Solid Gold

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In 1986, I was graduating from Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business, and my trajectory was about as unspectacular as you can imagine. I was headed to a life with a boring job, a boring wife, 2.5 boring kids, in a boring house located on a boring cul-de-sac. In an effort to put off the inevitable, I stayed in New Orleans one last summer parking cars at “4141,” an uptown dance club. Parking cars is not glamourous work, but there was one perk, the sex.

Single, drunk women, would exit the club in the early morning hours to find me, a nice clean cut college kid standing there in my khakis and crisp white Izod. I’m sure I looked like a beacon of youth and hope, standing in stark contrast to the douchebags inside the club.  For a broke college student, an offer of breakfast and sex made every day feel like Christmas.

It was a Thursday night around two in the morning when Bea Arthur and another Golden Girl stumbled out of the club, drunk and looking for trouble. Golden Girls was a huge hit in 1986, despite the controversy over senior citizens talking about sex, and these ladies were definitely enjoying the spoils of their recently acquired fame. Incidentally, the other Golden Girl asked that I withhold her name if I ever retold this story, so from here on out I’ll refer to her as “Rue.”

As we stood around waiting for their limo, they started flirting with me. Bea pointed her thumb in my direction, “Rue, what do you think this one weighs?”  Rue replied, “I don’t know, but I bet he’d fit in my overnight bag.” It was corny, but I laughed. The ice was broken and soon they were begging me to show them around town. Unfortunately, I told them, I’m wasn’t off for another two hours, but I offered to draw them a map of where to go. Bea wasn’t used to being told she couldn’t have what she wanted, so she marched back into the club and told the manager she was taking me.

I wasn’t sure if that’s how it felt to be a prostitute, but if it was, I liked it.

Two minutes later, I was in the back of their limo and we were off looking for a bar.

We ended up in a seedy dive down in the French Quarter. The kind of joint you need a local to help you find.  It was dark, the floors were sticky, and the bartender was missing fingers on both his hands (not to mention, an eye) but somehow he pulled off the best Mai Tai that has ever crossed my lips.

Bea and Rue started getting loose, and we all started dirty dancing to Kool and The Gang, which looked a lot like me dancing at my Bar Mitzvah, if I had ground my hips into my grandmother instead of Cindy Goldsmith. As I was doing my best white boy epileptic stripper impersonation this big, fat, old, guy came out of nowhere and started working Bea’s ass. I thought to myself, “Hey asshole, you don’t get a cock-block bye because you carry an AARP card.” Of course I didn’t say anything. He was bigger than me and I avoid confrontations because I bleed easily. And I cry. It’s fairly humiliating. So, I decided to move onto Rue.  At 21, rubbing up against anything feels good, even an old woman. Especially with your eyes closed.

Afraid that if we continued to dance we might need to defibrillate the old guy, I suggested they sit down while I ran over to get another round of drinks. By the time I got back to the table, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness and I realized that the fat, sweaty, cock-blocker was Marlon fucking Brando. He was breathing heavy, like he had asthma or something (by the way, I don’t think it was asthma. I think it was the extra 185 pounds he was carrying around like a unitard filled with rice pudding). But there was no question, it was Marlon Brando. I put my out my hand and introduced myself and he asked me to call him “Uncle M”, which I found super creepy.

I’ve always loved Brando because he had big, brass balls. He didn’t take shit from anybody and he didn’t care what anyone thought of him. Prime evidence of this attitude is Oscar night, 1973. Brando wins the Academy Award for The Godfather, but instead of going up and accepting it, he sends Sacheen Littlefeather, dressed like an American Indian Princess, to turn it down because of the “mistreatment of American Indians by Hollywood.”  Can you imagine Kevin Costner turning down his Oscar for Dances with Wolves because Hollywood portrayed American Indians disrespectfully? No fucking way. And you know why? Because Costner is a puss. Brando’s sack is so big he needs a special velvet pouch to keep it in. He’s a man. He doesn’t need a fucking award from some pansies to validate how awesome he is.

The second round of drinks were gone and Bea was itching to find a bigger crowd and live music, so we left the French Quarter and headed uptown to the Maple Leaf.

Back in the limo, Marlon lit up a joint and soon the car filled with the sweet smell of this Cambodian skunkweed he had snuck back into the States wedged inside a hollowed out stick of deodorant.

He exhaled a big plume of smoke, licked his lips and leaned forward, trying to focus on me through his beet red eyes, “So tell me college boy, how’d you end up with these two cunts?

The moment after the word “cunts” left his mouth, my whole world stopped. I wasn’t sure if I should respond or wait for Bea to throat-punch him. The etiquette in these situations can be a little tricky.

Bea took a big drag off the joint as a smile curled up at the corners of her mouth. “You know the best thing about you Marlon?”

“Why don’t you tell me, sweetheart.”

You gotta love Marlon. Motherfucker is either the baddest dude alive or just too stoned to know when not to be an arrogant cock-sucker.

Bea handed the joint to Rue and exhaled through the open window, without even bothering to look in Brando’s direction , “You’re in perfect equilibrium, your bravado is offset by a cock the size of a light switch.”

Game. Set. Match.

And then Marlon, then Bea, then Rue, and finally me, laughed harder then I’ve ever heard four people laugh.

Old people rock.

Seated in a booth in the back of the Maple Leaf with the sounds of Cyril Neville and The Uptown Allstars swirling around us, Marlon and the Golden Girls held court. People stopped by, asking to take pictures and get autographs. Marlon ordered up a bottle of Korbel and we all toasted each other, taking big swigs out of plastic cups.

I was sitting next to Rue, who was caressing my thigh under the table while Marlon, eyes closed, bobbed his head to the bass line. Bea turned to me and said, “Tell me something about yourself.”

Knowing that “college grad, headed to dead-end job”, was a conversation killer, I went with my back-up: answer a question, with a question.

“What do you want to know?”

“Where’s the most interesting place you’ve ever been?”

“Excluding tonight?” I said, smiling.

Rue whispered in my ear, “Honey, we haven’t gone anywhere…yet.” Then she lightly flicked my ear with her tongue.

I swallowed and looked to Bea, who smiled like a black widow does, before eating its mate. I peed myself a little.

“I don’t know, maybe the Grand Canyon.” I said weakly.

Marlon, who still had his eyes closed, piped up, “The Grand Canyon is a deep gash about as interesting as a hole some five year old digs in his backyard.” He opened his eyes and locked them on me, “You know the best thing that ever happened to me on a trip?” He asked, but didn’t wait for an answer.

“I was on a five-day publicity tour in Sydney for some piece of crap movie I did to pay the bills. I was being shuffled from a hotel room, to the backseat of a car, to a TV studio everyday, being asked the same fucking asinine questions over and over. On the morning of day three, I woke up, grabbed some cash, walked out of the hotel, got in a cab, and told the driver, ‘Get Lost.’

“Poor fucking guy — I think he was Aborigines — he goes, ‘Get lost? How am I supposed to get lost, mister?’ So I told him, ‘I have no idea, we’ll figure it out together.’ Son of a bitch drove for about three hours and we ended up in this dust-covered town called Dubbo where I boxed a kangaroo, made out with the mayor’s wife and had the best meal I’ve ever eaten.”

“The food was that good?” Rue asked, suspicious.

“Oh, the food sucked, but this meal, these people…”

Marlon drifted off.

“…they were the nicest, most honest, open, funny, motherfuckers I’ve ever met. And you know what? I never would’ve had that meal if I hadn’t gotten lost. Getting lost is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

And with that he picked up the bottle of Korbel and drained it.

I leaned across the table towards Brando, “Help me get lost. You can’t leave me here knowing I’m never gonna taste that meal.” I looked at everyone. “Let’s all get lost.”

Bea patted my hand, “We are lost sweetheart. I don’t know where I am.” She looked around, “Just some bar, loud music, people dancing, I’m good right here.”

Brando smacked the table with his open palm, “I’m in.” He was on a roll, “Fate brought us together, now we gotta let it take us on an journey.”

Bea wasn’t having any part of it. “Well my ‘journey’ ends here.”

Rue downed her champagne, “I wanna do it. C’mon Bea.”

Bea, who doesn’t like being cornered, much less, feeling irrelevant, said, “Are you kidding me? You think this is some…some, Lewis Carroll story?” She pointed to Brando, “He’s stoned” and then me, “and this one’s dumb. Cute, but dumb.” She looked to me, “Sorry darling, but it’s true.”

“Quite alright.” And it was, mostly because it’s true.

Brando motioned for the bill, Rue gathered her stuff and I sat there with a shit-eating grin plastered across my face.

“I’m going potty, don’t leave without me.” She got up and winked at me.

“Wait, are you serious Rue?” As Bea chased after Rue, her voice disappeared into the mix of music and chatter all around us.

Brando took a look at the bill, dug into his pocket, and tossed some crumpled up bills on the table. We both stood up and he put his arm around me, pulling me in tight with his mouth next to my ear. He reeked of the sweet smell of cheap alcohol, “Two things. One, no matter what happens, you agree with me. This isn’t a democracy.” I nodded. “Two, if we end up fucking these broads, Bea is mine. You get in my way and I’ll twist your nuts off and shove’em up your ass.” Then he patted me on the shoulder, smiled, and headed for the door.

I wonder if it would’ve been pushing to ask if he’d adopt me.

We were standing outside of the Maple Leaf when Rue and Bea exited the bar. Brando motioned to Bea, “She in?”

Rue interlocked her arm with Bea’s, “She’s reconsidered, right Bea?”

Bea reached out and poked Marlon in the chest, “If I end up on some shit hole farm with a bunch of toothless idiots dancing around to Dueling Banjos, I will personally make sure that you will legally be able to use the handicapped parking spots at the mall.” Bea stepped back, satisfied.

Brando smiled back at her. “Honey, I’ve been parking in the handicapped spots since ’78, but it’d be nice to do it legally.” He turned and started walking down the block.

“Hey where are you going? We have a limo!” Bea screamed.

Marlon kept walking. Remembering rule one, I followed.

By the time we all caught up to Marlon he was standing on the corner of Oak and Carrolton, hands in his pockets, muttering to himself.

It had been two minutes and Bea was impatient, “Now what?”

Right on cue, a cab pulled up. The passenger window slid down. The driver, black and still wearing sunglasses, asked, “Where ya’ll going?”

Marlon turned and gave me a wink as he leaned down to look at the driver. “We don’t know.” And in that distinctive New Orleans drawl the driver said,  “Well what y’all wanna do? Drink? Dance? Eat?”

Marlon straightened up and patted his stomach. “I look like I need to eat?”

“People eat all day n’ night. I once caught my sister, Agnes, at 3am, eating a bag of chicken wings my moms had frozed in the freezah. The girl’s got a set of teeth that can chew through chain link.”

This was our guy. If we had any chance of getting lost, this guy would help us.

Marlon rubbed his chin, “We’ve already been to the French Quarter, now we want to see the real New Orleans. Where should we go?”

“Some good places not far from here.”

“And suppose we weren’t…white?” Marlon lobbed the question out there.

The driver lowered his sunglasses to get a better look at us. “So you folks Asian? Latino?”

Marlon dropped a fifty dollar bill on the front seat and without a trace of sarcasm said, “We’re black.”

The driver pocketed the fifty, “Yeah, local black folks don’t go to the French Quarter, unless they working down there. I might got a place, but you on your own. I can’t take no responsibility for what happens.”

I looked to Rue and Bea, who looked pretty scared. Before I could say anything, Marlon barked, “Sounds perfect, everyone in the cab!”

The driver turned to check us out as we got in the backseat. “Hey ain’t you Maude?”

“Oh for Christ’s sake.” Bea muttered.

Twenty-five minutes later we were the only white people standing in a massive crowd of black. As a white person, I never thought about the color of my skin, but at that moment I was acutely aware that I was different. Remembering my father’s “dangerous situation” instructions, I separated my ID from my wallet and nonchalantly dropped it in my sock. My dad had said, “This way the coroner will be able to identify the body.” I come from a long line of optimists.

We were deep in the 9th ward. Prior to this, the closest I’d been to the “projects” was an after-school special on ABC. Twenty years from now, this whole place will be wiped out by Katrina, but on this night, at this small neighborhood club, New Orleans couldn’t have felt more alive.

A funk band was squeezed into the corner and it seemed like everyone had a cigarette and a drink in their hands. The air was thick with laughter and music and I don’t know how it was possible but the whole place, even the people standing still, seemed to be moving in rhythm.

I ordered four beers but when I turned around, my group had vanished. I figured it couldn’t be hard to find the only white people in the place, so I started to move through the crowd, finding the beat, easing my way closer to the band. It was there that I found Marlon with his arm around a skinny woman about 25 years old.  She had a giant afro with a tiny pink bow that looked like it was holding on for it’s dear life. Their eyes were closed and his face had a look of total and complete serenity. I was overcome with jealousy. I wanted to feel like that, but I knew I wasn’t ready to just let go and enjoy. I turned to look for Bea and Rue.

I found them, backs to a wall, holding court. And like the well rehearsed comedy team they were , Bea hit the punch line of her story just as Rue turned around, hiked up her dress and stuck out her ass so we could see that written across her panties in beautiful gold script were the words, “Solid Gold.” Suddenly the scrum of people in front of her doubled over in hysterics, hugging each other, wiping tears from their eyes. I had no idea what the joke was, but it didn’t matter. You can’t go wrong with “Solid Gold” written across your ass.

“I got beers!” I said, holding up the cans of beer.

A size 24 black woman squeezed into a size 14 tube-top eyed me like a pork chop. “He wif you?”

Rue quickly wrapped her arms around me and drew me in, “Sorry ladies, he’s mine.”

The size 24 woman reached out and traced her finger down my arm, “Honey, you ever get tired of that white meat, you just give Carmel a call. When I’m done wif you, you’ll be all curled up like a baby, cryin ‘Mommy, the big black woman broke my little white dick in half.’”

And the whole crowd doubled over in laughter again.

It was an amazing night. I shared a joint with a guy who told me about having to use “Negro Only” water fountains. I watched Marlon as he mesmerized a crowd with the most soulful version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” I’ve ever heard. And I danced with Carmel, who, at one point, grabbed my dick and yelled over the music, “My pussy’s got a bigger dick than that.” And by the looks of Carmel, I’m sure it was true .

I drank Dixie beer, took random shots of liquor and at one point, I ate a MoonPie that this kind old lady sitting on a barstool held out to me.

A MoonPie is an incredibly simple food. Two round graham crackers sandwiching a marshmallow patty, dipped in chocolate, vanilla or banana coating. As I bit into it, I realized that this was my Best Meal. And it wasn’t because that chocolate MoonPie was perfect, it was because everything was perfect. The MoonPie just made it sweeter.

Hours later we stumbled out of there, jumped into a cab and everything got quiet. It was so bright outside that it felt like the sun had moved closer to the earth, and eventually they fell asleep.

I watched through the window as the cab glided past worn out neighborhoods and it occurred to me that I  couldn’t find that bar again if I had to, which was probably a good thing. Some experiences shouldn’t be repeated.

Strange as this sounds, the night was so perfect that having sex almost felt like it would’ve ruined it. So we all stood there awkwardly, saying goodbye, hugging, kissing, promising to stay in touch. And then the ladies turned and disappeared into the hotel.

Marlon looked down at me, shading his eyes from the sun, “So kid, what’re you gonna do now?”

“Go home, shower, sleep, maybe get something to eat.”

“No, not now, now. I mean with your life, now.”

“Oh, well I have a job in Atlanta. My mom told me I had to graduate with a job so, y’know, I got one.”  As soon as I said it, I realized how lame it sounded.

Brando sucked the moist air in through his teeth. “It’s good to listen to your parents, but at some point you gotta make your own decisions. Be your own man.”

“I’m not the best at making decisions. I usually wait for the decision to make itself.”

“That’s because you think these decisions are about life or death, but they’re not. Every decision is just about life, living. It’s when you stop making decisions that you die.”

Marlon put his hand out to hail a cab.

I stepped in front of him, “Can I ask you a question? And no bullshit, you gotta be honest.”

“Sure.”

“That Oscar, why’d you really turn it down?”

He squinted, “I didn’t like how American Indians were being depicted by Hollywood.”

“Fuck you, I’m not buying it.”

His face lit up with a huge smile, “Okay, this is between you and me. Nobody else, unless I’m dead. Then I could give a rat’s ass who you tell.”

“Deal.”

“That broad, Sacheen Littlefeather? Her real name is Marie Cruz, she wasn’t even Indian. I had my wardrobe guy steal that costume from Warner Brothers. Man, she was one hot piece of ass, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t nail her, so when I was nominated for the Oscar we cut a deal.” He paused while I caught up to what he was saying. “I won, then I won again.” He laughed to himself, a cab pulled up, and he reached out to shake my hand. I knew I’d never see him again, so I wrapped him in a big bear hug. Eventually, he pulled away and I think we were both a little surprised that I was crying.

He held me by my shoulders, “Hey, you want the secret to a happy life?”

I nodded.

“Loving relationships.”

Then he kissed me on my forehead and stepped into his cab.

After that night I knew I couldn’t wear a suit to work, punch a clock, or sit in a cubicle. Ten months later, I quit that shitty job. Marlon and Bea and Rue had changed my life, my direction. Fate is like that.

Without them, I’m not me.

The Woman in the Red Dress

Dee

 

In Los Angeles, anybody can be somebody…and most nobodies are somebody, but not necessarily anybody somebody would care to know.

Which explains why I’m standing at the front door of Dee Turnell.

Where I live in west Los Angeles, people go out of their way to look normal – even the celebrities – but Dee stuck out of the crowd. With her bold outfits, ruby-red lipstick and perfectly coifed hair, she is impossible to miss, and I knew I had to meet her.

After a bit of legwork, I discovered that Dee was neighbors with a friend of mine, whom I bribed with home-baked chocolate chip cookies in exchange for an introduction. A few days later my friend called back to let me know Dee agreed to the interview with one stipulation: “No questions about the prison time, that was a trumped up charge. I was acting in self-defense.”

It was a direct quote, which I would later find out was her idea of a joke.

Dee lives in a sweet little two-bedroom bungalow on a tree-lined street. The yard is neat, and her 1989 Pontiac Bonneville looks like it was just driven off the showroom floor. There’s no doorbell; instead, there’s a doorknocker that looks like the comedy/tragedy mask you’d find tattooed on the bicep of a failed actor, turned life coach.

When Dee opens the door the first thing I was struck by is the color of her hair. It’s pomegranate red and it pounces on your retinas. On Dee, it makes sense. It fits her. She’s also much taller in person. Until now, I’ve only seen her walking around town. She’s about 5’11” but with her hair frozen in the shape of a puff of cotton candy, and heels, she stands close to 6’ 1” tall. Before I could say anything, she smiles broadly, taking my outstretched hand in both of hers and says, “You must be Lloyd!”

The way she said it made me really happy to be me. I wanted to say, “Fuck yeah, I’m Lloyd!” but that probably wouldn’t have been appropriate. I just say, “Guilty,” which sounded lame then, and even lamer now.

Dee is dressed in a green and red paisley jumpsuit, which makes her look like a member of a NASCAR pit crew, if Liberace had a NASCAR team. Her green patent leather pumps peek out from under the cuffs of her bell-bottoms, hoping to be noticed. The vast majority of her face is taken up with her signature glasses – red and large enough to reach from the middle of her forehead to below her cheekbones.

“Come in. Have a seat. What can I get for you? You like iced tea? I have Coke…well, Diet Coke. It tastes better with Captain Morgan.” This was just one long run-on sentence, but she didn’t sound like a teenager on a Red Bull high; instead, it sounded like she was purring. The words slid out of her mouth as if on satin.

I smile at her. “Water is fine.”

Dee drops a hand to her hip. “Y’know, when I was having dinner with Clark Gable, he said….” Dee lowers her voice a few octaves and changes her posture. “Water is what you drink when you can’t find something with taste.” Then she laughs the way I imagined she did when Clark Gable said it and disappears into the kitchen to get drinks, leaving me in the living room by myself.

Every surface of the room is covered with pictures; all of a younger Dee dressed up, looking happy and usually with a drink in one hand and a cigarette dangling from the other. I only recognize a few of the people. They were the old Hollywood guard, including Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Milton Berle. From the kitchen I hear Dee singing to herself; I can’t make out the song, but she has a decent voice.

Suddenly, Dee is standing behind me. “It’s an ugly habit.”

“What is?”

“Cigarettes, although, truth be told I really miss them. Nothing goes with a vodka gimlet like an unfiltered Camel.” She points to a love seat that faces the fireplace, “Have a seat.” I obey, and Dee sits adjacent to me, her legs crossed and her Diet Coke balanced on the arm of her chair.

“So, to what do I owe this honor? I’m not used to men hunting me down anymore. Of course, back in the day, my dance card was pretty full. One time, I had a drunk Jerry Lewis tapping on my bedroom window, right there,” she motions toward a door down the hall. “He must’ve thought I was some cheap whore he could drop in on. Y’know, he’s so fucking holier-than-thou, with that telethon and all, but let me tell you…” she leans forward and lowers her voice as if telling me a secret, “…he’s a first class asshole.” She motions with her diet Coke, “Dean Martin was a class act. He had enough talent for the both of them. The critics always gave Lewis the credit, but anyone can act like an idiot. Try and class a joint up sometime – it isn’t as easy as it looks.”

I hadn’t thought about it, but she was right. Getting people to laugh at you has got to be easier than being a presence, raising the level of the room. “The last classy thing I did was buy my wife a diamond ring after she gave birth to our first child…but I’m not sure if it’s still considered classy if she told me to buy it.”

Dee sips her Diet Coke. “Touchdown, but you missed the field goal.” She smiles and claps her hands on her lap, “So, where’d you like to start?”

I turn my tape recorder on. “Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from?”

“Kansas City.” She stirs the ice with her finger, “Nice town, if you don’t mind spending the rest of your life being bored, wondering what you could’ve been. My parents didn’t want me coming out here – back then, you got married, had kids and then waited for death. I didn’t want any part of that nightmare; so I got a job as a secretary, figuring I would save up enough money to hit the road. Things were going along pretty well until this salesman named Ernie Matthews pinched my ass like he owned me. Can you imagine?”

I actually tried to imagine the brave soul who would dare cross Dee, and figured it would take a special combination of balls and stupidity, which apparently Ernie possessed. “Did you report Ernie to your boss?”

Dee laughs. “Sexual harassment was part of the job, so I took matters into my own hands. I nailed Ernie in his manhood with my Swingline stapler. After that his days of pinching asses were done.”

Dee paused and took a sip from her glass, and I noticed her pinky was pointing straight up. “I got fired, which was fine with me, I’d had enough,” she continued. “So that night, I went home packed a suitcase, kissed my folks goodbye, hopped on a bus and came out here to be famous.”

“You just jumped on a bus? Did you know anyone out here? Did you have a plan of action?”

Dee laughs hard this time. “Honey, the only way to get through life is by being naïve. If you think about what you’re doing too much, you aren’t gonna do it. I didn’t know a soul, but I’m smart, and scrappy. I knew I could figure it out. I mean, what was the worst thing that could happen? I fail and get on a bus and go back to Kansas City? If that was the worst thing, then I was willing to take the risk to make my dream come true.”

“What was your dream?”

“I wanted people to know who I was. I could sing okay, dance good enough to get by, and I could act a little. Things were a lot different back then. You think Ginger Rogers could win on ‘American Idol?’ No way. She was horrible, but she had Fred Astaire to cover for her.”

“Was Hollywood what you thought it would be?”

“Oh, hell no! Hollywood is a dark, disgusting, vapid place, ruled by egomaniacs that prey on the beautiful and stupid.” She pauses, and then her face breaks into a toothy grin. “Don’t ya just love it? Where else are you going to find this kind of evil, all dressed up and smiling? All these people hate each other, but they need each other, so they’ve figured out this dance.”

“By the looks of the pictures you must have some great stories.”

She smiles coyly, “I might, but I’m not sure you’re old enough.”

I say, “When you’re a short, balding Jew, you’re born old, with a back ache and a craving for cured meats. So come on, let’s hear your best story.”

Dee laughs, “Let me see…I think my favorite story was when I was in “An American in Paris” with Gene Kelly, who by the way, is one of the nicest, most honorable men I’ve ever met. Anyway, he has to do this unbelievably difficult song-and-dance number, but he’s got some back spasms, and everyone is flipping out because his number is a tent pole piece for the movie. So I see him lying on the floor of his dressing room, and I go in and tell him I can fix his back – but it’ll cost him. Gene looks up at me with this smile that could literally melt the polar ice cap, and he says, ‘I don’t care what it costs, just fix it.’”

“You knew how to fix his back?”

“I didn’t know the first thing about fixing backs, but I was great in the sack! You don’t last long as a chorus girl if you can’t fuck!”

I was momentarily stunned to hear the word “fuck” come out of her mouth. “You had sex with Gene Kelly?”

Dee laughs really hard. “Right there on the floor of his dressing room! Made his back worse…they ended up having to postpone the shoot.”

I almost do a spit take, “You screwed “An American in Paris” into delays?”

“Yup!” She reaches out and grabs my wrist. “And get this, on the last day of shooting, Gene comes up to me and says, ‘Y’know, your back remedy cost Warner Brothers $20,000 in down days.’”

“What’d you say?”

“I just fixed him with my best dead-eye stare and say, ‘I figured it was worth at least twice that.’ Then I turned and walked away, making sure he got a great look at my ass, and trust me, back then this ass could make good men, do bad things.”

“Was that it? Did he come after you?”

“Not right then. Gene didn’t chase after girls, but we went out a few times. I knew it wasn’t gonna work out though. Guys like Gene Kelly don’t want women like me – they want women that are quiet and gentile, who smile, but stay in the background. I might be a chorus girl, but I’m not living in the background, sweetheart.”

I’d only known Dee for an afternoon, but I already understood how she would never have found happiness in any man’s background. “Did you date a lot of celebrities?”

“I don’t think anyone ever really dates a celebrity,” Dee said with a note of authority in her voice. “Famous people are too in love with themselves to be in a real relationship. The only way you can be with a celebrity is if you’re okay with loving someone and never having them reciprocate.”

“So you never got married?”

“Why? You looking for another wife?” She flashed that smile again.

I look at her nervously. “I’m not sure I could keep up with you.”

She sits up and straightens her outfit. “I was married once,” she said. “Henry Lang, sweet guy.”

I don’t know why, but I was surprised to hear that she’d been married. “What happened?”

“He was this big producer, a man’s man – as in, he was a man who liked men. Back then, that was a career-ender. Henry needed a cover, and I needed my bills paid. It worked out well for everyone. It’s how I got this house,” Dee said, looking around the room.

“No one knew what you guys were up to?”

“Hell, I’m sure everyone who needed to know, knew. But if someone took a picture of him at some party, there I was – the demure Mrs. Henry Lang. Really kinda sad, if you think about it. Poor guy could never be who he wanted to be. It was as if he was a secret agent for a country nobody cared about. The one upside is that I got to be real good friends with Rock Hudson.”

I’m stunned, “Henry and Rock were dating?”

Dee stands up and walks over to the bookcase of pictures and picks up a black and white photo. “This is Henry, Rock and me at the Mayor’s Ball,” she says, with a twinge of pride. “That Rock Hudson was the most handsome man I ever laid eyes on. I used to tell him that I was pretty sure I could screw the gay out of him, but unfortunately I never got the chance.”

She hands me the picture. Standing between Rock Hudson and an equally dashing Henry Lang was a very young Dee. They were all dressed in formal eveningwear; Dee had a large orchid perched on her shoulder and the three of them wear the kind of smiles you see on people who truly love one another.

I hand her back the picture. “What happened to Henry?”

Dee carefully puts the picture back in its spot. “He had a run of films that tanked, got behind the eight ball financially and was too proud to reach out to anyone for help. So one night, he took a bottle of sleeping pills and never woke up. The gay guys like to leave a pretty corpse.”

A long silence passes, finally Dee talks, but her voice is much smaller now. “You know the saddest part wasn’t that he killed himself, but that no one showed up for his funeral.”

“Not even Rock Hudson.”

“Especially Rock Hudson, though I never blamed him,” she said. “In Hollywood you’re only as good as your image. And as soon as Henry was gone, the tabloids starting smelling a good story. No one in the business wanted to get the stain of Henry’s misfortune on them. I understood. I even think Henry would’ve understood, but that was the end of my Hollywood dream. After that I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. It was someone else’s turn to live that life.” She takes in a deep breath, and slowly exhales.

The mood in the room had changed; the Dee that had answered the door – the chipper, optimistic woman I had met earlier – suddenly felt smaller, more fragile.

Dee looks over to the framed pictures, all lined up at attention. “I don’t have any regrets,” she says, keeping her eyes on the photos. “I wake up knowing I’ve done pretty much exactly what I wanted to do, in the way I wanted to do it. And I think I’m a pretty happy person – a glass half full person…but I still get angry from time to time. I should probably work on that some. My temper can get the best of me.” She turns back towards me, and I could see her eyes welling up.

I can imagine Dee losing her temper, but I have a feeling it’s not all that often, “What makes you angry?

“Dishonesty,” she says with conviction. “And trust me honey, I’m not sitting on some high horse. I’ve lied plenty. Lots of people lie. Husbands cheat on wives. Workers rob their companies. Politicians lie every time they open their mouths. I don’t care about that stuff – I’m ready for that. Nope, it’s all these sweet, darling people, like my Henry, who are afraid to be honest because some asshole tells them that it’ll be the end of their career. Or they are told that they’ll have to leave their church, or in Henry’s case, that their family will disown them.”

Dee stares straight at me. Through me. “Everyone deserves the chance to be honest…and then it’s up to them to do what’s right.”

As if on cue, a tear rolls down her cheek. She wipes it with the back of her hand. This wasn’t going the way I thought it would be going. “Are you okay?”

“Oh sure, I’m okay,” she says with a sniff. “But if it’s all right with you, I’m gonna cut this short. I’m supposed to meet some friends for lunch.”

I stand up, gathering my stuff, “Yeah, of course, maybe we can get together another time…talk some more.”

She flashes that smile again; Dee the chorus girl is back. “I’d like that.” She walks me to the door and gently puts her hand on my back. “Take care of yourself sweetheart,” Then she quietly closes the door.

***

A few weeks ago, our mutual friend stopped me on the street and handed me a legal-sized envelope; the return address was Dee’s. My friend explained that Dee had passed away, but she’d left instructions to deliver the envelope to me.

It didn’t feel right to open it on the street, so when I got home, I opened the envelope. Inside was the black and white photo of Dee standing between Rock and Henry. On the back was a note, written in nearly perfect cursive.

Dear Lloyd,

Honesty will only get you so far. A nice ass will take you the rest of the way.

Love,

Dee

The Man Who Failed Upwards

Morris Bronstein (or as he is known to his friends, “M.B.”) is a living, breathing testament to the Peter Principle at work. He began his career as a junior art director working on Charmin and by happenstance was teamed up with Charlie Myers. Morris didn’t have a creative bone in his body, but Charlie was a genius, something Morris was quick to realize.

In no time, based on Charlie’s great work and Morris’s ability to take credit for the work, the team rose through the ranks, hopping from one agency to another, eventually finding themselves running a large international agency.

Fortunately for Morris, Charlie, like most creative people, was mentally ill, something he had done a good job of hiding most of his life. But now with the daily pressure of running an agency, Charlie was starting to crack. This became painfully obvious when his proclivity for “elder” hookers and diuretics came to light on Veterans Day 2001.

Charlie had hired Mitzy “Me Love You Long Time” Chang, the self-proclaimed first and only Asian burlesque dancer turned prostitute. Mitzy found Charlie face down in the bathroom with his pants around his ankles and panicked, calling hotel security, 911, and her pimp Sid Bluementhal.  According to the police report, Charlie had miscalculated and downed one too many Ex-Lax cocktails causing suddden dehydration, shock, and unconsciousness.

Charlie survived, but his career was over. He could no longer take the pressure and resigned, taking eight million dollars in stock options with him. Morris was now left in control.

Morris didn’t like to dabble in the day to day business of advertising, he preferred sitting in judgment of his minion’s work. His general plan was to wait until someone he deemed talented said something was good, then he would jump onto that bandwagon, making every attempt to convince people that he realized it first.

Of all of his clients, Morris’s favorite was Louis Vuitton. He liked feeling like he knew something about high fashion, but secretly he hoped that one of the models would be impressed with his stature and sleep with him…which never happened.

Suddenly feeling creative, Morris decided he would do something he had never done before. Come up with an idea on his own and then force his team to dress it up. Which is how we find Morris standing in a conference room, with his client, a smattering of creatives and one very nervous account person pitching the Louis Vuitton client his idea.

Morris is dressed in black, head to toe, in a vain attempt to mask the growing paunch hiding under his oversized Marc Jacobs’ sweater. His thinning hair is slicked back and his rimless glasses barely fit around his melon-sized head. He sighs heavily and looks across the table at the Vuitton Client.

Morris:

“We aren’t selling bags. Anyone can sell bags. Fuck, I can go down to Canal Street right now and buy a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag for 20% of what your bags go for. Nope, this isn’t about bags. This is about an attitude. A lifestyle. A desire. And we’re going to define all of that with this campaign.”

He takes a sip off his Diet Coke scanning the room to see who is with him and who still needs selling. Realizing he needs to up the bullshit he takes a deep breath, exhales, and pastes his best sincere look on his face.

Morris (cont’d):

“Each of these ads will capture a moment that might’ve happened, or should’ve happened, or will happen. Moments given life by the greatest talents this generation has ever known.”

(he pauses for dramatic effect)

“Captured by the greatest photographer of this generation.”

(he bows his head, seemingly exhausted by the weight of what he just said, the room is silent, he looks up, squeezes his eyes shut, then looks back to the people in the room.)

Morris (cont’d.):

“In the words of the great Italian philosopher, Giambattista Vico, ‘Uniform ideas originating among entire peoples, unknown to each other, must have a common ground of truth.’ (he takes a beat) And the truth is what we shall find.”

The room is silent, you can hear the phones ringing outside the conference room, finally, one of the Vuitton clients raises his hand.

(he speaks in a thick Italian accent)

Client: “I don’t give a shit about truth.  We gonna sell the fucking bags?”

And two months later the print campaign Morris had visualized started appearing in magazines.

This is the first ad I noticed.

This is supposed to make us think that Bono and some woman that I think is famous, but I don’t really care about, just dropped into the African bush to hang with locals and sing around a campfire (notice Bono is carrying his guitar). And yes, I know Bono has done a lot of good helping the people of Africa with their overwhelming debt to the world, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an arrogant prick.

I feel like I’m looking at Highlighter magazine and I’m supposed to circle everything that is wrong with the picture. For instance, this is probably the first, and last time, Bono ever carried his own luggage. By the way, does anyone actually believe that Bono really travels this light? My guess is the bag he’s carrying is the one holding his scarves.

And I understand that Bono has an image, but when you jump into a Cessna, to be dropped into the plains of Africa, you can leave the pretense of being a rock star behind. Unless of course you want to stick out like a sore thumb, which makes it much easier for the local wildlife to cut you down and use you as a palate cleanser between meals.

This was the second ad I noticed.

Is it just me or is there something slightly…how do I say it?  Pervy about this picture. I’m sure the photographer, Annie Leibowitz, was trying to show us how the great film-make Francis Coppola passes down the art of film-making to his daughter Sophia, but does anyone really believe that this is a real scene from their life? As a dad it would be nice to think that one day my daughter would stare into my eyes with that much love and respect and adoration, but in reality, if I could get her to hear me when I ask her to wash her hands after she craps, I’d be happy.

And maybe it’s just me, and my jaded, hateful, side, but if their life is this fucking idyllic, I wish they would keep it to themselves. No one likes rich people shoving their awesome life down our throats…or at least I don’t.

This is the third one.

The big P.R. spin on this ridiculously posed picture was that Angelina Jolie didn’t have any hair or make-up done for this picture. First, I call bullshit. A-list celebrities don’t purposely step in front of camera without a full crew of people to make it look like they haven’t done anything to make them look beautiful. Second, it’s fucking Angelina Jolie. Is it really that surprising that she can look pretty if she didn’t have any hair or make-up done?  I’ve learned from my wife that beautiful women have this really subversive code to make other women feel like shit. The jig goes like this:

Regular woman:

“Oh my God, you look beautiful!”

Beautiful woman:

“Really? I just rolled out of bed, I haven’t even done my hair or make-up.”

Did you catch that? I never would’ve, but then I grew up in a house full of brothers. My wife has explained to me that the subtext is “I don’t have to try to be beautiful, like you, because I’m naturally beautiful.” In my world this would be like me telling a guy in a Ferrari, “Nice car. Sorry about your cock.”.

So if the goal of the p.r. people was to make women feel like shit, mission accomplished!

I think the most interesting part is that we are supposed to accept that Angelina walked into some malaria infested lagoon in Cambodia, barefoot, with her Louis Vuitton bag. Yes, I know Angie and Brad have traveled extensively bringing peace and love to places that smell worse than a construction site port-o-potty, but someone on her team (and trust me she has a team) should have told her that this faux-real scene makes her look douchy at best.

This is the fourth one.

This is Sally Ride, the first American woman in Space. Buzz Aldrin, the second human being to set foot on the moon. And Jim Lovell the commander whose balls of steel, brought Apollo 13 back to earth safely.

You’d think that it would be hard to make them look shallow and insipid, but Annie Leibowitz apparently has cornered the market of irrational situations for this campaign.

I’m generally not a guy who is rah-rah America, but I just don’t want to see American Icons like our astronauts pandering for a product that is so far out of reach of the average American.  One of the great things about astronauts is that, although they are in many ways, better than the vast majority of us will be at nearly everything they do, they still seem like us. They aren’t physically imposing like professional athletes and they don’t talk down to us like scientists can and do. Which is why I find this particular photo the most offensive of all these photographs. These guys are heroes. Our heroes. And yet here they are posing for a photo that is so generic it could easily be for Coca-Cola or Levis or Afrin. In fact, if you don’t read the fine print you probably wouldn’t even realize who these people are, what they’ve accomplished, how important they are to the very fabric of our country.

But I digress.

We find Morris seated in business class, his destination is Cambodia, where he will get to meet Angelina Jolie. His goal is to get a picture with her that he can post on his Facebook page. Virtually bragging to his peers that he’s important enough to be seen in her company.

Midway through his 4th martini, his words are slurred and his self-importance transcends his ability to see that the unfortunate woman seated next to him for 18 hours just wants to read a book and sleep.

Morris:

“Can I tell you the dirty little secret about my job? (He doesn’t wait for her to answer, assuming everyone wants to hear what he has to say). My clients don’t want something new or different. They might say they do, but what they really want is comfort food. What they want is a grilled cheese sandwich, so I make them one, except I add a tomato, and tell everyone that I’ve re-invented the grilled cheese and claim ownership. Then I feign offense when someone makes a grilled cheese with cheddar. I don’t have to create anything, just re-create, but make it sound new.”

The woman looks at him with a mixture of disgust and pity.

Woman:

“How can you do that? Don’t you want your work to be the best? Stand out? Change the world?”

Morris:

“Sweetheart, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but we can’t all be Steve Jobs. My clients don’t like change, they want someone else to take the risk. If I don’t take my client’s money for doing redundant work, someone else will.”

And that is really the rub. This isn’t the fault of Morris or Annie Leibowitz. This is Louis Vuitton’s fault. They, got what they wanted. What they deserved. What they knowingly or unknowingly asked for.

A campaign completely void of personality.

Much like Morris and their logo adorned bags.

Enough Said

The phone rings, I check the caller I.D. and pick it up, “Go.” In my fantasy answering the phone this way makes me sound like a homicide detective, when in reality it probably makes me sound like a tool, who thinks he sounds like a homicide detective.

“Can you talk?”  The voice belongs to one of my best friends. I’m gonna to call him Otis, it’s not his real name, although, it’s much better than his actual name.

“Depends.”

“Depends? You got something better going on?”

I hear an echo from his side of the phone. I know instinctively this could mean only one thing. “Otis, you calling me from a bathroom?”

“Jesus H. Christ. What do you care? I need to talk.” Otis sounds rushed and slightly panicked.

“You okay?”

“No, I’m not okay. In fact I’m very not okay.”

My wife thinks that when my friends and I are huddled together at dinner parties or our kid’s school events, we’re talking about important things. Finances, work, family, but the sad truth is, we should be, but we aren’t. Our conversations have not matured beyond sixth grade. We’re still mesmerized by tits and fast cars and laugh when we see friends hurt themselves, especially if it’s self-inflicted.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with Otis, but I’m hoping he isn’t going to ask me for a kidney.  I like him, but not enough to give him a kidney. “What’s the problem?”

“It’s very serious.”

“Are we talking Hallmark movie of the week serious or Oprah sweeps week serious?”

“Worse. Hold on.” I hear a small voice in the distance and Otis’s tone changes, “Casey, sweetie, Daddy needs some privacy. So move away from the door. (there is a 3 second silence) I can still see your feet under the door, just move away…move away. I’ll be out in a minute.” There is another moment of silence. “Well it’ll probably be longer than a real minute, but you know where I am, and I’ll be out soon.” He comes back to the phone. “Holy shit, I’m being stalked by my own family.”

“You could’ve called me from your car.”

“What are you fucking crazy? My car time is my ‘me me’ time, the bathroom is my ‘me-you’ time.”

Oddly, this makes complete sense. “So what’s the problem?”

“You know that I’ve got my holy trinity, right?”

Over the years Otis has boasted about his holy trinity. Crapping. Farting. Masturbating.  He gets pleasure out of his life as a husband, father and businessman, but for sheer selfish joy, he’s got the holy trinity. “Nothing more holy.”

“Exactly. The other day I was taking this dump, my toes were curled up and I’m sweating bullets. I’m working like a God-damn Mexican, which by the way is not a derogatory statement because I’m sayin’ Mexicans work hard.”

“Sounds derogatory from you.”

“Whatever.”

Whenever someone says, “whatever”, they really mean, “you’re right, but I don’t want to admit it.”  Otis ignores me and keeps talking, “I don’t think you’re getting the total picture. I was in the zone. Did I mention that my legs fell asleep?”

“No, but I think it’s a given.”

“Yeah, you’re right. So anyway, I finally release this beast from my body and I swear on my mother’s grave…”

“Your mother lives in Boca Raton.”

Otis keeps on talking, “…I wept like a 14 year old girl trying to get Justin Beiber’s attention.”

There is so much wrong with his statement that I decide to try and decode it another time…when I’m not feeling so dirty. “Otis, so far I’m not hearing any problems, excluding the Bieber reference, which I personally find disturbing.”

“Bottom line, I’m having some control issues. Yes, it was the size of a Cornish hen, but I’ve handled worse with ease.  I should’ve been able to unload this baby half asleep.”

“Not sure I’m following you.”

“I think my slicer is broken.”

“Your slicer?”

“You think great farts and craps just happen? No fucking way. The memorable ones are all created by a well tuned slicer.”

“You mean your anus?”

I can hear Otis’s frustration with me, “Anus is an ugly word, like crotch and smegma. You can’t pretty those words up. I think slicer sounds more distinguished.”

“You’re calling me about you’re anus?”

“Basically. Yeah.”

“Have you thought about calling a proctologist?”

“What are they gonna do besides charge me a hundred and eighty bucks and make me feel like a Penn Station hooker?”

He had a point, not that I’ve ever been with a Penn Station hooker, I’m just assuming.   “Maybe it’s just a phase that’ll work it’s way out, like a sprained ankle.”

Otis sounds desperate, “I don’t think you understand, it’s not working right. I used to have control, I could make an explosive fart whisper out quieter than the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. I could liberate a crap the size of a Sarah Lee pound cake before I had my morning coffee.”

“Maybe it’s something in your diet? You eating a lot of flax seed?”

I hear a big sigh, “Look I don’t think you realize how serious this is, I can’t be that old guy who stands in front of you in the check-out line and rips a musty potato chip fart and then acts like nothing happened. Right now I feel like I got one leg in my old world and one leg in a pair of Depends. This is bad. Really, really….hold on one second Casey is at the door again.” I hear her small voice muffled through the phone. “Nothing is bad sweetheart, daddy is just talking to a friend…no I’m not eating potato chips, daddy doesn’t eat in the bathroom. Okay, move away from the door, I’ll be right out.”

I whisper as if his daughter can hear me, “Is she still there?”

He whispers back, “I think so.”

“Maybe we should talk later.”

He’s still whispering, “Hey, promise me you won’t make fun of me if I accidentally fart while we’re having dinner with the wives or something.  You know I would’ve made it silent if I could’ve. I’ve got manners.”

“Didn’t your father-in-law catch you taking a crap in his cat’s litter box?”

“The guy invites the whole family over for Thanksgiving and he’s got one toilet. Besides, I was gonna scoop it out before I left.”

“You allowed back over there yet?”

“Not really.”

I’m not sure what else to say that could make Otis feel better. “Okay, I gotta go, but I’m sure your slicer is fine. Maybe you need try eating foods that bind you a little more, like cheese and matzo.”

Otis sounds hopeful, “You think that’ll work?”

I’m doubtful, but lie, “Definitely.”

“I’m thinking of doing clenching exercises when I’m in the car too, maybe it’s getting loose from not getting worked out enough.”

I never thought I’d hear a friend tell me his asshole needs a better exercise regime, “Sure, I think Schwarzenegger used to clench back when he was competing.”

Otis sounds a little more relaxed, “Okay, well thanks for listening to me. Have a good night, say hi to Pam and the kids for me.”

I decide it’s best not to mention anything about this conversation to Pam if I ever want to have Otis over to the house again. “Yeah, sure. Take care.”

“Later.”

It’d be easy to write this discussion off as an anomaly, and Otis as an outlier, but sadly, neither is true. This is what we talk about. It’s meaningless, and idiotic.  It’s not that we don’t want to communicate, it’s that we don’t want to communicate about anything that is important. I believe it’s one of the reasons so many guys like sports. Sure we love the competition and the camaraderie, but we also love that we can talk about something, without talking about anything.

An epilogue about Otis and his slicer.

About two weeks after that call my phone rang again, this was a totally different Otis. His voice was upbeat and full of energy. I had barely got the phone to my ear when he started talking,

“Yo, just wanted you to know, emergency averted. I’m back to my old self. My slicer is back bitches!”

“That’s great, how’d you do it?”

“Kicked it old school, Tucks medicated hemorrhoid pads.  My slicer is tighter than a Olympic gymnast’s ass, and that’s not creepy, because it’s a compliment.”

“Sounds creepy coming from you.”

“Whatever.”

Bishop

I wrote this a while ago and sat on it because it’s a big departure from what I usually post, but I felt like it was time to let it air out.

I found this article in the New York Times (a bastion of liberalism, but if you’d like to read the conservative version you’ll find it here, http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=39672&page=1 ). Take a moment to read it, and then let’s meet on the other side, to discuss.

Arizona: Hospital Loses Catholic Affiliation

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

Published: December 22, 2010

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix announced on Tuesday that St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center could no longer identify itself as Roman Catholic because it violated church teachings by ending a woman’s pregnancy in 2009. Hospital administrators said the procedure was necessary to save her life, and stood by their decision even after Bishop Olmsted excommunicated a nun on the hospital ethics committee. The hospital, which receives no money from the Phoenix diocese, can no longer hold Masses. But Catholics can continue to work and be treated there.

It’s not surprising that the Catholic Church is upset by an abortion, although I do find holding that stance, at the risk of having one of your own die, seems a little counter-productive. No, what I find surprising is that a mega corporation like the Catholic Church could be so clueless when it comes to controlling the spin. There is no way you can chastise a whole hospital and excommunicate a nun, for saving someone’s life, without looking like a douche. The only company that is worse at spinning their message is Microsoft, although I don’t think Microsoft has been quite as profitable.

But I digress, let’s get back to our news story.

This pregnant woman was not a 27 year old who had an unprotected threesome with some guys she met on imabigwhore.com, and then, realizing that having a baby would ruin her chances at being “America’s Next Top Model” went to have an abortion.

The patient was suffering from right heart failure and her doctors told her that if she continued the pregnancy her chances of dying were nearly 100%. Moving her to another hospital was impossible and for the staff who was caring for her, it was either lose two lives or save one. Now, I don’t know Jesus personally, but I have a feeling he’d be okay with the doctors saving this woman’s life. Jesus doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was an asshole.

Of course Bishop Olmsted, who has zero medical training didn’t see it that way. He wrote, “In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.”

Yeah, that’s what doctors do all the time, avoid treating diseases and kill babies. I think they have a class for that in medical school.

By the way, Bishop Olmsted is the same principled religious leader who refused communion to a boy because he was autistic.

Equally disturbing is the ex-communication of a Sister Margret McBride. “She consented in the murder of an unborn child,” says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.”

Just so we’re all on the same page, Sister McBride has a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a Masters in Public Administration, which by any definition makes her qualified (even over-qualified) to be an administrator and a member of the ethics committee at St. Joseph’s.  Women like this don’t become nuns every day, so the thought of ex-communicating her, for making a decision that I’m guessing was incredibly painful to make, runs against the whole idea of putting an experienced person in a decision making role. But Bishop Olmsted doesn’t roll that way. He said, “Sister Margaret McBride, a vice president of the hospital, had excommunicated herself because she approved the procedure.”

He didn’t do this, she did this to herself. By the way, how many Catholic priests have been ex-communicated for their roles in the sexual abuse of children? That would be zero.

The best (or worst part) of this story for me is where the Bishop tells St. Joseph’s Hospital that it can no longer identify itself as Roman Catholic because it broke their rules. But being a man of God, the Bishop did say that Catholics could still continue to work and be treated at the hospital.

I’m sure all the Catholic patients in intensive care and the employees,  barely getting by on hospital wages, breathed a collective sigh of relief when this decision was handed down.

Benevolently, the Bishop did give the Hospital the option to be “re-identified as Catholic”, all they had to do was agree to his demands.

1) The Bishop wanted the hospital to give him more oversight of its practices to ensure it complies with Catholic health-care rules.

2) Provide education on those rules to medical staff.

3) Acknowledge the Bishop was correct in the dispute over what he deemed an abortion.

“Arrogant”, just doesn’t seem like a strong enough word.

Finally, let’s just say for the sake of an argument that this hospital decided to go the other direction and the woman and the baby died, would the Bishop be okay with that? Would he mourn her as a martyr who died for the sake of her child? Would the Catholic Church pick up the tab for the lawsuit her parents would surely bring, claiming the hospital and the doctors didn’t do everything they could do to save their daughter’s life?

I’m gonna guess, “no”.

It’s obvious why people are anti-abortion, in fact I want to say no one is “pro-abortion”, although there is always some numb-nut who decides to take an indefensible stand for the sake of being an jerk-off. But for any person, or couple, who has had to make the agonizing decision to terminate a pregnancy, and I have, it is not something you take lightly, or take great pride in. But sometimes hard decisions have to be made, and it is the right to make this difficult decision that Roe V. Wade was all about.

But this whole thing isn’t really about abortion, it’s about making decisions for the population at large, based on someone’s particular religious beliefs. We shouldn’t make medical decisions or choose a president based on what Jesus would want. I can’t figure out what my wife wants most of the time and we’ve been together for nearly 20 years.

And just to be clear, I have nothing against the Catholic Church or any religion for that matter. People need something to believe in, something to belong to, I get it and I don’t begrudge them. What I do I have is three very simple rules when it comes to religion. I’m okay with any belief as long as (a) you don’t ask me to believe it (b) you aren’t hurting anyone (c) everyone is a consenting adult. If you follow these rules, I don’t give a shit if you pray to goats and your holy scripture is the instruction panel off a Fleet Enema box, your religious beliefs are okay with me.

Look, I don’t profess to have all the answers, or all of the right answers, but I do have a daughter. If she were in the position that this woman was in, I would mourn the loss of the unborn child, but would celebrate that my daughter was still with me. Apparently, the Bishop, an unmarried, childless man doesn’t understand that, which is sort of surprising since I thought a main tenets of the church’s foundation is understanding, acceptance and forgiveness.

I may not understand the Bishop’s rationale, but I do see the irony.

Fly Like The Wind

When I was a kid, I had an Uncle Harvey who wasn’t right.  His head was too big for his body, he was unemployed, unshaven and understandably unmarried.  On top of that, my brother’s and I, couldn’t figure out how we were related to him.  I asked my dad, but generally the response was, “Don’t ask so many questions” or “What are you doing, writing a book?” or “I’m not really your father.”  The last one was just a ruse to change the subject. He was my dad, he just wasn’t happy about it.

The only thing that Harvey was passionate about was NASCAR.  Every year for the Daytona 500 he would show up at our front door, with a big grin on his face, a snack-sized bag of ridged Lays and a 6 pack of Tab dangling from his hand.  I think he liked coming to our house because we had a color TV and air conditioning and judging from the number of times he went to the bathroom, indoor plumbing.

Most people watch auto racing for the crashes, but Harvey watched for the pit stops.  As soon as a car screeched to a stop Harvey would whip out his stopwatch and start cheering, “Fly like the wind! Fly like the wind!” Which always seemed like a strange chant for a NASCAR pit crew, but since I wasn’t a NASCAR fan, I figured he knew best.  I imagined that at one point in his life Harvey worked on a pit-crew, maybe he was the guy the jacked the car up or bolted the tires on, but judging by Harvey’s body shape, chances are he was the guy that handed the driver a drink, probably Tab.

One year he showed up bearing gifts. “Official” pit crew jerseys with our names sewn over the chest pockets. We grudgingly put them on and sat there watching cars driving in a big circle, which is when I concluded that car racing is for idiots. Very few sports require less of their fans than auto racing.  You don’t have to follow a score, the rules are pretty simple, and as far as strategy it looks pretty straightforward (go fast).  I’m sure there is a lot going on behind the scenes, but if you can watch a sport from the roof of a Winnebago, drunk, sunburned, and only able to see 300 yards of a 2.5 mile track, there is no way you can say you are “involved” in the race. Especially when you take into consideration that a car traveling 230 miles an hour probably covers that 300 yards in 2 seconds. Imagine if you went to a football game, but you could only see 10 yards of the field, and when the team was on that ten yards they sprinted past at full speed. Not quite the same experience.

Regardless, Harvey loved the sport, and dressed in our pit crew shirts, we all feigned interest. Excluding my mom, she smiled and said, “I don’t want to interrupt all this male bonding.” And then turned and hightailed it out of the house. I watched her go making the same face a dog makes as he watches his owner leave for work. Sad, resigned, confused, angry and resigned again.

My father, whose modus operandi was to avoid rather than confront, decided the best way to get Harvey to stop coming over was to not be home, which is what we did the following Daytona 500. I should’ve known something was up when my father hustled us out of the house at 6am on a Sunday morning.  I was still half-asleep and in my pajamas when my father pulled onto the shoulder of a highway and tossed each of us a warm American cheese sandwich. When I asked what was going on, my father glared at me through the rear view mirror, “You said you wanted to go on a picnic, so we’re on a picnic. Now don’t get any cheese crumbs in my backseat!”  Then he slammed a Tom Jones 8-track into the stereo and sang along to “What’s New Pussycat?”.  In our house this was considered “quality family time”, but to most of the country it’s more commonly known as “lunch on cell block F”.

When we got home it was late and dark and Harvey was sitting on the front steps of our house, an empty bag of ridged Lays and four empty cans of Tab in front of him. Panicked, my father turned to me and my brothers and whispered that no matter what he said, we were to agree. Then he got out of the car and approached Harvey. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I knew from his body language, dad was apologizing and Harvey was accepting it.  By the time I got up to them Dad and Harvey were both looking at me with long, sad faces. My father put his hand on my shoulder and said  “I was just telling Harvey how your pet rabbit, Mr. Fluffy, had to have emergency surgery.”  Harvey just stared at me.  It was an awkward, empty silence, so I decided to fill the void, “The vet told us if Mr. Fluffy’s hemorrhoids don’t improve they’ll have to remove his butt.”

There was another long pause, Harvey’s eyes went from me, slowly back to my father, which was when he started to sweat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my father sweat so much, so quickly, in my entire life.  It was like he’d sprung a leak. His forehead, his upper lip, his underarms.  He was just one big sweaty mess. On top of that he broke into this weird nervous laugh.  It sounded just like the laugh Ricky O’ Randle made back in 2nd grade, when he inadvertently farted during the Thanksgiving play and a big turd rolled out his pant leg and onto the stage.

Left without many options my dad threw me under the bus saying, “This one got dropped on his head, he’s y’know….” And made the international sign for “crazy” by circling his temple with his index finger.  He then put his arm around Harvey and started moving him towards the car, “Let me give you a ride home.” as he glared at me over his shoulder.

I was grounded for a week, I’m sure my punishment would’ve been worse if Dad hadn’t brought this all on himself.  He was the one who started the lie, he was the one who told me to continue the lie and he was the one who made the mistake of trusting me to make up a good lie.  If you ask me he was the one who should’ve been grounded, but my father always liked to point out that just having me around was punishment enough.

It

In 1978, like most everyone in 10th grade I had a fake ID, mine was my older brother’s license, which I had stolen from his wallet. I’m sure stealing your brother’s license is outlawed in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but back then I didn’t live by God’s law, unless my mother said I had to, then I usually folded.

With my brother’s license in hand, a whole new world opened up to me, I called it heaven, but most called it Big Daddy’s Lounge. Big Daddy’s was a bar that was attached to a liquor store, and like most bars trying to capitalize on the disco craze, they put a parquet dance floor in, added a DJ , some lights and idiots like me showed up, trying to live out a Saturday Night Fever fantasy.

I would strut up to the door, confidently flash my “I.D.” at the bouncer and buy a Malibu and Coke (because it seemed like something the Bee Gees would drink). Then I’d hang at the edge of the dance floor, nodding my head to the beat, hoping that I could catch some girl’s eye, whereupon she would ask me to dance, realize I was awesome, buy me more Malibu and Cokes and take advantage of me sexually. I know it sounds more like a fantasy than a plan, but that’s because it was.

It was a Saturday night, the place was packed, everyone’s smoke was wreaking havoc with my sinusitis, and the Malibu and Coke I had been nursing for the last 90 minutes, was flat and flavorless. I was stationed where I always was, at the lip of the dance floor, between a six foot high speaker and the lady’s bathroom. My goal was to catch the attention of women as they rushed by, I called this the “Nod To The Ladies” move and it was something I picked up from Richard Gere in American Gigolo. Although, I have to admit, when I did it, I looked less like a hot guy rich women paid for sex, and more like a serial killer, who lives in his parent’s basement and has Ms. Pac Man on his “bangable women” list.

The DJ was segueing from Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street to The B-52’s Rock Lobster and the room erupted into a frenzy of moving bodies. From across the room, this woman, easily 21, caught my eye. She was tall with blonde hair, cut into a Dorothy Hamill type bob. Hey eyes were blue and her teeth were so white they looked like they were lit from behind. I was smitten.

This was it, my “Nod To The Ladies” had finally paid off. I glanced at my watch and tried to calculate how long it would take her to get me drunk and have sex with me, figuring that if I had to, I would fake the getting drunk part so I could get home before my curfew.

When she was about fifteen feet from me I casually checked to make sure my 100% polyester Nik-Nik shirt, emblazoned with a Cherokee Indian on horseback, chasing down buffalo, was buttoned low enough. I wanted my mystery woman to see the puka bead necklace that was lying against the mat of chest hair I had painstakingly made look thicker with my mother’s mascara brush.

She was about ten feet away when she smiled at me, and mouthed the words, “Hi, how are you?”. This was virgin territory for me, I had never rehearsed talking. In my fantasy I never needed to talk because she kept saying, “Don’t talk, I need to drink your hotness in.” So I went with what felt natural, I mouthed back, “Groovy, and you?”

I made a mental note that I needed to come up with sexier replies.

Now she was seven feet away, she was spreading her arms. Shit! She wanted a hug! Should I stop thrusting my hips to the music now or is it okay to thrust through the hug? I decide that I should focus on the hug, stop thrusting my hips, and smile, adding a wink for good measure.

Five feet away, I wonder if she has bucket seats because I bruise easily and don’t want to get hurt when she drags me across the Hurst shifter I imagine sits in the console of her Trans Am.

From three feet away, I can see a sheen on her lips and hope that she went with bubble gum or watermelon lip gloss. Not that it matters, she could’ve had a herpes sore the size of a Gary Coleman on her upper lip and I’d have still made out with her.

Two feet away, I prepare for the embrace, although I’m feeling a little self conscious because of the erection that is making the pleated, high-waisted jeans my mom had bought in the Sears “Far Out” department look like I had a very small goiter next to my zipper. I have an anxiety attack. Will she be flattered or disgusted?  I make another mental note to carry a roll of quarters in my pocket so I’ll seem more substantial next time I’m in this position.

With my arms spread wide, she comes so close to me that I catch a whiff of her perfume, it’s either Charlie or Baby Soft, either way, it smells classy.

I was in the moment, I was in control, I was finally “the man”. The whole room slow down. Destiny was mine.

Then the strangest thing happens. She doesn’t stop, instead she walks right past me and into the open arms of Mark Fiesler.

Just to give you some reference.

This is me in high school (notice the pubestache)

And this is Mark Fiesler.

Mark Fiesler was in my grade in high school, and he was everything I wasn’t and wished I was. He had pop star good looks, with the kind of perfectly feathered hair that would’ve made Jan Michael Vincent envious. Mark’s smile was warm and inviting, and he could make conversation with anyone. I would’ve been happy with any of these qualities, especially the feathered hair, but Mark went beyond that. Mark was a jock, and not the big stupid bully kind, he was finesse. He was our quarterback and our star pitcher, striking out 21 batters in one game. But what made Mark most dangerous was that he was a nice guy. I really wanted him to be a dick, a complete and total asshole, but he wasn’t. It’s hard to hate someone who isn’t hateful.

Understanding my own shortcomings, my daily ploy was to use my sense of humor to make Mark laugh so I could hang with him in the hallways between classes. Like Mark’s own personal remora I hoped to get any of the cast off girls who lined up to get his attention. In reality, it was an abject lesson in how invisible I was and how easily being popular came to him.  I felt sure he was somehow stacking the deck by releasing sexual pheromones as he exhaled. I couldn’t smell it, but every woman’s antennae went up before he entered any room.

One time we were hanging in the hallway watching everyone walk by and without looking at me, as if he were talking to himself, he said, “Man, I haven’t gotten laid in two weeks.” I was shocked, I turned to him, “Two weeks! Two weeks! You’re looking at 17 years here! You have any idea what kind of backup you get from 17 years on the dry couch? Do you? I’m fucking dangerous, I rub against a doorjamb wrong and I could explode.” Mark laughed, “Keep hope alive Stein. Keep hope alive.” Then he turned and walked off to class.

Fucking bastard.

As “Rock Lobster” segued into “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner I watched my blonde fall deep into Mark’s embrace. Somebody was getting laid, but it wasn’t going to be me. I was tempted to turn and explain that she was making a mistake, that if she knew me, she’d prefer me, but it would’ve fallen on deaf ears. Mark had “it”. I also had “it”, but my “it” included astigmatism and the uncanny ability to tell my friend Mike what he’d eaten by the smell of his farts.

In 2000, I heard Mark was going to show up for the 20 year reunion and I secretly hoped he would be fat and bald, but he wasn’t. He was still handsome, with that fucking dreamy smile, doe eyes and perfectly feathered hair. He still had “it” and I was devastated. When he saw me he put his hand on my shoulder and told me I looked good. We talked for a little bit, as the girls from our class fluttered by, still hoping to catch his attention.

I don’t remember how the night ended, but I don’t think I gave him a proper goodbye, tell him that I liked him, give him a hug, see if I could get him to laugh. You never really think about that until you realize you’re never going to get a chance to do it.

On June 10th 2011 Mark passed away.

I always thought one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was not telling the people who I cared about how much they meant to me. You graduate high school and all these people who were intricately involved in shaping your life suddenly disappear and you don’t say anything because you aren’t mature enough and you don’t have enough perspective to know you should. And then you graduate college and the same thing happens.

So I’ve started making a point of telling people who’ve made a difference in my life that I care about them. That they are important to me. I give big hugs and in fits of emotion tell friends that I love them.

I have no idea what had become of Mark, what his life was like, where he had been living, or why he died. None of that is really important. I only hope he passed painlessly, surrounded by the people he loved…and I hope they had a chance to tell him how important he was to them.