Walking through the Marigny at 6:45 a.m.

Morning clouds are a thick gray cap

on the skull of the day.

Streets, empty.

Gutter puddles hold tight to Sunday night’s revels:

plastic cup shards, scattered like teeth knocked from an angry mouth

a strand of abandoned beads,

pale blue constellation calling from a dirty sidewalk sky,

Don’t forget me

Passing Frenchmen’s Street, the last stretched note of a

Dixieland trumpet lingers,

swallowed up

by the metal whine of an unseen garbage truck.


Everything is an explosion of color here.

Bright-aqua doors. Maroon wind chimes.

Mustard-yellow trim slapped along the drooping slats of falling shutters.

The defiance of a pink house, Who Dat?

Old brick beauty, a courtesan in decline,

her fading bricks striated by a history of floods.

A record.

A witnessing.

A voice.

Nothing is erased.

There is the you now carrying within

the you that has walked these streets before

Young and broken

Drunk and sober

Alone and not

Lost and searching

A St. Jude prayer card, random

gift of a strung-out Bourbon Street stranger

tucked into a pocket, pressing against

the raw, grasping hope of your fingers.

The town a forgiving mother, cradling you to its bosom.

Ghosts. Ghosts.

At the intersection of Royal and Elysian Fields,

where Stanley cried for Stella,

close your eyes for just a moment.

Hear the faint rumble of a long-gone street car

carrying Memory as its passenger.

You wait for the green signal, a safe crossing.

Up ahead, there’s a break in the early morning rain clouds,

a thin pink mouth slowly opening up

in a fat shout of light.

The sun coming through.

As it will.

As it does.

RNC Final Day with Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams reporting

Brian Williams: Good evening and welcome to MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the Republican National Convention live from the Quicken Loans Arena here in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m Brian Williams.

Rachel Maddow: And I’m Rachel Maddow. Brian, tonight, we’ve been hearing from lots of people who know Trump, and they’ve been sharing stories that show a personal side of Trump they say many on the outside don’t get to see.

BW: Indeed, Rachel, last night on this stage, there was soap actress Kimberlin Brown’s amusing story about a dinner party at Mar-A-Lago during which Trump had everyone play charades—

RM: –Forced. I believe she said forced them to play charades—

BW: Yes. And Trump proved he was no quitter, playing well into the wee hours until he won all the trophies. Apparently, even guest Vladimir Putin threw in the towel saying, “Just give it to him, already! I want to go to bed.” Paul Manafort, as Trump’s campaign manager, what do you say about that?

Paul Manafort: Well, I think the story humanized him. Just like the skin suit he wears. The one made out of women.

BW: Because…the women are human?

PM: Well, not anymore, Brian. Technically, they’re now a suit.

RM: Let’s…move on. Mr. Manafort, the campaign has come under fire for issues of plagiarism and permissions. In addition to the controversy surrounding Melania’s appropriation of Michelle Obama’s Democratic Convention speech, there has been the repeated use of music from bands who have refused permission.

PM: Well, Rachel, when bands say no, they really mean yes.

RM: *blinks*

PM: Those songs should not have put themselves out there on the radio, dressed like that. It’s just common sense. They were asking for it.

BW: What about Melania Trump’s speech? She lifted an entire paragraph from the First Lady’s speech from 2008.

PM: Frankly, Brian, Michelle Obama should thank Melania Trump.

BW: Uh…how so?

PM: Melania made the speech a “crossover hit” with white Republican audiences who just are not familiar with concepts like African-American female lawyers with degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law who can also throw down at Carpool Karaoke with Missy Elliot. Melania made Michelle Obama famous, to use another Melania quote.

RM: Pretty sure that’s Kanye West. And no, she didn’t.

PM: Yes, she did.

RM: Literally did not.

PM: Rachel, we’d like to invoke the My Little Pony defense.

RM: There’s no such thing.

PM: There is now. We just said it. No take backs.

BW: I think we can all agree that it speaks volumes about this election and what it says is, “Start readying your Canadian visas.” You know, Rachel, one of the things Americans have to ask themselves, after they’ve poured their morning vodka and had a good long cry into a godless universe that has long since forgotten about their pain, is what will a Trump presidency look like. Can you walk us through that, Paul?

PM: It’s going to be the first Reality TV presidency. It’s going to be terrific. We’ve already got Gene Simmons and Kris Jenner on board to star in the first season. And Wayne Newton will open the casino.

BW: The casino?

PM: Yes, Brian, the White House is a casino now.

RM: Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, gentlemen, but the next speaker is taking the stage. This is…Immortan Joe. He is listed as “Lord of the Citadel and Commander of the War Boys.” He is a veteran of both the Oil and Water Wars, so he’s got experience with what we’re going to look like in another ten years after the collapse when we are all foraging in drainage ditches for GMO-infected food scraps and drinking our own urine to survive. According to Beltway Insiders, Trump has promised to make him Chancellor of the new Handmaid’s Tale division. It says Immortan Joe combines the “feel-good” factor of Cormac McCarthy combined with the swingy insouciance of 1970s-era J.G. Ballard.

BW: I understand the person who used “insouciance” has been shot.

RM: That’s confirmed. That word has been flagged by Trump’s Ministry of Elitism as “foreign, possibly socialist” and so has been taken out of all the dictionaries. Most words have, Brian.

BW: Yes, Rachel, but we still get “incredible” “terrible” “loser” “so great” “Yuuge” and “Shake-n-Bake-faced Muppet-wig.” I can tell you, attacking dictionaries is not going to sit well with intellectual freedom-fighting librarians, Rachel.

RM: The libraries are on fire, Brian. They were the first to go.

BW: *clears throat* Right. Now, we have the national anthem as sung by Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Says he’s been singing a long time, since grade school, where he was taught music by his beloved third grade teacher, Mrs. Gillivray. According to Governor Walker, “Mrs. Gillivray was the first person to encourage me and make me feel like I could achieve my dreams. She was the best.” Well, I sure hope she’s watching tonight, Rachel.

RM: Brian, she can’t. Mrs. Gillivray has been living in a box under an overpass since Gov. Walker KO’d the teacher’s union.

BW: Well. That’s a shame. *pause* Governor Walker certainly has a lovely baritone. *pause* I don’t remember the words “Death to our enemies” in Francis Scott Key’s original. Are those words a new addition, Rachel?

RM: Yes, Brian. It joins, “TrumpAmerica™, the Beautiful, Okay?” and “It’s a Grand Old Flag Which I Will Defend with My Open-Carry AK-47, Pew-Pew-Pew.”

BW: Rachel, let’s take a moment to talk to this fellow over here. This is a fun thing—Republicans for Pokemon Go! What’s your name, sir?”

Kevin: Uh, Kevin. Wait, are you wearing a wire?

BW: We’re with MSNBC. You are catching Pokemon here on the convention floor, sir?

K: Yes. And then deporting them.

RM: I…I’m sorry?

K: It’s called Pokemon Go! Pokemon Must Go. Gotta catch ‘em all. Gotta send ‘em back. We’re orchestrating a Pikachexit.

RM: Why are you deporting Pokemon exactly?

K: They’re undocumented! Bulbasaur. Alakazam. Gengar. Charizard. Those are not American names. There’s no screening process for these Pokemon.

RM: Actually, there is, sir. They only exist on a screen. Because they’re virtual. They’re not real. They’re…Pokemon.

K: That’s what they want you to believe. Report them! We’re on to you, Pikachu! You won’t put me to sleep, Jigglypuff!

RM: Brian, I want to direct your attention to that area in the upper left behind us. It appears they’ve put Ted Cruz in a dunking booth and they’re using baseballs with Antonin Scalia’s face on them to drop the Senator from Texas into a pit where he’s forced to wrestle alligators before climbing his way back up.

BW: That’s gotta hurt, Rachel. And that water must be cold by now.

RM: There’s no water, Brian. It’s just an open pit that reaches all the way to the depths of Mordor. We do expect the Balrog to give his endorsement sometime this evening. Brian, let’s go back to the stage. Chris Christie has just given his speech. Many at home watching may have seen him blink out “Please free me. They’ve got my family” in Morse code. And now you see Trump’s VP pick, Mike Pence, from Indiana, waving to the crowd. Paul Manafort, what should people know about Mike Pence that they don’t know already?

PM: Well, he’s a plainspoken man with a sunny disposition, what people call “Indiana Nice.” Whenever people talk about Mike Pence, they always preface their remarks with “Well, he’s a nice guy.” Like, “Well, he’s a nice guy…who also wants to deport all Muslims.” “He’s a nice guy who also just happens to hate gay people and support legislation making it okay to discriminate against them.” “He’s a nice guy who wants to force women to have funerals for their miscarriages.”

RM: Brian, do you still have that bottle of vodka in your briefcase?

BW: I do, Rachel. You should know I added a morphine kicker to it.

RM: Delicious. Pour Mama a big tumbler of that, will ya?

BW: I would, but my arms no longer work. I’ve had half the bottle.

RM: Understood.

BW: Uh-oh. Looks like there’s some kind of commotion breaking out on the convention floor. Let’s go to our correspondent, Katy Tur. Katy, can you tell us what’s happening down there?

Katy Tur: Yes, Brian and Rachel—the delegates from, ah, from, shit! From Texas, led by Immortan Joe and his War Boys—Hey! Don’t touch me!—are, um, are roasting and eating protestors right here. It’s…it’s absolute carnage, you guys. The fire is…out of control…and the smell of burning flesh, oh god, I’m…I’m gonna vomit…

BW: Well, Immortan Joe said he’d get straight to work, and he appears to be a man of his word, Rachel. We’ll get back to you for an update later, Katy—

KT: No! You can’t leave me down here with them, you fuckers! Get me out! Wait! Wait—No! I’m not with the media! I’m…I’m with ESPN! ESPN! Sprechen ze ESPN? Sports? You like sports?

RM: Katy? Katy?

BW: She’s used a zip line to escape. She’s resourceful. But it looks like we’ve got some technical difficulties? The video screen has gone completely dark.

RM: It’s committed suicide, Brian. It left a note. The speeches will now be accompanied by a continuous Chuck Norris loop on a giant Viewmaster.

BW: Loved his work in Total Gym Fit. The man knows his way around an infomercial.

RM: Brian, the moment everyone has been waiting for is here. Donald Trump has arrived via a golden litter carried on the shoulders of Marco Rubio and John Kasich. There’s a giant egg-shaped chrysalis balanced atop the litter from which, one assumes, Mr. Trump will emerge.

BW: He is accompanied by Rudy Giuliani’s Rage Against the Machine dancers who wowed the crowds on Monday night with their dance routine to The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” complete with video of a ghostly Joe Strummer sobbing. The former Mayor of New York City out in front there, acting as dance captain, surprisingly nimble for a man of seventy-two. Have to say, the red-white-and-blue sequined unitard is a surprise.

RM: As are the full splits. That’s a…daring choice.

BW: Rachel, it seems he’s stuck? I can see the stage crew readying the Medivac.

RM: Meanwhile, Brian, Donald Trump has emerged from his fog-filled chrysalis. It seems he is now an enormous orange slime monster-praying mantis hybrid.

BW: That would explain the egg sac.

RM: Indeed. You can see the pincer claws at the ends of his long, molting, and, frankly, quite disturbing arms.

BW: Rachel, we’re getting word that we should now refer to Donald Trump as Overlord Trump of Planet Earth.

RM: Oh my goodness: Overlord Trump has just eaten the head of Rudy Giuliani. It’s playing very well with the crowd, though. They are chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”

BW: The road crew are just attaching the voice box Overlord Trump will need to speak to us tonight in human tones. Their work done, the road crew has now become food. According to MSNBC entomologists, Overlord Trump will need to feed fairly often to sustain the energy needed for a tough campaign.

RM: This crowd is on their feet. The base is fired up. This is what they’ve waited for—a unifying speech from an alien life form bent on complete annihilation. You see there Overlord Trump thanking the crowd using his pincer claws.

BW: Or possibly threatening them with those pincer claws. It’s hard to tell.

They’re really tiny.

RNC Day #2: An Address from Ben Carson

Good evening, Cleveland.


*Looks to teleprompter*

Ben Carson.

Folks, I am concerned for the future of this great nation under God if Hillary Clinton is crowned President in November. I want to tell you about Hillary’s unholy agenda as put forth in her college thesis.

A thesis is a paper you write in college if you are an elitist. I Googled it. My Google is made of string and aluminum foil connected to an old Impala battery with googly eyes on top. It scorches my tongue when I connect it with jumper cables the way Steve King told me to, but I trust him. He is from Iowa, where the Pharoah’s granaries live.

Anyway, according to my battery-operated Google, Hillary’s thesis advisor, Better Call Saul, dedicated his book “To Lucifer…the first radical.” Is this who we want leading our God-Fearing nation? A President with LadyParts who cavorts with the Devil?

I am here tonight to tell you what will happen if Hillary Clinton scores a President Goal at the World Cup of America in November.

Number One: If Hillary Clinton is President, we will all have to eat Devil’s food cake. We have certain inalienable rights, to Twinkies and Little Debbie oatmeal pies and those Hunt’s snack pack puddings with the pull-top rings. Sometimes Mike Pence opens mine for me but only if I promise to “sing that one Michael Jackson song I like.”

Would Lucifer open my pudding snack packs? No. He wouldn’t.
You know why? Because he’s the Devil, and the Devil is mean.
Besides, his fingernails are really long and gnarly which means he probably can’t open a pull-ring top, either.
I’ll bet Lucifer gets manicures, which is a homosexual thing to do.
I don’t open pull-tops because I’m a surgeon with Gifted Hands.

I want to tell you more about what Hillary and her Vice-President, Mr. Homosexual Manicure Lucifer, will do.

For one, there’s the Devil’s Food cake issue, which I just told you about and which you can find out more about on, which is a website I have personally funded with my own money from the sale of my book, Where Is Cuba, Again?

Okay. Number Two: Hillary and Lucifer will empty all the grain from the Pharoah’s granaries out in Iowa and Egypt, which is part of America if you believe the Bible, like I do. This is how they fund Head Start and other communist school programs: Soylent Green is people. And free breakfast is made from Pharaoh grain stolen from the Heartland. Don’t be fooled.

Number Five: Secular Progressives. I personally have a pair of progressives and they help with my reading at night, but it is a fact that if you wear Secular Progressives, you cannot read the Bible and you will start reading about science and climate change and watching John Oliver. My progressives allow you to see into the core of the 6,000-year-old earth where the Devil’s minions manufacture ISIS fighters like in that documentary, “The Lord of the Rings,” which is okay to watch because it has Lord in the title.

This is what happened to the Unicorns, by the way. ISIS got them.

Mike told me if Donald Trump is elected, I can be Minister of Unicorns.

I will feed them pudding snacks.

Number Ten: Hillary and Lucifer will come for your guns. You know why? Because if you have guns, you can demand a change to the menu. If you say, “I don’t want Devil’s Food Cake! Bring me one of those Sara Lee butter pound cakes that are so good! And put some dang Cool Whip like on top like they do at Denny’s and as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights where one of our Founding Fathers, John McAdams, who is not Rachel’s cousin, by the way—I Googled that, too, which is why my tongue’s a little swollen today; sometimes Steve forgets to take off the cables—John McAdams said, “Give me Cool Whip or give me death!” Our Founding Fathers were awesome. I wish I could make a time machine with my Gifted Hands and go back to the 1600’s and give them all pudding snacks.

And if Lucifer marched into Congress and tried to shoot us with his pitchfork devil guns, I wouldn’t just take it. I’d yell, “Hey, everybody! Let’s attack him! He can’t get us all!” Then, as America’s Minister of Unicorns, I’d charge Lucifer, and I know Steve and Mike and The Donald would be right behind me, because we are friends, and they are going to invite me to their country clubs for golf any day now.

Don’t let America go to the Devil.
Guard your guns and your Twinkies.
Thank you and may God bless you all.

*Whispers* Where do I go now?

Wait, are we in Cleveland still?

Can I have my pudding snack now, Mike?

We still friends?

I made you a lanyard bracelet. With my Gifted Hands.

I really need some pudding, Mike.




RNC Tuesday morning all-staff meeting, led by Bob, who is the greatest Bob of all the Bobs

Good morning, RNC staffers! Rise and shine. It’s me, Bob, your RNC point person for today, which is Tuesday in case you’ve forgotten–haha! Day Two, and the excitement’s just begun!

So last night was fantastic, right? Yuuuge success! Incredible, really. Honestly, what can I say that hasn’t already been said better and by Michelle Obama eight years ago? We are going to America so good today it’ll make people go, “Whoa! I am so full of America I feel PREGNANT with America!”

Okay. I know we’re all excited, but first, a couple of housekeeping matters before we get to tonight’s run-of-show. Tyler—you’ll be manning the Make America Grill Again table for the Trump Steaks Club sign-up. Remind folks that they can get an extra rump roast if they manage to vote more than once in November. Monica: You forgot to turn off Tom Cotton’s battery pack last night and he’s pretty much frozen. I know. No, I know it’s hard to tell whether he’s on or off; you have to use the finger-snap-blink-response test. Just load him on the golf cart and wheel him over to Cheney’s lab, please? Thanks. Steve: Ben Carson’s in the fountain again. Yes, we have all explained it’s not a magic portal to UnicornLand. Just…get him out. Skip: I’m gonna need you to make a Party Barn run for more dry ice. After last night’s The Donald: The Rising, everybody wants to enter with smoke and green ice. At least I put the kibosh on Paul Ryan flying in on a Freedom Harness.

Pamphleteers? Where are you? Oh, over there. Great. Okay. Fresh from Kinko’s, here are your one-sheet packets. Lay them out nice and neat so people can grab them on the way in. We’ve got, “Trump Science: It’s Time to Make Earth Flat Again.” “Facts, Schmacts: The Left’s Dishonest Campaign to Confuse You with Information.” “Climate Change Condo Buy-In: Trump Beachfront Property in Ohio for only 10% Down! Buy Now Before the Rush!”  “Devil’s in the Details: Alex Jones Proves that Satan Designs Hil-LAIR-y’s Pantsuits Made from Radical Islamic Terrorist Fabric Line Manufactured at Bohemian Grove Sleepaway Camp!” Great stuff. Just great.

Also, we’ve got some projects to keep the little ones busy in our RNC Kids’ Korner, if somebody can set that up. Let’s see, there’s “Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal: A Christian Sports Stars Coloring Book!” A picture book, The Art of the Deal, Jr.  A card game: “One Fish, Two Fish, White Fish, White Fish, White Fish, White Fish.” And, of course, some Benghazi Bingo cards.

Now. Where are my motivation teams? Wave to me, please? Fantastic! Lets see those smiles! Bigger. Biiiggerr! Great! Spread those smiles around today! Get close to folks! Hug ‘em! Then whisper, “You are not safe. You are never, ever, ever safe.”

Okay. It’s Day 2, and I don’t need to tell you we’ve got a full slot today.

In the Quicken Loans Arena Registration Center, there’s an open mic from 3-4:00 PM. I see from the sign-up sheet that Chris Christie is bringing his one-man performance piece, Letters to Bruce: Boss, Why You Don’t Take My Calls No More? The MINUTE the Governor starts crying and singing, “You’re the One,” you’ve got to cut the mic. We need him game-face ready for tonight. If he gives you any lip, you just tell him Rick Perry is already in hair and makeup and ready to take over.

In the Quicken Loans Arena Cosplay Room, Basement B-112, our costumes should be pressed and good to go. Men’s costumes include Thomas Jefferson, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Wayne LaPierre, Magnum P.I., Tom Brady, Toby Keith, the cast of “Duck Dynasty,” Robert E. Lee, Buff Jesus Christ, and Bruce Willis. Women’s costumes are Betsy Ross and last month’s Playboy Playmate.

At 4:30 SHARP, it’s Early Bird Special time. Do NOT open the pudding station late. You will regret it. There’s a meet-and-greet with Emperor Palpatine in the buffet line and Iron Throne photo ops at 5:00. Pre-show starts promptly at 6:00 with The Rudy Giuliani Rage Against the Machine Dancers, Swimsuit competition, Crowning of Miss Trump Towers, and the modified airplane version of “On Golden Pond.” Skip: Hit the air siren for wake-up call at 7:55 but not at full blast; we’ve got a lot of people with pacemakers. At 8:00, it’s time for our speakers! Right now, we’ve got Dana White, Mitch McConnell, Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Hologram Charlton Heston, the Ghost of Nero, Vlad the Impaler, & a sentient AK-47 that fires digitized sperm bullets at a mock-up map of Planned Parenthood clinics shaped like uteruses which then morph into smiling, pregnant, Christian white women all decked out in Trump BabyHands(TM) Maternity Wear.

Martin, your job is to make sure Scott Baio does not also try to impregnate the map. I’m very serious. He’s quick. You have to watch him like a toddler.

When Tim Tebow comes out and goes down on one knee, that’s the signal to release the balloons. No, for real—release them. We told them they were coming to Cleveland for a child’s birthday party. No balloons would volunteer, people, and decisions had to be made. They’re in a back room of the Quicken Loans Arena high on helium, disoriented, and frightened. No, not the speakers, the balloons. Try to keep up, people. WE ARE PEAK AMERICANING TODAY!

There’s a perception spread by the Lame-stream media that the RNC is out-of-step with the younger generation, which is ridiculous, just ridiculous! Whoever started that is a loser, okay?  A clown! Donald Trump is the most in touch with the younger generation, so in touch that most people just can’t understand it. It’s like he’s Indiana Jones knowing not to look at the Ark because God–who is on record as voting for Trump in November according to some very good friends of mine, high-ranking, top-dollar friends–God would turn those dopes into puddles of candle jelly. By the way, Hollywood wanted Donald Trump to play Indiana Jones but he was too busy. You can tell from Harrison Ford’s body language in those movies that something weird is going on and that he knows he was second choice, which must be killing him, okay? Loser. What important roles has Harrison Ford ever played, okay? Total. Failure. Still. We’ll prove how wrong the media is about Trump and the young people, so Skip, put up lots of pictures on Swiffer and The Facebooks, and, uh, what’s that Polaroid thingy? Right, Instant Grahams. Like the cereal? Martha and I eat cereal every night before bed. Love cereal. What? Insta…wha? Instagram? Stupid name. Kids these days are stupid. They’re losers and clowns. Whatever. Just do it, Skip. Thanks.

A reminder: We have got to be out of the Quicken Loans Arena by midnight. If we’re having any trouble clearing the floor, that’s your go-signal to bring out Mike Flynn. He can clear a room quick.


Finally, we will close with a local pastor, Pastor Bob, who, if asked, is not being indicted on 12 counts of fraud—okay?—but is a great, great guy, the greatest preacher since Jesus. I didn’t say that, by the way–it’s in the Bible. In Two Corinthian Leathers. Look it up. And even if it’s not technically in there it could be in there which is just as good as actually being there as everybody who isn’t a total dummy-loser-clown-clown-loserpantsface knows. Anyway. Pastor Bob will ask everyone to bow their heads as he gives the benediction: “God give us the strength to smite our enemies: Hillary, immigrants, anchor babies, loud birds, books, Hillary, terrorists, Barack Obama, house plants that need watering because that’s socialism, cans that are hard to open, losers, clowns, dummies, gay people except for any gay people singing songs we might want to use at the convention, abortions, non-hot women, Liberal Hollywood, Liberal Media, Liberal Liberals, parallel parking, whoever canceled “Matlock”, Hillary, radio stations that won’t play Ted Nugent Two-fer Tuesday, Affirmative Action, non-stretch pants, HBO, government handouts—except for my Medicare and FEMA flood check, gun control, female Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, the Prius, people who only leave a little bit of toilet paper on the roll, did I say Hillary?, breaking in a new pair of slippers, too many sofa pillows, Cool Ranch Doritos, the Internet, new things, the future, hope, other people’s dogs, other people’s cats, other people’s children, other people’s feelings, other people’s needs, other people’s rights, other people’s tears, other people’s anguish, other people’s misfortunes, other people’s dreams, other people’s atoms, other people. In Jesus’s name, let us pray for unity and peace. Amen.”

It’s go-time, people!

Now, let’s get out there and America like it’s the very last day of America.


For Gay Pride, 2016

I was fourteen when my dad came out on a cold winter day in January, 1979.

My father, mother, older brother, and I gathered in our decidedly 1970s living room with its unfortunate avocado-and-brown plaid couches while my parents announced, tearfully, that they were divorcing. The couches alone would have been reason enough to leave. I won’t even get into the wall-to-wall carpeting. Then my father dropped his bombshell: “I am a homosexual.” And just like that, my world was divided into a “before” and “after.”

I say my father came out, though, technically, it was only to us and it was with the fearful edict that we couldn’t tell anyone else that my father was gay. This portion of himself, of us, had to remain a secret for safety’s sake. My father worked in the church. He would lose his job if his orientation were known. Or worse could happen. The “worse could happen” wasn’t filled in for us, but we were old enough to extrapolate.

It was the first time I understood what being closeted meant, what it cost. It was also the first time I understood that to be LGBTQ meant also to feel fundamentally unsafe in the larger, hostile world.

Back then, as a young teenager in the pre-rainbow flag, “Modern Family” days, I didn’t really know what being gay was beyond some theoretical category that belonged to other people—people who were not my father. Now, I was looking for an education. The few (possibly, vaguely) LGBTQ characters I’d encountered in books often met horrible ends. It seemed there was no safety in fiction. For a nanosecond, there was a gay character on TV: Billy Crystal as “Soap’s” Jodie Dallas. But most of the series saw him falling in love with women or living an asexual life, so, yeah. Problematic, as they say. The message to me? A gay man isn’t safe enough for TV, and TV is no safe place for anyone LGBTQ.

A few months prior to my father’s coming out, the openly gay civil rights leader and city supervisor Harvey Milk had been assassinated in his San Francisco office. P.S. You’re not safe at work. My father had been dishonorably discharged from the army after serving in Korea because he was caught kissing a man. He was not safe from his own side in the military. As the editor of the Presbyterian newspaper for the Synod (governing body) of the Sun, my father wrote impassioned, often fiery editorials about social issues. He was not short of courage when it came to his opinions. But he could not be an openly gay man around his colleagues. People he worked with. People he loved and cared about who, presumably (and demonstrably), cared about him. People who worked within the church who also cared about civil rights and social justice. People who, if they’d known his status, would’ve fired him.

He had precedent for that fear. When he was the minister of Woodlawn Presbyterian Church in Corpus Christi, he’d confided in his pastoral counselor, and that man, in turn, ratted him out to the Session. My father was not safe with a man who claimed to be his safe place, though, fortunately, he was supported by the the lovely and loving people of that church. (Woodlawn, by coincidence, was started by a minister named Marshall Herff Applewhite, Sr., whose son, a closeted, tormented man named Herff Applewhite, Jr. went on to lead the suicide cult, Heaven’s Gate, to their Nike-clad deaths. In case you were wondering what a lifetime of self-loathing and feeling unsafe can do to a fragile, deeply conflicted person.) And how did my father come to that January morning confession to us all? He had been arrested by an undercover cop in Dallas in what we would now call entrapment. He got arrested for being gay. He got arrested for being.

No safety.

By the time I was in high school, my dad lived in Dallas with his boyfriend, John, in their condo—a word that seemed exciting and exotic to me—a place with a community pool, a VHS player, and two glorious ferns worthy of their own reality show. John owned some apartments in Oak Lawn, the heart of Gay Dallas, and often, the three of us would go walking around that neighborhood together. I learned so much it was like having new eyes every time. I learned about drag. I learned covert slang and wink-and-grin trash talk that made me feel training-wheels transgressive. I learned that the Turtle Creek Chorale was basically a gay men’s chorus in all but name. (Names—not safe.) One of my dad’s friends, a makeup artist at Neiman’s, taught me how to properly contour. Another of his lesbian friends and I discussed running track. At parties in their home, I saw LGBTQ couples hold hands and hug for the first time. I saw them gently touching partners’ backs and asking if he or she needed anything from the kitchen. I accidentally spied my father and John kissing. I understood my father to be human and sexual. Oak Lawn was the first place I remember as being a relatively “safe place” for my father, my stepfather, and, by extension, me. I came to know it as a place where truths were known and there was no performance to give. No cover needed. Once, we went to clean out one of John’s rental apartments that had been vacated. As we did the walk-through of the tiny space, I imagined myself moving in. I imagined living there in the small, beating heart of a place where it seemed okay to be fully yourself. Sitting in those Oak Lawn restaurants, my dad and I shared a joke based on an old “Shoe” cartoon. When a particularly handsome man walked past, one of us would raise an eyebrow, grin and say, “I’ll flip you for him,” and the other would answer, “No thanks. My back still hurts from the last time.”

To me, it was Wonderland. In Wonderland, we were looser. Happier. Freer.

I was a teen girl who often felt as if she were not enough. I feared judgment because I was already so self-critical. It didn’t always feel safe inside my own mind which was restless and full of yearning and dreams and aching vulnerabilities. I was a teenager in full. Many of the people my father knew, the people I met, had been rejected by families, communities, employers, hometowns, and religions. John had come out to his family, and his ex-wife had barred him from ever seeing their three daughters. She’d had no trouble legally cutting off his contact. I cannot imagine how painful it must have been for him to be Extra Dad to my brother and me, seeing in us, as he must have, what could not be with his own children. Finding no safe haven, the members of my father and stepfather’s community founded their own. And ironically, among men and women who had experienced such a lack of security, I felt loved and accepted. I felt safe.

It was a feeling I took with me when I moved to Austin years later. There, for a time, I lived with my best gay buds, Ed and Norbert. We threw elaborate parties and sang along to Grace Jones and quoted “Highlander” to each other. It was a more liberal environment than my hometown had been. I worked in an Austin café with an openly gay woman, Brenda. She and her girlfriend Elizabeth helped me move, hauling my vintage 1930s dresser with the giant, moon-shaped mirror onto the back of their pick-up not just once, but twice. We drank beer and smoked cigarettes on the tailgate of that same truck under Texas stars and traded jokes over large plastic tubs of shredded cheese in the café’s summer- sun bright kitchen. When I’d get dressed up for a night out, Bren would whistle appreciatively and call me “Baby Bonnie Raitt.” When she and Elizabeth broke up, Brenda cried on my shoulder. We were all young and figuring shit out. We gave each other safe passage to do so.

Still. There were touches of danger, even in Austin. When our landlord stopped by, Ed and I had to pretend that we were engaged, and Norbert made himself scarce. Lined up outside The Boathouse, Austin’s preeminent gay club, you learned to look past the occasional scowls and disapproving stares of the people passing by. There was sometimes a sense that you could be one drunken frat boy away from violence. But inside? Oh, shit, man. It was on. You could wear feathers and glitter, duct-taped clothing, skater kid regalia, preppy-to-the-hilt or B-52’s-worthy, vintage 1950’s housewife dresses (Hi.), your hair gelled into elaborate systems of self-expression. Twirling under those lights, with Tears for Fears or Flock of Seagulls blaring through the speakers, we were beyond: Beyond gender, beyond judgment. We were becoming. We simply were. It was home and we were safe within its walls.

And then AIDS hit, our safety snatched away, and I learned just how fragile that freedom was. People were dying from this terrifying epidemic, and instead of getting help, they were being attacked and blamed for it. Suddenly, if you were LGBTQ, it wasn’t even safe to get sick. The community created its own safe spaces—Gay Men’s Health Crisis, ACT UP, God’s Love We Deliver. It fought back: We will not let you kill us with your indifference or hate. When I was fourteen, I was told there was safety in silence. ACT UP’s motto, “Silence = Death,” became the new war cry. There’s safety in numbers. There’s safety in being loud and visible. In refusing to go away, in refusing to die quietly.

For my father, there was no safety from AIDS. He’d hidden his status from us for six years. Six. Years. For three months, my brother and I watched him waste away to a husk of himself. But there was “family”—a parade of new “aunts” and “uncles” coming in with open arms and hugs and “whatever you need.” The actual Gay Men’s Chorus of Fort Collins, Colorado—name out and proud—dedicated their December concert to my father. Sometime near the end of that Sunday evening concert, while fifty or so voices soared in defiance of a world that seemed hell bent on taking away their right ever to feel safe and good, my father died peacefully, his own soul taking flight.

He wanted his obituary to be a declaration. He wanted it known that he was a gay man who’d died of AIDS. A last political act. But other family members feared the repercussions of that announcement in the communities where they lived, where they might face prejudice, unlike me in New York City. In the end, one obituary carried the truth; the rest hid it.  Even in death, it wasn’t safe for my father to be himself.

This weekend is Gay Pride. Last year during Pride, the United States Supreme Court finally recognized marriage equality. This year, there are forty-nine people dead in a gay nightclub in Orlando, victims of a madman with an assault rifle and a seemingly endless supply of bullets and hate, some of it, possibly, internalized hate. They are victims of the same hostile world that kept my father’s life a secret. Meanwhile, there are political representatives who have voted against LGBTQ rights at every turn and every level (Bathrooms? Really?) now co-opting this tragedy so that they can use it to legislate further hate against yet another marginalized population. And I don’t for a moment believe that these same representatives won’t go back to trying to push the LGBTQ population into the deepest closets they can find the next time they get hysterical about who can pee where.

The Dead can’t fight back anymore. It’s up to us. You know what makes us safer? Being LOUD. Louder than the hate. So loud we drown the hate out. Being VISIBLE. We should celebrate the victories. Blow the parade whistles. Shout and sing. Hug and kiss. Dance in every club. But also this: Anger is appropriate. We should get and stay mad. Write your representatives. Make them accountable. Keep up to date on legislation in your state. And please, please, please VOTE. We can’t afford apathy now. No. Safety isn’t a guarantee for any one of us in this life. But it’s a daily fight for some, and it takes all of us to make a change not just in legislation but in the worn-out yet sadly tenacious notion of identity as threat. It takes all of us to make the world less threatening for every LGBTQ kid coming up and out. If you want to do something in honor of those forty-nine people, in honor of Pride, but you don’t know what to do, here are some places that will be happy to help you:

Human Rights Campaign:
The Trevor Project:
Transgender Equality Organization:

A couple of weeks before I got the call to go to my father’s bedside in Colorado, I spent Labor Day weekend at Wigstock, the delightfully uninhibited drag festival presided over by the legendary Lady Bunny that for more than a decade was a NYC mainstay. We were down at the Christopher Street piers: Ed; our Texas drag performer friend, Kyle; my husband, Barry, and I. The sun reflected off the Hudson like tiny disco balls. The piers were packed and hot. Onstage, the performers tore it up. My favorite, a vaguely Martha Graham-ish Flloyd, lip synched to Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” which none of us had heard yet, and it blew our minds. Lady Bunny told raunchy jokes. It was the loudest, biggest party I’d ever attended. Later, when we’d had too much sun, we retreated to The Duplex, a club in Sheridan Square that was a stone’s throw from the historic Stonewall Inn. The entire joint was hopping. Music blasted at nosebleed-level decibels. The policy was dance or leave, basically. So we danced. We danced till we sweated through our shirts, till our hair was sopping wet. People danced on tables, on chairs. They probably would’ve danced on the windowsills if they could have. We were nose-to-nose with strangers until there were no strangers left, just one great gyrating sea of smiling faces and red ribbons. We’d already learned how to say “fuck you” to the things that would steal away our happiness.

Yeah? You think your hate is a match for our love? THIS love? Fuck off. Hey, DJ: TURN. IT. UP!

This is our truth. This is our love. This is our Wonderland, our home. We will fight like hell to keep it whole. We will fight like hell to keep making it safe. Stay and dance or get the fuck out.

We ain’t going anywhere.





The first time I shot a gun, I was nine years old.

We were visiting my grandparents in the mountains of West Virginia, and my grandfather, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, had taken my brother and me out to the backyard with a commanding view of the majestic Appalachians where he had set up some tin cans on a table. The gun in question was a rifle. I can’t tell you the make or model, only that its weight was heavy on my young shoulders. My brother had gotten to go first, of course. He was older and a boy. Not to be outdone, I begged for my chance. There was sibling pride at stake.

As I squinted and took aim, my heart rate picked up. My fight-or-flight was not discerning about empty tin cans versus prey. It knew only that this thing in my hands felt dangerous and alive. I pulled the trigger, missed my target, staggered back from the intense recoil, then promptly fell on my butt. I was embarrassed. I was exhilarated. I felt ten feet tall. My shoulder hurt for days.

I wanted to do it all again.

Two years later, on a January morning in Corpus Christi, Texas, as moving vans prepared to carry us two days north to our new home in Denton, Texas, my brother was shot in the head. He and a friend had been off shooting high-powered BB guns. The gun had accidentally discharged. The BB, shot from close range, had struck my brother in the temple; the BB had traveled through his bloodstream and lodged in his lung where it resides to this day. There was an ER visit, a week-long hospital stay, and years of medication. My brother was changed by that BB to the head. That is not a story for now. I will only say that the lasting damage from that gunshot has showed itself in various ways over the years.

I no longer had any desire to touch a gun.

Yesterday, as the news came in from Orlando, I sat in my kitchen working on end-of-year teacher appreciation cards. My hands—hands that once itched to hold a gun, hands that touched the bullet wound on my brother’s head—worked at gluing and pasting, stickering and creating. My hands kept busy, but as I listened to the news feed from the other room, my heart was numb. So much horror, all the time. That was a nightclub I might’ve danced in with my pals once upon a time. It’s Pride—many of my friends are out in the clubs now. But celebration has turned to sorrow and memorial.

Later, my son came downstairs. The TV was still on, the horrible story playing out again and again. Often, when he sees the news on, he will say, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” This time, he looked up, saw the scrolling body toll, then looked away. His whole life has been one in which mass shootings are the norm. He was five months old when Columbine happened. Now, on the eve of his own high school graduation comes Orlando, the worst mass shooting in American history. San Bernardino, California. Aurora, Colorado. Blacksburg, Virginia. Newtown, Connecticut. Fort Hood, Texas. Binghamton, New York. It’s a travelogue of grief and madness.

And still, there are the guns. So many guns. So many dead. And we cannot talk rationally about the irrationality of guns.

To borrow from Lionel Shriver, America: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE GUNS. Now. Yes, right now. Not after the next batch of funerals. Or the next. Or the ones that follow that one. What will it take for us to give up our insane idea that guns keep us safe? That every citizen has the right to keep his or her own personal arsenal? That our Founding-Father porn video of paranoid entitlement financed by the NRA is beyond reproach or a rethink? After Sandyhook, I thought, surely now, now with all of those beautiful children dead, oh god, the children—surely now we will stop this madness. But when even the butchering of first graders did not move the needle on the conversation, it seemed that a faction of America had given up and chosen as its new mascot Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Of the ten deadliest shootings in American history (and even typing that sentence feels like the set-up to a morbid, awful joke), eight of them have happened in the past decade. This is no coincidence.

It was 9/11 that fundamentally changed the DNA of our culture. My son was not quite three when that act of terrorism tore through the heart of the nation, a wound that, sadly, did not heal so much as harden, a thick, scabrous scar tissue that constricted the lifeblood flowing to our compassion, our expansiveness, our rejection of nihilism as a way of life. Our heart’s biggest working artery seemed to pump directly into our worst impulses: fear, paranoia, nativism, xenophobia—our collective Id.

As a New Yorker, I had seen the events of 9/11 all go down in real time. I had breathed in dust and waited anxiously with friends for the return of other friends. I had watched reams of paper fly from the burning World Trade Center and float down onto the East River and blanket Brooklyn’s streets like a misbegotten September snow. The next morning, my husband and I, like everyone, were glued to the TV, hoping that the day before had all been a terrible dream. The images of those towers crumbling into dragons of dust that roared through the canyon-like streets of Lower Manhattan flickered across the TV. “Mommy, turn it off. That scares me,” my son said. He was on the living room floor, playing with his trains.  “Yeah, honey,” I said, turning it off. “It scared all of us.”

Yes, it did. But for a few weeks, there had been, amidst the grief, a tremendous coming together. We were scared. But we were not beaten. There was a quiet strength on display. And then came the darkness. I could make an argument that so many things in our culture since then—from the rise of standardized testing to the kudzu-like expansion of vapid reality television of which the presumptive GOP nominee was a beneficiary; it made him a star, after all—have been an unconscious response to those attacks. We’ve been arming and numbing ourselves in a number of covert ways, it seems. We want the money-back guarantee. We want safety and security at all costs. And then we don’t want to talk about that cost. We don’t really want to acknowledge that ceaseless mass violence has become our new national identity and that guns are the seductive poster-boy bling of our bloody brand.

Yesterday, as the death toll continued to rise, as images of crying young men and women holding each other and sobbing mothers waiting for news outside of hospitals filled our screens, Donald Trump tweeted this: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

Appreciate. The. Congrats.

For the record, I do not find Mr. Trump amusing. I can’t even laugh at his hair anymore. I find his nonsensical, megalomaniacal ramblings and hate-drenched rhetoric stomach-turning and terrifying. He is our Nero without the actual emperor position—yet. He is Stephen King’s Randall Flagg come to life on his way to a The Stand-worthy Republican convention. And, like the NRA, who have ceased to be gun club and are fast becoming what I’d consider war criminals, he traffics in our death impulse. We’ve dipped our storehouses of bullets in our grief. We’ve loaded them into the chambers and given them countless spins in this continuing game of Russian Roulette. We keep the muzzle pointed to our temples, helpless, because no one will reach out and take away our gun.

In the week following the attacks of 9/11, we New Yorkers moved about our fragile, broken city, frightened but determined. We stopped to hug friends and strangers alike. We were united in a grief which had been fashioned not into a weapon but into the action of compassion: We donated blood. We baked for our local firehouses. We listened. We comforted. We took the subway and grocery shopped and walked our children to school and got on with the living because choosing life over death and hatred and despair was a defense far stronger than anything a gun could offer. It was the defiance of hope. That first week, as I walked, weeping, past the ubiquitous “Missing” flyers stuck to every building wall, every light pole, every mailbox, I saw a sticker on the side of a dumpster. It said, simply, “I will not be terrorized.”

And that’s what Donald Trump and Wayne LaPierre and Second Amendment fetishists get wrong: They believe the only response to terrorism is to up the ante with more and more guns, until there is so much blood we can no longer see anything but carnage, and so carnage becomes our accepted landscape. America, America, from sea to bloody sea. They believe we must aim our guns toward a nebulous enemy while ignoring the ugly truth: We have trained them on ourselves.




Are those your knees in my ass or are you just glad to see me?

A funny thing happened on the ride home from Manhattan yesterday. I got weirdly sexually harassed by a man and his overzealous knees. And I almost didn’t notice.

It was afternoon rush hour. I was overjoyed to have found a seat on the R train, also called the “Rarely” by New Yorkers due to its doddering pace and infrequency of service.

For those who don’t live in NYC, a brief but necessary primer about train configuration: The R is an older train, outfitted with a row of three, hideously orange seats against one side which sits perpendicular to an equally hideously orange two-seat row jammed against the window. This 3-2 configuration looks, coincidentally, like a lower-case letter “r.”

Okay. Now that you have the visual.

I was seated at the end of a three-seater, my right side to a dude seated who occupied the inside seat of a the two-seater, closest to the window. The real estate inside the train is tight. Your idea of personal space becomes very elastic when you live in a city of eight million people. Like I have ridden rush hour subways with strangers and felt afterwards that I’ve just experienced a 30-minute date.

That’s all prologue. So. Train starts up. I’m very into my playlist and the sweet, sweet digital cocaine that is my Solitaire game. I become aware at some point that Dude-to-My-Right’s knees are poking into the side of my ass. They weren’t before. Like, there had definitely been breathing space between us. But, look, I read a lot of superhero shit, and I know mutations can happen in an instant. It was possible he’d been bitten by a rare, height-inducing spider hiding in the window frame just waiting for its chance to begin the great spider overthrow of our species of which we’ve heard tell in legend, the one that will leave us all freakishly tall and unable to ride our puny trains anymore. So I shift my weight to the left and make room. Baby got back, but that back was 100% on the seat, not occupying no-man’s legroom in between us. Just so we’re clear.

I go back to listening to my music and working hard to beat my personal best of 92 moves. This is serious business. I am concentrating hard. I like it when the cards fall down in pretty rainbows of validation when I win. But, strangely, dude’s knees are back. Still, I’m only vaguely aware of this, because I am doing my thing, like fully formed humans with interior lives who just want to ride the train in peace and who are not looking for dudes to mess with them tend to do. I can only suppose that at some point, Mr. Jokes McKnees-A-Lot becomes frustrated with my lack of response/attention. And that’s when he amps up his game. I am now no longer able to escape the fact that he is vigorously rubbing his knees against the side of my ass, down my thigh, back up again, over and over, pushing a little harder each time. He is getting quite a workout. The side of my ass is getting quite a workout. Seriously, I got a spa massage not too long ago that was not this thorough. His knees are GOING TO TOWN on me. It is a rub festival.

Now, like many ladies who have lived life and experienced the things, like constant cultural denial of experience, the Obi-Wan Kenobi-ing of what our brains/eyes/ears tell us is going on, I slip into I Probably Got This Wrong mode. My mind wanders the aisle of Rationalizations R Us, taking shit off the shelves and dropping it into my Now Don’t Be Silly cart:

  • He can’t get comfortable in that small seat. There’s nowhere for his legs to fit. Except for deeply and aggressively embedded in the side of my ass. Repeatedly.
  • Hold on–what if he’s a massage therapist in training? Yes, yes, a non-conformist, Clint Eastwood-squinting-worthy anti-hero massage therapist no longer content to service his clients in the typical way. No! He’s all about the knees. It’s the start of a rubdown revolution. His shop will be called, “Healing Knee(d)s” or maybe “Let’s Knee-d It Out.”
  • He’s a new breed of jazz percussionist: the knee-marimba player, and the side of my ass and thigh, his femur-tastic voyage. I AM PART OF AN ART PROJECT. MY ASS IS THE FUTURE!
  • He really was bitten by a height-inducing spider. In a minute, his legs will shoot across to the other side of the train as he becomes our new arachnid-human overlord. Man. I really wish I’d had a chance to see Neko Case live before I became alien spider food.

Those eager knees go into overdrive. They hit eleven and set their sights on twelve. All I can think, as the skin of my thigh is abraded through my jeans is, “Goddamn, son, REALLY?”

And that’s when I know: Dude is not a new breed of massage therapist or an avant-garde knee-marimba player. He’s just a perv. Doing his pervy, uninvited thing. I abandon my shopping cart of rationalization right there in the aisle.

It made me think of this one time when I was taking my son, who was still a toddler, on Metro North to Westchester to visit a friend. After a brief, social pleasantries-with-strangers conversation, the guy in the seat opposite me also started in with a persistent leg seduction that I could not escape no matter how much I tried to move my extremities away. (Apparently, when I am harassed, it weirdly involves leg-to-leg contact. Like they all saw Harvey Keitel in “The Piano” too many times and decided they would be pretentiously arty in their uninvited lady-on-the-train rubbing. Is this a thing?) This is not to be confused with the time I turned a corner into the subway stairwell and was confronted by Masturbation Man which led to this awesome exchange with a cop:

COP: What did he look like? ME: To be honest, I didn’t see his face.

Anyway. Back on the R train, I have finally caught my snap about what’s going on with Knee-D’Oh (Who is not the chosen one…). But what he is doing is so awkward and bizarre and, well, absurd, that I do the only thing that comes to mind: I start laughing. Uncontrollably. I am just a giggling fiend. Those persistent knees suddenly freeze right in place. The rubbing and the contact ceases just as we hit my stop.

I exit the train, still laughing.

The whole walk home, I replay the exchange in my head with the requisite, “Wait…did that really happen? Was that what I think it was?” refrain. These are familiar questions. They’re the same ones I asked myself after my high school chemistry teacher got me alone in his back room and badgered me about my (non-existent) sex life and asked me if I’d ever had oral sex. It’s the same song I sang when another teacher told me my talent show dancing was “Very sexy; it turned on all the boys–it even turned me on. Would you like to choreograph something for me?” Or when an older man at the community theater rubbed his hand up the inside of my thigh while I was seated next to him, a signature move used on quite a few of the theater troupe’s teen girls. The same refrain when that swim coach at U.T. told me to hit the showers for my bronchitis then came into the shower and told me to take down my bathing suit top, etc. etc. “Wait, was that what I think it was?” is on the LP of Not-So-Greatest Ladies’ Hits, basically.

I thought about all the things I might’ve said to Knee Jerk if I’d been riding longer:

“Wait, you missed a spot. Lower, no, higher, a little to the left…”
“Hey, if I turn around can you get the other side? This right side’s played out, dude.”
“My turn to work on YOU! Okay if I use my nails?”
“Selfie time! Would you rather be tagged as Sir Fuckwit Asshat or UnwelcomeLadyPredator?”

But I had shit to do. So I moved on with my evening.

And though I’m sure it’s purely coincidental, I was up till 1:00 a.m. reading BITCH PLANET.