Chicken sandwiches, gay marriage, and freedom of speech


I wrote last week about Dan Cathy, CEO of fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, who made a big contribution to an anti-gay-marriage organization, and bragged about his morals as he did so. (He made a comment about “all of us here being on our first marriages,” which I think is pretty comical.) He and his company promptly got dumped upon, most publicly and most appropriately by the Henson Company, which broke ties with Chick-fil-A (Henson used to manufacture toys for their children’s meals).  The Hensons then contributed the money they’d received from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD, a prominent gay organization.



All of this I love.



The next part becomes more complex.



Leaders in four American cities – Denver, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago – have talked about forbidding the expansion of the Chick-fil-A chain in their cities. Is this okay? I’m not sure. I dislike homophobes and prudes, of course, but I can’t forbid them to own businesses, and I’m not sure if I can justify zoning them out of whole cities.  If they were openly flouting the law – refusing service based on sexual preference, or something like that – I might think differently.



This is the lovely thing about America. You can be as ridiculous as you like, and no one can really tell you to shut up about it. You can be against gay marriage, or women’s suffrage, or the Emancipation Proclamation if you like, and you can even put up big banners in your place of business announcing your political beliefs.



You’d just better be prepared to lose quite a bit of business.



To be sure, the homophobes are rallying around the chicken place. Mike Huckabee, the Christian zealot, and Rick Santorum, the animated sweater-vest, have encouraged other zealots and bigots to join them at Chick-fil-A on August 1, to show their “support.” (It’s like the Civil Rights Movement in reverse: lunch counter sit-ins to deny people their rights!) I also saw a lovely photo of Sarah and Todd “Secede From America” Palin picking up their chicken sandwiches and smiling pretty for the camera. (CNN played Pink’s song “Stupid Girls” as background as they relayed the story. Excellent commentary.)



The natural response for the gay and gay-friendly communities is to boycott Chick-fil-A. Some organizers, more interestingly, are organizing “Gay Day at Chick-fil-A,” to be held on the same day as the Huckabee/Santorum hate rally. This will create, um, an interesting dynamic.



Myself, I’m with the boycotters. This will be easy for me, because there are no Chick-fil-A franchises in Rhode Island.



(I was never much for chicken sandwiches, anyway. I’m more of a burger queen.)



Theater review: “Timeshare,” at Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep


Partner and I saw the last play in the Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep series, “Timeshare,” on Saturday night.



I love a good farce. I have a very childish sense of humor; I love it when people run in and out of rooms, and scream, and dress in ridiculous outfits, and hide inside coffee tables. (Of course, it has to be done well.  Silly is good; stupid is quite another thing.) Also, you need actors with good timing, who can scream, and cajole, and wheedle, and make funny faces, and do long ridiculous takes.



We were fortunate to have pretty much all of the above on Saturday night.



This is a traditional mixed-up family comedy: everyone (mother, father, married daughter + husband, unmarried daughter + boyfriend) shows up at the mountain cabin on the same weekend. Misunderstandings ensue. Two engagement rings are hidden, misplaced, given to the wrong recipients.



As in all good farce, there is a happy ending.



I especially liked the use – and subtle subversion – of stereotypes. There’s an unbearable Jewish mother, who turns out to be a convert. The whiny emasculated Jewish dad is also a stoner. The handsome black boyfriend (a shaygetz if I ever saw one) is Jewish. The banker son-in-law is as dumb as a bag of hammers.



All in all: nicely done.



(This is a brand-new play, and a very nice one. It takes a teeny bit too long to set the scene in the first act; I think we could have met the characters more speedily. I kept wanting it to be funny during the first few scenes, but it felt sitcom-watery. Once all six of the characters were introduced, however, the fun began in earnest, and there were few dull moments after that.)



I give high marks to three of the performers: Mark Cohen, the father; Anne Nichols, the mother; and Ben Chase, the goofily stupid/charming son-in-law. (He was my favorite: he’s tall and lanky, with an expressive face and a voice that goes from cornball to Yalie to falsetto seamlessly. We got a lot of laughs out of him.)



From “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”:



No royal curse, no Trojan horse –

And a happy ending, of course.

What is the moral? Must be a moral . . .

Here is the moral, wrong or right:

Tragedy tomorrow – comedy tonight!


For Sunday: A shelf cloud over a 7-11 in Norfolk, Virginia


We have had all kinds of crazy weather here on the East Coast over the last few weeks.



Here is a wonderful video from YouTube, from Norfolk, Virginia, of a rare “shelf cloud.” This is a subtype of “arcus cloud,” just in case you’re wondering. (Look it up on Wikipedia, or buy yourself a copy of the very entertaining and informative “Cloudspotter’s Guide.” I have a copy. I like clouds.)



(Note: the language in this video is not terribly proper, so if you’re sensitive to casual obscenity, handle with care.)



But the camerawork is masterful. And the cloud is beautiful.



No one thinks old people are funny


Apollonia and I were laughing ourselves sick the other day, trying to remember that stupid song that Strawberry Alarm Clock sang back in the 1960s.  “O god,” she croaked.  “I just thought of another one.  Remember Question Mark and the Mysterians?”



“O god,” I groaned.  “What did they sing?”



She Googled it quick as a flash. “’96 Tears,’” she said, and we began hooting with laughter again.  I started to sing: “’I’m gonna cry, cry-cry-cry – “



Suddenly Apollonia stopped laughing and became almost solemn.  “Have you noticed,” she said, “that we just kill one another?”



“No kidding,” I said, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. “We’re both hysterical.”



“And have you noticed,” she said, “that no one else laughs when we tell our little amusing stories?  Everyone gets very quiet.  They wait for us to calm down.”



“So they don’t get the jokes,” I said. “To hell with them.”  (Actually I didn’t say “To hell with them.”  I was far ruder, if you see what I mean.)



She smiled.  “Yeah,” she said.  “To hell with them.”  (She also used the ruder expression.)



It’s a privilege you gain as you get older: the right to laugh yourself silly over stupid things that kids just don’t understand.  They just haven’t lived long enough.



They’ll figure it out, if they live long enough.



In the meantime: to hell with them!



Listen to the mockingbird


Sometimes, on weekend mornings in spring and summer, when the windows are open, I lie in bed and listen to the birds outside: repeated notes, strange sliding calls, Morse-code beeping, alien whoops. 



I can recognize a crow.  Bluejays have a distinctive hoarse call, and I know the rusty-screen-door screech of a cardinal.  I know the scream of a hawk; believe it or not, there are hawks here in Rhode Island too. 



And I know the mockingbird.



I didn’t at first.  Then, one day, sitting in a folding chair in a local park, reading a book, I was absent-mindedly listening to a bird singing in a nearby tree.  It went on and on.  It was pretty, in a way, but it had no continuity.  It’d tweet a few times, and then warble, and then do sharp repeated notes, and then peep, and then coo.  It never let up.  It went on for twenty minutes, and never repeated itself once.



It was like reading a story with the pages scrambled. 



This is the mockingbird’s survival strategy.  A lot of birds sing to mark territory: Get out of here! This is my turf!  The mockingbird memorizes every birdsong it hears, and plays them all back in an endless random loop, and keeps all the other birds away, some through challenge, some through confusion.



And then it has all the delicious bugs in the neighborhood to itself. 



Mockingbirds are good at their work.  I heard one imitate the caw of a crow once.  Citydwellers have reported hearing them do the beep-beep-beep of a vehicle backing up.




They are dismal-looking, dull-colored, nondescript.  They perch high up in the branches, or on the tops of telephone poles, or on traffic lights, above the action, looking down.  I’m sure it’s to ensure maximum coverage.



They drive me mad. 



I really sympathize with the other birds, who must really hate them. 



In “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Atticus tells Scout and her brother that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, because it just sits in its tree and sings all day long.  And what’s wrong with that?



Oh, Atticus.  I wish you were here right now. I could explain it all to you. 



And then I would eradicate all the mockingbirds.



Scowling all the way


I come from a long line of scowlers. My maternal grandmother had a scowl that could peel paint (see above, scowling over her birthday cake). My uncle Primo (who wasn’t a bad-looking bloke) ranged between a frown and a scowl most days. Grandma’s father, whom I never met, had one of those melancholy Polish faces that seemed to be set permanently on “unhappy.”



This is fine with me.



I stick to the scowl as much as I can. It keeps people off-guard. I work with people who are grinny and cheerful all the time; some of them can’t say “Good morning” without giggling. I abominate this. I have worked for years on my scowl and glare, and I have it almost right; it’s nearly at Grandma intensity, and (if I live long enough) I may get it up to an even higher power level.



There have been times when I think we’re one of those families who have the gift: the Evil Eye, the malocchio. We can blight your cattle and stunt your children and make your well run dry with a single glance.



You think that’s silly? Here’s a testimonial.



A few weeks ago, as I’ve already written, Partner and I were at a play at Brown. There were two clueless women sitting behind us, passing a bag of potato chips back and forth. I turned and gave them The Scowl, and it silenced them (mostly).



A few days later, I received this email from Joe Zarrow, who wrote the play we saw that night:





I was, as playwrights tend to do, googling around for review quotes I could pull on Principal Principle when I came across your blog. Thanks for your thoughtful review, but extra double thanks for getting those women with the potato chips to be quiet. I was glaring at them impotently from one of the other seating sections, and I totally saw you turn around and give them the evil eye. You are a hero.







Moral: don’t belittle the evil eye. It has its uses.





Sally Ride, gay marriage, the Muppets, and Chick-fil-A

I was saddened when I read that Sally Ride, first American woman in space, passed away a few days ago. She was a role model, certainly; back in 1983, science and engineering were still distinctly woman-unfriendly disciplines. (The Russians had Valentina Tereshkova all those decades ago, but never really closed the gender gap.)



Astronauts were never really my heroes. They were too bland. When I was a kid in the 1960s, I used to be irritated when all those Gemini missions kept preempting my favorite programs. And then – these guys went into space, and came back, and never had anything interesting to say!



Then, the other day, I learned that Sally was in a relationship with a woman, Tam O’Shaughnessy, for the last 27 years of her life.



Now I’m interested.



The astronaut business was intensely macho. The original astronauts – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo – were mostly test pilots and Air Force hotshots, and most of them were insufferable boors. (My favorite reference text on this subject is Michael Collins’s lovely book “Carrying the Fire,” about his own time as an astronaut. He was the guy who circled the moon back in 1969 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were traipsing around in the Sea of Tranquility.  He describes the psychological tests, and the physical training, and the sometimes-not-very-friendly sparring between the astronauts.)




Now: imagine being Sally Ride, competing in that macho environment.



I would have wilted in five seconds under that pressure. In the words of Tony Kushner, daisies would have sprouted out of my ears.



But Sally made it. She even married (for a few years in the 1980s) one of the other astronauts, Steve Hawley, who seems nice enough.



But she ended up with Tam O’Shaughnessy, who lived with her for over two decades, and worked with her, and co-authored several books with her, and was with her through her final illness



Bravo to her.



And what does Tam get?



Why, nothing! No death benefits. The U. S. Gummint don’t recognize non-traditional relationships.



(Mitt Romney recently posted a fatuous/obvious comment on Twitter about Sally being a “pioneer.” Here’s how that went:)





Which brings me to Chick-fil-A.



We don’t have this particular chain in Rhode Island, thank goodness. I say “thank goodness” because Dan Cathy, the company’s CEO, recently made a large donation to an anti-gay-marriage cause, and made some nasty comments to accompany his contribution.



The Jim Henson Company, which made toys for Chick-fil-A’s kids’ meals, broke with them over this. They made a wonderful statement about it, and they gave the money they’d earned from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD, a gay organization.



Tee hee!



And here’s a pictorial version of the victory:






All of this means we still have a very long way to go.



But there’s light on the horizon.






(Rest in peace, Sally. Tam: best wishes, and stay strong. Lisa Henson: you go, girl. Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A: go to hell, rapidly, now.)


Joe Paterno’s legacy


I think this is the third time I’ve written about the Paterno / Sandusky scandal.



This will be the last time, I promise.



But I can’t help myself.



So: Jerry Sandusky was found guilty. Then the Freeh report (which, by all accounts, was thorough and fair) found that Sandusky’s crimes were not only known to the University administration – and to Joe Paterno – but that those crimes were systematically covered up by the administration. Most damningly, this was largely at the behest of Joe Paterno himself, who wanted nothing to get in the way of his winning legacy. At one point, the administrators were about to go to the local authorities; then one of them met with Paterno, and some days later informed his colleagues that “we’re going to go another way with this.”



It’s largely on the basis of the Freeh report that institutions all over America, including Penn State itself, have quietly removed Paterno’s name from scholarships and such. Penn State took down Paterno’s statue on Sunday morning.



So it looks as if everyone’s trying to move on.



Except (sadly) for Paterno’s family.



Listen, I understand family solidarity; I admire it. It doesn’t shock or horrify me when a convicted murderer’s mother insists on his innocence. We don’t want to believe the worst of our loved ones.



But the Paterno family’s recent statements are way beyond the pale.



See if you can find the howlers in the following paragraph:



Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being.  How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.



Here’s my list:



        They talk about Joe Paterno in the present tense, even though he passed away some months ago. Just a slip? Or are they implying that Joe lives on as a kind of angelic presence?

        According to the Freeh report, Paterno did indeed minimize the crime of child abuse. He certainly considered it of less importance than his football record.

        Sandusky’s crimes might shock a decent human being – they shock me, and I am far from being a decent human being – but Freeh established that Paterno had a pretty good idea of what Sandusky was doing, and evidently it didn’t shock Paterno enough to remove Sandusky from proximity to the kids he was abusing.

        How did Sandusky get away with his crimes? Well, sugar, he had help. To be sure, Sandusky was dropping clues like bread crumbs all over the place – most horribly, that book of his called “Touched.” But for some reason, every time a little piece of information made its way to the Penn State administration or to the police, something (or someone) brought the action to a screeching halt.



The family’s statements go on. It’s not fair to punish the college, and the students, for what Jerry Sandusky did. How does this benefit the victims? Or the students?



And so, drearily, on.



I don’t like to get too psychological, but I can just imagine what it was like to grow up with Joe Paterno as a father. One assumes that life was all about winning and losing. Sadly, the family is applying that attitude to the current situation.  They do not seem to realize that the game has already been lost. It was lost in 1998, back when their father first discovered that Sandusky was abusing children.



The family needs to retreat, and express sympathy and condolences to Sandusky’s victims, and make a generic statement like “We respect our father’s memory,” and leave the rest to silence.



Silence, in this case, as far as the Paterno family is concerned, would be best.



New Hampshire


Partner and I just came back from a couple of days in New Hampshire.



I have lived in New England for almost thirty-five years, and in that time, I have spent maybe three weeks in New Hampshire. So that makes me an expert on the subject.



Partner and I have vacationed in New Hampshire a couple of times, and went up a few years ago for a wake, and have gone a couple of times just for the hell of it (the state line is barely 90 minutes from Providence).  It always struck me as Massachusetts North: gritty and industrial (at least in the south: Manchester, Nashua).  The state line between Methuen, Massachusetts and Salem, New Hampshire is almost invisible: trees and gravelly hillsides on one side of the border, trees and gravelly hillsides on the other.



If you go farther north, you end up in the White Mountains, which are very Robert Frostish and picturesque. A few years ago we made the obligatory drive up Mount Washington, and marveled at the view from the visitor center.  We’ve been to Franconia Notch. We’ve walked around the Flume, which is lovely (Partner still remembers going there when he was young).  We’ve explored the Polar Caves, which have ice in them, even in August.



But then there’s all the other stuff.



New Hampshire, for some reason, is a conservative state. (I much prefer Vermont. Vermont is like your aging hippie cousin, who’s funny and manic and very liberal; New Hampshire is like your conservative uncle, who thinks Obama is a socialist and a fascist at the same time.) On this most recent trip, I saw Romney signs everywhere. (Have you seen his campaign logo? It’s a double-image “R,” something like the Rolls-Royce logo. I think he’s trying to suggest “Ronald Reagan,” and doesn’t realize that he’s also conjuring up the Rolls-Royce thing. Or maybe he knows and doesn’t care.)



Then there’s the whole “Live Free or Die” thing. It’s on their license plates! It’s the state motto! It’s a little – hm – heavy. (Partner always rephrases it: “Live free, then die.” “Live free and die.” I like his rephrasings better than the original motto.)



Also: there is the Old Man of the Mountain. This was a big stone profile on Cannon Mountain, visible for miles, that looked like the profile of an old man with a beard. New Hampshire still uses it on its road signs (all of the New Hampshire state route numbers appear in an “Old Man of the Mountain” frame). It’s on their 2002 state quarter.



The Old Man of the Mountain collapsed in 2003. It looks like exactly nothing now, except maybe a big pile of rubble. (I remind myself that I grew up within sight of Mount Saint Helens, and it blew up. Then I lived within shouting distance of the Old Man, and he fell apart. Is it me?)



Anyway: New Hampshire is green and lovely and full of wild scenery (if you go far enough north, anyway).



(But I’ll take Vermont any day of the week, if you give me the choice.)



For Sunday: Coldplay performs “Viva La Vida”


I love this song. It’s lyrical and grandiose without being too much so. And the video is spectacular: it plunges the band members into the Delacroix painting “Liberty Leading the People” – same color scheme, same turbulent background – until they finally blow away into ashes.









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