Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reading The Forward Backward

In early 1924, Milton Summers, my grandfather, introduced Mary Erlach, Nana, to his mother.

For those joining us late, Nana is the grandmother I look like in drag, and I suspect when I am eighty and wearing a blond hairpiece and coke bottle glasses, the resemblance will be uncanny. I have seen the future, and it drinks Sanka, smokes Kent cigarettes, and eats at the Hot Shoppe every night, while saying “Oh my God” all the time. All in all, a very attractive package. Devon just threw up a little.

Where was I? I really need to have my meds adjusted.
Oh yes, picture it, Baltimore, 1924. Mary Erlach, in an effort to get as far away from her weird family (half of which I still have never met because of some drama that happened in the 1950s, which contrary to popular belief was before I was born), went to secretarial school in Baltimore. There, in Baltimore, not school, she met Milton Summers, a delivery boy for a pharmacy who was being followed by the FBI. Why you ask? The pharmacy was a front for a liquor distillery, and unbeknownst to him, he was delivering booze. That is the first time I have used unbeknownst in a sentence. The FBI recruited him, and his employers were caught. After that, he decided to become a shoe salesman. No chance of liquor being transported in a pair of emerald green pumps. Ironically, although my grandfather was a shoe salesman, Nana wore a size ten and had flat feet, my mother wore a nine and a half narrow, and I wear a size fourteen, also with flat feet, and none of us could buy shoes in a regular shoe store.

By now, you realize the point of this story is so far gone that I have to reel in this catfish, which by the way is not kosher, so getting catfished is so not kosher.

In 1924, Milton Summers, a skinny olive-skinned man, with black hair who looked very Jewish, introduced Mary Erlach, a tall, blonde blue-eyed woman with narrow shoulders and wide hips (see the resemblance) to his mother. And, his mother responded, “Oy another shiksa.”

The problem was he was the youngest of six brothers and two sisters. His older brother, Nat married Beulah, a Jewish woman who was apparently a fantastic cook. His other brothers, however, never married but lived with their gentile girlfriends (and you think shacking up was a new thing). Milton was her last hope for more Jewish grandchildren. Nat had two children. His son would never marry, play tennis all the time and keep a catalogue of dirty jokes. I suspect he was born with the Gay gene. None of the others would have children, and Milton and Mary would eventually have one child, my mother. While pregnant, the doctor told Nana, she had a heart murmur and should not have any more children, and he even performed a caesarian section at the Church Home of the Infirmary Hospital in Baltimore for $92 in 1927, followed by a tubal ligation (yes, some doctors did that then). Harriet Lane, subject of the book, Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady by Milton Stern (shameless plug), founded and left money in her will for the Church Home of the Infirmary. When Nana was going through menopause, she asked her doctor about the heart murmur, he wouldn’t look at her. It turns out she was misdiagnosed and could have had more children. With that decision, the Summers name did not carry on.

Anyway, back to the story at hand, and this does have a point … somewhere.

Mary, in order to convince her future mother-in-law and the neighbors in this orthodox Jewish, Baltimore neighborhood she was indeed a Jewess (my mother hated that term, but she embraced JAP), had to go door to door and read The Jewish Daily Forward backward. For the Semitically impaired, The Jewish Daily Forward is written in Yiddish, which uses Hebrew letters, so you read from right to left, hence, read the Forward backward. Get it?

I have always loved when someone would say to me, say something in Jewish. I can’t say something in Jewish, I can say something Jewish. For example, “With a buffet this big, would it have killed them to make a nice brisket?” or “With a nose like that, you will never get away with it” or “Never mind, I’ll sit in the dark.”

I always want to respond, “Say something in Baptist.” I only know three words in Baptist, “mayonnaise,” “Schlitz” and “F-150.” You’d think living in a trailer park I would have learned more Baptist.

Now, do you want me to say something in Yiddish? “Du zol zetsn dayn rosh arayn erd un vaksn lib hobn an tsibele.” That was my father’s favorite Yiddish saying. Funny, huh?

Oh, you want it translated. “You should put your head in the ground and grow like an onion.”

It sounded better in Yiddish.

Anyway, Mary passed the test, dyed her hair reddish brown and married Milton. When she started wearing wigs full time in the early sixties, she went back to blonde. All Jewish women over seventy go blonde.

When this was all in my head, the above was supposed to be a one paragraph introduction!

This past weekend, I flew to Houston again to see “Avis Frank Gallery presents ProjeXion: Tim Gonzalez, Devon Britt-Darby and Alexandre Rosa.” It will be open until February 20, so if you are in Houston, go see it!

On the plane out there, which was United Flight 646 with the flight crew that worked the Lido Deck on Noah’s Ark (read prior blog entry), they showed a movie, The Words, starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Nora Arnezeder, and Dennis Quaid. I have never been a huge fan of Dennis Quaid. I am still not over his chewing up the scenery when he played Jerry Lee Lewis.

I enjoyed the movie very much, but for a writer, it was quite disturbing. The premise is a writer writes a book about a writer who can’t get published until he finds a seventy-year-old manuscript in a satchel his wife buys from an antique shop in Paris. He copies the manuscript word for word, including typos, and it gets published, wins awards and earns him the recognition his own writing never would. Then Jeremy Irons finds him in a park and tells him a story. No spoiler alert; you have to see it.

In the beginning of the movie, you see the writer’s file of rejection letters, and anyone who has tried to get something published, has a file of rejection letters. After your first dozen, you don’t even open the envelopes.

If I had a nickel for every time I read, “Mr. Stern, we are sorry to inform you ...” I would not be sitting at this desk I bought from Walmart in a mobile home in a trailer park in Jessup. And you would be doing your jobs, rather than reading it.

A little history. In 1985, I wrote a screenplay titled, “The Girls” or “Never a Second without a Third.” I still have the original type written pages from my Brother Student Writer XL-1. It was rejected by some of the finest agents in Hollywood. Over the years, I continued to try peddling it, and the title eventually changed to “On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg.” No one was interested. I entered it in contests, where it was derided for its ethnic and Yiddish content. I was convinced the judges were usually Gentile college kids from the Midwest. I even tried to hire a group of drag queens to star in a homemade movie. I was determined to sell this story. But alas, only I was interested in it. The problem was I didn’t know my audience.

I had given up and wrote a book about President James Buchanan, and while researching that book, the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland asked me to write a book about Harriet Lane, mentioned above. While proofing Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady on a mismarked Metro bus in Fairfax, Virginia (a twenty minute ride turned into two hours, complete with a riot and police intervention), I got a call from my editor, Sharon Gillespie. I had given her the screenplay to read for shits and giggles, having pretty much given up on it after twenty years. I was a published author with his second book coming out, and I figured I would be remembered as a biographer and historian not a comedy writer.

She wanted me to turn the screenplay into a book. I told her she was crazy. But that bus ride was really long and violent, so I got to thinking. If I created a story around the original screenplay, it might work.

For the next three months I wrote On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg, the novel, and submitted it to Sharon. Meanwhile, Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady, actually took off, for a small book from a small publisher that is, and I gave a few lectures in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, did a couple of radio and magazine interviews, gave a tour to the Pennsylvania Historical Society of Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC, and came off as a serious writer and historian – not how I had planned my life. My dream was always to be a comedy writer like Carl Reiner. But, being perceived as intelligent is not a bad thing. Apparently, I wasn’t just another pretty face.

Sharon read my manuscript then called me requesting a meeting outside. For some reason, when people don’t know what my reaction will be, they want to talk outside. I am known for being moody, and even at work, they check with each other on my mood before asking me a question. “What’s Milton like today?” It isn’t easy having multiple personalities.

She then proceeded to tell me I needed to turn the book upside down and inside out and eliminate one of the subplots altogether. I didn’t even get upset. I figured she was the editor, and as I said to her, “I have been trying to sell this piece of shit for twenty years. If you want it re-written, I’ll rewrite it.”

No one knows this, but that wasn’t the first screenplay I had written. I wrote one when I was fifteen and sent it to Lucille Ball Productions. I got a letter from her lawyer telling me they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and here is a nice autographed picture. That screenplay was called “Troubles.” Wow, that is the first time I have mentioned that to anyone since 1977.

For the next seventy-two hours, I re-wrote the novel, and the first thing I did was delete the first scene I had ever written when it was a screenplay; it didn't work anymore. She loved it, but we couldn’t find a publisher, so I published it myself. One week after I released it, a publisher, STARbooks Press, the last independently owned Gay publishing house, wrote me and wanted to pick it up. I took it down from the self-publishing site, and my publisher re-released it two months later with a much better cover – exactly twenty years after I had submitted it for the first time to an agent! I eventually went to work for STARbooks Press, and I am now the vice president.

It was then that the boy, whose mother had him late in life, making him the youngest child of all her friends, taking him with her on all her errands and meetings and exposing him to the wonderful world of middle-aged Jewish women, found his audience. All those years, I was writing for Gay men. What a dumb ass! Gay men don’t read books unless you tape one to a mirror! My real audience was right in front of me the whole time. My friend Ed and I traveled to New Jersey where I was greeted by a room filled with seventy Hadassah members, waiting to meet the nice Jewish boy who wrote this book about five Jewish women, the one Gay son, and the year that changed everything. The book was a hit in Texas, where three Hadassah book clubs picked it up as one of their selections. Where the Winds Blow, a Mah Jongg store in Katy, Texas, requested one-hundred autographed copies for their shelves, and they still place orders. The highlight was when a local actress in Las Vegas read it during a production of the Vaginal Monologues.

Now don’t misunderstand. This was no best seller, but I didn’t care. After two decades, people were reading this story I wrote when I was twenty-two. I didn’t care if they liked it or not. They were reading it. It was followed by a sequel, Michael’s Secrets, Men, Muscle & Mayhem, and of course the book based on this blog, The Gay Jew in the Trailer Park.

Anyone in publishing knows a book has a shelf life of six months max, so imagine my surprise when I was approached last spring to write a chapter for a coffee table book about Jewish women and Mah Jongg by a couple of authors who had discovered my book. I wrote the chapter, and like most things in the literary world, heard nothing for a long time. I emailed them and would get updates then a few months would go by.

I have always wondered when a writer realizes he has made it. Is it national recognition? Is it when he finds his audience and they want more? 

After reading The Secret two years ago, I decided that when people ask me what I do for a living to no longer mention my day jobs. For the last year, the answer has been, “I am a writer.” Then they ask what I have written. “Grocery lists.” I hate being taken seriously.

Saturday night, I got an email, after sundown of course, from one of the authors of the coffee table book about Jewish women and Mah Jongg, which went something like this:

“Dear Milton

“We have secured an agent and a publisher, and we have decided not to include your chapter in our book …”

Oh, I had been down this road before. Rejection. But they had written something in all caps in the next sentence, so rather than delete, I kept reading …


I about shit my pants, which happened on a fishing trip in 1971. Don’t they ask famous writers to write forewords? Steve Allen wrote many forewords for Hollywood biographies – I know because that is all I read. And he was a prolific writer.

Then I did something I rarely do, and only my brother has witnessed. I made the pig noise and did the flapping dance all over my mobile home!

In 1924, Nana had to convince people she was legitimate by reading The Forward backward. Today, I have to look a little backward to write a foreword, cementing my legitimacy.

Another bit of history. In college, I was the president of the English Honor Society (big surprise being a number eleven and all), and we published a literary magazine featuring student writing every semester. The editors always rejected my submissions, claiming they weren’t “mainstream” enough. Did I mention I was the president!?!

Hey, you two, miserable [fill in the blank] editors! How many forewords have you written lately!?!

My name is Milton Stern, and I am a writer.

If you look forward while reading backward, follow me, join me, buy my books!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Whatever You Do to Her, Do to Me

Many years ago and pre-stroke, Bette Davis was the guest on the Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson, and he was actually there that night. As she chain smoked and complained about Faye Dunaway being the most unprofessional actress with whom she had ever worked, she brought up the subject of how everything had to be so real these days. Where was the glamour? Where was the filtered lens? This was the early 1980s, so you can imagine how she would feel today with Honey Boo Boo and her disgusting family, especially her nose-picking, flatulent mother.

I agree. Where is the glamour? Why do I need to know that they use Proactive?

When Karl Freund was approached by Desi Arnaz to be the cinematographer for I Love Lucy, he initially balked, saying you couldn’t properly light a set for three separate film cameras, and he also noted Desi’s not so flawless skin and Lucille Ball’s not being “a spring chicken” as he put it. She was forty. But, Desi, who was known for his charm, convinced him to take on the challenge. One trick he devised was putting pink upward facing lights on all the camera dollies. Even in black and white, the pink lights blend with any blemishes or flaws and hide them. Some CBS executives complained that the glamorous close-ups that he would do of Lucille were too much for television, and you will notice that by the fifth or sixth episode, he quit doing these close-ups. There is one of her smoking by the fireplace that is breathtaking.

Next week, I am having upward facing pink lights mounted on all my baseboards. I will also never leave the house again.

Mae West only had pink lights around her at all times, and Bea Arthur, during her one-woman show, noted how when she met Mae West in her dressing room, she looked thirteen years old.

Wow, four paragraphs in, and I haven’t mentioned one living person; God rest their souls.

All of these lighting techniques were needed back in the day because the movies and subsequently television were fantasy worlds. Also consider that the early stars of television were mostly experienced film, radio and vaudeville performers and mostly near or in their forties, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, Milton Berle, Eve Arden, Ann Sothern, Bea Benaderet and Gale Gordon, and the list goes on. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were kids compared to everyone else.

With the advent of video tape, more realism came to television. For example, watch a rerun of All in the Family. No glamour there. My father thought that show was a documentary and everything Archie said was gospel. Then, watch a rerun of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was filmed, making the edges softer. Want to have some fun? Watch the first two episodes of The Golden Girls and look at Rue McClanahan’s face. They switched to film by the third episode. She couldn’t keep talking about how young and beautiful she was with pot-marked skin.

Happily Divorced is filmed rather than taped. How else would everyone get away with calling Fran Drescher a beautiful forty-five-year-old woman? She’s fifty-five.

I am not critical of film. I prefer it. If I were in Hollywood, I would wear a veil, only be seen in flattering light and never, I mean never, allow myself to be taped … or have a mug shot taken.

There are other methods for taking away the years, and no one did it better than the woman I mention more than any other, Lucille Ball. During the last season of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, her hairdresser, Irma Kusely (who died in 2009 at age 95, God rest her soul), convinced her to wear a shorter hair style, but Lucy did not want to cut her hair, so Irma did something that they had been doing in Hollywood for years. She bandaged the redhead’s head. This consisted of braiding the hair around the hairline, pulling it back, clamping it, then putting a bandage over her entire head before putting on a wig. All that pulling on forty-nine-year-old Miss Ball created an instant facelift. OK, not so instant. It took almost two hours to complete with make-up by Hal King – also dead.

Watch the early dressing room scene in All About Eve. Bette Davis removes her wig and behold, she is wearing a head bandage!

From 1960 on, Lucille Ball rarely appeared in public without her head bandaged and a wig. Toward the end of her career, it took almost four hours to complete including make-up for her face and hands. Steve Allen, another dead person, remarked that beautiful women in Hollywood end up looking like drag queens by the end of their careers. Sadly, he was right.

On The Tracy Ullman Show (hey, a live person), the star did a skit with Glenn Close (also alive), playing two aging stars, who meet after many years. Tracy played the earthy star who never went for glamour, and Glenn played the Hollywood beauty who has way too much work done and can hardly move, and the dialogue goes like this:

Glenn: “Have you had any work done?”

Tracy: “No.”

Glenn: “How brave of you.”

Lucy wasn’t the only one to bandage, and she even mentioned the procedure during interviews. There is an old episode of The Dinah Shore Show (as opposed to a new episode), where she talks about her wigs and what she has to go through. During filming of Mame, she asked Bea Arthur if she wanted her face pulled, too. Then they filmed the entire movie through a cheese cloth.

Joan Collins, still alive, wears a head bandage and a wig and has done so since Dynasty!

The expert at instant facelifts was Marlene Dietrich. Strangely, she never wore wigs. She would use gold chains and other paraphernalia to create the illusion. She also never turned her back to the audience. Liza Minnelli, still alive, appeared with her on stage, and after singing her song, she ran backstage and declared in a rather loud voice, “Oh my God! She’s held together with rubber bands!” Marlene Dietrich was standing right behind her.

Why not just get a facelift? You ask. Well, back then a facelift was scary. Not like today when everyone comes out looking like Donald Duck – Wayne Newton, Morgan Fairchild, Heather Locklear, Barry Manilow, Delta Burke. I think they would look better bandaged.

Vivian Vance had a few facelifts – one right after the end of I Love Lucy. After her last one, she couldn’t close her eyes, so they had to do emergency surgery. No wonder Lucy didn’t want to take a chance.

My Aunt Dorothy, who was married to Uncle Yale, Nana’s youngest brother, whom she divorced after fifty years of marriage when she caught him having an affair, had a sister named Lena. Lena always wore dark glasses regardless of the time of day. Apparently, she had a facelift in the sixties that was pulled so tight, she couldn’t completely close her eyes, and she had a permanent smile. To borrow a joke from Joan Rivers (I know, appropriate), every time she crossed her legs, her mouth popped open.

Upon the announcement that my brother was getting married, my mother decided to get a facelift. To many at the time, this may have seemed surprising. Not to us. My mother was the queen of flattering light and theatrical make-up regardless of the time of day. When I was in fifth grade, she came to visit Mrs. Dick’s class on parents' day, and all the other kids said, “Your mother wears a lot of make-up.” Funny, I never noticed.

In 1973, when she was elected Rodef Sholom Sisterhood President, she was to provide an eight-by-ten photo for the Synagogue phone book along with a message about her vision for the Sisterhood for the coming year. While all prior Sisterhood presidents provided what amounted to a Polaroid, Harryette Summers Stern made an appointment with a professional photographer. He took at least a hundred pictures, then upon picking the best shot, with my mother looking up and off into the distance, a la Arlene Dahl (still alive), who always walks into a store facing the ceiling, according to a friend who owns an antique shop, air brushed the final product. My friend Dylan hates my long sentences.

I want to emphasize this was a Newport News, Virginia, Synagogue phone book, and my mother had a picture that would only have looked right if she had her film and television credits listed below it.

Back to her facelift.

She met a former navy doctor at a cocktail party who offered her a discount on a facelift. OK, you think you know where this is going. To back up, my mother actually aged very well and did not have wrinkles, only a little tiny bit of sag, which still did not hint at her sixty-two years.

The day before the surgery, I took her to the doctor for “before” pictures. As I arrived to pick her up, she was in full make-up, and I don’t mean her usual layer of clay and color, I mean Rupaul would have been jealous of her accomplishment. She looked twenty-four. I told her I didn’t understand why she was getting a facelift, and she replied that she didn’t have two hours every day to pull this off.

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, the nurse, upon seeing Norma Desmond (fictional), told her she had to wash all that off. I died laughing. Harryette was pissed. For the first time since she was sixteen, someone was going to take a picture of her sans make-up, as Shelly Winters (God rest her sould) used to say.

After the facelift, my father told her was pulled tighter on one side than the other. He was always a charmer and did his best to make you feel better about yourself, she did look younger. Thankfully, she told the doctor not to pull her too tightly, just freshen her up. However, she started wearing very pale make-up that would have been too light for a mime. I could not understand how an olive-skinned woman could think this shade was flattering.

Being the good Gay son I was, I took a picture of her. I showed it to her and asked, “Why are you having a mortician do your make-up? You look like a cadaver.” I can be charming sometimes, too. For once, she didn’t take offense.

My father also said one other lovely thing. “So, when you die, are they going to bury you with your head sticking out of the ground because it doesn’t match your old body anymore?” I always wondered why he never pursued a career as a diplomat.

No one hates having pictures taken more than I do. I know that is hard to believe considering there are thousands of pictures of me on Facebook and countless other websites. Let me clarify. No one hates having headshots done more than I do. However, as an author of six books (go to my newly redesigned website, www.miltonstern.com – shameless plug), I had to have headshots done for each title.

Ironically, the best pictures of me, in my opinion, are candid shots, where I don’t pose. I think it is because I never could grasp the tilt your head, move your chin, look this way and don’t blink routine.

Over the years, I had several photographers try to get a good headshot, and the best was my friend Jim Gade, who actually took the two best ones of me. One was in natural light in a park setting. The other was on my sofa with Esmeralda (God rest her soul) sitting on the pillow behind my head. It took almost three-hundred shots to get those two pictures.

I am really not photogenic.

I never wear make-up during my headshots because in make-up, I look like a girl. Not a drag queen. I actually look transgendered. There is no middle ground. I go from flamer to Pat to Nana in just a few layers of medium beige pancake make-up.

In moving pictures, talkies as we called them in my day, I take up the whole screen. They say the camera adds ten pounds. Really? How many cameras were on me?

Back in the early 1990s, I hosted the first Gay talk show in Florida, The Milton Rose Show, Tuesday evenings, 10:00 pm, Channel 47. Did you see it? I would begin the show standing in front of whatever establishment we were highlighting that week and introduce the show like this:

“Hello, and welcome to the Milton Rose Show. I am your host, Milton Rose. This week we present our flowers for mother’s day special at Lake Worth Flowers. Come with me as we learn how to make the most fabulous bouquet!”

I said fabulous a lot.

Then, I would turn, and the camera would film me from behind as I walked into the shop or restaurant. That was when I saw what everyone was talking about all those years. MY BIG FAT JEWISH ASS! It was huge on camera (I still refuse to admit it is huge in person), and my funny walk didn’t help either. I bounce when I walk. Ba boom, botta boom, ba boom, botta boom. Oh my God!

Strangely, I never learn, so I continued to begin each show like that. I guess I have always enjoyed making fun of myself.

Twenty years later, I still look huge on film. Devon filmed me, and when I saw the results, I screamed. I looked like his biggest fan! I hear there were other objects and things in the picture like furniture and walls, but I never saw them. I took up the entire frame! Even he was surprised. I then spent the rest of the day asking, “Am I really that fat? Is my ass really that big? Do I look pregnant? How many cameras were you using? What happened to me? I used to be hot!”

Even in still pictures, my body looks funny, which is why there are so few attempts at beefcake shots of me. I look like a bowling pin. Seriously, I look as if I never saw the inside of a gym. Maybe I am a Jewish vampire, and that is why the camera hates me so much.

Now, I am fifty. I can kick, and stretch and kick. I’m fifty!

So, I decided to get some new head shots done. A friend of mine, a professional photographer, who also “enhances” pictures, offered to do the deed. I warned him that it would take hundreds of pictures to get one good shot. He told me not to worry because he would make it look good.

I immediately thought of Renee Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor (God rest her soul). Liz made a guest appearance on The Nanny, and when they did the cast photo, she insisted they use her photographer, who would send them copies after she approved them. Renee Taylor told the photographer, in front of everyone, “Whatever you do to her, do to me.”

The day after my shoot, Steve posted one of the pictures on his site to advertise his photography business. This was a first because none of my photographers have ever used me as an example of a good picture. I am always the “before” guy.

Well, he convinced me that my love of all things filtered and flattering is spot on. I never looked so dewy and young – even when I was dewy and young. I didn’t recognize myself. I have never looked that good. Friends from as far back as elementary school wanted to know my secret to young, flawless skin.

Here it is: flattering light and Photoshop … and Vaseline on the lens.

Now, where can I find someone to bandage my head?

If you look through the world through rose-colored glasses or wish everyone else did, follow me, join me, buy my books at www.miltonstern.com.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Make Room for Booty

At Christopher Newport University, which was Christopher Newport College when I attended – a big shout out to “Shoe Lane U” – I took an interpersonal communications class taught by Dr. Rita Hubbard. I remember a lot from that class. I remember being appalled that the girl sitting behind me voted for Walter Mondale (now, you know what year it was), since I was a Reagan Democrat at the time. I voted for Bob Dole in 1996 because Clinton signed DOMA. Sue me. Ironically, I am still working the phones for the Hillary 2008 campaign. I refuse to concede.

Where the fuck was I?

Oh yes, Dr. Hubbard’s class. I liked Dr. Hubbard although she was a bit pompous by Newport News, Virginia, standards. One day in class, she stated that once her face fell, she would get a facelift. I am going to bite my tongue because I liked her, and she is still alive.

We learned quite a bit in her class, and it was the third of her classes I had taken. The first was a speech class, where I delivered a series of speeches on Lucille Ball and the state of situation comedies in the 1980s. Big surprise there. I also met my first boyfriend in that class. A guy who turned out to be a pathological liar whose entire life and even his name were fabricated! We went on a trip to New York, my first time on an airplane – Piedmont Airlines – and we stayed at his brother’s apartment, which turned out to be a flat in a warehouse we had to break into that thankfully had running water, but no furniture. To this day, I wonder if that was really his brother’s apartment. I lost touch with him soon after that trip. I have not looked for him on Facebook either, since I never knew his real name.

Yes, I got off track again. Deal with it. The creative mind is quite complex, or in my case, a hot mess.

Among the things we learned in the interpersonal communications class was how women and men take up space when they sit and when they walk. Men tend to swing their arms and walk as if they just finished a heavy lat workout at the local Nautilus – Chris Canavos will appreciate that one. When they sit, they spread their legs as if they are waiting for oral service or a ball waxing. Women tend to walk more narrowly as if their entire path is a runway in Milan; and when they sit, they cross their ankles and close up, practicing for marriage – especially the Jewish ones. How do you stop a Jewish woman from having sex? Marry her. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve told that one a hundred times.

Oh, how times have changed.

In the 1980s, we were skinnier. I know I was. How else did I wear those tight OP shorts and stove pipe pants that made me look as if I had no working man parts? Remember Whitney Houston’s first video? She was as skinny as a crack pipe. As a result of our undiscovered love of all things high fructose corn syrup, we took up less space then.

Another thing has happened along the way. I remember carrying my books to class under my arm. I never carried anything with me when I went to work at Sammy & Nick’s Steak House except for two pens. I didn’t need a backpack. But now, everyone takes all their belongings with them wherever they go. We carry more shit with us today than ever. Where in the hell are we going?

I am just as guilty. I just took a quick glance inside my bag, which is the equivalent of looking inside Grandma’s purse. I have Kleenex, an umbrella, Excedrin, Benadryl, Zyrtec, Aleve, Claritin, bandages, gum, pens, a baseball cap, a knit cap, gloves, a grocery bag, my lunch, water bottle, eyeglass cleaner, an extra pair of glasses, manicure kit, emery boards, batteries (I always have batteries), iPhone charger, eye drops, moisturizer, brush, comb, and baby wipes. What? No extra pair of underwear? I need to fix that.

But at least mine is just a messenger bag. Yes, I got all that into a messenger bag. I have been told I am the best packer.

What I cannot stand are the people who carry luggage with them everywhere they go, especially on public transportation. And worse yet – roller bags! Are you going on a trip somewhere? Is it a three-hour tour? Why do you need to carry your Samsonite everywhere you go?

The roller bags are the biggest nuisance on the Metro platform. They are so wide you cannot get past them on an escalator, and those who live in DC know: stand on the right; walk on the left. If only the tourists knew that. Once you pull an OJ Simpson and get past them, as you run for your train, there is someone else with a roller bag blocking your path. If you thought by OJ Simpson I meant you stab them to death and get away with it, you are very young. Think Hertz commercial.

Not only are they in your way, but also they are the ones who walk slowly through the station as if they have nowhere to go. I guess if you have all your belongings with you all the time, you don’t need to be in a rush. You are your destination. It makes the transition to homelessness that much easier.

Once you get by the snails with the luggage, then you have to get by the …

OK, I am about to be so politically incorrect, I am going to hurt some feelings, but there is no other way to say this.

… fat people. If 80s fashions ever come back, these people have no hope. Why is it the bigger the ass the slower the pace? There is only so much room between the edge of the platform and the various poles and stairways and escalators at any given Metro station. It never fails. Just as I hear the chime of the Metro doors, I am behind someone who could moon Houston – the fourth largest city in the United States (I just read that on Wikipedia, and if it is on Wikipedia, it must be true). As you try to pass on the left, what looks like someone smuggling couch cushions swings to the left, and when you try to pass on the right, you almost get bumped onto the third rail 70s style.

Without your ass, you couldn’t walk forward, so shouldn’t these people be walking faster than the rest of us?

For those of you who don’t take Metro, these are the people who are in the crosswalk when the light turns green, and unless you want one for a hood ornament, you have to wait two cycles of the light before you can proceed. Have you ever yelled out your window, “Move your fat ass!”?

No? Me neither.

After dodging all shapes and sizes of roller luggage and various and sundry gluteus maximusses, you finally get on the train, and for once you get a seat. Don’t get too comfortable. Remember that one ass in the blue polyester you had to cross to the other side of the platform to avoid, it is aiming for the seat next to you. It creates such a shadow that you would swear you were witnessing a solar eclipse in a tunnel.

Now, I am six-four, two-hundred-forty pounds. I carry it well, and with the aid of spanks, you will never deny me that delusion. With my frame and tonnage comes my own wide girth, so if you are going to sit next to me, you cannot be built like a 1959 Rambler American. Don’t tell Teensy or Weensy that (there is your I Love Lucy reference for the day).

I don’t know how many times I have heard: “Oh have mercy, ummmph, Lord, let me sit, oh my, uuummppph,” as one of those twin globes of adipose tissue squeezed into the seat next to me then pulled her roller luggage closer and blocked what little leg room I had.

Funny, after they get squeezed into the seat, they always give me a look as if I am the one taking up all the room. Hey, I didn’t eat an entire box of Entenmann’s donuts for lunch. OK, I did, but I work out.

America is getting fatter, and all that fat is spilling into my personal space!

If you have a large ass and are proud of it, follow me, join me, get on my email list, but don’t get in front of me. Better yet, buy one of my books at www.miltonstern.com.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

There's My Bag

There's My Bag

Around every seven of so years, I decide to fly somewhere. There is a reason I don’t fly. I don’t like to. I am not afraid of the flying part since I am more likely to die by hitting my head on the faucet after I slip in the shower while shaving my testicles.

I hate the experience. I have never been a fan of frequent travelling, but I will take a road trip over any other form of transportation any day, and until I perfect doing my Endora wave and achieve an entrance surrounded by smoke and an exit punctuated by flames – now I both enter and exit with a punctuation of flames – I will pick a road trip over anything else any day.

My first experience travelling a great distance alone was on a Greyhound bus in 1977. I was going from Newport News, VA, to Washington, DC, to visit Nana, my drag grandmother – I look like her in drag; she didn’t teach me drag. The station in Newport News was located near King’s Department Store – the one store that even trash considered trash. The station in DC was and is still located in Union Station. Knowing I was arriving at 1:30 pm, Nana arrived at the Greyhound Station at 10:00 am. She never liked being late. Sound familiar? The trip was uneventful, and there were no-blog worthy events on that trip.

However, my next trip on Greyhound was in 1990, and I was traveling from Beaufort, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia, and from Savannah to Newport News, VA. That was also the weekend of the Greyhound strike. I was stuck in Savannah, and my long love affair with Georgia began that weekend when I was mugged at gunpoint. I was mugged again at gunpoint in 1993 in Atlanta, Georgia. Whenever I drive south, I make sure I pee and poop before entering Georgia, and I don’t stop the car until I am in Florida.

I have taken Amtrak once. I rather enjoyed it until it started raining, and the car I was in had a leaking roof and filled up with water. When the conductor came by to punch our tickets, I pointed out the crack in the ceiling, and he said, “Will you look at that?” Not the reaction I wanted with water leaking all over light fixtures and other electronics.

Air travel is another story. Often when I get on a plane, I think about that Lucy special in 1965, Lucy Goes to London, co-starring Anthony Newley (available now on DVD!). The special starts as an episode of The Lucy Show, and she marvels at the joy of flying, going here and there, drinking champagne, being served by a pretty stewardess in a tight fitting girdle, having a meal and a snack, and buying that fabulous Pan Am luggage at Duty Free!

Remember when you picked up Nana at the airport, and you could walk right in and wait at the gate, or better yet, when you dropped her off, you arrived twenty minutes before her flight and walked her right up to the gate? Those days are long gone. Long, long, long gone.

Air travel is no longer a luxury or a pleasure. I think my ancestors had an easier time getting on that boat to ride steerage across the sea to a land filled with promise and opportunity and a phone book full of Gentile names to choose. What security? They rode their horse drawn cart to the dock, paid their fare, let the horse go, and boarded the boat with all the belongings they could carry, including a set of sterling silver Shabbat candlesticks that would be passed down generation to generation until their great, great, great granddaughter Rabbi Sylvia Williams sold it on eBay.

Were they charged per steamer trunk?

If only air travel were so easy. I had a 7:35 am flight from Baltimore to Houston to see Devon and attend his gallery opening this weekend, so according to the TSA, I was to be at the airport at 5:30 am. That meant I had to get up at 3:00 am in order to have some breakfast (I haven’t missed a meal since 1962 – remember my safe word is “Dinner”), drink some coffee and hope for a bowel movement (fifty can suck sometimes).

I decided to drive myself rather than use the Blue Van because if I want to die while on holiday, let it happen on the plane not in a fiery crash on I-195 in a Blue Van. You see they are really bad drivers … get it ... moving on.

I parked in long-term parking, which is a reasonable $8. At Ronald Reagan George Washington George Bush Richard Nixon Gerald Ford International Airport (they are still changing its name) it costs as much to park your car as it does to pay off a politician. Neither is satisfying.

I then took the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal. I loved the following announcement: “Thank you for using long-term parking. On your next trip, consider using our covered garage completely powered by the sun for just a few dollars more.” A few dollars. Try an extra $16 a day.

Now, it has been a while since I have flown, so I was surprised that at check-in, which I thought I had already done when the android called me the day before to complete my check-in, which apparently, we did not, or I would not have had to go through the entire process again.

Here is what I found fascinating. The ticket agents all stand behind the counter, while you complete the check-in yourself utilizing a touch screen. The touch screen is like buying that thing that vacuums wax out of your ears that is advertised on the TV Guide channel. By the time you finish your call to the 1-800 number, you have bought four WaxVacs, batteries, a frying pan, a blender and the Veg-O-Matic for only six easy payments of $19.95.

Not that that ever happened to me.

I did order the seat-plus for those of us with extra inches, and I did the unthinkable, I checked my bag. I don’t do the four-three-ounce-quart-baggy thing. Who needs the headache? Besides, I go through six ounces of moisturizer a day and don’t get me started on lube. I pack what I need, and I check my bag. The ticket agent asked me, “Are you sure? There’s a fee. No one checks their bags anymore.”

“Check it, please,” I said. She then took my bag and flung it onto the conveyer. Seriously, it is the only bag you will have to grab today. I just checked myself in on your lovely touch screen, and the only communication we had was your inquiry about my checking a bag, and you fling my L.L. Bean exclusive, limited edition, roller bag in olive green with burnt sienna accents and matching tags? If she broke my Neti Pot, there would be hell to pay. I absolutely must water-board myself twice a day.

Then you walk through security. I love security. I like trying to figure out how many of the TSA screeners are former gang members, and how many killed someone. Want a hint? If a number is tattooed on the back of the neck – former gang member. It makes body identification easier after they are shot. If there is a teardrop tattoo near the wrist, they killed someone. Don’t ask how I know that.

I counted eleven.

I took my laptop out of the bag, emptied my pockets, then I took off my shoes, and I wanted slit my wrist with the edge of the bin (since you can’t even bring a fingernail file with you). I had worn a hole in my sock, and the big toe on my left foot was sticking out. How mortifying.

They you walk onto this Dr. Scholls kiosk and place your feet on the yellow feet marked on the floor (the feet are always much smaller than mine) and raise your hands. I received compliments that I am sure were inappropriate – well received, but inappropriate nonetheless.

After being told to exit, I asked which orthotic I should buy? No one laughed. I should have realized the Sharks have no sense of humor.

Then you have to walk fourteen miles to your gate. This is when the unthinkable happens. Your bowels, which you thought you thoroughly evacuated before leaving the house, send you a signal. And, no one likes to have a bowel movement in a public restroom, unless you are a senator from Idaho.

I took a wide stance and did my thing. Then came time for the paperwork. I usually carry baby wipes with me, but in my rush to leave, I packed rather than put the wipes in my pocket. Helpful hint: put some in a sandwich bag and carry them in your pocket. Huggies are the best brand.

I am about to get a little personal here. First, I want to know what sadomasochist designed the toilet paper dispensers in public restrooms. The paper never comes out, so you spend most of your time trying to get enough of it, and when it does, you realize a roll of calculator paper would have been better. Why is it when you really need an absorbent paper product, what you have makes whatever you are doing worse. This is where the term “hot mess” originated.

I was ten minutes from boarding, and no matter how much of this crap, pardon the pun, I managed to wrestle from the bastard of a metal dispenser, I was getting nowhere with my paperwork.

Needless to say, ten minutes and one very raw tuchus later, I walked to my gate looking as if I was the main bottom attraction at the Eagle’s latest demonstration on the proper way to take a fist up the ass. I am sorry, but there was no other way to put this. And, it has happened to all of us. The bad toilet paper; not the fisting.

Now, I would have to sit in my extended row seat for three hours, chafing, burning and itching all the way.

This is where the fun begins. I had a laptop bag, and my seat was near the front, so I quickly placed my bag and jacket in the overhead bin. Apparently, the ticket agent wasn’t kidding. I never saw so much crap carried on a plane in my life. One lady had a Queen Anne desk. Another had four radial tires. My favorite was the couple carrying the side-by-side refrigerator. Somehow, all was stowed away, and our flight took off.

Now, maybe my expectations are too high from watching Pan Am, a series that only lasted a season (if I like it, they cancel it), but when did flight attendants become so old? I am not talking my age old. I am talking worked the Lido Deck on Noah’s Ark old. One of them was nice enough to offer me the emergency row seat, but once I sat down, he asked me why I moved. Then he wandered aimlessly throughout the cabin for the rest of the trip.

The head attendant, or chief, or whatever they call them these days, used a walker instead of a beverage cart. The wings on her badge were made of wood and canvas.

Amazingly, the crew from Noah’s Ark did a great job even though one dropped her dentures into the coffee pot, and the other tucked her skirt into her adult diaper.

My favorite part of plane travel is the food – or lack thereof. You are offered choices on the pack page of the magazine, which you can pay for in-flight. The only problem is the same man who owned that restaurant in Ohio in 1955 when Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel drove through now runs the catering service for a certain airline. The hot sandwich choice was a cold cheese sandwich. I kid you not. I had to order one. Just as I suspected, that sandwich was manufactured in 1955.

I ate it anyway. I never miss a meal.

Knowing I was on the plane, and I am never late, the plane arrived thirty minutes early. After walking twenty-six miles through Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to baggage pick-up, I waited by the conveyer for my bag. The screen indicated my flight’s cargo was next, the conveyer started moving, and there was one bag: an L.L. Bean exclusive, limited edition, roller bag in olive green with burnt sienna accents and matching tags.

I chose that luggage because I thought it would be easy to spot in a sea of charcoal and black.

Who knew?

If you have struggled with airport toilet paper, get on my email list, follow me, tell your friends, or by my books at www.miltonstern.com.