Score One for the Thought Police

Once upon a time, back in the 1950s, a number of prominent members of the entertainment industry believed that Communism was the ticket to an idyllic future. One U.S. Senator by the name of Joe McCarthy went out of his way to make life miserable for these entertainment folks, among others. His thuggish tactics resulted in his censure, which was spearheaded by a scrappy conservative senator from my home state of Utah by the name of Wallace F. Bennett.
McCarthy, however, was fairly late to the party. Prospective Communists were being interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) long before Tailgunner Joe arrived on the scene. HUAC hauled Hollywood’s finest before congressional committees and demanded that they reveal their private associations and name names of other subversives. It got so bad that Communists, or even those suspected of being Communists, were barred from working in Hollywood by wary producers who feared looking unpatriotic. 
Put simply, they were blacklisted. They were denied the opportunity to work in their chosen profession because of their private, personal beliefs. 

At the time, most Americans found Communism to be abhorrent, and it’s not hard to see why. Communism, as an ideal, is still appealing to a number of good people. In practice, however, it was and is the instrument of mass murder far greater than anything Adolf Hitler was able to accomplish. Rough estimates place the total number of people murdered by the former Soviet Union at anywhere from 28 million to 126 million. Those who believed, and still believe, in Communism often have the best of intentions, but it’s difficult to argue with such grisly results.

Yet Hollywood, as it recalls excesses of the McCarthy era, pays scant attention to Communism’s real-world death toll when dramatizing the “long, dark night of McCarthyism.” Movies by the score have been produced that lament the horrors of the Blacklist, and most of these movies lose a lot of money, because not many people care about this issue as passionately as the entertainment industry does. This past summer, they even inserted a pointless subplot to the latest Indiana Jones movie that had Harrison Ford suffering at the hands of fearmongering McCarthyite hysterics. That was just to remind the blockbuster movie crowd that ignored George Clooney’s ponderous stinker Good Night and Good Luck of Hollywood’s First Commandment:
MCCARTHYISM IS BAD. 
If Hollywood stands for anything, it’s that freedom of thought is inviolate, and the Blacklist is the most horrific, shameful episode in America’s 20th Century history. 
Fade out, fade in. 
Scott Eckern, the Artistic Director of California Musical Theatre, where he has worked since 1984, “resigned” yesterday. Big-time theatre heavyweights like Marc Shaiman, who co-wrote the musical Hairspray to advance the cause of tolerance and love, called for Eckern’s professional head on a stick and swore that California Musical Theatre would “never again host one of his shows as long as Mr. Eckern was in charge.” Jeff Whitty, who wrote the lyrics to the politically correct puppet show “Avenue Q,” castigated Eckern severly on his website, and, while he fell short of calling for Eckern’s dismissal, admitted that he yearned to see Eckern punished. Prominent writers and performers joined in the chorus, which led to Eckern stepping down from his post, his career over, his future uncertain. 
What was Eckern’s crime? He donated $1,000 to the “Yes on Proposition 8” campaign. 
The hypocrisy here is breathtaking. Simply breathtaking. Those who know Mr. Eckern refer to him as a “gentle soul.” There is no evidence of anything in Eckern’s professional conduct that has demonstrated hostility toward people of any stripe. But his ideological opponents are ascribing his support for traditional marriage to the basest of motives, and they are insisting that he be held accountable for the worst behavioral excesses of anyone opposed to redefining marriage. That’s akin to saying blacklisted screenwriter Douglas Trumbo was responsible for the Gulag. 
Hey, theatre guys  – this is McCarthyism. Eckern’s being punished not for his professional actions, but his private beliefs. And you, the tolerant, loving, kindhearted ones – you’re the ones who are pushing it. You’re the ones who refuse to see any goodness in someone’s motives, because you don’t like the real-world results. You’re the Tailgunner Joes of the 21st Century, and McCarthyism the Sequel is every bit as ugly as it was the first time around. 
Only odds are that George Clooney isn’t ever going to make a movie out of this. 

Stallion’s Special Comment on Keith Olbermann

Third day in a row I’m harping on the whole Prop. 8 thing. I apologize. But I think this issue is a pivotal one, and it may well be a turning point in how our nation and our world define bedrock principles that matter a lot more than union rules or the minimum wage. I think it’s worth a post or two.

Let me preface this by saying I have 352 Facebook friends. About ten of those are fake names created to expand my MobWars mafia, but the rest are real people from every corner of my life – from family, high school, college, church, my mission in Scotland, graduate school, and my professional world. The election has been a very awkward time to visit Facebook, because by my rough estimate, 75% or so of my friends are on the left side of the political spectrum, and the things they write and post on the site reflect that strongly. For the most part, unless it’s PJG who I enjoy getting into scraps with, I leave politics on Facebook alone. I don’t want to pick fights or pick friends based on how they vote.

Yesterday, Keith Olbermann produced one of his trademark “Special Comments” on the subject of Prop. 8 and gay marriage. At last count, 6 of my Facebook friends posted a link or referenced the video. Probably more to come. Most of those friends are gay themselves, and the comments they add to support the video are heartfelt and intense.

“This is the heart of the matter,” writes the first. “Stop listening to all the ‘noise’ and BS and listen to this.”

Here’s another: “Thank you, Keith Olbermann, for speaking up so eloquently about Proposition 8 – and its ilk – and for expressing my feelings 100%. Well done and well said.”

Another writes “WATCH THIS VIDEO IF YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS AT ALL ABOUT PROP 8!!!! Please view this no matter what side of the Prop 8 debate you fall on. Please see this video to understand where many of us are coming from. This is not about hating. This is an issue about allowing love in a scary, cold world. I thank you for your time.”

I usually break out in hives while watching Olbermann, but I felt it my duty to honor my friends enough to see what the guy had to say. So I watched it. You probably should, too, especially since I want to review at length what he said.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4xfMisqab8&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&fs=1]

I’m not sure where to begin. I cannot question Olbermann’s sincerity on this issue, which is beyond dispute. Indeed, that’s really the whole point here. Olbermann effectively reframes the underlying question so that the emotional authenticity of his position is the only thing that matters. “You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight,” he says, his voice trembling, near to tears. “You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.”

Oh that it were that simple.

Because if that really were the only question here, then the response would be unanimous. There isn’t a human being on the face of the earth hardened enough to say, “Love sucks. It must be stopped at all costs.” That’s the sentiment of comic book villains, not real people. And by squarely siding with the Forces of Love, Olbermann implies that anyone on the opposite side of Prop. 8 is Anti-Love. And honestly, who wants to be Anti-Love? Who is opposed to “allowing love in a scary, cold world?”

Everyone who hates love, please raise your hand.

“If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not understand,” Olbermann begins. “Why does this matter to you? What is it to you?”

These are rhetorical questions. Olbermann doesn’t believe there is any valid answer to them, nor does he want anyone to attempt to provide one. He is correct in that he does not understand those on the other side; he is being artfully disingenuous by implying that he wants to understand them. After 9/11, those who wanted to “understand” the terrorists were rightfully dismissed as namby pambies. Understanding evil is not nearly as important as defeating it. Olbermann, who would reject that kind of reasoning when applied to detainees at Guantanamo, has finally found a villain worthy of such scorn – the Proposition 8 supporter.

It is apparent, then, that Olbermann is being emotionally authentic at the expense of intellectual honesty. By painting himself as the angel, I must, as one who opposes him, necessarily be a demon. You don’t have to understand demons. You have to kill them. Burn them. Exorcise them. I’ve never been to an exorcism, but I’d be willing to bet big money that most of them are emotionally authentic affairs. Indeed, I’d bet that bigots who think black people are subhuman can summon up a wellspring of genuine passion in support of their racist cause.

Can we not, in the clear, cold light of day, recognize that depth or sincerity of feeling do not automatically make one right?

The racism example is pertinent in light of Olbermann’s comments, which rely heavy on an analogy drawn between Proposition 8 and interracial marriage.

“I keep hearing this term: ‘re-defining’ marriage,” Olbermann says. “If this country hadn’t re-defined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967.”

Olbermann milks this for all it’s worth, reaching back to slavery days when marriages between slaves were until “death or distance do us part.” This is the one part of his argument that appeals to reason instead of solely to emotion, yet it’s still fallacious.

The issue in interracial marriage was race, not marriage itself.

Think about it. In 1967, a black person may not have been able to marry a white person in certain backward pockets of the country, but if they married another black person, nobody suggested that the black couple wasn’t married. The same is true for anyone of any ethnicity. Asian marriages and black marriages and Arabic marriages and Eskimo marriages were all still marriages, even in the eyes of bigots. Regardless of race, the nature of the institution always called for one man and one woman. Society has now wisely determined that the color of that one man or one woman’s skin has no impact on the institution of marriage.

Yet Olbermann, perhaps without realizing it, is using a flawed analogy to persuade us to discard the institution of marriage itself.

He certainly goes to great lengths to avoid defining it on those terms.

“They don’t want to deny you [your marriage],” he says. “They don’t want to take anything away from you. They want what you want—a chance to be a little less alone in the world.”

You see? All he’s asking is for people to have “a chance to be a little less alone in the world.” I can think of a number of ways to make that happen legally. Should we throw a big party? Or send a singing telegram? Does someone need a hug? Such sophistry. Marriage is far more than just “a chance to be a little less alone in the world.” It is the fundamental unit of society, the basic building block of civilization. It is far weightier than just an expression of love, and it should not be altered lightly.

Olbermann is right, however, when he says, “they want what you want.” They want us to say that a loving relationship between two men and two women is exactly the same as one between a man and a woman, when it isn’t.

That’s not a moral judgment. It’s a statement of fact.

If that fact offends you, then consider this one: men and women are not exactly the same. Does anyone really disagree with that? You can argue that men and women have equal value in society, or that women should have the same opportunities men have, or even that one gender is superior to the other. But you can’t possibly maintain that a woman is indistinguishable from a man. Some political movements have tried to make that case, but you can only go so far in pretending that everyone has a penis. Pretty soon, the facts – among other things – get in the way.

So please understand that I’m not trying, at this point, to argue the relative merits in the differences between same-sex couples and heterosexual ones. What I’m saying is that there is a difference. Once we recognize that, we have to determine whether or not that difference matters.

Going back to Olbermann’s interracial example, one must concede that there is a difference between a white man and a white woman getting married and a white man and a black woman getting married. But does the difference matter? How will varieties in skin pigmentation affect the ability to be a wife or a mother, a husband or a father? There are often difficult cultural differences in marriages, but those arise regardless of race. If the only differential is the color of your skin, then I have yet to see persuasive evidence that the differential has any bearing on the institution itself.

Olbermann is saying, however, that removing a mother from the marriage equation and replacing them with a second father will yield an identical sum. He’s saying that gender in marriage is as irrelevant as race. And I think he’s probably right to a point. I can think of no significant difference between gay and heterosexual couples who choose to build a life together that should matter to society at large, provided that the equation is always one plus one.

But marriage usually isn’t one plus one. Baby makes three. Marriage is the first step toward the creation of a family. That’s where this becomes far more problematic than just a “question of love. “

Thousands of years of human history have demonstrated that the best way to raise children is with a mommy and a daddy. To ask my own rhetorical questions – How can anyone believe that this is not true? That the only difference between a mom and a dad is what’s in their pants? That removing a dad from the equation and putting another mom in his place will make no difference, or at least, no difference that matters?

If you have answers, I actually would like to hear them.

I’m all for love. Sex is pretty good, too. I’m a big fan. I don’t want the government to stand in the way of grown-ups who choose to do with themselves and each other whatever they will. In this, I agree with Mr. Olbermann, who said, “You don’t have to help it, you don’t have it applaud it, you don’t have to fight for it. Just don’t put it out. Just don’t extinguish it.” I agree when the antecedent to Olbermann’s “it” is “love.” But to appeal to the better angels of our nature, Olbermann is blurring as many lines here as he possibly can. He’s saying “it” is “love” is “marriage” is “two gay people who insist what they have is exactly the same as a marriage and want the state to recognize it as such.” That last line doesn’t fit Olbermann’s romantic template, but it’s what he’s really trying to say.

Never before in human history, even in times and places where homosexuality has been widely accepted and embraced, has society tried to pretend that homosexual relationships are exactly the same as heterosexual ones. What kind of consequences will that have? Once you begin to dismantle the foundation of civilization, what will be left standing when you’re finished?

We are playing with fire here.

I conclude with a story by Dennis Prager, who got a call on his radio show from a single woman named Susan who wanted to be artificially inseminated and have a child without a husband. (This story can be found in the book Think a Second Time, beginning on page 50.) Prager told her that he believed that children deserve the benefit of having both a father and a mother, and deciding to have a child with no father was not in the child’s best interests.

“The issue is,” Prager says, “why start a child out in the world without a father?”

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Susan says, “but I’m not comfortable accepting your answer that because I haven’t had found a husband, I can’t have a child.”

“I know,” responds Prager, “and I appreciate it, and I’m not comfortable saying it.”

This comes as a surprise to Susan, who states that the first time she’s heard Prager express that kind of discomfort.

I now quote Prager at length:

But the fact is it’s not easy for me to say to a perfectly decent woman, “Don’t have a baby.” I would have to be a rock, to have a heart of stone, to say that with comfort… The fact is that it kills me to say that to her. Every ounce of me wants to say to Susan, “I hear you – I hear your pain. I know you wanted to find the right guy, and you just couldn’t; and God knows, I know the desire to have a child. It is, for some of us, the deepest desire in life. So go to it.”

Every part of me wants to say that. What stops me is not my heart or my feelings. What stops me are values. When I talk to kids around the country about values, I define a value as that which you consider more important than your feelings. My feelings are, “Susan, go to it.” My values are, “Kids need daddies.” They’re in conflict. So, of course, I wasn’t comfortable…

There is nothing easier than to say, “Oh, yes. I hear your pain. Go to it.” Then the person likes you, but it’s not right.

That’s where I find myself on the gay marriage issue. I admit that Olbermann’s case pulls hard at my heartstrings. How could it not? I am not comfortable telling 75% of my friends that I think they’re wrong, that love, no matter how genuine or committed, does not justify remaking marriage. I don’t enjoy being presumed to be a bigot by people I love and respect and admire. I would like nothing more than to go with the flow, live and let live, to let the issue go away.

But the issue won’t go away. And Olbermann, as heartfelt, sincere, and compassionate as he is, is also wrong, as are 75% of my Facebook friends. They’re, hopefully, still my friends after reading this, but that doesn’t make them right.

Good night, and good luck.

Monging More Hatred

PJG’s comment yesterday, along with Foodleking’s response, opened my eyes to something that I had not fully considered. So indulge me as I wander back into hatred for another day.

Let’s begin with the dictionary, which defines hatred as “the feeling of one who hates; intense dislike or extreme aversion or hostility.” That’s the definition I was relying on when I wrote yesterday’s post. Yet that’s not the definition that PJG was using.

See, by the dictionary definition, PJG’s observation that my niece was hating people “without knowing it” makes no sense. My niece was pleasant, cheerful, and respectful of someone with whom she disagreed. The “feeling of one who hates” was entirely absent in her, even in response to someone who had that requisite feeling in abundance. All the “intense dislike” and “extreme aversion or hostility” at the Honk-and-Wave was being generated by the guy with a sign decrying hatred. That was the point of the whole post, really – that the Left hypocritically demonizes the Right as a bunch of haters, and they often do so through hatred themselves.

Yet if PJG is correct, and my niece was hating “without knowing it,” what defines hatred? If it’s not a feeling, then what is it?

It’s an idea.

In PJG’s eyes, the very idea that marriage should not be redefined constitutes hatred. It is fundamentally evil, so championing the idea is evil, too, regardless of the demeanor or the ignorantly misguided motives of those who do so. After all, I’ll bet the Hitler Youth had its share of pleasant, cheerful people advocating genocide, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were doing. In fact, cheerful advocacy of evil is even more hateful than belligerent advocacy, because it’s dishonest, too – it masks the foulness of the soul behind the pleasing façade.

This, I believe, is why you don’t see a similar kind of finger-wagging about hatred on the Right. We’re more than willing to acknowledge the good intentions of those on the other side. You want to provide home loans to people in poverty? What a good person you are! But what’s that you say, Mr. Republican? You want to deny homeownership to this young, struggling minority couple? What are you, Satan?

The institutions of the Left have made tremendous progress in advancing the idea that conservative principles are intrinsically hateful and must therefore be silenced. Indeed, Chuck Schumer has advocated yanking conservatives off the airwaves because their ideas are akin to pornography. RFK, Jr., the current frontrunner to become Obama’s EPA secretary, has stated repeatedly that those who question man-made global warming are morally equivalent to Holocaust deniers. In the eyes of the Left, there can be no righteous motive to hold the repugnant ideas of the Right. All conservatives are haters, whether or not they know it.

We are going down a very dangerous road here.

I believe one of the reasons the LDS Church fought back so hard against this kind of malignant intellectual laziness is that they can see where it leads. Once distasteful ideas become contraband, traditional morality of any stripe will constitute hatred. You won’t let your children date until they’re sixteen? You actually expect them to stay chaste until marriage? Look at the damage you’re doing to these young people! You’re sexually repressing them! They have rights, too! I’m sorry, but how can we allow these churches to keep preaching hate?

I’m confident that the LDS Church will eventually lose its non-profit status as they become increasingly out of sync with the changing times. Indeed, I think that’s likely within a decade or so. And that’s just the first step. It will become more and more difficult for my church, or any church, to function unless they are willing to abandon principles that the body politic defines as prime facie hatred.

Thankfully, the Lord is in charge of the universe, not the Democratic National Committee. How’s that for a hateful thought?

Who are the Hatemongers?

This is a doctored picture of my niece in Northern California doing a honk-and-wave in support of Proposition 8.

The guy standing next to her clearly was on the other side of the issue. With a smile on her face, Stallion’s Niece said to the “Jesus Didn’t Teach Hate” guy, “I have a lot of respect for you.” To which the “Jesus Didn’t Teach Hate” guy responded, “I ain’t got none for you.” So then, in typical hateful fashion, my niece said, “That’s okay.”

Question: What’s wrong with this picture? (Besides the fact that my niece doesn’t look like Yul Brynner in real life.)

Al Franken is currently in the process of stealing a Senate seat, yet long before he was a candidate for office, he walked up to Karl Rove at a White House Correspondent’s Dinner and said, curtly, “I’m Al Franken. I hate you and you hate me.” To which Rove responded, “But I don’t hate you.”

Question: Which of those two men has a reputation in the media for being a hatemonger, and which one deserves that label?

In his October 20th “Special Comment,” gasbag Keith Olbermann decried “Republican smears without end” and accused John McCain of allowing his campaign to “devolve into hatred.” Almost exactly a year earlier, the same guy opened his show with the question, “Why does President Bush hate American kids?” Indeed, one of Olbermann’s most consistent themes is “right-wingers … instinctive hatred.” This, of course, comes in conjunction with Mr. Olbermann’s less-than-charitable disagreements with our president, whom he has told to “shut the hell up.”

Question: Does Olbermann have a problem mistaking invective for argument, or does President Bush really hate American kids?

My Esteemed Colleague, gloating shamelessly over Obama’s win, says that our nation has “begun to heal,” because the Republicans were defeated. “Good riddance and may those orcs and orukai never come back!!” he says. Labeling anyone who could have once voted for “the National Buffoon and his Constipated Puppetmaster” as “stupid idiots,” he then exults that “Hope is alive and well in this land again!”

Question: How does calling your ideological opponents “orcs” and “stupid idiots” contribute to a hate-free atmosphere of healing and hope?

Michael Moore, who has built a lucrative career on the false premise that our sitting president is a terrorist and a mass murderer, wrote an open letter to America after Obama’s win, in which he celebrated the victory as a “triumph of decency over personal attack” and condescendingly urged his supporters to “not treat the Republicans in your life the way they have treated you the past eight years.”

Question: Is it possible to name a reputable Republican who has treated the opposition as hatefully as Moore has treated us?

I hope you see where I’m going with this.

Plenty of people on both sides of the political spectrum are too eager to assign base motives to those with whom they disagree. But the kind of sanctimonious self-righteousness that accompanies Lefty hatred has no equal on my side of the aisle. How can hatemongers like Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore presume to lecture me on decency and fair play? How do advocates of tolerance and love justify smearing political adversaries as monsters and demons? How am I supposed to feel united with anyone who thinks I’m too stupid or too evil to live?

One of the most appealing things about Barack Obama, in my estimation, is that he appears to be a fundamentally decent man. Here’s hoping that those who support him will follow his example and abandon the vitriol that has fueled their movement lo these many years.

Hope and change have to mean more than just hating George Bush.

Worm Man III: The Bad Guy Captain

[This is the long-awaited sequel to Worm Man II: Fox Man Returns.]

On a peaceful day Worm Man was enjoying the sun when something went Boom! It made Worm Man jump! It was the Bad Guy Captain.

The Bad Guy Captain had eight arms, six legs and a squid head! He was attacking the city! He was much stronger than Worm Man!

Worm Man got into his super clothes. Then he jumped into his super car plane boat and blasted off in his car! He jumped out of his car. Right when he jumped out of his car the Bad Guy Captain hit Worm Man and made him go fling!

Then Worm Man was back at his hideout ! So Worm Man had to run all the way back to the city! So Worm Man went speeding all the way back to the city! When Worm Man got back he figured out that the Bad Guy Captain was someone under a curse. It was Foxman under a curse! Worm Man had to figure out how to change his friend Foxman back!

So Worm Man started to fight Foxman in his curse! Then Worm Man remembered the antidote! This is how Worm Man got the antidote in Foxman. Worm Man jumped off a building! Then someone said WOW!

Worm Man threw the antidote. It landed in Foxman’s mouth. (Foxman is the Bad Guy Captain.) The Bad Guy Captain started changing back to Foxman!

Foxman and Worm Man became friends again. They helped each other build the city better and rebuilt everything.

The end.

Chapter 4.2

Darren Shaffer was halfway through the pitch, and, in his mind it was going well. Better than well. Better than his wildest dreams kind of well. When Leo Chakiris had called him to complain about how he’d treated his son on the movie set a few days ago, he never imagined he’d actually get this kind of one-on-one time to discuss it.

Now, over dinner, Leo was a captive audience who seemed genuinely interested in Darren’s sci-fi movie idea. He wouldn’t waste a Friday night listening to my movie pitch if he wasn’t impressed with me, right? The way Darren figured it, a greenlight was inevitable. He was painting the picture with words, using his hands too much. Am I really using my hands too much? He ran his fingers through his long, greasy black hair. I can’t spoil this now, he thought. And he was pretty sure he hadn’t. Leo was buying all of it – he had hit a grand slam. In fact, he was already rounding third base and sliding into home plate even before the waiter had come to take their orders.

Then Leo’s cell phone rang.

Leo looked at the caller ID, got a pained expression on his face and said, “I have to take this. It’ll just be a minute.” He pressed a button and said “Leo Chakiris. Go.”

I hate cell phones, Darren thought. I hate other people’s cell phones particularly. Jeff tried to look interested in the color of the tablecloth as Leo started talking.

“Yeah, well,” Leo said to the person on the other end, “I’m in a meeting here, kid. Can’t this wait ‘til tomorrow?”

Darren, trying to occupy his attention, picked up his spoon. What a lovely spoon. Very curvy at the top. He saw his reflection in it and quickly brushed a stray hair somewhere near his ear.

“You want to run that by me again?” Leo’s face had gone white as a sheet. He listened for what seemed like an eternity before saying, in a hushed tone, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

He stood to leave, pulled out his billfold, and dropped three crisp hundred-dollar bills on the table.

“This’ll have to wait, Darren, I’m sorry.” He was putting on his Darrenet. “Family problems, you know how it is. Call my office and we’ll set up another meeting.”

“Leo, I…” Darren sputtered.

Leo grinned that empty, non-committal Hollywood grin. “Sounds like you got a dynamite idea, there, Darren,” he said blankly. “In the meantime, try to be a little nicer to my kid, okay? No, don’t get up,” he said, as Darren was starting to do exactly that.

Just like that, Leo was out the door.

The waiter came by and asked Darren if he was ready to order. Darren, trying not to look crushed, said no, handed the waiter a hundred bucks, and then pocketed the rest. At least something good came out of this, he told himself.

Because I’m never going to get another appointment with this guy, he admitted to himself as he monitored his reflection again in the top of the curvy spoon. Which means my movie never gets made. For the rest of my career, I’m stuck directing teen football horror flicks.

In frustration, he squeezed the spoon with the top of his thumb and, to his surprise, the curvy popped off and clanked as it landed on his plate.

You’d think, Darren thought, that a place this fancy could invest in some solid silverware.

__________________

“Feet off the glass!” Rahsaan scolded.

“Sure thing,” said Jeff, crossing his legs and leaving them exactly where they were, which was directly on top of a stylish see-through coffee table directly in front of Rahsaan’s flat screen television.

They’d been there for over two hours, hashing and rehashing over everything they’d been through to each other and to Rahsaan, who seemed to be taking it all in stride, despite the raised voices and the uneasy tension between the newly christened Captain and Sheila Glutz/Lisa Meyer. Lisa had managed to find some sweats in Rahsaan’s closet and change out of her torn formalwear, but Jeff insisted in staying in his superhero duds, which amused Rahsaan and annoyed Lisa to no end.

She was pacing in a corner. “His parents could be home any minute,” she said, an edge of panic creeping into her voice. “Are you sure coming here was a good idea?”

“If you don’t like it, go home,” Jeff said, exasperated.

“Not while Vikki’s in trouble,” Lisa said.

“Yeah,” Jeff snorted, “like you’re really helping out here.”

“You go home, then,” Lisa snapped.

“Oh, great,” Jeff said sarcastically. “Mom and Dad will be so glad to fix up the spare terrorist bedroom for me.”

What made the whole thing worse was the fact that were only three blocks away from where Lisa lived, and only four houses down the street from Jeff’s home. But for all the trouble they were in, Jeff thought, they might as well have been on the dark side of the moon.

“They didn’t recognize you,” Lisa said.

“Of course they recognized me!” Jeff said. “Look at that!” He gestured toward the TV screen, not wanting to watch the footage again.

“It’s all blurry,” Rahsaan said, squinting his eyes at the screen. “Looks like some kind of eel.” He wandered off into the kitchen, mumbling something about anemones with pasty white thighs.

With their host out of earshot, Lisa asked “You’re sure Rahsaan can be trusted?”

“I don’t know,” Jeff said, craning his head toward the kitchen. “Rahsaan!” he yelled.

“What?”

“Can you be trusted?”

Lisa scowled.

“Are your feet still on the coffee table?” he yelled back.

“Perhaps,” answered Jeff.

“Then no.”

Lisa looked like she wanted to break something.

Jeff laughed. “Rahsaan is family,” he said simply. He then nervously licked his hands to get rid of the leftover potato chip grease and salt.

“You really are a pig, aren’t you?” Lisa said.

“That’s me, isn’t it?” Jeff said. Lisa nodded, but Jeff was ignoring her and referencing the television. They were still rerunning the amateur video of the pick-up truck incident – over and over and over. It was the only footage anyone had been able to capture of the moment. It was pretty raw, though – Jeff thought that it was unmistakably him, despite the fact that his face was covered and the whole thing was out of focus. The pretty blonde announcer mentioned wild stories of giants and other beasts and UFOs and all kinds of nonsense, but the gawky kid in tights was the only one on the scene.

“There’s no way my parents aren’t watching this,” Jeff said, feeling the pit of his stomach sinking into his shoes.

“You can’t tell it’s you!” Rahsaan shouted from the kitchen. “So go home!”

“No,” Jeff shouted back.

“Then move your stinkin’ feet, anyway!”

“Sure thing!” Jeff shouted back, his feet still firmly planted atop the table.

The TV announcer got an excited look on her face as she grabbed her earpiece. “I’m just getting confirmation from the emergency room at the UCLA Medical Center that there’s been another sighting of the alleged instigator of the attacks in Westwood. He arrived there with two young women, one a victim identified as Vikki Dennis of Topanga, California, who remains unconscious and is now receiving medical attention for a compound arm fracture. Whether the wounds were inflicted on her by the terrorist is unclear.”

“Oh, come on!” Jeff yelled at the screen, sitting up straight and leaning in anxiously. “If she were my victim, why would I take her to the hospital?”

“She can’t hear you,” Lisa said. Jeff sniffed derisively and uneasily rubbed the side of his face.

The announcer continued. “The second girl identified herself as Sheila Glutz. Probably an alias.”

“Probably?” Jeff scoffed. Then, to Lisa, “Couldn’t you do better than ‘Glutz?’

“Sorry, ‘Captain,’” Lisa shot back.

The announcer said, “Investigators have not determined if Miss Glutz is a hostage or an accomplice.”

Lisa gasped.

“And word is,” the announcer continued,” that the alleged terrorist identified himself as a captain in his organization, perhaps some kind of paramilitary group. We’ll provide more details as we receive them.”

They cut back to the pick-up truck footage. Jeff flipped off the television and tossed the remote to the other side of the couch. He took off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes with his fingers. “This just keeps getting better,” he said, putting his glasses back on.

“Are your feet still on the table?” Rahsaan hollered from the kitchen.

“Yes, sir!,” Jeff replied. “It bothers me more than a little,” he said, leaning toward Lisa, “that this Chakiris guy can just all of a sudden turn into King Kong and throw big rocks and cars everywhere.”

“We’ve been through this over and over again,” Lisa sighed. “I can’t explain it, anymore than you can explain why all of a sudden you’re so – so –“

“So sleek and aerodynamic?” Jeff offered.

“You’re not being helpful.”

“Yeah, well, neither are you.”

“Both of you are pathetic, if you ask me,” Rahsaan said, “and you didn’t.” He spoke as he entered the room, walking over to the coffee table and lifting Jeff’s legs off the top and dropping them unceremoniously in front of the couch. He sat next to Jeff. “Did you get a hold of Walthius?” he asked.

“He’s not answering his cell phone,” Jeff said.

Rahsaan pursed his lips. “Wouldn’t be surprised if the service is down,” he said as he flipped the TV back on. “You guys made a real mess.”

“So this is it, then?” Lisa asked. “We just sit here?”

Jeff shrugged. “Unless you’ve got a better idea.”

Rahsaan put his own feet up on the coffee table and clicked through the channels, all of them showing the same thing.

“What about Vikki?” Lisa asked.

“What about her?” said Jeff. “The doctors will fix her up. There’s not much more we can do.”

“So we’re just going to leave her to Chakiris?”

“We’ve been through this, Lisa,” Jeff said wearily. “We show our faces at that hospital, and we both get hauled off to jail.”

“Not you,” Lisa said.

“You’re right,” Jeff answered. “I could throw the cops across the room and pound all of the doctors into the floor. That’s exactly what Vikki needs.”

“Chakiris?” Rahsaan repeated, suddenly interested. “David Chakiris is the giant guy?”

“The giant guy,” Jeff confirmed, nodding. “And Vikki’s boyfriend.”

“If he’s watching TV, he knows where she is,” Lisa said. “She can identify him. Which means that’s where he’s going next.”

“I just can’t believe it,” Rahsaan said. “David Chakiris?”

“You know him?” Lisa said.

“He’s on the crew for that movie they’re filming at THS,” Rahsaan replied, sounding excited to have found a connection to all of this. “The football slasher thing.”

“How do you know?” Lisa asked.

“His dad’s the sound guy,” Jeff said.

“Right,” Rahsaan said. “And Dad came home yesterday talking about this kid who made a big scene and got thrown off the lot.”

Lisa’s eyes narrowed. “You’re sure it was Chakiris?”

“No doubt,” said Rahsaan. “He’s Leo Chakiris’ son.”

Jeff sat up. “Leo Chakiris’ son?!”

“Leo Chakiris.” Lisa looked confused, like she was trying to place a face. “Should I know who that is?”

“Probably,” Rahsaan said. “Not too many people run major movie studios, even in Southern California.”

“Is that all you know?” Jeff asked.

“Yes,” Rahsaan said. Then his eyes brightened. “No!” he corrected himself. He shot out of the room and up the stairs. In a few seconds he was back with a manila folder filled with names an numbers. He tossed it onto Jeff’s lap.

“Contact sheet, cast and crew” he explained before Jeff or Lisa could ask. Jeff rifled through the pages and found David Chakiris’ name, along with an address.

“That’s an apartment complex in Reseda,” Lisa said, looking over his shoulder. “It’s not that far from here.” She walked over to Rahsaan’s front hall closet. “You got a coat I can borrow, Rahsaan?”

“And just where are you going?” Jeff demanded.

“Where we’re going,” Lisa corrected him. “Chakiris’ apartment.”

Both Jeff and Rahsaan laughed out loud.

“You can’t be serious,” Jeff said.

“Dead serious.”

“Just what do you expect to find there?” said Rahsaan.

“I don’t know,” Lisa said angrily. “Probably nothing. Maybe everything. A clue. An answer. I have no idea. But it’s either that or sit hear and watch you eat potato chips and wait to get arrested. Or for Vikki to get killed.”

Jeff plopped his feet back up on the table and thought about that for a moment. Still looking forward, he asked “Rahsaan, help me out here. What do you think?”

Rahsaan grinned goofily. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Jeff’s eyed grew wide. “You do?”

Rahsaan nodded. “I’m for anything that gets your feet off my coffee table.”

__________________

Leo Chakiris let out a groan as he waded into the sea of clutter that was his son’s bedroom. This is the boy’s natural habitat, he thought ruefully. The whole apartment was like this. Clothes and food wrappers were scattered everywhere, and Leo winced as he pried a half-eaten candy bar off of a grimy pillowcase.

What a slob. Must be his mother’s influence.

With that, he tried, on a whim, to remember David’s mother, but he had a hard time calling the image to mind. Multiple marriages were not uncommon in Hollywood, but Leo had had considerably more than most, and it was hard to keep all the women in his life from mixing together into one expensive nightmare. He did his best to avoid thinking about any of his ex-wives, especially the ones who were still alive.

After all, that’s what accountants were for.

He made his way out to the front room and cleared a spot on the dingy couch in the far corner. He picked up an old copy of Rolling Stone and thumbed through the pages, unable to concentrate on the words or even focus on the pictures.

That little snot ought to be here by now, Leo thought. Leo Chakiris was not a man accustomed to being kept waiting.

After what seemed like forever, the door opened, and Leo tossed the magazine aside.

“Hey, big guy!” said the source of all Leo’s current troubles, in what seemed to Leo to be an unnaturally cheery voice, given the present circumstances.

“Don’t ‘big guy’ me, kid,” Leo snapped. “I’m not big on social calls. So cut the small talk. I’m old enough to resent anyone foolish enough to waste any of the time I have left.”

The “kid’s” forced smile vanished. “It’s always about you, isn’t it?” he answered scornfully. “You can’t even muster up any sympathy for anyone else. Not even your own son.”

Leo chuckled mirthlessly, sat down again, and pulled a cigar out of his suit coat. “I got a lot of sons, kid,” he said, lighting his cigar and putting his feet up on what he assumed was, underneath the T-shirts and newspapers, something like a coffee table.

__________________

She smells good.

Jeff was befuddled by such close proximity to a girl he had, just a few hours ago, thought about stringing up by her thumbs. In order to be able to communicate during the flight to David Chakiris’ apartment, Lisa had suggested that they rethink their travel arrangements. Instead of mounting his back, Lisa asked Jeff to carry her the way he’d carried Vikki, so her mouth would be close enough to his ear to be able to speak without being drowned out by the wind.

The forced intimacy of the moment left Jeff feeling somewhat awkward, because, prior to lift-off, he hadn’t particularly liked Lisa Meyer much. And now he discovered that, while still disliking her in general, he now specifically liked the way she smelled.

So she smells good, he thought. So what?

Why should that be a big deal? Or even a surprise? Forced intimacy was still intimacy all the same, and boys who get close to girls end up thinking about things whether they want to or not. Jeff concluded this was just a byproduct of biology.

As if Jeff and Lisa would ever work as a couple. No way. She’s pushy and obnoxious. She’s a cheerleader and I’m a band geek. And to top it off, I’m still about a foot and a half taller than she is. Jeff pondered the insanity of the two of them walking together, holding hands, boyfriend and girlfriend, looking to all the world like a giraffe kissing a penguin.

Jeff wondered if penguins ever smelled this good.

___________________

Lisa was transfixed by the view from above the clouds.

She could see all the lights Los Angeles sprawling out to the ocean, where everything abruptly ended. The stillness and power of the endless dark water was starkly beautiful, especially in contrast to the busy splendor of the city lights. It was a view that Lisa had seen when she’d traveled by plane, looking out a tiny plastic window and breathing stale, recycled airline air. Seeing it this way was much more vibrant and immediate.

In the middle of the turmoil that threatened her life and the lives of her friends, Lisa allowed herself just enough time to bask in the magic of the moment.

It’s almost perfect, she thought.

If only Jeff’s breath didn’t smell like barbecued potato chips.

It’s the middle of the night…

Obama’s victory comes after having gone through the five stages of political grief, so there was no sense of disappointment or resentment. Indeed, it’s kind of nice to know McCain is gone from the political scene forever. Congratulations to the President-Elect. I do think it’s pretty cool that this nation has taken a significant step toward political colorblindness, and I hope Prez O can truly unite the country the way Oprah thinks he can, although I sincerely doubt that’s possible.

What’s haunted my dreams tonight is the vision of a Senate supermajority, and I saw no silver linings in the prospective dismantling of American exceptionalism. Yet so far, it looks as if the filibuster will survive as the last, best hope for freedom. As of this writing, the Dems have conclusively picked up five seats, and I can’t understand why no one is willing to call the election in Georgia for Republican Saxby Chambliss with 98% of precincts reporting. Ted Stevens, the one GOP senator I’d be happy to see go down, is ahead in Alaska, which means Sarah Palin gets to appoint his successor when he gets booted out for his seven felony convictions. Both Republicans Gordon Smith in Oregon and Norm Coleman in Minnesota are ahead by the slimmest of margins, which led Mrs. Cornell, who is reading over my shoulder as I type this, to lament the fact that they aren’t getting any sleep tonight. Well, neither are we. So there. I can deal with a President Obama more readily than a Senator Franken.

California’s Prop. 8 is touch and go, but it’s ahead by about three points as of this writing. This is certainly the most divisive issue on the ballot this time around. I have oodles of friends who loathe Prop. 8 and assume anyone who supports the traditional definition of marriage is a bigot. Thankfully, despite the fact that dismantling marriage is the cool thing to do, America doesn’t seem ready to abandon one of the basic building blocks of civilization just yet, even in California. (Similar measures in Florida and Arizona won handily.)

What’s stunning is the vitriol unleashed on the LDS Church as a result of its support for Prop. 8. If you haven’t seen this ridiculously over-the-top assault on the Mormons, I invite you to take a looksee:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q28UwAyzUkE&hl=en&fs=1]

I ask you to imagine the outcry if a similar ad were running that stereotyped Catholics, Jews, or Muslims so despicably. As a former Mormon missionary myself, I know firsthand that the blond guy’s hair is too long, and the other guy’s tie is too loose. And where are their black nametags? I mean, honestly!

All in all, a rotten night. But it could have been worse. And Obama may prove to be better than I anticipate.

The Three Friends

[A Revised and Expanded Version of Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble.]

Once upon a time there were two friends, Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble. They were a good pair of buddies. They played football together. And they also were really good at football. They both got touchdowns a lot.

Once there was a time when they got tackled two times. It was scary. They bully, he is the one who tackled Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble. The bully was so scary that they fainted. Then they got up and ran away for their life. Funny the Marble thought that was sooo funny that he couldn’t stop laughing. Then Scary Pumpkin stopped and started to laugh his head off. Both of them started laughing so hard that Scary Pumpkin’s eyes and nose and mouth started to glow.

Then they ran over to the bully and said, “Stop being mean to me and my friend.”

Then they said the same sentences over and over again. The bully was getting so annoyed that he ran away from them. They said go away and never be a bully again.

“OK,” said Scary the Pumpkin.

“OK,” said the bully. Then he came back and he said, “Can I play football with you?”

Then the three friends played football, and they all played fair.

And then the new friend’s teacher said, “wow.” That’s all she could say. “Wow.”

And then the new friend told his name to Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble. His name was Bally. Then school ended and Scary Pumpkin and Bally and Funny the Marble walked home together. They all said, “wow.” That’s all they could say. “Wow.”

And then the three friends got to their houses, and then they got done with their chores, and they all went to Bally’s house. They played Mario Kart at Bally’s house, and they played Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games. It was very fun. They also played football in Bally’s backyard. It was fun, too.

Then Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble and Bally played tag. Bally was it. He was fast. Really fast. Then Funny the Marble got tagged. The three friends played all day long. It was so fun. Then Funny the Marble and Scary Pumpkin went home. Then the three friends went to bed.

The nexy day, they went to school and they played football in line. They played football until the bell rang. The three friends went into their classroom. Then, finally, it was recess time. The three friends played football on the high hill.

Halloween Vignettes

Took three-year-old Stalliondo trick or treating. He charmed the pants off of everyone he met. He was dressed as a lion, and he’d roar on demand with the appropriate lion fury. One person giving out candy laughed and said, “Lions scare me, but you can come back anytime you want.” 

To which Stalliondo replied, “Okay. How about tomorrow?”
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Our children started freebasing their candy as soon as they got home. Cornelius ran off into the family room and hid in a corner and ate a dozen candy bars in under three minutes. He left quite the rat’s nest of wrappers, which we didn’t discover until the following morning. 
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My oldest daughter Cleta was furious that we pooled all our children’s candy together the next day. “That’s no fair!” she yelled. “That’s my candy! I earned it!” She’s bitter and angry, but now she better understands the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.

_____________

Speaking of which, we went to a delightful Halloween costume party the day after Halloween. We borrowed My Fiancee’s magnificent costumes and I went as the genie from Aladdin, with Mrs. Cornell as a sort of Princess Jasmine/Barbara Eden kind of thing. We each contributed five dollars to a pot that went to the winner of the person voted to have the best costume, which turned out to be a guy decked out as a sort of Fidel Castro/Che Guevara revolutionary. After he won, he turned to the crowd and said “you want I should redistribute the wealth?” (He didn’t, BTW.)
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We DID win one of the games, though, which required extensive knowledge of TV theme songs. I was one of the few who recognized Lee Majors’ shaky baritone warbling its way through the theme song of The Fall Guy. My mother told me I’d regret wasting so much time in front of the television in my misspent youth. How very, very wrong she was.
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Everyone keeps asking me about the election, and I keep ignoring them. I’m still tuned out. However, I did manage to catch Ben Affleck’s wicked turn as Keith Olbermann on SNL last Saturday. It’s viewable here and if you’ve ever seen Olbermann, this will make you laugh very, very hard. It may make Philip cry, but he’s going to have a very good day tomorrow, and I’m not. So I don’t feel too bad.