most likely the very ones who testified at the trial and served on the jury that convicted Williams. You know, “Make his black ass take the fall, and it’ll let us all off the hook.” White Southern justice prevails again.

The recently-deceased comedian cum civil rights advocate Dick Gregory was also known as a major conspiracy theorist. I saw a TV interview with him a few years before he died, where he related some of his ideas and suspicions. The man was quite intelligent, and his theories, however implausible to some, have not actually been disproved. It goes to what you choose to believe or consider. Gregory seemed to think that there was more to this Atlanta case than any of us could have imagined. I will tell you what he said, and you can make up your own mind whether his assessment has any validity.

Let me briefly give you the T on interferons. They are a group of proteins that have the ability to “interfere” with viral replication by protecting cells from virus infections. They are used to treat such ailments as multiple scherosis, lymphoma, leukemia and hepatitis C. There is always some kind of chemical and medical research going on, and I wouldn’t swear that the AIDS virus was not on their testing agenda as well. Maybe they were looking for a backup plan to counteract what they were about to do. They always need humans on which to experiment. But where can they find these “guinea pigs”? Few are going to volunteer willingly, and it’s better that they be unaware, then they don’t have to pay anybody, you see.

So, just as they had done with all the other clandestine experimentation, they used poor, uneducated black men who were incarcerated or otherwise confined somewhere where they had no control over their bodies. The procedure involved poking around the subject’s groin area and extracting tissue and fluids to obtain the interferon. But it was eventually realized that due to the fact that many of these men were drug addicts, mentally ill and/or elderly, they may not be getting normal, viable specimens. “We need a younger batch of human subjects whose bodies are free of drugs, illness and aging.”

What if the Klan are innocent of the Atlanta killings, and it’s our Government who is yet again the real culprits? They managed to continue their experiments, but on black American children this time, got someone else to blame it all on, another black man, and they come away from it without any suspicion. The bodies of the dead boys were found to have a series of needle marks in their groins. What I don’t understand, however, is why this experimentation proved fatal to the subjects? They must have been doing more than just extracting interferons. You will notice, too, that the time frame coincides with the beginning of the AIDS, or then, GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) crisis.

So, I guess that I am not the only one who is highly suspicious of our Government. And now since Dick Gregory is dead, I don’t mind carrying on his legacy of paranoia and conspiracy theories. Anyway, I have my own ideas about things and what is going on behind the scenes.

We now know that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is nothing new and has even been known about and harbored for decades. It even could have been genetically-altered to give it extra potency and its own uniqueness. I can’t imagine why they would even need such a thing, but now that we have it, what should we do with it? It’s like with a bomb. What good is it if it doesn’t go off? Knowing about the virus’ deadly potential, they needed some human guinea pigs to test it on. So who better than society’s desirably-dispensable as their targets–the gays?

Consider, too, that this was during the time that the Gay Rights Movement in this country was really taking off. Gays were coming out by the millions and having their voices heard, demanding respect and recognition, not choosing to remain invisible and ashamed of being who they are. Somebody must have thought that we needed to be put back in our place–eliminated entirely, if possible. Some even believe that black people, too, were a main target, since the epidemic has claimed a large and ever-increasing number from the black community as well, and in Africa, in particular.

But for my purpose here, let’s use our gay brothers as the probable primary victims. “Let’s see now. We have fucked over plenty of blacks over the years, and besides, we have other ways to deal with them. We already have them killing each other all the time anyway. And military combat is a sacrificial occupation in itself. Let’s go after those goddamned queers! Nobody cares about them either. Besides, we may be able to discourage and discredit their burgeoning activism by making them social pariahs.” “Well, how can we do it? In order to avoid suspicion, we’ll have to trick them into cooperating with us somehow. How can we slip them the virus unbeknownst to them?”

“I’ve got it. We’ll offer the GMHC (Gay Men‘s Health Crisis), on a voluntary basis, a new vaccine for Hepatitis-B. I hear they have a big problem with that. I’ll bet that they’ll jump at a preventative ‘cure.’ That way we can’t really be held responsible for what happens, because we didn’t force it on them; they took it voluntarily, you see. Remember, that’s what we did with the Tuskegee Study. They’ll never suspect us. Heh, heh, heh!”

And what do you know? It worked! We played right into their hands. Those queens rushed down there to get that “vaccine.” I was not one of those who followed the crowd, however. I tend not to be so trusting. I didn’t think that I needed it, for one thing, as I seem to have a natural immunity to hepatitis, as well as the flu virus. For another thing, the posters for the vaccine offer made me suspicious right off the bat. There was no indication of who actually made the posters, and it made me wonder who was so concerned about gay men’s health issues all of a sudden and why. They never cared before whether we lived or died.

And why were these warning notices found only in the bathhouses and gay bars? If this was a potential health concern, shouldn’t everybody be made aware of it? Why are only the gays getting special consideration? I smelled a proverbial rat. And, too, new vaccines are all experimental. You don’t know what they are really giving you. It could be anything, and they could tell you anything. And do! I perceived the message as, “’Come into my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly.“ Uh, thank you, no. I’ll pass. And you see, I am still alive to tell about it.

This was the late ’70s, and it was right soon after that the first real cases of AIDS showed up in these same gay men. A mere coincidence? I’m not naïve enough to think so. But I don’t think that these Secret Service chemists figured on their little experiment to get so out of hand like it did. I mean, it was all right that the virus also infected many intravenous drug users and some Haitians (more dispensable citizenry), but unfortunately, innocent babies, hemophiliacs and recipients of blood transfusions were affected as well, and eventually, because they thought they were somehow immune, the heterosexual community.

Now I don’t mean that other people are more deserving of the disease. What I mean by innocent is that they contracted it inadvertently, not by their own doing. It was foisted upon them by irresponsible health facilities through no action on the part of the patient, or in the case of infants, by their infected mothers. Yes, I say irresponsible, because one does not just infect thousands of people with a deadly virus by giving them untested, contaminated blood, with only the excuse, “Well, we didn’t know that there was anything wrong with it!” But it’s your responsibility to know!

People are just too trusting. That’s how they get themselves into trouble. I mean, if you were in control of the situation, would you readily accept something as important and vital as blood from a total stranger whom you know nothing about, without having it tested to see if it’s tainted in any way, especially when there is a mysterious disease going around? So one day some genius at the blood bank got the notion, “Uh, I guess we should start testing all our blood donations from here on out, don’t you think?” Duh! Hello! Yeah, I think that would be a very good idea!

Do you need more convincing? Eventually, AIDS activists and concerned health officials started to put the pressure on the Government to do something about the crisis, which is something right there. Why would we even have to appeal to our Government and Administration to take some kind of action about such a widespread health crisis? Shouldn’t it have already been a primary concern? Look how quickly they rallied to the plight of those few hets that fell victim to that Legionnaires’ disease in 1976. That virus was non-contagious, and only 34 (presumably straight) people died from it, but it was practically declared a national health crisis at the time. And more recently, it was the Ebola Virus scare, when–what was it?–two or three people got it, and the country again panicked. Well then, why the utter disregard to this particular crisis? (That’s rhetorical. I do know why.)

So because of public pressure, Uncle Sam went back to his lab rats to appeal for “some kind of pacifier to offer these disgruntled People-With-Aids. You know, something to hold them all off until we can get this thing under control. But it has to be beneficial for us, too. I mean, we can’t just give up something without getting something in return, you know. What do you have for me, boys?” “Well, we have this experimental drug called azidothymidine. We used it for a while to treat cancer patients but found it to be too poisonous for their systems. However, we have found it to inhibit the ability of the HIV to replicate itself inside human cells. That should lull those faggots into some sense of false security. You know how gullible they are. I should warn you, though—and don’t you dare divulge this to the people taking it—that due to the drug’s high toxicity, it should be taken in very small dosages. And mind you, this is not a cure, by any means, merely a deterrent.”

“Okay, that’s fine, we’ll take it. And to make sure that we can control its manufacture and distribution, we’ll make an exclusive deal with Burroughs-Wellcome Pharmaceuticals. They will be the only company from which to purchase this ‘wonder drug,’ and they can charge the poor saps whatever they want for it, as long as we get our kickback, of course.”

News flash: March 20, 1987—“New hope for AIDS sufferers! The U.S. Government approves the use of the first major new drug in the fight against AIDS—AZT! It is suggested that every person with AIDS, and even if you are only HIV-positive, should start taking this miraculous drug immediately. The sooner you start, and the more you take, will be to your best advantage and defense.” Oh, by the way, the cost of a one-year prescription to AZT was only $10,000. Is that all?! A bargain! Every sick person I know on disability should be able to afford that. “Of course, that cuts into my rent and other living expenses, but hey! I’ll be saving my life.”

And of course, we did it again! Those sick queens grabbed up every AZT capsule in sight and starting popping them like M&Ms. They still died on schedule, but some were actually convinced that if it hadn’t been for the AZT, they would have died sooner than they did. Perfectly healthy people with no symptoms whatsoever, but who only tested positive, started taking it, no questions asked. Complicit, unsuspecting doctors advised their patients, “Oh no, Cliff, you’re perfectly fine, and your T-cells are well within the safety zone. But I’m going to put you on AZT anyway. It will help prolong your life, for later when you do develop AIDS. Let me start you out with 500 milligrams a day.” Hunh? How is taking such massive dosages of a poisonous substance that destroys healthy, unaffected blood cells and organs supposed to prolong my life? I’m sorry, Doc, but you’ll have to do better than that, ’cause I ain’t buyin’ that one! The stuff was much too toxic to give to cancer patients, but now suddenly, it’s beneficial for faggots and junkies?!

During my travels with The Flirtations I would come across local publications with articles about PWAs in vehement protest because the much-coveted AZT was not being made available in their area. I hope that they (those that are still alive) now realize that their lives may have been spared because they couldn’t get the drug.

The late Michael Callen (my colleague and friend), a very outspoken advocate against AZT, likened it to Drano drain cleaner. He said that if he saw someone about to drink a can of Drano, he would knock it out of their hand. He felt the same way about AZT. But these mindless lemmings believed what they were told by their doctors and the media, took the vile stuff and kept right on dying in droves. So our dear Uncle Sam comes out smelling like a rose. He’s given the American public a sanctioned treatment for AIDS, which proves that he must care about us after all, when in actuality, he is still getting his way. The faggots are still dying, but now it’s a profitable venture for him as well. By the end of 1987, Burroughs-Wellcome had reduced their one-year prescription price of AZT to $8,000 (ah, much more manageable!), but with more than 20,000 people worldwide on the drug, it brought annual sales to over $160 million!

For many years Michael and I tried to convince everybody we knew about the harmful effects of AZT and were ignored and even judged harshly for our beliefs, I might add. So what do you think they found, the very same people who wholeheartedly recommended the taking of AZT in the first place? Ironically, that not only is the drug virtually ineffective in stopping the progression to AIDS in asymptomatic HIV-positive individuals, but now has proven to be quite harmful to these same individuals and may even cause the very ailments that it is supposed to be preventing!

Essentially healthy people with no symptoms whatsoever, after going on AZT, immediately experienced nausea, muscle pain, fever, headaches, fatigue and weakness. Continued use then caused bone marrow and white blood cells destruction, anemia, kidney and liver failure, and neurological damage, among others. Hello? That sounds like AIDS to me! People just wouldn’t listen.

Now, do you still think that the Government is totally innocent of any wrongdoing or conspiracy? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you must have at least reasonable doubt!? Even if you still don’t believe my hepatitis vaccine theory, the Government, knowing full well of its detrimental effect, did, in fact, sanction and encourage as many as 200,000 healthy, HIV+ people to take the deadly AZT on their recommendation. If that’s not conspiratorial genocide, I don’t know what is. Wake up and smell the napalm, y’all!

It has even been suggested that there is already some kind of viable cure. Those chemists are smart enough not to create such a deadly virus without making an antigen for it, just in case, you see. It’s to protect themselves, if nothing else. But you don’t think the Conspirators are going to release it yet, not when their concealment continues to bring in all that revenue from AZT and other expensive AIDS-treatment drugs? You can bet that they are going to milk this thing dry!

So now after almost 40 years since this whole thing began, it has been announced that they finally have come up with a vaccine for HIV, which is supposed to counteract all known strains of the virus. It’s still in the testing stage, however, and how do we know for sure if it is effective or not? They can tell us anything, as they have done in the past. It could be a deceptive ruse just like the others were. And now we have a whole new generation of subjects on whom to experiment. Only time will tell. It’s too late for me, anyway, as I am already positive, and have been so for 35 years or longer!

To illustrate America’s concern, or rather lack thereof, here is how some of the prominent citizens of our benevolent country have responded to the AIDS crisis. A physician on “Good Morning America” in May 1983 warned viewers that although AIDS is “still confined to male homosexuals, Haitians and hemophiliacs, it could soon spread to normal people.” He then added, “We used to hate faggots on an emotional basis. Now we have a good reason.”

Another indication that our Government was responsible, or at least knew more about it than they were letting on, is the fact that the Reagan Administration took so long even to acknowledge it. I doubt if anybody thinks that Ronnie became aware of AIDS only when his friend Rock Hudson announced that he had it in July 1985. And even then, he didn’t do anything about it. In fact, in September 1982, President “Raygun” vetoed a federal spending bill that called for a half-million dollars for AIDS research, arguing that it was “too expensive.” It seems that he needed the money to paint the American flag on his missiles, a much more important use of federal funds, apparently. I mean, why would they want to remedy a situation that they were probably responsible for? It sounds pretty passive-aggressive to me.

The late Congressman Larry McDonald, a conservative Democrat from Georgia, proposed in June 1983 that a federal “user tax” be imposed on PWAs to help finance federal AIDS research. He explained that since they “have brought the disease on themselves, they, not the American taxpayer, should have to pay for the search for a cure.” How absurd! With that thinking, then a user tax might be imposed on the President and his Defense Department, because they brought that war onto themselves and should pay for it. It’s not my war. Why should I have to finance it? In July 1985 U.S. Senators Pete Wilson of California and Al D’Amato of New York held a first-of-its-kind Capitol Hill briefing on AIDS for other Republican senators, and not one single senator showed up for the meeting!

In September 1985 (more than four years into the epidemic) Reagan finally used the word AIDS for the first time in public, while answering a question about it during a White House press conference. The AIDS cases count was well over 25,000 by that time. In March 1986 columnist William F. Buckley called for mandatory tattooing of “everyone detected [sic] with AIDS,” proposing that homosexuals with AIDS be tattooed on the buttocks as a warning of their condition to others. Hey, Bill, is that so you will know the health status of all the guys you fuck in the ass?!

In July 1987 Reagan formed a new 13-member presidential commission on AIDS which consisted of nary a PWA, nor single expert on AIDS nor even a representative for PWAs. It did include Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor (and you know how important his opinion was) and only one openly-gay man. Even members of Reagan’s own administration regarded the commission as a “fiasco.” The United Nations held its first General Assembly session on AIDS in October 1987, more than six years after the epidemic first began! Six years, y’all!

The media wasn’t much better. They seemed not to want to discuss it either. During the first 12 months, when we already had over a thousand cases, The New York Times wrote about it a total of four times. At the same time, during the three months of the Tylenol scare in 1982, The New York Times wrote about it 54 times (several of these articles appeared on the front page)! Total number of cases: 7. How is that for journalistic priorities?

The paper ran a front page headline in March 1983 that read, “Virus Kills 30 Austrian Lippizaner Horses” (oh, my goodness, how awful!), when they had yet to do a front page story on AIDS. You know what? On second thought, that piece of Atlanta graffito may be still quite valid after all. America isn’t doing shit, is it? More apathetic attitude is displayed in the acronym, “Adios, Infected Dick Suckers!” I heard that expressed in a movie by a homophobic character.

Well, if you still don’t buy my Governmental conspiracy theory, how about this one? In 1983 The Globe, a tacky supermarket tabloid (and of course, they never lie), announced that AIDS was actually “the Curse of Tutankhamen,” and that the disease was unleashed on the world when archaeologists first opened King Tut’s tomb in 1922. The article went on to contend that the disease was brought to the U.S. in the late ’70s during the publicity tour of the young pharaoh’s artifacts. And I went to see the exhibit…twice! Oh, my goodness! Maybe that’s where I got it. No? You don’t buy that one, either?

I saw one amusing tabloid headline one day. I never buy those things, I just enjoy reading the headlines while I’m in the grocery checkout line. In many cases the headlines are more thought-provoking and revealing than the actual story inside. “AIDS Scare Slashes Vampire Attacks!” it affirmed. But what I get out of that is the notion that a vampire, already presumably dead, would be concerned about contracting AIDS! I mean, what is the worse that could happen to them? They might die?…again?! Or maybe they are referring to this current crop of youthful vampires, who are very much alive and human.

You know, the bottom line is that it no longer matters where AIDS came from or who started it or why. I wouldn’t even dwell on this pending so-called cure. There are still people who are not at all concerned with AIDS, thinking that it could never happen to them or anyone close to them. There was a TV commercial for cancer treatment that had a young woman telling her friend that her sister has cancer. She says, “I thought that these things only happen to other people. But now it’s my sister.” Well, honey, your sister is “other people.” She’s not my sister!

At the Gay Pride Parade in NYC one year I saw a great placard which read, “Don’t worry—only men, women and children get AIDS.” Oh, I guess the rest of us are safe then. Before anything is done about it, however, there has to be a universal change in attitude about homosexuality. As long as faggots keep dying, no action need be taken. That’s just what they want. Therefore, the solution is up to us. The way to end AIDS is to concentrate on prevention rather than a cure.

A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
Its customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
Its childish pride it often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, dear Reader, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.
–Ogden Nash

[Related articles: Gay Pride and Homophobia; Sexism and Gender Issues; Let’s Have an Outing; On Being Gay]

Conspiracy Theory, Part IV–Anarchistic Trends and Suspicions

Although I do try not to be sexist, I don’t apologize for any terms or expressions used in any of my blog articles that may be considered by some to be offensive or politically-incorrect. Either I think that it’s no big deal myself, or I use certain words to make a point. Now, if you should notice a grammatical or syntactical anomaly anywhere, it’s not because I don’t know any better. I am up on all my rules of English grammar and spelling, but every rule isn’t always logical and practical. If it is, I will abide by it. If I think that it’s pointless or stupid, then I won’t.

I do think that verb agreement with nouns and pronouns and proper punctuation are important, and I do make the attempt to avoid ending sentences with prepositions when it’s feasible, but sometimes it just sounds better the other way. And I don’t mind beginning sentences with conjunctions, but I am careful about adverb placement. (# You only live twice… #–# …I only have eyes for you… #) In these lyrical examples, it should be “You live only twice,“ as the adverb is denoting how many times you live, not that living is the only thing that you do. Do you have eyes for me alone, or am I the only reason that you have eyes? “I have eyes for only you.“ Oh, well, then. A subtle distinction, maybe, but it still makes a difference in meaning.

For myself, I still consider split infinitives to be a no-no, but judging from the preponderance of them these days in spoken language and published print, I’m not sure whether the rule has been officially changed (although I never received the memo about it) or all the people who are guilty of it just don’t know any better.  I would tend toward the latter.  Some of these English grammar “mal-literates” are probably the same ones who unknowingly use the wrong pronoun forms, double negatives, misplaced modifiers and don’t know the difference between plural and possessive and contractions, in some instances.

A split infinitive, by the way, in case you, too, are one of the uninformed, is when another word or phrase, usually an adverb, is inserted between the two-part verb form, the infinitive. It probably was TV’s “Star Trek” which popularized it years ago with their promo slogan, “…to boldly go where no man has gone before.” The infinitive verb is “to go.” Any other accompanying words or descriptions should be placed before or after the verb, not in the middle. It’s “I would like you not to make the same mistake again,” not, “I would like you to not make the same mistake again.” The same thing is done with verb phrases. Someone will say, “I would have most certainly said something, if I had only known,“ instead of “I most certainly would have said something…“ The verb is “would have said”. Don’t split it up. Always put the describing adverb(s) before the verb, or even after it in some cases.

You might say, “Aw, that’s nitpicking. It’s so minor, it doesn’t make any difference.“  Well, of course, they’re not earth-shattering infractions.  But for myself, since it takes the same amount of thought and effort to put the words in the right order, why not just do it that way?  I just don’t understand why people purposefully choose wrong over right when both choices involve equal effort.

(“…To be or not to be…“–That is the construction.)  William Shakespeare knew the correct way when he wrote Hamlet’s famous speech.  It’s probably too late now to reprogram everybody into correctness, just as we have had to accept the use of got as a regular present tense verb, as in # I got rhythm… #, and even the dictionaries now acknowledge “ain’t” as acceptable colloquial usage.  But “ain’t” is only a bastardization of “am not”, not a grammatical infraction.

Another grammatical error occurs in the popular Bacharach-David song, “One Less Bell to Answer.” The lyric should go, # One fewer bell to answer / One fewer egg to fry / One fewer man to pick up after… # It is a common mistake, but less refers to the amount of something, whereas fewer denotes the number of items. “There is less sodium in that tomato juice and fewer calories as well.“ As wonderful a lyricist as he was, Hal David should have known the difference.

I was disappointed that Dan Brown’s editor(s) did not catch a glaring error in his Angels & Demons novel (my favorite of his books; I’ve read it three times!). Brown’s recurring lead character, Robert Langdon, is supposed to be this brilliant scholar and professor who teaches Religious Iconology at Harvard. He has a vast knowledge of world history and cultures, word origins and languages, and is an expert of symbology, puzzles and codes.  In the story, Langdon is on an artistic quest, searching the churches of Rome to find a certain Bernini angel statue which has to do with fire in some way. When he does find it, he notices that the angel is holding a fiery spear, and its head is emanating rays of fire.

I quote: “Even the type of angel Bernini selected seemed significant.  ‘It’s a seraphim,’ Langdon realized.  Seraphim literally means “the fiery one.” (!)  I was flabbergasted. A seraphim? Even if Dan Brown didn’t know that seraphim is the plural form of seraph, somebody else should have caught it before the book went to print.  And Robert Langdon himself certainly would have known better!  And seraphim can’t mean “the fiery one” anyway.  Also, in the Kevin Smith film, Dogma (1999), Alan Rickman appears as an angel and announces to the other characters on hand, “I am a seraphim.”  Oh, really?  You and who else?

TV and movie scripts constantly have actors using the wrong form of personal pronouns in their dialogue, for another thing. “Between you and I,” it always annoys “Lloyd and I” when someone uses a nominative pronoun in a prepositional phrase or after a verbal action.  It is so prevalent in written and spoken communication, the people who do it as well as the editors who don’t correct them, must not be aware themselves that what the writer or speaker is doing is grammatically wrong.  I have made the discovery, watching old movies (pre-‘70s), that the dialogue grammar is more correct than it is nowadays, which indicates a generational decline in American English grammar education.  Even “Boy” in the Tarzan series has impeccable grammar, and he grew up in the African jungle and was taught to speak by one person, his foster mother, Jane!

My grade school teachers insisted that we use correct grammar and punctuation in our writing and speech.  But then, that was because they knew what the correct usage was.  I think that the current problem may stem from the fact that the younger generations, including the teachers, don’t know any better themselves to correct anybody. I know schoolteachers who make grammatical errors all the time. I have acquaintances (I would hope that my real friends are more appreciative) don’t even want to know when they have made a grammatical error.  They hate it when I try to correct them.  They consider it rude.  They would rather go through life letting people know how ignorant they are, rather than have the likes of me attempt to educate them.  I don’t understand it.

I am a firm believer of The Golden Rule.  I never do or say to another person that I would not like done or said to me.  For myself, when I utter an inaccuracy or cite some item of misinformation, I expect someone to call me on it and set me straight.  I know that I don’t know everything, and I am always willing to learn.  But apparently there are those who don’t feel that way.  If they don’t know something, they consider it not worth knowing. That seems to be the common prevailing attitude about education in general in this country–the unwillingness to learn anything new.  I learn something new practically every day, and it’s a fun and exciting thing for me.  Keeping up with celebrity gossip and the sports statistics seem to be more important to a lot of people (not that there’s anything wrong with that) than spelling and using correct grammar.

I mention all this to make this assertion.  We seem to be experiencing an age of some sort of “linguistic anarchy,” because very few are doing anything to address it.  Maybe I just need to accept people’s verbal choices, regardless of their grammatical correctness.  I apparently don’t have the power or influence to change anything, so I guess I’ll just have to live with it. Then why don’t we just do away with language rules and standards altogether.  People can spell anything any way they want to, use whatever words they want to, whether they are the right and appropriate ones or not. This is certainly evident with the present preponderance of texting.  Those who do it have created a new language, made up of abbreviations, short cuts and new spellings of standard words.  Of course, it adds to the already confusing state of communication, which is one reason why language rules were set up in the first place.  Most words in themselves have more than one meaning, so without certain guidelines, like punctuation, spelling and syntax, who knows what anybody means?

Try this little exercise.  See if you can punctuate this series of words, without changing the order, so that it makes some kind of sense: that that is is that that is not is not is that it it is // The answer can be found at the end of this article.

Many of my generation and after either missed out on or have forgotten much of their knowledge of basic American history, too.  Some are oblivious of any cultural items (literature, music, movies) that came about before they were born.  They use the excuse, “Oh, that was before my time.”  So then, all personal knowledge has to be confined to one’s lifetime, and to hell with history?  If a 30-year-old, for instance, knows only what has occurred since 1988, how much can they know?  There is not a whole lot that has happened since then.  World War II and the Great Depression were before my time, but I know something about them.  That’s why we have reference books, the Internet and our forebears to enlighten us about certain things. If they were not already born here, most of these Americans would not be able to pass our citizenship test.  Canadians, for example, seem to know more about the United States than we do about their country or even our own.

Watching TV game shows, like “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” for one, is a real eye-opener and giveaway.  I am constantly amazed and appalled by the ignorant, ridiculous responses to basic, general knowledge questions asked your average, American contestants.  I suppose that we tend to measure other people’s intelligence against our own, and I guess I shouldn’t expect that everyone else received the same schooling that I did, but really now!  They don’t know simple word origins or their meanings, and how did they miss out on how to distinguish the parts of speech, for example?  One girl on the show and well out of high school, could not pick the nouns in a given sentence, did not know what an article is and did not know to which the word lunar referred.  Another older girl has not yet grasped the concept of fractions.  She thinks that one-quarter of anything is always 25.

The questions asked on that show are supposed to be actual 5th grade knowledge.  I expect that these uninformed contestants either forgot what was taught back in grade school or they never learned it in the first place.  I believe that true learning requires retention.  So if you do not remember the basics, like reading, writing, arithmetic, language and vocabulary skills, for example, things that may be useful to you and occur throughout your life, then you never really learned them, did you?  “I used to know how to do long division, but I forgot.”  “How do you distinguish between ‘who‘ and ‘whom‘”?  That’s why I don’t take much stock in grades and degrees and such.  Maybe you passed your tests in school and did what was required to graduate, but if you can’t put that at-the-time learning to practical application later in life, then what was it all for?  I don’t care how many degrees you have.  Can you do the job at hand?

Just recently on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” a spelling question came up.  Being a multiple-choice format, they gave four different spellings of the word “misspelled” and asked which was the correct one.  The contestant himself wasn’t sure, so he asked the audience to help him.  Only a few chose the right answer, but 98% of the audience got it wrong!  Maybe even those who picked the right answer were only guessing.  It could be that nobody really knew the correct one.  I was both surprised and appalled.  This was a typical, across-the-board, group of Americans who don’t know enough to pick out the correct spelling of a simple word, even when it is given to them!  That is just sad.

When I was in school, I didn’t have the benefit of a computer or pocket calculator.  I didn’t even know what those things were.  We didn’t have “Sesame Street” or the type of children’s educational programs that are on TV today.  But I managed to learn how to read and count and cipher all on my own, without any modern appliances.  So why, in this age of high technology with computers and other great learning tools at our disposal, is the rate of functional illiteracy in this country higher than ever and continually rising, it seems?

But that might be part of the problem right there.  Now I am all for the new gadgets that help our everyday coping, but maybe that’s what is holding us back mentally, in some cases.  I admit that I do love having a calculator on my computer and is a great convenience when I have figuring to do.  But it is just that, a convenience.  If I don’t have access to my computer, I am able to figure out a mathematical problem myself, using pencil and paper.  Store cashiers have it easy as well.  They don’t have to figure out in their heads change for their customers.  They just enter the amount of money given for the purchases, and the machine will tell them exactly how much change to give back.

We now have these geographical locating systems for motorists, which especially for your younger drivers, precludes the need for maps.  So there are those who have never learned how to read a road map.  What if they are lost or stranded somewhere and a map is the only thing they have to determine their location?  Shouldn’t they at least have knowledge of such a useful tool?  Whoopi Goldberg related on “The View” one day that her grandson asked her what time it was, and she told him to consult the clock on the wall.  Well, this boy was used to digital clocks and never bothered to learn how to tell time the normal way.  I think that’s pretty sad.

The country also aids and abets in promoting functional illiteracy among its citizens by displaying non-verbal signs and instructions.  All the time we see these signs depicting a cigarette, for example, with a red line through it, meaning “no smoking.”  Others forbid other activities without ever using the actual words.  So it seems it is possible to get through life on a modicum of basic education.  But this aiding and abetting is not such a good thing.  Is that the way we want to go for the future?

The public schools’ education system must be pitifully remiss as well.  It doesn’t help that constant budget cuts are affecting the curricula.  Many school boards have done away with music and art programs, for example.  I relate in another article, (You Better Work!) that I very briefly taught at a public school that did not have a music program at all, and when they called me in to start one, it was for only one day (and one hour) a week. How is a child with no musical training whatsoever supposed to learn how to play a musical instrument, for example, if they have access to it only one hour a week?  Those school boards just don’t care, I guess.

Overcrowded schools are compelled to decrease physical education, for another.  The students at these schools get only one day a week of gym class, if even that.  As a result, they don’t get enough exercise, and along with their unmonitored dietary choices, may account for the prevalence of adolescent obesity nowadays.  When I was in high school, we were made to perform daily calisthenics, which I certainly would not have done on my own.  It was the same in Basic Training.  If they hadn’t made us exercise, I wouldn’t have.  It was certainly for our own good.  But that’s no excuse.  If students aren’t getting the proper instruction and activities in school, then they should find a way to help themselves.  Parents should assist in their children’s education, rather than leaving it to the schools alone.  But the problem may be that a lot of parents don’t know enough themselves to teach their children anything, which could be another reason.

During his reign of terror George Bush Jr., in order to establish some kind of “historic education reform,” promoted his “No Child Left Behind” campaign, which prompted a lot of schools to pass students through to graduation, even if they didn‘t pass their courses.  As a result, teenagers today are still coming out of high school not being able to read or figure math.  The mere fact that anyone would even go along with such a ridiculously-irresponsible suggestion should tell you something about how education is regarded by them.  I wish that this policy had been in effect, however, when I was finishing high school, when one of my teachers prevented my graduation by flunking me in a minor (in my opinion) course. See my blog, School Days for the specific details.

It seems that most people claim math as their poorest subject in school.  But many seem to be quite remiss with their basic grammatical skills, too, as we discussed earlier.  I am more readily aware of someone’s grammatical knowledge than I am of their math skills.  This is quite evident from internet postings, e-mail and chat room banter that I have witnessed, for example.  We have all sorts of tools and aids to do our mathematical problems and computations, whereas grammar and language skills are personally verbal and literary.  If you can’t add or multiply in your head, just use your calculator, but please learn how to spell and punctuate correctly.

U.S. and world geography is another area of deficiency among a lot of Americans.  They don’t know where anything is, whether it’s right here at home or abroad, land or sea.  Many don’t know the state capitals or the names of all the states themselves or even what their own home state looks like on a map!  It makes me wonder what exactly are they teaching the kids in the public schools these days?  If it’s not the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography, then what?  And why are there so many adults who don’t know how to cook?

Eating is a lifetime, everyday activity.  How can anyone grow up never learning how to prepare a meal for themselves?  If your mother (or father, in some cases) doesn’t teach you, then take a home economics or cooking course.  Even if a kid plans to be taken care of their whole life, they still should learn how to be self-sufficient.  Undoubtedly, there will be times when they will have to fend for themselves.  Are you going to sit here and starve, because you don’t know how to boil an egg?

Okay, here is my conspiracy notion that I have been leading up to.  Was it Mr. Bush’s, and others with the power and influence to pull it off, intention to dummy down America’s citizens in this and future generations to become a nation of idiots?  We seem to be headed in that direction, aren’t we?  Since we learn what we know from our elders, if they are not teaching us anything, we in turn don’t know anything to teach our children, and the vicious cycle continues.  Realize that knowledge is power, and the person who would be able to take over the country is the person with the smarts and the intelligence to rule the imbeciles.  They will believe anything they are told because they don’t know any better.  There is already some indication of that with the most recent Presidential election.  Despite what some might think about certain presidents’ intelligence, it turns out that many of our chief executives (Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, Obama, the list goes on) have/had very high I.Q.s, so I am puzzled why education was not a major priority with these guys.  It must have been, and still is, intentional neglect.

There is a 2006 satirical comedy called Idiocracy, in which Luke Wilson’s character, himself not so bright to begin with, due to a military experiment, gets sent 500 years into the future (at the rate we’re going, it won’t take nearly that long) when the entire country is populated by morons!  When Luke is deemed the smartest man among them, they elect him President.  I always contend that life imitates art, and vice versa, and there have been indications of that throughout my life.  I can imagine a future world–well, this country, at least–where stupidity predominates and is the norm.  If things don’t change drastically, that’s exactly where we’re destined.

Of course, as there are always exceptions to everything, I have noticed and am pleased that there are more than a few child prodigies in existence as well, born geniuses who display incredible knowledge and skill at a very early age.  Some are able to talk by the time they are two or three, can read by four and are already performing and entertaining by the age of five (like myself).  So I am encouraged that the situation is not completely hopeless at least.  Most often these amazing wunderkinds are the products of smart, caring parents who begin to educate their children as soon as possible, instead of waiting for the public or private schools to initiate a learning regimen.  I therefore believe that parents who consider education to be of the most importance are going to instill that same concept in their children when they are still young and impressionable.  They will encourage the child as soon as they detect a spark of curiosity and interest in something.  It seems that educational apathy, on the other hand, just inspires more apathy.

Instead of always focusing on defense and foreign aggression, it would behoove our leaders to make education our primary objective.  The mere fact that it isn’t already, makes me think that it is their plan all along to bring about the scenario that I have just laid out.  Just like when our Government ignored the AIDS epidemic for all those years, I suspect that the reason this serious problem has not been addressed is because they are behind it all and don‘t want to do anything about it.  I can’t believe when things are so obvious to me that they are totally oblivious of it all.  They must be aware.  I can’t be the only one who is concerned about this issue. Or maybe Americans really are as naïve and clueless as to what is going on around them.

Because I am one that does not regularly watch the news on TV and I don’t read the newspapers either, some of my friends chide me for not being more informed about world events.  My defense in way of an explanation is that when something that is newsworthy happens or something that has to do with me directly, I will hear about it soon enough.  I don’t live in a vacuum.  I just don’t enjoy listening to all the doom and gloom in the world and how people maliciously treat each other on a daily basis.  The local news is basically neighborhood gossip, reporting personal business about people that I don’t even know.  I don’t care who got mugged this morning or whose house burned down.  As long as it’s not me, I don’t need to hear about other people’s sorrows and woes, especially since I can’t do anything about it.

I think that this also creates social apathy in people.  The daily and constant bombardment of human’s inhumanity to humankind understandably would instill a certain degree of impassiveness and indifference in someone’s psyche.  I get my news from such shows as “60 Minutes,” “20/20” and “Entertainment Tonight,” that reports industry news, which I am more interested in.  I get the celebrity obituaries and film and TV reviews.  I try to look at the bigger picture.  I am more concerned about whether our American youth are getting a good education than about our getting involved with every war and national conflict that comes along.

Another possible national conspiracy for which “Big Brother” may be responsible is the gradual taking away of our personal freedoms and rights, which includes privacy issues.  Of course, all of these inconveniences and compromises have been implemented for our own good and safety, even though we never requested to be looked after.  It seems like whenever somebody does anything now, it sets a precedent for the Powers-That-Be to prevent the rest of us from doing the same thing.  Airport security is a prime example.  Once upon a time travelers could get through the security gate without much trouble.  I don’t mind the metal detectors checking for firearms and other weapons.  But then somebody hid some kind of bomb in his shoes and another in his cap, so now everybody has to remove their shoes and headgear when they go through security.  So one person did that and now they think that it will become a regular thing?  Somebody tried to put an explosive device in a bottle of water, or at least that’s what we were told by the media.  Did anybody really do that?  What real proof do we have?

At any rate, now we are all penalized, and nobody is allowed to take containers with any kind of liquid through security.  One person does that one time, so do they actually think that we all will now follow suit and try to smuggle bombs onto the planes that we are flying on?  Give us some credit. Just the fact that they were caught the first time they tried it, I think would deter anybody else from trying to do the same thing.  So why the concern? But instead of confiscating suspicious items, why don’t they just test those items for their dangerous potential, and if there is nothing wrong with them, then it should be all right for travelers to retain said items.  What they don’t seem to realize, or don’t want to, is that once one method of terrorism is accomplished and that method is then scrutinized and guarded against, the saboteurs will no longer use that particular tactic but will find another way to get us.  If I know that my shoes and bags will be searched, I’m not going to put a bomb in either of those places.  I will put it somewhere I think they won’t check.

As a result of the bombs set off at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, the media tried to create more paranoia among the people. We are now supposed to report any “suspicious-looking packages” to the authorities. So if anyone ever encounters a package or bag lying around somewhere that is not their own, it should be regarded as “suspicious.“  Maybe some absent-minded person walked off and forgot their bag.  I have done that myself. And it didn’t even have a bomb in it either!

Then we had that bombing in Manchester, England, which killed people attending a pop concert.  At the follow-up tribute concert at the same venue, security measures were greatly enhanced.  This time attendees were not allowed to carry with them any kind of bag or purse.  Now, come on!  So now I can’t go out in public with my shoulder bag because I might be carrying a bomb with me?  Again, how can they believe that everybody will follow suit with every terrorist act that occurs and send a representative to every public event that happens all over the world and set off a bomb to kill a lot of people?

Right here on the home front, in our nation’s capital, no less, there was the recent gun attack on the Republican congressmen while they were playing baseball.  Nobody was killed, but there were some injuries.  The shooter was not some foreign insurrectionist with a religious agenda, but a plain, ol’ B-flat, American WASP from Illinois, who was discovered to have a strong hatred for the Republican Party.  The incident occurred on a Wednesday morning in June.  I am one who believes that everything happens for a reason.  I can’t help but think that if all those men had been at work tending to the important affairs of the country and its people, like education and health care concerns, for example, doing what they are being paid to do, instead of outside playing baseball, this would not have happened.  Most, if not all, of those delegates have personal bodyguards, which seemed not to make any difference.  I have said before that there is no surefire maximum security.  They can always find a way to accomplish what they want to do. We just have to continue to take our chances in all of our daily endeavors. All these excessive and inconvenient safety measures don’t amount to a hill-o’-beans.

Remember the guy in Colorado who shot up a movie theater on the day that The Dark Knight Rises (2012) opened nationwide? As soon as it happened, we received news reports that our mayor had ordered police security at the theaters here in New York as a precaution, as if what happened in Colorado would inspire other nuts to do the same thing here.  Then it was suggested that metal detectors be installed and have all patrons be thoroughly searched when they attend movie theaters in the future.  I mean, come on! Are they serious?  Is there such little trust in people that they think that temporary insanity is so contagious that if just one person goes off his nut, then everybody is compelled to go off theirs as well?  Maybe they do think that we’re all stupid!  “Hmm, I never thought about that.  Let’s go all over town and shoot up the cineplexes, so that we can receive a lot of national publicity, too!”

I heard a news report about an action film in production that was toning down the violence in it, in deference to the incident in Colorado.  Okay, I am not so keen on such gratuitous violence depicted in a lot of movies, but do they actually think that if they stop showing crime capers and killing on screen, that everyone will stop doing it?  Films are not the cause of real-life crime.  There are probably hardened career criminals who never even watch TV.  I, and everybody I know, view these same films on a regular basis, and not once have we been inspired to pull a heist or go on a shooting and killing spree.  Movies should not be blamed for people’s actions.

It seems that now even metal detectors have been rendered undependable and ineffective.  I don’t mean to give anybody any ideas, but I read where this is already happening, so I am not giving away any secrets.  It is now possible to create your own 3-D polymer and ceramic firearms by computer, and since they are not metal, when concealed properly, they don’t set off the metal detectors.  So it is possible to smuggle guns through security checkpoints.  I have said before that the concept of maximum security is virtually impossible.  When there is a strong enough will, they always find a way.

I had once contended that to get rid of all firearms would solve the problem.  But we now know that one does not need a gun to terrorize and kill people.  Right here in Manhattan recently some nut plowed down a bunch of cyclists and pedestrians on the street with his truck.  He didn’t even have a gun.  The city’s law officials said that they would increase the security.  How is that possible?  What’s stopping somebody from driving on a crowded sidewalk if they decide to do so?  They would have to stop people from driving their vehicles altogether.  And you know that will never happen.

What has made me so suspicious about all this is that they seem so quick and eager to implement these so-called safety measures any time somebody does something.  I don’t believe that anything is accidental or coincidental. Is somebody putting these people up to committing these acts of violence and terrorism just to give them an excuse to monitor our comings and goings and strip away what little privacy we have left?  We can hardly do anything now.

So, I do admit to being paranoid and suspicious about a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that my fears are ungrounded and that “they” are not really out to get us.  If I can think up these theories that I have mentioned, there must be others who have considered the same notions.  Be aware that everyone does not have good intentions.  There are always evil individuals in the world who will use whatever means possible to carry out their nefarious ideas.  The Devil is always working.

There are people who make it their fun hobby creating viruses and worms and then set about to infect and destroy people’s computer systems.  Then you have your hackers who invade people’s privacy and then use the gained information against them.  Scam artists are everywhere conning people out of their hard-earned money, even those who don’t have all that much to relinquish.

Here is another one that recently occurred to me.  There is this service now–it’s called MyHeritageDNA–that is purportedly able to determine one’s ethnic breakdown.  For a mere $79 (order from Ancestry.com, if you want to pay $20 more), they will send you a kit by which you swab your cheeks, send the sample back to them, and in 4-6 weeks they will give you the results of the test.  These results tell you from what country or area of the world your ancestors originated.

One flaw that I find in that assessment is that a specific country is not a true indication of one’s genetic ethnicity.  Genetic classification should denote racial delineation, like Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid.  A person can be born anywhere, depending on where they are at the time.  If I were born in China, for instance, because my mother was there working or merely visiting, that doesn’t make me or her people Chinese.  I have Negroid DNA, obviously, but that doesn’t pinpoint exactly where in Africa my forebears came from.  For instance, is Kenyan DNA any different than Ugandan, which is right next door?  I have Caucasoid DNA in me as well, as my great-great-grandmother (on my mother’s side) was a white German woman, but how does that prove that her ancestors came from Germany originally? They could have been from anywhere.  Maybe she was the only one born in Germany.

And why does it take so long to get back your results?  If I needed this information as soon as possible for some reason, it shouldn’t take up to six weeks for them to get it for me.  I would think that their findings would reveal itself right away.

The other thing that gives me pause about this testing thing is the fact that you are giving your DNA to somebody who you don’t even know.  They will tell you that they protect your privacy, but how do you know that for sure? Who else might have privy to this information?  They now have your DNA on file, so if you are ever in trouble with the law, they can use that to exonerate you, perhaps, but it can also be used to convict you of something. Don’t you think that if the FBI showed up with a subpoena to obtain your DNA information, they wouldn’t readily give it to them?

And then too, how can you be absolutely sure that the results they send you are really yours alone?  You were not there to monitor the testing procedure.  They could tell you anything.  They already have your money (which is their main objective anyway), so why should they care?  There is a probability that some genetics experts are able to alter and manipulate DNA.

Ancestry.com is now even on a recruitment campaign.  In addition to their TV commercials, they have gotten “The View” for one–there may be others as well, I don’t know–to get their viewing audience to give their DNA kits as holiday gifts.  On the day that I first saw this, everyone in the studio audience were given one as a consolation prize.  So they are foisting this thing even on people who did ask not request it.  Why such generosity, and why do they want our DNA so badly?  What’s in it for them, I wonder?  I guess that I am not so trusting as a lot of people seem to be.  You might be saying that in life we have to trust somebody.  But do we?  I have found that you can only be betrayed by somebody you trust.  See my blog entitled, “Trust Me” for a discussion of other trust issues.

What about this new Google Echo information robot that is on the market now?  It is your own personal search engine, similar to “Ask Jeeves” from some years ago.  You ask this unit any question, and it will search its database and give you an answer.  Oh, what a fun toy, and how useful besides!  What the owners of these things don’t seem to realize, or maybe they just don’t care, is that this machine is hooked up to the World Wide Web and is monitoring your every move and listening in on everything that you say.  In other words, “Big Brother is watching you!”  The thing records all interactions with it, so it has your search history and knows all about you and your household members.  And as the Internet is controlled and maintained by somebody, that Somebody is also all up in your business.

It has even been suggested that the recent controversy about the feature film The Interview (2014) is fraught with conspiratorial intrigue.  First of all, I thought from the very beginning that Sony’s decision to pull the film from commercial release because of a terroristic threat from North Korea was suspicious in itself.  If the movie wasn’t out yet, how did they know the content and what was said in it?  The thing about Korea’s hacking into Sony’s computers, or whatever it was, is utterly preposterous.  Are they in the habit of monitoring every movie that is made, or did they target only that particular one because it was about them?  So what if the actors mentioned the North Korean leader by name?  I would think that he would feel honored.  I certainly would be!  To be mentioned by name in a major motion picture, what’s wrong with him?  As I said in another post, there is no bad publicity, really.  Whatever it is that was said about that guy or his country is not going to change anything on our part.  Is he doing something that he doesn’t want anybody to know about?  Why should he care what any of us think?  We can have an opinion, but we can’t or won’t do anything about it.  We will watch the film, laugh about it (or not), and then go about our business.  Life goes on.

I always suspected that it was just a big publicity stunt to promote the film. Movie-making is a business.  I didn’t believe for a moment that a production company would spend millions of dollars to make a film and then accept to lose all the potential profits because of some alleged idle threat.  And sure enough, only days after Sony announced that they were going to shelve the film and prevent its release, they changed their minds and decided to release it after all.  Really?  Quel surprise!  And of course, now with all the buzz that was created about it, everybody wanted to check it out, which was their intention all along.  This was a way for them to get some of their money back, by creating all this hype about it and hoping people would flock to see it, which they apparently did.

So because of this incident with Sony, our Government feels that they need to get involved.  All the movie studios, companies and distributors have corporate ties with the Internet, which is supposed to be free public domain to the world-at-large.  But Big Brother wants to control the Internet, too, and decide for the rest of us what is suitable and what we should, or more importantly, should not have access to.  It’s George Orwell’s 1984, only thirty years later.  Everything happens for a reason, and it’s all carefully calculated and planned.

So don’t you now think, as I do, that they have something to do with creating all these situations just to give them an excuse to intervene on our behalf and protect us from the evils of the world?  Who has the power or ability to protect the entire world from personal harm, bodily or otherwise? We all have to be responsible for our own safety.  We shouldn’t expect anybody to protect us 24/7.  It’s not possible.  We often hear the admonitions, “Be careful“ or “Take care now.”  But why should I be careful if I know that the Government is always looking out for my welfare and best interest?  Well, honey, it’s not!  You need to look after yourself.

Movie buff that I am (Who, me? Really?), I try to see everything eventually, so when The Interview came out on video, I rented it from Netflix, expecting the worst.  Well, I am pleased to report that I think that the film is much better than I thought it would be.  It has a brilliant, hilarious script, a good and plausible story, and the stars, James Franco and Seth Rogan, are a comedy team that rivals the veteran teams of yesteryear.  It’s thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining and most likely will receive multiple viewings by me.  If “Supreme Leader” Kim Whatshisname is at all offended by the film, then he needs to get a sense of humor.

At least the writers gave his character some humanity and even tried to explain why he is the way he is, if that is the way he really is.  I don’t know for sure whether they lied about anything.  We know only what we are told by the media, which is the whole point of the movie.  The titular interview was to determine if any of what has been reported about the guy was true. If he is, in fact, guilty of the accusations cited therein, then I say, ‘If the foo shits, wear it!’

I hope that my thoughts in these posts don’t get me in trouble, like poor Mel Gibson‘s character in the movie Conspiracy Theory (1997) did. When he published his ideas, the big guys came after him. He apparently struck a nerve with certain people. It turns out that his paranoid ramblings about certain Governmental mischief weren’t so far-fetched after all.  I know that I can’t prove any of this, but a theory does not require proof.  It only indicates that there may be another explanation for something other than the generally-accepted one.  There is always more than one side to every story, so I am merely suggesting other possibilities.  It all comes down to believing what we want to, regardless of the actual truth.  If any of my ideas are pure bullshit, then I should be safe, no harm done.  But as none of my suppositions are entirely my own–I couldn’t be the only one who thinks this way–there is no reason why the Powers-That-Be should come after me specifically.  I am just reporting what some people probably are already saying or thinking.

Solution to the Punctuation Poser–That that is, is.  That that is not, is not.  Is that it?  It is.

Black History, Part 5: Biased Concerns

Look at how black celebrities are constantly maligned by the white gentry. “The Great White Hope” came about in 1910 when black prizefighter Jack Johnson [1878-1946] had attained the world’s heavyweight championship, and a campaign was begun to find another white contender willing to fight Johnson, beat him and take back the crown. The previous champ, Jim Jeffries, never wanted to fight Johnson. “I ain’t gonna fight no dinge!” he kept declaring. What’s the matter? Are you scared? Jeffries had already retired undefeated some years before and did not relish giving up his title to a Negro. After all other attempts failed, Jeffries became their last hope, and he eventually agreed. Maybe the $65,000 purse had something to do with his compliance, too. You think? This fight became a symbol of athletic superiority of the races. As it turned out, Jeffries’ fears proved to be warranted, because Johnson did beat him, too, and retained his title. This caused much protest and rioting for weeks after from outraged whites. Then they went after Johnson on a personal level. If they can’t beat him in the ring, they’ll find other ways to get him. His unrelenting penchant for white women (he was even married to several of them) certainly did not help his popularity and acceptance any. They eventually did get him for violating miscegenation laws and the Mann Act.

Hank Aaron, too, was an object of persecution. Did you know that many white baseball fans were very upset when he broke the homerun record in 1973? He received all kinds of threatening hate mail when he was about to do it. “Dear Nigger Henry, You are not going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if you can help it…Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies…My gun is watching your every black move.” Well, if they are so superior and all that, what are they so worried about? The truth is, maybe Babe Ruth wasn’t all that great. He just hadn’t played with or against anybody that was better than he was, namely, the greater black players! One’s worth can only be determined by comparing them to the people they directly work with. If he had been allowed to play with certain blacks, he probably wouldn’t have set any kind of record at all. I believe that the best or greatest of any human endeavor can never be determined, because, theoretically, there is always someone somewhere in the world that is better. The artists and films that win Oscars every year for “best” achievements are chosen only from the five nominees submitted. They are never really “the best,” necessarily. The best performance of the year most likely was never even put up for consideration.

Here is a damned-if-you-do/don’t situation. When a white guy is trying to pick a fight with a black guy, it’s often difficult to avoid the altercation. “Hey, Boy, didn’t I hear you say that Joe Louis can beat any white man that he comes up against?” Now if the other guy answers in the affirmative, those are fighting words. How dare he say such a thing? But if he denies it and says, “No, suh, I never said that at all,” the response is, “So then, are you callin’ me a liar, Boy?” which then gives them cause to fight anyway. The white guy is not going to let the other one off the hook in either case.

Remember what they put Clarence Thomas through before his appointment to the Supreme Court. Even if he was guilty of the sexual harassment charges against him, I doubt very seriously if he is the first and only Justice in history who ever made an inappropriate pass at a woman. So why was Thomas singled out and made an example of at that particular time? No one can convince me that his being black had nothing whatsoever to do with it. I have always suspected that Thomas’ appointment is merely a token gesture anyway. It has been reported that he is not given equal influence or has as much importance as any of the others (I can relate to that), and I have even heard him being referred to as Clarence “Uncle” Thomas!

And of course, everything that the Obamas did was subject to close scrutiny and negative criticism by some people. When they came to New York to take in a Broadway show, there were grumblings about their choice of show to see. “Why did they attend that ’black’ show rather than one of the more lily-white ones that are playing?” Well, duh! Because that is the one that they wanted to see! The Obamas took a trip to London and got to meet the Queen, and somebody took a picture of the First Lady with her arms around the Queen’s shoulders, and people complained, “Ach, how dare ’that woman’ touch the Queen!” What they didn’t see or even cared about was that Elizabeth had first put her arms around Michelle! And it turned out that they were talking about shoes at the time, like two girlfriends! Michelle also received flak from people for being photographed wearing a dress that showed off her bare arms. Our current First Lady Melania Trump posed nude for a photo shoot some years ago, but that’s okay, it seems. I hate this hypocritical double standard used when people set out to discredit somebody.

They constantly made offhand racist comments and then tried to feign innocence when they were called on their shit. Like when Republican Congressman, Doug Lamborn from Colorado, said in an interview that having to deal with the President is like “touching a tar baby.” I’m sure he would not have said that about Clinton or Bush. Throughout Obama’s administration he had trouble getting things done because there were those in his employ who just hated and refused to take orders from a black man. So you see, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you achieve in life, if you’re not all-white, there are those who will always try to put you down. When some John McClain supporters would ask me if I was voting for Obama just because he is black, I admitted to them that indeed I was. And then I asked them, ’Isn’t that the very reason why you are not voting for him?’

What it is with those people who just won’t let it go about O.J. Simpson? I somehow doubt that the murders would have been the big deal it was if the victims had not been white. The ones who still think that he’s guilty just can’t accept the fact that a black man got away with murder and did it through our American court system and was able to hire expensive lawyers to defend him. Even if he really did it, that’s only one case. Consider the vast number of white men (and women, too) who have committed murder over the years and were never convicted or even went to trial, the lynchings for sport of blacks and the assassinations of our black civic leaders. Why aren’t these same people as outraged and unrelenting about that? Remember how the police immediately went after O.J. right after the murders occurred, although they didn’t have any real evidence against him, but when Robert Blake’s wife turned up dead, they waited until more than a year before they even considered him a suspect!

Lana Turner admitted years later that she is the one who in 1958 stabbed to death her lover Johnny Stompanato for which she got her teenaged daughter, Cheryl Crane, to take the rap and was acquitted. The killing was pronounced a justifiable homicide on the grounds that the girl was trying to protect her mother from what she believed had been a threat to her life. I suppose the victim’s being a notorious hoodlum must have helped their case. So you see, I’m sure that whites get away with murder more often than blacks do, especially when the victim is black, and even when they‘re not.

Eddie Murphy did an HBO comedy special some years ago in which he told, what some considered to be, off-color gay jokes that angered some gay media watchdogs. Those guys were always complaining about queers constantly being ignored and unacknowledged in show business, then whenever somebody does include us in their work, they don’t like what’s being said. Well, they can’t have it both ways. Eddie was all dressed in tight-fitting, red leather pants and shirt and was pacing back and forth across the stage while he was talking. I remember him saying at one point, “I know that you faggots out there are lookin’ at my ass. And the reason that I’m moving around so much is because I don’t know exactly where you’re sitting.” I think that’s funny. He made an innocent observation, even if self-indulgent. What’s wrong with that? He wasn’t wrong either, because I certainly was looking at his ass myself!

He also mentioned that “this AIDS thing is some scary shit” (we didn’t know a whole lot about the disease at that time), and he may have made some wisecracks about it. I suppose that some objected to Eddie’s use of the word faggot, and AIDS is much too serious a matter even to joke about. I didn’t mind any of his comments, and I wasn’t in the least offended. But that’s me. Arthur Bell, however, of The Village Voice tried to launch a campaign to put Eddie in worldwide disfavor, instigating a boycott of his movies, TV appearances and recordings. I thought, Chill out, Arthur! Where is your sense of humor? You want to destroy a man’s career just because he called nobody in particular a faggot? White standup comics always say insulting things in their routines. Comedy is based on making fun of somebody. Joan Rivers, for one, used to and others, too, spout disparaging gay humor all the time, so why did Bell single out Eddie as doing something unique and unforgivable? If he is waiting for gay glorification from the mainstream media, I think that he has a long wait.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X were troublemakers, stirring up dissention amongst the races, so they were promptly dispatched. Okay, so Malcolm was killed by other blacks, but I’ll bet you it was some white men who put them up to it. The movement to make King’s birthday a national holiday was met with much objection and resistance. It took 17 years for them finally to okay it and another 13 before it was acknowledged in all 50 states. I’ll bet that they didn’t fight it when Christopher Columbus was up for consideration. And he was not even an American and a slave trader to boot!

Some years ago many whites disliked Rev. Louis Farrakhan (they probably still do), because he “advocates hatred of whites.” Well, I have heard the man speak on several occasions and I have never heard him say that he hates anybody. It’s just that he speaks the truth about white people and they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to own up to their faults. He’s just like me in that respect—he calls ’em as he sees ’em. I speak the truth about white people, too, but that doesn’t mean that I hate anybody. That’s not the same thing. I can hate what someone is or does but not hate the person. I wish people would listen with an open mind to what the man is saying instead of always twisting his words and projecting their own pre-conceived ideas of what he’s all about.

I thoroughly enjoyed Farrakhan’s address at the Million Man March in 1995. On the day of the March, before Farrakhan had even said anything, our dear President Clinton had publicly badmouthed the man, warning us about his upcoming message of hate and ill-will. That’s right, Bill, prejudice the whole nation against him before he has a chance to state his position (as if Clinton had any right to judge and criticize anybody). His brilliant speech was not like that at all. It wasn’t even about Whitey. If anything, he was telling the men there that we need to get our shit together and stop blaming others for our misfortunes. It was more of a pep talk, in actuality. I found him to be quite articulate, inspiring, spiritual, empowering and educational.

I have, however, changed my initial defense of the man since I learned that he is probably responsible for killing Malcolm X, but not dismissing the notion that he had help and some encouragement from white men. When Malcolm cut himself off from Elijah Muhammad and Islam, he began making disparaging remarks about his former mentor, which Farrakhan, his new protégé, did not take to kindly to, and he had him subsequently disposed of. Ironically and hypocritically, this aforementioned speech of his in 1995 is practically the same things Malcolm preached about just before he was killed. I guess they had a more common philosophy than he realized at the time.

Then along came the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was President Obama’s former pastor and who almost hurt Obama’s candidacy because of his association with Wright and the preacher’s public statements that have been deemed to be anti-American and anti-white. The substance of some of his statements was American racism, criticism of our Government and pointing out the hypocrisy displayed in dealing with world terrorism. Again, we don’t like to hear the truth about ourselves. The media critics didn’t seem to mind, however, when the white evangelists (John Hagee and Pat Robertson) who endorsed John McClain’s campaign for President, likened the Catholic Church to the Nazi regime in their thirst for Jewish blood and blaming Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks on America’s tolerance of gay people.

Then after two years in office, some Republicans, headed by Donald Trump and his Tea Party cohorts, were all concerned about Obama’s questionable American citizenship and bringing his actual birth certificate under public scrutiny. I would think that all of that would have been investigated and proven before his campaign and subsequent election. Martin Van Buren’s first language was Dutch. I wonder if anybody questioned his birthright when he ran for President? I wonder, too, if Donald Trump is one of those two-faced “whited sepulchers” that I cited in another post (Color Issues)? He acts as if he likes black people, but does he really?

Another powerful and influential voice that the Powers-That-Be did their best to try to silence was Paul Robeson [1898-1976]. He was a man of many talents: singer, actor, Phi Beta Kappa scholar, athlete, author and political activist. It was the latter that got him into the most trouble. As a much-sought-after performer during the late forties and early fifties, Robeson made several visits to the Soviet Union, where he was constantly revered and adored and where his color was never an issue, as it is here in this country. When there began rumblings about U.S. Communist infiltration and Russia became a potential war enemy, Robeson appealed to all American blacks that they refuse to go to war against Russia, if it ever came to that. He went on to explain that we shouldn’t have any gripe with them, as the Russian people treat us better than our own countryfolk. Of course, this sentiment was interpreted by some that Robeson was unpatriotic and a Communist sympathizer, resulting in his instant ostracism and blacklisting by Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and their cohorts.

Despite all of her money, and probably because of it, Oprah Winfrey was sued for slander and forced into a lengthy court settlement when some white, Texas cattle ranchers accused her of ruining their beef business, due to her so-called great influence on the American public. But the thing is, during her show discussion about mad cow disease, Oprah didn’t tell her viewing audience that they should not eat beef ever again, she was speaking for only herself. Since when was sharing a personal dietary decision with someone a trial-worthy crime? If you or I ever announced on nationwide TV that we were giving up chocolate for whatever reason, could the Hershey people, or would they, sue us because of their declining sales? I rather doubt it. Isn’t Oprah entitled to freedom of speech rights like everybody else? The very trial was so bogus, in my opinion. I think that those crackers did it for the publicity and as a possible means to get some money from Oprah (they were suing her for $11 million) and at the same time defame her dignity. “That Negress is too rich and too uppity for our own good. She needs to be put in her place.” Fortunately, since Oprah is so well-loved, even by most whites, ultimately the charges against her were not convicting. Anyway, how can one black woman be any serious threat to the more powerful white men?

Do you think that singer/actor Vanessa Williams’ little indiscretion, revealed in 1984, was the first and only scandal associated with Miss America? Well, check this out. A Miss America contestant in 1923 was tried and acquitted for killing her husband. Miss America 1926 was discovered to be an adulteress, prostitute and alcoholic child abuser, who shared her highballs with her 2-year-old. Miss America 1937 didn’t even serve her term, because the morning after she was crowned, she ran off to parts unknown with her boyfriend. Miss America 1945 (humanitarian Bess Myerson) was once charged with bribery and arrested for shoplifting. Miss America 1976 admitted to being a pothead, Miss Florida 1982 was arrested for drunken driving and Miss Ohio 1982 was charged with shoplifting. All these charges were dropped and all was forgiven.

But it’s the first black Miss America who was forced to give up her crown because she had previously posed nude for a photographer. Now, come on! What was so heinous about that? You know?—any little thing they could find to discredit her. And you know that somebody was on her case the whole time. Vanessa reports that her victory did not sit well at all with the bigoted South and white supremacist organizations, for one thing. She regularly received death threats and was afraid to appear in public crowd settings because of potential snipers being present. She was also criticized for having an opinion of controversial topics. Interviewers would ask her questions and Vanessa would give intelligent, honest answers. When she was asked to give up her crown, she initially intended to sue, but she was warned that they would dig up her entire sordid past and use it against her in court. She decided that it wasn’t worth it and dropped the law suit. So then, I guess that adultery, prostitution, drug and child abuse, felonies and even murder are all okay, as long as you are white and you keep your clothes on while doing them!

While Fantasia Barrino was competing on “American Idol” in 2004 and viewers learned that she was a teenaged unwed mother, she started receiving hate mail and bad press. She was a disgrace and not worthy of representing American values, they complained. I didn’t hear any similar feelings about any of the white contenders in the same situation. Although Fantasia did consider withdrawing from the competition, she decided to ignore all the negative criticism and went on to win that year, by 65 million votes, I might add. So there!

Some years ago while working for the Psychic Friends Network, they gave my girl Dionne Warwick a hard time, making her out to be a crook and embezzler. But even if she were guilty (I happen to believe and accept her explanation of the situation, however), what, no white folks have ever confiscated any money under false pretext?! Hello?! They who are without sin may cast the first stone.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”–Emma Lazarus

Now the Government is trying to crack down on “illegal aliens,” not wanting them here because “they take our jobs away and eat up our food.” Come on, if someone is able to take somebody else’s job, then that person must not have been doing it well enough or someone else is better suited for it! In this land of so-called free enterprise, a person is supposed to be able to pursue any work endeavor that they desire, aren’t they? They should be glad that our immigrants want to work. Those who lie around idle and take advantage of our Welfare benefits, these same complainers call lazy and shiftless. It’s another case of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t. Who are they trying to kid? What about our own citizens who take advantage of our Welfare system? I see it as just another exercise in discrimination. Those bureaucrats in Washington need to visit our Statue of Liberty sometime and read the above inscription on the thing. Accepting foreigners is supposed to be what this country stands for. Everybody here, if not born here themselves, has ancestors that came from somewhere else.

You will notice that they target only People-of-Color for restriction and deportation—your Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, Caribbean islanders, for the most part, but now Donald Trump has added people of the Muslim faith, in particular, Syrians, to the list. Some are afraid that their intent is to infiltrate in order to take over the country. Maybe they just want to get away from the terrible situation in their homeland. That’s the reason everybody else wants to come here–for a better life. America has always been populated by foreign refugees. This is nothing new. Two of Trump’s three wives are foreigners. I’ll bet he didn’t try to keep them out of the country!

There are some white separatists who want everybody except their immediate family to “go back to where they came from,” not acknowledging the fact that they themselves also came from somewhere else. They don’t even want people here who were here before they were. Senator Rawkins, a character from Finian’s Rainbow, when informed that Finian McLonergan is an Irish immigrant, exclaims, “An immigrant! Damn! My whole family’s been havin’ trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country!”

Those pooh-pooh naysayers don’t seem to be as restrictive with white Canadians and native Europeans, however. Look how many native Canadians (like, Celine Dion, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner and Alex Trebek) and Australians (like, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Anthony LaPaglia) in the entertainment field are working constantly in this country. Some have won Academy Awards, and they all have gotten rich, taking good jobs away from our own out-of-work actors. Why aren’t they subjected to prohibition and deportation? The Manhattan clinic and hospital where I receive my health care is loaded with exotic physicians. You should see some of the names on the directory. Not a Smith, Jones or Williams in the bunch. I wonder how much trouble they all had getting into the country? I, myself, am seeing a Hungarian doctor and also one from Croatia.

There was a recent news item about a Nigerian immigrant living in New Jersey, being convicted of “fake identity,” when he took the name of a dead man and worked for over 20 years at the same job with a person‘s name other than his own. He was somehow found out and was subsequently indicted for it. I don’t see how the man committed any kind of crime by using the name of someone who does not exist anymore. Welsh singer Arnold George Dorsey took the name of a dead German composer and has lived his career as Engelbert Humperdinck ever since. British actor Jane Seymour did the same thing. I never realized that changing one’s name was a federal offense. Or is it only so when a non-white person does it? Of course, the fact that the guy is an illegal alien does not help his case any. It seems that they will use any excuse to justify their bigotry. It’s more hypocrisy.

Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, got into some trouble a few years ago when he commented publicly that “Mexican men and women are willing to do the kind of work that even black people now refuse to do.” Until he was called on the carpet about it, Fox and some of his associates didn’t even realize that what he said was very racist–at least he said that he didn’t know. Just because at one time blacks were forced or compelled to do certain jobs, doesn’t mean that it was what they preferred to do. He should have said that Mexicans will do the work that nobody else wants to do, including white people, or they wouldn’t be trying to get somebody else to do it for them! Fox’s subsequent apology was not for making the comment itself. He was sorry that certain people were offended and took his remark the wrong way. What?! I guess he still doesn’t get it. TV chef Paula Dean does the same thing. A couple of times now she has been publicly reprimanded for making racist comments and gestures. But instead of apologizing for saying what she did, she is only sorry that some people were offended by it.

If you check it, what is now the southwestern United States (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California) used to be Northern Mexico before the white settlers stole the land away from the natives. The Mexicans are not really immigrating, then. They didn’t come from somewhere else. They were already here. It’s merely a matter of a silly, arbitrary border, some of it is actual land and part of it is a river. So who are really the “illegal aliens” here? The term itself seems invalid and unfair. It’s as if somebody drew a line in the sand and demanded the inhabitants on either side of the line to stay on their side. Actually, the “U.S.” residents can cross the line whenever they want to, but the Mexicanos have to play “Mother May I” to get permission to cross. Is that fair?

I noticed a hypocritical sign at JFK Airport recently when I returned from one of my trips. It reads, “Welcome to New York City. We are so glad to have you here.“ Who, exactly, is “you”? So I suppose if a Mexican person, for example, somehow obtained a passport and entered the country by plane, it would be all right for them to be here. But we can’t have them sneaking in through the back door by crossing an arbitrary land barrier. If that welcome sign applies to anyone who sees it, it shouldn’t make any difference who they are or how they arrive.

Why should it be against the law for any person to venture from one country to another without governmental sanction? I don’t like this whole idea of national borders anyway—needing permission to live in, and even to enter and visit, other countries. Why can’t everyone be allowed to come and go and live anywhere they please? It only perpetuates the idea of terrestrial possession, causing groups of people to cherish their territorialism and to feel that they have the right to keep the “undesirables” out. A person like Bill Gates could live anywhere in the world that he wanted to—I mean, he could even buy the whole country, with his money and his being white and all—who would stop him? But a poor Cuban refugee, for example, does not have that privilege.

And how about those ignoramuses that used to get on the TV talk shows imploring us to help them “keep the white race pure”? I doubt very seriously that there are any pure white persons left on earth. If they go back far enough, they’ll be sure to find some black or Indian or some other kind of non-white genes amongst their ancestors. It’s virtually unavoidable. The same can be said of black Americans. All current generations most likely have Caucasian ancestors, if not directly then indirectly. For myself, my great-great-grandmother, on my mother’s side, was a German woman, and because of my relative, Matthew Henson, I even have Eskimo cousins living in the Arctic! And of course, to let them tell it, it’s all our doing that the races are all mixed up, when they are the ones who always instigated it. The African slaves did not voluntarily come to this country with the express purpose of mating with white Europeans. It wasn’t our men seducing and raping the white women. I have seen signs carried by white protesters that read, “We will not accept mixing of the races.“ But they are the ones doing it! It’s the white men who impregnate black and other women against their will.

Black pioneer filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux, made a film in 1920 called Within Our Gates, and one scene has a Southern, elderly white man invading the home of a young mulatto woman, and he is about to force himself sexually on her, when he recognizes a hereditary birthmark on her body and realizes that it’s his own daughter that he was about to rape! He apparently had done the same thing to the girl’s mother years before. We are not the ones who invented miscegenation. So now they want to forget about the past actions of their forebears and act like nothing happened, in order to reclaim their pure white status. Well, too late, people. The “damage” has already been done. But so what if there is such a purebred white person? Is that supposed to be some great achievement or special honor? What makes their Aryanism, or whatever the fuck they think they are, superior to someone with multi-lineage and mixed genes? I would think that having more would be better to having less. These folks need to get their minds fixed.

[Related articles: Black History, Part 1–Did You Know?; Black History, Part 2–Slavery and Its Aftermath; Black History, Part 3–Racism via Show Business; Black History, Part 4–Injustice; Color Issues; Some Racial Observations and Assessments; Stereotyping and Profiling, Racial and Otherwise; Walt Disney, a Racist? Who‘d‘ve Thunk It!?]


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