Tuesday, June 28, 2011

And that is why he is called The Last Boy Scout

When we left Christmas Island almost exactly a year ago, I left behind one good friend.

My whole life, I’ve pretty much had a single good friend at a time, one after the other. I’ve never needed a following, or anyone to lead me along with like-minded people, because I’ve never met actually met any like-minded people. I’ve whined about it before. I was “Born This Way,” too, but my class-action indignation is limited to one party: me.

So one friend at a time suits me well. And my one friend is almost always cooler than I am (otherwise I cast him or her as a follower, and that’s a bit part at best), and funny as hell. I need someone who can hold their own, bullshit-wise, when I’m in The Zone. This guy banters with the best of them.

He’s also my token Republican friend. I don’t have any token Black or Latino friends at the moment, but I do have a Republican locked and loaded. Come to think of it, I have any number of Republican friends. Real ones, too, not Facebook ones.

Anyway, when we left Christmas Island, the usual pleasantries were exchanged—the pro-forma little white lies and well-meaning balderdash people who are never going to see each other again tell to make the saying goodbye a little less Lifetime movie-of-the-week. I knew email and partisan bickering would keep us on each others’ radar online, but drive all the way out to Idaho?

No way in hell was that gonna happen.

Seems I never get tired of being, eh, not exactly correct.

TLBS and his three lovely girls—one wife, two daughters (one of whom is The Boy’s age and already a year ahead of him in school)—just left after having spent four or five days in our little corner of paradise.

And these people are like Vacation Samurai. They do a vacation like Ike storming Normandy! No weakness will be tolerated! Daughter Number One, eight, was frog-marched up this insanely high water slide (left) and summoned the bravery at the top and take the quickest, scariest 5-second ride of her life. At the end, she loved it!

We bowed out of their day-long river rafting excursion. I already have an “S”-shaped lower back, I don’t want to go for an ampersand. Christ, I damn near broke my fanny bone on the yellow kids’ slide at the water park, which had about 6” of water in the pool at the bottom. BUMP-P-P-P!!

We also spent a day doing typical tourisity things together. In Boise, you can park the cars and walk to everything worth seeing in the entire town, tourist-wise, in an afternoon, if your kids are up to it. (Three-to-two on that score; I bet you can guess which kid wore to a frazzle long before the others.)

TLBS and I even worked in a little guitar time—including an impassioned version of Wind Beneath My Wings for The Missus and her friend from out of town—the less said about which the better, except we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and stayed up way too late, which was kinda the whole point.

All in all, it was a lovely visit. The hardest part for me, physically, was the clean-up before. I had eleven months of dust and dog hair to remove from every horizontal surface in my office, a vacuum cleaner with which to acquaint myself, dog poo to pick up in the yard, porches to sweep, lawns to mow…

Plus, I knew from stories of past summer excursions, that these guys vacation like Ali practicing for a title fight, and they did not disappoint. I’ve lost three pounds since they’ve got here; we definitely need to have friends like them through town more often.

Of the three members of the Bastardson clan represented at the water park today, The Boy came through with the most dignity intact, even if you count the time I sent him behind the bushes to pee because I was waiting to get a shot of his mother going down the massive slide, which shot I then totally pooched anyhow...

Anyways, kudos to The Last Boy Scout for not being a bullshitter. Last year, during the height of the Boycott Arizona movement, first he pontificated against it, then he put his money where his mouth was and took his family there for the summer vacation. And they had a great time.

This year, he once again put his money where his mouth was and kept a promise to an old friend he could have ignored and I would have had the courtesy to never mention it.

I keep telling him, you need to get into politics. Politics needs men like him. He’s intelligent, articulate, actually believes the rhetoric he’s pitching and his on-camera chops are improving with every televised performance. Plus he’s a right-wing Mr. Smith Could Go To Washington.

Or even stay on Christmas Island. There are definitely important political careers to be made in his home town. If all the good men and women sit on the sidelines, the only people who run—and therefore get elected—will be the megalomaniac scalawags and scoundrels with whom we’re all too familiar.

Meanwhile, I think the next visit is on us, back to Christmas Island. Don’t know when, but a couple of things are certain: There will be pictures! And I will probably not be put in charge of anything next time. Not even pictures.

Friday, June 24, 2011

“There’s just one more thing…”

Peter Falk • 1927—2011
gone but never forgotten

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fifteen years ago today...

...I made a new friend.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

R.I.P. Clarence Clemons

Came home from class n culture night in Boise (you know, roller derby) to hear the sad and the bad news that legendary E Street Band member Clarence Clemons had succumbed to the stroke he suffered earlier in the week.

Here is the copied-and-pasted official word from brucespringsteen.net:

It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th. Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

I will leave it to better writers, more familiar with the subject to write him the eulogy he deserves.

But I can’t fucking sleep tonight for thinking of him, and Springsteen and by extension, my own mortality. I’m sure I’m not the only aging Bruce Springsteen fan up tonight, losing sleep to the same thoughts.

I didn’t see the E Street Band live till the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988—I was a bit late to the Bruce party, even though I’d been buying his albums faithfully since Darkness On The Edge of Town. It always seemed like the tickets for his shows were gone before I had peddled down to the box office to purchase one.

Since the late ’80s, I’ve seen Bruce with and without a band a few times. Always from really lousy seats because by the time I figured out how to properly game the system, tickets to his shows had become exponentially harder to secure, and more expensive.

But it was clear to me, especially on the E Street Band tours since 1999, that Springsteen shows had their own beginning, middle and end. There was a narrative structure to the song selection, and the action occurring on stage was just as dramatic.

Springsteen’s two onstage foils were Little Steven Van Zandt and Clemons and the trio brought every bit of humor, pathos and affection they shared offstage into their performance. As much as it was part of the show, it was clear it was also a reflection of a genuinely affectionate bond between the three men.

And videos of the band, from before Bruce broke them up for a few years in the ’90s and Clemons still enjoyed full, robust health, show that the chemistry between he and Springsteen then was even more palpable.

Little Steven got more center stage time with Bruce, but when Clemons wailed, Springsteen ceded the spotlight to him. Literally bowed down before him, his arms flung wide and head back. And he usually shared a stage kiss with him before the show was over.

When Danny Federici died in 2008 it first occurred to me (and no doubt the rest of Springsteen’s core, aging fan base) that the ride was not going to last forever.

But Federici, even though a 40-year-member of the band, was never the center of attention that Springsteen always made sure his beloved Big Man was. The next time Springsteen takes the band out onto the road, I can’t imagine anyone else ripping into one of Clemons’ solos and the audience not bursting into tears.

Clemons’ last live performance, on American Idol, no less, with Lady Gaga is here.

All of a sudden, Gaga’s decision to scrap the elaborate video planned for her latest single, which features Clemons on saxophone, and do it instead with just Clemons and herself doesn’t look like a career misstep after all.

Although his screen time is all too brief, the somber setting serves tonight’s news well. The Big Man’s last video:

Friday, June 17, 2011

Celebrating the men in my life, from old to young

I picked up the guitar a few years ago at the tender age of forty-something. Took a few weeks’ worth of lessons and have been freestyling it ever since.

That’s right. I still haven’t gotten very good and don’t realistically expect to. But if a song has the courtesy to be really easy, with a steady, loping beat—and for God’s sake doesn’t require any barre chords—I’m willing to give it a try.

Recently, I had a favorite song transcribed for me, Steve Goodman’s “My Old Man.” I discovered it as a deleted scene on Goodman’s Austin City Limits DVD and fell in love with it. It’s a big ol’ Man-Weeper and my friend, The Nutty Professor, puzzled-out a way for a perpetual novice like me to play it.

It’s a song about the boomer-songwriter’s father, and except for the names and a couple of other minor tweaks, it could be my own Dad’s story. This is exactly the kind of song I picked up the guitar to try to play.

Other than one ill-fated attempt as a teenager to convince my father that prog-metal trio Rush really was worth giving a listen to, pop culture is among the vast panoply of things we never discussed.

Consequently, I don’t know much about his taste in music, except that my Mom told me when he was wooing her, he was all about Der Bingle, which tells me that my old man was one smooth operator. I’ve looked into covering some of Bing Crosby’s hits, but the man sang pop songs, and for as maligned a genre as pop is, it uses an awful lot of fancy, complicated chords.

It’s probably just as well my lack of manual agility will keep me from ever profaning the Bing Crosby catalogue; it’s my long-held theory that every (male) pop crooner from the 1930s until today can trace his or her stylistic lineage back to either Bing Crosby or David Bowie. They’re all wannabes or wannabes of wannabes. Want to sing like Elvis, who wanted to sing like Dean Martin? You want to sing like Bing. Want to sing like early Sinatra? Any-period Dean Martin? Also Bing Crosby wannabes from the get-go. And so forth, until…

Until the 1980s, when inexplicably (to me), it seemed like almost everybody who got started suddenly wanted to sing like David Bowie, even girl-fronted bands like Blondie. While you can’t lay blame for the entire decade-long pop music debacle that was the ’80s at Bowie’s feet (even Rush’s albums from that period are not their best), neither can you deny how much all those earnest, over-dressed mulletheads from Flock of Seagulls to early U2 just happened to look and sound exactly like ’70s-era Bowie.

It makes the 1977 TV-Special appearance of Bowie and Crosby a pretty monumental pop cultural summit. I suspect there was a Watcher in the room somewhere, just out of camera range…

I remember catching that show with my Dad when it originally aired, and enduring his familiar ribald insinuations, this time repurposed to remark upon Bowie’s questionable sexual orientation. Looking back, it seems more cool than irritating that I got to watch that generational passing of the torch with my Dad, ‘homo’ jokes aside. From his favorite crooner to, well, my generation’s, anyhow.

My old man’s grandson has his own wide-ranging taste in music. The CD selection in the car when he is a passenger is always an item of great concern to him. He loves him his big, splashy popsters like U2, Bruce and even Lady Gaga, but also allows room for traditional favorites like Johnny Cash and Tom Jones’ recent album of gospel classics. The Missus even pulled off the neat feat recently of getting him to sing on command.

We have been trying to steer him toward an arts-steeped life without being too obvious, unlike the clumsy, oblivious way my own poor old man tried to shoehorn me into an athletics-and-scouting-steeped lifestyle choice, to his unending frustration.

Fortunately, The Boy shows considerably more disposition toward the arts than I ever did to jockdom, so he is less likely to disappoint me the way I did my Dad.

You want your Daddy Issues? Oh, I’ll give you your Daddy Issues...

There’s a verse in Goodman’s song that includes the line,
“And now that the old man’s gone, I’d give all I own
To hear what he said when I wasnt listening.”

The classic regret, right?

Except it’s not my main one, because of what I can remember of my Dad’s input at the time, it wasn’t actually very constructive. It consisted mainly of variations on the theme of what to do about my suspect masculinity.

The poor guy wanted a proper son he could do Norman Rockwell father and son stuff with, and instead he got my brother the science geek and me, the artist. My brother did a better job of faking it, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout, but I was never about pleasing my parents as a kid. We were locked in a life-or-death struggle over my daily destiny; I didn’t have time for nuance.

Still, I have no idea how my Dad pulled it all off—working the hours he did, keeping up his busy social life (Knights of Columbus, bowling league, etc.) and still having time to sneak me up some dinner after my Mom had sent me to bed without any—whenever I stop to really think about it, I take my hat off to him.

The fact that he and my Mom adopted all four of us sibs-to-be at different times, usually when they could barely afford to feed the ones they already had, also speaks volumes about either my Dad’s resilience, my Mom’s persistence, or what turned out to be a pretty consistently questionable decision-making process. My Dad was about 50 when I came along, back in the early ’60s when 50 was considered old. And they still went out and adopted one more after me, so they’d have a matched set.

No wonder all my Dad ever did was work. What other choice did an honest man have?

As an only child, The Boy knows he gets the benefit of 100% of our attention when he’s around. It’s easy to do.

You know what would be hard, that would push all my fight-or-flight buttons? If we had two or three other kids, all also clamoring for 100% of our attention. I would make a lousy father of a proper Roman Catholic brood, the type of family from which I am myself descended.

My Dad did such a better job of it than I ever could.

And considering how completely I failed to measure up to what his idea of a man was, he in fact treated me much better than I deserved. I’m lucky he didn’t throw me into the river in a burlap sack.

Here’s how disappointing a son I was. In our little suburban town growing up, my Dad’s business sponsored a Little League team, securing for me a spot on the roster at a time before social promotion necessarily applied to athletic competition. On my own merits, I wasn’t qualified to be bat boy (nor interested in even that proximity to summer sports programs).

I spent one inning a game—the league minimum—in center field, being shadowed by edgy left- and right-fielders covering my flanks. I struck out every time at bat, unless the pitcher was an even bigger schmuck and accidentally walked me. Then I inevitably died on base, usually due to an error on my part.

My Little League highlight occurred the one time my bat miraculously collided with a pitched baseball, and I took off around the bases, starting with the one on my left, reasoning that that’s the way we do everything else, left to right, like reading… Needless to say, the third-basemen was almost too incapacitated by laughter to tag me out… but not quite.

How could I have spent that much time in center field, and on the bench, and not taken note of the correct order in which to run the bases? I guess I just never thought it was information I would need to apply to my own baseball experience, so I ignored it.

Whatever happened that night, I’ve blocked it out. My Dad wasn’t the hitter in the parental power structure anyhow, but his disappointment resonated a lot more and hurt a great deal worse than my Mom’s most histrionic whuppings of ass. And there are probably fewer Dad-disappointments more humiliating than suffering all the your fellow neighborhood dads watching your probably-a-fag son run the bases backwards after a once-in-a-lifetime lucky hit.

So I ask myself, what am I doing right that my Dad didn’t? Why is my son happy and well-adjusted, but his son was miserably unhappy and well on his way to a life of crime by the time he was five? Is it really as simple as hours-put-in?

Because my Dad was an indisputably good guy, whereas fewer people have said the same of me with a straight face. He would give a stranger the shirt off his back, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. Not because he was rolling in greenbacks, but because that’s just the kind of sweetheart of a guy my Dad was (generational gender-assignment prejudices aside).

Here’s an example that sticks in my throat. In the last few years before illness took him down a long, debilitating terminal bunny hole, he noticed that people in Tucson were going to bed hungry. So he started his own one-man, ad hoc charity operation, and casting pride aside, stood out in front of church after every Mass with a table and a box and a sign requesting donations. And by God, after a while, people started bringing food to church, and dropping it off with my Dad afterwards. No one put him up to it, he had to spend all morning every Sunday manning his booth outside of church through good weather (rare) and bad (abundant), and then he had to drive all that food to the really dangerous part of town and drop it off with the proper aid organizations down there.

I believe it’s at least partially because he was of the generation that survived the Great Depression as kids, and made the world safe for democracy shortly thereafter. It was simply my old man’s nature to step up where he saw a need.

To him and his peeps, artsy-fartsy navel-gazers like me were just road-kill waiting to happen. “Send the poet with the thick glasses up ahead to check the road for landmines.”

BOOOOM! One pantywaist down…

Guys like me were the exact sort of hippie artist-types my Dad and his contemporaries had contempt for. He knew—and he was right—if the fate of American freedom found itself in my hands, I’d think about registering for an online Chinese language course right now. Maybe Farsi, too, just in case.

Still, I think my Dad would have liked my son, in spite of The Boy’s undeniable artistic bent (he did the chalk drawing, right, last month with his cousin Amelia, 7), and the fact that his rapid growth has left him fairly clumsy, physically, compared to his peers—just like I was.

But I’d like to think my old man would have overlooked his inherited shortcomings and appreciated his grandson, because like him, he is a righteous dude. The Boy remembers what stuff is important, and reminds me of it when circumstances necessitate. Just today I was fretting—loudly and at length—about something I’d misplaced, and he chided me, “Daddy, it’s just a thing.”

When he leaves preschool in the afternoon, he blows kisses to his teachers. Not show-biz kisses, but genuine demonstrations of affection. They blow them back. His classmates hug him goodbye. One of them drew a lovely picture of The Boy and I last week. Yesterday, a kid who’d been in class three days informed me that my son “was funny.”

He’s so much like his Grandpa, without being anything outwardly like him at all. The Boy is a mensch. He’s the-guy-everybody-loves my Dad always was. He’s Norm walking into Cheers. In so many of the very best ways, he’s my old man all over again (as well as his maternal Grandpa, who is also an extremely likeable chap) and thank God, not me.

I’m just the worn, rusty link between these two generations of great men. I’m proud to share their name, and if I do nothing else right, I’m going to make sure my son doesn’t grow up with the same Daddy Issues as me. He’ll never disappoint his old man like I did mine, because I won’t place any expectations on him besides the few simple items I’ve already introduced and he’s dug into: That he be happy, helpful, and that he places people ahead of the value of objects.

Just like his Grandpa Bastardson, except for maybe that first part. He was only really happy when he was working his ass off and smoking cigarettes… which, come to think of it, meant he must have been happy most of the time, too!

I love those fucking guys… I reckon I always will.

Here’s my attempt at the song that got all this emotional bloodletting going:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

FF Person of The Week, 290th week in a row!

Guess who?!

Wednesday of this fun-filled week, when I took The Boy into preschool, I noticed his teacher was in a lot of pain. She has a mystery malady they’re trying to diagnose; all they know for sure is that it hurts like holy hell. Yesterday morning, her eyes screamed: extreme pain + lack of sleep. I was not surprised to find she had already left when I picked up The Boy in the afternoon.

On the ride home, I asked him about her. He said, she left early. Then he changed the subject.


Next chance I got, I tried to chase down the teacher topic again. This time he mentioned she had been crying. I said, you saw her cry? He said, yeah. Then he mentioned the song we were listening to, and that it was a good one.


I couldn’t help thinking about his poor teacher. She’s in her twenties or thirties (it’s hard to tell; chronic pain adds years to your eyes) and has a lifetime of this bullshit to look forward to. It vexed me, but I didn’t press The Boy any further on the issue. It didn’t seem to have phased him, and I didn’t want to draw a big, red circle around it to make sure he was traumatized by it.

Out of the blue that night, The Boy announced he was going to make a drawing for his teacher and immediately got to work on this intricate, colored piece of work. It’s something they’ve printed-out a lot of at his school; it’s a circle, but it has an intricate array of almost stained glass window-type tiles and sunburst shapes drawn inside of it. He worked on it until dinner.

He worked on it after dinner. He didn’t finish it until after breakfast this morning, just before we left for school. Over the course of the time he spent working on it, he occasionally reminded us, I’m making this for [his teacher].

Now, nobody asked him to do this. Or suggested it, or implied it… I know this because I asked him, and he looked at me like I had rocks in my head, and said “no” with every bit of disdain a well-mannered 5.5-year-old can muster. Just to make sure I had it straight, he added, This is my idea.

He reminds me of my Dad, more and more.

Much to my surprise (based on her early exit the day before), we found his teacher there this morning, so The Boy was able to give her his drawing in person. It turned out, she was just stopping in on her way to have Boise’s answer to Dr. House try to figure out why her body is punishing her like this.

But it gave The Boy the chance to give her his drawing in person. He had me cut the circle out this morning, and I noticed that on the back, he had written his name, and hers (carefully copied), along with an “I love you” and I’m pretty sure some Angry Birds ephemera in the margins for good measure.

I’ll have to check tonight when I pick him up, but I’d be willing to go out on a limb and bet that none of the other little boys made their teacher a pretty picture last night because they had seen her cry. And judging from her reaction, I don’t think she was expecting any others to, either.

For maybe 15-30 seconds of an otherwise truly shitty day, he had lifted her spirits and made her actually happy. Her kind of pain makes periods of happy infrequent and fleeting, but even more precious.

And that small, self-actuated act of kindness, in addition to all the usual reasons, is why The Boy is Fang’s Forum Person Of The Week—still.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I’m not here to make you like me

Last night, out of the blue, The Missus hits the wall, big time. More or less can’t get anything done but drag herself off to bed. Of the three of us under this roof, The Missus is way the most likely to get sick if sick is coming calling. I figure last night is no exception.

This morning, even after almost 12 hours in bed, she sounds and feels like 50 miles of unpaved road. She apologizes, says she has to stay home. I feel like a dick because my obviously ill wife is apologizing to me, yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel crowded by this interruption of my beloved routine.

I am so all about routine, it’s not even funny. Sad, yes. Funny, not so much.

So in my infinite givingness, I tell her if she’s as sick as she looks and sounds, she’s going to the doctor. Subtext: I’ve had it with this shit! If you’re really sick, we’re gonna give this illness a name, find out what kills it then stock up on that shit and kill it once and for all.

Get to the doctor… [sidebar: Boise’s walk-in clinic is amazing, in terms of wait-times. You can wait the better part of a day in the E.R. in Long Beach and not be seen, but we were in and out of Boise’s drop-in sawbones within a couple hours.]

The doctor gives her a good once-over while I am explaining my intention to identify this illness and proactively eliminate it. The doctor shrugs and explains it’s probably viral, meaning she’ll just have to ride it out. I do not care for this answer, not in the least.

I inquire about having a blood test done; the doctor warns us off of having blood taken, citing the expense. That’s when my dander really begins to rise. Honestly, how do you put a price on a loved one’s health? We’ve blown thousands of dollars we didn’t have to improve and elongate our dog’s life, but I’m supposed to cut corners on the health of the mother of my child?

I keep my cool, but continue to ride the doctor, respectfully. The doctor orders up a breathing test. After every exhale, The Missus goes into a coughing jag. When she finally finishes up coughing and the doctor can hear herself think again, she asks The Missus if she experienced “any trouble breathing.”

It’s at this point that I am glad she is a woman doctor because I would never hit a woman, not even this provoked. I suggest that the fact that my wife has coughing fits every time she exhales, indicates she is experiencing some “trouble” breathing. I’m so angry by now I am beginning to stammer.

The doctor agrees with my roughly-assembled sentence fragments and we run The Missus down to X-Ray. Sure enough, there’s a pneumonia-thingie sitting on the bottom of one of her lungs. Suddenly I’m not upset at all anymore about the interruption of my routine and focus my wrath instead at myself for having been so upset at the interruption of my routine.

I have another point, beyond the rote self-loathing. I think I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating:

When you’re sick, get thee to a doctor. Don’t let lack of ready cash stop you. If going to a doctor you can’t afford saves your life, you can spend the rest of it working to pay him or her back. It beats not having a rest of your life. We’re still paying off that damned dog and don’t regret a penny of it.

And bring somebody with you who doesn’t give a jolly good fuck if the doctor likes them or not to advocate on your behalf. Most people doctors see aren’t that terribly sick, especially at these walk-in clinics during flu season. Their first impulse, it seems, if one doesn’t present with blood flowing from open wounds, is to assume the patient is a hypochondriac. It’s your advocate’s job to make sure the doctor is apprised of all your symptoms, whether or not they seem related, then push for more aggressive diagnostic steps to be taken.

Honestly, initially it looked like the diagnosis was going to be “Go home and if it gets worse, come back in a week.” In a week, she’d be taking an ambulance to one of the two big hospitals in town.

Remember, they’re your family, not the doctor’s. Don’t be afraid to be a dick for someone you love.

Oh, and next time, we’re getting that blood test.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Baby Steps...

Born This Way & That

On the MTV Movie Awards this year, after the best kiss award was announced (one of the “Twilight” couples), the male of the couple ran from the podium, into the crowd of celebrities in the first few rows, and planted a long, lingering lip kiss on his male co-star. And you know what the audience of trendy teenagers did? It hooted and applauded. I didn’t hear one catcall or epithet.

The kids—the cool ones, the ones who go to MTV tapings, who will be the future tastemakers—do not consider male gay PDAs to be the agreed-upon anathema that my generation of teenagers did.

The Boy, almost six now, is a big fan of Lady Gaga and “Glee,” and we encourage that kind of behavior. He watched “Glee” for several months (with The Missus—it has too much singing and dancing by half for me), before we discovered he thought the character of Kurt was a girl.

But where I can take or leave “Glee,” I am surprised to find myself firmly in the Lady Gaga camp. God, it’s still embarrassing to even type her name. But that’s all right. Nobody who knows me reads blogs anyhow...

So let me tell you my Lady Gaga story. I’d heard about her. I’d seen pictures of her dressed in meat. She was supposed to be the latest big pop creation.

Naturally, I dismissed her out of hand. Assumed she was a Madonna-wannabe, but didn’t have even Madge’s squeaky chops, so she had to do crazy shit like dress in meat to get attention.

And in my defense, I can still see how she has set herself up to be perceived that way.

Anyhow, just to punish myself, I decided to watch the Grammys this year, too. I saw Ms Gaga arrive in an egg; I figured hers would definitely be a performance I would fast-forward through. Then she opened her mouth to sing, and this roaring arena-rock voice came pouring out. Sure, she had choreography and the usual excessive trappings of the successful best-selling pop tour, but this weird little chick could sing!

She proved it a couple days later when she released the studio version of the song, and her live vocal had been stronger than the studio one. That never happens, certainly not among pop phenoms. Suddenly I had visions of her going out, fronting a Queen tour with the surviving band members—it would be amazing.

Freddie Mercury definitely would have approved.

Anyhow, I also loved the content of the single she sang at the Grammys, “Born This Way.” My mother, for instance, just can’t get head her around the idea that people are born gay—not broken down then converted, or courted by the devil—and that it’s like being left-handed or blue-eyed: It’s okay, in spite of what her Good Book tells her.

It’s so cool to have that message boiled down to three simple words, set to a crazy danceable beat, and sold to millions of eager young listeners around the world. Bruce Springsteen said something a long time ago that Lady Gaga is now embracing: You may not be able to save the world, but you can change it.

The time is definitely ripe for Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign.

You have to have heard about it. A web site where LGBT kids and adults can leave video messages advising the latest generation of LGBT young ’uns to hang on, stick it out; it gets better. It’s brilliant and wonderful.

I’ll bet it’s saved a lot of lives, and improved many that didn’t need saving.

As much as I admire and am grateful for the “It Gets Better” campaign, though, I can’t help but regret the fact that had it been around in my youth, it wouldn’t have been a place I would have gone to because of its emphasis on gender-identity issues.

As it’s being marketed now, they’re leaving too many kids behind, and we can’t afford to spare any.

There is a whole underclass of schoolkids who are bully-bait every day who are barely mentioned in the It Gets Better pledge, which reads as follows: Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it [I love that bit!], at school or at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know “It Gets Better.”

Four words: and other bullied teens. Giving that many kids so few words in your mission statement seems to me more like an afterthought, or political cover, so “It Gets Better” doesn’t get spun by the Bad Guys as another Gay Campaign To Indecentify Our Children. Those four words may help protect it from partisan smear campaigns, but the site doesn’t seem to have much content for the kids they refer to.

I watched a lot of the videos on the site, and they are heart-breaking as well as hopeful. But almost every one of them deals with someone’s testimony concerning surmounting issues created by their gender identity. And there are at least as many kids bullied in school for any number of other specious reasons, and I was one of them.

Nobody at school targeted me because they thought I was gay, I was just different. Didn’t fit in. Socially inept. I was easy prey there for a while, and there were a lot of other victim-written-all-over-them kids getting their asses handed to them on the playground every day, too. It eventually got so bad for me, one year the biology teacher took me in and had me work on assignment posters in his classroom at lunch.

He made it better, but lunch only lasted an hour out of every day…

For most of those of us unaffiliated with a larger group of like-minded outcasts, it never got much better for us as we grew older. I eventually joined the stoners because their entrance requirements were pretty easy to meet, and because nobody but nobody wants to go through high school alone.

Because if you’re in school and you just don’t fit in—and aren’t lesbian, gay, bi or trans—you don’t even have the promise of a strong community which has endured similar prejudices to take you in and embrace you to look forward to. What you’ve got is bupkis; more grade-pressure, a stress-packed home life, peer-indifference and/or abuse and pretty likely a damned lonely life to look forward to.

Who speaks for those kids? All too often it is the suicidal assholes who come to school one day with trench coats, shotguns and a to-do list of high-profile classmates and teachers.

Because baby, they were born that way, too.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Why Edwards is worse than Arnold

Jeez, this is a tough category. Arnold knocked up the domestic help, then kept her around for over a decade while he secretly co-raised their bastard child. That is some hard-core Harlequin Romance bad-guy shit.

Then this Edwards guy, he goes and cheats on his terminally ill wife, produces a love-child with a woman other than said dying wife, and engages in a lengthy, complicated cover-up of the whole affair while he was running as the Vice Presidential candidate on a major party ticket.

Let’s start out by pretending I have empathy with these scoundrels. Arnold spent his entire adult life having women literally throw themselves at him. You can’t just apply the brakes to your dick like that. And Kennedy women are nothing if not used to being cheated on by their philandering better-halves.

And Edwards’ wife is dying, which is probably a turn-off in the sack. Another pretty boy, used to having women at his beck and call, when Option A is no longer desirable but Plan B is, his dick is going to go a-wandering.

Both indiscretions are just extreme examples of the old Jerry Seinfeld line, “Women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place.” Most men are only as faithful as their options, which is why celebrity marriages tend not to last. I would guess the same rule applies to women, perhaps to a lesser extent.

I’ve already taken Arnold out to the woodshed for a spanking, now it’s Edwards’ turn.

And as in Arnold’s case, where I didn’t get on his shit for cheating—if it was Bill Clinton’s ‘personal business’ then, and I believe it was, it’s Arnold’s personal business now—but I thrashed him to within an inch of his life for making a fraud of his public face for the last ten years of his life. He chose to make his family part of his public image, and when he did that, he didn’t just lie to Maria, he lied to all Californians. To my mind, that’s when Arnold crossed the line between personal indiscretion and the public’s right to know.

But what Edwards did was infinitely worse. Arnold lied to a state, Edwards lied to the whole country. Worse, by keeping such an enormous, juicy secret at a time when he was running for the second highest office in the land, he left himself wide open to blackmail by an opposition party that had long since demonstrated that no tactic was beneath it (coughswiftboatscough). It was don’t-start-a-land-war-in-southeast-Asia stupid. It was careless and reckless and potentially dangerous on a Tom Clancy-scenario level.

Mind you, I’m not making a moral judgment here. My house is made of as much glass of anybody else’s; I’m taking Edwards to task for putting his ego ahead of his country by running for office with this career-destroying scandal just waited in the wings to be exploited by his enemies, in the event that he attained a position of great power.

As bad as his moral lapse was, it’s none of my business. As a voting liberal, however, my candidate being politically compromised before he’s even out of the gate, but choosing to run anyhow? That damned sure is my business.

I hope they lock this cocky asshole up in some red state penitentiary and make him wander the yard, unprotected, in one of his $5,000 suits and $400 haircuts. And a “Hello, my name is…” nametag.

He likes careless and reckless sexual behavior. He’s going to love being the new fish in genpop.

Friday, June 03, 2011

“X-Men First Class” best comicbook flick since “Dark Knight”

I’m waiting like crazy for July’s Captain America, The First Avenger.

Thor clocked in at just about exactly what I thought it would be. As you may recall, I considered it kick-ass fun without kicking much actual ass. It hit all its compulsories, helped set up next summer’s  Avengers franchise launch, but failed to add anything vital to the genre. It didn’t so much stick the dismount as it hopped gracefully off the bar and had its assistant hand it a cappucino.

Can’t wait to take The Boy to see his first comic book epic on the big screen, Green Lantern, in a couple weeks. The trailers make it look like loud, fast, dumb fun, with comic-booky violence so removed from reality it shouldn’t needlessly traumatize the lad. He’s looking forward to that one like I’m looking forward to Captain America.

It’s a great summer for comic book films and next summer should be even bigger, with the last film in Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers being the ones I know of off-hand. I’m sure there are some that are flying beneath the radar, too...

Like X-Men First Class. I’ve always liked the X-Men movies without loving them. There was always a shiny sheen, a remove that kept me from caring too much about the actual characters. They were top-notch productions and one had a cool, WWII backstory, and Ian McKellan was awfully good as Magneto… but I always thought Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier was a crap character. I love the actor, but somehow never even cared about his character in the X-Men movies.

It was a series ready for a reboot, and director Matthew Vaughn picks up the challenge and runs with it. He has really improved his game since Kick Ass, which I also enjoyed. In what I consider a brilliant move, he did not ret-con* the comic book continuity to place the story in the present day—as is the usual custom—but instead retconned history to accommodate his superhero yarn. The result in this case is to lend the proceedings considerably more heft than the standard comic book movie formula.

This is the best superhero movie since Dark Knight, hands down.

Initially set briefly in the last days of WWII, it features Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr as children, juxtaposing Xavier’s blueblood upbringing stateside with young Lensherr’s nightmarish concentration camp boyhood. As might be expected, the two backgrounds produce young men a few scenes later of starkly different outlooks concerning the paranormal abilities they have discovered they wield. Xavier is a privileged idealist who wants to unite mutants and mankind in peaceful coexistence, whereas Lensherr’s experiences in the camps have caused him to have given up on humanity altogether, and decide the only safe thing to do for mutantkind—his kind—is rule the world himself.

There is also a proper bad guy, an energy-absorber played by Kevin Bacon, who sets about screwing around with the Cuban Missile Crisis and all those lovely energy-filled nukes. His powered-up minions include January Jones as a mind-reading ice-maiden (of sorts) in a bikini; a red, teleporty Nightcrawler-looking scalawag; and a third evil mutant who apparently creates tornadoes with his hands.

It sounds like there should be too much going on, but the movie is constructed just about perfectly. And the actors playing the twenty-something mutant leaders—James McAvoy as telepath Xavier and Michael Fassbender as metal-master Lensherr—are terrific. Both are vaguely familiar, but not in any way I can put my finger on; they’re perfect as people who are supposed to grow up to be actors with whom I am already very familiar. And the actors themselves are both more than solid. They made me care. Maybe part of it is they had more screen time in this film, but I’d wager both young actors are movie stars in the making.

The gal playing Raven the shapeshifter, Jennifer Lawrence, just couldn’t be hotter in a voluptuous, Marilyn Monroe kind of way, either. The fact that she spends much of the movie in blue body paint and little or nothing else may add something to her allure, and screen time.

Familiar character actors ably fill in the necessary military commander roles, and the movie boasts a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em cameos that are sure to have fans’ tongues wagging (but not mine!).

In the end, though, this film is a buddies-gone-wrong picture about Professor X and Magneto, and as such, succeeds marvelously. As an astute tweaking of American/Soviet history, it also must receive points. And purely as an exercise in big-screen superheroics, it wreaks maximum mayhem, with only a couple of cheesey-looking effects shots to detract from the overall impact and hint at what was probably a relatively miserly budget. (And perhaps a re-shot ending?)

It was written smarter than the average four-color fare, so I hope it has enough whiz-bang moments to keep the kids coming back for the bean-counters to justify another film by the same creative team. They certainly laid enough Easter Eggs for fans to suggest the direction a second story might take.

On the ride home after the movie, I was already looking forward to buying the DVD of this thing when it comes out. I’m not sure why or how it flew so well for so long under the radar, but it was a damned happy surprise.


* ret-con: a comic book term, short for retroactive-continuity, where an old character’s origin is taken out, tarted-up and re-vamped for the current generation of fans.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

I married an Amazon Princess

Or: Mangling my metaphors like I was herding cats to the slaughter but couldn’t make them drink.

I am probably not the easiest person in the world to be married to.

I could be wrong. I could be being hard on myself. Considering I have no other first-hand experience in the field of marriage and thus have nothing to compare myself to, I could be way off-base. I might be the easy-goingest husband in the world after all.

For all I know, most people would envy her for being married to somebody working in a dying industry who is resisting transitioning to a new, less-dying one. Or who flies off the handle with little provocation, or reacts completely out of proportion to perceived inciting incidents which are often wholly imagined. That could be most people’s idea of a heckuva good time!

But my gut says, “Not so fast.”

And when something that big speaks, wise men pay heed.

It would be easy enough to fill this space enumerating Mrs. Dr. Bastardson’s considerable academic and professional accomplishments and accolades, but that would require knowing offhand what they all are, and who has that kind of time? Just check the box next to “Too Many To List Here.”

Which isn’t to say I’m not impressed.

She first caught my eye because she was so good at her job. At my old newspaper gig in SoCal, she worked upstairs in editorial for a few months and gave our boss fits of acute degree-envy. Smart, young and skinny? And ambitious? It seemed like an ideal match for a dull-witted, middlin’-aged, doughty old fart whose only real ambition was to get out of his current gig before he killed his on-the-job frenemesis in front of witnesses.

No sooner had our courtship begun than she fled for college in the Midwest. Being older, wiser and more ill-tempered, I already knew that long-distance relationships only work in the movies. I tried to break it off with her that Christmas, instead we compromised. She’d finish out the year at the college in the Midwest, then come back and we’d try cohabbing for a year. If that worked out, I’d follow her to whatever school she picked to pursue the inevitable PhD.

I think cohabbing lasted about two weeks. Me and my bachelor pad by the beach were not ready for a full-time female presence. I figured out pretty quick I needed my space back, and as graciously as I could, expelled her.

She ended up living with her Grandma for the better part of that year, an experience I guarantee you, she is grateful for today. We did it at the time to save our relationship, but it’s ended up paying unexpected dividends in the happy memories department.

So at the end of the probationary year, we sold most of our crap, packed up what remained in a 350-foot-long U-Haul (mostly full of comic books, videocassette tapes and LaserDiscs) with a tow-bar for my Lincoln Mercury (please don’t ask) and headed up the grapevine to Christmas Island.

Those were the salad years. We lived like a gay couple! Although on a tight budget, compared to now, it seems like we had expendable income to spare. We took weekend jaunts. Saw concerts out of town without having to strategize like we were planning an Apollo moon landing. Had some neighbors who struck me as huge degree-snobs (I had learned to spot them by then), but whose proximity was more than offset by the company of an exceptionally cool dog who filled any potentially lonely moment with a joie de vivre and a empathetic, playful presence that belied his medium stature.

But you know what? Jake (The New Dog, right) is growing on me. Just the other day, the neighbor dog got barky and aggressive with The Boy through the flimsy, white-trash fence that separates our yards, and Jake sprang to his defense, hackles up, in a very un-Jakelike way. He has earned himself a seat within the circle of trust.

But getting back to the narrative I started with…

One day, shortly after her impressive Fellowship at the Smithsonian in D.C., she asked me whether or not I’d like to have a kid. Like an idiot, I expressed ambivalence; gee, I was working from home and we sure had a pretty good groove going, just the two of us… on the other hand, I’d always wanted to be a Dad but figured at that stage of the game, that boat had sailed. I left it up to her and thank god, she made the right call.

She finished her dissertation and earned her PhD during The Boy’s first year. That is some serious multitasking.

And she’s the most excellent mother, other than introducing him to video games (she doesn’t have the addictive gene, so she doesn’t fully ‘get’ it).

She’s a storybook Mom. She’s the kind of Mom who turns out future great men and women, leaders, titans. She reads to him, spells with him, plays board games and does crafts with him, answers “What?” a thousand times per conversation in answer to the incessant “And-you-know-what?”s he peppers his chatter with at this moment in his development; in short, everything I don’t have the patience to do.

And her degrees, the whole handful of them, are only tangentially related to the subject she is teaching now. She goes to work every day and learns that day’s lesson before she walks across the street to the classroom and teaches it to a roomful of college students. (In case you are reading this and are a colleague or boss of hers, I totally just made-up that last part, okay?)

And no matter how old I get, she stays 13 years younger than me, day in, day out.

She got us out of a state drowning in a financial crisis to a state whose financial crisis might not be fully upon it for up to years from now. [insert smiley-face emoticon] Lots of stuff could happen between now and then.

Mostly, I am grateful that she still puts up with me. For the first time in my life, after six months of horizon-to-horizon gray clouds, gloomy weather is producing a gloomy Fang. I used to eat crappy weather for breakfast … mainly because it always burned away to a beautiful beach sunshine by noon, but we’re not looking back any more.

We’re looking forward. I’m looking forward to growing old with her, and she always remaining a much-younger babe. She looks better today than the day we met and has ten times the skills. It’s like I married Diana Prince and got Wonder Woman, too.

The Boy has inherited her even temperament, her laser-like focus, her artistic bent, her skill with language (“And-you-know-what?”s-aside)… and he might not even be here had I been left to my own ignorant, selfish devices. In reparation for that unforgivable lapse in judgment, I have given him Johnny Cash, super-heroes and a 5-year-old head that looks good in a grown-man’s hat.

I wish I had a proper god to believe in, so I could thank Him or Her or It or Them, for The Missus daily. … okay, full disclosure, not every day. Some days my conversations with our invisible overlords would probably—do—take on thornier topics and a darker tone. Come to think of it, I should probably be grateful she puts up with that, too.

In the end, Mrs. Dr. Bastardson always makes the good days better, and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of mine with her for better or for worse, richer, poorer, the whole nine.

As long as she’ll have me, I’ll continue to be proud to be her Anchor Husband™.

PS: Happy birthday, Sweetie! I love you.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

He and me

One of The Boy’s friends at school drew this picture of me and The Boy. I have to say, I haven’t looked this good since I was in college. Thanks, Nic!