Saturday Morning Post 93: Six-Pack Mary (Part 3)

The third and final installment of “Six-Pack Mary,” a short story from 24 Exposures.

We continue with more stories from my collection 24 Exposures, which was written around the turn of the century.

Afterwards, Myron played the guilty angle, telling Doug, “Don’t tell my wife, okay? Don’t tell anyone.” Doug agreed that it would be their little secret and Myron told him it was pretty enjoyable, even if it was… weird.

“But not that weird, right?” Doug said as he hunted for his underwear, pulled them on.

“I don’t know.” Myron put on his best puzzled look. Doug got dressed, shook Myron’s hand and headed out for the front door. Myron followed, let Doug out. “See you Monday,” Doug said.

“Yeah, Monday,” Myron told him before he closed the door, trying to look baffled. As soon as he’d shut the door, he looked to the heavens, pumped a fist in triumph and let out a quiet but heartfelt, “Yes!”

* * *

Doug was a domino. Myron knew full well that he wouldn’t keep things completely secret, but that was all for the better. The guys started approaching him differently, spending more time talking to him, seeming a little more relaxed around him. He knew they knew he was a Six-Pack Mary, queer on beer, and so he upped the ante by acting even straighter, referring to his wife as frequently as possible. By this point, all it took was a whispered comment on late Friday afternoon. “My wife’s out of town, I’m bored.” Sure enough, that would lure one or another of them over and by now, at least in the sack, Myron was venturing the vague comment, “I don’t know, maybe I’m bisexual or something.” He’d even let Doug try to fuck him, but stopped him almost immediately even though Myron wanted it. That was a Big Event to be worked up to, dangled like a beautiful carrot at the end of a very long stick.

Within six weeks, he’d had all of them. All of them except Max. But Joyce hadn’t had him, either. Joyce was mousy, but not unattractive. She was around Myron’s age, but that kind of thing didn’t seem to matter as much to straight boys. Of course it didn’t. Unlike gay men, well, young gay men, it was difficult for straight guys to get laid. It was the law of supply and demand, and so even women in their late thirties still had the supply and got the demand.

Truth to tell, Myron couldn’t get Max out of his head, especially not after that night at the theatre. The kid was hung like an ox and he did have a swimmer’s build, and he seemed so unselfconscious, strutting around naked for a good fifteen minutes. Too bad about Christine. No one ever figured out why she freaked and ran, and then she sailed her car off Mulholland Drive the next morning. It was bizarre, and her accident was the topic of conversation on Monday, putting a damper on much discussion of Max’s performance, except for general comments that he was a very good actor.

That had been months ago, and Myron was getting it at least twice a week, but he still wasn’t happy, because whom he wanted to get and who he was getting were two different things. He was actually getting bored with Chris and Billy and the other Chris and Cary and Doug, even though Billy gave the best head he’d ever had and Doug had a perfect ass and both Chris’s were little hellcats in the sack and Cary was so sweet and gentle that Myron sometimes let him sleep in his arms until morning. He contemplated giving up the whole straight routine. Why not? The hard part was the conquest. Get there once, getting there again was easy.

Except, he couldn’t get there, not even once, with Max. There were rumors that Max had a girlfriend now, even though no one had met her. But he said he was dating some actress, a girl he’d met at an audition for Equus. He didn’t get the part, but he got her and stopped showing up at the random after-hours events. And out of all the boys, he was the one who stopped by Myron’s desk to chat the least often.

Then, one Friday afternoon, Max was excitedly telling everyone he’d just gotten cast in the lead of a new play at some theatre in the Valley, opening in six weeks. He was practically floating as he told Myron the news.

“You get naked in this one?” Myron asked.

“Nah,” Max said. “This time, I’m the only one who doesn’t.” And he walked away, Myron superimposing the vivid memory on that jean-clad ass. Out of all of them, Max was the hottest, and he just kept getting hotter, the little fucker.

And it was a Tuesday, four weeks later, when Max stopped at Myron’s desk, looking concerned. Myron asked him what was wrong.

“Oh, this damn play,” Max said. “I’m having a hell of a time memorizing all the lines, and my girlfriend is in a show of her own right now, so she doesn’t have time to help.”

“You need somebody to help you learn?” Myron asked, hoping he didn’t sound too eager.

“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that, Ron. It’s a huge part.”

It sure as hell was, Myron thought to himself. Then, “No problem. Hey, my wife is out of town, what else have I got to do?”

“Is she ever in town?” Max asked.

“Not often enough,” Myron said.

“Yeah, I hear you,” Max said. “My girlfriend is always at rehearsal, or doing a show, I hardly see her that much anymore. Hey, I don’t have rehearsal tonight, you want to come over after work, run lines?”

Myron almost shouted, “Fuck, yeah,” but instead uttered a subdued “Sure.” Max nodded, wrote down the address, an apartment in the Little Moscow section of West Hollywood. “See you around six?” Max asked, then rolled his cart away as Myron nodded.

* * *

Myron was waiting on the landing as Max came up the steps, grocery bag in his arms. He handed it to Myron as he pulled out his keys, apologized for being late. The bag held two six-packs and a bag of chips.

The apartment was a studio, bedroom separated from the living room by a low wall. The only attempt at decor was a large poster of a Vargas girl, taped to the wall above the bed. Max gestured to the kitchen, which was barely big enough for a fridge, stove and counter. “You can put that there, help yourself. I’m going to change.”

Myron nodded, set down the bag and pulled out a beer, then went to the sofa and sat. It faced the bed, and Max had already taken off his dress shirt and T-shirt, hung them up. With his back to Myron, he took off his jeans, carefully folded them and put them on a hanger.

“So, I’m playing this kid who gets molested by a priest,” he explained as he casually took off his underwear, tossed them into a laundry basket, then put on a pair of gym shorts and a tank top. “Well, not exactly molested, more like seduced.” He turned around, walked to the sofa, grabbing a beer and the chips on the way. “And the big scene, like I told you, damn is it hard. Monologue, monologue, monologue, one after another.”

He picked up a manuscript, handed it to Myron open to a page. “So you must be playing Jimmy?” Myron asked.

“And you’re Father Ralph,” Max explained as he sat down.

“Do I just start reading?” Myron asked.

“Yeah, let me know if I get any lines wrong.”

“Uh… okay.” Myron was nervous, more over having to attempt to act than anything else. Max had such a natural way about him that it was hard to be nervous. Myron read.

“‘I’ve noticed you’re not like the other boys, Jimmy,’” and Myron thought to himself, “That’s for sure.”

Max recited from memory, “Yeah, I hate sports, I like opera and I’m not an asshole — “

“‘Total asshole.’”

“Right, sorry. ‘I like opera and I’m not a total asshole.’ Damn. ‘Total asshole…’ Got it. You want to start that again?”

“‘I’ve noticed you’re not like the other boys, Jimmy.’”

“‘Yeah, I hate sports, I like opera and I’m not a total asshole. What’s your point, father?’”

“‘Is there anything you want to tell me, son?’”

And the scene progressed, and it was one monologue after another. Even though Myron was no theatre critic, he didn’t think it was particularly well-written, but Max was amazing despite the clunkiness of the lines. And he knew most of them, only stumbling once or twice, his eyes focused right on Myron’s as he said them. Those incredible green eyes, drilling to Myron’s soul.

“‘There are many reasons I became a priest,’” Myron read some time later. “‘My family expected it of me, for one thing. And I wanted to do it, preach God’s word and minister to people who are… troubled. You’re troubled, aren’t you, son?’”

There was a long pause in the script, which Max took, leaning toward Myron. “‘Isn’t everyone?’” he replied as Jimmy.

“‘But troubled in a particular way,’” Myron went on. “‘You don’t have to lie to me, Jimmy. I know exactly what’s in your heart.’”

“‘Yeah, father? What’s that?’”

Myron looked at the script, at the stage direction. “Father Ralph suddenly grabs Jimmy’s neck, forces a kiss on him.” He stared at the words, looked up at Max, went, “Uh…”

“Yeah, that part. I’ve got no problem with it, because it’s, well, it’s what the character does, it’s just acting, part of the game. Well, okay, he gets it done to him, except I’ve never done that on stage before. We haven’t rehearsed this scene yet. I think the director is waiting until I’m more comfortable with the actor playing Father Ralph…”

“Oh,” Myron said. Max got up, brought them each another beer — their third — sat down again, closer this time.

“You did a good job reading, by the way,” he said as he unscrewed the top, took a chug.

“Thanks,” Myron said, doing the same. “You’re a very good actor. Especially in that last play, you did an amazing job.”

“Thanks. Hey, was everything… you know, okay in that play?”

“It was a little long, but — “

“I mean me. You know, when I was… that whole monologue at the top of act two. I was really worried about doing that.”

“Being naked, you mean?”

“Yeah. But my voice coach told me that no one is really an actor until they’ve been naked on stage, so I figured I’d get it out of the way. I guess, I’m just wondering, nothing looked funny, you know, physically, did it?”

“No, everything looked… fine. I guess.”

Max nodded, looked away nervously. “Look, um, I don’t know how to ask this, but it’s really important, for this show, I mean…” He paused, took a sip of beer, staring at the floor. “We’ve known each other a while now, and I feel really… comfortable with you. Would it be too much to ask…?”

Myron stared at him, heart racing. “Wh-what do you mean?” he said, voice almost cracking.

“It’s really weird kissing a strange guy but I want the moment to be real, so would you mind rehearsing that part with me?” He looked back at Myron, face turned coyly upward, mouth curled in an uncertain half-frown.

“You mean… kiss you?”

“It’s just a play, but I’d feel better getting used to it with someone I trust, you know?”

Myron hoped the raging hard-on in his pants wasn’t too obvious. He tried to play it cool, looked at the script, shaking his head, taking his time. “Well, I’m no actor. It’s kind of…”

“Weird, huh? Okay, bad idea I guess. Sorry I — “

“Hey, if it’ll help you do your job, I guess…”

“You’re sure?”

“I… what the hell.”

Max smiled. “Thanks. Take it from your last line, then.”

Myron inhaled, nodded, then looked at the script. “‘But troubled in a particular way,’” he read. “‘You don’t have to lie to me, Jimmy. I know exactly what’s in your heart.’”

“‘Yeah, father? What’s that?’” Max responded as Jimmy, leaning close to Myron. And then Myron leaned forward, very slowly, brought his lips to Max’s and in an instant they were all over each other, tongues slithering in sync, hands pulling them tighter together, reaching under clothes, Max practically on top of Myron now. They went at it for a good four or five minutes, and then Max gently pulled away, grinned, looked at the floor.

“You know,” he said, “In the play… I mean, not on stage or anything, but… Jimmy and the priest do it, and, I’m kind of a method actor.”

“And it’s a good method,” Myron said, standing and taking Max by the hand. As they walked to the bed, the script fell to the floor, flopping open on the way. Myron noticed that the rest of the pages were blank, but didn’t say anything. He just smiled as they fell on the bed and continued the scene. As Max pulled off his shirt and lay down next to him, Myron couldn’t help but ask.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, do you?”

“And you don’t have a wife,” Max smiled. “But let’s just let that be our little secret, shall we?”

Myron laughed, then went in for another kiss and felt himself passing out of Chapel Perilous and grasping at last the Holy Grail as the curtain went down on his long performance and he returned, finally, to his real life.

* * *

Sunday Nibble #92: Hiding in plain sight

On the connection between the arts, the LGBTQ community, and how the second use for any new tech is porn.

It has taken basically forever for those who are not white, Christian, heteronormative, cis-gender people to be centered in any way, shape, or form in popular culture, especially in mass media like movies and TV.

Although there were several early attempts in the late 70s — q.v. Billy Crystal in Soap — they tended to be campy stereotypes and while, granted, every character in Soap was a campy stereotype, Crystal’s Jodie Dallas was dragged through the indignity of suddenly deciding he was “transexual” after being dumped by his shady bisexual boyfriend — “because every gay man really wants to be a woman, right?” as late 70s logic went.

Eventually, Jodie settled down with (and knocked up) a woman, although I think their baby turned out to be the antichrist or something. Or maybe that was the priest who had an affair.

Yeah, not the greatest of times there, eh? It really wasn’t until the early 90s, when people like Scott Thompson from The Kids in the Hall just said “fuck it” and came out, RuPaul broke through the taffeta ceiling, and it was only real when Ellen (not a nice person) came out in real life and on her sitcom.

Boom — the 90s came to an end. You’re gay? Cool. Here’s your boarding pass to the 21st century. Enjoy!

Except, maybe, not so much. There was still a lot of shit to deal with. But what about all the shit that came before?

Once the media gained the ability to record and preserve performances, a certain hierarchy emerged. Now keep one thing in mind. The second use of any new technology is porn. Period.

Some dude invents cave painting as early movies and uses firelight to make it look like a herd of elk is running across the cave wall? Cool.

One cave over, someone else has already figured out how to use the same techniques to create erotic dances featuring everyone’s favorite big-breasted fertility goddess, as well as the first cave-painting feature called Threeway: Hunter, Hunter, Gatherer.

At every stage of the development of art, it really only happened because some dude was trying to figure out a more realistic way to paint titties or dick or both.

Once photography happened, you just know that half of every professional shot taken was some guy convincing his girlfriend, mistress, fiancée, wife, or best friend to strip off and pose with the good stuff.

Film? Yeah, in those early days for every legitimate short or Great Train Robbery, there were at least ten “Millie Gets Railed” or “Horny Farmhands” or “When the Parson Came to Call.”

Hell, in the very early days of legitimate film, full frontal nudity was very common, and it didn’t end until the early 1930s (right after the introduction of sound) when the spoilsports clamped down with the Hayes Code, which didn’t end until after it was declared unconstitutional in 1952 and was finally abandoned in 1968, when the MPAA started its ratings system.

Still, when the Code ended, mainstream Hollywood really didn’t go into full-on porn. The closest they got was Midnight Cowboy, to this date the only X-Rated movie to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, but to be honest, nowadays it’s a very, very mild R, and the only reason it was so shocking back then was that it depicted (gasp!) male homosexuality because it was about a guy who came from Texas to New York to be a male escort to rich women, but was not above turning the occasional male trick on the side.

But he wasn’t gay, dammit!

The X-rating quickly ended, though, because the MPAA had never trademarked that letter and the porn industry co-opted it to prove that you’d be seeing the real thing. It was eventually replaced with NC-17, but since that’s box office poison because, again, prudes in the industry, it is rarely if ever issued, and most moviemakers would rather release their films as “Unrated.”

Let’s get back to that hierarchy of art again. While porn is the second use of any new art or technology, the older any art or technology is the less likely it is to be censored.

Now when you think of naked art, what comes to mind?

Most likely you’re thinking either Greek or Roman statues or a ton of paintings from the Renaissance onward — the former which influenced the latter — but a lot of which nowadays are pretty much a part of the curriculum for, at the least, high school students studying art, not to mention being common décor in public spaces.

I mean — would a reproduction of the Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s David be all that shocking anywhere nowadays? Really, no — although some quarters still seem to have a big issue with the fact that David has a dick.

Next up came literature, as in the written word, prose, poetry, and sometimes theatre scripts. And this also goes way back. Hell, just read certain bits of the King James Bible if you want pure porn.

Later on, when serialized novels became popular entertainment because people had nothing better to do than gather together and read out loud to each other, the most popular works were also very obscene and pornographic. Don’t believe me? Read something like Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais to your family and see how long it takes you all to be laughing so hard you’re all crying while also marveling at how filthy it all is while yet being relatable.

Literature is doing and saying things that other art forms can only imagine until we get to the 20th century, and then the subject matter becomes even more daring because, surprise surprise, certain people are working in the field in disproportionate numbers.

In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about mostly gay men (and some lesbians) who have gravitated to working in all areas of theatre in the 1920s in big cities, mainly New York and the touring circuit, and this is where they feel safe.

They are actors, dancers, playwrights, set, lighting, and costume designers, stylists, make-up artists, dressers, assistant directors, choreographers, and so on.

These are mostly not considered to be “masculine” professions because, really, did these jobs even exist outside of big cities?

But it all came together in New York with the unwritten rule: If you don’t stick out too much, you can be as gay as you want behind the scenes and we welcome you, and you get to go on tour with the shows as well.

Of course, not welcome everywhere. When Mae West’s play The Drag opened in Connecticut in 1927, there was instant scandal, and she wound up going to jail for it. Given the title, yes, the play was about exactly what you think it was about — a closeted gay socialite trapped in a loveless marriage.

Mae was an ally even then, and it’s no wonder that her biggest fans until the end of her career and long life were gay men. Of course, she cast actual gay men in The Drag, finding them through open calls at a gay bar in the Village — this at a time when the acting unions banned gay men from having speaking parts on stage.

Irony much?

Apparently, audiences loved the play when it opened. The problem were the prudes and bluenoses who condemned it.

But as long as it wasn’t put out blatantly on the stage, people were too naïve to notice, and so the gay underground went on. The stage in particular, but movie musicals as well, provided perfect cover for all of these young, queer folk. after all, it was an era in which unmarried people did not have sex, ever!

This was partly due to religious ethics and morality and all that bullshit, of course, but the real practical reasons were that truly effective birth control didn’t exist — there was no pill, and at the time, vasectomies were pretty much only used for eugenics — that is, to prevent “undesirables” from being able to reproduce.

No self-respecting red-blooded American man, after all, would willingly give up the ability to make babies, married or not. And while abortions were available, they were still mostly illegal, so only performed in underground clinics or by very expensive doctors.

You’ve probably heard the term “back-alley abortion,” and this was the era for it, although women had other methods, good and bad, like douching with Coca Cola right after sex.

As a kid, I remember my uncle telling a story about an unmarried women who’d gotten pregnant but couldn’t afford the abortion doctor. A friend told her, “Gladys, here’s what you do…” (Women in these stories are always named Gladys.)

“Gladys,” the friend explains, “You drink half a fifth of whisky, then climb up on the kitchen table — make sure the chairs are out of the way. Roll off and land on the floor, and voila. No more baby.”

In my uncle’s version of the story, Gladys downed half that fifth, got up on the kitchen table and rolled off and, as he put it, “She broke her leg but still had the damn baby.”

But, like the clergy, being in a Broadway Chorus was perfect cover — fraternizing between the chorus boys and girls was just not allowed because they were professionals.

Naturally, this left plenty of time for same-sex fraternizing (sororizing?) behind the scenes. And, as we all know, it’s perfectly innocent when two boys or two girls past college age but unmarried live together, right?

And then, gays began showing up in films, although deeply coded. They were often depicted by somewhat prissy actors, but never in sexual roles — look up people like Franklin Pangborn or Edward Everett Horton — the former sort of slightly openly gay, the latter in denial for life.

But if a producer or director wanted to dog whistle to audience members who knew, “This guy is a homo,” they’d cast people like them.

After World War II, two conflicting events happened. Number one was that a lot of young men who had gone off into the armed forces discovered during their tours of duty that they did, in fact, love other men. When they came home, they generally arrived in major port cities — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, New York, New Orleans, Miami, etc.

Instead of heading back home to the Midwest or South, they just stayed in these port towns and found their own kind, and it’s no accident that each of these cities became major gay hubs in future.

But, at the same time, the government, partly freaking out over the Soviet Union suddenly becoming an adversary, banned gay men and lesbians from serving in the military, and proceeded to hunt down those they could find not only in the military but with government jobs.

Meanwhile, Joseph McCarthy was busy finding monsters under his bed in the form of a Communist Infiltration of America. (Hint: It never happened, at least not in the way that HUAC envisioned it.)

But gay men and lesbians in the late 1940s and early 1950s went back to hiding in plain sight. This time, they founded their own communities within those port towns and yet again took on certain jobs — gay men, for example, became hairdressers, interior decorators, designers, personal assistants, or went to work in creative positions for the Hollywood studios.

Tons of lesbians became flight attendants because they were not allowed to get married — another convenient excuse for the parents.

In all of these positions, they were less likely to be investigated, as well as less likely to be fired in a lot (but not all of) them if they were found out as gay.

The ultimate safety for a gay couple, of course, was to start their own successful business, and many a combination antique store and interior design house, florists, a B&B with its own stylist, or music/acting/dance school came out of these disguises.

There were those certain professions that men went into if they wanted to signal that they were gay without being too obvious — interior/set decorators or designers, stylists, make-up artists, or fashion/costume designers, to name just a few, and any of those had their place either serving the wives of rich men or within the studio system itself on set.

By the end of the 1960s, things started to change after the Stonewall Riots, which led to the first pride parades a year later in 1970. It was still an uphill struggle, not helped by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s (and the way it was totally ignored by the Regan Administration), but in some ways that plague galvanized the community.

The old prejudices started to be forced away in the 1990s for a lot of reasons — more representation in the media, more celebrities coming out, and (on a personal level) more and more people realizing that friends and family they’d known for years were gay when they fell ill and came out.

The thing is, these people were the loved ones of those they had to come out to near death, and this really started to change opinions.

After the turn of the century and as medical science started to get a handle on AIDS and HIV, things really started to progress, albeit slowly, until same-sex marriage became the law of the land, LGBTQ+ groups and representation started popping up everywhere, and our current generation of kids in high school and college don’t even question the idea of sexual orientation, or that biological/assigned sex and gender are very different things.

It’s a very different kind of hiding in plain sight, but one that doesn’t so much involve hiding who you are as it does being who you are without hiding it. It’s a nice place to be, as long as we can keep the momentum going forward, but it’s still going to take a lot of work.

Image source: I, Psongco, (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas Countdown, Tuesday #3

Christmas Countdown Tuesday, unconventional versions of carols. Iin this one, the boys from Out of the Blue Oxford sing a song usually sung by a woman, Santa Baby.

Day 19

Here’s another holiday number from the boys from Out of the Blue Oxford, and while it includes a nod to their earlier cover of All I Want for Christmas Is You, they really camp it up here with an all-male rendition of a song that is traditionally sung by a woman, Santa Baby.

Then again, it’s the 21st century and we’re under a month away from starting the second decade of that century (that’s in 2021, it wasn’t in 2020), so to hell with “tradition,” because that’s a thing that doesn’t exist, just something that is constantly recreated.

See the previous entry, check out the next, or take it from the  top.

They’ll probably drop their 2020 Holiday charity single around this time of year, so keep an eye on their official YouTube channel!

Christmas Countdown, Friday #2

For Christmas Countdown’s second Friday, we bring you Out of the Blue Oxford’s rendition of All I Want for Christmas Is You.

Day 8

Remember, this day’s theme is All I Want for Christmas Is You, and this is absolutely one of my favorite covers of it for a ton of reasons. This one is from Out of the Blue, described on their website as Oxford’s premier all-male a cappella group, and they regularly do charity singles like this for the benefit of Helen & Douglas House Hospice for Children and Young Adults.

Go show them some holiday donation love right now! I’ll wait!

The other nice thing about OOTB is that over the years they have become more and more inclusive. This video only hints playfully at accidental gayness. Their more recent videos don’t hold back or apologize for anything. This one is just tons of cute and adorable, plus these boys can sing and dance. And for a good cause.

Don’t miss Thursday’s post, or Saturday’s!

Talky Tuesday: Navigating Language in a leaky boat, part 2

How certain terms that leaked out of academia have been misinterpreted by laypeople, making a giant mess of it.

Last week was the first installment of this article on words that have slipped out of academia when they shouldn’t have, with the end result being that people think they know what they mean, but they don’t. Last time, I looked at triggered, safe space, gender neutral, and latinx. Here are the rest.

Non-binary

Academically (and medically) this refers to someone who does not identify as either gender and, often, either sex as well. This is regardless of what bits they may have been born with — one, the other, or both. And their brains themselves may not click firmly into the male or female category.

As noted above, “non-binary” just means not limited to only two options.

And that’s totally normal and okay. If bisexual (which, yes, is absolutely a real thing) is the orientation version, then non-binary is the gender version. Sometimes, a non-binary person may feel like a boy. Sometimes like a girl. Sometimes like both at once, and sometimes neither.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s just one more option on the vast and varied menu of sex, gender, and sexual orientation,

Once upon a time, there were only two items on the menu — beef or fish — but they were served up by the biological sex of the patrons at the waiter’s discretion. Beef is for girls and fish is for boys.

Luckily, that menu has turned into a smorgasbord or an all-you-can-eat buffet, with a continuum of foodstuffs available to everyone — Beef, fish, chicken, tofu, pork, sashimi, salad… knock yourselves out. It’s all good, and none of it is tied down to rather useless definitions like biological sex.

Because there are more than two of those, after all. Surprise!

Pronouns

Although this is probably one of the more innocuous bits to slip out of academia to the point that someone listing their pronouns after their name in a Zoom chat window, the list of possible pronouns has gotten a bit out of hand, and this is what non-academic critics have latched onto.

Don’t get me started on all of the transphobia I’ve seen in the wild — even in the LGB community — especially the G part of it. I don’t know why it is, but I find the really queeny gay men of a certain age to be the most transphobic — which is very ironic, because this is the same group that seems to be the most into campy drag.

I think that, deep down, they have the same issues that insecure straight boys do when it comes to transgender people — that they’re going to meet them, fall for them, go home and find the wrong genitalia in the panties.

But that’s not how it works. The Crying Game was a fantasy, and no transgender person is ever going to take home a stranger without first thoroughly explaining to them what’s up — in a public place with a lot of people around.

This is doubly true if that transgender person hasn’t yet had bottom surgery, so that their genitalia and gender don’t currently match, because they know that one of the best ways to get killed is to spring surprise bits on a man in the heat of passion, whether that man is gay or straight.

Getting back to pronouns, though, to be honest, I’ve run across very few people who insist on the exotics, like zie/zim/zir, and mostly see the usual he, she, or they — but all of those odd spellings (some sources claim there are 78 neopronouns) came right out of academia, where they should have stayed.

Why? Because there’s really no logical connection between the words outside of the he/she/they and the genders or non-binary status they represent. But I have yet to run across anything explaining that certain pronouns are for transgender women and others are for transgender men, and another set are for non-binary people.

All of the transgender people I know use either the pronoun of their true gender or “they.”

Critical race theory

Whoever chose these words to describe this thing made one of the biggest fuck-ups in academic history, because what it really represents is a very good thing. But putting those three words together turned it into a lightning rod for criticism from conservatives and misunderstanding from moderates.

Progressives know what it really means, but their opinion on it never gets a lot of media attention.

The way that the right seems to read “critical race theory” is this: “Teach kids that everything white people have ever done is wrong,” but there could be nothing farther from the truth. Still, I can see how the combination of words could make people who don’t understand academia nervous.

One excellent description I’ve seen of what “critical race theory” is: “Teaching history as it really happened.”

This means teaching both the good and bad of what Europeans in general and white people specifically did — the Renaissance and Enlightenment generally managed to advance science, health, and education, and despite all of its flaws and faults as it was established and grew, America did turn into a place for immigrants to begin new lives to the point that we are probably one of the most culturally and racially mixed countries in the world — or at least we’re running neck-and-neck with Brazil.

But, while it’s okay to mention these things, here’s the other big important part of teaching history as it really happened. We have to include all of the people who were not white, Christian, land-owning males over the age of 21 — because that latter group is pretty much the one that is centered in most of those “Western History after 1500” courses that college freshmen have to take.

And… there’s another term that needs to have a gender-neutral version. How about just “frosh?” Or “paroled high schoolers who still don’t know quite how to act around adults.”

All along the way, as Europe moved into the Americas and all those new countries formed and developed, there were indigenous peoples, women, non-Christians, and yes, even LGBTQ+ people involved in that process.

We make the teaching of history stronger when we include everyone who took part in it, but more importantly — we engage the kids we’re teaching it to.

For example, what positive impact would it have on a girl in middle school to learn how many women were actually very influential soldiers and spies during the American Revolution, one of them being snipped out of history only because some man years later wrote a poem about Paul Revere instead of her — while Revere mostly got drunk in a pub and didn’t really do what he was alleged to have done, while Sybil Ludington did.

Or what about Alexander Hamilton? Casting him as a POC in the hit musical Hamilton! was not just a stunt so that Lin Manuel Miranda could play the part. Nope. Hamilton really was mixed-race, and all of his portraits through the years have probably been heavily whitewashed. Imagine a young Black boy learning that in middle school. Hell, he might even grow up to be president.

There are also indications that Hamilton may or may not have been gay, but this is entirely based on correspondence between him and John Laurens at the time, when men were much more likely to use flowery language and declare love for each other without it ever going past the platonic.

On the other hand, Baron Friedrich von Steuben probably was as gay as Christmas on Fire Island, and teaching that story likewise would inspire some young and closeted student to accept themselves.

And so on. So, rather than being a case of “teach kids that everything white people have ever done is wrong,” it’s more like “teach kids that white people did a lot of it but didn’t and couldn’t have done it alone.”

Then teach about the people who helped.

Yes, America became a world powerhouse and media titan mostly under the leadership of rich white men — but those men built their fortunes on subjugating everyone else — initially slaves, without whom the South would never have had an economy — and then immigrants, who were underpaid and exploited.

As for that “media titan” part, well, a huge part of our music was ultimately stolen from Black and Irish Americans, with jazz, rock, rap, and hip-hop being stolen from the former, and bluegrass and country being co-opted from the latter.

Ironically, punk and pop were probably the only two styles that did come from white people — the former from kids who couldn’t be arsed to really learn to play their instruments and sing and the latter from kids who really liked showtunes and the easy-listening, “safe” non-rock their parents listened to in the 1950’s.

So there are just a few of the terms that have leaked out of academia without their original context, only to be terribly misinterpreted by the media and regular people. Unfortunately, academics are constantly creating these terms and concepts, but they really need to stop — or at least stop up the leaks that let them ever escape from academic-only conferences and seminars, where they know what they’re talking about.

And, FFS, they need to translate the terms back into clear and simple English before they unleash them on rank-and-file professors, TAs, adjuncts, and students. .

Momentous Monday: Oh, and this one time, at band camp…

Okay, I never actually went to band camp, but I was in marching band for my junior and senior years of high school, so I am an official band geek.

The reason it wasn’t all three years of high school is that I was a keyboardist, so I didn’t even think that they’d need my skills. I mean, I could have strapped on my accordion and carried my amp around in a little wagon, but that would have been heavy and difficult.

I somehow got talked into joining, though, and I don’t remember whether it was because I was in the school’s jazz combo/class first and because there was only one instrumental music teacher, or whether friends talked me into it. But starting my junior year, I joined the band as a drummer.

And yes, my second year of high school was my junior year because, at the time, we were still on a program that had K-6 as one school, then 3 years of middle school and 3 years of high school.

And yes, I did become a drummer because it was something that pretty much any musician could instantly adapt to, since we could read music and had a sense of rhythm. However, lest that imply that drummers are stupid, it comes with a caveat.

The non-drummer in the band general stuck to the non-complicated percussion — bass drum or tom-toms. All you had to do was make sure the drumheads were tightened, then hit them with mallets.

The trained drummers got the instruments like the snare drums, multi-toms, or glockenspiel. The first one, while not tuned, makes use of, well, a “snare,” which is a series of springy wires strung next to each other and held taut.

A snare drum has two heads, one on the top and one on the bottom, and the snares make contact with the bottom head. When the player strikes the top head it makes both it and the bottom head vibrate. This in turn makes the snare vibrate, but since it’s made of metal in a semi-spiral pattern, when it vibrates it buzzes a bit.

This is a big part of what gives a drum roll, which is mostly snare, its distinctive and drawn-out sound, as well as makes this drum itself stand out.

The last two are tunable percussion, with multi-toms, also known as tenor drums, comprising three or four connected drums of different depths and/or diameters, hence of different pitches. They also lack a bottom drum head and snare.

These drums are capable of playing tunes, or at least bass-lines, and a drummer can play notes in succession or several drums at once. (Really skilled players will have two mallets in each hand on quad-toms or an extra in their dominant hand on tri-toms in order to be able to cover all the notes.)

Finally, there’s the glockenspiel, which is essentially the metal version of a xylophone. In case you’re wondering why they didn’t just call it a xylophone as well, that’s because the name “xylophone” literally means “wood sound” because the instrument is made of wood.

Change the composition, change the name. A glockenspiel is basically a keyboard layout over a few octaves, and the marching band version is basically worn as a flat tray strapped over the shoulders, kind of like a cigarette girl set-up, if I may get very vintage in a reference.

Now, it seems like a no-brainer that I would have been perfect for glock, except that either our school already had a player a year ahead of me who wasn’t giving it up or we didn’t have the instrument at all.

Anyway… I think probably because I was by far the tallest member of the drumline, I wound up playing the bass drum, which is the big one worn sideways, and which generally has the school logo or mascot on it.

This also gave me the honor of starting off our opening march before every football game, which was an awesome sense of power. We’d begin with a very slow entrance from the end zone to the tune of some Toreador themed trumpet melody (“Toreadors” was our team name), and then it would end.

After a dramatic pause, I would pound out four beats and we would snap into our opening number and march out across the entire field to play the rest of the opening tune and the the school fight song — which meant that I was solely responsible for setting the tempo of our opening.

Yes, if either of the drum majors had pissed me off that day, I’d give it to them double-time. It was the one moment of the show they had no control over.

Thinking back on this, it’s just another reminder of something that I’m really not constantly aware of, but it’s pretty much true. For my entire life, I actually have been performing, whether it’s been on a stage or before any kind of official audience, or whether it’s just in so-called “real life.”

Until we reached a time where kids in elementary or middle school were able to comfortably come out to their friends and parents without fearing retribution up to and including death — and that’s still a damn small and privileged percentage — the queer person’s defense was performance.

In daily life, we had to play the role of a “normal” straight person, pretending to be interested in the same things, blending in. in effect, we became extras and atmosphere in the stories about the straight “cool kids” in school.

Although it was a big surprise, or perhaps not, how many of them turned out to be queer after all.

This is probably why so many of us gravitated to theatre, dance, music, or other performing arts in the first place. Everything we were doing was already a role. Might as well make a profession out of it, right?

The best part was that while you were performing, you could get away with anything. Think of closeted but later outed celebrities of the past who could play the most flamboyant (20th century code for “queer”) of characters on TV or in film, but then butch it up on talk shows and say that it was all an act.

Paul Lynde? Charles Nelson Reilly? JM J. Bullock?

Then look at the modern flipside of that, where Jim Parsons, a very openly gay member of Gen-X, starred in a very popular TV sitcom that ran for over a decade in which his very fussy, prissy character was portrayed as straight, but in real life the actor never had to shut up about who he was, and seemed to be even more loved because of it.

This metaphor really holds for people in the performing arts in school because sort of the same phenomenon happens. Your peers — fellow performers — kind of get an idea of who you are, and vice versa, and no one makes a big deal about it. You’re all on the same team, whether it’s the marching band, the cast of a show or drama department members, or a dance company.

This is just like Hollywood in the closeted days. People in the industry knew who was fucking whom and whether they were straight, gay, or bisexual. All they cared about was that the news didn’t leak out.

Peers in the industry knew how to keep secrets.

The real challenge was keeping the news from the media — i.e., students not in the performing arts groups — and studio execs — parents, school administrators, and non-sympathetic teachers or counselors.

I can really only imagine what it would have been like if our marching band had gone to actual sleepover band camp, because when we did have parties, we got wild as hell. To everyone else, we may have had the reputation of being virginal nerds, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Two of my high school girlfriends were in band, and so was my first-ever same-sex hookup, as well as a potential second if I hadn’t totally pussied out by not flat-out asking him, “Wanna fuck?”

Years later, I know that his answer would have been “Yes.”

As for the first one, it all happened because of a fluke of band seating in the stands. The drummers were in the front, on the bottom tier, and the brass sat behind us, with the trombones in the middle and trumpets on the flank.

Since I played bass drum, I was also in the middle of the middle, directly in front of the first trombonist. Let’s call him Glenn (not his real name), and we hit it off at our first game in the fall of my junior year.

In retrospect, everything about him sets off my adult gaydar. At that time, though, when I was only 16, I had no gaydar. All I know is that we hit it off immediately, I feel comfortable around him, and while I’m hearing that Tune of Denial playing on one channel in my brain, the other is just mooning over how cute he is.

What? He’s as tall as I am, blond, and really handsome.

About three months later, the day after my 17th birthday, he invites me over to his place to study for a history test, since we’re both in the class. Thinking nothing of it, I go. It’s a Monday, two days after a wild Saturday band party he wasn’t at that devolved into a game of Truth or Dare that, among other things, included the girlfriend of one of the tom drummers in the band being dared to French kiss every guy at the party — and he didn’t seem to have any objections.

Okay, honestly, neither did she, but I didn’t have the emotional or mental capacity at the time to even notice shit like that. All I know is that I was the one who felt violated when she came around and gave me my turn.

And Glenn turned this into basically asking me who she’d kissed, and then how she’d kissed, and then asked for a demo.

The kissing was nice, he was hot, we were horny, although it still wound up awkward and I came and went. We were going go hook up the following weekend for a longer session because his parents were still going to be out of town, but I backed out at the last minute and I think he took that badly.

Suddenly, he ignored me, tried to turn mutual friends against me, and if only we’d lived in a world where we could have just told everyone, “Okay, we tried to hook up, it didn’t work out. Next?” we both would have avoided a lot of trauma.

Yeah, even though folks in the band kind of knew what was going on with whom, we also didn’t really talk about it. And, to be honest, this single experience in high school — being seduced and then dumped and shunned — had a major psychological impact on me that lasted long after I’d gone to college.

In fact, it was only going to college, getting away from what was essentially the small(-minded) town in a big city that I’d grown up in, and meeting new people and having new relationships that I grew out of it and got over it.

I was never in a marching band again, but I also never really stopped performing, so that my college years saw me playing in show combos and bands, and acting in plays, and student videos and films, and more.

But, at the same time, it was a lot easier to come out slowly in college to the point that most of my friends knew that I didn’t consider myself totally straight by sophomore year, and by the second semester of my final year, it seemed like everyone suddenly started to come screaming out of the closet, and it was glorious.

Image source: Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Theatre Thursday: Brush up your Shakespeare?

I was recently listening to yet another fabulous Matt Baume podcast on his Sewers of Paris channel, an interview with Jeffrey Masters, trained Shakespearean actor who instead shifted to journalism and podcasting when he came from New York to L.A. and realized that Hollywood didn’t give two warm shits about the Bard.

Kind of a shame, really, but a question did come up in the podcast, clearly asked by a non-actor.

“Isn’t Shakespeare harder to do?”

And Jeffrey eventually end-ran his way around to the answer I would have given: No. In fact, Shakespeare is actually much easier to perform because, face it, he was so much better a writer than any of our modern English language playwrights, and I’ll peg “modern” as having started as soon as British theatres reopened after the restoration of King Charles II.

Honestly, given the choice between having to learn all the lines for a major role in Shakespeare or a one scene walk-on by… name any major Broadway playwright of the 20th or 21st century — O’Neill, Hart, Miller, Simon, Shepard, Hansberry, Norman, Churchill, Hellman, Miranda, Vogel, Rebeck, Wasserstein, Kushner, Mamet…

Well, while a lot of them are amazing writers, with the first five only doing “White people theatre” and the last practically being a Jewish neo-Nazi, if we leave all of that out and just focus on the words…

Shakespeare is still far, far easier to memorize, learn, and put some real emotional power behind.

Why?

Well, number one is that Shakespeare did tend to write his stuff in iambic pentameter, so that you had lines on a regular meter: “ba-DUM-ba-DUM-ba-DUM, ba-DUM-ba-DUM-dum.”

Note that there are five emphasized syllables there — the “DUM” bits, and each of those is preceded by an unstressed syllable. We can ignore that dangling “dum” at the end. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not.

But fill this phrase up with words, and here’s an example of what you get:

To be or not to be, that is the question…

Of course, he didn’t always do this, and really messed with things in MacBeth. For example, the witches spoke in trochaic tetrameter — four syllable feet with the first emphasized, as in “BUBB-le, BUBBLE, TOIL and TROUB-le.” But what really made things weird in the play was one particular and yet very common word…

Which appeared three times in that paragraph.

It wasn’t just the rhythms and beauty of Shakespeare’s words that made his stuff easy to learn and perform, though. It was that he gave his characters rich inner lives and strong needs, and that went from his leads all the way down to his spear carriers.

One great example was when I played every single spear-carrier in The Comedy of Errors, and although it was really only two characters combined who physically appeared in multiple scenes but only spoke in a few, Willie Shakes had me covered, because he left enough breadcrumbs in those lines to give me a motivation and a through-line.

Basically, my character was a rent-a-cop only motivated by the money, which became really important in those moments when I suddenly had to deal with the leads in the show.

“He is my prisoner, if I let him go, the debt he owes will be required of me.” Note that “prisoner” is two syllables here; pris-ner. And I still remember that goddamn lovely line almost twenty years later — which my director made me deliver in an over-the-top bad 50s Broadway Irish accent.

Don’t ask.

But somehow my plea worked, the wife of Lead #1 paid me off, and life was good for my character from then on.

Another time I stuck Shakespeare in my head came after that show and when I somehow managed to lock myself out of my own car radio, but my dealer couldn’t fix it. Since it was in the days before Bluetooth and I had a 20-minute commute from home to Dreamworks SKG every day, I did the only logical thing.

I learned every single monologue delivered by Gloucester aka Richard III in all of the history plays he appeared in — which, was basically all three Henry VI plays, plus the Richard III one. And then I recited them over and over on the way to and from work for months.

Now? I don’t remember a lot, but that’s only through lack of repetition.

As for other roles by other playwrights I’ve done? Good luck. They have neither rhyme nor reason and, quite often, no greater motivation or inner life if they are not the lead characters.

A quick example of a play in which I also played a jailer character was Marsha Norman’s “Getting Out,” which in general was an amazing story documenting exactly why A) Jailing sex-workers and drug users was totally ridiculous, and B) Why the way they were treated upon release all but guaranteed they would wind up back in the system.

Anyway, I was one of the two guards dealing with her in prison in the flashback wraparound, and while it kind of felt like there was supposed to be a “good guard”/”bad guard” dynamic going on because I was kind of nice to her in one scene, there really wasn’t enough to hang that on.

Why? Because in all my other scenes, I was just as dickish to her as the other guard. I was a fucking prop, and nothing more. Boring!

Simon, O’Neill, and the other perpetrators of WYPIPO theater? Okay, I guess that your stuff was really important when Irish immigrants and Jews were in the non-represented classes, but guess what?

Just during or after WWII, the Irish (my people!) fucked their way such a big dent into culture that we actually earned our “whiteness” after having been considered sub-human up until the 1920s. No, seriously — Irish immigrants used to be classed about one half-step above people labeled as Negroes. Don’t ask — it was a really, really ugly era in American history.

Meanwhile… Jews were also treated equally badly and, again, it was only after WWII, and when the horrors of the Holocaust were finally revealed that Americans did yet another “Oh, shit… that’s fucked up dance.”

End result? In the late 40s and 1950s, American Jews took over the film and TV industry (in a good way) and changed the face of American humor forever.

Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Lenny Bruce, Shelly Berman, Sid Caesar, and on and on and on? Do any of those names sound familiar?

But… back to the point… if you’re afraid of Shakespeare and speak English, then you do not belong on stage at all, period.

Flash back to the aforementioned list of Jewish creators and, guess what? Every single one of them was probably deeply steeped in Shakespeare.

I know that Brooks, Allen, Bruce, and Caesar were, at least.

Again, though… the problem with trying to learn dialogue from modern playwrights is that there is no damn poetry in it. Not that I can’t memorize those lines. It’s just that it takes a metric fuckton longer to do so.

And… no matter how many words you write, they are never going to be as pretty as those from the Bard of Avon.

BTW, as a produced and published playwright, I include myself on that list. Yeah, I probably have written some interesting shit, but it’s nowhere as easy to learn as what the Bard put down,

Fight me!

Theatre Thursday: Sometimes, the movie is better part 1

In the cases of adaptation, a frequent lament of fans of the original is that the movie version just wasn’t as good. We most often hear this about adaptations of novels, both graphic and non, but the same is true of plays, particularly musicals.

The big trick in adapting live theatre to cinema is that the latter is a lot more literal whereas the former has no need to be literal or realistic at all. This is why some shows that work so well on stage fall kind of flat on film. The Fantasticks is a really good example. Being a sort of reverse fairy tale — in which a pair of neighboring fathers conspire to have their children fall in love by forbidding them from seeing each other only to succeed in that to see the relationship go sour — the less literal and, well, more fantastic, the staging is, the better.

A more recent and spectacular example of how film’s need for realism can destroy an adaptation is Cats. Not that that show works on stage at all. In my humble opinion, it commits the cardinal sin of being boring, with no one to really root for. It’s my second least favorite musical, right after the mess that is Rent.

As with any adaptation, changes in the plot or other elements may be necessary for various reasons. When novels are adapted, this often means combining characters and dropping subplots, since a full-length novel is really enough material for a mini-series rather than a single film. (Novellas fare better at more direct adaptations.)

While stage works may more often than not follow a similar structure to film, there are still cases where storylines are dropped — or added — and there’s also the issue of changing times. For example, the original stage version of The Fantasticks, which premiered in 1960, includes a number called “The Rape Ballet.”

Now, it’s explained in the song that this is “rape” in the ancient sense of abduction, and since the character who leads in it has been hired by the two fathers to fake the abduction of the daughter in order to allow the son to be the hero and end the “feud” between the fathers, and he explains that he’s using the word in that sense, that’s how it was originally justified.

Yeah, that fell by the wayside eventually. By the time the movie came out in 1995, the number had been replaced with “The Abduction Ballet,” with none of the connotations of the earlier version.

(Oddly enough, I was involved with a theatre company in the ‘00s that produced the show, premiered it on September 11, 2002, and used the “rape” version of the number. And the artistic director was an old hippie woman. Go figure.)

A lot of the time, the original is better. But, every so often, the changes, particularly when they involve story or focus, can make an okay stage musical into an amazing film. Here are some of my favorite examples.

Cabaret (1972)

The film version of Cabaret is actually a fourth generation adaptation. It was based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which was based on the legit play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, which was in turn based on the short novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.

Oddly enough, Isherwood played the character based on himself in the original Broadway run of the play in 1951. And while there’s a gay couple in his original novel, his character is apparently not and he pursues a relationship with Sally Bowles — who is British. There’s also not a hint of gay in the first film adaptation of the non-musical stage adaptation, and certainly not in the Broadway version.

The whole thing gets pink-washed, although Isherwood bears some of the blame for that. So it’s kind of a surprise that when notorious heterosexual womanizer Bob Fosse gets the project, one of his big innovations is restoring the homosexuality of the male lead. The other is making all of the songs in it diegetic. That is, the musical numbers are moved into the Kit Kat Club, where Sally Bowles (now American) performs, with the two exceptions being a record that Sally puts on in her room and a sudden nationalistic Biergarten rallying song begun by a member of the Nazi Youth.

The other big changes are in the treatment of the secondary couple, and the relationship between Brian (aka Isherwood), Sally, and Max — a character dropped from the stage musical, but brought back.

In the stage musical, the secondary couple is largely played for comedy and are cast as much older. The woman is Sally’s landlady and her suitor is also an older gentleman. A lot of the numbers that got dumped in the transition were theirs. Oh — a word about “secondary couple,” for those not up on musical theatre conventions.

Quite often, although not as much in the modern era, every musical would have two couples, the leading couple and the secondary couple. Both of them would fall in love, with one couple’s story mirroring the other. Usually, one half of each couple would be connected. Most often, it was divided into the boys and the girls. The most common relationships would be either siblings or best friends, with either set being one or the other or a combination of both.

Of course, there are other ways to mix and match. In Cabaret, the film, the couple are Fritz and Natalia, and Natalia is an English student of Brian’s. She’s a member of a wealthy Jewish family. Fritz is apparently a Protestant, so Natalia’s parents won’t allow them to marry. This leads to one of the most poignant moments in the film when Fritz shows up on Natalia’s doorstep at night, then hesitantly announces “I am a Jew.”

As for the other relationship in the film between Brian, Sally, and Max, who is a wealthy Baron, it turns out that Brian and Sally are both… as Natalia asks in a language question and Sally answers to Brian’s horror, “How do you say ‘screwing?’” Bumsen.

I’ll be polite and translate that into Yiddish instead of English: Max was shtupping both Brian and Sally, although neither of them knows that up until a confrontation between the two that has one of the most darkly funny dialogue exchanges in film in three sentences.

All the while, by placing the musical numbers in the club, some performed by Sally but a lot of them headlined by our Emcee, who serves as a Greek chorus, those songs entertain and distract the in-film audience while commenting directly on what’s going on in the film.

One of my favorite numbers in the whole film speaks directly to Max’s attraction to Brian and Sally: He’s rich.

Some interesting notes on this number: First, it’s the only one in the film that Joel Grey and Liza Minelli really have together, because there had to be that star moment, and it replaced a number that, in the stage show, is performed only by the Emcee and Kit Kat Girls.

Second, there is a strong hint that the Emcee is creeping on Sally Bowles and, while she doesn’t appreciate it, she kind of has no choice, so the more intimate moments in the choreography here are colored by that and add an extra layer to the whole thing. If she doesn’t perform with him, then she’s not going to make any money.

Finally, note that a lot of the Emcee’s choreography here is based on traditional dancing that would have been done by Jewish men during things like weddings, especially during the silhouette part behind the scrim at the end. Nothing is ever said about the Emcee’s religion in the film and, in fact, there’s the strong implication that he’s a staunch supporter of the Nazis, but this idea will color later adaptations, more on which below.

This diegetic music idea is one that the film adaptation of Chicago will pick up in 2002 and, while the film and stage versions of that show are equally good, Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture along with five others. Cabaret won eight Oscars total, but not Best Picture. The only reason I won’t insist that it should have is that it lost to The Godfather.

By this point, full disclosure. I discovered Cabaret as a tween because my paternal grandfather liked to collect records by buying up lots from garage sales and antique and thrift stores and the like, but he was only looking for jazz music from the 1950s and before.

So anything else — which included rock, pop, and musical soundtracks — went into boxes that were fair game to me and my three cousins whenever we visited. My oldest cousin (seven months younger than me) was only into hard rock and that kind of crap, which I never was.

The other two were really too young to care. So that left me to dive into all the weird shit — meaning musicals and stand-up and so on. Grandpa also apparently didn’t like big band, swing, and classical. Score!

So I found the original Broadway soundtrack of Cabaret, gave it a listen and immediately wanted to play the Emcee. This was long after the film had come out, actually, but I eventually learned that it existed, although I didn’t actually see it until a screening in a college class on film musicals.

When I finally saw the stage show, a year after I graduated from college, I realized, “Wow. The movie was so much better.”

Flash forward. When Cabaret was restaged by Sam Mendes in 1993, it picked up elements from the film, made Brian/Cliff’s bisexuality even more explicit, and hypersexualized the emcee, now played by Alan Cumming. And the biggest change to that character also makes for a really chilling ending.

In text and song, not much different from the original. In context… hang onto your socks.

I can’t help but think that this update was informed by the movie musical and Fosse’s choreography of his Emcee, which Mendes and Cumming ran with. And the last little bit here takes it on to a whole other level, just like the movie did in the 1970s.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment

Image author IsarSteve, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0), used unaltered.

Talky Tuesday: Respecting pronouns

Apparently, some people get their panties in a twist over the mere concept that people can have pronouns that are different than what you, personally, think they should be. Maybe it’s a childhood friend you grew up with who has now announced that they’re transgender, or a celebrity who was famous as their assigned-at-birth sex before confirming their actual gender.

Hell, maybe it’s even someone you’ve never met, but in your opinion the pronouns they’re asking for don’t fit your perception of them.

Well, here’s how to respect those pronouns. If someone tells you what their pronouns are, you thank them and then use those pronouns. End of story. Sure, you might slip up now and again at first, but if you catch yourself doing that, just say, “Oops, sorry,” and make the correction.

It’s really actually pretty easy, and just requires a bit of empathy and respect. And you know what? Despite knowing a lot of transgender individuals now, I rarely ever run across anything beyond he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs.

Even though I’ll see official dropdown lists on some forms that include all kinds of things that didn’t exist previously, I really don’t see people gravitating to those. Hey, all of us like the familiar, and he, she, and they have been with us forever.

Side note: “They” has been used in English as a singular pronoun since the 14th century, so anyone trying to argue that it’s plural is just plain wrong, and you can tell them that. It’s really the closest to a neutral pronoun that English has.

But… now that we’ve simplified how to respect people’s chosen pronouns, let me get to that other part, where people abuse the hell out of pronouns on a daily basis. They really aren’t all that complicated, especially in English where we don’t decline the hell out of everything, and yet the wrong ones get used in the wrong place all the time.

Here are a few examples of pronoun abuse:

Me and him went to the store today.

His philosophy totally changed myself.

Do you know whom is knocking on the door?

The kitten licks it’s paws.

They gave awards to she and I.

And so on.  Also, as I mentioned, pronouns aren’t all that complicated in English. We have subject pronouns, which indicate who’s performing the action in a sentence. We also have object pronouns, which tell us who’s on the receiving end of that action. Finally, we have possessive pronouns, which tell us when somebody owns or has something else.

Right off the bat, English is simplified because there is no difference between direct and indirect pronouns. In other languages, it does make a difference whether someone is doing something directly to you or doing something to another object to give it to you.

For example, in English, whether you hit a ball to someone or hit them with the ball directly, the pronouns are the same: “Hit the ball to him!” “Hit him with the ball!” In Spanish, it’s not the same in the cases of “you” (singular familiar) and “he,” in which case the pronouns change from ti to te and le to lo. And it can get more complicated in other languages.

But let’s look at what’s happening wrong in each of the examples above.

WRONG: Me and him went to the store today

The short reason it’s wrong: these are object pronouns when they should be subject pronouns. The two people in the sentence are the actors, so they are the ones going to the store. If you used a pronoun for “store,” then it would be the object pronoun.

I quick way to spot the error is to drop one of the pronouns and see if you sound like Tarzan. Clearly, “Me went to the store” and “him went to the store” are just wrong. Also remember, when ordering pronouns in groups, the speaker always comes last, so the correct sentence is, “He and I went to the store today.”

WRONG: His philosophy totally changed myself

I actually heard someone say this in an interview and wanted to punch my phone. The problem? The “-self” pronouns are reflexive. They’re what happen when you are both the subject and object pronoun. Think of Nelson’s famous “stop hitting yourself” from The Simpsons.

By definition, someone else cannot affect a change on yourself, only on themselves. (Also note the plural construction of the singular themselves there.) There are two correct versions here. One is the simple direct object verb: “His philosophy totally changed me,” and a reflexive cause and effect version: “His philosophy made me totally change myself.”

WRONG: Do you know whom is knocking at the door?

I like to think of this one as a mistake of pretense — as in when someone wants to show off that they know the pronoun “whom,” but then also instantly proceeds to demonstrate that they have no idea how it works. “Whom” is another object pronoun, and usually follows a preposition: To whom, from whom, for whom, with whom, etc.

There’s a quick rule of thumb to see if you’ve got “whom” right. Replace it with “him” in the sentence. It’s easy to remember because they both end in “m.” So: “Do you know him is knocking on the door?” is clearly wrong, and the correct word is “who.”

WRONG: The kitten licks it’s paws

Now we come to the possessive pronouns, which really trip people up, because they don’t work like other possessives. In most cases, you add an apostrophe, with rules depending on whether the possessor is singular or plural or whether the word ends in S or X — although there’s some disagreement on the former.

So, singular: Jon’s article. Maria’s car. Plural: The Peoples’ Choice. Trick plurals: The men’s group, the children’s choir, the women’s union. The Joneses’ house.

As for the names ending in S rule, there are two schools of thought on that. One is that classical names always get just an apostrophe, and not an apostrophe S. So Jesus’ parable, Socrates’ method. But there’s a split on modern names. Some people insist that these names only get an apostrophe, and that’s it.

Others, though, for ease of pronunciation, say that these words should get the full apostrophe-S.

So you have Cass’ bar vs. Cass’s bar, or James’ theatre vs. James’s theatre. Clearly, the latter look a lot like how they are pronounced. But these are all nouns. Let’s get back to the pronouns.

Basically, none of them have apostrophes because they don’t need them: My book, your shoe, his wallet, her degree, our house, your (pl.) cars. The one that trips people up is “its,” because of that pesky S — but it’s not needed in possessives. Correct example from above: The kitten licks its paws.

The way to remember this one is that in the word “it’s” the apostrophe represents the missing “I” in the contraction “it is.” So when you see “it’s” in a sentence, read it out as “it is,” and if it makes no sense, then you want “its.” “The kitten licks it is paws.” Nope.

Finally, don’t confuse the possessive pronouns with the adjectives of possession. “My book” is pronoun and object. “That book is mine” is a noun and adjective. Although do note that, technically, in English, mine (and thine) were used as the sort of equivalent of “a” and “an” when it involved coming before vowels.

You’ll see it all the time in Shakespeare: “Be still my heart, yet weep, mine eyes.” (Made up line.) And it’s quite prominent in an old American song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic in the line, “Mine eyes have seen the glory…”

It’s really fallen out of fashion, but it was there for the same reason that we don’t like to say “a elephant.” It’s just clunky.

WRONG: They gave awards to she and I

This is sort of a reversal of the “me and him went to the store” problem. In this case, the subject pronouns have been used as objects, and you can spot it the same way: Drop one pronoun. Also note that, unlike the object version where the speaker comes last, with subject pronouns, the speaker comes first, so the correct sentence would be, “They gave awards to me and her.” Yeah, why it works like that, I have no idea, but just trust me. “To her and me,” just like “I and he went,” would totally grate on a native speaker’s ear.

So: The moral of the story is that pronouns are things to be respected and treated with care. Our language has taught us to use them properly lest we sound less than educated. Don’t forget to let the people around you now educate you on how to use theirs properly, and then do it, lest you continue to sound less than educated.

That’s right. A lesson in grammar and gender of the non-grammatical sort — and remember this: Every grammar rule I just explained to you will be a metric fuckton harder to remember than how to get people’s pronouns right.

You’re welcome.

Sunday Nibble #35: A life online

The world may be going to hell in a very big handbasket, and whether we’re all going to die of the plague, roast to death as temperatures rise (either drowning in the rising seas or choking on the endless smoke or both), or we’ll perish in a WW III most likely started by a collapsing and fully fascist United States of America.

Or we could luck out and turn things around. But one thing I have to marvel at is what an amazing era of technology we live in. It’s only the beginning, but we’ve gotten pretty far, pretty fast.

Now, I happen to be of that part of Gen X that has never not been online at any point in their adult lives. In fact, I used a networked computer before I got my driver’s license, way back at the tender age of 15.

But… I was an adult before the founding of either Google (1998) or Wikipedia (2001), and although I wrote all of my scripts and such on computers, I still had to rely on analog research methods until the beginning of this century — mostly libraries and books.

For one black comedy set during the Civil War, my research was pretty much limited to the big book of Ken Burns The Civil War documentary, with occasional library trips and heavy use of my handy Columbia Desk Encyclopedia.

Damn, at one time, I had a huge personal reference library full of dictionaries, specific encyclopedias, writers’ reference books on various subjects that pertained to a particular genre — I think I had Crime and Science Fiction — as well as buttload of foreign language grammars and translating to English dictionaries, including ones like Old English, Hebrew, Hawaiian, Gaelic, Arabic, and Japanese.

Side note: I’ve made a sincere effort in my life time to learn ten languages besides English. I managed fluency in one (Spanish) and, through that, the ability to kind of read and understand one that I studied but could never hear the pronunciation of and another that I never studied (French and Portuguese, respectively), know more than I should but nowhere near enough of the language of the country my last name comes from (German), two for specific purposes of script writing (Italian and Norwegian), two just to try out non-Latin alphabets (Japanese and Russian), one because there seem to be a lot of tall, hot men from there (Dutch), one because the opportunity came up through a theatre company I was in (ASL, until our teacher moved), and one because it’s spoken in the country from whence came half of my genetic heritage (Irish Gaelic).

Funny story, though. Spanish and German are the only two languages that I studied in school. The rest but three were on my own, and most of those were before the internet days. At best, I managed to find recorded lessons to listen to in the car, and for a while I got pretty fluent at basic Russian, but that was about it. As for the other two, once I left school, I kind of lost my abilities in either for a long time.

I remember one particularly informative moment when I traveled to Mexico with an ex, who was himself half Mexican on his father’s side, and realized once we got down there that I couldn’t understand shit, and I couldn’t say shit beyond very simple phrases — that despite studying Spanish in school for five years.

So… I used to have to try to learn languages through books or, if I were lucky, from a human teacher, but good luck with any kind of immersion in it. Likewise, in writing any kind of reality-based fiction, the research was tedious and time-consuming.

And then came the internet. Sure, in the early days (and I was there on the ground floor) you really couldn’t look up shit. I did happen to work for one of the first companies to jump into it with both feet.

This happened to be The Community Yellow Pages, a publication for the Lesbian and Gay community started in 1969 by Jeanne Córdova, who is a piece of lesbian history herself, and whom I was fortunate enough to have known.

She started the guide as a very thin phonebook with both Yellow (commercial) and White (residential) pages, and it was a way to advertises businesses that were either gay-friendly, or owned by gay people and, probably, the white pages part was a de facto but not really acknowledged dating section. (It was eventually discontinued.)

Anyway… 1994 rolls around, the internet is just getting going and, because one of Jeanne’s (many) siblings lives near Silicon Valley and is very tapped into what’s going on, that sibling (a younger sister) convinces her that online is the way to go.

I only worked for the CYP a couple of years, but it was an interestingly schizo time, because we were simultaneously selling people on this paper edition that would come out once a year, along with this electronic thing that could be searched from anywhere and which could be updated if needed.

And… the paper version was by far the best-seller. Bonus points: at that time, we could have done the layout digitally, but didn’t, and so for the few months leading up to publication, we had an actual layout artist come in and physically paste-up the boards that would be photocopied to create the masters for the final run.

Eventually, though, the sleeping giant of the internet’s potential awakened in quick order, first with Google indexing everything, and then Wikipedia accumulating knowledge.

And say what you want about the latter, but over time the ol’ Wiki has really become a stellar example of the “wisdom of crowds” concept. Plus which, it should never be a primary source, but just a guide to finding the same, which are now also all over the internet.

So researching and writing became a lot easier, but so did learning languages, especially after the launch of Duolingo in 2012, as well as the realization that it’s possible to set devices like phones and computers into other languages — and that cars have radios, which make possible both language-learning podcasts over modern tech or, depending on language, radio stations in the target language via old tech.

So those of us with computers, tablets, phones, or other devices, have access to the biggest research library ever assembled. It definitely dwarfs the fabled Library of Alexandria, and most likely has a lot more material than the Library of Congress — which would fit on ten single terabyte hard drives, by the way.

And it’s not just books and stuff like that. It’s full of music, movies, photos, and everything else that humans have left in their wake, all of it there to access either for free or for a nominal fee.

So if we make it through this Anno Horribilis of 2020, then maybe we’ll make it further and continue to see technology make leaps and bounds that our grandparents could never have even imagined.

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