Monthly Archives: November 2011

How do you spell (and define) “bimbo”?…

Jon Huntsman is officially off my Christmas Card list.

Commenting on Herman Cain’s calvacade of scandals, the presidential candidate (yeah, really, he’s still in the race) told the Boston Herald that “We’ve got real issues to talk about, not the latest bimbo eruption.”

What the hell is that?

Here’s a real issue, for you, Mr. Huntsman: Why don’t we discuss the casual disregard for women you display by throwing around the word “bimbo” like you’re someone’s 90-year-old grandmother using the word “colored.” “Oh, what? They don’t like to be called that anymore? It’s so hard to keep up. I liked that Nat King Cole, though. He was a good one.”

Checking the dictionary, “bimbo” is defined as “a generalized term of disapproval especially for an attractive but vacuous person” or, more offensively, a “tramp.”

So, who are these bimbos erupting from Cain’s now practically dormant volcano?

Sorry, Jon, no bimbos there, either.

The Huffington Post kindly provided a slideshow of Cain’s accusers. First up is Karen Kraushaar, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, who “was an employee at the National Restaurant Association during the time Cain was head of the group.” OK, nothing particularly bimboic about that. The second woman remains anonymous —  The Huffington Post curiously chose to depict her using the image of what appears to be a thinly disguised Portia de Rossi — but we do know she that she also worked at the National Restaurant Association and is currently employed at a New Jersey lobbying firm. No bimbo readings there.

We know little about the third accuser, other than her having worked at the National Restaurant Association and charging Cain “with making sexually suggestive remarks and gestures, even inviting her to his corporate apartment for a private visit. She described his behavior as aggressive and inappropriate, similar to the claims made by the previous accusers.” I tend to err on “innocent until proven bimbo” so let’s move on to the fourth woman, Sharon Bialek, a professional woman and mother, who was the first to make a public statement and whose treatment by Cain’s camp and the conservative media arguably initiated the trickle-down creepiness that led Ginger White to come forward this week.

It’s possible Huntsman was confused by the smear job the Cain people put out on these women, which attempted to paint them as modern-day Evelyn Nesbits. Maybe he was just referring to Ginger White, the only one of the party of five to state that a consensual sexual relationship took place, rather than sexual harassment and sexual assault. It might be a little judgmental to call an Atlanta businesswoman a “bimbo” just because she had an extramarital affair, but I’m sure that’s the same pejorative used for Congressmen who troll for women on the Internet or who dress up in tiger suits when not fooling around with the teenage daughter of campaign donors. What? No? Well, that’s peculiar.

Huntsman is not even capable of original insults. “Bimbo eruption” dates back to the 1992 presidential campaign when political consultant Betsey Wright used it to describe the inconvenient women with whom Bill Clinton most likely had sex. I’m sure Ms. Wright is awfully proud of the mark she’s made in history and for women’s rights.

Sorry, Jon, I tried to find these “bimbos” for you but no luck. If it’s any consolation, I do know where to find a big jerk.



Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Political Theatre, Social Commentary


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The “Anyone But Romney” Sweepstakes…

The “Anyone But Romney” Sweepstakes…

If Herman Cain’s presidential campaign collapses under the weight of multiple sex scandals — similar to the effect of piling topping after topping on a thin crust pizza, it appears that Newt Gingrich is the likely beneficiary in the “Anyone But Romney” sweepstakes.

It must be hard for Romney. He’s clearly the guy but no one is all that excited about it. Democrats are afraid he might win, and even Republicans are afraid he might win. There’s a collective resignation about his inevitability. He’s the Greg Kinnear/Bill Pullman character in the romantic comedy, and the GOP is Meg Ryan, desperately waiting for Tom Hanks to show up and sweep her off her feet.

Alas,politics is just as disappointing as romance in the real world — your Tom Hanks turns out to be Rick Perry, who has grand plans of turning Congress into a part-time job (which, logically, would ensure that only the wealthy could afford to do it) but that plan is stymied by his not seeming to understand what the legal voting age is.

But even Tom Hanks made “Joe Versus the Volcano.” Let’s toss Perry into one and move onto the next possibility — Herman Cain. Sure, he’s less Hanks and more Denzel Washington but he’s still not Romney.

Mr. Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, does not follow any of the traditional rules of presidential politics. He has no political experience. His campaign has raised almost no money and as a result has virtually no staff or infrastructure. And Mr. Cain appears to make few of the tactical calculations that drive most presidential campaigns.

OK, he doesn’t look that good on paper, but you know who does look good on paper? Romney, and we don’t like him. This is simple deductive reasoning. So, Cain’s an unconventional candidate — what could go wrong?

Hmmm, so on reflection, Cain might be less Denzel Washington and more George Jefferson.

This brings us to Newt Gingrich. I don’t blame you if you’re confused. The non-Romney front runners in the GOP race are harder to keep track of than the current best friend of a teenage girl.

Gingrich might seem an implausible choice — no “yesterday’s news” candidate has successfully claimed the White House since Richard Nixon in1968. Although his opponents in the primary have positioned themselves as outsiders to the Washington establishment, Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House. His primary business experience, which is Cain and Romney’s selling point, is receiving $30,000 per hour from Freddie Mac for advice (that sounds like a lot but Freddie Mac paid Ann Landers $50,000 an hour for advice regarding the least offensive way of turning down your mother-in-law’s yam bread). Gingrich is also not a particularly fresh candidate: If elected, he’ll turn 70 during his first year in office, which means he’ll only have time to remarry twice at most before he retires.

However, GOP primary voters might be weary of the “Snow White” remake the race has turned into with Dopey, Crazy, Horny, and Doc. Gingrich has no surprises. He’s already had his sex scandal, which is important to get out of the way early — like chicken pox. We also know how the Democrats would receive a Gingrich presidency, based on how they lamented his departure in 1998:

“We are mourning the loss of having Newt to kick around anymore,” said one White House adviser who did not want to be named. “Newt Gingrich literally was the best thing the Democratic Party has had going for it since 1994. . . . If anything, there’s total depression on my side of the fence.”

Yes, the GOP is settling. It’s a great ploy — one Kinnear or Pullman should have tried in those movies. Safe Guy No. 2 comes in and grabs Ryan away from Safe Guy No. 1 before dreamboat shows up. Could Gingrich, who left D.C. in disgrace more than a decade ago — banished to his high-paying private sector Elba, return to the White House in triumph? Of course not. What, are you high? It’s totally going to be Romney, as Nate Silver, who has a brain in his head, correctly points out:

This year, however, a candidate like Mitt Romney would have more time to regroup after an early setback. I’m not just picking Mr. Romney’s name out of a hat. It seems that the candidate who could benefit the most is one who had stronger “fundamentals,” like fund-raising, campaign infrastructure and institutional support, which could potentially outlast transient swings in polling. That describes Mr. Romney better than it does someone like Mr. Gingrich, who does not perform well in these areas.

So, the guy everyone suspects is a secret Democrat (arguably a step-up from secret Muslim socialist) wins the nomination and perhaps selects a Vice Presidential candidate who appeals to the base. If he repeats the McCain Mishap of someone like Sarah Palin, he’s toast. If he selects a charismatic empty suit like John Kerry did with John Edwards, he’s burnt toast. He could look to Ronald Reagan, who chose George H. W. Bush as his running mate in 1980 partly because of Bush’s international experience and ability to appeal to the political center. That center doesn’t really exist anymore, so Romney would need to flip the scenario and select someone with D.C. experience and who appeals to the party’s base, which brings us back to Gingrich.

I guess I’ll go dust off my mid-90s Gingrich material. Some of that stuff was gold.


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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Political Theatre


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Does it matter if she’s black or white?…

Does it matter if she’s black or white?…

When the first sexual harassment accusations against Herman Cain emerged, there was some quiet discussion of whether the women were “white, black, Puerto Rican, everybody just a freakin'” (oh, sorry, I’m listening to Prince’s “Uptown” as I write this). Cain had maintained solid popularity among Tea Party conservatives and this was a potential acid test. Would his more conservative followers still support him if he’d violated a centuries-old taboo?

Then Sharon Bialek came forward and put a very visible blonde face to the matter. This was in a weird way a watershed moment: If Bialek had accused Cain of similar acts back during the early ’60s when he was busy watching “Dobie Gillis” rather than actually participating in the Civil Rights Movement, it could have cost him his life in a very literal, decidely non-high-tech lynching. There’d be no question of his accuser’s background, as Bialek experienced today. However, thanks to healthy does of liberal activism from the likes of people Cain’s strongest supporters mostly detest (Martin Luther King, Jr, Thurgood Marshall, and so on), Cain was spared The Scottsboro Boys treatment and was free to paint Bialek as a broke-ass tool of the liberal elite, which I guess is also sort of The Scottsboro Boys treatment. Oh well, the score now stands at Black Conservative Men (I’m including Clarence Thomas in this calculation): 2, Women: 0. I can see one, lone tear running down Gloria Steinem’s cheek.

Yesterday, Ginger White (an almost Faulkneran name — kind of like Goodhue Coldfield) sought to shock the Black Conservatives at home and prevent a threepeat. She stated that she’d been involved in a 13-year-long affair with Cain, which did not simply involve meeting to play checkers in his hotel room.

She says… he would fly her to cities where he was speaking and he lavished her with gifts. She says they often stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead and dined at The Four Seasons restaurant. She says he never harassed her, never treated her poorly, and was the same man you see on the campaign trail.

This is also somewhat impressive if true: Cain openly courting a white businesswoman in the ritzier sections of Atlanta. That’s a far different Atlanta than the one I remember growing up during the 1980s, but perhaps my memory is a tad exaggerated.

Wait, though, this is assuming White is actually, you know… white. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but while we’re all here talking, her complexion is sort of similar to an aunt of mine. She’s got the Halle Berry haircut from 2003. All I’m saying is that a convincing case could be made.

Obviously, it doesn’t matter. Michael Jackson settled this issue definitively in 1991 — if you’re non-threatening and well-connected enough, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.


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Herman Cain’s Triple Threat…

Herman Cain’s Triple Threat…

I’d mentioned before that it wasn’t a wise (and certainly not honorable) move on Herman Cain’s part to personally attack the women who claimed he had sexually harassed them. It would have been far more presidential to just deny the allegations rather than point out how one of the accusers had an overdue library book in 1977 or the other danced too close to a boy during a Richard Marx song at the junior high spring formal.

If Ginger White’s revelation of a 13-year affair with Cain proves his undoing, he’ll have no one to blame but his own bullying and intimidation tactics.

White (said) that she was a reluctant accuser who decided to go public only after her name was circulated among reporters. But she also said she was upset by Cain’s responses to the sexual harassment allegations from two women who have been identified publicly.

“It bothered me that they were being demonized, sort of, or were being treated as if they were automatically lying and the burden of proof is on them,” White said…

“I wanted to come out and give my side before it was thrown out there and made to be something, you know, filthy, which some people will look at this and say, that’s exactly what it is…”

I’m not sure how her preemptively coming forward benefits her, but it certainly doesn’t help Cain. The Atlanta businesswoman claims their relationship began in the late 1990s when Cain met her at a National Restaurant Association presentation. That group is proving more dangerous for women than the National Rifle Association. I never even heard of it prior to these allegations against Cain, so I’m not convinced it’s not just a dummy organization Cain invented to meet women and keep his wife off the trail.

So far, Cain’s been accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and now an apparently consensual adulterous relationship. If true, Cain is a triple-threat of bad behavior — sort of like J. Lo but just low. Andrew Sullivan correctly points out that the media has unfortunately blurred the three — treating them all as one amorphously salacious allegation. There’s even the standard unveiling of the new accuser’s past. The following is from Fox 5 Atlanta:

Before our interview, we checked into Ginger White’s background. We found she filed a sexual harassment claim against an employer in 2001. That case was settled.

We also found a bankruptcy filing nearly 23 years ago in Kentucky, and a number of eviction notices here in DeKalb County over the past six years. The most recent happened this month.

We also found a lawsuit filed by a former business partner, Kimberly Vay, who once sought a “stalking temporary protective order” against Ms. White for “repeated e-mails/texts threatening lawsuit and defamation of character.” The case was dismissed; but was followed by a libel lawsuit against Ms. White. A judge entered an order in favor of Kimberly Vay because Ms. White failed to respond to the lawsuit.

I don’t agree with picking apart the background of women coming forward with sexual harassment claims — rather than, you know, investigating the actual merit of the claims themselves — because it seems to me to reward bad actors who pick their victims well (“Impoverished and unstable? Check and double check!”). Employers would certainly have access to such information if they wanted. It gives them the perfect alibi of “see, she’s crazy!”

It also makes no sense whatsoever in Ginger White’s case. She’s the only one of the women who is actually confessing to bad behavior. Does anyone seriously expect a squeaky clean history from a woman who knowingly engaged in a 13-year affair with a married man? “Ahh, Ms. White, so you were a nun for a few years in the ’60s. Did a lot of flying, I see.”

Now, it looks like Cain is “reassessing his campaign.” Yesterday, he claimed he was remaining in the race “as long as he has the support of his wife.” If he does wind up dropping out, this would prove an unfortunate (though perhaps still accurate) statement to have made. I’d also be interested as to his reasoning behind exiting if it occurs. Precedent would show that he’s likely to blame the “Democrat machine” and play the martyr who is protecting his family from further false claims by those desperate to prevent a Cain presidency.

Ultimately, Cain’s silver bullet would be a sex scandal rather than sexual harassment. The latter being the only thing actually relevant to his ability to govern. I’d be happy to put a hound back in the White House if it got us the economy of the ’90s again.

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Political Theatre


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Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): Gifts from Christmas Past…

Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): Gifts from Christmas Past…

I received the following gift from my friend Robert for Christmas 1997:

The Silver Age of Superman: The Greatest Covers of Action Comics from the ’50s to the ’70s

This is an invaluable collection of pop-art from my favorite period of comics. When I think of Superman, I think of the comics published in the 1960s through the early 1970s. I regularly raided the back issue bins of comic book stores for issues from this vintage. They were barely 20 years old at the time but still seemed to provide a glimpse into another, simpler world. The stories burst with unrestrained imagination. There were literally no limit as to what could happen.

This is why I defend the old “Superfriends” series — specifically the Legion of Doom season. I think it reflects the fun and, yes, goofiness of the period, and I’ll always choose charmingly goofy over unintentionally goofy (e.g. The Joker in bad KISS make-up in “The Dark Knight”).

“The Silver Age of Superman” collection is less about the stories between the covers but the covers themselves. Unfortunately, superhero covers are a lost art — replaced by in my opinion dull pin-up covers that you could slap on any old story in which Norman Osborn bangs Gwen Stacy (yeah, that happened). They don’t compel you to save your pennies or plead with your parents for the spare change to buy the issue. They told more of a story in just one page than many comics today do over the course of a trade paperback.

A critical component of my childhood was a library copy, checked out once a month for about three years, of “Superman: From the ’30s to the ’70s” (just discovered on Amazon and purchased as I write this). Stories from each decade were introduced with a color cover gallery. The covers from the ’60s and ’70s period (very early ’70s as this book was released in 1971) were imprinted in my brain and served as the checklist for my back-issue hunts. I had to know whether Superman’s son was “man or beast” and what exactly was the “secret of the wheelchair Superman.”

I didn’t actually track down the “Secret of the Wheelchair Superman” issue (“Action Comics” No. 397) until my early 20s — by then it had an unfortunate association due to Christopher Reeve’s recent acciden. When my friend Robert finished reading it, he announced, “Now, that I know the secret of the wheelchair Superman, I can leave! I’ve actually got Brainiac in the trunk. He’ll pay through the nose for it.”

“The Silver Age of Superman” had dozens more covers than “Superman: From the ’30s to the ’70s.” Most of them I own either through acquisition of the originals or the recent black-and-white “Showcase” trade paperbacks. One I do not own, which frustratingly enough, is also my favorite cover <Muhammad Ali voice>of all time</Muhammad Ali voice> is actually not a Silver Age comic. Technically, Superman’s “Silver Age” period began in 1958 with the publication of “Action Comics” No. 242 (“The Super-Duel in Space,” which is also the first appearance of the villain Brainiac). My white whale was published just a few months earlier in April (“Action Comics” No. 239 — “Superman’s New Face”).

As you can see, the cover features a reporter interviewing Superman, whose face is covered in bandages, and demanding that he “admit that the reason you are wearing that mask is because you now resemble the alien in this sketch!”

Superman’s only response is a terse, “No comment!” This also recalls a 1951 episode of “The Adventures of Superman” (“The Human Bomb”) in which Superman, for reason I won’t reveal here, repeatedly states, “No comment until the time limit is up!” (It apparently resonated with Larry David, as well.)

I had to know the secret of Superman’s “new face” but I could never find the issue, and because it just misses the Silver Age starting point, it wasn’t reprinted in the first Silver Age Superman Showcase collection. (I see it’s on sale online for $40 but that’s hard to justify.)

But ultimately it doesn’t matter because the cover stands on its own. It represents everything I love about the period. The story could be great. It could be lousy (sadly many didn’t live up to the promise of their covers). But I can’t imagine my life without this cover. I even think Robert and I discussed wearing the bandage-mask at my wedding but that’s the sort of thing that gets vetoed quick. Few brides enjoy having their groom intone, “No comment!” when asked the key question during the ceremony.

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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Pop Life


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Slate: How The Fed’s Generosity Made $13 Billion For America’s Biggest Banks…

If you’re wondering what the Occupy movement is about, this article from Slate gives you some indirect background.

As Mark Evanier puts it: “Basically, the Fed did everything in its power to help big banks get bigger and to not suffer when they took risks that didn’t pay off. Wish someone would do that for me.”

But no one will. The government will let the bank foreclose on your home because you shouldn’t have been stupid enough to take a crap loan. The government won’t even extend your unemployment benefits.

It’s unfortunate that the public does not fully grasp that not only are corporations “people” in the government’s eyes, they’re riding in the front of the bus.

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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Capitalism


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Turn on the Cash: After a Year, ‘Spider-Man’ Earns Its Weekly Keep…

My friend Mark and I saw “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” at its first preview performance a year ago. Aside from the widely reported technical difficulties — Act I ended prematurely with Spider-Man hanging out rather pathetically above the audience — the production itself lacked narrative coherence, logical characterization, oh.. and an ending. It was like reading the Clone Saga back in the ’90s while listening to U2 but less enjoyable.

A year later, has the “Spider-Man” musical joined the ranks of “Lestat” and “Carrie” as theatrical abominations remembered only by theater geeks like myself who reference the ill-fated productions as punchlines?

No, apparently, it’s a hit — pulling in as much as $300K per week and a record-breaking $2,070,195.60 this past week. And all despite cast members suffering near crippling injuries, despite at-first comical and then-infuriating delays of its official opening, despite replacing its director Julie Taymor with a below average 8 year old child (actually, that was probably an improvement), despite Bono and the Edge finding some more random songs between their couch cushions that failed to advance the plot — people kept coming. Perhaps just to say they did or maybe just to make fun of whatever was happening on stage. Basically, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” became the theatrical equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest and seeing a very expensive midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

You might wonder why I sound a bit peeved. After all, shouldn’t it please me that any Broadway musical is drawing audiences away from their HDTVs?

Well, I also saw another show the same week of the first “Spider-Man” preview. It was Kander and Ebb’s “The Scottsboro Boys” — a brilliant, challenging, thoroughly entertaining production that promptly closed on December 12, 2010. I concede that the timing is coincidental and “The Scottsboro Boys” and “Spider-Man” are essentially apples and oranges. Comic book heroes will always be more popular than tough explorations of the United States’ history of racism. But even if you believed an apple would go down easier than an orange, would you really choose a clearly rotten apple over the orange? Why did people go to see a show the knew was awful? If I’m generous, I can say that the show wasn’t awful, it was just being “refined.” However, how many of you would blow $200 for dinner at a restaurant where the chef is still figuring out the recipes?

What’s worse is that the producers of “Spider-Man” are not chastened by the bumpy road the show was on this past year. No, the free publicity the show received in the media as a result of its incompetence was far greater than what it would have received otherwise.

But now they are barreling ahead with the radio promotions and overtures to foreign news media, while focusing particularly on the idea of the current director, Philip William McKinley, to add material. “I want to tap the comic book roots and do a whole new issue of the show,” Mr. McKinley said. “A ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Issue 2012.’ And then ‘Issue 2013.’ ”

Mr. McKinley is confused. Spider-Man’s comic book roots were brilliantly conceived stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko that arrived on time each month without maiming anyone in the Marvel bullpen. What’s actually inspiring Mr. McKinley is the variant-cover, multiple “first issue,” gimmick after intelligence-insulting gimmick speculator boom that destroyed the comic book industry. I repeat: Destroyed. The. Comic. Book. Industry.

Now Mr. McKinley and his army of P.T. Barnums can bring such well-regarded business practices to Broadway.

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Pop Life


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African-American Atheists –…

Emily Brennan wrote a piece in the Sunday Times about African-American Atheists. I was pleased to see blacks finally make the Sunday Styles section, though I didn’t know atheism was necessarily fashionable like a new speakeasy bar in the East Village or a new Stella McCartney collection. However, Stella’s dad did write “Ebony and Ivory” so maybe there’s a connection.

Jamila Bey, a 35-year-old journalist, said, “To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black.”

If being an atheist means I’m really “not black,” then I need to start carrying my copy of Nietzsche’s “The Antichrist” in my car in case I’m ever pulled over by the police.

She said the story the nation tells of African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights is a Christian one, so African-Americans who reject religion are seen as turning their backs on their history.

Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. was Christian, but Malcolm X was Muslim. Once the U.S.  as a whole combats terrorism and other perceived threats to its security by holding hands and singing, “We Shall Overcome,” I’ll know that it’s truly a Christian nation rather than actually a Roman one with pagan worship of multiple gods, such as Real Estate, Silverware, Football, Automobiles, and Facebook.

As Nietzsche argued, Christianity promotes slave morality — the belief that this world is not the real one but just an audition for the after life. Christianity was thus the narcotic that anesthetized generations of slaves in the Southern United States.

When I was a child, I read a lot about religion. I was fascinated by the literary aspects of the Bible but in the same way that I enjoyed Greek and Roman mythology. I never once believed any of it. I did contemplate the Deist idea of the Clockmaker God, who set the universe in motion and then moved on to something else, maybe retired in Florida. Presumably, he would return at some point and to his alarm discover that the dinosaurs had been replaced by tax attorneys and reality TV stars.

Brennan makes the comparison between black atheism and homosexuality (though she doesn’t make the obvious connection between homosexuality and black choir directors). It is a challenge to “come out” as either an atheist or a homosexual in the black community, and in most instances, homosexuals are more easily accepted than  atheists (again, probably because of the need for good choir directors).

I would go further and say that atheism is just as much a choice — in that it’s not one — as homosexuality. Religious indoctrination deliberately occurs at an early age, when children will believe anything, no matter how objectively false, including The Tooth Fairy, Mom and Dad loving each other, and U.S. exceptionalism. I never bought it, just like a gay child sneaking a peek at “Playboy” with his friends and thinking, “I’ll pass.”

I distinctly recall sitting in church when I was about 8 or 9 and hearing an older member of the congregation speak about his idea of heaven: “Oh, when I get there, I don’t know what I’m gonna do first. Maybe I’ll just walk around for a while.” I remember thinking that he was crazy. He didn’t really believe he was going to die. He thought he would leave this world and move on to someplace far better. That’s not death. That’s like when I moved to New York after college. I had been consumed with thoughts of death at that age — a side effect of my mother being the youngest of 10, so funerals were a regular event  — and it appalled me to see that the solution my elders had for the conundrum of death was to pretend it didn’t happen.

There was no choice for me to believe. I couldn’t fake it. However, I never tormented over my non-belief in God — no more than I tormented over my non-belief in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work after “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Fortunately, my relatives believed it all so completely they never thought to ask me if I’d fallen for it, as well.

I’m not community minded, and I view families as a more intimate and unfortunately less avoidable form of communities. I am the quintessential society of one, so I can’t relate to the isolation the black atheists in Brennan’s article experienced within their family or within the black community at large. If I believe in anything, it’s what’s right in front of me: “A is A,” so I think it’s unfortunate to live life like James White, the Austin writer, who is an “outspoken critic of Christianity” but won’t “say explicitly he is an atheist” because it “would break my grandmother’s heart.”

Mr. White should consider “coming out of the closet” and living authentically. Besides, his grandmother will know the truth eventually when she’s wandering around heaven, waiting in line for Space Mountain, and doesn’t see him there.

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Social Commentary


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The Robinsons See Prince in Greenville, 1981…

The Robinsons See Prince in Greenville, 1981…

On November 25, 1981, my father was 33 and my mother was 29. That night, they did the coolest thing in their lives: They saw Prince in concert during his “Controversy” tour. This was back when he was still considered an R&B act and would play a relatively small venue like Greenville Memorial Auditorium, where I later graduated high school and where I once saw a rodeo (those were two separate events).

A month earlier, Prince opened for The Rolling Stones in Los Angeles. His “Rocky Horror” wardrobe and sexually androgynous lyrics was met with gay and racial slurs. The crowd was more receptive in Greenville.

I was 7 at the time so I was not at the concert. This means I cannot confirm my mother’s story that when the guy next to them offered her a joint, she declined.

Prince was theirs in 1981. He became mine in 1983 when I remember taping “Little Red Corvette” off the radio. Once that happened, they had to tone down their enthusiasm for Prince. They had to be parents and openly disapprove of “Darling Nikki” while silently jamming to “When Doves Cry.” Unlike Madonna and Annie, who they never got, my parents always dug Prince. My father still has his vinyl copy of the “Controversy” album, and the “Sign o’ the Times” double CD that’s in my collection is the one my parents bought in 1987. My first Christmas in New York, they sent me the just-released “Emancipation” CD.

There was a period in college when the three albums I listened to the most were “1999,” “Parade,” and “O->.” My mother, whose car stereo I’d hijack whenever I was back in Greenville, never complained. Once, after the 1,000th listening of “All the Critics Love U in New York,” she said, “He’s dirty, son. But he’s good.” That was high praise.

Greenville Memorial Auditorium was demolished in 1997. The BI-LO Center replaced it in 1998 and was the largest arena in South Carolina until 2002. Prince returned to Greenville to perform at the BI-LO Center in 2011 for his “Welcome 2 America” tour. If my mother were alive and my parents had gone to the show, they would have agreed he still has it.


Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Pop Life


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Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (Whether You Like It Or Not)…

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (Whether You Like It Or Not)…

When I was a kid, the idea of a rotund, bearded white man in a flamboyant costume breaking into my home in the middle of the night terrified me. I once dreamed that I woke up and saw Santa Claus — always sounding like Tim Curry from “It” in my imagination — standing over my bed staring at me. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” quickly took on a sinister connotation. Some kids thought clowns were scary, but that seemed silly to me. There were no recorded instances of home invasions related to red-nosed comedians.

Santa Claus had also gotten me into a great deal of trouble one year. My parents had concealed all my presents from “Santa” in the brilliant hiding place of the unlocked, hall closet next to the bathroom. I quickly stumbled upon them, which infuriated my mother. She told me that she was just “holding” those presents for Santa — it wasn’t guaranteed that they were mine. This struck me as the same suspicious arrangement Clemenza had with Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II.” In fact, I could have sworn I’d heard Santa pounding on my parents’ window the previous night, shouting, “Hey, you Italian? No? Uhm, do you like Italian food? Even frozen pizza would count. The cops are on my ass.”

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, my mother would call Santa if I did something wrong, which in the poor lady’s defense was quite often. “There’s no need to come to the Robinson house this year,” she’d say as anyone with a brain could hear the operator saying, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and…” I didn’t question why a simple homemaker in Greenville, SC would have a direct line to someone as powerful as Santa Claus. My mother had been homecoming queen in high school, so I assumed she was well-connected. Besides, I was delighted if Santa skipped my house. My aversion to him was practically driving me to juvenile delinquency. I did point out that Santa lived in the North Pole, and the expense of long distance calls was the rationale my mother often gave for not calling her out-of-town relatives. “Santa has a toll-free number,” she said. “And he gets to the point. Doesn’t ramble on like your aunts.”

The only people less enamored with Santa were the folks on the local gospel station my mother sometimes listened to when driving. They were unhappy with how Santa had stolen all the spotlight from Jesus. One ad had kids opening presents on Christmas morning and laughing as the sound of wrapping paper turned into the sound of crackling flames. The announcer intoned, “This holiday season, when getting all caught up in Santa Claus, just make sure you don’t get caught in Satan’s claws!”

Perhaps the crazy lady on the low-rated radio station had a point: Santa was an anagram for Satan. Santa wore a red suit. Santa wanted us to forget about Jesus on Christmas. Santa entered houses through the heat of the chimney. We even left an offering for him of milk and cookies — that doesn’t sound so sinister now but I was 8 and had just seen “Rosemary’s Baby,” which upon reflection was probably not great for the mental health of an 8 year old.

So, Santa was coming to collect. Was he was like the guys in “Pinocchio” who stuffed kids with candy and junk food so they would eventually become donkeys? Where did Santa get those reindeer? My mother had always said that no one did anything without wanting something in return, yet her cynicism had vanished when it came to the old man with the bag. Maybe she was in on it. I recall her insisting I go to bed that Christmas Eve and my screaming at her, “What did he pay you? What did he pay you?”

I tried to appeal to my father to let me stay up on Christmas Eve. “I know you’re excited, son,” he said, “But you have to go to bed before Santa comes.” “I’m not excited! I just don’t want to become a reindeer — Donner, Blitzen, the one who use to be the black kid. Besides, you let me stay up the night before Easter.” My father was silent for a moment before responding, “Well, that’s because the Easter Bunny comes late, well after you’re asleep. Santa likes to come early.”

I couldn’t help wondering why the Easter Bunny was so slack about his job. I pictured him in a bar the night before Easter, watching a game on the TV and drinking a beer. “Damn Braves! Always giving up runs!” The guy next to him would say, “Aren’t you the Easter Bunny?” “No, I’m the Energizer Bunny. Actually, that’s my little brother. He sold out, went Hollywood. Bought our mother a nice house just to rub my nose in it. Whatever. I’ve got a pension. I’m fine.” “But what are you still doing here? Tomorrow’s Easter.” “Really? Dammit, it’s so hard to keep straight. It’s a different time each year. That’s why Santa has it easy.”

Santa’s reign of terror ended when my 4th-grade teacher’s boyfriend dumped her shortly after Thanksgiving. When she came to class, she looked as if someone had scooped out her insides and just propped up the remaining shell at her desk. This one girl, Sonya, was already excited about Christmas and was jumping up and down in her seat talking about Santa. Our teacher looked at her with barely concealed contempt and sneered, “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus, Sonya. There’s no such thing as love, either. But you’ll learn that eventually.”

Sonya started to cry, but I leapt from my seat and moonwalked with delight, shouting, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” I ran home and exclaimed to my mother, “I’m free! There’s no Santa! I’m not getting turned into a reindeer.” “Who told you this?” she demanded. When I told her, she angrily picked up the phone, “I should have her job… but it’s Christmas, so I’ll let it go. But I am telling Santa about her.”

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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Social Commentary


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