Give the Boot to Reboots

When the original version of the sitcom Roseanne ended, Dan Connor was dead. His wife, Roseanne, revealed in the finale that what viewers had been watching on the program, which ran from 1988 to 1997, was actually based on a book about her family she had been writing. While the characters in the book were real, writer Roseanne admitted she had taken many liberties with events and incidents that had occurred. For example, the Connors had not won the lottery. Nor had Roseanne and Jackie’s mother come out as a lesbian; instead, it was Jackie who was a lesbian, which made more sense. On the other hand, Dan’s heart attack death was true. But the reveal that the program was derived from Rosanne’s writing should not have been a surprise to dedicated fans of the show as references to her desire to write had been made throughout the show’s 200+ episodes. Dan even had intended, perhaps begun, to create a small work space for her in the basement.

When the original version of Will & Grace ended, we had jumped into the future. Will Truman and Grace Adler had endured an 18-year estrangement, the result of their marriages interfering with their relationship. But they are older and wiser now. Will and Vince’s son and Grace and Leo’s daughter meet at their college’s “move-in” weekend where they develop a healthier relationship than that of Will and Grace. Meanwhile, once-wealthy Karen is broke and, in a surprise twist, Jack inherits the late Beverley Leslie’s wealth. The two perennial best frenemies are living together. When Will’s son Ben and Grace’s daughter Laila marry, Will and Grace realize that perhaps the purpose of their entire rocky relationship had always been to get their offspring together to share the relationship Will and Grace could never have.

I, personally, was satisfied with the conclusions of both Roseanne and Will & Grace.

I, however, discover years later, we had been lied to by Roseanne and Will & Grace’s producers and networks; reboots of these classic comedies were announced in which their original conclusions would be disregarded. Dan Connor miraculously would be alive. Will and Grace still would be living in their childless, tempestuous, immature fag-fag hag relationship.

I loved Roseanne. I loved Will & Grace. Loved. Past tense. But I don’t need to be played the fool by network executives and producers who prioritize cashing in on an unhappy America wanting “the good old days.” I don’t enjoy being manipulated by these same broadcast big shots who hope to make a lot of money off America’s stupidity.  I am disappointed that these same lazy, unimaginative media morons cannot create new, original, worthwhile comedy programs. And I don’t respect their lack of respect for these sacred cows of comedy. I am not happy and I am not watching these reboots of former favorite sitcoms.

A reboot of Murphy Brown, another favorite from the past, is in the pipeline. I won’t be watching it either.  A running joke on that show was Murphy’s inability to retain receptionists. I long list of celebrities appeared in cameo roles as her frustrated, frightened, incompetent, belittled assistants. I can’t imagine producers dropping that gimmick in the reboot. I wonder how the powers that be will bastardize that entertaining idea. But I won’t be watching to find out. I won’t see which deceased stars of film, TV, music, politics, and sports appear as Murphy’s temporary receptionists as holograms.  It would be ratings gold; in the first episode of the reboot, Nat “King Cole and daughter Natalie could sing Unforgettable as they fight over a receptionist desk stapler. I can see the promos touting the appearances of other dead celebrities now: “Guest starring this week on Murphy Brown, Whitney Houston.” Or Mohammed Ali. Or Mary Tyler Moore. Or Prince. Or Princess Di. Or Barbra Bush. Or Robin Williams. Or Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher together. Or Dan Conner.

I won’t be watching. I’ll be doing something else, something more important. Maybe washing my hair. Perhaps watching original, innovative programming on Netflix or Amazon. Or possibly writing my own sitcom.

Train Now Leaving For . . .

In last week’s post, I explained how the domino game Mexican Train is played. I took my role as Mexican Train Professor Emeritus seriously and tried to treat the subject with respect and dignity. This week I invite you to observe a game played with my Ajijic neighbors. When we began playing, we met once a week. But now we, in order to assuage our anger, play on days following a stupid Trump tweet or statement. Therefore, we have played for nearly 600 consecutive days.

The neighbors who meet at 10:00 include 64-year-old Geoffrey (pronounced Joffrey. Do not call him Jeffrey or Jeff. Two former neighbors mysteriously disappeared after doing so.) Walls, a British banker whose Chauvinistic, dismissive treatment of female employees forced an early retirement, and his timid, skittish, Scottish-born, 51-year-old wife Jessie. Donna Forrester is a Floridian, usually drunk but not so tipsy to reveal her age. She is never seen without make-up, coiffed hair, and bold, colorful, often-sequined, expensive clothing. She appears to be in her mid-50s, but probably is in her early 70s. She always arrives carrying a family-size Bloody Mary. Marv Rosen is 67. He is slender and in shape. His face is still handsome. Originally from Scarsdale, New York, he has lived in San Francisco and Palm Springs. He may be gay, but has never acknowledged that. White-haired Wyatt Paderewski is nearing 80. He’s loud and boorish. These qualities, however, did not prevent him from becoming a successful and wealthy sports agent. Nor did they prevent him from being a “chick magnet.” His fifth wife, Zina, is half his age and a Mexican-American spitfire. They are from the Los Angeles area. Wyatt, however, is dealing with onset dementia.

And me. As you know, I am a former male-exotic dancer, having performed as such until my retirement at 65. For the last 15 years of my career, I performed at Gerry’s Geriatric Attic in Jersey which isn’t an attic at all. It actually is on the first floor of a building because most of its clientele could no longer navigate stairs or remember which elevator button to press. I also am, as you have learned by now, a humorless person who takes life seriously and never lies, exaggerates, or makes fun of or mocks the truth.

Wyatt is always the first to arrive, usually five minutes early, and accuses the others, including his wife Zina, with coming late on purpose to irritate him. When Donna, generally the last to arrive, joins the group on the poolside patio, the game begins.

“I don’t know why everyone always gets here late,” Wyatt snipes.

“You always get here too early,” Geoffrey corrects. “I told you that yesterday and the day before that and the day…”

“Did we play yesterday?”

“Yes, Mi Corazon,” Zina says in a soothing voice. “Remember how Marv…”

“Let’s get started,” Donna interrupts. “I have a hair appointment at one.” She puts down her drink and swirls the face-down dominoes around the table with the palms of her hands in an effort to mix them up. The dominoes are white with bold black numerals instead of dots, making it easier for vision-challenged retirees. “Take ten,” she says, “and we’re looking for the double…”

“Twelve!” everyone snaps in unison.

“Donna, do you have to say that every day? We know how this works,” Marv says.

Donna reaches for her Bloody Mary and takes a sip. “Yes, in fact, I do. Some unnamed players seem to forget the procedure.” She looks at Wyatt who is staring at the assortment of plastic trains clustered near the oblong train station.

“Which color is mine?” he asks.

“Black, Mi Amor,” Zina answers. “You always pick the black one.”

“I do?”

“And you picked 12 dominoes. You need to put two back.”

“You all said to pick 12.”

“No, we said pick ten. We are looking for twelves.”

“That’s not how we played it in L.A. We picked 12. And we always found the double beforehand and just put it in the station.”

“We didn’t play Mexican Train in L.A., Mi Amor.” Zina’s patient voice sounded like that of a veteran kindergarten teacher.

“We didn’t?” Wyatt said with confusion. Sudden clarity returned. “No. That was the way I was taught on my first visit here in 1985.”

As the players pick their colorful tiny train and 10 dominoes and turn the tiles over, Jessie, the quietest member of the group, murmurs, “I’ve got it.” But not everyone hears her. She places the double-twelve in the center of the plastic train station.

“Does anyone have the double-twelve?” Wyatt blares.

“I do. Did. I already put it…”

“Well, why didn’t ya say so?”

“She did,” Geoffrey says. “Shit, Jess. Why can’t you speak up? You can be such a pain in the arse. Now hurry up and play. You had the damn domino so you go first.” The others at the table seemingly ignore Geoffrey’s rudeness and focus on their dominoes, forming trains and developing their strategies.

Jessie places a twelve-tile in a slot on the station with caution. Her eyes reflect fear. She places a second one in the slot designated the public train. Geoffrey, to her left, puts a twelve-tile in his slot, followed by Marv, me, Wyatt, and Zina. Only Donna fails to have a twelve. She draws another tile, hoping for a twelve. “Crap!” she spews as she places her lavender plastic train at the head of her track-to-be.

“Sorry, Donna,” Jessie mumbles as she adds a tile to her train, “I don’t have one for you.”

“I do,” Geoffrey says. “Right out of the middle of my train, dammit.” He looks up. “Hey, did you hear that Harold and Carleen are moving back to Vancouver?”

“Really?” Donna says with surprise. “I think she misses her grandkids. Not sure they miss her though. She’s such a…”

“Are they gonna sell their place?” Marv interrupts. “I know some people in San Francisco that might be interested.”

“Your turn, Marv,” Jessie whispers.

“A couple,” Marv continues. “In real estate. They’d fit in here. Jack’s been here before. Years ago. Don’t know about Dani. They’re fun people. You all would like them.” Everyone wonders if Marv said “Dani” or “Danny.”

“It’s your turn, Marv,” Wyatt repeats Jessie’s reminder. “Who are Harold and Carmen?”

“Jim went to USC. Didn’t you go there, Wyatt?”

“Marv!”

“What?”

“It’s your move!”

“OK. OK. Don’t get so upset. I didn’t know. Why didn’t somebody tell me?” Marv places a tile on the public train.

I match a double-five to the five sharing the twelve-tile in my slot.

“You better have a mate to that,” Wyatt threatens. “Cuz I don’t…”

“Don’t you worry your charming self, Mr. Paderewski, because I do.” I place the tile on the end of the double-five.

“Didn’t you have an extra twelve for me?” Donna asks. I shook my head.

“Shit!” exclaims Wyatt. “I got your damn twelve. And giving it to you is gonna really screw me up.” He places the twelve-two combination tile in Donna’s train slot.

Zina adds a domino to her track. Donna smiles and places the double-two and a two-five on her track and removes her lavender train. “Thanks, Wyatt. You gave me the perfect tile.”

“Did I give you a tile?”

As Jessie reaches to place a domino on the end of the public train, Geoffrey says, “Jess and I went to that new restaurant last night. Marta’s. It was pretty damn good.”

“Martina’s,” Jessie corrects under her breath.

“Yeah. Marta’s,” Geoffrey continues. “I had chicken fajitas and Jess had—What did you have, Jess? Oh, pasta of some kind—and the servings were big and it was cheap.”

“Shrimp tacos. I had shrimp tacos. But, dear, it’s your turn.”

“Yeah. I’d recommend it. We should go as a group sometime. What are you all doing Friday?”

“It’s your turn, Geoffrey,” Zina says. Like the others, she ignored his question.

“Oh. It is? My turn? I thought it was Marv’s turn. But he was talking about those people in San Francisco who are moving into Harold and Christine’s place.”

“No, dear,” Jessie says with timidity, avoiding eye contact with anyone. “I think we’re waiting for you.”

“Oh. Well, I have to draw.” Geoffrey draws a tile, looks disappointed, and places his navy blue train at the head of his track.

Marv chuckles. “Perfect,” he says as he places the double-one and a mate on Geoffrey’s track.

I move a tile to the end of the public train.

Wyatt adds to it. “We ate at Casa de Rosa last night,” he says. “Her new waitress is cute. I’d do her.”

“Oh, my God,” Donna gasps.” Your wife is right there, Wyatt.”

Zina places a tile on her own track and responds. “Don’t worry, Donna. I’d do the bartender Rico.”

“I already have,” snaps Wyatt. He starts laughing. Marv pretends he didn’t hear Wyatt’s comment.

Rattled by the exchange, Donna reaches to place a domino on Geoffrey’s track, but knocks over her Bloody Mary spilling its sanguine redness over the table and coating both Zina and her own white dominoes.

“Oh, dear,” Jessie cries uncharacteristically. “Why are you always so drunk, Donna?”

Zina grabs an abandoned beach towel on a nearby chair and tries to dry the dominoes. But it is too late; they already are stained by the tomato juice. “Oh shit!” she says.

Donna looks at Jessie. “And why are you always such a spineless cipher of a wife?”

Marv leaps up faster than a jack-in-the-box and blares, “No. No. Not again. I’m not gonna put up with these dramatics. I’m out of here.” He walks away.

“Yeah. We’re leaving, too,” Geoffrey announces with anger. “My wife is not a spineless cyber wife, you drunk! What the hell is a cyber wife, anyway?”

“Well, I am not going to sit here and be called a drunk. I didn’t move to Mexico to be insulted,” Donna responds. “Besides, I have to get ready for my hair appointment.”

“And you’ll need all 2 ½ hours to do that,” Zina chimes in as Donna turns and walks away.

“Hey, Mi Corazon,” Wyatt says to Zina, “want to go back to Casa de Rosa for lunch? We can hit on that waitress and the barten…”

“I’ll beat you there, Mi Amor.” As Wyatt and Zina began walking toward their casita, I hear Zina say, “I need to change into something sexier.”

I put the stained dominoes and the other paraphernalia in their box and toss it in the garbage as I exit the grounds. I head to the store to buy a new, clean Mexican Train set for tomorrow’s game.

All Aboard the Mexican Train

A popular pastime among émigrés and ex-pats along Lake Chapala is a domino game called Mexican Train. I’ve been told Mexicans call it Cuban Train. I suppose Kenyans call it Tanzanian Train, Uzbekistanis call it Tajikistani Train, and Neptunians call it Uranusian Train.

There are a variety of ways to play the game. But the way I play is the easiest. I know that is true because FOX News has reported that a two-year, 18 million dollar US government-funded study determined that the rules I follow are the simplest and least confusing. It is so easy, the study found, even Trump supporters can understand this version of the game.

Up to seven people can play Mexican Train. That is because at the center of the table—and you need a large table—is a plastic “train station” with eight slots from which the players form their domino train tracks. “Ah,” you are saying, “you just said up to seven people can play but there are eight slots for trains. You might be good at spelling and writing, but you don’t know shit when it comes to numbers.”

Well, you are correct. I am rithmatickally challenged. But I was correct regarding the slots at the train station. The eighth one is for the “public train.”

In addition to the 12,682 dominos, the game set comes with an assortment of tiny colored plastic train engines. The red one is placed at the head of the public train slot. Each player selects a plastic train; this step serves as a revealing psychological test. Some people pick the black one because they identify with its darkness. Many men pick the blue one because it is perceived as a masculine color. Some players favor the pink because it reflects their own beauty. The yellow has appeal to some, I suppose, because it radiates happiness and optimism. People who opt for the clear one, that 18 million dollar government study suggested, are empty-headed and vacuous. I always select the tartan plaid one because I think I am Scottish.

But unlike the public train’s red engine, players do not, and I repeat, do not place their train at the head of their track at this time. If they do, the player to her/his left must chop off the violating player’s right hand with a dull, rusty kitchen knife. See printed instruction sheet enclosed in the game box. Refer to Section 9G, “Dull, Rusty Kitchen Knives.”

To begin the game, each of the players picks 10 dominoes, which are laying face-down on the table. Once selected, players study their tiles. In the first game, they are seeking dominoes with a 12 on it as one will start their train track. But more important, players also are looking for the double-twelve tile. The one who has it will announce in Laotian “I have the double-twelve,” serve the others saltines and liverwurst, and frolic naked around the table. OK. I lied. That person does not have to be naked. But (s)he does place the double-twelve in the center of the train station and plays first. Meanwhile, players are forming their train, matching like-numbers end-to-end as in traditional dominoes.

But, oh Lord, what happens if no one has that all-important 12-12 domino? Well, it may seem dramatic and a bit over the top, but war is then declared on Nicaragua. And all players cower under the table whispering and holding their bladder until a peace treaty is signed. Oh, caught me again. I josh. Let me correct my misleading, FOX News-worthy statement. In the event no one has the double twelve, players take turns drawing added tiles until someone finds it and this can go on for several cycles. Yes, one can end up with more tiles than are in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom. Once found, however, the finder begins the game.

The lead-off player places a 12 in her/his slot; if (s)he has a second 12, (s)he may place it in the public train slot. (I am using the “(s)he” and “her/him” constructs to describe players to avoid being charged with sexism by feminist Mexican Train players. Oh, don’t get me started on feminist Mexican Train players; they are the most annoying, insisting other players refer to the dominos as “she” and “her” and constantly humming Helen Reddy’s I am Woman as they play. But I digress.) Then, going to the left, the players place a 12 in their slot. If a player has no 12, (s)he draws for one. If that is unsuccessful, that player places her/his wee tiny plastic engine at the head of her/his track, announcing (s)he doesn’t have a 12and making that track available. Subsequent players, if they have an extra 12, must give it to said 12-challenged player. I repeat must. If the player fails to do that and is male, his penis will be cut off with the aforementioned rusty dull knife; if female, her pussy hat will be cut up with pinking shears. Oh, this would be a good time to point out that the host or hostess must own pinking shears.

If no one has a spare 12 for the player in need, that player continues drawing dominoes until (s)he has picked a 12. Meanwhile, each player is building her/his train track, adding tiles with matching numbers to it. “But,” one may ask, “what do you do if you can’t add to your train?” That is where the public train comes in. And any train track with a cutesy itty-bitty plastic engine at its head. Players can place dominoes there that don’t fit into their track. Placing a domino on the available track of another player, may make it possible for that player to reclaim her/his track because its new end number may be on one of said player’s tiles. A player who adds to her/his own train when it has her/his plastic train at the head of her/his track can remove that train, thus making it unavailable to other players.

In the event a player plays a double tile, i.e. a double-six or double-ten, (s)he—oh, to Hell with this damn gender fairness crap. It is making it impossible to understand these cockamamie instructions. So, feminist Train players, here’s what I suggest. We, and I said “we,” march on Washington and demand equal pay for professional female Mexican Train players. They are, after all, athletes, too. Yes, I say, let’s stand as one and support the Women’s International Professional Mexican Train Player’s Association (the WIP-Empty-PA) and roar—now, where was I? Oh, yes. Double tiles. When one plays a double-domino, he places the tile across the end of the track, perpendicular to it. But he had better have a match to go with it, to satisfy it. If he does not, that player will be forced to eat the double tile. And I do not mean swallow it whole; I mean chew it until either the domino or the player’s teeth have been ground into a fine powder. Oh. Busted again. You caught me. Making up shit. Actually, if a player cannot match a tile to a double, he draws a new tile, hoping it will be a match. If not a match, the player places his plastic engine at the head of his track. But the game has now hit a major derailment for the next player must match that double, foregoing any plans for building on his own track. If that player cannot match, he draws and if that is unsuccessful places his plastic train at the head of his track. This continues until a player can satisfy that double. This derailing step can create several available temporary tracks on which to play. But remember, once a player plays on his own track, that player removes the plastic train and that track is no longer available to others.

When a player has placed all but one domino on a track, he takes that final tile and taps it twice on the table announcing his possible impending victory. The taps should be loud enough for all to hear, but not so strong as to break the table or startle actress Marlee Matlin, wherever she may be. Victory occurs when a player has placed his final tile.

The next game is played with the double-eleven and people base their train track on 11. The game after that, 10, then 9, and so on. Players work their way down to the double-zero or blank domino. A complete game can last more than two hours or until Trump’s next rude, imbecilic tweet.

So, now, let’s play a full game. Oh, you know what? All that explaining has exhausted me. I need a nap. We’ll play the full game in my next blog post, provided Trump has not triggered a nuclear war between the US and North Korea, China, Russia, or Nicaragua.

Oh, Happy Day!

When were you happiest?

What moments in your life filled you with total joy?

You’ve had enough time to think about it.

Now, in ascending order tell me, what’s your Top 10?

Go on. I’m waiting!

What? You don’t have a Top 10? Well, I do.

With all the negativity and anger dominating the news, conversations, and social media, I recently found myself thinking about happier times. When, I thought, was I my happiest? What events, which days filled me with total glee? I began making a mental list. It didn’t take me long to realize it probably was not like other people’s lists; I never married, had children, became a grandparent, or bought a house, all milestone moments in people’s lives. Other events many people might include that I did experience, like graduation from high school and college or retirement, were met by me with mixed emotions, not pure happiness, and, therefore, were not considered.

What, then, were my happiest experiences, moments, and days? Like I said, in true Tom fashion, I made a Top 10 List. But, alas, there is a problem; WordPress, apparently, does not allow numbering in reverse order. When I assign the first moment “10,” the system automatically assumes the remainder of the list is 11-20. Therefore, the list is not numbered. Remember, the first moment is #10 and the final one, the last one at the bottom, is #1.

Tom’s Top 10 Happiest Moments

*OK. I’m going to start by cheating. In 10th place are three related events, three sports championships. One probably was the first time I experienced post-childhood total happiness. I was 17 and my high school’s football team won the city championship. I played no role in their achievement other than holding a megaphone, donning saddle shoes, and jumping around a lot. But in the small world of a 1960s teenager, that championship was a big fucking deal! That level of joy was repeated years later when, in 1978, the Seattle Sonics won the NBA title, and, more recently, when the Sea Hawks won the Super Bowl. I celebrated those professional sports titles in the streets with the masses, acting as if championships create world peace, cure the common cold, or end world hunger.

*My first novel, Completing The Course, was published in October 1997. My heart raced and soared when I, for the first time, held a copy of the book in my hands. I remember swallowing hard, fighting back tears, and thinking, “I’ve waited 25 years for this moment.” It was the closest I have come to experiencing fatherhood.

*The day I was hired by the Seattle School District was a happy one. My joy was blended with excitement as I sensed this was a life-changing moment, which it turned out to be. I had innumerable positive experiences and developed countless memorable relationships during my 22 year career, but, in hindsight, I believe the happiest moment occurred when a well-liked special needs high school student with severe cerebral palsy was elected Nathan Hale High student body vice-president. It had been a five-person race with several popular, qualified, experienced candidates running, and I worried Sean would be painfully disappointed and hurt by the outcome. But he won in a landslide.  When he was named victor—it was done in an assembly—his uncontrolled joy, the prolonged roar of the students, and my happiness surged to 11 on a scale of 10, as did my pride in those Hale students.

*AIDS brought enough sorrow to my life to drown the Pacific Ocean in broken-hearted tears. The 1980s and 1990s were a sad, difficult time. Friend after friend disappeared from sight, then the world, but not the memory. One friend from the 1970s moved to Chicago for work. I saw him once shortly after that. Then, as AIDS spread, our communication ended. I asked others if they had been in contact with him or knew if he was still in Chicago. No one had heard from him. No one could verify his existence. I eventually obtained a computer and searched for him, countless times, countless unsuccessful times. Greg had disappeared, perhaps died. Years went by, 10-15, and it dawned on me I had always searched for “Greg,” never “Gregory.” I typed his full name into the computer and, voila, there was the public record of his recently purchased condo. In Chicago! The address and his phone number were listed. I dialed his number faster than Usain Bolt runs to the 7-Eleven for cigarettes. Hearing Greg’s voice, knowing he was alive, and finding a friend from the past brought more joy to my heart than I had felt since the first reports of a mystery illness plaguing the gay community, my community, began.

*November 4, 2008. The night Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. I never had thought I would see an African-American, a Jew, a woman, or a gay American achieve that office in my lifetime. I watched in ecstatic disbelief. Even though I had long before decided I, because of anger and frustration with US politics, would leave the US upon retirement in 2014, a flicker of hope was kindled.

*I met David Voyles in September 1993, my first day of a five-year stay at Ballard High where he was the student body president. A friendship was born that has lasted to the present. I’ve followed his life through his college years, his time as an officer in the Marine Corps, his wedding, the birth of his son, and into his career as a lawyer; he is now my Seattle lawyer. But the single happiest moment in my relationship with David occurred when he called me upon his return from Kuwait on the eve of the Second Gulf War. My months of worrying about his safety were over; he was home safe. Hearing his voice on the phone turned my legs into limp overcooked asparagus spears. My knees quivered like aspens in a winter wind and I fell into a chair mumbling, “Oh, my God, you’re home. Thank God you’re OK.” And then I couldn’t speak anymore. My Adam’s Apple was drowning. “Give me a second, David,” I managed to gulp out. Happiness is knowing a loved one is home safe from a war zone.

*We learned a bit about Mexican history in the fifth grade. Our book included pictures of ancient Aztec pyramids. I studied them in awe, but never imagined seeing them in person. Fifty plus years later, I found myself north of Mexico City dashing helter-skelter around the ancient city of Teotihuacan. I was like a toddler in a toy store. It was my first time at a world famous archaeological site and I was stoked. But my excitement and happiness did not reach its zenith until I stood atop the Pyramid of the Sun. It was an arduous climb in a single-file line forming a human millipede. And when each person reached the summit, he or she had but moments to remain and take pictures. But that moment, oh that moment for which I had waited more than five decades, was thrilling. The picture of me atop the Pyramid of the Sun captures my happiness better than any words.

*It was the 1970s. Numerous cities and counties, through legislation enacted by city councils or other governing boards, enacted laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination. The opposition, led by the Religious Right, immediately went to work to have the laws repealed by placing them on the ballot; they knew that at that point in time they could win a public vote on the controversial issue. First Dade County Florida fell. Then Mid-Western metropolises Wichita and St. Paul voters repealed their Gay Rights laws. Next was Eugene, Oregon. Each defeat was decisive. Then came Seattle. Initiative 13 was intended to repeal Gay Rights protections enacted by the city council. But the tide had turned; No on 13, rejecting the initiative instead of civil rights, was defeated by a nearly 2-1 margin. That election became the first public-vote victory in the Gay Rights Movement. With the first results announced on television, Seattle’s gays and lesbians and their allies sensed unexpected victory. I was at the campaign’s election night party. I felt the excitement, the disbelief. As up-dated results were announced, the happiness swelled like a Jiffy-Pop dome.  The moment our victory became official was ear-splitting and redefined joy. But the single moment I remember from that night occurred as I was heading to the bathroom. I spotted two older men probably in their 60s or 70s, veterans of, survivors of pre-Stonewall, pre-liberation life. They were hugging and crying. Their faces mirrored each other’s disbelief, reflecting the ecstatic joy of the moment, of that historic, surprising moment. Those two men encapsulated the feelings everyone there was feeling. They captured the total happiness I felt. I continued to the bathroom and when I returned they were gone; I looked for them but could not find them in the crowd. I do not know who they were; I do not remember their faces. But I will never forget them. I will never forget their joy. Or my happiness.

*The War in Vietnam raged while I was in college. A draft lottery based on birthdays had been established to feed the killing machine. My number was—OK, here come the jokes—69. As a result, even though I was safe from the draft as an undergraduate, come June 1970 I was an extremely likely draftee. I, however, did not feel overwhelmingly threatened; about six months prior to graduation, I suffered a serious herniated disc in my back, an event that has continued to impact my life to this day. That legitimate, fateful injury, I believed would be my ticket to safety. One would think that being unable to bend over or run would free one from service. But, initially it did not. Medical exams failed to prove anything; the technology of the time couldn’t verify my claims. I was perceived as a lying leftist peace-nik, which I was sans the “lying.” Therefore, to avoid being drafted, I took control of the situation as best I could, hoping to buy time. I signed up for the Army Reserves and spent one weekend a month between June and October 1970 in pre-Boot Camp service. Eventually I learned I was to report to Fort Ord, California for Boot Camp on October 13. Meanwhile, I, my father, and a diligent lawyer worked desperately to get me discharged before Boot Camp began. If, I was told, I wasn’t discharged before arriving at Ord, it would be too late. Once there, the investigation and process would take longer than Boot Camp itself. I was working against a clock, ticking like a time bomb. On October 10, three days before I was to report, I met a military doctor at Fort Lewis’ Madigan Army Hospital. Upon examining me, he looked my directly in the eyes and said, “Son, you have no business being in the Army.” Contained, restrained happiness surged through my innards. But I had to wait for forms to be completed and my return to my car before I could release my pent up joy. Once in my car, I fell apart. I cried uncontrollably. When I finally got my shit together and drove off, I had to fight off frequent bouts of vision-blurring tears while driving on I-5. I knew it wasn’t wise driving under those conditions, but 1970 mid-day traffic was thinner than Donaldt Rump’s orange hair. Besides, I didn’t care about my blurry vision or the number of cars around me. I was free of the fear of dying in a pointless war. And I was HAPPY!

*January 29, 2012. Vancouver, B.C. I sat in the 20th row at a concert. I had waited since I was 14-years-old for that moment. As a Jomo, a Jewish homo, I was in music-pop culture-show biz heaven with my goddess. Barbra. I was seeing her. In person. I was hearing her voice. LIVE. Barbra Streisand. For two hours, nothing else mattered. Everything in life, in the world, was perfect. Can anything top that level of extreme rapture? I doubt it. That was my happiest moment.

Who Are You People, Anyway?

The first three times I saw her were at the Ajijic Writers Group. We sat at opposite ends of the patio. Fifty or so attendees separated us. But I noticed her. That woman has style, class, and dignity, I thought. It was reflected in her clothes, posture, and gait. I wonder who she is. She could have been a model.

Several meetings passed. She was not there. I didn’t see her again until PBS aired a report on Lake Chapala and how it had become a magnet to retirees from the US, Canada, and Great Britain. A number of émigrés were interviewed. She was one of them. That’s that classy lady. I know her, I thought, although the second part of the thought was an exaggeration. With a British accent, she made comments praising Ajijic and Lakeside life. Then the reporter, in a voice-over, explained that the woman had an unusual claim to fame; she had been, in 1964, Playboy Magazine’s first international centerfold. My jaw dropped. The photograph was shown. I recognized it immediately. I was familiar with it, not because I had obsessed on Playboy as a teen, but because it had been included in numerous documentaries about the publication and its founder Hugh Hefner. The reporter continued telling the woman’s story, her history and accomplishments. Rose Grayson, despite her appearance in Playboy, went on to become a presenter on British television, the equivalent of TV news reporter and interviewer in the US. After that, she became a judge.

Can you imagine that happening in the United States, a 1964 Playboy centerfold achieving those lofty, respected positions in the  conservative, narrow-minded, wholesome US of the pre-women’s, sexual, and gay liberation movements? In fact, nearly two decades later, in 1981, the US was still struggling with its priggish mindset when we saw Vanessa Williams stripped, no pun intended, of her Miss America title because nude photos from her college years had surfaced.

More recently, I befriended another woman through the Writers Group. We had talked on several occasions, even sitting next to each other at the gatherings. It wasn’t, however, until she read an autobiographical piece that I learned, as a younger woman, Lynne had been a California social worker working at San Quentin Prison and had in her caseload Charles Manson. She had interviewed, counseled, and probed the mind of one of America’s most evil criminals. Again I was slack-jaw stunned.

That revelation triggered several questions as I looked at the other attendees. Those questions followed me as I walked home through Ajijic’s streets. They echoed in my head days later as I studied other émigrés and ex-pats around me while I sipped coffee at the plaza, ate in restaurants, and sat in audiences at musical and theatrical performances.

Who are you people, anyway? Who were you before you came here? What are your secrets?

Most of the Americans, Canadians, Brits, and other foreigners residing here are older, most likely retired. We see one another as we look now, in our later years. We generally have no clue what the people around us looked like as young people. We generally have no idea what their lives were like then or what facts about them are yet to be uncovered.

I find myself wondering, as I look at friends, acquaintances, and merely familiar faces around town, which women were high school or college cheerleaders, which men were star athletes, and which, as students, held leadership roles in student government. And which were school bullies. I think which women, as young girls, shrieked for Elvis or The Beatles, and which of the men had posters in their bedroom of Raquel or Farrah. I am curious which of the people around me were elected to public office in their previous lives, or ran unsuccessfully. Is it possible, I wonder, if among the people I have met or see are children of celebrities whose names I would know? Or could any of these people be celebrities themselves—television, radio, sports, film, politics, or theater stars—and I am plain clueless.

I worry that some of these neighbors have had to bury children. Or have become estranged from their families. I think about who has siblings or children with special needs. Have any of the people around me been big lottery winners or filed bankruptcy? I wonder which of the people nearby have been incarcerated. Or should have been. And, on the flip side, I realize some may have been the victim of a crime, perhaps violent. I speculate which of my neighbors are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender, either openly or secretly. Or which ones have children or grandchildren that live under the LGBTQ umbrella.

I reflect on which of my older fellow transplants served in Vietnam and which, as a result, suffer PTSD, which survived horrible automobile accidents or bounced back from near-fatal illness. I wonder which of the people I see in Ajijic have PhD’s or STDs. And I wonder which ones are members of the GOP.

Oftentimes, we discover long after meeting someone a surprising tidbit about their past or identity. It may be trivial, but it also may be germane to their personality or their private pains. It may be something about which they are proud, embarrassed, or ashamed. It may be something that is purposely kept secret. Or it may be something they no longer consider important or interesting.

We all have friends and acquaintances here in our retirement haven. But we all divulge our histories to them at our chosen pace for our own reasons. And often, so often, discovering those morsels of insignificant information, important facts, or long-held secrets about them shed surprising new light on the individuals or the relationships.

For example, did I ever tell you about the time I got caught naked at a political fund-raiser for…oh, I’m not ready to share that yet.

 

Trivial Pursuits

“I’ll buy a vowel, Pat.”

“Who wants to be a millionaire?”

“Good answer! Good answer!”

“Let’s make it a true daily double, Alex.”

Recognizable phrases from television game shows. We all watch or have watched them. But how many people can say they were on a game show? I can. “Which one?” you might ask. “Did you win?” you could add as an immediate afterthought. “Or did you embarrass yourself?” You decide.

I had moved to Portland in May 1985 perhaps two weeks prior to seeing the announcement on the Rose City’s NBC affiliate KGW. The station was launching the nation’s first locally produced big budget game show and was seeking contestants. Auditions would begin at 9 a.m. Saturday morning at the studio, the announcer said. The game, On the Spot, he added, would be trivia-based. Well, I, too, am trivia-based. Thus, it took me a nanosecond to decide what I would wear to the audition. It would be my pink polo shirt. It was, I assumed, bright enough to make me stand out, to be a memorable contestant hopeful. Well, at least among the men.

I underestimated how many Oregonians and southwest Washingtonians would be lured by this opportunity, so I arrived at KGW several minutes before 9. The line already seemed to stretch miles into the Columbia River Gorge. I hiked to the line’s end and crouched in the shade provided by Milepost 42. OK. OK! I exaggerated. It was 32. On the Spot producers also underestimated interest in this project and were somewhat rattled by the hundreds of applicants who showed up.

I looked around and realized that many of the people in line were wearing attention-grabbing bright colors, crazy hats, unusual jewelry, and bold humorous tee-shirts. I peeked down my chest at my pink polo as its brightness seemed to fade to pastel. An hour later, a team of befuddled producers inched its way along the queue handing out hurriedly marked pieces of paper with try-out times. “Rather than have all of you wait for hours in the hot sun,” a young man roared to the 50 or so hopefuls around me, “we are scheduling auditions.” He handed us scraps of paper with “3:45” on it and moved down the line.

I raced home. I don’t recall if I boned up on trivia. I don’t recall if I paced the floor in anticipation. I do recall, however, staring at myself in the mirror, second-guessing my pink choice, and then changing my clothes more times than a female host of a televised award show. I eventually decided on a simple but striking black and white combination. My slacks and dress shirt were black. But my tie…ah, my narrow leather piano keyboard tie, bold in its white and blackness, stylish by 1985 standards, jumped off that dark canvas. It stood out like Sammy Davis, Jr. and his pale, blonde, Swedish wife Mai Britt had when they attended Yom Kippur services at Seattle’s Temple de Hirsch-Sinai in the 1960s.

The audition, logically, was a trivia test which I found easy. I felt I had done well and that was confirmed several days later when a producer contacted me. “You,” he announced, “Piano Man, have been selected one of nine people to tape test shows to be shown to potential advertisers.”  The tapes, he said, would also be used by producers to evaluate what works and what is problematic in the structure of the game. I was thrilled and returned to the station for the taping. When I arrived, producers greeted me with, “Hey, it’s Piano Man.” My audition outfit had worked; my ebony and ivory tie had made me memorable.

I expected, however, to hear from producers again with a taping date for the On the Spot episode on which I would compete. I did not receive that call and games began airing in September.  I became concerned, disappointed, and angry. How could they use me for the tests, I thought, and not schedule me during the first weeks of the show’s airing?

I was called, however, many weeks later. It was mid-November. Taping would be the next night. Thanks for the warning, I grumbled to myself. I need a haircut, electric tan, and a mani-pedi. And I have to lose five pounds! I asked my roommate, who was a hospital employee, and my neighbors to come with me for support, but the former had to work and the neighbors had another commitment. Therefore, I went alone.  It was after a hellacious workday and I was frazzled and exhausted. I was not in a frame of mind to make my television debut. Nevertheless, I psyched myself up and entered the station lobby with a cocky attitude and met my two competitors. One was a four-time champ. I felt my confidence drain like sweat in a sauna shared with male supermodels.

We were marched onto the set for camera tests. I had dressed in a conservative, long-sleeved, button-down collar dress shirt and color-coordinated tie because, I thought, I no longer needed to stand out since I had already gotten the gig. My shirt, however, did not photograph well; its stripe apparently wasn’t as subtle as I thought and created a shimmering effect known as interline twitter, a phrase I stored away in the pocket of my brain marked “Trivial Technological Television Terms.” I probably had been instructed by a producer to avoid stripes, but as I was trying to retain the names of every US vice-president, Hollywood character actor, and left-handed, albino, Sagittarius pro-athlete, I apparently forgot the no-stripe request. Therefore, a producer brought me a sports jacket to minimize the shirt’s dancing lines. The coat, however, clashed with my shirt-tie combo. But worse, it was several sizes too large for me. I put it on and looked like Mickey Rooney wearing William Howard Taft’s inauguration suit.  Crap, I thought, I should have worn the pink polo.

I tried to think taller and broader than I actually am in an effort to fill out the jacket, but before I could grow four inches and gain 35 pounds, the program began. Theme music played. Introductions were made. I recall Larry Blackmar, the affable host, asking about my aloha shirt collection which I had mentioned on my application. “One of them,” I said, “is a Mexican Hawaiian shirt.” The smiley emcee’s eyebrows formed question marks and he asked why. Instead of describing the pattern of palm trees, Tequila bottles, and siesta-ing Mexican men in sombreros, I answered with impulsive sass, “Because it speaks Spanish?” The tone of my response implied “Duh!” If you look up the word “regret” in the dictionary, you will see my picture.

I defeated the four-time champ and won a trip for two to San Francisco, $200 worth of Nike clothes, $750 cash, and an On the Spot logo-emblazoned umbrella so large it could have covered the entire Amazon Rain Forest. But my win did not come without a potentially embarrassing moment that would have dwarfed the Mexican Hawaiian shirt gaffe.

The category was “Nicknames.” Emcee Blackmar began reading the clue. “Marlene Dietrich…” and I buzzed in. I was ready to answer “The World’s Most Beautiful Grandmother” because that was a nickname she had been given decades earlier. Blackmar should have stopped reading the clue when I buzzed in, but he didn’t. “…gave this nickname to Ernest Hemingway.” he continued. Hemingway’s nickname was “Papa.” I didn’t know Ms. Dietrich was responsible for that, but switched my response to the correct one. Imagine the audience reaction had I said Ernest Hemingway’s nickname was “The World’s Most Beautiful Grandmother.” Imagine my picture in the dictionary next to the definition of “televidiot.”

That episode of On the Spot did not air until New Year’s Eve. I watched myself with pride as I won and then went off to a private New Year’s Eve party. I knew some of the guests, but many were strangers. I didn’t mention my TV appearance earlier that evening, nor did any of the guests. But when a late arrival, a stranger, arrived, my secret was exposed. He looked at me and shrieked, “Oh, my God! I just saw you on TV!”

I became the talk of the party. Everyone had questions. “What is Larry Blackmar like?” “Were the lights hot?” “Were you nervous?” and “How do you remember so much useless shit?” The stranger who had seen me on television asked, “Why the hell did you pick that god-awful sports coat? It made you look like Kate Smith.” That triggered the trivia-challenged guests to ask, in unison, “Who?” But the most awkward question asked was, “How many games did you win?”

I could not bring myself to tell them what happened in the next game. While I did lead at halftime, I could feel my adrenaline flow drop from surge to trickle during the commercial break. When the game resumed, I could not, regardless how hard I tried, buzz in first. But worse than that, I couldn’t remember basic trivial information. All the names, dates, titles, and facts in my head became a tossed green salad tumbling in a rickety clothes dryer. I thought the ‘80s pop singer Tiffany was named Tabitha. Or Thorazine. Or triskaidekaphobia. I confused the Kenyan city Mombasa with former Congressman Mo Udall. I couldn’t recall the difference between Yogi Berra and Yogi Bear. I mixed up yogurt and yurt. And I had no idea what a yurt even was! It is no surprise, then, that I lost the next game. My reign as a game show champ ended with a thud.

So, we return to the earlier question: Did I win or did I embarrass myself? Isn’t it obvious? The answer is clearly “Marlene Dietrich.”

Nissim Nachtgeist is My Father

I recently received an email from a woman I do not know. But her out-of-the-blue communication connected me to the past and my family history with a jolt. A positive jolt. But a jolt nonetheless.

Christiana’s introductory words included two names, Lotte Schwarz and Hotel Comi in Zurich, Switzerland. I recognized both immediately. I thought, “OMG!” so loud I probably roused my father from his 19 year permanent nap and my mother from her four year one. Hotel Comi was where my father lived after he escaped Nazi Germany in 1937. Lotte Schwarz, a friend of my father, also resided there.

Lotte, according to Christiana, had begun writing a novel based on those times. She, however, hadn’t completed the book before her death decades ago, so Christiana, a historian, did what research she could and recently finished and published it.  The book is Die Brille des Nissim Nachtgeist which means The Glasses of Nissim Nachtgeist. That oddly named character is my father. Nissim Nachtgeist was, I learned, a nickname, a pen name, and an alias of Dad’s during those years. “Nissim” is Hebrew for “miracle;” Dad may have known that and that may have played a part in the selection of that name. But I assume Dad picked it because it is a twisted version of Nussbaum. “Nachtgeist” roughly means night spirit, which could be a ghost or phantom. Christiana also informed me that my mother, too, is a character in the book.

Dad did not talk about his past a lot and I sensed as a young child not to ask more than he was willing to share; I understood, even then, there was pain and trauma involved in the life he left in Germany.  What I did know was that he was born a few years prior to World War I and grew up in a small mountain town, Ellrich, in which the Nussbaums were one of two Jewish families. My grandfather was a businessman with connections to local politicians and this had been advantageous as Dad, as a young man, had gotten in trouble with the law on several occasions. His crime?  Challenging the growing Nazi presence between the world wars. The local politicians interceded and dad got a pass.

I also knew Dad had attended several universities in Germany —that was the norm then, to attend more than one school to be exposed to different viewpoints and philosophies — on his way to acquiring a degree in German corporate law. But while a student, Dad wrote letters to cousins in Sweden condemning Hitler and the Nazis. The letters were confiscated at the border and Dad was arrested and jailed. This time the connections with Ellrich powerbrokers, it seemed, were of no use. He spent October through December 1933 in an early form of concentration camp. Surprisingly, he and many other political prisoners or dissidents—very few were Jews— were released in a Christmas Eve propaganda ploy. At first Dad thought all the prisoners had been released, but later learned only some had and wondered why he was one. Once home, Dad was informed he was to pack and leave town immediately. This caused him to suspect a deal had been made. Perhaps my grandfather had begged the local politicians to pay off the Nazis, buying Dad’s freedom, and they agreed provided he would leave the mountain village and cease his embarrassing, problematic activism. He fled to Hanover and relatives, and he never went back to Ellrich. He continued his studies, moving from college town to college town and in early 1937, as conditions in Nazi Germany worsened, Dad fled to allegedly neutral, safe, and welcoming Switzerland. He continued his education in Zurich where he studied Swiss corporate law and earned a PhD comparing it to the German system. My father technically then was Dr. Nussbaum.

I also knew that while in Zurich Dad was a man without a country; he could not return to Germany and he could not become a Swiss citizen. He lived a life in limbo, needing permission from the Swiss government for any work he did or pay he received. I also knew that Dad dabbled on the edges of show business as a film critic, comedy and political satire writer, and event emcee. He may have also performed on stage. Dad, I recall, often told tales of actors, artists, and writers with whom he shared life at the Hotel Comi and others with whom he socialized. Christiane has reminded of these names and taught me details I did not know. For example, I have learned the Swiss government did not regard my father fondly; because he was intelligent, articulate, and a law student and writer, they feared he would expose its questionable treatment of émigrés like himself. As a result, deportation back to Germany was a constant possibility. This may explain the creation of an alter-ego; as Nissim Nachtgeist Dad could hide in plain sight. Dad was, in fact, involved in a pending hearing as an opportunity for my parents to emigrate to America arose. It was resolved just before they left. Whether this was a legitimate resolution or “coincidence” will remain unanswered.

I look forward to learning more about my father as I read about Nissim Nachtgeist. The book is in German, which is problematic, and I will have to rely on my meager knowledge of the language, translation apps, and the kindness of German speaking friends and locals. But, bottom line, I will discover who Dad was before history, life, fate, and my complicated mother changed him.