Pear Picking in the USA

In my cousin Carol Ann’s backyard.

Last fall I took a no expenses paid trip to the mid-west. The region was in crisis. The local Fort Wayne Steak and Shake could not maintain regular business hours.

This franchise had experienced numerous unscheduled closures. Either they didn’t have enough staff to open or no-shows at shift changes forced shutting down in the middle of the day. Hiring was at a standstill, the usual suspects had no interest. High school kids couldn’t stomach the idea of working fast food. Immigrants preferred the underground economy to rampant xenophobia.

If capitalism is dependent on cheap labor, this trend could spell trouble. Ray Kroc might have to rise from the dead to demand: “Mr. Trump, tear… down….. this…. wall!”

 

Studying growth patterns to formulate picking schemata.

In retrospect the skyrocketing prices of Imodium should have been a tip-off. Of the many acronyms I’ve been diagnosed with, I’ve had some success controlling IBS with a gentle dose of loperamide. I know something about this shit. Two years ago 100 tabs cost $11 on Amazon. Today my local Walgreens sells 12 for $7.

It’s part of the FDA’s feebly belated attempt to control opiates. Apparently each tab contains a small trace of narcotic. Taken in huge quantities they get you off. If pain meds can’t be refilled or your dealer is out of China White, crush up a hundred little blue blockers instead. It must be a hell of a high if the trade-off is eight months without a bowel movement.

OxyContin seems to be the root of this generation’s problems. These Oxyennials have overindulged in the deadly cocktail of opiates and video games. The result is a bunch of apathetic lemmings primed to be led over the cliff by the next great dictator.

Going that extra mile to pull in a bumper crop.

I ran these ideas past Billy when I was home but he wasn’t buying them. He’s the oldest openly gay man on the planet and a major reason I go back to Indiana. He will be 87 on St. Patrick’s Day and has one of the most wicked senses of humor of anyone I know.

When he opened Fort Wayne’s preeminent beauty salon in 1959 he made no apologies for being gay. He was having too much fun to feel any shame. He owned his business so he didn’t worry about being fired and he was so charming all of the society women befriended him. I’ve always admired him for what he did because not many did at the time. It would be another 15 years, for example, before Harvey Milk deigned it safe to come out.

Because people accepted him didn’t mean they wanted to understand him or lose their prejudices. They just didn’t talk about it. Fort Wayne has always been very conservative and remains so today. The surprising thing is Billy has been a life-long Republican too.

When I had the condo in Fort Wayne, people visited from around the country. Billy always enjoyed these occasions because he shared many of their interests and no longer had a local outlet for them. He, in return, was a hit with my friends because he was unlike anyone they expected to meet in Indiana.

One evening my Kentucky Derby hosts, Jan and Mar, stopped on their way back to New Albany. Billy joined us at dinner for a rollicking good time. He still talks about how open and accepting they were compared to heterosexuals he knows. When I point out the link between their political thinking and social justice he will have none of it. To him they are simply good people.

This red state/blue state thing may just be a lot of blind allegiance. Like picking a sports team, my Dad was a Bear’s fan so I’m one too. Billy is bored by politics and puts little energy into it. It’s such a minute component of his personality, I can live with that.

I may have lost the battle but overall I think I won the war. Billy has been a friend to my Mother and me since I was a teenager.

Billy leading the Peru High School Band down Main Street in 1948. There’s a discernible hitch in that get-a-long that fortold greater things.

Madonna with Blue Balls

There’s sadness hanging over the holidays this year due to the recent death of my friend Charley. His portraits were featured on this blog Christmas Day, 2014. Of his many wonderful qualities, one I will treasure is he never sued me for using his work without permission.

As evidenced in Charley’s paintings, vibrant color provides an undeniable sense of life and joy. Taking time off from a youtube marathon of old Debbie Reynolds interviews, this Christmas I embellished a magenta Madonna found laying around the apartment. The holy virgin is now displayed in the hallway transom flanked by vintage Radko presidential ornaments. By conspicuously coupling the holidays I can keep the installation up until mid-February. If not longer.

Happy Christmas.

Self-Serving Baloney

Deliberately overlooking Stormy for a puff piece on themselves, Time comes up with a silly pick this year. Freedom of the press is no doubt important but freedom from the corporate owned press has not existed since the dangling chad landslide. Or possibly Dewey Beats Truman.

The trailer for Vice points out how badly (or intentionally) the whole story of the W administration was missed by our valiant journalist warriors. To paraphrase the Last Poets and their politically incorrect masterpiece, wake up journalists or we’re all through.

Ghosts of Christmas Cards Past

Starting with the Choo Choo in 1955 when I had just two brothers, Mother put a lot of effort into selecting the family Christmas card. She was not about to let the world forget that in the span of eight years her tiny five foot, 100 pound frame churned out four boys.

I was never big on sending cards but made an effort in the eighties and nineties. They were usually of a “San Francisco Liberal,” or “Gay” theme. Oh hell, what I was trying to say was Christmas is for queers too.

Much to the chagrin of some who married into the family, there was no religion in Mother’s celebration of the holiday. It was a time to get the family together and have fun.

When the internecine politics of divorce and new spouses complicated the formula, there was so much rivalry for the Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning and Christmas Dinner prime-time slots. Mother did the non-obvious thing and laid claim to Supper on Christmas Day. A couple of years ago my nephew said that Mother and I did the best Christmases. When I asked him why he said, “because you gave the best gifts.”

Those in search of the meaning of the day need look no further.

In 1996 when Mother was undergoing chemo we tried to make her feel a little less conspicuous by doing what comes naturally: making fools of ourselves. It was a life-long dream of hers that we have our vision tested. That we would all select the same pair of designer frames was truly an astonishing coincidence.

 

 

Contact High

As I approach senility, I’ve managed to outgrow most of my childhood heroes.

Lucille Ball was the first and easiest one to get over. By the age of 10 I’d memorized every line of dialogue of I Love Lucy. Even though I knew what was going to happen when I watched an episode for the 100th time, how Lucy did it kept it in the now.

I was one of the last rats to leave the sinking ship in the post-Desi 1960’s. I willed myself to love her subsequent sitcoms but intense loyalty could not make them funny. When I learned about her John Wayne politics I soured on her.

As an adult, I watched her on talk shows and was surprised by the effort she had put into her craft. The diligence and intense concentration that created joy for millions of people did not provoke the same feelings in her. It was just a job to Miss Ball which, in the end, made her seem like a very sad person.

My Jackie worship started as transference through my Mother. As documented in this blog, it began as pure idolatry that moved on to a fascination for her perverse imagery. Then the tackiness of her as a collectible commodity gave me a hobby. I ended up liking her but with some reservations.

As for Mick, I think I’m over him but I’m never quite sure. It helped last summer when I was in Bloomington and was reunited with Susan after 40 years. She seemed annoyed when she remembered, “you were always trying to be like Jagger.” Then she added, “I thought you were limiting yourself.”

I first saw Ike & Tina Turner on American Bandstand in the mid-60’s. The Ikettes were doing their mini-hit, Peaches ‘n Cream. Dick Clark lavished praise on Tina during the interview and called her shows legendary. I’d never heard of her.

Tina didn’t perform that day and barely spoke. But she was so self-possessed and confident, I was beguiled and instantly obsessed.

My favorite Ike & Tina album back then was called In Person and was a live recording of their performance at Basin Street West in San Francisco. It was on MINIT Records and I could buy it for 99 cents in the Rexall discount bin. I know because I wore out and replaced about 10 copies.

It’s mostly covers of popular hits but there are two medleys where she talks extensively. During one 17 minute recitative she stops and starts the band repeatedly to wax on about love and hurt. Like a Baptist Preacher, she varies the volume and cadence for dramatic effect. It was the height of soul music and there’s nothing more soulful than a Sunday sermon from a southern pulpit. Which is basically what Tina delivered. Very effectively.

There was always a manufactured and meaningless rivalry between Tina and Aretha. They were really quite different and I loved them both.

Aretha had the better voice and was more musically talented. But she was what opera queens call park and bark, a diva who plants herself on stage and lets the voice be the show.

Tina had a great voice too with a more limited range. But she danced exceptionally well and, incredibly, sang and danced simultaneously. She constantly worked on creating new dance moves and on staging to highlight the movement. She wore long falls because she said they had “action.” As did the fringe on her costumes. Hers was one of the first acts to use strobes and fog machines.

Show business cognoscenti took note. I remember hearing Diana Ross say with astonishment “oh my god, she’s so bad.” (Back when that phrase was first used as praise.) In 1969 Dick Cavett asked Janis Joplin who she admired as a performer. She immediately responded, “Tina Turner.” And Lena Horne was quoted as saying she wanted to be reincarnated as Tina.

Listening to one of the Turner’s albums was always hit and miss, gems surrounded by mediocrity. Ike was a musical control freak and notorious for stealing from other acts. Even the “rough” part of Proud Mary was nicked from Fort Wayne’s own Checkmates. It was Phil Spector’s majestic uptempo production of the Checkmates version that made Ike’s recording.

He also controlled most of the stage act. Tina later admitted being embarrassed by things Ike made her do like the lewd, kabuki-esque fellatio she performed on the microphone. Or singing lyrics with heavy drug references (“she reached in her bag and she pulled out some coke!”) She may have been reluctant to do them but, again, it was so good because she was so convincing.

Make-up’s a little scary but the fringe flew.

I completely internalized her music and always played it when I needed a lift. In college I drank prodigious amounts of coffee and mimiced the way she splayed her thighs, sat her butt down in it and gyrated across the stage to get that fringe moving.

Later when I did her on stage I was never an impersonator. She was sui generis and impossible to recreate. But she inspired me as I tried to perform with her spirit and attitude. And I loved doing her songs because they were full of energy and so sexually provocative.

David Bowie said that being on stage next to Tina was the hottest place in the universe.  Rock ‘n Roll gods melted in her presence. A YouTube clip that has since been taken down showed Mick and Tina in Tokyo doing Brown Sugar. When he drops to his knees in a corny gesture she dismisses him with a look: “not on my stage.”

(Note bene 11/28/18: a friend and devoted reader found the clip. What I wrote was on memory. Who knows what they were actually thinking. But at approximately 2:00 the look is there. Thank you Mimi.)

There is a video of Keith Richards in a group jam of Keep A Knockin’. He takes his vocal turn and nervously sings two lines. He’s palpably relieved and shows such affection when Tina steps up to rescue the verse.

And when Paul McCartney does Get Back with Charles and Diana in the audience, his look of anticipation as Tina makes her entrance and the thrill in his eyes as they harmonize are unmistakable ardor.

My generation grew up with a Bill Murray sneer for show business. We mocked every gimmick and show biz cliche there was. I kid you not. But the happiness Tina exhibited on stage was impossible to deride. There was joy in every performance she gave.

On New Years Eve 1982 she was gearing up for her return to the lime light. No one knew it was in the works but I thought at the time her stunning visual presence needed to be captured in the new medium of music video. Although she was technically still down-and-out in this appearance on Johnny Carson, watching it again she obviously was not going to be denied a comeback. And with a piano player like she had I’d be attempting one too.

Happy Birthday Tina.

It’s Showtime!

In the early 90’s I was visiting Barbara in LA and we made it a point to cram as many hip restaurants as possible into my short stay. I think we got it right because every place we went Dennis Hopper was there too.

He was at Spago’s the night we sat in the front room. So was Rona Barrett and at a table directly behind me were Willie Brown, Maxine Waters and four other politicos. They were having way too raucous of a time for elected officials.

It was close quarters and at one point Ms. Waters’ chair bumped the back of mine. She immediately apologized then smiled, placed her hand on my left shoulder and sighed reflectively “oh, to be young again.” I didn’t think I looked that young but I’ll take it wherever I can get it. In retrospect she was probably just being her savvy politician self and knew how to work the potential vote of a gay constituent.

About 10 years ago I was in line at O’Hare and she happened to be at the counter in front of me. This time when she saw me I got a scowl instead of a smile. I seriously doubt she remembered me but she studied me like maybe she thought she should.

She quickly turned back to deal with the agent. Obviously frustrated, their exchange was not going well. When it was finally resolved she looked at me again and rolled her eyes as if to say “can you believe this shit?” The magic was still there.

After the election on Tuesday I was feeling down about Democrats out polling Republicans nationwide by 10% but still not making significant gains. The deck seems stacked against us. My mood might have also been the by-product of working 16 hours at the poll that day. But even with the help of another super duper burger at the end it was hard to be buoyant.

Then this morning it dawned on me: Maxine Waters will be Chair of the Financial Services Committee. There is hope.

I have an ongoing correspondence with Nancy Pelosi’s office, who is my Congresswoman. They have been very responsive in helping me with problems. They have even contacted me after dormant periods in our communications to remind me they’re there to help. Now that’s responsive.

My last email to Pelosi, however, went unanswered. She had reprimanded Waters for the tone of some controversial statement. I thought she’d have been better off by just letting the matter slide. Civility is nice but at a time when the base is clamoring for forceful leadership we don’t need lessons in the social graces. Let Maxine be Maxine.

During the Clinton Impeachment Hearings, Congresswoman Waters was grilling Kenneth Starr. In the middle of one rambling, evasive answer she abruptly interrupted. “Excuse me, could you please repeat that? I think I may have heard you commit an impeachable offense.”

It was such a ludicrous thing to say but perfectly captured the spirit of that farce. The gavel will be in very competent hands.