Five Foot Eleven, 115 Pounds

I was watching a panel of three self-appointed internet experts ranking all of the Rolling Stones albums from worst to best. Not that I set store in ‘best’ lists but sometimes juicy tidbits are laced into these discussions. This one included the bombshell that Satisfaction was not a very good song.

The Stones have always had trouble playing Satisfaction live and it has not aged as well as some of their other hits. What the experts, whose worldly experience seemed to be bounded on one side by their WiFi routers and on the other by the Men’s Department at Target, are missing is the reason it’s the band’s most famous song.

In 1965 there were 90,000,000 people in the US under the age of 20 and they comprised over 50% of the nation’s population, The only time in history that has happened. The baby boom had been necessary to replenish the cannon fodder lost in World War Two. As the War Machine waited for these kids to mature so they too could be sent to get their heads blown off in the name of freedom, an unintended consequence was spawned. A new marketing demographic called teenagers.

The concept of teenager had not existed until the 1950’s. So much attention was focused on this marketing bonanza’s buying power, it gave us the sense we were in control.

Satisfaction was a clarion call that united youth around the world. It didn’t provide a blue print for what to do but it captured the prevailing mood that things were not right. There was so much to be dissatisfied with we may have overlooked the one thing that did satisfy us: Charlie Watts’ unrelenting beat.

It’s not by hazard that the Antiwar Movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation and Earth Day were launched in our adolescence. (We can’t take credit for the Civil Rights Movement, it started to take hold when we were still in our cradles. But it can be said we helped bring it to the forefront in the 1960’s).

To the experts: there’s more to some songs than just melody, beat and structure. And with the passage of time goes the passage of context. Those of us who have trained ourselves not to overexplain suddenly sense the perils of underexplaining. If we don’t set things straight no one will ever understand the “why.”.

In the BBC Series Upstairs Downstairs there’s an episode where Lady Marjorie’s former nanny makes an appearance. She has come to London to care for the new Bellamy granddaughter. When the two are reunited in the morning room at No. 165, all of her ladyship’s refined airs disappear as they greet each other with an affectionate hug.

What follows is the only moment in the entire series where anyone speaks down to Lady Marjorie. As they pull out of their embrace Nanny Webster gruffly chides, “you’re not wearing your foundation garments.”

Lady Marjorie brushes her off with an uncharacteristic giggle, “oh Nanny.”

Foundation garments is what my Grandmother called them too. I would see her wearing them in the mornings scurrying between the bathroom and her bedroom as she prepared to go teach her Trigonometry classes.

Her girdle was such an intimidating piece of armor. Made with industrial strength, rubberized fabric laden with so many buckles and snaps, it looked like something out of a hardware store. From the way Grandmother talked about it and by her actions when she got home you knew it was an uncomfortable apparatus. The minute she came through the door she’d rush to her bedroom to get out of that thing

Girdles were a symbol of the enslavement of women to an unreal concept of beauty invented by men. For that reason they were a source of camp to drag queens. And an object of desire for certain fetishists.

They held no fascination for me. I was so thin I didn’t need one. Size Zero was my Ground Zero. I’ve never worn a girdle in my life.

The other foundation garment that causes consternation as used in drag is the bra. To me the buffoonery of breasts is the height of misogyny. The bigger, the better and the cheaper the laughs. “My bozangas are so big I can’t read the bathroom scales anymore.” Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

When I did drag I was careful not to mock women. What I made fun of was the artificial expectations put on them by commercial interests (you’re not a true blonde unless you’re a Clairol Golden Shower blonde). Or the affectations they needed to assume to please men (“Bill never has a second cup of coffee at home” which in manspeak translates to “you incompetent bitch.”)

To make fun of a part of someone’s body they were born with and can’t change is dehumanizing. Humor is a means to provoke thought to examine issues. If breast augmentation will make one feel better about themself then go for it. But don’t do it because you’ll be meeting a societal norm that automatically qualifies you as a hot number. Do it on your terms. Whatever you decide after your consultation, walk out of that plastic surgeon’s office humming Billie Holiday’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.

Although I can categorically say I’ve never worn a girdle there were a couple of times I did do breasts.

Once in the 70’s I went as Jayne Mansfield whose signature look emphasized her 40Ds. She had been killed in a crash in heavy fog when the car she was in going full speed collided with the back of a semi that was almost stationary. The driver never saw it.

The National Enquirer was printing apocryphal stories that the impact of the collision not only sheared off the top of the automobile but also decapitated Miss Mansfield and the pet chihuahua she was holding. The imagery was just too ghoulish not to be used for Halloween.

My outfit included huge blond hair, large breasts, a tight mini sheath and across my neck a big bloody scar. At the end of a leash was a stuffed puppy whose head barely hung on by a couple of threads.

Sadly there are no photos of that outfit. But the image was firmly burned into the memory of my friend Kathy who I met that night. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

The other time I did breasts was to honor Jean Paul Gaultier’s masterful conical bra he designed for Madonna. It was a triumph in absurdity. I wore my cones under a Keith Richards T-shirt.

In May 1972 The Stones released their album Exile on Main Street. The second track was an up tempo rocker Rip This Joint that was perfect for jitterbugging. I had a friend John who was majoring in dance and we’d been talking about this wild footage we’d seen of couples dancing in Harlem in the 1940’s. He knew how to do their moves and proceeded to teach me. We worked up a routine to the Stones new song.

John was a couple of inches shorter than me but solidly built. And because I was slight he had no trouble throwing me all over the place.

One of the best moves was when we went hip to hip. I would jump up to one side positioning my hip on his, clasp my hands around his neck and lay out flat while his hands grabbed my waist to support me. He’d then pull me up torso to torso and with my upper body remaining rigid my legs whipped around to repeat the flat out position on the opposite side. He’d then pull me up again torso to torso and push/toss me backwards. We’d join hands as I landed to continue dancing.

A Lincoln Street party was the first place we did our dance. Everything went fine until we did the hip to hip. To sell the move I envisioned myself as a plank of wood parallel to the floor then trusted that everyone’s hands would be where they’re supposed to be. This night they weren’t. It happened so fast I couldn’t react. In a nano-second my back crashed full throttle against the floor.

I jumped up thinking we’d just continue but immediately bent over gasping for air. I’d had the wind knocked out of me. It was so severe it seemed to go on forever. Gasping and heaving, John finally led me outside into the night air which brought me around. What doesn’t kill us makes us better dancers.

The following month a group of us went to Chicago for the weekend. I planned to stay on through the week because the Stones were coming to town and I had tickets. I had tentative plans to stay with a friend of a friend but hoped to set up something better than that.

John was also in town Friday so we all met at PJs that night. It was the first gay bar I’d been in that was set up for men to dance together. It was always packed and was the prototype for the discos that would spring up in another 3 years.

Someone tipped the DJ to play Rip This Joint and when we heard Mick’s opening “Mama said yeah” John and I hit the floor running. Our dance took up a lot of space and at first people resented us for being floor hogs. But as they watched us dance, the seas parted and everyone got into it. The floor was ours for the next two minutes.

Everything was working as we approached the denouement. The last chorus began “Wham, Bam, Birmingham” to which we held hands face to face in a normal couples position, counting off with our outer foot. Front, Side, Back, Side. When Mick drawled out the last line “Ahhhh, let it rock!” we were back to back, elbows locked so John could forcefully bend at the waist to catapult me into the air.

The sax wailed the closing riff while I did a backwards somersault in midair. I landed grabbing John’s hand to finish the dance. PJ’s ceilings were so low I almost scraped them with my 4″ platforms. But when I nailed the landing, a huge cheer went up and everyone emptied back onto the floor.

It was such a convergence of energy that night. A new Stones album; the anticipation of the Stones arriving in town; a new bar where gay men could dance; the advent of summer; and two men jitterbugging.

John and I enjoyed a limited celebrity after our performance. Smiles, pats on the back, offers to buy us drinks. I was intrigued by the only other guy in the place wearing platforms. Shoes were all we had in common as he sported a look I’d never seen before.

He was 6’4′ with long dirty blond hair and a small moustache. He was wearing double pleated bronze satin pants and a black ribbed knit shirt that was skin tight. His nails were painted a pale ice blue. He offered to buy me a drink and then in calm, measured tones said simply “I liked your dance.” He was so suave, that’s about as exuberant as he got.

His name was Thom, he’d been living in London but was now moving to San Francisco. He’d stopped in Chicago to visit friends before continuing on. He took me back to their place, a goth Victorian reminiscent of the Dakota located in the Gold Coast section of town. His room had no furniture, just a sleeping bag on the beautiful parque floors.

In the morning he gave me his contact information in San Francisco in case I came out. He was probably going to leave that day but if he didn’t he said he’d be back at PJ’s that night. I left, smitten.

I hooked up with my friends, crashed for a while, then we went back to the dance bar that night. John had left town so there would be no more jitterbugging. I was amazed how many guys came up to me and remembered me from the night before. One guy in particular couldn’t stop talking about my dancing. His name was Tom too.

Tom 2 was handsome, had a nice body and affable, easy to hang out with. But not as cosmopolitan as Thom 1. I didn’t want to lead him on too much because if Thom 1 showed up that’s the direction I was headed. After a while it was apparent there would be no Thom 1 so I went home with Tom 2,

His flat was on Halstead and it was big, almost loft like. He had plenty of furniture, an expensive sound system and in his bedroom a king sized water bed. Which is where we immediately headed.

About 5 a.m. he got a phone call. From his excited side of the conversation it was either great news or terrible news. “Ok….ok……ok, ok….ok………okokokok…..ok” When he hung up he turned to me beaming, “I’m a father! I have a son!”

He explained he’d had an affair with a girl before he came out and after he broke it off she found out she was pregnant. She was back in his hometown of Appleton, WI and he promised to be a part of the babies life. What better way to celebrate a new baby than with gay sex, which is what we did.

When we woke up about 10 he remembered he’d told me I could stay with him while I was in town to see the Stones. I just assumed that was off the table because he was driving up to Appleton that day. Then he said “I’m going to give you a set of keys, you stay here while I’m gone.”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d known him less than 12 hours and I was getting keys to the place. We jumped back in bed and had more sex.

Finally at 1 in the afternoon he had to get going. We dressed and went out for breakfast. Then we walked to the car rental place on Broadway to pick up the car he’d drive to Wisconsin. He rented from these people all of the time, they knew him well.

As he filled out the paper work he turned to me and said, “you know what, you’re going to need a car this week too.” So he asked the car rental people to rent him a second car and make me the driver but he would pay for them both.

We both drove back to his place, he quickly packed a bag and then took off. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had an apartment, a car and in two days I was going to my first Stones concert. Plus I was having great sex. I thought, “adult life is going to be so easy.”

I was out every night that week and invariably someone would mention the jitterbug. Then there was talking to Keith on the sidewalk when he called me “baby;” Mick declining my gift of a denim jacket stating I should wear it because I was much more beautiful than him; and honking at Mick on a stroll one afternoon as I drove by in my rental. He answered with a lascivious tongue waging.

The week ended with being introduced to Cynthia Plastercaster. Given her reputation and metier, I expected something tacky and crass. She was the opposite. Soft spoken and kind, she gently tried to persuade me to model for her. I wasn’t ready to go there. Yet.

It felt so magical. And all because of the power of dance.

The last time John and I jitterbugged together was at the Gay Lib Halloween Dance that year. He had his friends in the Theatre Department make him a chicken outfit with beautiful bright yellow feathers. He looked adorable, like a Pez Easter chick.

It was the year I appeared in the Jackie blood stained suit. To get into heavily sedated grief stricken mode I had taken a couple of qualudes. We did jump up on stage to do our dance but John made the executive decision not to attempt the more strenuous moves. Given my impaired sense of balance.

In 1980 I started a new job at a large law firm in San Francisco, Morrison & Foerster. A woman who worked in their law library named Pab had introduced herself at one of the City’s law librarian lunches we both attended. When a position became available in their library she told her boss about me. Her recommendation was based on the fact that we both graduated from Indiana University and she thought I was cute.

Working together a friendship developed. We would sometimes have drinks after work and reminisce about the fun we’d had in Bloomington. She’d been a year behind me and, given it was a campus of 40,000 students, our paths never crossed.

One evening in North Beach she randomly mentioned she’d seen such a cool thing at one of the Gay Halloween Dances. There was this guy in Jackie Kennedy’s pink suit. She said it was shocking, it was even covered in blood stains.

I remained poker faced and offered a bland, “yeah, I was there that night too.”

We were still less than a decade into defining what an openly gay life would look like. There had been enough incidents of heterosexuals “accepting” homosexuals then turning on them to make it difficult to establish trust. The lawyers I was surrounded with were more conservative than any group of people I’d been around in years. I wasn’t sure there were adequate workplace protections if I opened up too much.

.I did not hide the fact I was gay. But for job security I compartmentalized details of my personal life. During my job interview with the head librarian I had not led with the story of how I once wore a replica of Jackie’s pink suit.

As our friendship grew and I gained more confidence, however, I finally confessed to Pab. Over another round of drinks I told her it had been me in the Jackie costume. It was one of those connect the dots moments that happen in movies. Her jaw dropped, she had no clue.

She was so gobsmacked it prompted a confession of her own. She had not really been to that dance. But the next day everyone in her dorm was talking about Jackie Kennedy jitterbugging with a chicken. To be hip she used the incident to pad her social resume. What were the chances anyone would ever fact check a little white lie like that?

In a recent memoir that shall remain nameless (see Stage Fright), Dale Mitchell mentioned my appearance at that Gay Lib Halloween Dance.

We remember things differently. I have no doubt I probably took my clothes off. But it would have been more accurate to say “he stripped down to his pantyhose.” The concept of tights has a more modern, unisex vibe to it and doesn’t carry the misogynistic baggage of bras and girdles. For every Margot Fonteyn in La Sylphide there’s an Errol Flynn in Robin Hood.

And if Mr. Mitchell (aka Miss Thang) really wanted to capture the flavor of the times he could have added “which he wore commando.”

Stage Fright

Further proof that I’m watching too many Youtube documentaries came in the form of last night’s dream. The first of two startling vignettes involved Joan Crawford.

It was the mid-1960s thus in black and white. She was backstage at the Ed Sullivan Show preparing to do a dramatic reading of a poem. I found her alone cowering in the corner, en tremblant. She was surrounded by the stage crews’ brooms and cleaning equipment. Her ashen face pleaded with me to get her out of there, “there’s no way I can do this!”

The second, much grander scene was in technicolor and involved the last days of the Romanovs. I was with them in the Ekatrenberg basement as they and their captors made a very lurid porn movie together. It was going to be called Lust in the Dust. When I pointed out there was already a John Waters’ film with the same name, they decided to change the title to Lustful and Dustful. I woke up laughing

In the 2018 film Tea With the Dames, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright have a conversation about their careers in acting. The movie looks like a producer’s dream. All they had to do was turn on the camera and the women wrote the script on the spot. The only production value needed was a skillful editor to splice it together. Which they found.

Throughout the piece the actresses love to goof on the numerous elocution exercises they performed through the years (Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.) And the editor’s masterful sprinkling of brief clips from their careers show how the exercises paid off. Their intrinsic articulation of every syllable in an English sentence is unequaled.

The most surprising takeaway is how all four dealt with stage fright. I know many suffer from this but I thought it was the exception. They talked as if it was pervasive and maybe the norm.

The paralysis I felt before any performance was just chalked up as another of my many personality defects. No one in their right mind would sit through such terror struggling for any possible way out of the situation. Scenarios that are completely wrong and that under normal circumstances would never even be considered are, at times like this, perfectly viable alternatives.

Eileen Atkins said every night in the car on the way to the theatre she wonders if it wouldn’t be better to be maimed or killed in an accident. She always just barely comes down on the side of “no, it would not.”

It’s reassuring to find out I’m not alone in this psychosis. But as Gilda Radner doing Barbara Walters would say, it comes “too widdle, too wate” to do me much good.

In 1995 I did my final performance, a benefit for the new Gay and Lesbian Reading Room at the library. It had been almost a decade since my previous show and AIDS had drastically changed the landscape. My mailing list had taken a big hit, the pool of worker bees who usually helped out had dwindled, plus those who remained were so burnt out there wasn’t much enthusiasm for another event. Most of all I missed Brian.

Brian didn’t do much hands on work until the day of a show when he would drop everything to help. But as projects unfolded he was a sounding board and source of encouragement. When I did my first solo Halloween show in 1981, Queens’ Christmas, he told me to stop brooding over a budget, concentrate on ideas not bookkeeping. He urged me to book the overpriced hotel ballroom I wanted but couldn’t afford. Worry about the money later. I did and somehow it worked out.

In 1995 I did almost all of the prep work myself. Everything went fine until the night of the performance. When the sleazeball entrepreneur who rented the space took my money he magnanimously said we could have access anytime that day to set up. We agreed on 7:00 PM.

That evening four of us arrived at the appointed hour and rang the bell. There was no answer. We rang and knocked again, nothing. So I called and got his voicemail. He didn’t return the call. Soon it was 7:30 then 8:00. All we could do was wait and keep leaving messages. We stood in the cold November night with all of our stuff on the sidewalk as a few more set up people joined us. Finally the proprietor showed up at 8:30 with a blithe smile and a “lets get this party started” fake attitude. I was furious but there was too much to do to waste energy on anger.

All day my stage fright had been increasing incrementally. But during the long wait at he door the trauma of one terror was replaced by that of another. I thought I’d been bilked out of $1500, the guy wasn’t even going to show. I thought of the people I was letting down, how they’d arrive only to find nothing there. I’d been given the stage fright fanatic’s ultimate wish, an excuse to not go on. Instead, to appear to be this irresponsible and incompetent and the damage it would cause to my reputation would hurt more than any humiliation I might have on stage.

The saving grace was that it was billed as a party that included a performance. Not a show with a curtain time. 9:00 PM was on the invitation and, given my chic friends, no one was going to show up on time. Indeed, the crowd didn’t start trickling in until 9:30. There was plenty to drink and by 10:30 a decent number had assembled. The show started at 11:00. We’d had barely enough time to get through the preparations.

My performance that night was not very good. I was so drained by the pre-show angst I had difficulty summoning the nerve to get through it.

I do think I redeemed myself with the encore, Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. It had melodramatic chops I could sink my teeth into. I’d begun the evening with Ms. Springfield’s I Only Want to Be With You. So, in the spirit of Romanov porn, I introduced the final song with “Ashes to ashes, Dusty to Dusty.”

Satisfied with that effort I did not wish to end on a downer. I came back for a second encore, Tina Turner’s version of (Darlin’) You Know I Love You.

The choreographer of the great Russian ballets, Petipa, said always listen to the music. It will tell you exactly what to do. And the message from the bluesy beat of this B.B. King song came through loud and clear: strip. I have always been the happiest on stage when taking my clothes off.

Moving from the fantasy land of dreams and memories, harsh reality confronted me in the form of The Graham Norton Show. In one episode Lesley Manville made the case for what a trouble maker Judi Dench was. In their early careers they appeared together in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Well into the meat of the play Manville would stand alone to deliver a soliloquy. It was her character’s big moment in the production.

One night she noticed Dench in the wings awaiting her cue in the usual spot. She was hidden not only from the audience but also the cast and crew. The only sight line was between the two actresses.

As Manville bared her soul, Dench bent over at the waist to simulate an act of anal sex. Her pantomime was so convincing, with every pounding thrust of the phantom anal invader the actress in the spotlight could feel her concentration evaporate. She ended delivering a speech laced with uncontrollable laughter.

Manville regretted her lapse in professionalism. But actors on their level have such skills, who knows how it came off. The crowd may have perceived it as the madness of a talented performance. The actresses were probably the only ones who noticed the difference. Well, those two and the stage hands.

Lesley had given birth a couple of weeks before and was still having bladder control issues. As the mime in the wings reached around to apply more imaginary lube, Manville urinated all over the stage. Fortunately her costume included a long skirt.

50 years ago in the first year of our friendship, Dale and I were crammed in the back seat of a car leaving a party in Bloomington. Out of the blue he turned and said, “you’re the person most like Joan Crawford I’ve ever met.” Whether it was a compliment or a dig I wasn’t sure. An educated guess would be the latter.

On one hand Crawford was glamourous and adored. On the other, to achieve that adulation she had the reputation of being the most single-minded, calculating and ruthless of all the stars in Hollywood’s firmament.

I’ve always enjoyed the vagueness of not knowing what he meant.

A few years later that same sagacious queen offered another tidbit that has haunted me through the decades. He cautioned me to “be careful. All images eventually ring false.”

And I think I was careful, I never fell for the hype. I spent so much energy convincing others to believe in a persona I could never believe in myself. It was a job whose paycheck was the joy of pretending.

To quote Edward Albee:

Martha: Truth or illusion, George, you don’t know the difference.
George: No, but we must carry on as if we did, Martha.


For those who would like to read more about my life coach Dale, his new book will be published October 3rd. Hippie Faggot Freak details his harsh adolescence. The experience forged a determination which served him well when he became a leader of the emerging gay liberation movement of the early 1970’s.

We had not yet met so I can’t really speak to his years as a troubled teen. But, when I came out in college, it was quite a luxury to have access to my own private Simon Bolivar.

Click here for a preview of Hippie Faggot Freak.

Demanding a Recount

A slight oversight in the 2020 election steal media blitz has been that the only race affected was the presidential one. If a ballot was cast fraudulently, however, wouldn’t that invalidate all selections made on that ballot? Maybe it’s time to take a second look at the Dog Catcher contest in Maricopa County or the nail-biter for State Senator in Buttfuque, LA. If the issue is ballot fraud there’s a lot more to this story than Biden and Trump.

But since day one the narrative has been dumbed down to appeal to a national audience weaned on the ethics of the Real Housewives franchises and the logic of NRA Constitutional scholars. The illusion was created that millions of votes were independently cast for president which had no relation to other choices a voter may have made. It would be wrong to count the vote of a dead person for Joe Biden but apparently acceptable to include in the referendum to preserve the Stonewall Jackson statue in Smitherines, GA

That inside the beltway journalists like Susan Page, Anderson Cooper or Nora Dunce have not exposed this angle is shocking. Maybe they’ve done a Bob Woodward and made a deal with their sources not to publish until after the fact. “Explosive new details” can add millions to the take on your exclusive best seller.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court is standing by to save the day. While Justice Thomas relaxes on the Crow ranch engaging in his favorite summer pastime of picking pubic hairs out of his coke, his team of clerks funded by the Federal Lust Society are working on the solution: a bold new legal theory, ballotum fraudulentus.

This theory describes a computer virus so sophisticated it takes a trajectory not seen since the second shot from Dealey Plaza’s grassy knoll. In that instance of national intrigue, a bullet took a dramatic u-turn out of Governor Connolly to go back and hit the sitting President. Likewise the 2020 malware was so finely engineered it was able to course through all of the nation’s voting machinery attacking only the presidential vote and leaving all other races unaffected.

The House is jumping on the BF bandwagon and has scheduled hearings to commence immediately following the summer recess. Congresswoman Taylor-Greene is primed to introduce yet another piece of salacious evidence: the double-headed dildo used by Hunter Biden in one of his videos. She says it represents the duplicity of, well, er, uh, something–she hasn’t thought that through yet.

Keep up the good work Margie!

From a Plush Shag, 1972

My Bloomington friends and I have always bemoaned the fact there are very few photos from those two hectic years. Things were so counterculture we didn’t care about documenting anything.

Thanks to the miracle of hoarding and the kindness of a friend, a set of five photos have emerged.

Through my jeans legs, darkly.

God Save the King (Oh Spare Me)

For centuries the clergy have perfected the mysterious ritual of taking young men (and occasionally women) behind a partition to conduct the holiest of acts. The unction of choice is usually Wet Platinum or KY Jelly. Once in a lifetime, however, when it comes to anointing a monarch, they’ll pull out the Extra, Extra, I-Don’t-Care-How-Many-Times-You’ve-Been-Laid-For-Our-Purposes-You’re-Still-A-Virgin Oil.

Once the shaky, eczema covered hands finish slathering the luscious flesh, the heavens open and a direct line is established to God. We’ve all had tricks like that.

If Prince Harry’s Spare is to be believed, the main topic of discussion between the deity and their new representative on earth will be about managing PR. He describes a petty and duplicitous Palace staff consumed with controlling all royal news. Bad press is just as valuable as good, it shores up brand recognition.

Equally obsessed but somewhat less powerful are family members who hire staff. Each principal royal has a household who work with other households to resolve conflicts and whims. With some exceptions the pecking order usually prevails. A Defender of the Faith trumps a Prince of Wales who outranks a Princess Royal who precedes sundry duchies. Once the feathers from the henhouse staff fight settle, the principals display a united front to support the final outcome.

What Har the Spare exposes is how tacky this divine family’s backroom maneuvering can be. Conversations like “Kate has had bad press for two years now it’s Meaghan’s turn to be the villain” actually occur. Courtiers immediately leak stories about Kate’s impeccable style. While simultaneously fabricating ones on Meaghan abusing staff and bitch slapping Kate into tears.

Most of their derogatory coverage on the internet comes from about two dozen sources. And they all can be traced back to the Palace.

It’s not just the hazing ritual for newbies that creates a turnaround in PR fortunes. Camilla is probably experiencing whiplash from her recent press.

For decades she’s been the callous jezebel who tormented Diana and destroyed her marriage. Now with her coronation as Queen Consort imminent, she gives one speech on osteoporosis and becomes the angel of the downtrodden. What has changed? Just the pigeon hole she’s been assigned to keep the Firm afloat

Harry describes in detail his five years in the British army. The intense and lengthy training he went through to become a helicopter fighter pilot. The military turned him into a robotic piece of meat.

He was deployed in a hood with earplugs so there were no clues where he was being taken. Eventually he was dropped on the desert floor to live in a run down school house cum barracks.

The Prince’s main diversions were card games, girly magazines and sleep. He lived on constant edge as he could be summoned into combat at a moment’s notice. Existence became so rote there was a loss of sentience as he performed his tedious duties. Nothing was predictable.

On completing the tour of duty, one of his first events was the family’s annual meeting at Sandringham. The one where Royals (save the monarch) discuss organizations they patronize, fine tune assignments then divvy up new ones needing a sponsor.

The main item of interest is reviewing the Circular. This tally sheet shows the number of activities each royal undertook the previous year. There’s little consistency or precise definition on which jobs qualify.

The obvious ones would be “organized a fundraiser” or “attended a command performance.” Then there are the questionable entries: “helicoptered in to East Anglia for a 20 minute presentation at the Knitters League. Awarded Medal for Fewest Dropped Stitches in 2022 then helicoptered out.” Fresh off his Afghanistan stint, Harry quietly thought “they call that work?”

Backlash for Spare is orchestrated by the Palace in collusion with the tabloid press. The main criticisms are that Harry and Meaghan are narcissistic and greedy. Compared to whom?

After the army Harry was assigned a residence at Kensington Palace. Sounds grand but his particular crib was Notting Hill Cottage, a 19th century run down unit with a few small rooms and low ceilings. He got by with little help preferring to fend for himself.

It was an isolated and lonely experience. His only privacy was on the palace grounds. Once outside the gates he’d be besieged by paparzzi.

Occasionally he’d come up with a disguise, sneak out to a discount clothing retailer in his High Street neighborhood and make a mad dash to grab as much as he could. Then he’d quickly check out and run home with his wardrobe for the next six months. To linger meant discovery which resulted in all hell breaking loose.

Grocery shopping was more problematic because it needed to be done frequently. The only option was pick the least busy times and hope for the best. He writes how he and Meaghan bonded in their early days of dating by roasting a chicken at Nott Cott.

This side of the Prince comes from his Mother’s rearing not from his just folks Pa’s. His entire adult life, Charles III has employed a valet to squeeze the toothpaste on his brush because he can’t or won’t do it himself.

He also has a penchant for fresh vegetables from his garden at Highgrove. No matter which residence he’s in, home grown produce needs to be trucked or jetted to him the day it is on the menu. A true everyman.

Or maybe the critics would rather the Sussexes follow the example of Uncle Andrew. One of the few times he served as spokesman for the family was meeting reporters at the PanAm crash site in Lockerbie. Although not known at the time of his appearance, it was an agent of one of Andrew’s best buds, Muammar Gaddafi, who blew up the plane.

Standing on the field where the corpses had been strewn, Prince Andrew pontificated how “statistically something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.” Imagine the solace that statement provided.

It’s no wonder the family kept him muzzled for the next 30 years. When this cat somehow slipped out of the bag to give an interview on the Epstein Child Prostitution Case, he confessed the one thing he was guilty of was “just being too honorable.”

As for greed, most royals lead a pampered existence until about mid-life. Then budget cuts dictate their removal from the Civil List. With no training (or inclination) to do anything professionally, they are left to “spare change” in the noblest of ways.

There isn’t a royal alive who would not leap at the purported $100 million the Duke and Duchess got from Netflix. They had the savvy to know what was available and how to get it.

Whether intended or not, Spare makes the case for the jig being up. Monarchies have no place in the modern era except for the tourist dollars they attract. The Windsors are Britain’s Epcot Center: conveniently accessible as well an amazing life-like approximation of rulers from centuries gone by.

It’s preposterous the state should maintain Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace for two seniors like Fred and Gladys (the King and Queen Consort’s everyday people nicknames for each other). The edifices should be turned into museums leaving the state rooms intact for occasional ceremonial use.

With over 1500 rooms between them, there’s plenty left for more practical use. In the hands of a bankruptcy-savvy real estate firm run by the Trump-Kushners, excess space could be converted to new housing. Apartments like The Annus Horribillis Villas in Windsor could spring up. Or, in London, The Grace and Favor Dells at Buckingham. (To tour a model unit, contact Senior Property Manager George Santos.)

This is not to say all descendants of Billy the Conqueror should be euthanized. Anyone who can trace their roots back a millennium needs to be acknowledged in some manner. That can be accomplished in Ripley’s Believe or Not rather than the public dole.

I’ve not always been anti-monarchist. As a first grader reading fairy tales I was a believer. Then as I learned about authority figures, anyone on television was to be revered.

The seeds of doubt were planted in adolescence. Charles and Anne were roughly my age but they somethinged (it couldn’t be called dancing) to the beat of a different drum. Our generation was swinging but those two had severe cases of pelvic block. They were 50-year-olds in 15-year-old bodies. It made the family seem weird.

Then in college all the myths used to make us conform came tumbling down. Vietnam was the last line of defense against Communism. Women were genetically inferior to men and belonged in the home. Marijuana use guaranteed heroin addiction.

To this bonfire of lies it was a no-brainer to add hereditary monarchies. When I heard the Sex Pistols perform God Save the Queen at Winterland, it felt like the Brits had finally woken up to smell the Darjeeling. And this time, we mean it man.

Then I started to soften. Not for the institution but for the individual. And the jewels. (My God! What’s to become of those precious stones? RuPaul’s Drag Race could put them to good use.) Admiration for Elizabeth II necessitated postponing the guillotine until the end of her reign.

In an unassuming way she became a role model to women and girls in the under-educated regions of the world like Bangladesh or the American South. The Queen was not measured on how well she vamped to get her man. She was judged by the steadfast and diligent way she performed her duties, rarely putting a wrong foot forward.

Elizabeth did a traditional man’s job better than any male could have done. Subliminally this had to seep into the consciousness of females around the globe where the primitive Me-Tarzan-You-Jane ethos still flourishes (with the possible exception of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. They’re beyond hope.)

Her success was partly dependent on her ability to compartmentalize and delegate. Harry recalls a phone conversation with Granny about an issue he felt strongly about. She agreed whole-heartedly with his point of view and course of action. Five days later a courtier informed him they’d be doing exactly the opposite.

Like a professional sports team, the Queen must have evaluated overall performances at the end of the season. But she couldn’t lay her life on the line for individual items on the schedule. Sheer volume required she trust staff to vet the details. Even when a decision was not to her liking, she affably played the hand she was dealt.

Both Spare and Netflix’s The Crown establish the only person who can say “no” to a royal is this vagary called a courtier. How they are selected or from whence they gain their authority is a mystery. It is known they are picked from Britain’s aristocracy and work with branches of the government. But that’s about it. The resulting fog provides fertile ground for QAnon theorists and the minds of retired megalomaniacs.

Decisions at this diabolical level are done independently of the monarch. The royals have no curiosity after the fact nor do they have knowledge beforehand. Ignorance limits culpability. It would be wrong to assume the Queen attended plenary sessions with MI5, pounding her fist and yelling, “Not the Pont Neuf! Do it in the Alma Tunnel! No pedestrians!”

This obscure decision making process is especially valuable in dealing with expiration dates. In the midst of the Russian Revolution when the Tsar sought asylum in Britain, the answer was no. The Windsors were skating on thin ice with public opinion at the time. They couldn’t risk giving refuge to their tyrannical kinfolk.

When George V was in extremis 20 years later, someone ordered a speed ball of cocaine and morphine to be mainlined before midnight. Better to have the death announcement in the prestigious morning papers than the tawdry evening tabloids.

Then there’s the curious case of Meg and Mum. In 2002 the country was gearing up for summer long celebrations of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Hundreds of thousands of people would be descending on London. There were billions of dollars to be made.

The last thing they needed was a state funeral to muck things up with 10 days of official mourning. It would have been so awkward and cruel to force a despondent Queen onto the balcony to blithely smile and wave at the adoring masses.

In January of that year both Princess Margaret and the Queen Mum were in precarious health. Margaret died in February followed a few weeks later by her Mother. A respectable two months of mourning followed before the jubilee began in late May. Just saying.

The death of Harry’s Mother permeates Spare. He writes of an otherwise loving family who were either ill-equipped or unwilling to help him face his loss. They just shuttled him off to boarding school. Left to his own devices, he acted out with alcohol, drugs and Nazi uniforms.

The discipline of the army helped as did mental health counseling. Meeting Meaghan and starting a family, however, was the palliative that helped him get on with life.

Both he and his brother William have reservations about the cause of Diana’s death. And well they should. It has never made sense that three sophisticated, intelligent people like Princess Diana, Dodi al-Fayed and the bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones would get into a car with a driver as blisteringly drunk as their chauffeur was said to have been. Or how such a deadly accident could have occurred in a straight away tunnel with no hazards.

The issue with Diana was she had mastered press manipulation. She could outshine the royal family at the drop of a hat. Where it was hoped divorce would diminish her abilities and sideline her, instead it seemed to increase her power.

In the short term this would be an annoyance to the Queen who could hold her own. But in the long run it would be a disaster for the dullard Charles. Diana could always make mincemeat of him when it came to PR.

The Queen might have addressed the issue with her limited tools. The establishment, who were equally as cognizant, had more lethal methods at their disposal.

When she was informed of the crash, Elizabeth was probably as stunned and saddened as everyone else. But she would have immediately seen what it meant. Once the Queen of Hearts was laid, Lilibet was free to play out her winning hand and take all of the remaining tricks.

Harry’s perspective on the days after his Mother’s death corresponds with what I’ve always thought. As articulated in his uncle the Earl Spencer’s statement the following day, the whole world thought Diana was hounded to death by paparazzi. The publishers of tabloid trash had her blood on their hands.

But two days into mourning the story dramatically shifted to “show us you care”. Headlines blasted the Queen’s tone deaf response to the tragedy. This remained the official line all the way through to Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning performance ten years later.

There’s never been a discussion of the mechanics involved in making the Queen a focal point for the nation’s anger. Nor why the press got off scot-free for the proximate role they played in the crime. There is no bad press about the press because they control the press.

And there’s no push back from the Palace. For better or worse, they’re reliant on journalists to perpetuate The Firm.

The best scene of The Crown (so far) occurs in Season 5. In an opening sequence a shooting party is underway at Sandringham. It was not unusual for hundreds, if not thousands, of birds to be felled every winter.

Vignettes of George V’s festivities are juxtaposed with what was happening in Yekaterinburg. The narrative weaves between the falling fowl and the Romanovs herded to the basement, lined against the wall, then riddled with bullets.

You live by the blood sports, you die by the blood sports.