Saturday, June 6, 2020

Help The Police

Source: Flickr/Taymaz Valley
I bristle when I see the words "Defund Police" on a sign, because it's another example of a complicated idea being boiled down to a catchy phrase that lends itself to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and righteous anger.  I say "righteous" because people who are concerned about crime in their neighborhoods have every right to be concerned about a rallying cry that makes people think we're going to take the police away, unjustly punish the good cops along with the bad ones.

Let's start with a valid concern.  Police are being used too much for too many things, including on-the-spot crisis counseling and social work.  As Alex Vitale writes in The Guardian, "The schools don’t work; let’s create school policing. Mental health services are decimated; let’s send police. Overdoses are epidemic; let’s criminalize people who share drugs. Young people are caught in a cycle of violence and despair; let’s call them superpredators and put them in prison for life."  You don't call the cops for a headache (and here's where you insert a joke about your in-laws).  Why are we continuing to stretch their job description into areas that don't involve protection from immediate bodily or property harm? 

It's time to think about creating new types of first responders, just as we created paramedics at fire stations -- remember the TV show Emergency?  We already have animal control officers.  We can have people trained specifically for drug issues, neighbor disputes, and low-level petty crimes, freeing up officers to focus on the more dangerous assignments.

Here's where I especially shudder at people saying just defund and disband:  what happens when we have an active shooter?  Who do you call?

You need police.  You need police departments.  But you need a department to be focused on a narrow, definable set of problems.  The police action that took the life of George Floyd started with a forgery call -- a complaint about fake bills.  Could a specialized financial crimes unit, minus the lights and sirens, with rapid-response capabilities have made a difference here -- money cops?

A lot of what I am saying here is going to sound weird or mushy to you.  New ideas usually do.  But as we all know, establishing law and order can be done without rolling tanks through the streets and firing tear gas.  Being hard on crime and smart about crime can exist in the same universe, if we are willing to think creatively and not write off alternatives to a gun and a badge as the musings of liberals and pacifist wimps.

And don't say, "Defund Police."  Say, "Reinvent Policing."  Or, "Police Smarter."

Yeah, none of those look good on a sign.  Not angry enough.  Too cerebral.  Sigh.  Can you tell I'd make a terrible activist?

Friday, June 5, 2020

Part Of The Solution

Malcolm X once said, "If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem."  I've found that bit of advice to work for quite many things, even though he was talking about the civil rights struggle.  Now, the original context and intent comes through crystal clear as we are outraged by the death of a black man at the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

I am a white man with a black girlfriend.  Technically, she's not black but Irish-Caribbean, but when have subtleties mattered to bigots?  As I have told you before, Princess Sherri has been called just about every epithet you can think of and probably a few ones they haven't.  Fortunately, they have never done so in my presence with her, or they would have felt my wrath.  Sherri has told me, though, that she can feel the piercing glances of people, both black and white, when they see us together, wondering just what in the sam hill she's doing with a white boyfriend.

Racism isn't in our genes.  We have to learn it from somebody.  I have been blessed to have been raised by people who set the right example, albeit imperfectly.  I had a grandmother who once referred to one of my friends as the "colored" boy in the 1980's.  My family has had other imperfections as well, which I'm not going to get into, because nobody is doing this perfectly.  Nobody can.

My first encounter with the n-word came on the school bus in my elementary days.  One day, suddenly, all these kids were saying it.  White kids were saying it to white kids.  I didn't know the source of it then, but I'm certain they heard it after watching the blockbuster miniseries Roots.  They suddenly found this word of incredibly shocking power, like a two-year-old who discovers the word "no."  I'm betting they didn't know the history or the hurt or the prejudice behind it.

I found it strange in the 1980's when I heard black people use the word with other black people.  I got two explanations for this:  one, co-opting a hateful word and making it your own takes away its hatefulness.  Two, it's not the n-word with an "er" on the end; it's the n-word with "a."  I don't buy either one.

"If you ever had to sit in the back of a bus or drink from a separate water fountain, you wouldn't be using that word," I told Sherri.

I didn't have the so-called "black experience."  I had the bullied experience, which I hope gave me some kind of empathy, some means of understanding prejudice and pain personally and directly.  I have learned a lot from Princess Sherri, and I learned as I went.  I'm still learning.

If we want to follow Malcolm's advice, I think the solution has to start from the bottom up, rather than the top down.  We can spend a lot of time and money creating oversight boards.  We can have community dialogues.  We can promote equal hiring and anti-racism initiatives.  We can pass new laws.  We can march.  We can protest.  We can boycott.  But in the end, nothing changes unless we change behavior.  This isn't a police brutality problem; this is a problem of failing to learn.

I watched Los Angeles burn during the Rodney King riots.  Little changed.

I followed the Trayvon Martin shooting case.  Little changed.

I saw the video of the police chokehold on Eric Garner.  Little changed.

I watched Ferguson, Missouri explode after the killing of Michael Brown.  Little changed.

I watched Baltimore come apart after the death of Freddy Grey.  Little changed.

Now we have George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, prompted by an unnecessary and dangerous restraint that began with a forgery investigation --  not an active shooter, not a hostage situation, not a terrorist threat.  Forgery.

You can't justify a cop treating another human being that way, black or white or any other color, given the circumstances.  How much more marching and shouting and black-lives-mattering do we have to do before people start getting it?

We can't rely on the top-down solution anymore.  Those don't stop bigots, haters and segregationists.

If I had the smarts to tell you what solution we should be using, I would probably be working for one of those equality organizations instead of producing newscasts.  The best I can do is relate a few theories.

I think it all starts at home.  I think bigoted parents raise bigoted kids.  That degree of bigotry can vary from passive-aggressive to goosestepping mindlessness.  Do we consider raising a kid to be a bigot a form of child abuse?  Do we start taking kids away from bigot families and deprogramming them?

I think we need to apply more peer pressure.  We need to call out prejudice when and where we see it, quickly, online or in public, where we can pile onto it and squash it.  We're doing that now, as I write this, but we need to keep doing that after George Floyd is out of the headlines.

We need to be honest about our experiences and what we don't know about other people's experiences, struggles, and pain.  No fake wokeness.  Saying "help me understand all this" shouldn't be frowned upon or stomped on as ignorance.  Let's help each other understand.

Let's avoid defunding police.  You're punishing the innocent along with the guilty, and it's a hypocritical move if you're motivated by justice.  Moving money around doesn't quash hate.

Let's stop thinking about this as a police problem.  Let's start thinking about this as a prejudice problem.  Cops don't beam into this world from another universe.  They come from the same neighborhoods as the rest of us.  Fixing prejudice is going to take all of us working with all of us.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Everyone's A Suspect

As I write this, the Senate is preparing to open the third impeachment trial in our nation's history. And while I'm ready to absorb the proceedings against you-know-who, I keep thinking this trial is too limited. Instead of just the occupant of the White House on trial, it should be all of us as voters.

The center of this whole affair is not whether the president did this or that, but whether we're willing to allow him doing this or that. The question isn't about whether it's Constitutional or not, but whether we believe as Americans that the Constitution doesn't apply here, doesn't apply to the president asking the leader of another nation to help dig up dirt on a political foe.

Why would we believe that? Because, dummy, all the kids do it. Because all politicians are dirty rotten filthy scumbags who do this kind of thing anyway, out of the earshot of others, without government transcribers or witnesses or whistleblowers in on the phone call. Because that's the way things get done nowadays. Because, politics. It's just that somebody got caught this time.

Someone, possibly Chris Cuomo, presented this crummy reality to Don Lemon on CNN, and Don nearly lost his ability to speak. Get out the mirror, he seemed to sputter out. (I wish I could find the clip to show you here.)

Yeah, everybody does it. But does everybody excuse it? Here's where we as voters get put on trial. People will give a pass to an inordinate number of legal and Constitutional sins if the sinner's ideology is in alignment. Boorish speech, crazy tweets, falsehoods, bigoted tendencies, and sexist behavior don't matter if, at the end of the day, they come into the right (or left) house of worship.

So we need to face our own interrogation here as voters. Do we believe the Constitution actually has meaning, when it spells out that the president must affirm to faithfully execute the duties of office, and will do the best to preserve, protect and defend what's laid out in that document? If our response is, "Yeah! He's faithfully executing the duties of his office by going after those do-nuttin' godless Democrats," then forget it. Get me a crown. We'll have a coronation on Pennsylvania avenue instead of an inauguration. A king ye want; a king ye shall have.

It appears a lot of us are quite comfortable with having a monarchal leader. As I have said before, we ought to just put King George III on the next presidential ballot and give people the chance to be transparent about their desires. It would save us a lot of hypocritical gymnastics, as people try to defend the actions at the top while saying they believe in that document.

As a nation, we're supposed to be better than this. But we don't want to be. We don't for a multitude of reasons, mostly because politicians don't want to be better, either. But that's okay as long as we get what we want. America's greatness is not measured by liberty and justice but by how far it tilts to the right or the left, moderates and reason and prudence be damned. How the nation gets there is not the issue, just as long as it ends up there.

We know what the outcome of this impeachment trial is going to be even before it starts, as both sides dig in and fortify their positions. When it's all over, we will hear a mix of grumbling and griping along with celebration and gloating, not just from those in Washington but from those who put them there.

Because, politics. Case closed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Be Resolved

We are now in the dawn of a new decade. You may have awakened to a crisp new day or shaken off that hangover. Wherever you are, however you're coming into the new year, and whether or not you've actually made any resolutions, at least resolve to do this: in any way possible, big or small, or any combination of the two, you will do everything you can to avoid giving aid and comfort to HATE.

As I write this, we are still searching for answers in two shattering events on the last weekend of 2019: the stabbing attack on several Jews at a Hanukkah party in New York, and a deadly shooting during a church service in Texas.

I am not here to point fingers at perpetrators beyond those who actually carried out these acts. And let's not even ponder about what may be ahead of us in this election year. But I will set before you an uncomfortable truth: these acts -- and many hateful acts before them -- are carried out partly because the person behind the blade or the trigger believes somebody has their back.

HATE, unfortunately, gets results. HATE gets people to act. HATE gets people elected. HATE tears up communities in the name of accomplishing an ideological goal. HATE motivates in all the wrong ways to achieve an otherwise respectable goal. HATE, we are seeing, is becoming an acceptable and unfortunately beneficial means to an end. And that is why HATEful acts are thriving and multipying, even as we condemn them.

Or are we really condemning them?

Most likely, you are not a HATER, nor are your family and friends. Good for you. You're part of the solution, but you need to be more.

Here's a self-test. Let's start with your social media accounts. Who are you liking and retweeting and sharing? Are they thoughtful analysis or just idological bile? What are you writing in the comments? When was the last time you used any of the following words: snowflake, boomer, libtard, nazi, socialist, dumbocrat, republitard? Do you know where the "block" function is?

Are you getting your news from non-agenda-based sources? Please don't tell me no such creature exists; that's so bush league. We have a word for that: propoganda. It doesn't matter if you agree with it already, like I hear people tell me when I challenge them on why they listen to agenda-driven talk radio. If you already agree with it, why listen in the first place? Why do your own thoughts need verification, espcially from people who are not accountable to you or to the electorate? Mother told you to eat your vegetables for a good reason: they were good for you. Did you tell her those vegetables were raised by enemies of America?

Are you HATING on reporters because you genuinely HATE what they are doing, or because somebody told you to? Are you subliminally taking marching orders and denying it?

Is your circle of friends limited to people who look like you, act like you, believe like you and share your level of woke-ness? Do you dismiss moderates as milquetoast people? How are you going to live in this world if you don't live in it?

Are you willing to excuse detestable people if they give you what you want? Are you willing to allow politicians to play you like a fiddle? Are you willing to write on that ballot, "None of the above?" Are you afraid of people who say you are wasting a vote?

Now add up your scores and responses. I won't give you a number. I will leave that to you and GOD. If you feel convicted, the time to change is now.

This goes beyond what you do face-to-face, beyond the sphere of your relationships. This goes beyond attending vigils, further than promises of thoughts and prayers. This is a mission statement that pervades every corner of your being. It says you will no longer be a tool, either active or passive, for those who use HATE to get what they want. They will not have your back; you will have your back turned to them.

You don't need to go out and change the world. Start small. Let the actions and acts built up. Let math do its work. Be patient. The problem didn't begin overnight, and we will not fix it overnight.

Above all, savor the small victories. Stand up for those who refuse to be HATE conduits. Notice and praise them. Build them up. Give them refuge and quarter, if only in the comment section. GOD is in the big as well as the little. You will not see the big if you don't see the little.

Be a blessing, not a curse.

Stand for righteousness, not "right, just us."

Build and fix.

Let GOD work through you. That is why you are here. Even if you don't believe in GOD, that doesn't matter. HE believes in YOU.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Bright Lights, Red Coat

Earlier this year, I got my first (and possibly only) modeling opportunity. Many of you have already seen the pictures on Facebook. Now, here's the story behind my runway walk in an 18th Century British military uniform.

I’m sitting in a hallway at the audition venue, outside what’s labeled the “Great Room.” Half a dozen modeling hopefuls surround me -- young ladies and one young man. They are all staring into their smartphones, all wearing black. I plan to be wearing red.

My journey down the runway will either begin here or end here. I’m hearing dance-club music pump out of the Great Room as the audition for the group ahead of us rolls on. Smatterings of applause interrupt the beat. From the doorway outside, I can’t see who’s walking.

So far, I have rushed here after church on Palm Sunday and completed some rudimentary paperwork, which included providing my social media account handles and my “real age.” When it’s prefaced like that, I know it’s there because people have tried to fake it. Perhaps they said “29 and holding.” In my case, I could have said “247” given what I’m going to be wearing.

“Do you have a head shot?” one attendant asked.

“No,” I said, feeling I had just earned strike one.

But so far, it didn’t seem to matter.

“Fifty-one through sixty, this way!” an assistant calls out. That’s me at the end of the line, number 60.

She leads us into the Great Room and asks us to sit down in order in some chairs next to a practice runway to the side of us. At the end of the runway sits a committee of evaluators or designers or both. I’m not sure. All I know is that I have to make it past them to make it to the stage.

A poster in the back reads like the Boy Scout Law for models: “Be On Time. Be Positive. Be Prepared. Be Informed. Be Nice & Polite. Be Accountable. Be Loving. Be Proactive & Open. Be Knowledgeable. Be Fashion Forward. Be Professional. Be Private and Focused.” I don’t know about the “Fashion Forward” one, but I can at least do my best on the others.

A young man in a leopard-print jacket stands up and goes through the procedure. “Bring your number up to us, we will put some music on, and you will walk to the end of the runway and back. Look at the clock on the wall. Don’t look at us.”

Those who make the cut in my group will then be directed to sit on the other side of the room, where they will meet with a designer who will chose them to strut their stuff. It feels like a cross between America’s Next Top Model and The Voice.

Across from me, in that set of chairs where I hope to end up, is a girl who can’t be more than 15, and she is dolled up to look like she’s 28. It’s almost heartbreaking to see somebody prematurely age a person like that.

The first hopeful steps up to the runway and starts to walk.

“Slower, slow down,” says the young man.

It’s tempting to want to walk to the beat, which has all the verve of a New York City fashion event.

The next hopeful gets up. She’s a lady who looks in her tweens, but she’s having to show off a sensibility and style of someone double her age. Again, she’s told to slow down.

My strategy formulates from what I see. I’m watching every step they take, every move they make, looking for fine points and errors. I wonder to myself, “When I reach the end of the runway, should I act like I’m pulling a sword?”

* * *

About six months ago, a folk-dancer friend of mine made your servant an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“Can I make you a red coat?”

Not just any red coat, but a 1700’s British infantry uniform coat -- a Redcoat’s red coat. She was in a sewing class at Pima Community College, and she had an idea for a project. But she needed somebody to wear and enjoy it. She didn’t have to ask me twice.

She drew her inspiration from Outlander’s Black Jack, using a coat pattern with black facings and black turnouts. When she showed it to me, however, I decided I wanted a slightly different look: white facings and white turnouts with silver button trim, more like a British regular than a British officer. I later learned that design was more like a British officer. We both agreed on the modifications, and she set to work.

My friend brought the completed coat to me just before Christmas, and I instantly fell in love with it. She had made it with joy and precision, and it radiated dignity and pride. I didn’t think I would wear it on the battlefield, but I knew I wanted to wear it for a fancy ball or two… or three or four or more. I wore it for a Christmas dinner with Princess Sherri. I wore it to a Epiphany ball in California with a kilt, portraying a Black Watch highlander. It drew many an eye.

Some weeks later, I got another offer. Did I want to model it for a show at the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson? She didn’t have to ask me twice.

I had no modeling experience whatsoever. I didn’t have a glamor headshot. I had my stint in the Tanque Verde Swap Meet commercials on my resume (which I didn’t have to submit). But I was assured I had a sponsor -- the sewing class teacher -- who would be leading me through it all.

Nothing seems certain as I step up onto that practice runway, wearing my redcoat over a dark blue t-shirt, long black shorts and knee-high socks. I at least look a little bit Colonial. I’m not walking quite to the beat, but I am looking at the clock as directed. Part of me feels lost, that dreadful moment of “What am I doing here, and why am I doing it?” Should I smile more? Or should I be radiating the aura of a focused British regular who would say, according to Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and die.” I forget about pulling that air sword. I walk, I turn, and I walk back with a resolute sense of purpose, if not some sense of style. Applause greets me as I step off.

“You’re all good!” our commander directs, inviting us to sit on that other side of the room.

I have passed the audition. And now my sponsor steps up to claim me.

“I knew it was you when I recognized that red coat!”

We exchange information and pleasantries and how we got to this point. The next step will come next month, when I will step out onto that runway for real at the Fox.

“Be prepared for a long day,” my sponsor warns.

I’m ready. “How many people get to be supermodel for one evening?”

It’s not a good sign when the automated parking lot system won’t print out your windshield ticket even though you’ve fed it a credit card. I had to feed it again to get what I needed, and I hoped I didn’t get charged twice. Never do business with anything that bakes out in the sun.

I’ve made it to the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson promptly before noon as requested. I’m already wearing most of what I’ll need for tonight, having attended a Sons of the American Revolution meeting in Casa Grande as part of the color guard. I just have to change the coat.

Just beyond the doors of the restored historic entertainment palace, a crush of models is gathered around the front tables as handlers check them in, check them off the list and assign them numbers.

“Some of you will be in different scenes,” our coordinator explains, the same one who told us to look at the clock and not the crowd during the tryouts last month. “We had to split some groups.”

I’m directed downstairs to the dressing room for Scene 2. As I pass down the outer aisle of the auditorium, I notice the gigantic runway for the first time.

Downstairs, I take a seat while I wait for the crew from Gadabout to do my makeup and hair. I know what I want. I think.

“I was thinking sort of Paul Revere,” my stylist explains.

He wasn’t a Redcoat, but okay. I have ideas too.

“I’m thinking rosy cheeks,” I suggest. “Like I just stepped out of a painting. That fop look.”

Does she even know what I mean by “fop?”

She puts on base. That’s when I come up with another suggestion.

“Can you get rid of the bags under my eyes?”

I hate how time and years of squinting without wearing sunglasses has put the age into my peepers. She goes right to work on them, softening the lines.

“Do you want Chapstick?”

I don’t wear it, but I figure it’s a good idea. I go with it, and then my stylist finds she can’t find the Chapstick. She quickly finds a substitute for my lips. Then it’s time to put the rose in my cheeks.

“I don’t want to do too much,” she explains, as she gradually works it in. “Is that enough?”

I can barely see it in the mirror. “A little more.”

She works in some more rouge, but I’m having trouble spotting the effects, even in the bright lights of the makeup mirror. I want to be cautious, though.

“We can split the difference between total fop and nothing.”

After a few coats, I’m satisfied, even though I can’t see much change in my cheeks. I figure I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s not the end; another stylist insists that I get a dab of mascara on my eyelashes. Fine, but I’m not Tammy Faye.

When I hold it up to my phone for a selfie, I find the team nailed it.

Another stylist sprays down my hair and steamrolls it with the can. I think about asking for curls on both sides, but I decide to keep it simple. It will keep my frizzy head together, but that spray turns my fly-away strands into straw. Now I remember why I hate hairspray.

We are sent upstairs to sit and wait and begin the runway walkthroughs.

Walking a runway doesn’t require a lot of training, just a sense of timing and purpose. You wait just out of sight behind the scenery, walk into the opening when the stagehand cues you, and wait for the model on stage walking back to pass by the row of speakers along the edges. Then you walk.

House dance music is throbbing. It’s a nice beat, four on the floor, and it’s easy to walk to.

“Is the music easy to walk to?” our coordinator asks at one point, making sure our DJ isn’t trying to take artistic liberties too far.

When you reach the edge, halt.

“One-two-three,” our stagehand reminds us, giving us a mental count we can use. I think it should be more like “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.” It’s there for the PCC photographers and the press and whoever to take pictures. I turn to one side and then another, showing off the Redcoat. I’m not overdoing it. I don’t want to overdo it. I’m sticking to the fundamentals. I turn and walk off. Rehearsal completed.

One of my co-models, who has done this before, is gladly giving us style points on how to pivot at the end of the runway.

“Yeah, work it!” I say.

Everybody is encouraging each other as we go through this walkthrough and then another. This is not a competition. This is not the fashion police. This is a team coming together to make something beautiful. I like playing on this team.

At least twenty scenes are part of this show, hyphenated by some talking, I’m told. Each scene has seven to eight models and often more. Many in this cast are playing multiple roles, meaning as soon as they get done with one scene, they’re dashing down to the dressing rooms to change into a look for something still to come.

I wish lunch was coming. Those in charge have told me to bring a snack, but the impracticality of doing so given my dash from Casa Grande has ruled that out. I see a box of pizza and several plates of sandwiches go down the aisle towards the dressing rooms. Somebody has ordered in.

I need water. The weskit on my chest is holding me in like a corset and making me uncomfortable. I must get up and move, no matter what, at least to find the Necessary, as we would call it in the 18th Century.

Popping back into the lobby, the ingredients for the evening are coming together. Electronic wands for security are stacked up on a table. The prizes for the silent auction are in place with sign-up forms.

I pop down a staircase, thinking it will lead to a restroom somewhere. It leads me right into an oasis: tables adorned with sandwich trays and boxes of pizza in a corner, waiting to be devoured. Is it for us, or is it for some VIP’s who are paying extra for some mingle time before the show? I don’t know, and right now I don’t care. I’m part of the talent, I’m hungry, and I see other people have already started pillaging the loot. I help myself to a slice and a sandwich and wash it down with one of those half-bottles of water. Then I go back for seconds. And thirds.

I sit in the audience and watch the other groups take the runway, showing off formal wear, riffs on jeans and alien-inspired t-shirts -- one of which says “Abduct Me.” Family time comes midway through the show where moms and dads pair up with sons and daughters on the stage for matching looks. Pajamas are making an appearance. I’m falling asleep in my chair.

The lighting crew is getting things together, adjusting the narrow can lights so they hit the disco balls hovering above us. An operator swings the Vari*Lites and tries out a few positions. I would love it if those rotatable spots converge on us while we’re on the runway, like something out of a Genesis concert.

We have one more walkthrough to get through at 5pm. I hope I can keep myself awake. Too much pizza.

I have taken several compliments on the Redcoat, and with a courtly bow, I have given credit to Lady Nancy for sewing it, and to my sponsor at PCC for letting me model it, taking only partial nods for helping design it.

“I make my own historic clothing, too,” I say, pulling out my smartphone and showing them various photos of my pink 1700’s gentlemanly ensemble, my festive Scottish attire, my royal purple courtly dress and various peasant looks. Jaws drop open, especially when I tell people I make these things out of bedsheets and tablecloths I find at Savers.

“Where did you get that Coke?” I ask as a model walks by with a can.

“Downstairs,” she replies. She found a stash by the dressing rooms. I make a note of it as I get lined up for the last runthrough. I need caffeine.

I add a few touches of flair: a stomp to come to attention as I reach the end of the runway, and another stomp as I march back. I wonder if I should salute as well, but I think it’s too much.

I walk down the back stairs and find the stash that other model was talking about. A 12-pack of Coca-Cola is down to three cans inside a cooler that I gather is stocked for visiting artists -- or for us. Most of the shelves are bare by now. A cupboard next to it is a crime scene of opened tea bags deposited next to purses and cell phones.

Inside the dressing rooms, the Gadabout staff is running constantly, touching up faces and hair to help the models change their countenances as they change scenes.

Scrawled magic-marker names of bands and shows from the past decorate the walls, a visual history of who played here and when. Will we get to add our names?

I head back to the auditorium to wait while the rest of the scenes play out. I can’t find a trash can for the Coke can, so I shove it into one of the Redcoat’s generously large pockets. A trace of soda leaks out and I have to blot out a small spot in one of my coat turnouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not noticeable.

The show is supposed to start at 7pm, but the stage managers and our announcer are getting the command to hold off because people are still outside in a line which winds around the block. The Fox Theatre staff is opening the balconies. I didn’t expect this to be a sellout, but it sure feels like we’re headed there.

At 7:10, we’re still not ready to roll. People are still coming in and finding their seats. I can’t see any of it, but I can hear the soft din of the audience getting situated. My fellow models and I are queued up and practicing our walks. Our coordinator pumps us up and gives us some simple rules: “Just one foot in front of the other. Everything else will take care of itself!” He has us jump in place and wave our arms to warm us up. If I were in my kilt, I would probably dance a Highland Fling to get everybody pumped.

At 7:16, even with people still coming in the door, the showrunners decide it’s time to get going. “Ya snooze, ya lose,” the coordinator rules. We’ve tolerated fashionably-late so-called “Tucson Time” for as long as we can and sympathized with the people who have had trouble finding parking spots downtown on a Saturday night.

Our announcer tries to warm up the crowd like he’s working a Diamondbacks game. “How is everybody doing tonight?”

Some cheers, largely unhearable to us behind the stage.

“Oh, you can do better than that!”

He goes through the compulsory welcomes and thank-yous to Pima Community College and the various VIP’s and big shots in the crowd before teeing us up: “Everybody ready to see some fashion?”

More cheering. The lights come down and the music comes up.

Scene One goes through their walk and then the DJ changes tunes. I am the last model in Scene Two. We are walking out from between two flat white panels, positioned to give a stagehand a place to hide and cue us. I say a prayer, I wait my turn, and I watch the fingers of the crew lady who is cueing me into position to step into the opening and wait before starting the walk.

She motions me forward.

Instantly, I hear the crowd screaming and hooting as they see this man in a big British Redcoat and tricorn with knee breeches and buckled shoes step into the light. I can’t start walking until the previous model has cleared the row of speakers that is our cue mark.

When that time comes, the audience is loving it. I hear their excitement and yelling. I can’t see any of them with the bright lights from the balcony eclipsing any face in the crowd. I have decided not to smile, deciding that a proud British soldier should keep a dignified countenance, but with the enthusiasm of the crowd egging me on, I can’t help but add a bit of swagger.

Source: Precious Dreams Photography
I hit the end of the runway with a stomp to attention, pivoting and show that Redcoat off to the video cameras and the PCC photographers and whatever paparazzi hidden behind the light. With another stomp I pivot and march off, dignified and focused to the top of the runway, pivoting with one final stomp before I’m out of the light.

Source: Sherri Smalls
I exhale heavily. The campaign is successful. My work here is done.

The only thing to do now is wait for the show to end while basking in the afterglow. I have no other looks to model, no other clothing to display. Part of me feels wistful, wishing I could show off some of my other historic creations.

“You should have your own fashion show!” one model has said to me after I showed her my 18th Century wardrobe.

“I’d rather walk with you all.”

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What I Want For Christmas

This time of year, we all pull closer together as families. We come together for Christmas parties, dinner, movies and outings and celebrations.

And yet, some of us have been pushed away by our friends or families. We are not welcome in their homes, in their lives, even perhaps on the phone. This could be for any number of reasons, some more serious than others, and there are legitimate and sensible reasons to keep these people away if they are a danger to your family or friends. Sometimes they should be kept away. This isn't what the following words are about.

This is about brokenness and healing. This involves people who realize they have messed up in their lives, apologize, ask forgiveness, repent, and seek to heal with you as your friends and family. Part of that healing and forgiveness process involves being with you and yours during this time of the year, continuing on and fixing what is broken by rebuilding those relationships that have value.

We hear a running joke at Christmastime about the dysfunctional family gathering, that awkwardness that comes from this person and that person being around. It makes for a great holiday movie. And we also hear and dream of that perfect Christmas celebration, the one with the snow on the ground in the woods and the decorated house with piles of presents surrounding the tree. We smell the gingerbread wafting from the kitchen as our loved ones come through the door in their sweaters -- none ugly -- and embrace with bright countenances. People laugh and smile as they eat and drink and unwrap and make Merry Christmas, a scene as perfect as a Christmas Card. Nothing is wrong, awkward or imperfect. Nothing is dysfunctional, broken or sad.

We are not living in a Christmas card.

We are living in a broken world that needs healing and JESUS, who is the reason for the season in the first place.

This Christmas, many of you are bound to face tough choices as you plan your gatherings about who will and won't be part of your lives at that moment. I challenge you to think beyond hurt and brokenness and consider the lives and the hearts of those whom you might choose to shun because of fallings-out, political differences, or some other pain they may have caused. If those people are willing to ask forgiveness of you, clean up their acts, and mind their words and behaviours, they should be welcome at your gatherings.

JESUS came into this world to wipe away our sins, and heal our hurts and brokenness, provided we give HIM our choice and the opportunity. We follow in that example when we decide that our relationships mean more than our grievances and pain, and we make the choice to forgive when it is asked for, to heal and not to hurt.

If you are not a person of faith, consider this from the perspective of honour. An honourable person realizes that grudges and pain are hypocritical to the theme of a season of love, joy, and giving. Continuing patterns of dysfunctionality do not make this world more honourable at Christmas. We might as well just admit the commerciality of it, as in that line from A Charlie Brown Christmas: "It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know."

Christmas is a time of coming together. This is a time when we celebrate our SAVIOR and also our relationships. This is a time to rebuild what is broken, just as OUR SAVIOR was sent into the world to do. Let that be on your Christmas list.

Be Blessed!

This post originally appeared on my Facebook page.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Merry Hatey Christmas

You can decide for yourself whom you believe after watching yet another uptight, histrionical, serious yet silly, and anything but bipartisan impeachment inquiry hearing. But I know this: Santa ain't stopping in Washington, D.C. this Christmas. He doesn't need to. Everybody has plenty of HATE under the tree.

This isn't about whether the inquiry is legitimate. It is. We as a nation cannot shrug off the allegations against the guy in the Oval Office, not if we want oaths of office to mean what they say. Those folks in the two houses swear they will uphold and defend the Constitution and the law. If we are now in the business of attacking people for doing what they swore they would do, then forget draining the swamp; let's just have a crowned head of state and end all this. I sincerely believe a lot of people really want a king when they elect a president anyway.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went ballistic on a reporter who asked if she HATED the president. Mind you, this came from a reporter who has pushed her buttons before with provocative questions, and it was a question designed to yank her chain. "I don't HATE anyone," she said. "I pray for the President all the time." Again, I'll leave it to you whether you believe that because I'm not in the mood to debate to asphyxiation. Your servant is trying to enjoy the Christmas season in spite of everything people are doing to louse it up.

It doesn't matter whether Nancy Pelosi HATES anybody, not as long as a multitude of people out there can do the HATING for her, either on the left or the right. Worse, they take pleasure in it. Christmas has come early as they seethe and snark and divide to conquer. A serious, legitimate Constitutional crisis now has extra added emotion and anger on top of what is already a divisive and disheartening state of affairs, all of it starting four years ago.

We shouldn't be acting like this at any point in the year, much less Christmastime. This unfolding narrative should play out like a funeral in our hearts and minds, not like Friday Night RAW. We should be drawing closer to people we love. We should shine as lights in this world rather than embracing the dark. We should strive to make new friends instead of treating our circle of influence like a gigantic Facebook page, unfriending and blocking and telling people to deport themselves.

Sadly, we have people who love HATE. They embrace it because it works. It gets what they want. It gets people elected. It gets rid of people they don't want to deal with. It strengthens in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons, but hey, as long as the goal is achieved, who cares how the ball got in the net?

Don't HATE all over the place and tell me you love this country. HATE didn't build it. We had Pilgrims and Puritans who loved the LORD and each other so much some of them were willing to try a form of socialism. That didn't work out, but live and learn. We had Quakers who stood against slavery and built that city of Brotherly Love (along with Action News and great cheesesteaks), Philadelphia. When our patriots were successful against incredible odds, they didn't christen our new nation with the blood of any Tory they could find. Love is not vengeful.

Every year after the holidays, we find ourselves in the post-noel blues. After this rotten predicament in Washington is over, we'll be in the same funk. Now what? Was the HATE worth it? Did it fit? You know, you can't take it back after Christmas.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #1 - The Blues Brothers

Here we are at the top -- the film I consider the most influential on my life, as well as my favorite. The Blues Brothers is mishmash of music and mayhem, with some of the most memorable movie action sequences thrown alongside a cavalcade of classic rhythm and blues.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
Like so many great films, it's hard to fathom how this film got made, given the totality of what it does. Besides its two title stars, it gets the legendary James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Cab Calloway. It also features John Candy and Carrie Fisher (in her most memorable non-Star Wars role). It features some wild, over-the-top car chases. And it trashes a mall.

I could devote an entire blog post to the difficulty and danger of this one sequence, which added millions of dollars to the film's budget. (The film's total cost ended up around $30 million.) The mall torn up was an actual mall, the former Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, which had been closed for about a year when the producers needed it. They were able to get many of the original tenants to come back and redecorate the storefronts, and they borrowed cars from a local dealer to fill the lots. Under the deals they worked out, they only had to pay for the things they broke.

The number of cars trashed in this movie is a testament to innovation and grindstone work. The production ran a 24-hour body shop to repair prop cars that were used over and over again, having been picked up cheaply in the first place.

If you love rhythm and blues, you'll love this picture. But my favorite number is an unforgettable rendition of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man."

I know people who can quote just about every line in this film. I'm one of them. I also met another while working at Six Flags Over Mid-America. Many people call this a classic cult film. I can't say that about a film that made more than $100 million at the box office despite production difficulties, budget overruns, and racism that kept this film from playing in wide release in the south. It's a film I never get tired of seeing. For me, it doesn't have any throwaway scenes -- except for the extended cut that came out on DVD with bonus material, proving some things on the cutting room floor belong there.

And it's my #1 favorite movie.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #2 - Ghostbusters (1984)

Seeing Ghostbusters was not my idea, nor was it my Mom's idea. That came from kid brother Michael, who was just itching to see it, and we were along for the ride. The Royal Father wasn't there; he was off on some business trip that nicely took him to a nice resort in the Ozarks without the rest of the family.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
"I hope you're taking me to a good movie," the Queen Mother said in 1984 as we went to one our favorite movie houses in the Kansas City area: The Blue Ridge Cinema (now defunct and vanished into movie history).

What we didn't understand yet was that we were about to see one of the funniest movies of the decade, a movie that would leave a tremendous cultural landmark and propel the red circle-and-slash international "no" symbol to new popularity. Dad didn't know what he was missing -- yet.

But Ghostbusters did even more than that. It perfected the sci-fi action comedy. Men In Black, Guardians of the Galaxy, and to some degree, Iron Man all have the power of the proton packs in their DNA. You could be both highbrow and lowbrow with special effects added in.

I ended up seeing this film at least three times in theaters. The second time was with Dad, when he finally got back from that so-called business trip and we filled him in on what we saw.

I couldn't wait for this movie to make it to home video. Some relatives bought it, and we made a copy for ourselves (in a time when everybody who had multiple VCR's was doing that). I watched it while it copied, and then I rewound it and watched it all over again.

Halloween of 1984 had me dressing up as a Ghostbuster, complete with a toy machine gun and an emergency light flashing in a backpack wedged into a cardboard box for my proton pack, uniformed with my Dad's old Kansas National Guard attire.

My brother and I also got those famous "no ghosts" logo t-shirts. I wish I had held onto mine. I'm still looking for another one.

In the meantime, Ghostbusters is #2 on my list of favorites.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #3 - Any Which Way You Can

I was in the first or second grade when this film came out in 1980, and kids in my class who had seen it were saying, "You know when they were trying to kill Clint Eastwood? The money was manureing in all the cars!"

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
That's something Roger Ebert picked up on right away in his review, which called this film a free-association exercise of several different elements. Not that I care; I like it that way. As Ebert notes, it still has charm to it, and I will tell you that's because it's a goofy drive-in flick, disparate elements and all. It's the kind of movie you can easily see yourself watching on a Saturday night sitting under the stars.

Let's leave the form and talk about the content. I love this film because it has some hardcore bare-knuckle fights, including this one in a bar:

This film, like many Clint Eastwood films, makes heavy use of what has become a trademark of any Clint Eastwood fight scene: a lot of shots of him punching into the camera and also from his perspective, something also found in this film's predecessor, Every Which Way But Loose.

I didn't care for Every Which Way.... I thought it was too serious to be a comedy, and too heavy in places to be fun. The sequel, just as the trailer promises, is faster and funnier. And we get a huge fight scene at the end which winds all over the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I imagine people still visit and remember all the places they saw during that climatic fight scene.

Of course, Clyde steals the show.

Because of the the action, all the fun and all of it watchable over and over again, Any Which Way You Can ended up as number three on my list of favorites.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #4 - Tootsie

When my parents took my brother and your servant to see Tootsie in 1982, I went in thinking it was going to be one of those romantic comedies that the adults would get and kids my age would not. (The term "chick-flick" had not yet been invented.) Happily for me, I was dead wrong. I not only got it, I laughed out loud at Dustin Hoffman dressing up as a woman to get work on a TV soap opera and doing it so seamlessly and convincingly.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
Tootsie is one of those films where I remember whole chunks of dialogue from memorable scenes, like this one played between Hoffman's character, Michael Dorsey, and his cantankerous agent, George Fields, played by Sydney Pollack -- who also directed. Dorsey has just learned a role he was up for on a Broadway show has been taken by someone else, and he wants answers from his agent.

I love that line: "Who told you that, the agent fairy?"

Of course, Michael gets the role and then he has to break the news to George. And here they have another classic exchange in New York City's famous Russian Tea Room, the place where entertainment power brokers and stars go to wine and dine and make deals, all while being served by people in lovely blouses.

And I can remember times when I don't know what I want to wear to a historic ball, and I remember this scene in front of the closet.

The American Film Institute lists this film as one of the greatest screen comedies of all time, and I don't disagree. What's ironic is that Sydney Pollack had never directed a comedy before this one. Yet he created a classic that holds up so well over time, and it even spun off a smash Broadway musical. Tootsie is a movie I can watch over and over again and still laugh, and for that reason, it's in my top five favorites.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #5 - Ray

I remember seeing Ray on a Friday night after work, a late show at the Foothills Loew's here in Tucson. I remember how deep, emotional and musical it was, and how Jamie Foxx (who would win an Oscar for his performance) disappeared into the role of Ray Charles so completely. As I pointed out in my original 2004 review, the film deserved better treatment from the beginning, having taken years to get made because of financing difficulties.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
But when it did get made, and with Charles' blessing and cooperation, it turned out to be a highly musical, highly watchable breeze through this legend's life and times. It didn't gloss over the warts: his drug use and his womanizing. I also enjoyed -- even if the Arizona Daily Star reviewer didn't -- listening in on Charles' business savvy which had him owning his own master recordings and controlling his sound, mastering the piano and overcoming blindness. That control enabled him to glide effortlessly into country from soul and R&B. The only thing that wore on me was the film's surrealistic flashbacks to the death of Charles' brother as they were growing up in Georgia.

As the late, great Roger Ebert pointed out, Ray would be watchable alone for just the music and how Jaime Foxx nails Ray Charles' mannerisms and voice, even though he's mouthing Charles' original recordings on the soundtrack. It's so much more than that, however, and it's an inspirational film for me because of its soulful journey -- on more than one level.

At one point in the film, Charles says: "When I walk out that door, I walk out alone in the dark."

Your servant has felt that darkness, more times than I would like to remember. Perhaps that's why Ray has ended up on my list of five favorites.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Alive... It's ALIVE!

I love 1974's Young Frankenstein because it's not just a very funny movie -- it's also a very enlightened parody of a classic monster movie, even using some of the same props as the original. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder starting working on this movie together as they were finishing up Blazing Saddles, and between the two of them, they came up with scenes and dialogue that is impossible to forget.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
"That's Frank-un-STEEN."

"Walk this way."

"Elevate me."
"Here? Now?"

And a stylish production number...

But let's admit it. You can't wait to whinny every time her name comes up...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Push The Button, Max

A favorite film of the Royal Father, the Royal Grandfather and Dear Auntie is this 1965 epic comedy, The Great Race, directed by the great Blake Edwards. In the tradition of great films, this one nearly didn't get made.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The script called for shooting on three different continents, dozens of classic turn-of-the-20th-century cars, hundreds of period costumes (by the great Edith Head, no less), a huge bar fight, the biggest pie fight ever filmed, and an automobile race connecting all of it. It's not hard to see why a studio would pass on it, but United Artists took it only to pass it to Warner Brothers when costs spiraled beyond the original $6 million budget.

A large amount of cash went into that pie fight. Let's take a closer look at it.

Still, with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood attached to the picture, it had to be a surefire hit, right?

Despite all that money, all those stars, all those cars, and all those pies, The Great Race was a great disappointment -- even though it grossed double its negative cost of $12 million. Audiences found everything just too over the done, including the length: the film clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes.

When I was in the sixth grade, our teachers showed this movie at a rewards assembly. I had seen it at least twice before then, and I was the only one generally interested in it. All those other kids probably would have preferred Footloose.

About 15 years later, I had Tony Curtis on a 5:00 newscast I produced, live in the studio. I was stuck in the control room while our anchor got to ask him questions about his storied career. I never got to meet him or shake his hand... much less ask him about The Great Race, all those pies, and all those cars.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Beware The Flying Cannon

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a standoff unfold in Los Angeles on live TV, and the news helicopters had the perfect vantage point to spot a suspect who had fired shots at the cops, lit a house on fire, and thrown fireworks out the window of another home.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
"Where's Blue Thunder when you need it?" I said.

In 1983, Blue Thunder was the coolest chopper movie I couldn't see due to its R rating. I later sneaked a look at it on cable. Not only could it blast the heck out of everything, it could see through walls, pick up the slightest whisper, stare down at you from 1,000 feet and get information on anything and anybody through its computer terminal -- years before Google and smartphones.

About a year later, a sanitized version of the movie (which still borrowed a lot of shots from the film) became an ABC series, starring -- among others -- Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith... and a then-unknown Dana Carvey in a serious role.

TV Guide said that the similarly-themed series Airwolf flew circles around this show. But I still give my vote to the Blue for all the cool AV gear.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Eastbound And Down

When Burt Reynolds passed away last year, I immediately knew I wanted to run a clip from Smokey And The Bandit in my newscasts, particularly the one showing Sally Field's runaway bride character tossing a bag into Bandit's Trans Am after he pulled over and said, "I don't want to get married."

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
"Great, that makes two of us," Field replied before asking Bandit to unzip the back of her dress and adding, "Does this thing move?"

"Oh yeah," Bandit replied before speeding off.

I couldn't find that clip, but I did find one that I thought summed up Reynold's prolific film career.

I saw a documentary on this picture where Reynolds read the script and thought it was awful. But he still agreed to do it, and he had a lot of fun doing it. For Reynolds, it really wasn't so much about the money or the glory as much as it was the fun, and Reynolds seemed to have more fun making movies and TV shows (Evening Shade among them) than anybody I knew in Hollywood.

It's not just Reynolds who makes this picture work. Jerry Reed is unforgettable as the good-ol-boy trucker who can't hit the road without his basset hound friend Fred. But it's Jackie Gleason's bigoted, dimwitted sheriff Buford T. Justice who steals the picture.

I didn't get the full breadth of his foul-mouthed tirades until I saw the unedited picture instead of the version that aired on NBC which substituted "Scum Bum" in place of a more colorful term.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Men In Tights And The Ladies Who Love Them

We recently lost the great Franco Zeffirelli, whose colorful and lusty 1968 version of Romeo And Juliet is what I think of every time somebody quotes from this play. I saw it complete for the first time in high school, although it was an ABC Sunday Night Movie version which removed about 30 seconds of Romeo's bare buttocks, and one second of Juliet's bare breasts.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
My English teacher explained before pressing the play button on the ancient U-Matic VTR (what schools were using years before VHS took root) that you could tell who the Capulets were because they were "the real flashy dressers." She added, "Yes, the men do wear leotards."

Yes, in a way. They're wearing Renaissance-era Italian hose, multicolored tights with prominent codpieces.

"Hey, you gotta protect the goods," a colleague remarked when I explained how the movie aimed for historic accuracy in the crotch. But I don't think protection was the goal as much as showing things off.

And you know, any time there's a beautiful ball scene, I'm on it.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Puff And Stuff

Days before a Scottish dance in Flagstaff, I caught the end of Brigadoon on cable's TCM. Needless to say, I've never been more stoked to wear a kilt ever since.
A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

And above all things, I wanted to get a Highland shirt with extra puffy sleeves. And as the clip below shows, it wasn't enough for me to pine for merely that. I had to have some in different colors.

So now, I have extra-puffy shirts in white, blue, green, grey and brown. I'll get around to red, eventually.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Oh, If I Could Lift Your Burdens, My Lady!

You knew somewhere in this series I would have to talk about a historical movie or two. Here you are. The Duchess is a beautifully-adorned movie that shows how rotten 18th Century life could be when it came to power, privilege and marriage. When I reviewed this film in 2009 after seeing it on DVD, I lamented the burdens of the title character played so well by Keira Knightley and how she could take so much sludge surrounded by so much beauty. My friend Lady Elizabeth reminded your servant that ladies of the time married mainly for security, not love. True, but still unfair and sad.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
A fellow re-enactor put it to me this way: "Isn't it great we can grocery-shop the 18th Century?" For us here and now, yes. For them, they had no choice.

But shop, your servant will. I find it so ironic and hypocritical that gentlemen bowed to their ladies in this period while treating them like property. When I bow in my historical exploits, I mean it -- especially on the ballroom floor. And fortunately, this film has some beautiful dancing:

And here's another look at the dancing in this behind-the-scenes feature:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Don't Call Me Shirley

Airplane! is one of those surrealistic comedies that takes a few moments for you to understand the very first time you see it, because it's a non-stop barrage of jokes akin to a TV sitcom or a sketch on the Carol Burnett Show. But once you figure out the formula, you sit back and enjoy the ride.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I first saw Airplane on HBO when cable came into our home in 1981. For a PG-movie, it flirted with some very risque humor, in clips I can't show you on a blog that is determined not to make it into anybody's family-safe filters.

One of those scenes involves a very brief scene of a topless woman passing side-to-side through the frame. I remember seeing this with Grandma Lawson, who deadpanned, "That woman needs to put a bra on."

And who can forget Barbara Billingsley, Beaver Cleaver's mom, speaking jive?