Monday, October 28, 2013



Thursday, October 17, 2013

These friends of mine


Since the rise of the digital age, everybody but everybody can look forward to living forever in various pockets of the webiverse. One necessarily leaves a digital footprint in order to live today, if not in the world, certainly in the USA. You can’t do diddley-squat without filling out some damned form online or being directed to a website for more information, or making a phone call… or a real-life friend posts a picture of you on Facebook and a million ’bots the world over begin compiling data on your consumer habits and political tendencies.

If you’re reading this, congratulations. Hard drives everywhere are recording your visit for posterity.

I was thinking about a friend the other day who died maybe 25 years ago. Ray Luther was the first person I got to know after moving to Southern California as a young rube from Arizona. I’ve always tended to land somewhere and make a best friend at the new workplace, and meeting Ray followed along those lines. He worked in another department of the same printing company, and we hit it off immediately. He was a tall, lanky, unkempt mess, just like me. He wore tattered, dirty clothes, had long brown hair that he deliberately drooped over his eyes; the better to observe the world without actually having to interact unless he chose to, and then usually only to make a dry, spot-on observation or dirty joke.

He looked like a total hippie and was clearly fucked up most of the time (Disclaimer: everybody in that place at the time was on something. One guy lived out in his van in the parking lot with his huge dog and drank on the job and off, no problemo.). Ray was the exact kind of person to whom I’m always drawn, a fellow oddball misfit. Somebody else who had finally resigned themselves to just not fitting in and was trying to have some fun with it.

One time, after maybe a few weeks as the most junior flunky in the art department, Ray took me out to lunch and got me hammered. Sloppy, slurry drunk. I stumbled back into the office after an exceedingly long lunch break and my boss took me aside and gave me a tongue-lashing, a breath mint and a handful of some gruntwork to do. And a warning about being more discreet next time. Remember, it was the ’80s. People were still smoking at their desks for God’s sake, and this was in southern California. This boss is the same lady who would go on to introduce me to snortable speed, but that is a story for another time.

Ray and I had a grand old time together until he got sick. He was the first person I knew to jump on the Laserdisc bandwagon, and what a thrill it was to finally see movies at home in full widescreen format, with digital sound! It sounds funny now. Quaint even. But for about 10 minutes, it was The Shit.

Before he got sick himself, we had watched his partner David die slowly, horribly at home, Ray becoming a caregiver with startling grace and apparent ease. After a while, he began to become symptomatic himself. He didn’t even bother to take the AIDS test. As I have mentioned, Ray liked to party, and he and David had been together for years. If David had HIV—which was a death sentence in the ’80s—Ray knew he had it, too.

I went to his funeral. His friends filled the pews on one side of the church’s center aisle, and members of his family were seated here and there on the other side. After the obligatory churchy stuff that goes on when funerals are held in proper churches, people were asked to step forward to remember Ray. His friends came forward and told their Ray stories to what was becoming an unhappily familiar chorus of sniffles, sobs and laughter.

When the Ray’s-friends side of the church had finished remembering him, Ray’s brother hit the lectern and proceeded to expound at fiery length about the sin of homosexuality and how profoundly sad he was that he knew where Ray must be now ... HELL! Then he started calling on the homosexuals in attendance to renounce their sinful ways before it was too late for them, too. And he was not at all nice about it. Or succinct.

Had it been my call, and I almost made it my call anyway, I would have jumped up and beaten the bastards with their own stick. I don’t know chapter and verse, but I’m pretty good at the parts of the Bible that buttress my personal belief-system. His family deserved to be gob-smacked to silence, but I looked around at Ray’s friends and they sat there and took it all in stoically. I completely failed to comprehend their lack of outrage at the time, but understood that they obviously did not want their friend’s memorial disrupted by their side of the aisle, so I kept my mouth shut. But it boils me to this day.

And Ray would have loved it if I had thrown a monkey wrench into the affair. It would have created exactly the kind of anarchic chaos to which he was drawn. And his family had long-since disowned him anyhow, so fuck them. But his friends would have known all that stuff too, and had still made their decision not to rise to the bait. They valued Ray’s dignity way more than Ray did.

He was my friend and when I think about him, I miss him.

Something caused me to think about him the other day, and when you recall old friends in 2013, what do you do? You Google them. Check Facebook … the thought occurred to me reflexively, then I realized, he died just the other side of the cusp of the digital revolution. Having achieved nothing extraordinary or infamous in his life, his existence has gone virtually unnoticed, and will remain unremarked upon going forward.

He will never be ‘Liked’ by a complete stranger online nor have important emails redirected to his spam folder, screwing up his whole workday.

It got me to thinking, what about the wave of people who were wiped out just before the digital age? Mostly young men who perished in such numbers that after a while, that’s all they became to most people. Obituaries were replaced by statistics. And since these folks just missed having an online presence, they effectively became the last forgotten generation in a world come to revolve around and rely upon the online experience.

A lot of these guys who died in the mid-to-late ’80s were friends of mine and I don’t want to forget them. I don’t want them to be forgotten.

So here’s to you, Ray Luther. You now have a foot in the digital doorway; for better or worse, welcome to posterity.

Maybe next time I’ll write about Hans Kleinfeld, who once drawled to me, in his thick German accent, “Fang, you haf nothink to worry about. I like my men like I like my coffee; strong unt black.”

That guy definitely would have had a hell of a Twitter following.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Today's Miley: Keeping it classy

With arguably the most incompetent photographer in the world. Who did he have to twerk to get this gig...?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Is there grape Kool-Aid in your Tea Party?

Oh my God, they’ve shut down the government of the United States and some pompous blathermouth named Ted Cruz wants to be president of whatever’s left over.

I watched clips of the freshman Tea Party senator’s oratory masterpiece last week and couldn’t help but feel empathy for the long-winded man with the pained countenance. He reminded me of the sad clown who’d rather be cavorting with the lions and tigers in the center ring, but is stuck on the sidelines riding a tiny tricycle, throwing lollies to the tots instead.

I wonder if he’ll cheer up, poor fellow, now that he’s a household name?

On the down side, even the nice people at Fox News were pointing out that Sen. Cruz’s 21-hour soliloquy, unlike Texas Representative Wendy Davis’ profile-raising filibuster, didn’t serve any actual purpose. Due to arcane Senate rules, the budget vote was going to take place as-is when it took place, and Sen. Cruz would be required to yield the floor at that time anyhow.

It was either a flagrantly masturbatory display in which case the man needs our help, now; or he wants to be president.

Maybe I’m being too hard on him. Maybe it’s both.

But his... performance is just the latest example of the phenomenon I sat down to write about. Which is, much like witnessing the death of print in my lifetime, I never thought I’d live long enough to see America become a three-political-party country, but I believe it now.

I’m sure smarter people than I have written all about it, but Sen. Cruz’s self-congratulatory yakkathon put the differences between the Tea Party’s goals and the old-school GOP infrastructure in stark, irreconcilable relief.

The mainstream GOP wants to keep the lights on and the engines running as penuriously as possible, whereas the Tea Partiers believe the system the old-school legislators are trying to preserve is the dragon they came to DC to slay.

And cue the wackiness.

Despite educated busybodies from every hue of the political spectrum begging them to avert fiscal crisis and go about the job description they were elected to execute, the new Tea Party congressmen and women appear only vaguely curious to see what happens when the government they were hired to represent begins to fail to pay its bills.

My guess is, like most of the anti-government agitators I’ve met, the Tea Party legislators expect to continue suckling at the government’s teat even as they push it into the chute for a bolt to its brain, without giving much thought to what comes after.

[In the interest of equal time—and since I live in Idaho now—I must admit the Tea Partiers still compare favorably to their wan counterparts on the Left. The Occupiers and the Naderistas, because of their outdated appeal to the intelligence and/or heart of Americans at a point in history when we are a gut-based society, failed to coalesce the Left. They enjoyed their 15 minutes then slunk away, wiggling their fingers downward, tails between their legs. Visions of James Taylor records dancing in their heads.]

The Tea Party, however, came to play. And they brought some game. It’s some transparently short-sighted and counter-productive game, but credit where it’s due, they put fannies in seats of power in the nation’s capitol.

And now, these same insurrectionists who have pledged to eliminate the government are sitting at the head of many of the committees that oversee and fund that government.

Here is why various people in media, finance, as well as many of their fellow Republican legislators have recently referred to Tea Party representatives who keep attaching deal-breaking health care-killing amendments to the budget as hostage-takers or terrorists:

The Tea Partiers in the House were elected by their carefully gerrymandered districts back home specifically because they promised to go to DC and gunk up the works. They promised to bring Washington to its knees and as of today, it looks like they officially have. Embarking with the same stated goal as al Qaeda, the Tea Party has succeeded where Osama bin Laden failed.

I don’t see this as a ‘win’ for anybody except America’s enemies and debt-holders.

And the Democratic nominee in 2016.

With the The Tea Party caucus demolishing the hegemony of the old guard GOP, other than 40+ impotent votes to repeal Obamacare, Speaker Boehner can’t get a damned thing done. Despite arguments that the two political parties are cut from the same cloth—which in the macro is certainly true—there’s no mistaking Tea Party legislators for colluders... or for legislators, really. They came not to praise Washington, but to bury it and so far they’re right on schedule.

Assuming there is still a government to run by 2016, the Tea Party wing will be so emboldened by this manufactured crisis—and all the other ones they’re threatening to brew up between now and then—the GOP will either be in the throes of a brutal internecine bloodletting, or have split off into two entirely different political entities by then. Neither of which will have enough votes by themselves to win a national election, thus ceding the White House to the Democrats like Ross Perot’s candidacy did for Bill Clinton in 1992.

Can’t you just imagine nationally-televised three-way presidential debates between a frisky Democratic candidate, some mainstream GOP octagenarian and a stars-in-his-eyes Ted Cruz or Rand Paul?

They might as well just hand Hillary the cape and mitre now.