Harvey Milk – “Hope”

In honor of Pride Month and the issuance of the Harvey Milk US Postage Stamp, here’s a short clip from the award winning 1984 documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk

This short yet inspiring speech is something everyone should hear. Milk asserts that LGBT Rights, Civil rights, Women’s Rights are all connected. We need each other to succeed. Together we are strong.

Milk insists that we not forget the LGBT youth who are struggling with their identity. Give them hope for a better tomorrow.

“Without hope, life is not worth living.” – Harvey Milk

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Thoughts on Mother’s Day

So here it is, another Mother’s Day. One day out of the year when we say, “Hey thanks mom. Sorry for the temper tantrums, the dirty laundry, the million dishes, and the years of heartache. Today, families everywhere treat their moms to breakfast in bed, brunch, or dinner reservations. Little kids present hand drawn cards that mothers with cherish forever, and fathers give kisses, flowers and boxes of chocolates — and those dainty, ill-fitting, single-use pieces of silken fabric that mom will “save for a special occasion” that she knows will never come.

This one day out of the year is spent honoring the woman who did the best she could to ensure that you would succeed.

I want everyone to hold onto the spirit of this day when they go about their daily business. I want people to remember their mothers every time they interact with women. Every single man needs to treat every single woman with the same respect that every mother deserves.

If your mother was more Joan Crawford than June Cleaver, I feel for you. I don’t mean to suggest that you treat women as you would your own Mommie Dearest. Just follow the golden rule. Treat people (women too) the way you want to be treated.

Every faith in the world has it’s own version of the golden rule. Why then do we treat each other like shit?

If you still have trouble figuring it out, pretend your mother is in the room. If you wouldn’t say it or do it in front of your mother, then you probably shouldn’t be saying or doing it.

And a very happy Mother’s Day to all the unconventional mother figures out there. Single dads and LGBT parents need love too. 🙂

 

What Kind of Ass**** Shoots a Gun Into a Car Full of Teenagers?

There is an ongoing battle in my neighborhood between residents and teenagers in parked cars blaring loud music. Not once, in the years that I’ve been living here, has any of us pulled a gun on one. single. teenager.

Not once!

To be sure, blaring your music at top volume, with the bass up so high it shakes my house, is inconsiderate at best. It shows a lack of respect for your neighborhood. It shows the world that you’re the worst kind of ass who’s probably trying to overcompensate for some major insecurities. But it’s not reason enough for me, or anyone for that matter, to take a life.

Most of the time, as with Mr Davis and his pals, it’s just teenagers being teenagers. They haven’t had enough life experience to understand that the people who live in these houses have to get up in the morning to go to jobs they hate, jobs that don’t pay very much, so that they can pay an outrageous amount of rent. They don’t need to listen to some punk kid showing off his bad taste in music. Oh… Don’t think you have bad taste in music? Just wait until you’re an old head like me and some snot nosed kid blasts your house with whatever passes for music at that point.

But I’m in a residential neighborhood where there’s a certain expectation of a reasonable noise level. Something just above a whisper would be nice, but probably unrealistic. Mr Dunn was at a gas station where there is no such expectation.

He was at a friggin gas station convenience store, for crying out loud! It is reasonable to expect that there will be lots of noise! Hell, it’s almost guaranteed!

I wasn’t on that jury so there’s no way of knowing what the hell was going on during deliberations. But there’s one fact that I just can’t get past. After shooting ten rounds into an SUV full of teenagers, Dunn left the gas station and drove 40 miles away to a bed and breakfast in St. Augustine, where he “walked his dog, ordered a pizza, and drank rum and cola.

A normal human being would have called for an ambulance.

But then, a normal human being wouldn’t have fired a gun into an SUV full of teenagers over loud music.

What an ass****!

Happy Birthday Bette Midler!

In honor of Bette Midler’s birthday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Bette songs. You won’t find Wind  Beneath My Wings or The Rose on this list. They’re both great tunes, but we’ve all heard them a million times. Instead, I’d like to share some of the lesser known, but equally good tracks.

I didn’t really pay attention to Bette until I heard a radio interview sometime in 1980. I was a lost fifteen year old. I had few friends because I had no social skills. During this interview she recited the following quote…

“What’s underneath the mask isn’t as important as the mask that you choose to wear. That’s the true indication of your imagination and your spirit.”

That quote gave me the courage to be the person I wanted to be. I started making new friends, I got my first part-time, after school job, and a year later I came out. Surprise! 😉

My unofficial introduction to Bette Midler was her 1972 remake of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Want To Dance”, which appeared on her debut album, “The Divine Miss M”. The slower tempo gives it a more sultry feel than the original. It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood the deeper sexual themes of Bette’s version. It remains a favorite.

The third cut on Bette’s debut album, which also includes a beautiful cover of the Ethel Waters standard “Am I Blue”, is a percussion heavy, 1960s style  rock/soul tune called “Daytime Hustler”. It’s the style of song you’d expect to hear from an artist like Tina Turner. With lyrics like, “Fancy money doesn’t buy my love. Flashy Cadillacs won’t make me f❇k. I’ve been hustled by the best of them, and you ain’t nothing but a crazy, crazy man…”  It’s a fun song.

“Skylark”, from Bette’s 1973 self titled second album, is probably the most under-appreciated interpretation of the 1941 Johnny Mercer/ Hoagy Carmichael American pop classic. According to wikipedia, The yearning expressed in the lyrics is Mercer’s longing for Judy Garland, with whom Mercer had an affair.

On the other end of the spectrum from Skylark, is “Breaking up somebody’s home”, also from Bette’s second album. This is one of those little known gems that got buried in the past. It’s bluesy, raw, and more than a little bit sexy. You probably won’t hear this song at a wedding reception. …at least I hope not.

Bette’s fifth album, Thighs and Whispers (1979) contains her disco hits “Big Noise From Winnetka” and “Married Men” and a decent cover of Johnny Bristol’s “Hang on in There Baby”. Although “My Knight in Black Leather” did well in gay clubs, it never became anything more than a camp classic.

The real gems from her fifth album were “Cradle Days” and her beautiful, sad cover of James Taylor’s “Millworker”

“Cradle days” is an aching plea to first love. We’ve all been there. Bette’s voice is powerful in this emotional rock ballad. It’s my favorite tune on that album.

From Bette’s little known fourth album, the one that nobody bought, called Broken Blossom, came “Empty Bed Blues“, “Paradise“, and a really cool duet with Tom Waits called “I Never Talk To Strangers.”

The economy of 1970s was pretty much as it is today. Bette’s aptly named Songs For The New Depression contains a campy cover of “Marahuana” — originally sung by Gertrude Michael in the pre-code “Murder at the Vanities” (1934)

Bette was sick during the filming of Divine Madness, You can hear it in her voice. But the cameras, lighting and sound equipment were already paid for and the auditorium was booked. Canceling production would have cost millions. So they pumped her up with Vitamin C and sent her on stage. Yet, in my opinion, the Divine Madness performance of “Stay With Me Baby” is the best.

Happy Birthday Bette!

The 40 Year Search!

Ever have a tune stuck in the back of your mind that just won’t go away, but you can’t play it because you don’t know the name? So it sits there, and every once in a while rears it’s taunting head.

Carla Morrison – Eres Tú (letra)

I discovered the above tune while searching for a 1973 song, whose title I could not remember.

I searched for what seemed like forever. I tried every variant of “Et Eschtule” and “Edest Tu” and everything in between.

I even tried humming the mystery song to friends, but that only confused them more.

Part of the problem was that I thought it was an Italian song. I was eight years old when the song came out. The only language other than English that I had heard was Italian, so naturally I thought the song was Italian.

Finding this Carla Morrison song was a big break for me. Of course! Eres Tu! Seeing it in print made so much sense.

So I typed Eres Tu into the YouTube search bar and Lo and Behold…

“Eres Tu” by Mocedades

The sad part is, now that I’m hearing Mocedades again, I kinda prefer the Carla Morrison cut better. 🙂

Out Of The Closet, Into The Fire!

NCODI wanted to write something brilliant and inspiring for National Coming Out Day, something that would give future generations hope and pride. Then like most of my “inspiring ideas” I put it off until the last minute. So here I am at 12:15 AM with a head full of thoughts and nothing on paper … er, document file.

My earliest conversation about homosexuality was a curt one. I was maybe six years old. The idea of marrying a person of the opposite sex was alien to me. I knew that’s what people were supposed to do, but It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t think girls were yucky, or had cooties. It’s just that I knew I didn’t want to spend my life with a girl. So, one day, I casually asked my grandmother if two boys could get married. Well… I will never forget the look in her face. You would have thought I had grown another head. “NO!” she snapped. “It’s illegal.” And just like that, the conversation was over. But I held onto that thought. I filed it away for later use. The acrimony in her answer would become the foundation upon which my closet was built.

As I grew older, I discovered that people did not approve of gays. Many, like the men in my family were downright malicious. My grandfather made racial epithets part of his everyday vernacular and saved a few choice words for gay men. He said the word “faggot” with such vile hatred I used to cringe. My father might not have been as aggressive, but he was his father’s son. — Perhaps being on the receiving end of that hostility helped me to empathize with others.

By the time I was ten years old I was discovering sex. My best friend found discarded Playboy magazines and was eager to share with the gang. We gathered round, gawking and giggling. Everything is giggles with boys that age. — I tried so hard to be interested. I wanted so much to find something appealing in those images. I really did. I wasn’t put off. Women’s bodies don’t repulse me. I just wasn’t interested.

It was about this time that I happened upon a Playgirl magazine. It probably belonged to my stepsister. I took a look. This was the moment. This was the game changer. Suddenly, I knew. – And I was filled with a combination of relief, exhilaration, and dread. The fact that I had finally experienced sexual excitement was such a relief, but that relief was short lived. All of a sudden panic struck. No! This couldn’t possibly be happening! Why me?? Yes. The $64,000 question, “Why me?” I was so distressed by the thought that God felt it necessary to pile such a huge burden on my shoulders. It wasn’t enough that my parents divorced and I don’t know my mother, now God was against me too? My feeling of despair was made worse because I had no one to turn to. — A young person of color goes home to a family of people just like him or her. LGBT youth are most often alone in a family of heterosexuals. They lack representation in their own family, their own home.

I made it my mission to learn all I could about homosexuality. I was already spending lots of time in the library, so I started there. The resources were slim. I searched every dictionary, encyclopedia, and medical book I could find. I uncovered little more than clinical definitions and misguided assumptions, but I never stopped looking. —  To this day, I soak up every bit of LGBT history and culture I can find.

As puberty took hold, I learned to reinforce my closet door. Attitudes towards gays at school were negative at best. Kids can be so cruel. Anti-gay epithets could be heard from students and teachers alike. I was on constant guard. But I also kept an eye open for clues that there might be others just like me. I sought out allies, but was convinced I was the only gay person in my town. — Silly me.

By my fifteenth summer I was swimming at the nearest YMCA, conveniently located a mere ten miles away. After a swim I’d go to a nearby book and magazine shop to pick up something to read on the long trolley ride home. One day, while perusing the periodicals, the words “gay pride” caught my attention. Oh. My. God. Could it be? The clean cut moustachioed man on the cover smiled down at me. I was nervous. How was I going to ask the cashier to sell me this magazine? I looked for something else to buy. There was no way I’d have the nerve to buy this one gay themed magazine alone. Maybe if I asked for a bunch of titles the clerk wouldn’t notice the gay one. — Does that ever work?–  I continued scanning the rack, but my eyes kept returning to the smiling man. In a panic, I mispronounce the name of the magazine. I had to point it out to the clerk. I was nervous and somewhat embarrassed, but I managed to buy a cooking and a gossip magazine to go with that wonderful window into gay life, The Advocate. The minute I got home, I stashed the magazine where every teenage boy thinks no one will look. Say it with me… “under the mattress.”

My first job was at a local convenience store. I was friends with a few of my coworkers and got together with them after work on Saturday nights. It was nothing elaborate. We piled into a friend’s beat up old car and went to a movie, a diner or bowling. Sometimes we would just drive around, carrying on like teenagers do.  It was on one of those nights that everything changed.

My friends dropped me off at home so I could change out of my work clothes. My parents were quietly seated in the living room.  I said hello, and proceeded upstairs to get cleaned up. I was shocked by what greeted me. My bedroom was in shambles. More importantly, the mattress had been tossed aside. They knew! I was convinced my father was going to throw me out of the house. I was crushed.

I gathered all the courage I could and without looking at my folks, calmly left the house. My friends were waiting in the car for me. I must have looked pretty bad because one of my friends asked what was wrong. I told them I might need a place to stay for a while. When asked why, I skirted the issue. Eventually, the truth came out. Surprisingly, my small group of friends was supportive. We talked for more than an hour. The car never made it out of the parking spot. After encouragement from my friends, I reluctantly returned home to face my fate.

My parents were more upset that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to open up to them than they were about the magazines. My dad was disappointed, but not surprised that his son was gay. “Straight boys “ he said. “don’t usually hang around with girls.” The fact that there were boys in my group didn’t matter to him. There were more than three girls in the group, so I was gay. – Sounds logical to me.

My parent’s told me the reason they searched my room was because they suspected drug use. For the record, I was not using any kind of illegal substance. I didn’t even smoke. I was under the misconception that LGBT folks didn’t do drugs. Yes. I was that naive.

After graduating high school, I met my first love. We weren’t really a good match, first loves rarely are. He helped me through the death of my grandfather, but his habit of sending love notes outed me to my grandmother. She opened a birthday card that was addressed to me and didn’t like the romantic nature of the enclosed message. My grandmother took it as a personal affront, like in some bizarre act of rebellion I decided to be gay. She demanded that I find a nice girl and change my ways or she would disown me

Up until that moment, my grandmother and I had always been close. She took care of me for the three years between my father’s divorce and his marriage to my stepmother. I learned a lot about my Italian heritage through her. I learned how to cook from her. So it was especially painful to hear her say that my being gay made her “sick to her stomach”.

A friend of mine told me to have patience. He said that I had the advantage of time on my side. It was a few years between the moment I discovered I was gay to the time I accepted it as a fact of life. I was going to have to give my family the same about of time to get used to it. He was right. My parents came around within a few months of that awful Saturday night. My grandmother took a little longer, but she did manage to adjust to the idea in her own way. She preferred not to discuss it.

As I learned, while gawking over pictures of scantily clad women, I can’t be anything other than who or what I am. There’s no amount of praying that will change it. Once I accepted that simple fact, I was much happier.

New York AIDS March (1985)

New York AIDS March (1985)

By the end of the 1980s, I was living on my own. I was fortunate enough to have made friends with some truly remarkable people, most of whom are no longer with us. Those men took me under their wing and became my secondary family. Their struggles helped pave the way for my self acceptance in a way that I hope my generation might have done for the next. I know they would be extremely disappointed with me If I didn’t live life in my own truth, on my own terms. So I strive to make them proud.

In the words of *Polonius, “This above all – to thine own self be true,”  It wasn’t always easy, but it did get better.

*(Hamlet act 1, scene 3) William Shakespeare

Cooking, Grandma, Food, and Love

Like Pavlov’s dog, I think of my grandmother whenever I’m cooking.

I inherited my love of cooking from my grandmother. Some of my earliest memories involve helping her in the kitchen. She kept my little hands busy fetching ingredients from the pantry, rolling meatballs, or “tasting” the pasta to make sure it was al dente.

I’m pretty sure I was the only five year old who knew what al dente meant!

Food was how she expressed creativity and love. It was how she passed along wisdom to three of her grandchildren. Involving us in the process had the added benefit of keeping her abreast of what was happening in our lives.

What else are you supposed to do while you’re making pizzelles, but talk about school and friends?

Even as I’m cooking today, I can hear her voice, “Clean as you go.” She would insist that while I was waiting for the meat to brown or the water to boil, I could be cleaning the cutting board, the mixing bowl or the work surface.

food2Ingredients all lined up. One of the things I got from my grandmother is having ingredients prepped and ready.

Onions, wine & stock, tomato, flour, paprika & cayenne, tomato paste, fresh thyme, bay leaves, garlic, brown sugar & salt all wait their turn for “Onion Braised Brisket”

-o-

If it’s Sunday, I’m cooking. If I’m cooking, I’m thinking of my grandmother. 🙂