Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Really NOT the Economy Stupid!

The election for President of the United States is days away and my message for voters and candidates alike is the same; It's really not about the economy. It certainly isn't for me and I would venture to say it's not for the vast majority of my voting friends and colleagues.

I believe the economy will continue to improve and even the most dedicated GOP voter must concede that most economic indicators are pretty much going in a positive direction. Unemployment is going down, housing starts are going up, GDP growth is stable or slightly improving and even the usually pro GOP investment community sees things trending positively ( Could it be better? Sure. Could the Republican economic model work faster? Maybe. I don't think so, I think there's very little empirical proof that 'supply-side' or 'trickle-down' economic policy creates jobs or reduces debt.  It heavily benefits the wealthy and promotes unprecedented income inequality, but I'm not an economist and there's so much partisanship in Washington I don't think either sides theories can get fully implemented. I think Americans are tough, savvy and resourceful so regardless of which party gains control of our government I believe we will rebound economically and both sides claims of economic ruin if the other gains control are so much sound and fury. All that being said, for me it wouldn't matter if one side had a distinct advantage on the economic front, it's not about the economy.

I support the Democratic Party because of their stands on social and moral issues. The 'Liberal' view of the future for these United States is simply better, more tolerant, more inclusive and I do not want to live in this GOP's America. The Republican vision for this country is unacceptable to my sense of fairness and counter intuitive to my obligation to my children as citizens of the planet earth.

It's very simple for me. Although there are many tenets of the Republican Platform that I find reprehensible I will mention just a few that make me, as a sane, rational, compassionate person run screaming from the Conservative party. They are the indisputable, entrenched positions of the Republican Party in this country and I believe an embarrassment to this nation.

1) The GOP wants to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. They want to permanently add to the defining document of this country a religious definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.  I am not interested in living in a country that imposes restrictions on whom a person can love, that treats certain members of its citizenry as 'less than' just because of some archaic notion.  It is absolutely unacceptable to me to discriminate against a group of people or an individual based on who they share their bed with, period.  There is a separation of church and state in this country and banning gay marriage is 100% driven by religious edict and doctrine. There is absolutely no economic, security or any other reason to ban gay marriage aside from religious zealotry. Americans are better than that, my children deserve better than to live in a country that discriminates against its own because of some ridiculous idea that we are a Christian nation and need to adhere to Christian moral principals. It's discrimination pure and simple and this country is based on the concept of fairness and tolerance.

2) The GOP wants to overturn Roe vs Wade and ban abortion in this country. They have proposed personhood amendments, believe life begins at conception and want to eliminate Planned Parenthood. We've heard their members say there are 'legitimate rapes' and as recently as yesterday 'pregnancy caused by rape is God's will', well not any God I am interested in following. For a party that promotes 'individualism' and wants smaller government to propose over 300 pieces of legislation, by far more than any other issue on their docket, legislating a woman's body is not only hypocritical it's another demonstration of discrimination. Add the fact that the majority of the GOP, including VP candidate Paul Ryan, opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Act guaranteeing fair pay for women and you simply cannot argue that the Republican Party doesn't view women as something other than equal.

3) One of the more disturbing things to me about the Conservative agenda and something that I absolutely view as  treason against this country are their efforts at voter suppression. No less than 29 laws have been proposed in 19 states by conservatives restricting access to the voting booth. They have been struck down by the judiciary, including the US Supreme Court, time after time as being discriminatory to minorities, seniors, students and the poor.  Study after study has shown that voter fraud does not exist in this country in more than an infinitesimal amount ( All of the GOP efforts to restrict voting impact traditionally Democratic voting blocks from redistricting to restrictions on early voting. Since there is no evidence of voter fraud the only motivation for limiting voter rights is stop people that might vote for the other guys from voting. The GOP is undeniably trying to ensure that fewer Democratic leaning people get to vote and any attempt to deny that fact is quite simply a lie. This country is based on voting rights, on the right of its people, ALL of it's people, to elect people that represent them and on our ability to dictate to our government how we will be governed. Making it harder for people to vote is not anything our founding fathers would support and it's certainly not patriotic. When the motives are so obviously political, designed purely to grab or maintain political power by discriminating against other Americans I believe voter suppression to be a crime against the state.

I could add Republican obstructionism, environmental positions and other conservative tenets that make it impossible for me to support them but these top my list. They top my list because they demonstrate a platform of intolerance and discrimination separating us rather than uniting us. What happens to my money? That is the least of my worries if the Republicans are setting the moral compass for this country. That is why I will continue to do everything in my power to see that the current Republican vision of America remains just that, a vision it's not the economy.  Because if the Republican vision of this country is reality, then this is no longer my America and it's certainly not our America-it's theirs and I don't want any part of it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why Theatre needs the Film Incentives

I own a small scene shop, it's part of the 'enterprise' that is Etico Productions. Currently we are building a show for Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, Michigan and we couldn't do that job without the Film Tax Incentive program currently in place in Michigan.

Tipping Point wants us to build their next show for an amount of money that wouldn't remodel kitchen cabinets. I'm not disparaging this great up and coming company, EVERY theatre we work for wants us to build and install shows for ridiculously small amounts of money. We make it work, we barter, we use our own stock materials and then get some back, I donate my own time or borrow from another show we've built. It's a growing business model and part of the reason this 'arm' of our business exists; to share resources, to help theatre's that are struggling financially and do not have the ability to maintain a scene shop or carpenters or tech staff. Since we started doing this type of work 10 months ago we've built eight shows and been involved in at least five others and we've broken even or lost money on every single one. Next season we'll break even more if we're lucky and after that who knows hopefully we'll continue to grow. We've stayed open because I've been able to invest my own money and the only reason I've had that money is the film work I have done since the Tax Incentive Plan was in place, without that income we close our doors it's that simple.

Brian, Ben, Phill, Lindsey, Maria, Alex, Craig, Andy, Nan, Bob, Karen, Brent, Brett, Ron, Andrew, Sarah-these are the names of people that have drawn a paycheck from work with us (not including the 20 or so actor types) If I were not fortunate enough to book the film work that I have none of these people get paid, none of these jobs exist, and that fact is not showing up on any of Governor Snyder's spreadsheets. I get my health insurance through my SAG work, that means I don't buy my own; money back into the business and more people employed in the theatre. I was on location for almost 4 weeks last summer, someone had to run my shop, build my shows; more people employed in the theatre-no film work and those theatre jobs are gone. There are at least four of my employees that I know for a fact would have left the state if not for the work we generated for them last summer-without the ability for me to invest in my business more of our young and talented folks leave this state. I am able to invest because I am able to make money from the Film Incentive program and a 6% flat business tax is not going to accomplish that Mr. Governor.

I don't know, maybe that won't be the case this year, maybe I won't book as many films and we'll close our doors after all, but I am shooting three days on "Ides of March" with George Clooney next week and three guys will be working in my shop building a show for Tipping Point THEATRE while I am gone. What I do know is, it's a guarantee that if the Film Incentive program goes away so will my company and so will all those jobs in the theatre.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Oedipul Block

As the blinded King Oedipus, Laurence Olivier uttered a terrible, desolate scream of pain which is a thing of legend and often chronicled. He is quoted as saying that to ‘find’ that scream he thought of how they catch ermine.

“In the Arctic they put down salt and the ermine comes to lick it. It's caught when it's tongue freezes to the ice. I thought about that sudden pain when I screamed as Oedipus.”

I think about my back after getting out of my car and the 70 minute drive to Williamston.

I wake up every morning between 4 and 5am hoping that it won’t hurt. At this point that’s like hoping my bulldog Bella won’t snore like Fred Flintstone, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. If bi-weekly epidural blocks and three hours of icing a day haven’t fixed the problem, it’s probably a good bet that the back fairy isn’t going to visit me in the night. Simply put, my body is way older than the mileage would indicate-I wish there was “cash for clunkers” or “lemon laws” for the human body.

Unless you’ve had chronic back pain or the unfortunate circumstance to live with someone that does (like my incredible wife Kate) it’s hard to describe. Imagine never being able to be in a comfortable position or that sleeping hurts. Imagine the fear of sneezing being only outweighed by seeing a flight of stairs. It’s kind of like that.

There are only two instances in my life when I forget about the pain in my back and although both actually increase the discomfort when they are over, those are some good times while they’re happening. Both allow my brain to compartmentalize the ache to a non-immediate state temporarily. One, I cannot talk about in a family friendly forum and the other one is a child’s pastime- I play pretend a few times a week at Williamston Theatre in a new production of “Oedipus”.

Sir Laurence Olivier called playing Oedipus the ‘Lear’ of Greek drama and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a great and challenging role but to paraphrase another great Sir- Ian McKellen -‘I’m not really King Oedipus I am pretending to be King Oedipus.’ Now, I know a lot of my fellow artists will take umbrage with my simplification of our ‘craft’ but I’m an old school guy and what I do may be a lofty pursuit to some, to me it’s my job-it’s how I earn a living and it has it’s difficulties sure but it’s not brain surgery, sorry folks.

As fortunate as I am to be a part of this innovative moving piece of theatre, it flat kicks my butt, it’s all I can do to fold myself back into my car and make the drive home to my ice packs every night. I have done more physically demanding roles for sure and even a few that have called for a similar level of emotional ‘pretending’ but that was before I rolled the odometer over on this body. If you come and see us and I strongly suggest you do, you’ll see that we hit the deck running and don’t stop for the next 80ish minutes. It’s done in the round, it’s emotionally charged, there’s no intermission and the stakes are high from first word to final curtain.

All that being said, when I am on stage, I am pain free. The level of concentration necessary and the intensity of the work short circuit or distract the pain receptors, I guess. And when you are fortunate enough to be working with other actors that have that same level of commitment and honesty you can be transported into the life of the play. Oedipus is physically pain free (until the end of course) and although he is an emotionally tortured character, John the actor is joyous. The incredible folks I am on stage with every day are my ‘back fairy’ and I love them for it. All in all, it’s quite a ride and whether you think you like Greek drama or not, I can promise you won’t be bored for a single second.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Average White Man'd in Afghanistan

I must open by saying; I'm just a dude, I profess to have no particular insight, am privy to no inside information, I'm basically just a 40 something, average white man that reads a lot. So what follows is strictly my opinion and I could well be wrong-its happened before. On Wednesday of last week I was all set to write about President Obama's speech on Afghanistan but then I thought I'd take a cue from Mr. Obama and take my time before I said anything.

Unlike his critics I personally found it quite refreshing that he took his time to formulate his ideas on the subject, committing American lives is no small responsibility and called for his due diligence. [BTW he still made his decisions in less time than it took former President Bush to elect to undertake the 'surge' in Iraq] Unlike almost every commentator on the planet I LOVED his speech, it had the proper tone and was nicely devoid of cowboy-ism. It was a serious speech for a serious matter.

I do not care that he did not use the word 'win' because a war in Afghanistan cannot BE won. Just ask Daius or Alexander two 'Greats' that both 'won' but couldn't hold the country between 500-700 BC, or ask the Russians how their 80's went over there. I thought what he outlined was a way to get us out of there and that is what he has always said he was going to do. I also don't care that he gave a timeline for withdrawal, I think that gives incentives to the Afghan government to get their proverbial shit together. I don't think it emboldens the enemy or that they will just hunker down stop fighting and wait for us to leave. And if they do stop fighting just what the hell is so bad about that? Are people really arguing that the terrorists not killing people or mobilizing for any length of time is a negative? To me there is also tangible proof that an 'open ended' exit plan simply doesn't work, even the Bush administration conceded that fact in 2008 when they came up with their 'aspirational objectives date' of withdrawal from Iraq by summer of 2011. It wasn't until then that the Iraqi government really did anything about righting their own ship. Did I like the fact that our President was committing 30,000 more American's to fight in Afghanistan? No, I sure as hell did not but I think at this time it's necessary, is the best action for a horrific situation and even though I am a peace lovin' liberal I support President Obama strongly on this issue.

I must state right now though that I was completely against the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place. I was one of those 'un-patriotic' folks that screamed at the top of my lungs that retaliation for the attacks on 9/11 was folly. I have family in NY, it was horrifying I wanted payback as much as the next guy but I believe going into Afghanistan was just utterly stupid. Invading Afghanistan to take out Al-Qaida and end terrorism is like invading Tennessee to take out the KKK and end racism. We should have been hunting individuals, alliances and networks rather than laying waste to an entire country with our 'shock and awe'. I further believe that moving our focus to Iraq for reasons that are 'suspect' at best was an even bigger mistake. A mistake that has not only been a humanitarian disaster but is responsible for creating more terrorists and the main reason we have the heightened threat against us that we do now. I am not alone in that belief either, this is what the last National Intelligence Report from the Bush administration had to say:

"The Iraq war has become the cause celebre for jihadists. Shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives"
It went on to say that skills far more relevant to terrorist attacks in the US are being developed by the insurgents as they learn to deal with urban warfare techniques.

Research fellows, Peter Bergen and Paul Cruikshank from the Center on Law and Security at NYU did a study entitled The Iraq Effect stating:

"The rate of fatal terrorist attacks by jihadist's groups, and the number of people killed in those attacks increased dramatically after the US invasion of Iraq."
By dramatically they mean 607%! Terrorism has gone up by 607% since President Bush decided to invade Iraq. We as Americans are considerably less safe than we were BEFORE the attacks of 9/11 and to make us less safe over 5,000 American service people and countless Iraqi civilians have paid the ultimate price.

So because of the situation we find ourselves in, the history of Afghanistan and what I view to be a clear [albeit ambitious] plan for our involvement there I have chosen to support Mr. Obama's plan for Afghanistan.

I wish my liberal friends would cut the President a break on this subject. I don't think he has backed off on a single campaign promise regarding our involvement in the region. He said he would no longer hide the costs of these wars off the books as the previous administration and he has opened the books and talked about the cost to the American people as a significant factor in his decision making process. He said he would bring our troops back from Iraq, he's doing that and we'll be out of Iraq by August 2010. Now, that's 18 months into his term and not 16 as he originally said but it's a year earlier than his predecessor was bringing any troops home. He also always said we may very well need more troops in Afghanistan so if you voted for the guy quit your bitchin', he's doing exactly what he said he would before he was elected and you voted for him.

What exactly has he said we will do there?
1) Deny a current safe haven for terrorists 2) Stop the Taliban from growing and gaining momentum 3) Strengthen the Afghanistan security forces and government. If these things can happen with any moderate success then in 18 months we're outta Dodge. As Mr. Obama said in his speech, all of these things are designed strictly to create a 'secure populace'. It is having this secure populace that will enable the Afghan people to take their country back so we can leave. Virtually every expert on the issue agrees that the success or failure of our mission in Afghanistan relies mostly on the Afghan people. Andrew Wilbur of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University believes that this plan to create a sense of security for the Afghan people is the only viable way of 'putting them in the driver seat'-and that is what needs to happen so American troops can come home.

It is essential that the President named an exit 'date', American sentiment is incredibly negative in the region after the last eight years and it is paramount that we not be seen as occupiers-occupiers don't set a date for leaving. In the town of Nawa, in the Helmand province, Marines there have secured the city, helped build schools, roads and hospitals. The people there are supporters of the US troop involvement and they are starting to take control of their town back from the Taliban and Al Qaida. Their only fear is that we'll stop there and Marja, a bigger city nearby where terrorists and corruption rule the day, will envelope them. The first wave of US military is destined for Helmand province, they will secure Marja and enable those people and the surrounding area to take control of their lives back. That is what our mission is in Afghanistan; secure the place so we can leave and a by-product of that mission is that we will be safer. Both for the elimination of direct threat and for the improved 'relationship' in a region who's hate for us has created a breeding ground for terrorists.

Mr. Obama has also spent a great deal of time rebuilding alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, we are not going into this fight alone. All 44 nations of the International Security Assistance Force have agreed to send troops, in fact after his speech on Tuesday the ISAF pledged 2,000 more troops than he originally asked for bringing the total to 7,000 international troops in theatre. He showed guts by calling out Pakistan, demanding that they do more and is spending considerable political capital there including sending CIA chief Leon Panetta and special envoy James Jones. In the past two months 400 Pakistani's have died as a direct result of terrorist attacks and although they are sharing information it is a country full of internal conflict regarding American 'assistance'. I would not want to be President Rardari of Pakistan for all the rice in China because right now the Pakistani's are very leery of US involvement and any cooperation with the US is politically very tough for him. The international alliances ease some political pressure on him and enable Pakistan to be a more helpful partner in the endeavor. The situation in Afghanistan is directly tied to Pakistan as the President said in his speech and most experts agree. I believe Mr. Obama to be addressing that situation with considerable skill and diplomacy and given his successes around the globe to date I have no reason to doubt his success in improving that relationship.

It frustrates me that the Republicants are so determined to see Mr. Obama fail that even when they agree with his actions they still only focus on the one thing they don't like. They want a strong war on terror and the President is taking action. They kept bitching that a President should listen to his commanders and not spout policy. He did, this is basically General McChrystal's plan and he totally supports what the President is doing. And yet all they do is comment and complain on how setting a withdrawal date is tantamount to failure, even though they have absolutely no proof to back it up-it's just the only thing they can disagree with so that's ALL they talk about. I encourage them to all remember how they ganged up on anyone expressing concerns about the run-up to war, how they called us un-patriotic. Practice what you preach and get behind the man- he's your President too.

So, although I was once arrested for smoking a joint in the post office and burning my 'selective service' registration and I've riled up my liberal friends, including my wife I'm behind the President on this military action-do I like it? Nope, but I get it and he's my President so I've got his back on this one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Politcal Lives

I have yet to meet one single person, not one, that doesn’t think that the health insurance system in this country needs to be changed. I read a minimum of four newspapers every single day from all over the country and not a week goes by that I don’t read multiple articles or editorials that address the issue. It doesn’t matter if you call yourself a Democrat, Republican or an Independent, it’s in the news, it’s on our minds and according to Gallup it’s the # 2 issue in America running slightly behind the economy.

A new study by SurveyUSA puts support for some type of government involvement [not necessarily the public option also including system reforms] at a whopping 77%.

Well, it’s a complicated issue for sure and I am not going to tell you that I have an answer or that I even know all of the problems but I feel confident in saying that the vast majority of Americans feel the need to change the current system in some way. My own main support for believing that something needs to be done is found in the following uncomplicated statistical facts. Average wages have fallen 1.4% this year through September, and overall since 1999 wages have only gone up 2% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics . In the exact same time frame health insurance premiums rose 131%, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. That’s pretty clear cut in my mind; we’re in the hole 129% over the past decade in our ability to provide health care for our families. I don’t care what business you’re in or what activity you equate it to if over ten years you were down 129% you’d be stupid not to change the way you operate. I don’t believe Americans are stupid. I don’t even believe our politicians are stupid but they are ridiculously selfish, they lack the courage of their convictions and are not accurately supporting the will of the American people that they are sworn to represent.

I make no secret as to my political leanings, I am a liberal. I don’t say I am a Democrat anymore because to me the Democratic Party is too centrist but I support the Democrats overall because they are more closely aligned with my core personal values. However, in this case there are enough Democrats screwing this up for me to lump all politicians together. There were 39 Democrats that voted against a watered down House health reform bill-39! Why?- because they are more concerned about being re-elected than they are about accomplishing a task that 77% of Americans are in favor of. You want proof? 31 of the 39 Representatives voting against the House bill were from districts won by John McCain in 2008 including all 13 that hold seats that switched from Republican to Democrat in the last election and are in for tough re-election fights. Republicans are in lock step about opposing any Democratic sponsored health care reform and these Democrats are afraid that if they stand up for what they believe in, that which is a main plank of the Democratic platform, the Republicans will beat them in November. Well good, if the people in their district think that the Republican platform of non-government involvement and opposition is more in line with what they want then they should be voted out because they don’t represent their constituents. They were elected as Democrats; health care reform was a huge part of their and President Obama’s campaigns and they happily road his coat tails into office. Yet now because of the threat of losing their seats they are caving in. That’s not leadership that’s cowardice and selfishness. In the Senate there are three Democrats on record as opposing the proposed reforms. They are from Louisiana, Nebraska and Arkansas. In Arkansas the support for health care reform runs 6% higher than the national average and yet she opposes the bill because she is trailing to all four Republicans slated to run against her in 2010. The fact that these three people could effectively kill health care reform in this country infuriates me. Combined, the population of these three STATES [9,040,727] is less than the COUNTY of Los Angeles [9,862,049] but that is the nature of the democratic republic in which we live and I can’t really bitch about that. [Although I just did]

As for the Republicans, they are the most culpable to me, all of them. They all agree that the system needs reform just like the rest of us yet they have opposed health care reform at every turn. Their alternative was a four page outline that basically said ‘we oppose government run health care’. It didn’t say how many people theirs would cover, how much it would cost or how it would cover them. So you don’t like this plan? Fine, come up with an alternative instead of spending every waking hour bashing the one that’s actually out there. They can’t do that though because if this plan passes, it would be a significant victory for President Obama and that is the thing that Republicans really oppose more than anything. It is widely accepted that if President Obama manages to accomplish the main social reform promised throughout his campaign that he will be even harder to unseat in 2012. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine released a report which estimated that 18,000 American adults nationwide died in 2000 because they did not have health insurance. The Urban Institute estimated that 22,000 adults died in 2006 because they did not have health insurance. According to 5,285 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Yet, despite those facts Republicans continue to shout that the President is moving too fast on health care reform and too slow on troop deployment in Afghanistan. The overriding majority of Americans want health care reform, we’ve demonstrated that and it is unacceptable to the Republicans that a Democrat will accomplish it. They call it Obamacare which is ridiculous because the White House has been unbelievably hands off on the whole deal. In fact, President Obama has been far too hands-off for me and most of us in support of sweeping changes. They use phrases like socialized medicine and scare tactics about deteriorating service and losing your own doctor. You know the last time those phrases were used? 1969, about Medicare, and now one of the main arguments Republicans use against the plan are the proposed cuts and reforms to the sacred untouchable Medicare system. It’s a joke, except nobody is laughing.

I don’t know if the plan being offered in the Senate will work. But I do know it is the best available option out there and that not doing anything is not a viable option to most Americans. I’m hopeful, there’s a lot in it that all sides agree on if other people would actually read it. I’ve included a link to a very readable synopsis below. I’d give you a link to the Republican plan but there isn’t one. Regardless of where you fall on the issue, get involved, check out how the people representing you are voting and why and let them know how you feel. Our elected officials are playing politics with our lives, more concerned about keeping themselves in power than enacting the will of the people and that is unacceptable but unless we do something about it we are as culpable as they are.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Brad Pitt, the Drag Queen and Me

I've always been a bit of a gym rat. I like to work-out and have at different times in my life been a little obsessed with my body image. Although there have been periods in my life where work commitments or finances have kept me from maintaining a gym membership at those times I could at least usually be found curling two paint cans tied together in my basement or undertaking 10 mile bike rides. I recently came off one of those down times and found myself at my heaviest weight and the most out of shape in my life. My battles with feelings of depression, quitting smoking, some financial troubles and poor eating habits had ballooned me to 235 lbs. and a 36 inch waistline. At a smidge under 6' tall I was rounder than I had ever been and not at all happy about it. As the summer of 2009 began I knew in September we would be producing The Rocky Horror Show and that no matter how good my performance was as Dr. Frank-n-Furter nobody was going to want to see an oompa loompa in a corset.

However, despite that fact I couldn't seem to get myself to work-out or diet. I was in a successful production of A Picasso, had a long commute and was producing two other shows so I just kept putting it off and putting it on. When A Picasso closed and my other shows were over the first of August rolled in and I rolled right in with it. Mortified at what I looked like and with the thought of a September 11th opening in my underwear in front of thousands of people I finally broke down and bought a gym membership on August 3rd, that day the scale read a whopping 238.

I began a blistering regimen of a two hour work-out every day, six days a week and I stopped eating (mostly) after dinner. No two bowls of cereal (my guilty childhood pleasure) or ice cream for dessert. The intensity of my work-outs became a thing of notoriety at my gym, even the personal trainers were impressed and they told me so. The positive reinforcement was great and I enjoyed it, except they kept calling me Brad which I couldn't figure out. It seemed odd they didn't know my name since I was there so much but I didn't think much about it and just smiled and went about my business. As anyone who belongs to a gym will attest there's a social atmosphere and camaraderie that develops among the 'regulars' , you chat, find out some personal information and in general become friendly with those folks you see every day. We laughed, enjoyed some typical locker room humor and talked in the sauna, steam room or sitting in the whirlpool. I started to look forward to seeing my 'friends', even if they didn't seem to know my real name.

One day one of the trainers was working with someone and asked me to come over and help spot his student on the bench press. " Hey Brad can you give us a hand over here?" After the sets were done and the trainer discharged his pupil to the steam room I finally broke down and told him that my name wasn't Brad. He said "Oh I know, that's just the nickname we've given you, I thought you knew that I'm sorry. Does it bother you?" I told him that it didn't bother me but I didn't understand it, how is "Brad" a nickname. He said- "You know? Like Brad Pitt." Now I don't have any delusions as to making a comparison of any kind between myself and Brad Pitt except we both have hot wives so I told him I still didn't get it. Then he asked me if I had ever seen the movie "Burn After Reading". oh no! When I do my cardio on the elliptical or treadmill, I have my music on and once I get my heart rate over 150 my eyes are closed, I zone out, in fact I've been pulled off my machine on more than one occasion because some of them beep after you go past the cool down timer. You see, I don't want to know how much time I have left or the distance I've traveled I just kinda flip a switch and go until I can't go anymore. Apparently, I also 'jam' a bit and much to my dismay apparently even sing once in awhile. Well after a good laugh I jokingly said that maybe being a performer had something to do with it. He asked what kind of performing I did and I told him what I had done recently and that in fact the reason I was working so hard was I was going to play the lead in Rocky Horror and was about to be on display in a corset and high heels. To quote Hedwig-'His face was so still it could have been a Yes album cover'. He excused himself and I went back to finish my work out thinking no more of it and determined to watch my exuberance on the cardio equipment.

The next day one of the usually friendly and flirtatious girls at the desk silently checked me in and as I went to grab my towels I caught her and one of the other employees looking at me and whispering. In the locker room I smelled my armpits, checked my breath and examined my teeth for parsley...nothing untoward was happening in any location so I chalked it up to girls being girls and started to change. My mates, usually not shy about locker room banter including giving me shit about my crooked back were curiously quiet. Nobody was rude and when I asked one guy how his ailing brother was we chatted and he asked me about a recent audition I had but I could tell something was amiss. After my work-outs I treat myself to a nice long steam trying to take advantage of my heightened metabolic rate and the heat to sweat off a few more ounces, it was in that fog that everything became clear. The minute I walked my naked butt into the steam room the three guys in there unceremoniously left and even in the mentholated smell of the steam room the trail of homophobia they left behind reeked to high heaven. These guys practically ran out of the place and at first I laughed but then I got pissed.

I have absolutely no tolerance for intolerance, it's what has driven me away from religion and even alienated me from members of my own family. No god worth a shit is going to tell me a member of their flock is an abomination because of who they sleep with. Tell me you think a gay couple shouldn't get married or use the word nigger, hebe or wop in a conversation and our relationship is over period, even if you're only 'kidding'-I find the subject void of humor.

So these guys all thought I was a drag queen or something and were suddenly afraid to be naked in front of me, how pathetic. I decided to ignore it giving others the benefit of the doubt and just figured that these morons were in the minority, I mean c'mon it's 2009 right? However, as the next several days went on it got worse, more cold shoulders, less conversation and a lot of alone time in the sauna. Admittedly, I escalated it as my anger grew each day, I'm a good Frank-n-Furter and had no problem swishing about or standing bare assed in the middle of the locker with my hands on my hips watching ESPN commenting on how cute A-Rod was or the size of his bat. As the show got closer I had to shave my upper body, chest, pits, everything and when I showed up that day at the gym you would have thought I had leprosy-it would have been laughable if it wasn't so disgusting.

Happily the week of the show came around and I didn't get into the gym for awhile. In fact I had decided I wasn't going back there at all. I had reached all my goals, I was down to 205, my waist was 33 inches and as one of my son's friends commented on seeing the show "Damn your Dad is ripped!". When we had finally put the show to bed I changed my mind and decided I'd go back to the gym and finish out the month's membership before cancelling and starting over somewhere else. Upon my arrival everything had changed, I was greeted with an almost reverence, the girls at the desk flirted unabashedly with me and the men that had shunned me when they thought I was gay were asking me how the show went. I was taken aback to say the least and not a little confused. I found out later in the day that one of the trainers had come to see the show with his girlfriend and she was a yoga student of my wife-I had been inadvertently de-outed. This did nothing to alleviate my anger and in fact it probably made it more vehement and I internally railed at the bigotry of my so called gym buddies. Then I took a deep breath and decided that I too had to be tolerant. I couldn't hate those people just because they were a bunch of hateful, ignorant, small minded prejudiced assholes. Stupid people need love too.

More truthfully though I liked this facility and I was not going to let those idiots force me to change my gym just because of their asinine beliefs and fear. I'm not all that forgiving though, the cold shoulder is now on the other foot so to speak and I have new 'gym buddies' and they actually know my name.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

this moment

It's November 1st, 2009 and in my wildest imaginings I never thought I would be here, in the situation I am in, in the world that I occupy, in this life that appears to be mine. I started this blog months ago at the urging of many friends and family that have enjoyed things I have written or thought that comments I have made were interesting. I came up with a cool title, a nice 'blurb' as a header and then I didn't write a single word. Mostly because I've been...dep...uhm... I've been experiencing some d..urm...ahmm...things have been ...pffffffft...fu*# it-I've been depressed. Hard to write that for me, harder to say it-my therapist calls it the "D" word because of my aversion to it. Hard to write a blog called "Producing Joy" when you've got the "D" word. I didn't feel I could practice what I preached-still don't all the time... most of the time.

I'll sum up because although the details may be different, our situation I'm afraid is not uncommon. I haven't been able to find a steady job since the end of 2007. I didn't get closed out in the recession or get outsourced but my job ended unexpectedly and it happened during a time when unemployment in Michigan more than doubled from 6.9% the end of 2007 to the over 15% it is now.-Bad timing, bad luck, bad karma no matter what you call it-it's bad.

As an artist, work is forever sketchy I'm used to that but I've always found a 'semi-civilian' gig; I did educational programming for an arts center, I've been an administrator in arts organizations, did the spin and grin on the auto show circuit or a ride and drive. And like most in this business tons of part-time stuff--tended bar, midnight hotel desk clerk, gas station attendant. I had a paper route in my thirties, have done literally hundreds of load-ins and have even sold cutlery that can cut a penny. People who know me will attest I do not avoid work, but at a time when we are shedding jobs by the thousands each week I am 0-100+ in the interview/application process. Well, I almost had one $10 an hour job but ended up not getting it because the employer knew I would always be looking to leave for a better paying gig and decided not to hire me at all. As a final kicker going into the holidays our only remaining client/co-producer cancelled all our upcoming ventures until June of 2010.

We can't afford health insurance now and have joined that American statistic so bandied about in our political arenas lately. Now it's the first of the month which means the mortgage is due and yes we'll make that payment but I can't guarantee next month or what we'll have to leave unpaid to make it. If I have to turn off the heat at least we'll be covered because the stack of unpaid medical bills can burn in my fire place for a long time.

Unemployed, Uninsured and Overextended:Life During The Obama First Term-I don't blame the President but it's not an unfair description-Actually, it hurts me to even say that because I was the oldest person I saw humping the the streets of Pontiac and Waterford campaigning for the guy-I took my kids to see him in Detroit. My political leanings are well documented and I put my feet, my pen and my time where my mouth is but these "times" are going to define President Obama's presidency whether anyone likes it or not. Personally, I am of the belief that the previous 8 years [and the prior-devil Ronnie Reagan] are far more responsible for what has happened in this country and the world than anything Mr. Obama has done in 10 months but he is going to own this crisis because the recovery is going to happen [or not] on his watch. I wish he wasn't such a wimp about getting the insurance reform done and would stand up against don't ask don't tell and the marriage act but all those are subjects for other blogs. I think overall that President Obama has done exceedingly well in a situation of enormous magnitude and depth and I am VERY happy he is my President. Which brings me back to the subject of this blog-happiness or the lack thereof.

So things suck but somehow just knowing that it's not only me...doesn't help one damn bit, really. It seems somehow immoral to take solace or have my pain assuaged because of other people's hardships. In fact I feel worse because others are suffering and a good many of them worse than me. It's dep...disheartening. So what do you do? What makes you set the alarm at night? For me it's my Dad, dead for over 25 years but somehow still with a grip on the back of my neck and a blue eyed stare that could cook a potato in five minutes. He passed on a lot of advice to me in the 19 years I knew him but the one that sticks with me is...and I'm paraphrasing now...
"Life is hard and most of the time things are not going to go as you'd like them to go. Well, too bad, nobody is ever promised an easy road and there's no use bitching about it because nobody cares about your sad story, they've got their own. " He was from the tough love school of parenting of that generation. "You want a successful life? Take the bad things that happen without... drama" he looked for a word he thought I'd understand. "Don't let the bastards know they've hurt you. Then when you get up you'll be stronger...."And you can kick their ass right Dad?!! "No, then you can ignore it because bad shit really only goes away when it doesn't matter any more." It was kind of a mix of; 'never let them see you sweat' and 'the best revenge is a life well lived.'

But how can I have a life well lived when I am terrified I'm going to have to live in a refrigerator box? And how the hell am I not supposed to let that affect me, not have any drama? I'm an actor I need direction, how do I get through the damn day?!Then I go back to " bad shit really only goes away when it doesn't matter any more." Ultimately, what's the only thing that really matters?... Life right? Being alive; it's hard to do anything if you don't have that going for ya. I mean in comparison nothing really matters outside of that, so at this moment I'm alive and that's good. Ok cool, got through a moment. What else matters? My family; they are all safe, nothing else is truly significant outside of being alive with my family. So, right now, I am alive, I am loved and I am not in a refrigerator box, this is a good moment. And in this good moment the bad shit is gone because I have all that matters. And this moment is really the only one we have right? Can't change a past moment or alter a future one, they're gone or haven't happened, this moment is the only guarantee; so by logical progression the ONLY thing that really matters is this moment- And that is how I get through the day, one moment at a time, by concentrating on right now, embracing this instant-and that produces joy right now, because now is all we have for sure. So moment by moment the day passes, and little by little the moments get strung together making a good minute, a good hour, a good day and before you know it it's time to set the alarm again. It's hard to do that, I have to think about it, force myself do it and I'm not always successful but like Dad said nobody is ever promised an easy road.

As actors we find our greatest success in the truth, living in this moment, well art imitates life and I am determined to have a successful life even if I have to get there one , this moment, at a time.