Category Archives: Random Musings

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Visiting the Pulse Memorial

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I went to my first gay bar when I was 15.

I didn’t go because I was gay, of course. I went because a friend identified as gay and they would let us in to drink, or at least that’s why my 15-year-old “I’m not gay!” brain told me.

The people at the bar knew better. They didn’t let us in because they believed we were 19 (the legal drinking age at the time). I mean, come on. I’ve seen pictures of myself when I was 15 and I looked 15. But they knew what was really going on and they let us in because in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the early 1980s, there weren’t many safe havens for gay people. There was no internet or location dating apps. There were no gay-straight alliances in the local schools. There weren’t any positive representations of gay people on TV unless you count Paul Lynde.

The bar was the place where people could go and feel safe. It was a sanctuary. It was a refuge. Where you could be who you were, as feminine or as butch as you wanted to be, and dance and chat and be catty and gossip about who did what to whom and where or you could be serious and talk about the whisperings of some “gay disease” that was killing people in the big cities.

Even if the darkest of times – sometimes despite them – the gay bar was the only safe haven that existed for people like us, even if we didn’t recognize it at the time. The staff and the regulars protected us, especially when an older “chicken hawk” would try to move in on the young guys out on the dance floor. Inevitably, someone who worked there or one of the regulars would come over and chase them away so we could just have fun.

When I moved to California when I was 18, it wasn’t as easy to get into the bars, but I made it a few times. Long gone neighborhood places like the Apache, Job Site, and the Detour were usually easier than the big clubs in West Hollywood and they became my semi-regular haunts. I knew the bartenders and the DJs, and the doormen and they knew me. It was a great place to meet people. It was the only place to meet gay people.

When I turned 21 I got a job as a bouncer at a bar in West Hollywood. Over the next 15 years or so, I would graduate to bartender and then DJ, spinning in clubs all over town. The people I worked with became an extended family and while many of them, sadly, did not survive that particularly brutal era (the late 1980s especially), the ones that did are still special to me. I met one of my best friends there and we still go out to bars on occasion, although not as frequently and often with greater consequences the next morning.

Leaving at 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes made me a little unsettled. I didn’t always feel safe going to my car. But inside the bar was different. The angry, confusing, often hateful world stopped at the door and it was a relief.

No offense to straight people or their bars, but they aren’t the same. You may have a little neighborhood pub where “everybody knows your name” and you know theirs. The kind of place where they have your drink ready before you sit down, and they ask you how Mary or Bob is doing and commiserate with you about the grief your kids or your boss is giving you.

But it isn’t the same.

A gay bar is a safe harbor. It is a sanctuary. It is a refuge.

When the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando happened on June 12, 2016 it hit me hard. I was in Jamba Juice, getting my usual morning smoothie, and I checked the news while I was waiting. I read the story and burst into tears.

I knew that place.

I had never been to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. I didn’t know any of the people who died or the people who survived. I didn’t know any of the first responders or the community leaders or anyone else directly affected by the shooting.

But I knew that place. I knew the people. I knew what it was like inside and I could practically hear the music and the laughter and the dizzying tumble of conversations. I could feel the pounding bass of the sound system and see the DJ’s head bopping along to the tempo and their patient smile when someone requested whatever song was the most popular for the tenth time that night. I could smell the cologne – people often wore too much of it in the clubs, probably to drown out the other smell, which everyone who has ever worked at a bar knows. It’s sort of a sickly-sweet smell, a little sour and yet clean, too, like bleach trying to remove a stain that just won’t quite go away. I could taste the drinks – they were strong. You always get a bigger pour at neighborhood spots. I could see the bartenders trying to keep up with the orders and trying not to let their annoyance show when someone ordered anything more complicated, and therefore time consuming, than a gin and tonic. I could see the smiles and feel the embraces and taste the kisses, from friends and from lovers and sometimes – a first time – from someone that you wanted to be one or the other. And most importantly I felt what it was like once you walked through the doors.

It felt safe. It felt like a sanctuary. It felt like a refuge.

Standing there today, looking through a pane of glass at a waterfall that has been installed on the side of the building I sort of felt like I could still hear the music and taste the drinks and feel the feeling of what it must have been like there that night, before it all went to hell.

Then I looked through another pane of glass at the spot where the police used a battering ram to break through the wall, so people could escape the hail of gunfire. Then I looked through another and saw the names of the dead. The list went on… and on… and on…

The interim memorial that is there today starts with a message board of translucent panels that wrap around the base of the sign out in front. On it people can write messages of hope, sadness, grief, consolation, or, in some cases I saw, just their name – a statement, I believe, that they paid witness to this hallowed ground.

A tall wall has been put up around the building on three sides, covered with photographs sent in from around the globe. There are none of the night of the shooting. These are all of people coming together, mourning, grieving, and, ultimately, hoping and praying and taking action that will try to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.

There are several windows in the wall allowing people to see the building itself, but they are done tastefully and always with an eye toward honoring those that lost their life – their names, the waterfall, the breach wall.

In front is a smaller fence that people can leave notes, photos, or tributes. All of them are collected and saved.

Finally, an electronic kiosk allows visitors to sign a guest book and learn more about the “Pulse 49.”

At first, I was a bothered by the rush of traffic whizzing by on the street a few feet away. Not only was it noisy, but it felt offensive somehow. “How dare you go on with your lives when something like this exists.” There should be a stop sign out front and everyone should be required to come to a complete halt, look at the place, and recognize its importance and only then will they be allowed to drive away.

But eventually that faded away and I could hear the music again.

The One Pulse Foundation was created by the owner of the club, Barbara Poma, to support construction and maintenance of the memorial, community grants to care for the survivors and victims’ families, endowed scholarships in the names of each of the 49 angels, educational programs to promote amity among all segments of society and, ultimately, a museum highlighting historic artifacts and stories from the tragedy.

The interim memorial was unveiled in the spring of 2018 and they are hoping to have the permanent facility finished by summer of 2020. They are currently working with the families, the community, and the local government to go through the design phase and are actively working on the capital campaign. They are negotiating to buy two adjacent lots, so it will take up a big chunk of a city block and are looking to places like the 9/11 Memorial and the Oklahoma City National Memorial as blueprints for what to do. This is not a government led effort – it is the owner of the bar putting together a world-class organization that is drawing support from everyone from major corporations like Disney to anyone who wants to contribute in whatever way, big or small, they can.

When I asked what I could do to help, other than write checks, I was asked to share my story since that was the most effective tool anyone has to create connections to tragedy.

I wasn’t there, but I knew that place.

For more information or to donate, please visit onepulsefoundation.org.

Please feel free to share this.

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My Top 50 Prince Songs Countdown

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Not long after Prince faked his death and moved to a tropical island to live with a couple of hot models who follow him around all day striking random poses (you believe what you want to believe, I’ll believe what I want to believe), I culled a list of what I felt were the best songs Prince ever did. At the time I just did a simple alphabetical list, saying there was no way I could rank them. Well, it has taken me two years and a lot of arguing with myself, but I have finally done it. There is an audio player of the song under each entry.

Enjoy:

50. Adore from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
I will admit that I was not always a fan of the Prince slow jams but this one gets me every time. “Until the end of time, I’ll be there 4 U.” Come on. And that breakdown at 2:30 that leads to a classic Prince line: “You could burn up my clothes, smash up my ride… well, maybe not the ride…” A perfect mix of love and seduction.


49. Bambi from Prince (1979)
It was a track from his second album but it announced him in ways that would come to define his sound for years to come. That fuzzy, dirty guitar; the screaming falsetto; the rock God trappings. It’s all there and remember he was only 20 years old when he recorded it. Evidence, if you really needed it, that he was a prodigy.


48. Good Love from Bright Lights, Big City Soundtrack (1988)
This song has a bit of a tortured history. It was originally recorded by Prince with the Revolution for an album that was to be called Dream Factory, which was going to be the follow up to Around the World in a Day. When the band broke up in 1986, Prince put many of the songs on another unreleased multi-disc album Crystal Ball and then eventually put many of them on Sign o’ the Times, after taking out much of the Revolution’s contributions to the songs. This one, a funky pop ditty that gets in your ear and won’t let go, was included on the Michael J. Fox movie soundtrack but never released on an official Prince album or b-side (that I know of).


47. Alphabet Street from LoveSexy (1988)
The short, radio version of this is fun, funky, and get yo ass on the dance floor groovy but the longer version with the rap from Cat is where it really throws down… “Talk to me lover/Come and tell me what you taste/Didn’t your mama tell you/Life is too good to waste?”


46. Lolita from 3121 (2006)
I will freely admit that by the early 2000s I had pretty much stopped paying attention to Prince. For the better part of the previous decade or so I felt like he had gotten a little too myopic, doing music that was much more interesting to him than to anyone else. But then he released this album, certainly the closest thing he did to his old sound in years, and then really got my attention by doing a residency in Vegas. This song, while never released as a single, is classic Prince fun with a danceable beat, a vaguely naughty lyric that evokes his peak period during the 1980s and 1990s.


45. Feel U Up, b-side of Partyman (1989)
Interesting back story to this bass heavy jam – it was originally recorded in 1981 but then redone in 1986 for a project that never got released. It was used as the b-side of the single from the Batman album.


44. Gett Off from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Prince did a lot of dirty jams in his time but this one grinds in a way that practically demanded he wear pants with no butt cheeks on the Video Music Awards in 1991. Although he was certainly influenced by the music of his soul/R&B/funk godfathers, he rarely did what he did here, sampling a little bit of a James Brown and adopting the lyrics… “Remind me of something James used to say, I like ‘em fat, I like ‘em proud… ”


43. Private Joy from Controversy (1981)
I love the stacatto delivery of the lyric, which perfectly matches the propulsive drum beat and digital hand claps. Listen close for the occasional tamborine flourish in the background, like a accent mark. But my favorite part of the song is at the end, “Come on honey, baby get up!” as it strips down so you can really hear the intricate bass and the line “If anybody asks you belong to Prince.” Oh yeah. Then it fades into apocalyptic guitar and synth screeching as the album segues into Ronnie Talk to Russia, an ode to the cold war fears of the era.


42. Darling Nikki from Purple Rain (1984)
“I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend.” Talk about an opening line setting the mood. But don’t let the lyrics distract you too much – the thing that makes this song truly dirty is the fierce, fuzzy guitar work in the background. And for the record, the backwards recording at the end says, “Hello. How are you? I am fine because I know the lord is coming soon. I know the lord is coming soon.”


41. If I Was Your Girlfriend from Sign ‘o the Times (1987)
The track itself is spare and evocative but to me it’s the lyrics that really sell this one. “If I was your one and only friend / Would you run to me if somebody hurt you even if that somebody was me?” That’s almost as meta as the closing lines of the longer album version, “We’ll try to imagine what silence looks like.”


40. Shockadelica, the b-side of the If I Was Your Girlfriend single (1987)
Another funk workout with stunning, screechy guitar work and a (purposely) tinny vocal from Prince that works perfect with the taunting lyrics.


39. Cream from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
How can you not love a song that starts with overtly sexual moaning? But then you add in the church organ doing a pop beat and Rosie Gaines providing background and it turns the whole thing up a notch. A decidedly sexy song.


38. The Beautiful Ones from Purple Rain (1984)
Back in 1985 I took a sign language class and the final project had us sign a song. I picked this one for its expressive lyrics that matched the beautifully expressive nature of signing. That moment at around 3:20 where the drum beat goes into hyperdrive and he starts screaming “Do you want him? Or do you want me? Because I want you!” is the definition of yearning.


37. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Mustang Remix) from The Gold Experience (1995)
This is one that I’m going to toss to a remix as being superior to the original. While the radio version is a sweet ode with a classic Prince falsetto, the Mustang Remix I have on a German EP called The Beautiful Experience is the one I really like. This is less a remix than a completely different recording of the song with Prince singing in his chest voice over a sultry lounge beat that adds a funk, heat, and sex to the song.


36. Sexy Motherfucker from the o+> album (1992)
This was Prince at his all time coolest. Nobody else could get away with a song like this that seemed dirty but was really all about respect and love. Prince made it the epitome of suave.


35. Diamonds and Pearls from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Probably the most traditional love song he ever wrote, enhanced by the simplicity of the lyrics (“All I can do is just offer you my love”) and a soaring co-vocal with Rosie Gaines.


34. Controversy from Controversy (1981)
“Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?” Prince answers the critics of his androgynous sexuality with a resounding middle finger of song that pulses like an angry heartbeat. And then the audacity of putting the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of it? That’s some balls, right there ladies and gentlemen. My favorite line: “Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be?”


33. Do Me, Baby from Controversy (1981)
Pure sex in the form of a falsetto slow jam. I’m guessing there were quite a few babies conceived while this song was playing.


32. Sexuality from Controversy (1981)
The main part of this rollicking ode to letting your body be free is great fun but it’s the spoken word part at the end that really sells it. “Reproduction of a new breed – Leaders, stand up! Organize!” with the up hitting perfectly on the smash beat every time is addictive as hell. And his tourist-bashing – something that would pop up again on 1982′s 1999 is just plain old funny: “Tourists – 89 flowers on their back…inventors of the Accu-jack. They look at life through a pocket camera… What? No flash again?”


31. Head from Dirty Mind (1980)
For this classic Prince funk jam you should go read the lyrics sometime to get the full effect of just how classically dirty of a song it is. Um… he did what on the wedding gown? And love the Star Wars synth work in the break.


30. Raspberry Beret from Around the World in a Day (1985)
Cheeky is the word I think of when I hear this song. The lyrics are kind of lacivious but it is done with such a bouncy, flirty delivery that elevates this beyond just a randy story of a couple doing it in a barn. Check out the extended version with its finger cymbal intro and Prince coughing at random places. What does it mean? Who knows, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that he did that made him and his music so unique.


29. Strange Relationship from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
The driving four on the floor beat plays an interesting counterpoint to the swinging melody that dances around playfully. It’s a great song and I always wondered why he didn’t release this as a single.


28. U Got the Look from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
Sheena Easton’s induction into the Prince family is a barn burner of a song about a guy trying every bit of flattery he can muster to get the girl.


27. Automatic from 1999 (1982)
Here he not only manipulates the instrumentation to sound vaguely robotic (if robots were funky dancing machines), but he does the same thing with the vocals. The stacatto delivery occasionally chirps up into the stratosphere like a machine coming to life. Be sure to listen to the full length album version with headphones so you can hear the freaky, fade in/out, left/right execution of the the spoken word part (“stop me if I’m boring you”). It’s simple but effective.


26. 17 Days, the b-side of When Doves Cry (1984)
I named my first play after this song, not because it inspired me to write the play, but rather that it’s spare, fuzzy guitar opening and bleak let the rain come down sing-songy chorus were what I pictured the main character, a man dying of AIDS, was hearing in his head every day. One of the many great examples of Prince’s music brilliantly setting a mood.


25. Let’s Work from Controversy (1981)
That slapping bass line is enough to sell me but add in the early 80s synth work and the multi-tracked vocals turn this into a perfect bit of funk fun.


24. Mountains from Parade (1986)
Another song that I stole the title of for a play, this upbeat shuffle has the full Revolution-era treatment including Wendy & Lisa backing vocals, horns, and more. And that breakdown! “Guitars and drums on the 1, huh!” Classic.


23. Girls and Boys from Parade, (1986)
Irresistibly groovy from start to finish with a sax hook that won’t quit and breathy backup vocals from Wendy & Lisa. This is one that loves to stick around in the corners of your brain for days – “Vous etes tres belle, mamma, girls and boys.”


22. Lady Cab Driver from 1999 (1982)
I used to think of this song almost every day while sitting on the 101 freeway behind somebody who isn’t paying attention to the fact that traffic ahead of them is moving. “Put your foot on the gas, let’s drive” pops into my head and then it’s all there – the funky kickdrum/hand clap beat, the twangy bass, and the intricate keyboard work. The extended spoken part on the album version (“This one’s for Yosemite Sam and the tourists at Disneyland:) is both dirty and a little disturbing as a woman moans in the background. Is it love or anger?


21. I Would Die 4U from Purple Rain (1984)
I love the original on the album but check out this 10 minute version (only ever available on vinyl and as an album only cut on the remaster), which isn’t just an extended remix but a live, full band studio recording and a complete rework of the song with shoutouts to Wendy and Lisa, horn players Eddie M and Miko Weaver, and drums by Sheila E. It keeps the driving forward motion of the original but adds depth with intricate synth and percussion work.


20. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
The poppy, kicky beat could distract you from the lyrics but don’t let it – they are profoundly self-aware and heartbreaking. “She asked me if we could be friends/And I said, oh, honey baby that’s a dead end.” This is the long version, which I recommend because the song goes from upbeat pop to dark, tortured guitar at around 3:45 and in just a few bars adds a layer of complexity that is almost heartbreaking.


19. Irresistible Bitch, the b-side of Let’s Pretend We’re Married (1982)
A bass-heavy, stacatto beat works perfectly with the spoken word lament about a woman that did him wrong that he can’t stay away from. Come on… who else would do a song called Irresistible Bitch? No one.


18. Purple Rain from Purple Rain (1984)
A lot of people don’t know this but Prince’s signature song from his breakthrough album was recorded live in 1983 at a benefit concert along with Baby I’m a Star and I Would Die 4U. That the track reportedly required minimal remastering speaks to not only his genius as a musician and performer but as a storyteller. Interestingly the iconic guitar chords at the beginning do not come from Prince, but Wendy. His solo work comes in around the 3:45 mark and is heartache, heartbreak, and heart pounding in aural form.


17. Willing and Able from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
An upbeat, almost acoustic jam with overt gospel influences including a full choir doing back up. Perfect if you need a mood boost.


16. I Wanna Be Your Lover from Prince (1979)
One of the few songs by Prince that you could put into a disco playlist and not look like an idiot. The wocka-wocka guitars and Prince’s perfect falsetto make this an irresistable dance floor groove.


15. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, the b-side to 1999 (1982)
With all due respect to Alica Keys’ remake, Prince’s original version of this bluesy piano ballad destroys not only with its emotion but with its simplicity. From falsetto to chest voice to screaming and back again, this song may have a languid tempo but it feels filled with urgency.


14. Joy in Repetition from Graffiti Bridge (1990)
If you are looking for evidence of Prince’s musical genius, you must listen to this track about a woman in a club on the mic “repeating these 2 words, over and over again” but you really have to pay attention. On the surface it sounds like the same four bars repeated over and over again, which is kinda the point, but it’s what he does with the lyric and its relation to the music that is so subtly incredible. This line: “These 2 words, a little bit behind the beat. I mean just enough 2 turn u on.” He sings the line just a little bit behind the beat and when he gets to those 2 words he sings THOSE a little bit behind the beat. It’s stunningly simple and yet complex at the same time.


13. Anotherloverholenyohead from Parade (1986)
The vaguely Indian intro segues into a piano driven monster with a dirty guitar line and itricately weaving vocals that wraps up (on the short version) with “There’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap your hands.” I saw him do this live at one of his shows and I nearly lost my mind. This is the extended version with a lot of additional funky horn and piano work.


12. Kiss from Parade (1986)
There are few songs that are so instantly recognizeable with their first two seconds but that guitar lick makes this one of them, announcing the falsetto masterpiece that follows. I loved how, in later years, he updated the references when performing this song. I saw him once change “You don’t have to watch Dynasty” to “You don’t have to watch Desperate Housewives.” This is the extended dance mix, which adds horn flourishes and ends with an argument between “Saul” and his wife over seeing Prince on TV.


11. 1999 from 1999 (1982)
“Don’t worry… I won’t hurt you… I only want you to have some fun.” We did, Prince. Thank you.


10. Let’s Go Crazy from Purple Rain (1984)
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” If songs like this dance/rock jam were part of our daily soundtrack, it would be a lot easier to get through life. Note the fuzzy guitar work in the beginning that is a direct descendant of Bambi and see how it leads you to the epic solo that closes the track. Bonus points to this extended version that includes an insane asylum meets Bugs Bunny cartoon mashup of what, from any other artist, would just be noise.


9. Erotic City, the b-side of the Let’s Go Crazy single (1984)
If this naughty, pulsating, highly danceable song featuring breathy backup vocals from Sheila E doesn’t put you and your significant other in the mood, something’s wrong. It’s classic “dirty era” Prince that is remarkable if for no other reason than so many people know it but it never got any mainstream radio airplay because of its lyrics. And this was before satellite radio and social media gave platforms to songs that no one would touch.


8. Something in the Water from 1999 (1982)
Prince did a techno song? Well, no, but this one has the kind of strange alien beeps and a languid synthesizer background on top of a hyperactive drum beat that perfectly underscores the heartbreak of the song’s lyrics. When he gets screams “I’d buy you clothing… I’d buy you fancy cars” it sends a chill up my spine every time.


7. Housequake from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
“Shut up, already, damn!” Okay, I will and just let this delirious house party classic speak for itself.


6. Nothing Compares 2 U from The Hits/B-Sides (1993)
Originally (formally) recorded by the Prince offshoot band The Family and later made famous by Sinead O’Connor, Prince finally took back his song and did it as a stunning, heartbreaking duet with Rosie Gaines and pretty much made every other version look like child’s play. Yes, I have heard the new/old version from the vault of Prince doing it by himself but I still prefer this version.


5. Little Red Corvette from 1999 (1982)
The dirtiest song ever written that doesn’t contain any explicit lyrics. It’s about a car, isn’t it? And something about horses? I love the video as he works the camera with a “You know what I’m talking about” smirk. Check out this Dance Remix that inserts some moody interludes and rattling synthesizer bass lines that aren’t in the original.


4. Baby I’m a Star from Purple Rain (1984)
If you need a party to kick into high gear, put on this song. It’s a clap your hands, jump up and down dose of adrenaline with classic Prince squeals that announced to the world exactly what he was and who he intended to be. “You might not know it now, but baby what I are is I’m a star.” Damn right.


3. Forever in my Life from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
One of his rare non-falsetto slow songs, this reflective work uses overlapping vocals and an overarching feeling of melancholy to perfectly convey the yearning of a man reaching a crossroads. Listening to this song now breaks my heart.


2. When Doves Cry from Purple Rain (1984)
This song literally made me change the way I thought of music, opening me up to a world of possibilities that my limited, Iowa 1970s and 1980s upbringing couldn’t have imagined. Step back and really listen to it. There’s no bass line in the entire track, which is revolutionary on its own, but after the intro it gets stripped down to just drums and Prince’s vocal. Then it slowly layers in a dash of keyboards and then more and more, and finally pushing into a rush of guitars and that makes it feel like the whole thing is going to explode. After more than three decades it might be easy to take this song for granted, but it remains probably his most stunning musical achievement. So why isn’t it my number one?


1. DMSR from 1999 (1982)
Dance, Music, Sex, Romance. What else do you need? According to this classic funk masterpiece, absolutely nothing. Musically, it seems pretty simple on the surface – slapping bass, dirty keys, and a drumbeat that makes you want to move – but take a minute and really listen to the way the music seems to weave in and out of itself, almost like the call and answer vocals (“Somebody say DANCE!”). But in the end, it is less about the music and more about the spirit of this song that gets me. Nothing else he did ever encapsulated as much of the prime years Prince ethos as this song did. I’d like to think this is the spirit of how he’d like to be remembered.


Prop Master: A Look at the November 2016 California Ballot Propositions

In between writing a second Hallmark Xmas movie with a lot of very earnest dialogue about the meaning of the holiday and a Lifetime movie with lots of single white female drama, I decided to take some time and write up my thoughts on the propositions as I do every year.

Now, as we have discussed, I hate the California ballot process. It is ridiculous that laws (or worse, constitutional amendments) are made by 50% plus one person of the fraction of people who actually vote, many of whom don’t take the time to do anything other than pay a little bit of attention to the misdirection and outright lies that most of the campaign TV commercials put out there. My default position is to vote “no” since most of them are put forth by extreme factions, often Republican, who can’t get things advanced legislatively in the state.

But every now and then there are some that come around that I think are worthy of attention. There are few this time around, including one I feel very passionate about. There are a lot of them this year so buckle in.

QUICK LOOK:

No on 51 (School Bonds)
No on 52 (Diverting Hospital Fee Revenue)
No on 53 (Voter Approval of Revenue Bonds)
No on 54 (Public Display of Bills)
No on 55 (Extension of Top Tax Rate)
No on 56 (Tobacco Tax)
No on 57 (Non-Violent Parole)
Yes on 58 (Allows Bi-Lingual Education)
Yes on 59 (Demand Action Against Citizens United)
No on 60 (Condoms in Adult Films)
No no 61 (Drug Price Standards)
Yes on 62 (Repeal the Death Penalty)
Yes on 63 (Gun and Ammunition Control)
Yes on 64 (Legalizes Marijuana)
No on 65 (Bag Fees for Wildlife Fund)
No on 66 (Changes to the Death Penalty Process)
Yes on 67 (Bans Plastic Bags)

IN DEPTH


Proposition 51: School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute

The short version:
Issues $9 billion in bonds to pay for schools and community colleges

Who is for it:
Almost everyone – Democrats, Republicans, teachers, and on and on

What the people for it say:
For God’s sake, won’t someone please think of the children! They are our future, you know?

Who is against it:
Governor Jerry Brown and the Libertarians

What the people against it say:
Nine BILLION dollars? What the fuck? Plus, it doesn’t have enough protections in it to ensure that the money is directed to low-income neighborhoods where it is truly needed.

What I say:
What the fuck? Sorry, kids. I’m with Governor Jerry.

Verdict:
NO on Prop 51


Proposition 52: Voter Approval to Divert Hospital Fee Revenue Dedicated to Medi-Cal

The Short Version:
Hospitals pay fees to the state to help them qualify for federal Medicaid funds – fees that are supposed to go into a fund that is matched by the state. However, legislators sometimes “redirect” those fees to other uses. Prop 52 is a constitutional amendment and state statute that would require any “redirection” of these fees to be approved by voters or by 2/3 of the legislature, which would effectively end the practice.

Who is for it:
Democrats, Republicans, the Health care industry – kind of everyone

What the people for it say:
Politicians are shady and they shouldn’t be allowed to use money for one thing on something else.

Who is against it:
Libertarians, mostly.

What the people against it say:
This will effectively increase funding to hospitals, which means corporate health care companies and their greedy CEOs will profit from it.

What I say:
I had over $2 million in medical bills from my big fun with cancer a few years ago. I don’t feel sorry for hospitals AT ALL. But beyond that, I am very against constitutional amendments being done through the ballot process.

Verdict:
NO on Prop 52


Proposition 53: Voter Approval Requirement for Revenue Bonds above $2 Billion

The Short Version:
Voters already get the right to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds, often done to pay for things like parks and schools, and repaid through tax revenue. But voters don’t have the right to approve revenue bonds, which often pay for things like roads and bridges, and are repaid through fees and other charges (like Highway tolls). This constitutional amendment would give voters the right to approve any revenue bond issuance valued above $2 billion.

Who is for it:
Republicans and Libertarians.

What people for it say:
Keep your damn dirty hands off my damn dirty money! Or… Politicians suck and they borrow money to pay for pork projects that we then have to pay for and we don’t have any say in the matter.

Who is against it:
Democrats and most progressive organizations

What people against it say:
Local and community projects would be negatively affected because it would require the approval of the entire state. Plus there is no exemption for natural disasters or other emergencies.

What I say:
Just like I don’t think 50% + 1 should make law, neither do I think they should be able to control state budgets. Plus it’s a constitutional amendment, so you know how I feel already.

Verdict:
NO on Prop 53


Proposition 54: Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote

The Short Version:
A constitutional amendment and state statute that would require that every bill under consideration in the state legislature be posted on the Internet for 72 hours prior to any vote. It also requires the legislature to record all their public proceedings and post them within 24 hours and allows anyone to record any public legislature session and post those recordings publicly.

Who is for it:
Republicans and Libertarians, plus lots of progressive groups like the NAACP, League of Women Voters, etc.

What the people for it say:
Politicians suck and this will help make them accountable.

Who is against it:
Democrats and their usual labor affiliates (nurses, teachers, etc.)

What the people against it say:
There is one billionaire behind this – a right wing nutjob who wants it so he can use the 72 hours to launch public outrage campaigns about pending votes by the Democratic-led legislature.

What I say:
This is one that sounds good on the surface – transparency is a good thing, right? But how many of you are going to check the website listing all the upcoming votes every day and then do something about the stuff that you don’t like? None of you. The ones that will do something are the extremists on both sides who will use it to try to slow down the process and advance their own agendas.

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 54


Proposition 55: Extension of the Proposition 30 Income Tax Increase

The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment that would extend current tax rates on individual incomes over $250K from 2018 to 2030

Who is for it:
Democrats and most progressive organizations

What those for it say:
Rich people suck! Or at least they suck when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes. This doesn’t raise taxes, it just keeps the rate they are already paying.

Who is against it:
Republicans and Libertarians

What those against it say:
I’ve had it with all these motherfucking taxes on the motherfucking plane! Oh, and this is a bait and switch because voters approved this “temporary” tax increase with the 2018 expiration and now it’s going to stay forever.

What I say:
Full transparency – because of all the TV movie gigs I have been getting plus my full time job, this law will affect me. I have always said I don’t have any problem paying taxes and I support the idea of it in general. But this is a constitutional amendment, so that makes me inclined to oppose it from the get-go. Plus, I kind of agree with the LA Times, which says: “When a majority of people provide a substantial portion of the state’s revenue, there is a broader demand for accountability and a greater incentive to vote. But when only a few provide most of the revenue, the majority loses not only its incentive to demand results, but its leverage to do so.”

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 55


Proposition 56: Tobacco Tax Increase

The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment and state statute that raises taxes on cigarettes, tobacco products, and e-cigarettes by $2.00 per pack (or equivalent) to pay for anti-smoking campaigns and health care.

Who is for it:
Democrats and progressive groups

What those for it say:
Smoking is evil. Smokers are bad people. Smokers should die but until they do they should pay for everything.

Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, and evil smokers

What those against it say:
Taxes are bad and the money this raises won’t be used the way it should be.

What I say:
Full transparency – I’m a smoker. I quit when I got cancer in 2012 (which had nothing to do with the smoking, for the record) and then picked it back up again last year and then quit again last year and then picked it back up again this year. I have accepted that much like an alcoholic is always an alocholic even when they aren’t drinking, I will always be a smoker even when I’m not smoking. I’m totally with Bebe Glaser from this classic episode of Frasier:

Having said that, smoking is terrible and in general I support all efforts to keep people from doing it. But in the end this is a constitutional amendment that “punishes” one group of people for their addiction. Do we impose a $2 tax on every bottle of alcohol sold? Or every sugary Big Gulp soda?

The Verdict:
No on Prop 56


Proposition 57: Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements

The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment and state statute that would increase parole chances for people convicted of non-violent crimes and give prosecutors more leeway in deciding whether to try juveniles as adults.

Who is for it:
Democrats, Libertarians

What those for it say:
Prisons are overcrowded, often with people convicted of non-violent felonies (often drug possession violations)

Who is against it:
Republicans and law and order types

What those against it say:
They’re going to release horrible people from jail who will come to your home and KILL YOU!!

What I say:
This is another one that seems like a good idea, but I have a problem with it. State law identifies 23 specific felonies as “violent” and everything else is not officially “violent.” That includes things like, unbelievably, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, gun possession violations, rape, arson, lewd acts against a child, hate crimes, and a lot more . This proposition does not further define what is a “violent” felony. While I generally hate siding with law and order types, I think that’s a problem.

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 57


Proposition 58: Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education

The Short Version:
State statute that repeals proposition 227, voted into law in 1998, that requires English-only education in public schools and allows bilingual education programs.

Who is for it:
Democrats and most progressive groups

What those for it say:
227 (the proposition, not the Jackee Harry sitcom) was a racist piece of shit and this repeals it.

Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, and most racists

What those against it say:
Build a wall.

What I say:
I hate the California ballot proposition process because it allows bullshit laws like English only education to get put into place by racist and/or misinformed voters. But a proposition that repeals a proposition? I can get behind that.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 58


Proposition 59: Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Question

The Short Version:
This is neither a constitutional amendment nor a state statute. Instead, it’s an “advisory question” that would “encourage” the California legislature to find a way to overturn Citizens United, the US Supreme Court decision that effectively defined corporations as people and opened the floodgates for dark money into politics.

Who is for it:
Bernie and the Progressives (1960s Doo Wop Group, I believe)

What those for it say:
Corporations aren’t people and we need to get money out of politics. And something about hemp I think.

Who is against it:
Republicans

What those against it say:
This is a feel good thing that doesn’t actually do anything.

What I say:
The legislature isn’t actually REQUIRED to do anything and what they could do is probably limited, but since this doesn’t change the constitution or make any laws, then why not?

The Verdict:
YES on 59


Proposition 60: Condoms in Pornographic Films

The Short Version:
State statute requiring that all adult movies filmed in California require performers to wear condoms. If they don’t, the people who make, appear in, distribute, and display the films are subject to civil actions by anyone who feels as though they have been harmed by it.

Who is for it:
AIDS prevention groups, the Peace & Freedom party, prudes, people who say they are disgusted by porn but have pornhub.com bookmarked.

Who is against it:
Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, sexual deviants, people who have pornhub.com bookmarked and don’t care who knows it

What those against it say:
It’s a poorly written law that will allow any whackjob (no pun intended) to file a lawsuit against porn companies because they feel as though they were somehow “harmed” by it.

What I say:
This is well-intentioned but stupid.

The Verdict:
NO on 60


Proposition 61: Drug Price Standards

The Short Version:
State statute that requires state agencies to pay the same prices for prescription drugs that the US Veterans Administration pays.

Who is for it:
Bernie and the Progressives (who later became Hillary and the Progressives, a 60s girl group)

What those for it say:
Big pharma is evil and this will make drug prices more affordable for those on state programs who need it the most.

Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, Big Pharma (big surprise), and several race groups like the NAACP and the California League of United Latin American Citizens (which actually is a surprise)

What those against it say:
Only helps those icky poor people and it could actually make drug prices go up for those heroic Americans who surved our country proudly. Glory, glory hallelujah! And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…

What I say:
Don’t get me started against Big Pharma but here’s the thing that troubles me about this. Drug manufacturers give discounts to the VA on medications, not because they are required to by law, but because not doing so would be disastrous PR. But if they are faced with the option of lowering their price on meds they sell to the state, they could very well just RAISE the price of the drugs they sell to the VA. Why? Because if this law works the way it is intended to, it will cost them billions and other states will rush to pass similar laws. Big Pharma has turned this proposition into the most expensive in history, dumping nearly $90 million into getting it defeated. They won’t take it laying down if it passes.

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 61 (although a very tough call)


Proposition 62: Repeal of the Death Penalty

The Short Version:
It’s right there in the title – this state statute repeals the death penalty in California.

Who is for it:
Progressives, Bleeding Heart Liberals

What those for it say:
The death penalty is immoral – the state should not be involved in killing people

Who is against it:
Law and order types

What those against it say:
Kill the bastards!

What I say:
My opinion is as simple as the title – I am against the death penalty in all instances.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 62


Proposition 63: Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban Initiative

The Short Version:
A state statute that does a bunch of things related to the sale and ownership of guns and ammunition

  1. Requires background checks and a permit for the purchase of ammunition
  2. Requires a license for the sale of ammunition
  3. Bans exemptions for large-capacity magazines (those purchased before 2000) and set penalties for anyone who possesses them
  4. Puts into place a court process that attempts to ensure that people who aren’t supposed to have guns don’t have them. For instance, someone who has a domestic violence protection order against them is not supposed to own a gun, but currently there is no system in place to enforce that
  5. Moves up the date on which out of state purchases of ammunition are banned from 2019 to 2018
  6. Requires dealers and owners to report theft of ammunition within a few days
  7. Makes stealing a gun a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison

Who is for it:
Progressives, sane people

What people for it say:
We have to do something about gun violence.

Who is against it:
Gun nuts

What those who are against it say:
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We gots to go kill us some things!

What I say:
If it were up to me I’d round up all the guns, melt them down, and turn them into playground equipment. Since I can’t do that, I will do everything I can to add as many restrictions as I can to get in the way of people and their guns.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 63


Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization

The Short Version:
Legalizes recreational marijuana and hemp and puts state taxes on its sale and cultivation.

Who is for it:
Duuuuuuuuuuuude

What those for it say:
Duuuuuuuuuuuude

Who is against it:
Pruuuuuuuuuudes

What those against it say:
Just say no.

What I say:

The Verdict:
Yes on Prop 64


Proposition 65: Dedication of Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation Fund

The Short Version:
State statute that would redirect money from the sale of carry out and grocery bags to a fund for the Wildlife Conservation Board.

Who is for it:
Tree huggers

What they say:

Who is against it:
People who hate baby seals.

What they say:
Why yes, I’d love to wear that baby seal as a fashionable hat.

What I say:
This is actually more complex than it seems because of Proposition 67, which would ban the use of plastic bags entirely. That ban was passed by the state legislature and 67 ratifies it with voters. If it passes, then a 10 cent per bag fee for the sale of any other reusable bag will go into place and that money goes to the retailer to pay for the cost of the bags and for environmental education programs. If 67 passes AND 65 passes, then that 10 cents will go to the state fund. If 67 passes and 65 fails, the money goes to the retailers. If 67 fails, it is all moot. Confusing? Yes, and intentionally so because Prop 65 was crafted by the same people trying to STOP the plastic bag ban, specifically the manufacturers of plastic bags. Sketchy much?

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 65


Proposition 66: Death Penalty Procedures

The Short Version:
Puts a bunch of new stuff around how the death penalty is administered in the state including speeding up the appeals process and restitution for the victims’ families.

Who is for it:
Law and order types

What those for it say:
The death penalty is needed but can be improved. Oh… and KILL THE BASTARDS!!

Who is against it:
Bleeding heart liberals

What those against it say:
It sounds like they want to do something about the death penalty but its a ruse. Don’t believe it.

What I say:
If the state were to keep the death penalty, there are some good provisions in this that would make it a little less horrific. Not much, but a little. Here’s the important part about this proposition though… If Prop 62, which repeals the death penalty, passes AND this Prop 66 passes, the one with the most yes votes wins. So even if 62 passes, we could still have the death penalty if this one gets more votes. Sketchy much?

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 66


Proposition 67: Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum

The Short Version:
The state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags. This measure ratifies that ban and institutes a 10 cent per bag fee on other bags that goes to the retailer.

Who is for it:
The same people who are against Prop 65.

What those for it say:
The same thing the people against Prop 65 say.

Who is against it:
The same people who are for Prop 65.

What those against it say:
I think you can see where this is going.

What I say:
This proposition does not create a new law. All this does is ratify a law enacted by the state legislature, the people who are supposed to be making laws in the first place. Since we already have a ban in LA it’s kinda moot to me. But while I miss plastic bags, this is a good thing in the long run.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 67


Prince 1958-2016

It is not hyperbole to say that Prince literally changed the way I thought of music.

Growing up in Iowa in the late 70s and early 80s, most of the radio stations played country, classic rock, or farm reports and there was only one pop radio station that played, primarily, top 40. This meant that my musical education growing up was primarily disco and soft rock and my tastes ran toward the vanilla side of things – Barry Manilow, the Manhattan Transfer, Olivia Newton-John, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, and the like. Madonna, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson shook things up in the early 80s but it was still all pop all the time.

I will never forget the day that all changed. It was in the spring of 1984 – I want to say April or early May – and I was in the garage waxing the new (used) car I had gotten as a high school graduation present. This was a momentus time for me anyway, just a few weeks away from liberation from the torment of high school, thinking about how I wanted to move to California and pursue my dreams of stardom. I had lost a lot of weight and I had a really cool car – a 1981 Mustang with T-Tops. Things were looking up.

Then a song came on the radio that was sitting on my dad’s workbench. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I swear I could almost hear my mind expanding.

It was “When Doves Cry” by Prince.

More than 30 years later it’s still a great song but when it first came out it was revolutionary, especially for pop radio. Moody and atmospheric; an almost tribal drum beat; no bass line which was virtually unheard of; layered intricate harmonies; fierce guitar work. I stopped mid-wax and just listened. At some point I stood up. And when it was over, music would never be the same for me.

I became obsessed with Prince. I had heard “1999″ and “Little Red Corvette” of course (because they were Top 40 hits) but I never owned a single song by him but that changed quickly. I started with the “When Doves Cry” single then the extended dance mix that had the b-side of “17 Days.” I bought all of his prior albums – “1999,” “Prince,” “For You,” “Dirty Mind,” and “Controversy” – shocked and scandalized by the overt sexuality of those early recordings because nothing like that had ever made it on to Iowa radio. Remember, this is a place that thought Oliva Newton-John’s “Physical” was too graphic.

And then “Purple Rain,” both the movie and the soundtrack, which were earth-shattering both to me and to most of the rest of the world.

From that point forward the fandom grew. Albums release days were like Christmas to me and more than once I was outside of record stores before they opened just waiting to get my hands on the new Prince music. I collected 12″ vinyl dance singles, which not only turned four or five minute songs into 10 minute epics but it was often the only way you could get the unreleased b-sides that he loved to include – “Hello,” “Feel U up,” “Shockadelica,” “Irresistible Bitch,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” and the ultimate “Erotic City.” I got underground recordings of concerts, promotional singles, picture discs, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I decorated my corner of my dorm room at Iowa State and later my first apartment in Los Angeles with posters and record covers of Prince and his acolytes.

prince04

I still have most of it… the below is all that would fit on my dining room table but there’s more…

prince02

Oh yes, the extended Prince family was just as important. I dove head first into the obvious like The Time and Sheila E. but also Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, the Family, Madhouse, Mazerati, Carmen Electra, and more. People who had performed with Prince were added to the list – Sheena Easton, Wendy & Lisa, Rosie Gaines, and beyond.

I got buttons for my jean jacket and I even did the white boy approximation of dressing like him when I went out to clubs – a long coat, a frilly shirt, and a military style cap with lace netting hanging from it.

I saw him in concert at least a dozen times, from arena tours to intimate venues like his Glam Slam club in Downtown Los Angeles and at the Crown Theater in Las Vegas. On stage, nobody worked harder or captivated audiences more fully than Prince.

I even went so far as to study Prince’s music for the hidden messages and obscure references he liked to put in them. I broke a record player just so I could hear what the backwards message at the end of “Darling Nikki” on the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. I still remember it after all of these years – “Hello, how are you? I am fine because I know the lord is coming soon. I know the lord is coming soon.”

I figured out weird tie between his deep cut “All the Critics Love U in New York” from the “1999″ album released in 1982. One of the lyrics is “It’s time for a new direction\It’s time for jazz to die\Fourth day of November\We need a purple high.” Two years later Prince launched his global “Purple Rain” tour in Detroit on November 11, 1984. Turn that date into numbers – 11-4-1984 – and add the numbers together. 1999. Mind blown? Mine was.

I was thrilled to figure out how to pronounce the unpronounceable symbol – Victor. Long story but ask me about it if you are curious.

When I started writing I naturally turned to the greatest artistic influence of my life for inspiration. My first play was called “17 Days” (the b-side on “When Doves Cry”) and every play I wrote after that used Prince songs for their titles – “Mountains” (which won a bunch of awards), “I Would Die For You,” “Escape,” “Thieves in the Temple,” and more. I wrote a couple of never published novels called “Condition of the Heart” and “Strange Relationship,” two lesser known songs from “Around the World in a Day” and “Sign o’ the Times” respectively.

My fandom started to wane in the early 90s when he got into his battles with his record label and started releasing stuff from his vault that he knew wasn’t his best work just to fulfill his contracts. By the time he came back with material he wanted to do his sound had changed, or perhaps it was just my tastes and/or the world’s taste. His last top 40 hit was a reissue of “1999″ in, appropriately enough, 1999.

But my love for his prolific 1978-1993 period never waned and to this day I still regularly put on my Prince and Family playlist on iTunes. I’m listening to it now as I type this. “Alphabet Street.” I know all of the words to backup singer/dancer Cat’s rap: “Talk to me lover come and tell me what you taste…”

The news that Prince died today devastated me on a level that I have never experienced before with the death of a celebrity. I know a lot of people were laid low by the death of David Bowie or Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston or (insert other musical great here) and I certainly had a moment of “awww” with all of them. With Prince it was instant tears.

Thank you, Prince, for helping me understand the possibility of music. For me, again today, it will never be the same.

The lyrics to “Sometimes it Snows in April” from the “Parade” album, which seem especially appropriate on this sunny April 2016 day:

Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

mscl

21 Words

This will be my last post before the surgery.  I feel as though I should be witty, or wise, or at least pithy but at this point I think the best I can hope for is coherent.  I guess what I am really attempting to gain is a little bit of that much longed for perspective that everyone always wants, thinks they have, and then forgets about as soon as life gets hard, scary, dangerous, or annoying.

My day, tomorrow, is fairly well planned at least in my head.  I’m going to get up at around 5am.  Note that I didn’t say “wake up at 5am” but rather “get up,” because I don’t want to presume that I will actually be sleeping tonight.  Stranger things have happened – Sarah Palin for example – but I think it’s best to stick with “get up” and that will cover any eventuality.

After checking my e-mail and staring at the empty refrigerator for awhile, I’ll go take a shower and greedily use as much of the hot water as I can because it will be my last opportunity to bathe for the next several days.  I apologize in advance to anyone who comes to visit me before I am able to have some alone time with warm water and soap again.

Somewhere around 6am, I’ll call a cab and then wait outside until it arrives.  I always take a cab to the hospital for any kind of procedure, surgery, or test if it involves me not being able to drive myself back home.  It’s not that there aren’t lots of people who would be willing to take me to the hospital if I asked, it’s just that I prefer to go by cab.  Part of it is that it allows me some alone time to gather my thoughts and mentally prepare for whatever I’m about to face.  The other part of it is I figure that if I can survive being driven to the hospital by a Los Angeles cab driver, I can survive anything.

When I get there I will also continue with my other little hospital tradition, which is walking up to the receptionist in the admitting room and stating, with a cheerful voice, the reason I’m there.  In this case it will be thusly: “It’s a beautiful day for an esophagectomy!”

The surgery itself is scheduled to start at 8:30am and should take three to four hours.

Now… and this is important… the one thing I don’t plan to do tomorrow is die.  It’s not on the agenda as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s the deal: I hate things left unfinished.  I don’t always need to have a nice tidy bow wrapping it all up because I understand that life rarely affords us the opportunity to do so, but I do need to have some measure of closure.  I loathe ambiguity; nothing frustrates me more.  It’s like a TV show that gets cancelled after the season ended with a cliffhanger.  Did Angela really end up with Jordan Catalono?  Did Harrison choose Brooke or Sam?  Did Jessica get killed by the firing squad?

So with that in mind, I offer some thoughts and ruminations that will act, I suppose, as my version of closure should my plans go awry tomorrow.

I’ve had a good life.  I don’t know if it was a great life but it was good and that’s better than a lot of people get.

I had friends.  Several were amazing and life-altering.  Most people don’t even have one of those in their life so in that regard I was truly blessed.

I knew love.  Not in the traditional, romantic sense, but it was still a true, undeniable, soul-mate type of love.

I had fun.  Maybe not as often as I should have and perhaps with less gusto as I could have but it was fun nevertheless.

I did some cool things.  I had not one, but two plays produced in real, honest-to-God theaters and they won a bunch of awards.  I rode a camel in Egypt.  I drank ouzo in Greece.  I wrote books that were published and people bought them and read them.  I won $30,000 on a slot machine.  I drove a race car.  I visited the Britney Spears Museum and saw the biggest ball of twine.  I shook hands with the man that would be the President of the United States.

I tried to be a good person.  I didn’t always accomplish that.  I had my moments – some extended – of selfishness and vanity and pride and hedonism and sloth and greed and all of the other things that make us human but I’d like to think that, for the most part, I merely waded in the pools of my various sins rather than wallowing and reveling in them.

I certainly was not always nice to everyone all of the time but I don’t think I was ever cruel.  Well, not intentionally cruel.

Regrets?  I’ve had a few.

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life.  I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one.  For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

I think that chance-aversion also applies to my emotional life.  I’ve always been reserved, private, and cautious when it came to other people and I think I missed out on a lot of stuff because of it.  I pushed people away or didn’t pull people close enough and so my life has been more solitary than it needed to be.  It certainly is the reason I’ve never had a real romantic relationship.  Well, that and the fact that I never met Anderson Cooper.  He would’ve loved me if only our paths had crossed.

I regret that I didn’t do something about my chronic heartburn earlier.  That’s a big one right now.

But I think my biggest regret is that I never really figured out a way to feel comfortable in my own skin.  It’s like I never fit into the life I tried on for size.  It was probably the fat kid thing that I never got over, but whatever its root was, it limited me.  No one can be completely unlimited without winding up jailed, committed, or dead but if you live a limited life you might as well be all of the above.

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid.  Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small.  Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited.  Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past.  Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend.  Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

And also this: be passionate.  If I were the divine overseer of this universe, I would make it a requirement, sort of like picking a major in college.  Everyone would have to have one major and one minor passion, whether it be an artistic endeavor, a sport, or model railroading to name a few.  As long as it’s something that gets you excited, makes time fly, and gives you something to dream about, it counts.

And finally, I guess, just this… thank you.  As a writer, I like to think that every person is a story.  Stories are meant to be shared, so thank you for sharing yours with me and letting me share mine with you.

Do I have any last words?  Well, I suppose I’ll go with the ones that I took the time (and the pain) to have tattooed on my body – 21 of them incorporated into a tribal design on my arm, chest, shoulder, and back.  They are my words to live by.  I did, to some of them.  Others, I fell short on.  I hope you find your words, embrace them, recite them to yourself every morning when you wake up, and not just live by them, but live up to them.

Courage.  Integrity.  Joy. Life.  Devotion.  Indulgence.  Desire.  Commitment.  Chance.  Creativity.  Family.  Passion.  Peace.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Beauty.  Art.  Perseverance.  Inspiration.  Aspiration.

Wait… there’s one more. What is it?  Oh right… Perspective.