Fountain of Money

43 years ago today we started production on the groundbreaking television show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I played Heather, Mary’s angsty tween-aged daughter – a role that forever changed my life in many wonderful and tragic ways.

I was incredibly fortunate to be on a cult hit with whip-smart, hilarious actors who expected me to work as hard as they did. I was beyond lucky to have an extraordinary tutor who actually educated me and broadened my intellectual horizons, while protecting me to the best of her abilities. There were many adults in the crew who allowed me moments of pure childhood fun on a super-adult show whose mission was to violate the entire Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters.

Even with all of these well-meaning adults looking out for me, my parents exploited me, as is the case with SO MANY child performers.

 

 

Imaginings 2

I was the face of ‘Lively Lines’ – it was part of Mattel’s first art-educational toy line, called Imaginings.

 

In 1975 I was an 11-year-old Fountain of Money, and my parents had been stealing my paychecks since I was 3. I had done so much work that I was able to get my Screen Actor’s Guild union card when I was 5, and my AFTRA card at age 7. In 8 years I’d done nearly 60 commercials and a few television feature spots. I’d booked dozens of print jobs and voice over gigs, I was on a candy bar wrapper, and I was the face of a Mattel toy – not a very popular toy, but, still…

I came to be part of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman at the last possible minute before production got underway. I went on the interview Wednesday November 5th after school. I got the call back and was offered the job on the evening of Thursday the 6th. On the morning of Friday the 7th I was sitting dazedly at the first table read on the lot at KTLA, on Sunset Blvd.

In 43 hours my life had turned on a dime.

 

Origninal Cast Call & Photo Shoot

Our first Call Sheet

 

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the brainchild of television legend Norman Lear. Presented as a soap opera, MH2 was Lear’s grand statement on American Consumerism, and how marketing isolates us by targeting our fear of inadequacy. It was his poke in the eye to conventions, censors, and Pearl Clutchers.

In 2 seasons we shot 325 episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It was a half-hour show that aired 5 days a week, and had a cult following that goes on to this day. When Louise Lasser left the show left we continued on for one more season, filming another 130 episodes under the name Forever Fernwood – the name of the fictional town where the series took place. In total we filmed 455 episodes in 28 months.

MH2 was the first television show that proved you didn’t need a network to succeed or a laugh-track to be funny. It challenged sexism, racism and prevailing morals. It also introduced multiple positive LGBTQ characters to television at a time when Harvey Milk had not yet been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It is not overstating to call MH2 and unprecedented and revolutionary television show.

The list of exceptional performers who appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Forever Fernwood is a who’s who of funny and talented people from the 1970s: Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman, Doris Roberts, Dody Goodman, Graham Jarvis, Greg Mullavey, Salome Jens, Ed Begley, Jr., Howard Hessman, Shelly Fabres, Shelley Berman, Richard Hatch, Tab Hunter, Sparky Marcus, Marian Mercer, Gloria Dehaven, Orson Bean, David Suskind, Gore Vidal – just to name a few. It was just that cool at the height of its popularity that a cameo or a brief story arc was sought after by the biggest names in the business.

At one point Steven Ford, President Gerald Ford’s son, wanted to just come to visit Stage 5 to watch us film. Everyone was atwitter about such an important visit, until we found out not enough of the cast or crew could pass an FBI background check to allow Ford to visit the set for even one day.

 

Mary Hartman 1

 

The only reason I ended up in such rarefied air on the set of MH2 was because my mom had blown up at my agent, Iris Burton, for not getting me any good interviews.

Mind you: I had just landed five commercials in six months – including a Nestle’s $100,00 Bar spot that was a gusher of residuals (and would be for the next 6 years). But my mother demanded more from my agent.  She wanted better interviews and she demanded more readings for movies and television series. There were shouted threats of moving the fountain-of-money-that-I-was to different representation.

A few days after their angry conversation I got the interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman – and it was nothing less than a grudge interview. My agent had submitted me for the role of a 13-year-old who was overweight and busty, a frizzy haired girl with bad skin. I was 11, skinny as a rail, with no figure at all. I had long braids and glasses and silky smooth skin. Iris had secured an interview for a role I was simply unsuited for as a way to show my mother not to question her judgment.

Two grown women were using pre-pubescent me as the badminton birdie of their avarice and rage.

 

$100,000 Bar

 

The interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was not-quite a Cattle Call, but there were dozens of young women ahead of me – not a one of whom looked like me. I was given a ‘side’ to study after I signed in, and glanced at it. (A side is a mini-scene for audition purposes, usually 2 or 3 pages long. These days it can also refer to the pages of a movie script that will be shot on any given day.) This side was a piece where the mother (Mary) is trying to talk to an unwilling daughter (Heather) about sex, and the daughter manipulates her mother by redirecting the conversation to make it seem like she doesn’t even understand what sex is, which relieves the clueless mother to no end.

I completely understood the piece the first time I looked at it. I got the joke.

Unfortunately there was a long wait, and my mother was determined to coach me death, as she did with every audition. She would drill me again and again on how I should say my lines and move my hands, and I every time I went through that door to an audition I ignored all of her terrible advice and did it my way.

There was nothing special at all about this interview, it was just another long afternoon with my mother, and I had no idea how it was going to change my life. It was simply one more of the fifteen or twenty auditions I went on every month. My time was never my own – it was more an all-consuming continuum of school, cars, auditions and work.

When I was finally called in to the interview, after at least an hour’s wait, I turned ‘on’ like a light switch. I was a pro. I knew how to look the casting director in the eye as I was crossing the room and saying hello with a smile and a slight nod, and to keep eye contact as I handed my litho forward, right-side-up with my name at the bottom. I had literally done this 1,000 times before.

 

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The casting director introduced herself as Jane, and the Director as Joan. There were other people to whom I was not introduced, and who watched silently as I read the scene with Joan. Joan nodded when we got to the end of the scene, and asked me to do it again – this time miming the orange juice I was supposed to be getting out of the refrigerator. We did the scene a second time, and I a saw the a ghost of a smile from Joan.

Jane asked if I had any other auditions that afternoon, or if I could stay to watch the two pilot episodes of the show. Hearing that I was free the rest of the afternoon, Jane sent me to get my mother from the waiting room. Mary Margaret Lamb took a long moment to fold her knitting project and stow it in her bag before doing a positively graceless ‘My Kid Is Better Than Yours’ sashay through a sea of angry parents and dejected children.

We were led to a cold office, and we sat on a couch looking up at a monitor on a large metal rolling stand. The screen flickered to life and the episode began as a nearly sepia-toned video of kick-knacks on a table came into focus, and with it the swelling of over-dramatic music saturated with high-pitched violins. Out of nowhere a voice that could cut glass screeches, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” so shrilly and gratingly I physically winced. Then came a gush of overwrought music heavy on the strings, parodying the soundtrack of really bad soap operas.

It is a distinctive open. Oh, so distinctive. I was tormented in High School with people shrieking it at me as I passed them in the hall. I’ve had grown-ups shout it in my face at parties as if I’ve never heard it before. I’ll bet you I’ve heard, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” ten thousand times if I’ve heard it once.

Torture yourself, if you’ve never heard it.

 

Mary Hartman Opening

 

 

As I watched the pilots I clearly remember thinking, “This is weird.” My mother didn’t know what to make of it, either. The lack of a laugh track threw her off, and I remember her saying later she didn’t know if she was supposed to be laughing at things or not – especially the inappropriate subjects.

It was late when I read for the folks in the room a third time, and they thanked me as I left, asking if I had any bookings in the next week. We drove home in the dark, and – exhausted – I didn’t get my homework done again.

The next day after school I was crying in my bedroom, sitting on my bed unsuccessfully trying to figure out what my algebra book was saying. It had been a bad day. 10-Week Grades had come out and my algebra marks were poor from never having time to do my homework. I was struggling mightily in math and had gotten a D, and my mother’s answer was to verbally and physically abuse me. I was grounded (as if I ever had time to go anywhere), and sent to my room to magically figure out integers and angles I couldn’t decipher before.

Suddenly, my mother burst into my room without knocking, making the door crash against the wall. Privacy didn’t exist in my home as a child – and at that point I was not allowed to even fully close my door, lest my mother not be able to keep an eye on me at all times – and crashing doors usually meant more verbal abuse or hitting. I cringed, throwing my hands up around my head to protect myself from the expected blows. Instead of being wild eyed mad, she was wild eyed excited. She didn’t get angry at me for protecting my head like she usually did, and ignoring my cowering she said manically, “Get dressed! You’re late for a callback! They want to see you back from yesterday, but they forgot to call Iris to set it up. Hurry!! We should have been there at 5 pm. Where are your clothes?”

She was no longer hurling invectives at me, saying how stupid and worthless I was. She seemed to have forgotten the blows she had delivered to my head and back just minutes before, and was eagerly telling me to get ready.

My clothes from the interview the day before had been stuffed into the red laundry bag my mother had crocheted, and they were wrinkled. Frantically she snatched them from my hands and threw them in the drier to tumble out the wrinkles. She brushed and braided my hair, while having me hold a cold washcloth to my face to erase the swelling and redness from my sobbing.

“C’mon – you’re not really going to go in there looking like that!” she admonished, catching my eye in the giant round mirror above her sink, “Where’s your apple pie smile? Smile like you mean it – smile with your EYES!!” she encouraged/threatened me, as she pulled my braid too tight.

She was so focused on getting me to look exactly as I had the day before that she didn’t run a comb through her own hair, and she rushed out the door without changing out of her dirty black slacks and grubby sweater. For a woman so defined by façades my mother’s slovenly appearance that evening when she first met Norman Lear and Louise Lasser would torment her for the rest of her days.

Before I knew it we were out in the middle of rush hour traffic, heading over the hill on the Hollywood Freeway. It would take at least an hour to get there, and I was trapped in the car with a woman who was vibrating from excitement, drilling me over and over on how to do the scene her way.

Such was the Emotional Roller Coaster of my youth: Half an hour before she was screaming at me and hitting me about a bad math grade that might keep me from renewing the all-important California Work Permit, and now I was running lines her way and being told not to blow it because this could be The Big Break.

But beyond all that detritus and noise, there was euphoria about getting a callback for a Norman Lear series.

 

 

heatherhartman09

 

 

When we finally arrived we were waved on to the lot to park and I was rushed into Norman Lear’s office where he, Louise Lasser, Director Joan Darling, producer Al Burton, and writer Gail Parent were waiting. I made eye contact and gave them my apple pie smile, pretending my head didn’t hurt where my mother had been punching it 90 minutes ago.

I read the same side as I’d read the day before, only this time instead of reading with the Director I was reading it with Louise Lasser. Suddenly the scene was done, and they told me ‘Thank you, you can go’.

Thank you, you can go? But – we’d only read it once. How could it be ‘Thank you, you can go’?!

In less than 5 minutes I was in and out, and I found myself heading toward the elevator in dismayed shock, not understanding how I had failed so completely and astoundingly fast when it felt like a good read. I knew it was going to be a long, ugly ride home.

We were getting on the elevator in silence when Al Burton called my name down the hall. I heard the smile in his voice and I knew I had the job. My heart hit my feet as I stuck my hand out to stop the heavy elevator doors.

Al caught up to us and said they all really liked the way I read the part, and then he asked if I wanted to join the cast. “The job yours if you want it,” he said, smiling and looking me in the eyes like I mattered.

I remember gasping and jumping up and down. I remember saying, “Yes!!” and bear hugging Al, and then hugging my mom as she beamed and rocked me back and forth in that elevator.

I remember being happy – happy in a way you can only be when you’re too young to be wary and you don’t have the adult filter that stops you from showing what you really feel. In that moment I was validated for all the times I wasn’t chosen, and I felt special because this time I was the best. I was going to be on a Norman Lear TV show – and it felt like winning.

I don’t think that there was ever a time in my life that my mother was more proud of me than that evening in the hallway outside of Norman Lear’s office.

 

Mary Hartman Letterhead 2

 

Being cast on MH2 changed my life completely. One day I was attending Junior High school in the most polluted part of the San Fernando Valley, and the next I was sitting at a long table in a conference room at KTLA, meeting my cast mates and production people. We were given our scripts for episodes 3, 4 and 5 and did the first, last, and only table read we ever did for the show. There was never time after that initial day for the luxury of such a thing.

There was a lady there who took care of timing out the scenes and continuity named Susan Harris who had the patience of Job with me. I was absolutely fascinated by the cigar box full of gum and mints (Wow! Tic Tacs!) that she kept with her at all times. I must have looked like a chipmunk with all the gum I shoved in my mouth that morning. She was kind to an antsy, nervous kid.

We started in on the table read, and I was bored stiff by the time we were done reading the 3 scripts several hours later. It was an excruciatingly long exercise, and somehow something as simple as reading words printed on paper turned into a thing. Everyone was making a WAY bigger deal out of it than they needed to, and many hairs were split. I know now that everyone was staking out their territory, and planting flags for their characters, but it was painfully long and ego driven. That table read became the template for the rehearsal and taping of nearly every episode of the show.

After the water-torture of the table read we all went down to Stage 5, where a luncheon was held for the cast and the production people. It was catered by Chasen’s of Beverly Hills, a perennial favorite of Norman Lear. There were place cards, and I was seated up at one of the front tables next to Debralee Scott and Dody Goodman, while my mother was seated far in the back where I (thankfully) could not see her.

All of us had individual goody bags which were filled with kitschy things. My bag had a draw string and was sewn to look like a pineapple. It had a plastic charm, 4 tickets to the cancelled children’s show Sheriff John, a pack of stale gum, some ribbons, an Oscar Meier Wiener whistle and some other junk. Everyone else had similar stuff. Although I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, it seemed to signify the budget we were working under.

The adults all seemed to know each other, and as they laughed too loud at inside jokes I tried too hard to be part of group. I saw Louise again, and spoke for a while with Greg Mullavey, the man who would play my ever-adolescent father. Dody was charming and welcoming, and she and Phil Bruns (a grumpy man who had the sour smell of an alcoholic) played my meddling grandparents. Debra Lee, who played my oversexed Aunt Cathy, was a social butterfly who swore like a sailor. I spoke very little that day with the Victor Killian, a quiet man cast as my great-grandfather, who I would come to know and love as the grandfather I never had. Mary Kay Place and Graham Jarvis were delightful, down-to-earth people who played the neighbors: an unlikely crazy-in-love couple, where she was a smoking hot aspiring country-singer and he was a balding middle-aged man who would give you the shirt off his back.

After lunch we were prodded by a strange doctor so that insurance could be taken out on the production. As each of our physicals were completed we got into our wardrobe, and headed off to hair and make-up. My wardrobe consisted of the same pants, shirt, belt, bracelet, braids, barrettes and glasses I sported on the audition and callback – I can actually say I created Heather from the ground up.

We gathered for the cast publicity shot in the Shumway kitchen set, and as each new person arrived in character there was laughter and camaraderie. At that point in the afternoon we were giddy from it all and the slightest thing would set us off in gales of laughter.

The photo we took that afternoon is iconic, and a giant blow-up of it sits behind Norman’s desk, a profound tribute to our show, given the sheer number of them Lear has produced.

That afternoon all of the adults were as kind as they were capable of being to the young stranger they’d just met who had been hired to play a smart-assed, cynical tween. I may have been carrying the weight of being my family’s Fountain of Cash, but my cast and crew mates couldn’t see that. I was a child they’d just met, and they were more focused on how to make this show work when it was so different than anything else on television. They knew we only had 10 days to get mentally ready for the start of production, and the grind of memorizing, rehearsing, blocking and filming 125-150 pages of dialogue PER WEEK.

As for me? It never occurred to me that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was going to be anything other than a smash hit.

 

Cast Picture

 

My new-found station in life brought with it a well deserved bonus. Some frosting on the cake. A little something something for signing a contract on a daily AFTRA television series.

As an atta-girl for being cast on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman my parents saw their way to granting me a one-time bonus of the princely sum of $5 and dinner at Diamond Jim’s.

My break down was: $1 for a print job, $2 per commercial plus $1 extra if they make 2 spots out if it, and $5 (American!) for a series.

$5 for a series!

I didn’t get a regular allowance until I was 12-years-old, and even then it was only $2 on a $750 weekly paycheck. I’ll do the math for you: In 2018 dollars that’s me getting $9 a week allowance for a paycheck of $3,350.

I was truly a Bellagio Fountain of Cash.

 

Diamond Jims 2

 

I remember feeling so grown up the night we went to Diamond Jim’s, a past its prime cocktails-and-red-meat establishment on Hollywood Boulevard. Proud of my accomplishment, I boasted to the server as he led us to a high backed red leather booth that I’d ‘gotten’ a television series. He kept the celebration going with an endless stream of Shirley Temple’s (extra maraschino cherries, please!), while I’m sure my parents thought “Great! Now we have to tip appropriately.”

I imagined this would be a grand evening, like a supper club out of a 1940s musical. But the place was filled with smoke, there was no floor show, and they didn’t have any food for children. Diamond Jim’s was a stuffy disappointment after all the build up. My whole family should have gone to Shakey’s Pizza, followed by a trip to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor for a Zoo. Instead, my parents isolated me from all of my brothers and created resentment where none ever needed to exist.

The truth is that this was a restaurant for my parents, and I was just tagging along on their celebratory dinner because I was footing the bill.

I ask you – Which was more insulting? A $5 payoff for landing a union gig, (Oh, irony! Thy name is Unionized Child Labor!) or the 3 of us celebrating the impending plunder of my hard-earned money?

Assholes.

 

heatherhartman10

 

That night I felt like I was a successful grown up, and in a way I was. I may have only been 11, but I had a 26 week guaranteed Union contract as a regular on a series. With that contract and my commercial residuals I would earn more than double in 6 months than what my father would make in the single highest earning year in his whole life – and that wouldn’t happen for another decade, when he topped out at $33,500.

You bet your ass I was grown up.

My parents stole almost every penny I ever made as a child. Had it not been for the paper-tiger Coogan Law, I’d have lost everything that I would earn over the next 2 ½ years of working for Norman Lear. This larceny was unchecked by the State. Hell, it was APPROVED of by the court, who left me with the paltry sum of $20,000 when I turned 18. An amount that was further chipped away by the $2,000 delinquent tax bill my parents hadn’t bothered to deal with that I received as an Eighteenth birthday present.

There is no way to estimate the true figure of how much money my parents stole from me because they claimed I made different amounts to the IRS, the Courts, SAG, AFTRA, and to me.

How comforting to know that my parents were equal opportunity thieves who ran a racket and a half, and managed to get away with it.

Something that abetted their theft was that commercials were not covered by the Coogan Law at that time. So the parents of someone like me, who made a ton of money, weren’t required to do anything with the money but spend it on whatever they wanted.

My parents were more inclined to lie to the IRS than they were to lie to the Unions. They were more afraid of running afoul of SAG and AFTRA than they were of an audit, but not too afraid to have me do an appalling number of non-Union jobs that were never declared to anyone but my mother’s secret bank account and my father’s bookie.

My parents were bold about their lies to the IRS. In fact they lied about my earnings to the IRS from my very first job. They never claimed to the IRS any of of the multiple calendars, print ads or voice-over work I did before I had to join Screen Actors Guild in 1968, when I made $156 on my first union commercial – a long lost spot for Alpha Beta Supermarkets. It was only then they finally, reluctantly, filed taxes for me.

But here is my first ad from 1967:

 

 

Aero Jet 1

My first job, 1967

 

 

My parents pretended I did no work and earned not one dollar in 1969, despite the continuing print work, and me having been the face of Ford’s Tot Guard (their first child safety seat) during its test run, and doing a non-union Gain Detergent commercial that played so much during the daily soaps I was recognized for the first time while in the grocery store when I was 5 years old.

They continued to lie to the IRS, and were so far on the take they never reported my first 5 years of AFTRA earnings.

I will never know how much I really earned by the time I’d gotten on to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A conservative guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 of today’s dollars, if they had simply put it in a savings account and given it to me at age 18.

 

Mary Hartman Shirt

 

 

By 1976 my folks were in full swing, and had theft down to a science. Penn and Teller couldn’t make greenbacks disappear as well as Herb and Margaret could.

In 1976 I spent the full year employed under an AFTRA contract at a $750 weekly guarantee, there were summer residuals, as well as voice over promos for the show, which netted me upwards of $50,000. My parents declared to AFTRA I’d made $22,775.

My folks told Screen Actors Guild I’d made $32,500 in 1976. I was getting residuals for the 5 commercials I’d shot in 1975, with the Nestle’s $100,000 Bar spot itself bringing in a tidy $22,000.

Yet, it was declared to the IRS that in 1976 the grand total of my earnings was only $15,300.

They’d declared more than $55,000 in earnings to the Unions on who-knows-what actual earnings, and somehow I wasn’t audited for my parents asking the IRS to believe I’d made less than $300 per week as a main cast member on a screaming hot television show.

This mind boggling shell game continued until the show ended in 1978.

Using my tax returns I can see that my parents admitted to stealing $750,000 from me. Remember, this what they admitted stealing, and is only the earned income that I would have received at age 18. I would have had so much more had it been invested with a reputable money manager starting with my first job at age 3, in 1967.

What about the money my folks stole over and above what they declared to the IRS? Your guess is as good as mine. They consistently under-reported my income by 50%, sometimes by 100%. It would be reasonable to say I earned 2 to 4 times the amount they declared for me. Somewhere between $1.5M and $3M 2018 dollars, and not a dollar of it invested.

By rights I should have been a wealthy young woman when I tuned 18. It seems that for a lifetime of work and foregoing my childhood I should have had more to show for it than $1,000 a year. I can only imagine what my fortune would have been had they done the right thing.

All that was left of my meager My Coogan account allowed me to pay for 3 years of college tuition, while I worked to pay rent on my apartment. It also allowed me to move to Colorado in 1984 at the ripe old age of 20, and set out towards a place with mountains and skiing, far away from my parents.

Picture this – It’s 7 am on the first Saturday in June, 1984. *Knock Knock* “Mom, Dad – don’t get out of bed. I’m leaving for Colorado. No – really. Don’t get out of bed. My car is packed and I’m on my way. Buh-bye.” I was out the door like my ass was on fire.

Happiness was Los Angeles in my rear view mirror.

Within 2 weeks of leaving LA I had a job that covered all my bills – I was teaching acting in Denver.

I also used the money from my Coogan Account to buy my first Subaru – a Brat that I adored and that defined the new Claudia I’d become when I left Los Angeles.

Finally, I used the remainder to put a down payment on my first home.

I remember my mother wistfully opining in the waning years of her life, as she lived like the Merry Widow and denied the single request for help I’d made as an adult at Christmas in 1999, “It’s a shame you wasted your money from Mary Hartman.

 

heatherhartman14

 

My parents stole an unconscionable amount of money from me without batting an eye – and stole my childhood as well, and there is no way to forgive that. None. The healthiest thing a child performer who has been cheated can do is come to terms with it through therapy, or it will eat you up.

Every generation has child performers whose parents treat them like nothing more than a Fountain of Money. No matter what the law intends, every generation of greedy Stage Parents will find a way to steal from their children by exploiting loopholes and the lack of laws. My heart goes out to current child performers whose every move is being documented for Youtube fame, in hopes they will become the next Fountain of Cash, and their actual childhood is being monetized with absolutely NO oversight.

There are times when I think back to that night at Diamond Jim’s. That dinner really meant something really special to my parents. It was the validation of all of their hard work at marketing their children and what they’d been working toward: One of their kids was good enough to land a national television series.

It meant a spigot of cash. like nothing they’d ever seen had just been turned on. As far as they were concerned their income had nearly quadrupled in one fortuitous afternoon. What was not to celebrate? They were positively kicking up their heels

At least that night I didn’t know my parents were stealing from me, and I thought the celebration was for *my* accomplishment. That was one small mercy the universe extended to me.

 

 

November 18th, 1975, Joan Darling handed us all a small blue box before rehearsal. The gasps from the folks around me let me know it was something special. I untied the thick white ribbon, and greedily opened the tiny box to find a felt bag emblazoned ‘Tiffany & Co.’ Inside was a key fob with a charm that said ‘MH, MH’ on the front and ’11-18-75′ on the back, the date when we all set to work to make the best goddamn television show in the history of ever.

I will be forever grateful that I was part of that amazing company of actors, and that I had the privilege of learning comedy from them, and performing with them. Fortune was on my side when I think of the kind members of the crew like Susan who shared her gum, and Billy and Rick who taught me to operate a boom, and Harold who used to hide treats in the prop room for me to find.

I am thankful my teacher Joan indulged my love of reading, and made me actually learn and think about my future, and she took me to museums and to Star Wars and decided that watching Bob Hope rehearse with Donny and Marie one afternoon was a fine education.

Most of all I know that the time I was on Mary Hartman was where I began to write, and that writing was instrumental in every job in my adult life. The IBM Selectric typewriter Norman Lear had delivered to my schoolroom was a magical beast that allowed me to put my thoughts down faster than I could write by hand, and it opened up a whole new world for me. The classes I was able to take with writer Oliver Hayley when I was 16 convinced me that I could tell a story.

It has been a long and interesting path since then, and all of these people and their kindness helped me lay a foundation to build a path to get out and away from my toxic parents. I remember selling my first joke, opening the mic on my first full-time Talk Radio show, publishing my first article, anchoring my first newscast, and winning my First Mark Twain Award for excellence in news.

It’s wonderful to think that the path away from the biggest abusers in my life began 43 years ago with the people who would forever change how I laughed and cried and looked at life.

Love is marvelous that way.

 

 

 

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Who The Hell Are You To Paycheck Shame?

It’s Labor Day weekend, so what better time for concern trolls to ‘out’ Geoffrey Owens for having the temerity to work a day gig at Trader Joe’s for a steady paycheck and health benefits?

I’m not fortunate enough to be friends with Mr. Owens – who has a list of credits as long as your arm – but my respect for him is immense. He is facing this situation with a grace I could only hope to muster under similar circumstances.

Most people don’t get that unless you negotiate points in advance the succor and splendor of residuals is mostly a myth. In fact, the last time I got a residual check for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was 6 years ago, and it was for 32 cents. I didn’t cash it on purpose, because I’d rather have the small pleasure of knowing Sony’s books don’t square by less than the cost of a postage stamp because of me. You talk about insulting. Hell, I returned a 38 cent tip in the mid-80s because it was insulting for half and hour’s service. You cannot imagine what I felt when I got 32 cents as my cut for the reruns of a cult classic.

Even if Mr. Owens had gotten points for The Cosby Show – a series no longer in reruns –  how predictably disappointing that people who work 9-to-5 are pointing and laughing and feeling superior without a speck of self awareness or irony, because Owens had to get a normal job!!!

So – on behalf of every performer who has been mocked for honestly paying the bills, I’d like to extend a hearty ‘Screw You’ to the Paycheck Shamers. I’m done with these people who poorly cloak their jealousy at never having had the guts to take a shot at their passion with phony concern about how a performer has fallen SO LOW they choose to get a job to keep a normal life going in between parts.

You know what? The only time I ever felt shame while looking for a ‘normal’ job, after leaving Hollywood, was when people judged me for needing work. Which was just about every ‘normal’ job I ever applied for.

The worst example was when the owner of the Tivoli Deer restaurant in Kitteridge, CO, gave me a job interview so that he could laugh in the face of the former child actor who was ‘reduced’ to waiting tables.

“I would have thought,” he chuckled, cigarette in one hand, and my resume in the other, “you’d have been smart enough to put some of that child star money away.”

I tried to redirect the interview but was stunned, and felt the color rise in my cheeks, as he continued, “I don’t have any place here for you. I just wanted to get a look at what a celebrity reduced to waiting tables looks like.”

I had enough presence of mind to snap at him as I grabbed my coat to leave, “Is that what you think of your employees? That they are reduced to working for you? Thanks for showing me up front what an immense asshole you are, and how little you think of your employees.”

I remember walking to my car, my back ramrod straight, trying not to show through body language just how humiliated I was. I made it a few blocks away before I pulled over and sobbed.

Our Celebrity Culture has given strangers permission to ridicule performers for needing – like them – a non-glamorous job to keep body and soul together, because they aren’t independently wealthy.

I won’t lie and say that being on a television show didn’t give me advantages in job interviews sometimes, but they are offset by the tonnage of demoralization you have to go through to land a regular, steady gig.

I have never had a non-performing friend get asked by an interviewer, “Aren’t you set for life with residuals?” But, I heard it nearly every time I interviewed for a job outside of the business. It would never occur to an interviewer to ask anyone else how much money they have in the bank from a previous job as a precursor to current employment, but that’s fair game for me.

Frankly, it’s appalling how many job interviewers feel like they are entitled to a Barbara Walters’ deep dive into my personal history about my time in the business, and the current state of my finances. The tough part is that you either play along, or tank the interview.

When a non-superstar professional performer (especially a former child actor) looks for a ‘normal’ job they are faced with 2 choices:

  1. Keep your past in your past, but then you have gaps in your resume you can’t explain
  2. Be up front in your resume and face being thought of as an Attention Whore stuck in the past, or so destitute you must stoop to seeking gainful employment

I eventually found that an abridged version of the truth worked best, but far too many job interviews I’ve had were basically a variant of this:

“But, you were on TV…”

“I’m not in the business anymore.”

“But the residuals…”

“Mary Hartman isn’t in reruns”

“But you did… what?”

“There were 455 episodes between the two series.”

“And you don’t… You don’t…” they would trail off and I would wait intently for them to continue, not giving away anything.

“I mean… Do you *need* this job?”

“I would very much like to work here.”

“But… I mean… What I’m trying to say is: Do you actually *need* this job, or should I consider someone else who deserves it? Because, I don’t want you quitting a couple of weeks or months in when you get bored because you miss television.”

I had bills to pay, like everyone else, and later on a son to raise. But, these people all imagined I was a dilettante to the working world, swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck while the song Common People blared on a loop.

They were so fucking busy being jealous and judgmental and figuring I’d put my fortune up my nose that they couldn’t see me for me, or my potential, or even my need.

I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve felt compelled to reveal to a total stranger that my parents stole almost every penny I madejust so I could be gainfully employed – only to have them use that as yet another excuse to reject me.

It took me a few years into adulthood before I realized that these self-selecting jerks would have been an absolute nightmare to work for. But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want or need that job at the time. It hurt deeply when they turned me down, and I took the rejection personally – a charming trait I learned as a child in a business that eats adults alive.

 

At every job I’ve ever worked since I left Hollywood I have had to justify to at least ONE asshole (usually numerous) who demand to know why I was *there* – the implication being ‘I deserve to know what caused your downfall’. As if working for a living is a downfall!!

I couldn’t even escape it in my beloved Radio.

My big break in radio happened when Bruce Kamen, the man who became my mentor, called unexpectedly to interview me on the phone. While we were speaking my phone’s call waiting clicked, and I ignored it.

“You gonna get that?” Bruce barked.

“Nope. They can leave a message.”

“What if it’s Hollywood calling you back?”

“The most important call to me is the one I’m on right now.”

I got the job, and it lead to wonderful things and a whole new career. But it was only in forcefully turning my back on television that I’d ensured my place in the business I loved. Even then I was forced to pick.

 

Does it make you think less of me that I left television and became a local radio talk show host in Denver, Cincinnati and Kanas City? Or, that I did traffic reports for years so that my son could grow up in the same house and finish school with his friends? Does it disappoint you that I left radio for a few years after the Columbine massacre and became a Public Information officer for the Colorado Department of Transportation? Was I not living up to my potential when I anchored the news for a chewing gum and baling wire outfit in San Jose that I quit because they were pirating CNN news casts from the TV?

Would you be impressed if I told you my team at the ABC Radio Westcoast flagship station (KGO) won 5  Edward R Murrow awards – including the national award for breaking news –  along with 4 Mark Twain awards?

Do you judge me for working as a teen at a dry cleaners, an answering service, a hostess that opened 3 Stuart Anderson’s steak houses, a gofer at a publicist or in the box office at The Palace nightclub in Hollywood?

Are you looking down your nose because I chose to deliver pizzas and answers phones at an oil company to pay rent rather than return to Hollywood and my toxic parents?

If you REALLY want to feel superior to the former child actor let’s laugh at how I worked at Subway and waited tables for such fine dining establishments as Red Lobster and a handful of coffee shops you wouldn’t know the name of. I was the office manager for a home maintenance company, and was the receptionist for the crookedest State Farm agent in 8 counties. I lasted 2 weeks at the child care center from hell, and sold ads for a broadcast industry magazine that folded after 8 months.

You know what I didn’t do? Anything immoral or illegal to keep the the roof over our head and food on our table.

You may look down your nose at my life – I’m good with that. While you’re looking down your nose I’m holding my head high.

Boiling Frogs

In the last 6 weeks I’ve awakened in my bed at home only 13 times. The rest of the time has been split between Canada and the cabin. Different patterns and places cause you to see things from a different perspective, including and especially a lack of internet connectivity for days at a time.

Being without internet for long stretches means when I check back in it’s a virtual laundry list of ‘What the fuck am I reading?’ to ‘I remember when this would have been too absurd for The Onion’.

In short: It was only when I got back into the internet pot did This Little Froggy realize how HOT the water has gotten.

Let’s cut out all the noise (like rage-tweets demanding Sessions fire Mueller) and just look at the last day:

  1. Our Intelligence Agencies held a presser to stress the seriousness of the continuous attacks by Russia on our midterm elections. Mere hours later 45* slurred his way through another Fuhrer rally, calling that announcement a HOAX.
  2. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to say during a press briefing that the Press is not the enemy of the people.
  3. Network television has apparently *just* discovered Q-Anon and their rabid willingness to become violent over their unhinged world view, and to keep Trump in power while thanking Russia.
  4. We’re STILL violating the UN Convention on Genocide, and the Geneva Convention on kidnapping, as well as torture, and the Trump Regime is now insisting the ACLU be responsible for finding the deported parents before families can be reunited. A third employee of the child concentration camps has been arrested for sexually assaulting multiple prisoners. Where the hell are the girls? It’s amazing how quickly this atrocity has dropped off of the A Section in news blocks.
  5. Enjoy your NEW $60 Billion in Chinese Tariffs while you mull over June new housing starts being down 12+%, new homes sales dropped 5+%, and only 150,000 jobs were added last month.

This dynamic is simply not sustainable.

Mom’s in the Potting Shed

How do you deal with someone who refuses to get a will because it’s ‘ghoulish’? How do you respond to the narcissistic person who says ‘I don’t want to think about what happens after I die’?

When dear old mom went to the Great Insane Asylum In The Sky she left her affairs as if she were 25 and had gone up to the store for a loaf of bread. No will, no power of attorney, no funeral arrangements and a stack of unpaid bills. It was up to her survivors (funny word, that) to sort it out. She chose to put the burden on her children; one last punishment.

Here’s the thing about the will: I used to drive myself crazy thinking I could reason with her.  I’d have had better luck teaching my dog a card trick. It wasn’t ignorance. It was utter vindictiveness. “If the tea party goes on without me you’ll have to clean up my mess!!!”

So we did.

A lawyer was retained. One brother and I cleaned out her house. The taxes were paid. Within a year probate closed.

There was one problem: What was to be done with the body?

 

Family Pictures - Mom Feeding Me

 

 

My mother died in a Phoenix hospital in July of 2005, and I was the one who pulled the plug.

I had been in close contact with the doctor assigned to her case. He called me the day everything we owned was being loaded into a moving truck to relocate to Northern California for my husband’s job. She was in a coma after a pulmonary embolism and there was no hope of her regaining consciousness. What did I want to do? Mind you this was just a week after my mother-in-law died. I’ve always felt my mother willed herself to die then, so that she could be the center of attention – even in death.

I remember standing on the back porch awash in the bright summer heat, the phone cord stretched as far as it would go, watching my belongings being carried out the front door, and listening to a man I’d never met describing in precise detail how my mother was dying. Oh, and did I want to keep her hooked up to a ventilator to prolong her agony?

I think I was kinder to her than she deserved. I told them to give her as much morphine as possible, pull the life support and to let her die peacefully.

When I think about that afternoon it was like trying to use a kaleidoscope as a magnifying glass.

After she died one of my brothers went to put a wooden stake in her heart. Wait. No. One of them went down to identify and take care of the body. She left the decision and the cost of her final disposition up to us. Although she was a baptized Catholic, we had her cremated. If she wanted something different she had years to make those plans.

 

 

Family Pictures - Part 20014

 

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

It’s the command given to anyone who dares to talk about the deeds of the dearly departed.

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Your feelings still don’t matter. Even in death your tormentor can silence you through shame.

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Even if it’s true.

 

My experience with that hated phrase (aside from brutally hilarious news rooms) is with a few of my mother’s acquaintances, and a handful of distant relatives we got Christmas cards from the 1970s.

‘Don’t speak ill of the dead’ was what they invoked when hearing why there would be no funeral.

You see, after she died I agreed to call the few people in her phone book to let them know.

“No funeral?”

“No.”

“None?”

“Afraid not.”

“Why?” asked in a tone used when you kick a puppy.

“Well… Ahhh… None of us want or will come to a celebration of her life.”

“B-b-but… She’s your Mother!! She deserves at least that much respect.”

“Look, (insert indignant person’s name here), she wasn’t a very nice person. None of my 5 brothers were talking to her when she died, some of them for years. I was the only one who would have anything to do with her at the end.”

“B-b-but… How could you?”

“How can I put this? She was toxic. She beat us mercilessly when we were children, and terrorized us as adults.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead.”

 

There were one or two sympathetic souls who were floored. But they were able to accept the fact that anyone who had 6 middle-aged children that vehemently opposed to a service memorializing their life might not have been a very nice person.

The rest, however, were quite judgmental. Interestingly enough, not one was worried about the religious aspect of it. They were all horrified that we wouldn’t ‘do the right thing’. No matter that she hadn’t done the right thing since the day she gave birth to my eldest brother. And most were people I had never met, just some stranger at the other end of a long-distance line. Never mind that they would never come to her funeral if we’d had one. And there I was, trying to defend to someone I couldn’t pick out of a police line-up with a gun to my head about why I wouldn’t hold a funeral for a person who tormented me from the day I was born.

I could have lied, and said there would be a small service for the family, and no one but me would have known the difference. But, I didn’t want to lie anymore. I was really tired of covering for her.

So, I told the truth; which wasn’t well received. ‘It was a different time’ was the excuse offered. That always made me gag a bit. The conversation would end with, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was a phrase for which I never had a good reply.

 

 

Family Pictures0050

 

 

I remember the day my mother arrived in San Jose. It was still beastly hot, but not so much like looking through a kaleidoscope. The doorbell rang, the dog barked. It was a return receipt package. I didn’t realize what it was, at first. Then I noticed the return address was from a funeral home in Arizona. I can’t describe the look of abject horror on the mail carrier’s face when I remarked, “Oh, hey! That’s my mother’s ashes. I wondered where they were.”  The postman couldn’t get that box out of his hands fast enough. He shoved them into my hands as I was still signing, and they tumbled to the ground. The postman blanched visibly and looked at me in even greater horror. He grabbed his crucifix, made the sign of the cross, and beat a hasty retreat when I said, “Dude, it’s OK. She’s dead. She didn’t feel it.”

 

I had no idea what to do with my mother’s ashes. They were in a sealed quart sized can, packed inside the box in which it came. I walked around our new place in San Jose trying to figure out where to put them. I felt like I had a plastic bag full of dog shit I was trying to figure out where to put. Actually, dog shit is easier to throw away. I wouldn’t have her ashes in my house. Not even the garage. Finally, it came to me: The potting shed.

One of the things I liked best about the place in San Jose was the garden. You could put anything in the ground and it would grow. One of the best things about the garden was the potting shed. It was as far from the house as you could get, and waterproof.

I put her ashes out there on the farthest top shelf I could.

Now and then I would joke to my closest friends how I was going to go visit mom in the potting shed.

Every so often, when I was transplanting something, I would look up at the box on the shelf and say, ”Hey, you miserable bitch. How’s it going? Hot enough for you? What? No complaints? That’s a first.” Sometimes I wouldn’t be as charitable

That went on for a couple of years.

 

 

Family Pictures - Part 20127

1939 – Mom, bottom left

 

Here’s the thing: Years before she died my mother told me about her burial plot in Sarnia, Canada that had been paid for by the grandparents who raised her in the 1930s. After my father died, and was buried in a McCatholic cemetery, she made me promise many, many times that I would return her to her home in Sarnia. It was yet another of her lies.

There was no plot. There never had been. The only plot was in her mind. It was yet another of her fantastic lies, and one I found out via long distance day rate when I called the cemetery in Canada. They had no record of there ever having been a plot purchased for her.

After doing everything from pulling the plug, to cleaning out her house-of-hoarding, I was left with her ashes, and the unappealing task of how to dispose of them without honoring her or being a complete dick.

As the years went by I asked her ashes how thing were going less and less.

Eventually, I stopped remembering that mom was in the potting shed. As I went about my life – finally rid of her judgements and cruelty – I learned to enjoy the peace.

 

 

Family Pictures - Part 20082

 

We moved to San Francisco late in the summer of 2007, as the world economy was just beginning to shit the bed. It was another hot, hectic moving day, but finally the movers were lumbering their way up the peninsula to our new house by the beach. We were making a final run-through, picking up the last odds and ends, Richard was anxious to head out and be there when the truck arrived. I told him I’d finish up here, and meet him up there. I gathered odd bits of trash in a garbage bag, and checked behind doors, assuring myself the house was empty.

But there was still one more thing to deal with: Mom in the potting shed.

I stood in the suffocating July heat of the potting shed watching swirls of dust illuminated by the sun coming in through the window, and finally reached for the still-sealed box with the can holding my mother’s ashes. As I held the heavy box in my hands I knew I simply couldn’t bring them to our new home. Yes, there was a lovely a potting shed there, too. It was even bigger than this one, but there was simply no room in it for her. I wanted no more ashes or commitments to crazy dead people.

I knew what needed to be done.

 

Family Pictures - Part 20067

 

We watched the last of our things get transferred from the truck into our new place, and as the moving van pulled away I unloaded my car. Finally there was nothing left, but the box with the can holding the ashes.

It was only 10 blocks to Ocean Beach, and we bought a bottle of wine at the corner bodega. In the parking lot of the beach I opened the box with Richard’s knife, took out the can, and looked at it for the first time. It looked like an unmarked paint can, but was much heavier than any paint would ever be.

I remember the sun was setting, with yellow, orange and white shafts. There were people setting bonfires. I didn’t know what to think as I walked toward the ocean.

After a few pulls on the wine bottle I gestured with it, and said, “Well, here’s a fine place to spend eternity.” I took a few more swigs, and used the bottle opener on my key ring to pry the lid off of the can. After a few tries it popped off.

Inside were the burnt remains of an evil, hurtful being that tortured her children and alienated everyone around her. I stared at what remained for a long while, feeling many, many things – but guilt-free relief was what won out.

Finally, I took my shoes off and went to the water’s edge. I watched the waves play in and out, and the sun as it headed towards the horizon.

I threw my arm out in a sweeping motion. The ashes made a comma in the wet sand. I thought of the commas after zeros, and of all the money my parents had stolen from me. A wave came in and washed the sand clean. Just like that the comma and the imaginary zeros were gone.

I threw more ashes, and made more commas. More waves came in and washed away the answers to so many questions.

Finally, the can that came in the box that sat in the potting shed was empty.

After a long sigh I said, “You’re welcome. For everything.”

Richard came up and silently offered the wine bottle, his arm sliding around my shoulder as much in comfort as solidarity. I took a few pulls, and silently congratulated myself for never having soiled my relationship with the man I loved by even introducing him to someone who tried to destroy any happiness that found its way to my life.

The waves crashed, the gulls called, and the sun was in its last brilliant stage of setting.

Mom had left the potting shed, and I was finally free.

Liberation – at long last!

In the final rays of the setting sun I saw metal glinting where I had thrown my mother’s ashes. I picked up a piece of stainless steel out of the wet sand: It was her ID tag from the mortuary – and the date of her death was wrong.

I laughed so hard wine shot out my nose.

The Circle had closed, and the woman who forgot what day her only daughter was born (Yes, really) shuffled off this mortal coil unmarked and unmourned, the victim of an administrative mistake. It was a perfectly fitting end for a woman with a bottomless need for attention and perfection.

The Universe has one hell of a sense of humor, and once in a great while we’re lucky enough to see some asshole get exactly what they deserve.

 

Ocean Beach Sunset

 

 

 

Fighting In A Burning House

After being out of this country for 2 weeks it’s impossible to describe how AWFUL things are here: Americans are at war with each other, and we seem incapable of seeing it.

If people aren’t actively cheering the Russian coup, they are fighting in a burning house because they’re STILL angry that a man who called Roe v Wade identity politics was rejected by DNC voters.

I was blocked yesterday by a man whose opinions on politics matches with mine so closely that a Venn diagram of them would be a damn near perfect circle. But, he banished me over something we disagree about that happened 2 years ago, and cannot be changed.

Rehashing a primary that has passed is *insane*. It’s the spouse who keeps hammering their partner about a long-past difference of opinion, and destroys the relationship because they can’t let it go.

It’s time to face the facts that Americans have fully embraced the lunacy of a death wish that we are accomplishing via gun violence, lack of health care, and a bloodlust for a national fight.

I grew up in a madhouse that was a microcosm of what the USA has become. We WANT to fight. We WANT to inflict damage on the OTHER – whether they’re brown or Muslim or on ‘our side’ but didn’t hew closely enough to the opinion you cradle like a priceless object.

The real enemy in my house were my parents: A narcissistic rageaholic mother, and an enabling, lying, cheating, thief of a father, and they both gaslighted the lot of us: The ultimate ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ scenario, where we children were being played one off the other.

But, that didn’t stop my brothers and I from savaging one another as children AND adults, and passing that generational trauma on to our children.

We six siblings are no different than society at large: Instead of coming together to fight off the attacks, as children we invoked ‘Every Man For Himself’. As adults we did *nothing* to heal our wounds as a family, continuing to nurse our grudges.

As a result? We are fractured beyond repair, and my brothers have angrily cut one another out of their lives, shit talking their siblings, and further perpetrating the anger, the hurt and the war someone else started.

For me? I hold little hope November will change anything. The reason is because the cheating, lying, narcissism and gaslighting from on high won’t stop – and we’ll all be too busy fighting amongst each other to focus our forces and energy against the people who are REALLY hurting us. I’ve watched my family tear itself to shreds for more than half a century without a thought to creating peace.

I’ve seen how this goes – and it doesn’t end well.

Our insisting on fighting in a burning house will be the death of us and the Republic for which we used to stand.

This Is Fine

Endless Thoughts and Prayers

Who can honestly say they’re surprised that America had yet another mass shooting? It’s simply a way of life here to log on to social media and find out about the latest massacre, numbly check to see if it is near anyone we love, and watch the body count and the number of injured rise as the reports come in.

In a twisted way I’m getting used to the massacres from domestic terrorists, but what infuriates me now is how the GOP incessantly invokes Thoughts and Prayers after each fresh dose of hell.

Praying is a highly personal thing between you and your God, and is not a replacement for doing your job – whomever you are. Hiding behind God while you refuse to do your duty is an affront to truly spiritual people who do not use their religion as a prop.

For most people Thoughts and Prayers is shorthand for, “I’m powerless to stop this from happening, and I’m asking the Omnipotent Being of my choice to show mercy on this untenable situation.”

But Congress isn’t powerless to change the situation, and they CAN change the law to require the stricter background checks that 90% of Americans are demanding. They could make gun owners responsible for not securing their guns, or require liability insurance. But, they simply refuse to take any action because there’s too much money gushing in from the NRA.

So, when the GOP offers Thoughts and Prayers it’s just weasel-speak for: “It’s out of my hands because I’m going to keep taking contributions soaked in the life-blood of kindergartners and concert goers – but I will ask my God to keep you in His thoughts.”

For the GOP to proudly proclaim that they’ve given a Thought – they’re THINKING  – about something the rest of us can’t get out of our heads, is *stunningly* self-absorbed.

But, I can’t even wrap my brain around the unmitigated NERVE it takes for the GOP to demand God do the heavy lifting when they refuse to vote on bills that have been introduced. How DARE they pretend God has ANYTHING to do with their addiction to Russian blood money laundered through the NRA!

The GOP’s Thoughts and Prayers about domestic terrorists who mow down classmates, co-workers, and worshipers like an edger takes out errant weeds is an infuriating waste of time. Republicans cynically conflate praying with actually doing something, and pretend they aren’t blocking legislation that would prevent future massacres.

Logical people can see that these massacres aren’t happening in other developed nations on the scale that they are here. Look at Canada, Australia or the UK: We speak the same language, have roughly the same religious demographics, the same number of single parents, and marriage equality. We share television content, video games and music. Yet our murder-by-gun rate is 30 times higher than the UK, and our overall murder rate is higher than all three other nations combined. What’s different? The ease with which one can obtain a gun, and the number of weapons of war available to the general public.

The USA is only 4.28% of the world’s total population, but owns 30% of all the guns that exist. There are 1.20 guns for every man, woman and child in the good old US of A. At the same time we hold nearly 1 in 3 guns on the planet, only 1 in 5 Americans owns one. In fact, gun ownership is concentrated into hands of so few people that only 3% of Americans own half the guns in the country

Let me repeat that: 3% of Americans own half of the guns here.

9.8 million Americans own 130 million firearms; which means .001% of the 7.5 billion people on this planet own 15% of its private firearms.

If that number seems out of whack, take this into consideration: Only 1% of Americans belong to the NRA. The murderous gun policies the GOP backs are nothing more than a ruse to fill their coffers with dark Russian cash, while pretending a dismissible fraction of our population should have their fetish codified into our laws.

 

Homice Rate USA UK AUS CAN

 

So, really, when ANY politician (Democrats, too) takes blood money from the NRA and offers the mealy-mouthed phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” about the inevitable NEXT GODDAM SCHOOL SHOOTING, what they’re really saying is, “There’s nothing I will do. Ever.”

Frankly, I’m done debating the indisputable facts that a vast majority of Americans want tighter background checks, or that we have a glut of guns here, or that school shootings don’t happen in other countries like they do here.

I’m tired of people re-framing the need to reduce our gun violence with the notion we must stop all other forms of murder or violence before we tackle the dumpster fire of our gun laws.

I’m sick of answering disingenuous arguments with, “Yes, certainly, vehicles can be used for mass murder. They are also regulated, and insured, and their primary function is for transportation, not for killing people.”

I have precious little patience for those who unironically screech about their ‘god given right’ to the 2nd Amendment, while never comprehending the word amendment literally means ‘change’, and the word god is not in the Bill of Rights. There’s a reason ‘Well Regulated’ comes before ‘Shall Not Be Infringed’, and it’s not that difficult a concept to grasp that Americans are solidly behind weapon’s of war being ‘Well Regulated’ by a margin of 9-1.

I’m SURE as hell over those people stupid enough to argue for anarchy with, “Why pass laws when criminals won’t follow them?” They seem unable to grok that since the police manage to take so many of the white male mass murderers into custody, it’s super helpful to be able to prosecute them, and make them pay for their crimes.

In short: I’m over the excuses for why our schools are war zones, and we have more than one mass shooting a day in America.

Thoughts and Prayers are all well and good as a means to spiritual fulfillment, but they do nothing to change the very real gun crisis in this country. The only way we can break the endless cycle of Republican Thoughts and Prayers will be when We The People force change through activism and elections, and not by demanding God cure the illness we created ourselves.

Screw Thoughts and Prayers – You need to VOTE, dammit.

Heroin Junkies and Trump Humpers

We are in a Constitutional Crisis, and this last week has laid bare the truth that Putin stole the presidency for Trump, with an assist from billionaires who have been buying our government for the last few decades.

Trump’s unhinged Rage Tweets this morning point to dark days ahead. Dare I say the words Civil war?

We’re really already there emotionally, and isn’t this all that matters?

We’re already at war with each other – there’s not a one of us who hasn’t seen a loved one drink Trump’s Kool-Aid. I have a neighbor of 16 years who hasn’t spoken to me since 2015 because I dared to tell her that putting Muslims in internment camps was morally wrong and violated the Constitution.

Quite simply: Trump Humpers live in a reality of their own making where inconsistencies abound and facts are discarded. A reality flush with conspiracies, and where a porn star who was paid $130K in hush money is lying about having an affair with Trump, AND he has every right to sue her for $20 million for talking about the affair they didn’t have.

You cannot reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, and there is no negotiating with people who aren’t just willfully ignorant, but aggressively wrong.

Trump Humpers delight in cognitive dissonance and nothing makes them happier than calling up down, just to see the look on your face. They will NEVER let go of this new reality. Never. They are too far invested in their flat-earth, fact free existence. They are as hopeless as a heroin junky.

The ideological clash among Americans is intractable – there is no way to compromise: Either you believe in equality for all, or you are actively working to deny people their rights, and turn the clock back to the Reconstruction era. There is no middle ground.

Add to that the reality that Trump is making the office of President into a dictatorship. Make no mistake: Trump does not intend to leave the office, and intends to install Ivanka after him.

His goal is unvarnished and laid bare for all to see. I don’t know if the Presidency will ever recover, and surely not in my lifetime.

I will be surprised if Trump allows the midterms to proceed, and he will likely use the excuse of ‘Russian meddling’ to suspend them – and Trump Humpers will nod with glazed eyes, greedily accepting this new reality like the junkies they are.

It’s time to accept that Trump recognizes no rules or laws but his own. To continue to deny this is dangerous and dabbles in Trump Humper wishful thinking.

It’s time to face the bitter cup before us: The Constitution no longer holds force in this country, and America is now a fascist authoritarian regime.

To make that horrifying reality worse – we are under daily attack by Putin, and Trump refuses to stop him. Putin has control of our power grid, our water processing plants and our aviation facilities -he could cripple us with a keystroke. We are at his mercy – and he has none. Yet, somehow people think he can’t control our voting machines, or he hasn’t been manipulating us to fight each other. Putin is like the villain in Stephen King’s novel Needful Things – and he’s just getting warmed up. Of course Putin was assisted in his role by Roger Ailes and Fox Spews, who tuned up the crowd for a decade and a half.

We were invaded by Russia with GOP assistance. Putin has the GOP’s peckers in his pocket through blackmail via the RNC email hack, and laundered cash from the NRA. He especially owns McConnell and Ryan because they direct most of those monies. That’s why they take no action against either Trump or Putin. We have traitors in all levels of the government.

Putin, the Mercers, the Koch brothers, and about 400 other people are using Trump to Balkanize the United States of America. They are terrifyingly close to getting their wish of having the US be a geographical collection of fiefdoms based on natural resource extraction.

These people produce nothing, and only seek to gorge on the riches of the earth, its people, and ultimately each other – they are an insatiable ouroboros. They’re sick, and they’re in charge. Doubtless they’ve been told they’ll have their place at the Oligarch’s table when America is in flames. I don’t know about you, but I can smell smoke.

Wrap your head around this: Rexxon Valdez Tillerson, the man responsible for unfettered greed and despoiling the planet with his 3 decades in Big Oil was *too liberal* for Trump. A man who raped the earth and built his fortune on pollution and misery was simply not extreme enough for Trump.

That is how far the Overton Window has been pushed to the right.

That we are not meeting in the streets, but are sitting stunned tells me bad things are to come. The fuse is burning, and the backlash will be like a big earthquake instead of 3 mild ones that take the pressure off of the fault.

Trump is fighting like a cornered animal, and he’s even more dangerous now than he’s ever been. He will do things that will create chaos in a way that will make the last year look like comedic relief.

He is capable of anything – and I do mean ANYTHING.

I could see a time in the not too distant future when states like California refuse to remit their federal tax monies because Trump does something to try to ruin them the way he has done to hundreds of people. Think Puerto Rico-like damage on the mainland inflicted by him. He is entirely capable of killing his own people BECAUSE HE’S DONE IT BEFORE.

I think it’s time we review 10 Absolutes About Abusers:

  1. You aren’t human – you’re expendable chattel without rights
  2. Your opinion, wants and needs are punishable offenses
  3. You are expected to follow rules and display manners that they deny exist
  4. You will NEVER get them to acknowledge facts
  5. They will never, ever, EVER admit they are wrong
  6. They will steal from you while insisting you’re a duplicitous thief
  7. They will lie so boldly and confidently that you will question your sanity
  8. They enjoy your pain even more when you tell them how much it hurts
  9. They will not stop until they control you completely and capriciously
  10. Anything they can’t control completely they will ceaselessly try to destroy

It’s crucial for you to burn these into your brain, because things are coming down to the wire. It’s not long until the powder keg blows, and it is vital to remember the value you have to Trump, his Humpers, the 400 and Putin: None.

It is time for us all to accept what is happening to America – for us to deal with the reality we’re in, not the one we want to be in.

Courage to us all.