Duck and Cover, kids!!

Part of the soundtrack of my youth was the eerie blaring of air raid sirens being tested at precisely 10 am on the last Friday of every month. I was 4 when I first asked my mother what the disturbing noise was. “They’re sirens to warn us when Russian airplanes attack,” she answered vaguely, hustling me along the sidewalk to the commercial interview she was taking me to. At my wide-eyed look she assured me, “It’s just a test.”

A month later the same sound sent me outside the house in shivers of fear, scanning the skies for planes (always the reporter), and any bombs they might be dropping. It was only then that my mother thought to explain that the tests happened every month at the same time. Young Reporter Claudia demanded clarification of Exactly When they went off every month, and never forgot it.

I distinctly remember the sounds of the unsynchronized sirens whirring to life – each just a fraction of a second off from the other – and their high-pitched oscillating tones warning of danger. When the test was over and the sirens finally stopped, their wailing echoed for a few lingering moments over the San Fernando Valley. Thinking about the keening, undulating sound long enough begins to put a clench in my jaw and stomach.

Part of the curriculum in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was repeating the Duck and Cover drills we learned in kindergarten from cheerful films featuring catchy jingles, Bert the cartoon turtle, and calm, well-dressed white children. The films spoke confidently and repeatedly of WHEN The Bomb would drop – not if. 9 months a year for 13 years every child attending school in Los Angeles was vigilant for the inevitable, inescapable flash of our doom, and as air raid sirens howled above us we learned to cower under the magical safety of a laminated Formica desk.  (Link to Duck and Cover propaganda film)

As the sirens warned of impending doom the teachers turned off the lights and closed the blinds, and we students would kneel under our desks on the linoleum floor, our fingers laced behind our necks, forearms over our ears, and elbows shielding our faces. We were told to keep our eyes shut, and our faces hidden in our clothes.

While we crouched with hidden faces, the siren’s mournful monthly tune ended and became nothing but a discordant echo over cheaply built post-war housing. We waited until we heard a long bell being wrung by Mrs. Hale, our Principal, signifying the ‘All Clear’. It was during one of those drills that I first felt the suffocating quicksand of claustrophobia.

The exercise ended with the entire school huddled under our desks, pretending a bomb would explode near us. The bell would ring – and Scene! We would return to our studies, the subtext of the ritual was that we had all just died.

Here’s the unvarnished truth about Duck and Cover: Nobody ever gave us instructions on what we should do *after* the bomb dropped. There was never any talk of what to do when we were done ducking and covering, no warnings about food or water or radiation poisoning. We didn’t even have instructions to wait for instructions.

The inference was that if we ever heard the Russian planes overhead everything was over. ‘Kiss your ass goodbye’ was a phrase commonly used, and most people figured ‘They’ll never try it, and if they do? We’re all dead, but they are, too.’

The drill went on year after year – long past the point of being of any use to the children repeating it – until it became normalized and just more Cold War theater

Whether or not the adults around us would acknowledge it, their unconscious behavior affected how we reacted – we took our cues from them. They knew there was no surviving a direct hit & we picked up their signals.

We were told to kneel and patiently await our fate when we heard the sounds of air raid sirens. Deep inside all of us knew that if the missiles actually flew the lights and the shades and the command to Duck and Cover were nothing more than busy work to fill the time until we were incinerated in a flash.

***

At 6 am on February 9, 1971, the Russians finally attacked. I awoke to the sound of air raid sirens and explosions that were so big it moved the ground beneath me. I heard shouting, and the ground shook even harder – the earth itself was making a grinding noise as books and games flew off of my shelves, raining down on me. Instinctively I hid my face as I sat up in bed. Abruptly the shaking stopped, but the sirens went on. I was in shock as my father hollered “EARTHQUAKE!!! Get out of the house!!” I had no idea what he was shouting to me.

In all their preparations for nuclear war it had never occurred to any of the adults to mention earthquakes to the California kids living on the San Andreas fault. No one thought to tell us the sirens could be used for emergencies other than nuclear war. I mistook a 6.6 quake for World War 3, and awoke certain I was dying in a mushroom cloud. The heaving ground and exploding transformers only served to underline that mistaken notion that the world was coming to an end. It’s not the kind of thing you forget.

It puzzled me as I grew older how so many of my classmates relegated the jolly propaganda films that promised a terrifying death via radiation to the farthest corners of their minds. By the 1980s the drills had ceased, and most folks seemed to forget what the sirens were – they became just another background noise people ignored. Almost no-one noticed when the Los Angeles Civil Air Defense sirens were permanently silenced in 1986.

 

Duck and Cover 1

 

 

I don’t envy anyone with young children right now, because they’re going to be freaked out by what happened in Hawaii – how can they not? It’s utterly fucked up, and in the days to come they’ll be exposed to over-stressed adults and videos of panic and terror. Hopefully they’ll also see clips of parents trying to protect their children, (the video of the father putting his crying children into the storm drain in which he cannot fit is heartbreaking – but also a moment of the purest love and sacrifice) and there will be adults around them who are calm and reassuring.

Keep in mind that children already have their own version of Duck and Cover when they practice mass casualty shooting drills every month. There are seniors graduating in June of 2018 who have been practicing this horror-show drill their whole lives, just like I practiced waiting for the bomb to drop. The heartbreaking thing is that some of these students, and a few of their teachers, won’t get to see graduation day because their lives will be cut short in a flash from the muzzle of a gun. The added burden of the threat of global thermonuclear war between two madmen seems especially cruel.

None of it’s fair, or particularly sane, but it’s where we are as a country right now. This is who we are.

For the moment we are at the mercy of an aggressive, ignorant, rageaholic narcissist who suffers delusions of grandeur, likely has dementia, and is itching to use nuclear weapons. For the moment.

On the bright side: After a few years in this pressure cooker of lunacy and danger we’re bound to have some really good art and music come out of it –  if we can pull together and #Resist long enough to outlast the bastard.

 

99 Red Balloons

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Holidays In Hell, Part 3: Moving Past Tippy The Tree

Staggered between burning countless sheets of cookies and the innumerable show business interviews of my youth, my mother would focus on burnishing the Image of the Season with hours of meticulous decorating.

Christmas was Margaret Lamb’s time to shine, and prove what unparalleled taste she had.

I have to give the Devil her due: For someone with no formal training she had an excellent eye for both color and proportion. Her tastes ran to the dramatic, but her affinity to pull a room together could not be denied.

She had an EXACT idea of how the Christmas decorations should be presented, and there were to be no deviations from the plan. She was uncompromising in how each bow MUST be tied and each bough must be hung: Our house at Christmas was a tableaux of her fantasy life.

There’s nothing quite like trying to put up Christmas decorations with a manic, compulsive person. You end up as agitated as they are, and nothing you do will please them. It’s a sucker’s game, and one we were forced to play every year with a silly-assed grin plastered to our faces.

Before we could begin decorating, though, one of my brothers would bring the ladder in from the garage, open the small square opening in the ceiling outside of my bedroom door, and climb into the attic to retrieve the many boxes of decorations and Tippy The Tree. (Cue the sound of a chainsaw)

Every year one box or another would have gotten damaged in the attic, somehow. This would trigger my mother’s unreasonable rage and legitimate sadness at losing a sentimental item, coupled with the certainty that it must be someone’s fault. Sometimes it was the way things were packed, sometimes it was carelessness on the part of whichever brother was asked to put the boxes back in the attic or take them down. More often, though, the culprit was water damage from our perpetually leaky roof. Somehow, it always seemed to be my mother’s art projects that were destroyed

Art Projects.

Margaret Lamb did Art Projects – because crafts were just so unsophisticated and provincial.

I cannot describe her sorrow at losing the Three Wise Men.

I was there the tragic afternoon when she opened the box to find them water stained and moldy. I can still see what they looked like whole: Their monochrome faces (one bearded), with flowing robes and gifts – and their ruin in a box that reeked of mildew.

Mom had constructed the Magi out of Papier-mâché laid over frames of upright cardboard paper towel tubes, and they stood a little over a foot high. Their perfectly proportioned outstretched hands and arms were made of modelling clay supported by toothpicks and Popsicle sticks. Painstakingly laid pieces of muslin and leftover trim gave them the sweeping garments of Kings. She used a tiny Chiclets box for the chest of gold, an old dangly earring for the frankincense censer, and a large bead for the vessel of myrrh. All three Men and their Gifts had been covered with countless whisper thin layers of deep cream spray paint, then sparingly touched with the faintest  of antiquing. Finally, they were finished with a seal of matte lacquer.

She spent dozens upon dozens of hours making them the summer of 1971. It was the rainy season of 1978 that did them in: More than 3 feet of water fell from the sky in our polluted end of the San Fernando Valley, and apparently most of it percolated through our attic and the 30-year-old roof my parents hadn’t bothered to replace during the salad days when I was on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and making the equivalent of $3,500 a week.

The Wise Men were pretty good – really. I have no reason to lie about Margaret’s talents.

The problem was she thought the Wise Guys were gallery quality. She displayed them in a prominent way on an end table. We knew better than to move them, she would know if we had. Just like she knew when we moved cans in the pantry (you think I kid). She would obsessively know exactly where she placed them. God forgive the unlucky soul who disturbed their position. Now here they were: ruined.

Her rage was positively epic, which forced the ‘Merry Fucking Christmas’ blowup to come early, and we got two that year.

“Oh no! No, no, no!!” it began low and began to grow. “They’re ruined! Goddammit, they’re all ruined!” she shrieked.

I began to step backwards, eyes darting, trying to find anywhere to escape.

“They’re all fucking ruined! How in FUCK’s name did this happen?!!!” her voice spiked in fury. “Everything I ever do turns to shit! Why do I bother?” her fury hit a sharp crescendo.

“Why. Do. I. Bother?” her voice a study in staccato fury.

“Oh, oh, oh!!” he uncontrollable sobbing begins.

Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior were laid to rest in an ocean of tears and savage vulgarities. Even then I understood her guttural lamentations were about her suffocated dreams, and not about her ruined Art Projects.

I feel genuinely bad to this day how much losing them hurt her.

The problem was that Weepy Mom always preceded angry, hitting, Destructive Mom.

Silly me, I was always sure if I could just calm down Weepy Mom then angry, hitting, Destructive Mom wouldn’t show up. My cunning plan failed every time. At that age I was still convinced it was my fault she was so unhappy. I just knew there was something I wasn’t doing – or something I needed to do more of – that would make her happy. I credit my older brothers for introducing me to the notion that maybe – just maybe – she was the one who needed to change.

 

Lamb Christmas Tree

 

When the annual damage had been assessed, and whatever could be fixed was repaired, my mother would start to assemble The Tree. That we had an artificial tree was due to my asthma, that it was such a piece of crap was all on my folks.

The Tree stood about 6 feet tall, with a base made of 2 giant dowels which were supposed to fit together snugly, but had the stability of a teetering Jenga stack. The threadbare branches were made of plastic pine needles and twisted metal wire, which fit into little holes drilled into the dowel. The whole thing sat in a rickety tree holder, wobbling drunkenly about and often falling over without provocation. For some reason assembling The Tree would flummox my mother every year. The art of sorting the branches from largest to smallest escaped her. Every. Fucking. Year.

“Goddammit, goddammit, goddammit! Why won’t this go right? I don’t understand it.” We would melt off to our rooms, suddenly needing to do our homework.

At least an hour later, after a fist-fight with Tippy The Tree, Margaret would start on the lights – a job that took several hours to get just so. The lights had to be done to the exacting standards that only existed only in her head. This was not a one person job, of course., which meant we all got to pitch in. Lucky us!

Children of the 60s and 70s remember well the exasperation of an entire string of 60 lights not working because of ONE random bad bulb, and how long it took to find it.

You began by plugging in the strings of lights – ALL of which worked *just fine* when you carefully put them away the year before – to find that somehow three of the four strings of small white lights didn’t work. You’d unplug them, shake them hopefully, and then plug them back in again to no avail.

Then came the laborious process of finding the bad bulb by methodically pulling each one out of its plastic socket, and replacing it with a good bulb. When the string finally blinked to life you could claim victory, and move on to the next malfunctioning string.

The tiny, fickle bulbs were clear glass with two thin filaments coming out the bottom that made direct contact with the socket, and were prone to giving you a blast of current as you gently wiggled it free from its seat.

Woe be to the fool who broke a bulb. Bulbs were precious, and it was almost impossible to find spares. You’d be concentrating like a Stanford neurosurgeon as you shimmied the bulb loose, trying to avoid 110 volts, and suddenly one of the brittle wire ends would snap. The haranguing from my mother would begin anew.

Once all of the strings of lights were operational began the next challenge: Hanging four strings of lights on a tree that would fall over if a door slammed across the house. Not just hanging the lights, but making sure they were absolutely, positively, obsessively evenly distributed around that sad tree in a schematic only my mother could see. That tormented woman would hang the lights, get halfway done, rip them off, accidentally knock over the tree, curse, and start over – again and again. It wouldn’t be unusual for her to do this ten or twelve times before she was finally pleased. God knows we didn’t stop until she was pleased.

Dad would come home and tell mom just how wonderful Tippy The Tree looked as it was falling over.

Mom would hang the tinsel garland after dinner, as we were finishing our homework. The garland could be no less perfect than the lights, and we would hear cursing from the other room as she unwound and rewound the tired tinsel. I can’t imagine how exhausting it must be to be compelled to have every light equidistant, every loop of tinsel exactly the same size. I mean I know how exhausting it is to live with, but damn. How relentless that reality must be. She thought it was a reflection on her if the surface things didn’t look perfect. She was convinced that she was being judged by everyone because she was judging everyone else for their petty imperfections.

The sad reality? The Tree wasn’t perfect – not by any stretch of the imagination. Look at that picture of the tree, again. There is nothing remotely perfect in it – but that represents at minimum 15 hours of work. Hanging and rehanging the tinsel and lights was simply a symptom of the compulsion she refused to treat. She would perform an annual feedback loop with them until she finally exhausted herself, and moved on to her next self imposed, joyless holiday labor that compounded her resentment and was just one more step towards the Merry Fucking Christmas Meltdown.

Finally, the tinsel would be just right and Tippy The Tree would be ready to decorate. But, it would be too late that night, and the hanging of ornaments would have to wait until the following evening.

Dad ignored the building mania every year. Instead, he immersed himself in the television, doing it from the comfort of an armchair whose fabric she chose, in a room whose walls were filled with her paintings and collages. Dad may have stopped drinking the year before I was born, but he was still trying to achieve that blackout state of oblivion.

As we went to bed The Tree fell over, unbidden.

 

JPEG A 0053

 

While my brothers were at school the next day dear old mom was a busy little elf.

All of my brothers had the good fortune of escaping to school. Not so for me: In 4th, 5th and 6th grade I skipped school for the day so that I could learn the ins and outs of the whole obsessive business of Decorating Madness.Twice she worked it in with a print job – so, you know… Total Win-Win for her.

By the time I was on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman I was never able to escape to school , and I had her neurotic ceremony of season memorized.

There were boxes and boxes of decorations and every item not only had a predetermined place, it had to be taken out in order. Let me repeat that: decorations had to be removed from the box – box by box – in order.

You begin by dusting the tired, dog-eared wreath with the red bow, before hanging it up on the rusty nail between the two front windows. Next, a silk holly sprig would be hung on the front door, and plastic mistletoe would get taped to the doorway between the living room and the hall.

I would be rebuked if I went too fast. Each piece must be reverently unwrapped, dusted, placed just-so, and be glowingly admired before moving to the next object. I was admonished fervently: One must NEVER rush the boxes.

I learned to carefully unwrap the 5 small Santa mugs that were purchased for my brothers by a grandmother I never met, who died before I was born. I would remove the white tissue paper from each, revealing Santa’s smiling face, and take the long pieces of cotton batting from inside the mug, taking care to replace each piece of wrapping and baffling into the box from whence it came. When the mugs were unwrapped, and sitting on the lamp table, I would take a clean tea towel of the softest cotton in hand and gently cradle each cup in the palm of my hand, brushing away any dirt or dust, taking care to never rub the paint. Now, I’d run the cloth inside the mug to make sure no offending particles are left inside a cup that no-one will ever drink from. When I’d cleaned all of my brother’s mugs I’d inspect them to make sure they gleamed. When Santa’s eyes were twinkling I’d place them in an exact semi-circle on the coffee table and look at it from the fireplace, and again from couch. All of the handles wouldn’t match up exactly – and the HAD to be precisely the same way. So, I’d gingerly move the mugs telling myself ‘For the love of god DO NOT LEAVE ANY FINGERPRINTS‘.

Good. It looks good. No – really. It’s good.

As I continued to unpack decorations I would stack the empty boxes neatly against the front door, dead soldiers awaiting their temporary return to the attic. Mechanically, I washed my hands after each box, before my mother could remind me it was filthy.

 

Lamb Christmas Dry Sink (4)

 

The candles of the carolers and the lamppost went on the top shelf of the marble dry sink, between the poor poinsettias that were desiccated from a floor heater that had no thermostat – just an on/off lever that too often got left on. The wax figures had to have the dust rinsed off of them, although they were clearly past their prime. They were of immense sentimental value to my mother, and they partially melted when I was 5 or 6. The heater was left on while we were out all day, and it got so hot inside the house that the candles began to give up the ghost. The carolers took on the shape of Jabba the Hut, and the lamppost leaned hard to starboard, but my mother refused to part with them. She considered them an integral part of the Christmas ambience.

The Christmas cards went in the copper bowl with the handle. The  brass and glass candy jar that was just for show held miniature candy canes that were packed away every year.

The 6 piece wooden angel choir, which was prone to breaking (look closely, and you’ll see an angel’s arm) had an absolute order that began with the conductor – and ended with the tuba.

Finally, we would get to the crèche. The crèche was big doings in my house. The pieces were given to my folks as a Christmas gift from Ciel – an Angel to my family before my big brother Daniel and I stated paying the bills.

The figures from the crèche were hand painted Italian plaster. The whole collection has at least 30 pieces, ranging from camel and sheep herders, to 3 angels and 3 Wise Men, cows, donkeys, camels, sheep, and lambs, and of course Jesus, Mary and Joseph. No pun intended.

Imagine the attendant ritual of unwrapping, cleaning and otherwise revering two-and-a-half-dozen chotchkes, with each piece packed so that the nativity story unfolds as you unpack it. It is so exacting that even the camel driver’s staff is a piece of straw from a particular whisk broom my mother bought for its color. The top-heavy camels may fallen so many times over the years that they all had glued legs, but these Magi would never mold.

Only when plaster Joseph and Mary were in place we were ready to take out peach colored baby Jesus. HE was always the last figure out, and the first one back into the box.  HE was to be taken out as if you are actually handling a piece of God – ignoring the fact that god is wrapped in tissue paper and stored in a dusty box in a leaky, drafty attic for 49 weeks a year. Nevertheless, delivering baby Jesus to his spot every year was a great honor for me, and I took it seriously.

Setting up the whole installation would have taken perhaps 3 hours. I could feel her sadness begin when there was no further fiddling to be done on her shadowbox of Christianity.

Over the years my mother got more and more creative with the crèche in an effort to drag the whole thing out. She moved it from the coffee table to take over the marble dry sink when I was in high school. She found a particleboard manger. She used cotton batting to make snow for the ground and to put on the roof of the manger, although no explanation was given as to why there would be snow in Bethlehem. Her pièce de résistance was the lights. She took a string of fairy lights (no trick bulbs at that point) and made the whole scene glitter. One day when I came home from school I found her cutting slits in the cotton batting to put the small lights through. The lights poked through the batting to create a field of stars, and the cord was hidden by the cotton. The last light on the string poked through the back of the manger to make baby Jesus shine in the otherworldly light of the Star of Bethlehem. She was very proud of her Art Project.

When the crèche was set up everything was almost done. Almost.

The crowning moment came when baby Jesus was taken out of the box and unwrapped. No, Silly. Not crèche baby Jesus, but Baby Jesus baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus baby Jesus was a porcelain fetish given to my family by my maternal Grandmother, Honora Bridgette, on the occasion of my eldest brother’s first Christmas. Baby Jesus was about the size of an actual infant, with blindingly white skin, blond hair, comically large and round blue eyes, blue swaddling clothes that looked like a loin cloth, and a gold metal starburst attached to the back of its skull. Aryan Baby Jesus laid atop a bed of excelsior straw in a crib made out of bent willow. My mother would unwrap Baby Jay-sus last, unwinding the sheer curtain she wrapped him in, and with disturbing care place it on the hearth.

NOW the tree could be finished.

 

 

 

 

The actual ornaments would go up after dinner. We had all done our homework (or pretended we had), the dishes were loaded into the dishwasher, and a crackling fire of newspapers rolled into logs and twisted off with hanger-wire was set in the fireplace.

Each of us would take turns knocking over the tree while putting an ornament on it.

We were allowed to pick any ornament from the box, as long as we picked the one our mother wanted us to pick. We would go to hang it on the tree, one eye mindful of setting the whole thing over and one eye on her to make sure we put it where she wanted us to. “No! It has to be even!” By the time 8 of us went through the agonizing process of putting one ornament on the tree we’d be 10 minutes into it and we were bored silly. After 15 minutes we were fidgeting, and withing 20 minutes we were pushing and arguments broke out.

“Godammit! Is it too much to ask for just one nice evening?” she barked. That brought us around quickly.

An hour later, when the tree was finally trimmed to mom’s satisfaction we were all on edge. The fragile glass ornaments would sometimes break, and Tippy The Tree was threatening bring the whole thing down and raise mom’s ire.

In 1973 Mom decided to invest in unbreakable satin ornaments. At that point Styrofoam balls covered with a fine nylon thread were the height of fashion, and she thought they’d spruce up the tree. As we took them out of the bag the nylon thread began to snag and unwind, leaving the ornaments looking fuzzy. At first she blamed it on us. But, as she took them out of the bag herself it became obvious that they were junk. She tried to trim them in vain, but they’d just keep unraveling, eventually leaving a bald spot worse than a comb-over.

They weren’t a total loss, though. The cats loved them, and would attack the tree to get one, which, unfortunately, would cause it to fall over. It became such a problem my mom refused to put them up the following year, because the cats would fling themselves at the tree, which seemed to be held together by sheer force of will.

After the tree trimming came the carols. We would each pick one, and everyone would all have to sing. The six of us kids would all want Rudolf and Frosty. Mom would insist we all pick a different tune. We would stare at her blankly waiting for her to tell us what we should sing. We would do We Wish You A Merry Christmas and The First Noel. It was with reluctance that my folks finally would sing the 12 Days of Christmas.

If I had to pick a Christmas song that reminds me most of those times it would have been the melancholy song from A Charlie Brown Christmas Christmas Time is Here. Vince Guaraldi’s whole album speaks to me – but that song can bring me back to those days in the first few bars. There’s a tightness to the back of my throat, a sting in my eyes and a deep sigh when I hear it. The beauty of the music is an explanation and a tonic.

When the Tippy The Tree had finally been trimmed and our musical selections exhausted Mom would take the tape off of a tin of cookies she had put aside for the occasion: Cookies that were too burnt for company, but still edible. We would gobble them up and wash them down with a half gallon of milk.

Every year we’d go to bed wrung out from tension and wired up with sugar, only to wake up to an entirely different tree.

While we were sleeping Margaret carefully removed every ornament, and placed it just where she thought it should be. When we were younger she always denied doing it. When were teenagers she freely admitted having done so. We weren’t able, you see, to put them where they needed to be. We always had fun putting the tree up, she explained. But, then, it was her job to make it right. You see, don’t you?

She could never accept the gift of a family with whom to decorate a tree. What she wanted was perfection. She needed her illusion so much she could find no pleasure in our expression, only offense.

That’s OK. The Universe paid her back with the tip of its hat. Our many cats knocked Tippy down daily, doing so with running leaps at the ornaments and tinsel.

Although, one cat in particular just loved to climb that poor shaky tree. Cinderella was her name – Cindy we called her. She was a nimble thing, a tiny and gray and white long haired sweetheart who she would skitter three-quarters of the way up Tippy The Tree before it would start wobbling. We’d look over to see the swaying tree and a pair of slightly panicked yellow eyes peeking out from the plastic greenery. “Mew,” we would hear just before the whole thing would come crashing down.

One of my brothers summed up that tree in one word that would ever after reduce us to tears of laughter – even as adults: TIMBER!!!

 

 

My mother’s worst was yet to come – the annual episode that made the season a minefield. It was inevitable – then.

I will recount the story of her yearly break with reality. That deserves to be told.

But not before you know that what she was didn’t define who I am, or how I deal with the season.

I don’t for a moment pretend that I was a faultless mother myself.

What I DID do was allow myself to have limits, and not to punish myself for what I couldn’t accomplish.

I let Eliot put any damned ornament wherever the hell he wanted. I held him up in my arms to let his little hands hang them higher, if he his heart so desired. Or, we’d put his favorites RIGHT where his little eyes could see them, and his little hands could touch them.

Later, I blithely smiled as our doofus dog, Buster, swept the tree with his spring-loaded tail, and shed all over it and the floor. Eliot, Richard and I laughed, shook our heads and took 15 minutes one afternoon to move all of the glass ornaments out of the reach of Mr. Dorkus’ slobbery maw the day we found he’d crunched 3 or 4  of them like they were tomatoes.

I wish once – just once – my mother could have known the joy of letting go and simply enjoying the day, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving or the odd Tuesday we trimmed the tree.

How much different would Margaret Lamb have been – would we ALL have been – if she could have let go of the narcissistic notion that everyone was watching her?

How much different would her life have been if she could have loved and laughed just one person once like this?

 

 

 

**Relax, pearl clutchers – it’s water**

 

Milking The Cash Cow

42 years ago today we started production on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and I began playing a character named Heather – a job that changed my life in wonderful and tragic ways.

People are finally accepting that too many child performers are exploited. I hope my story can shed some light into just a few of the many ways we are taken advantage of.

By 1975 I was a cash cow for my folks – I was eleven, and had been in the business since I was three. I held my SAG & AFTRA Union cards from the age of five and seven, respectively. I’d done nearly 60 commercials and a few television feature spots, I’d booked dozens of print jobs and voice over gigs, and 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. I went on the interview Wednesday after school, got the call back and job the next evening, and on Friday morning I was sitting dazedly at the first table read. In 43 hours my life turned on a dime.

 

Origninal Cast Call & Photo Shoot

 

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the brainchild of television legend Norman Lear, his grand statement on how American Consumerism isolates and leaves us unfulfilled, presented as a satire of a soap opera. Sort of. It was his poke in the eye to censors, conventions and Pearl Clutchers.

In a year and a half we shot 325 episodes. MH2 was a 5-day-a-week affair that had a cult following that goes on today. It was the first television show that proved you didn’t need a network to succeed or a laugh-track to be funny. 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 it ground breaking.

The list of exceptional performers who appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a who’s who of funny and talented people from the 70s: Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman, Doris Roberts, Dody Goodman, Graham Jarvis, Greg Mullavey, Salome Jens, Norm Alden, Reva Rose, Sparky Marcus, Marian Mercer, Gloria Dehaven, Orson Bean, Ed Begley, Jr., Howard Hessman, David Suskind and Gore Vidal, just to name a few. It was just that cool at the height of its popularity.

The reason why even I got the interview to end up in such rarefied air 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 the fountain-of-residuals Nestle $100,000 Bar spot – but my mother demanded more from my agent.  She wanted better interviews and she demanded readings for movies and television series. There were shouted threats of moving the gusher-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, busty, frizzy haired girl with bad skin. I was 11, and 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 simply didn’t fit, and she was showing my mother not to mess with her or question her judgment.

 

$100,000 Bar

 

When we got there it looked like a cattle call (which is probably why I got the interview), and I was given what was called a ‘side’ to study. A side is a mini scene for audition purposes, usually 2 or 3 pages long. (These days it also refers to the pages of a movie script that will be shot on any given day of a shoot) This side was a piece where the mother (Mary) is trying to talk to the daughter (Heather) about sex, and the daughter manipulates her mother by redirecting the conversation to make it seem as if she’s virginally pure, which relieves the mother to no end.

I read the side to myself, and then read through it with my mom, ignoring her coaching. I sat on the floor in the too-warm hall waiting for my interview, as the actual waiting room was overflowing with girls who looked nothing like me.

There was nothing special at all about this interview, it was one of fifteen or twenty I went on every month. My time was never my own – it was more an all-consuming continuum of school, auditions and work.

When I was finally called in to the interview I turned ‘on’ like a light switch. I knew how to look the casting director in the eye, say hello with a smile and hand my litho forward, with my name at the bottom. I had literally done this 1,000 times before.

 

CCF08072013_00011

 

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. My mother was retrieved from the waiting room and taken to a writer’s office. She was the first and only parent I saw that afternoon to do the walk of ‘My Kid Is Better Than Yours’ through a sea of angry parents and dejected children. I’m sure she was graceless.

We two sat on a couch in a cold office 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 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 in my life if I’ve heard it once. But, I get ahead of myself.

Torture yourself here with this link, if you must.

Mary Hartman Opening

 

As I watched the pilots I clearly remember not understanding all the jokes. The episodes were strange and 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.

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

The next day after school I was 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 mine weren’t the best 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 the room making the door crash against the wall. She never knocked once the entire time I lived in that house – and I was not allowed to ever fully close my door at that point. Crashing doors usually meant more verbal abuse or hitting, and I cringed, throwing my hands up around my head to protect myself from the expected blows. But instead of being wild eyed mad, she was wild eyed excited. Rather than getting mad at me for protecting my head, she laughed it off and said, “Get dressed! You’re late for a callback! They want to see you back from yesterday, but they forgot to call Iris. Hurry!! We should be there now. Where are your clothes?”

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

My clothes from the day before had been stuffed into my laundry bag, and they were wrinkled. Manically, she threw them in the drier to tumble out the wrinkles, and brushed and braided my hair, while having me hold a cold compress 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! Where’s your apple pie smile? Smile like you mean it – smile with your EYES!!” she encouraged/threatened.

She was so focused on getting me to look exactly as I had the day before and rushing out the door, that she didn’t run a comb through her hair or change out of the dirty black slacks and grubby sweater she had on – a point that would torment her to the end. Before I knew it we were out on the road in the middle of rush hour traffic, heading over the hill on the Hollywood Freeway.

We’re trapped in the car with maybe an hour until we got there, and my mom is vibrating she was so excited, drilling me on how to do it her way. It was a complete 180 from half an hour before, and as I rode in the car I was on an emotional roller coaster. I was still feeling shitty from how my mother screamed at me and hit me, plus the bad math grade I had to deal with. Add to that the need to psyche myself up for an important read  that I was very late for, and my mother was trying to force me to do her way. But beyond all that detritus and noise, there was euphoria about getting a callback for a Norman Lear series.

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. When I heard the smile in his voice 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.

That moment was awesome in the truest definition of the word. I was validated for all the times I wasn’t chosen, and felt special because this time I was the best. It felt like winning. It was a very long time before I had another feeling that good.

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 have the filter that adults have, the filter that stops you from showing what you really think.

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

 

Mary Hartman Letterhead 2

 

That moment in the elevator outside Norman Lear’s office 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 at a long table on Stage 5 at KTLA studio 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.

I was bored stiff by the time we were done reading the 3 scripts. Somehow something as simple as reading words printed on paper turned into a thing. It felt like everyone was making a bigger deal out of it than it needed to be. I know now that everyone was staking out their territory, planting flags and trying to establish a pecking order. It was grueling, and finally it ended.

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 – a perennial favorite of Norman Lear. There were place cards, and all of us had goody bags on our plates. They were a bunch of 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 children’s show Sheriff John which were 5 years old, 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.

I watched as the adults who seemed familiar with each other laugh too loud at inside jokes, and 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. I met my meddling grandparents, Dody Goodman who was charming and welcoming, and Phil Bruns who was grumpy and had the sour smell of an alcoholic. Debra Lee Scott played my oversexed Aunt and seemed to be the social butterfly. I barely spoke with a quiet Victor Killian, who played my great-grandfather, the infamous Fernwood Flasher. I was delighted by Mary Kay Place and Graham Jarvis who played the neighbors – an unlikely crazy-in-love couple where she was a smoking hot aspiring country-singer and him a balding middle-aged man who would give you the shirt off his back – they were both down to earth people. In fact, they were all as kind as they were capable of being to the stranger they’d just met, a child hired play a smart-assed, angst ridden teen who was wiser than her years and called out the adults for inconsistencies and hypocrisies. I may have been my family’s Cash Cow and had a giant weight on my shoulders, but I was still just a kid they’d just met – and I’m sure they were more focused on how to make this show that was so different than anything else on television work. They knew we only had 10 days to get ready for the grind of memorizing, rehearsing, blocking and filming 125-150 pages of dialogue PER WEEK.

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

After lunch we were prodded by a strange doctor so that insurance could be taken out on the production. We all got into our wardrobe, and went to hair and make-up for our cast publicity shots. 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) The photo we took that afternoon is iconic – and a giant blow-up of it sits behind Norman’s desk, a profound tribute given the sheer number of shows he has produced.

 

Cast Picture

 

 

My new-found station in life brought with it a well deserved bonus -a little something something – some frosting on the cake, if you will.

For signing a contract on a daily AFTRA television series my parents saw their way to giving me the princely sum $5 and dinner at Diamond Jim’s.

That’s right. I got a Fin and a Steak for landing a Whale.

Moo

The break down was $1 for a print job, $2 per commercial ($1 extra if they make 2 spots out if it), and $5 (American!) for a series. A series. I didn’t get a regular $2 a week allowance until I was 12-years-old and I was making $750 a week. I’ll do the math for you: that’s me getting just under $9 allowance in today’s dollars on a weekly paycheck of $3,350.

The Cash Cow was getting milked raw.

Double Moo

I remember feeling so grown up and proud the night we went to Diamond Jim’s, a past its prime cocktails-and-red-meat establishment on Hollywood Boulevard. As we were led to a high-backed leather booth, I boasted to the server that I’d gotten a series, and he kindly kept my Shirley Temple filled all night (extra maraschino cherries, please!). I’m sure my parents thought “Great! Now we have to tip.”

I wanted this to be a grand evening, but, the place was stuffy and filled with smoke, and didn’t have any food for children – it was a disappointment after the build up. The truth was that this was a restaurant for my parents, not a place for me. I was just tagging along on their celebratory dinner because I was footing the bill.

My whole family should have gone to Shakey’s or Piece O’ Pizza, followed by a trip to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor for a Zoo. Instead, my parents isolated me from my brothers and created resentment where none ever needed to exist.

Beyond the Politics of Envy, 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.

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 my father would ever make in a single year in his whole life. He topped out in 1985 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. A sum that was further chipped away by the $2,000 delinquent tax bill I received as an Eighteenth birthday present.

How much did they steal? There is no way to estimate the true figure, because they claimed I made different sums to the IRS, the Courts, both Unions and ME.

Also? (And this is VERY important) Commercials were not covered by the Coogan Law. Parents of someone like me, who made between $175-$200K (today’s dollars) between the ages of 3 and 11, weren’t required to ensure that the money went to the person who earned it.

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.

Funny thing was, they lied to the Unions less than they lied to the IRS. I guess they were more afraid of running afoul of SAG and AFTRA, 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.

Let’s look at some of the numbers, and I’ll run the abacus. Have some Pepto Bismol and a barf bag ready.

Here’s what my parents told the IRS I’d made by age 11:

 

IRS Earnings to 1975

 

That’s $28,324 they claimed I’d earned by the age of 11.

Indexed, I’d earned $159,966.31 in today’s dollars by 1975. (I used handy this inflation calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

By 7th grade, and before getting booked on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, I’d made more than a sixth-of-a-million dollars in cold hard cash. According to the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. $160K Cash. Not invested, nor saved and earning interest.

This is a snapshot of my SAG earnings up to 1975 – note how it matches to the dollar with my IRS earnings report.

 

SAG Earnings to 1975

 

Looks good. A $2.92 discrepancy over eight years is absolutely acceptable.

But, wait! What’s this? Looks Like Ma and Pa Lamb were lying about my earnings to the IRS from my very first job. They claimed I’d done no work until 1968 – but here are my first ads from 1967, and my photo and credits from 1968 listing 2 big shoots here I don’t have the proofs for. I wonder where that money went?

 

 

 

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.

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) 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.

Under-declaring my earnings? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them.

Looky there – it did. Because, in 1970, when I had to join the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists at the age of six, they were so far on the take they never reported any of my AFTRA earning to the IRS through 1975:

 

AFTRA Earnings to 1975

 

That’s $2,368 worth of work they didn’t declare to the IRS – that they claimed and paid dues on with AFTRA – is worth 11,404.74 in today’s cash.

I will never know how much I really earned by the time I’d gotten on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A conservative guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 of today’s dollars. That was a metric shitload of cash and my parents did their very best to make it disappear.

By the time I started MH2 in November of 1975 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.

Everybody got a different story.

 

 

In 1976 my parents declared to the IRS that I made $15,300. Asking the IRS to believe I’d made less than $300 per week as a main cast member on a screaming hot television show was ballsy – and they were up to the challenge.

In 1976 I spent the full year employed under an AFTRA contract at a $750 weekly guarantee, and there were summer residuals and voice over promos for the show. The parents declared to this union I’d made $22, 775.

I was getting SAG residuals for the 5 commercials I’d shot the year before – including the aforementioned $100,00 Bar (Link) spot that was gushering $1,500 dollars a month, as Nestle wrapped Type-2 Diabetes in a pull of melted caramel and a catchy jingle a dozen times an afternoon on every cartoon show. My parents told Screen Actors Guild I made $32,442.36.

The mind boggling shell game went on until the show ended in 1978.

I made a few useful charts to outline the thievery. ‘Index’ indicates what that money would be worth in 2017 dollars. Remember, this is earned income – not what it could have been had it been invested with a reputable money manager.

 

Table 1 68-75

 

You have to admit they had game when it came to stealing money from innocent children. By the time the real money was rolling in they had more hiding places than a pack-rat.

Table 2 76-79 (2)

We were living large in the poor part of the San Fernando Valley in a house built in 1947 inherited from my father’s maiden Aunts, rolling The 101 in my mom’s 1974 Chevy Monza. Step back, bitches!

I can only imagine what that fortune would have been had they done the right thing – but that wasn’t an issue and what ever figures you see here are fake. There are no records for the dozens and dozens of non-union, off-the-books jobs that disappeared into my mother’s pocket  without my father ever seeing a penny he could piss away at the poker table.

 

Table 3 Totals

 

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.

Perhaps I’d have blown it had I gotten all of my money, but I doubt it very much. I never even tried cocaine, even as it sucked in so many of my contemporaries I was horrified. I SAW what coke did for loved-ones, co-stars, and roommates. If ANYONE says they’ve EVER seen me do a line of coke they’re lying, and I’ll take a polygraph test to prove it.

Among other things, that remaining $18,000 from my childhood paid for tuition for 3 years of college. Although I did have a full-time job at The Palace in Hollywood to pay rent. Yes – I moved out at 18 – what did you expect?

My Coogan account – such as it was – also allowed me to move to Colorado in 1984, at the ripe old age of 20. For so many reasons I needed to leave. I took $1,000 (just under $2,400 today), and set out towards a place with mountains and skiing where my parents couldn’t visit me unless they called first. I brought the idea of moving up to them, but I distinctly remember my mother losing her shit over me ‘moving to a jerkwater town with no future.’ God she was supportive. What did I expect? I was offered a full ride for 2 years at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and she acted like I wanted to join a cannibal cult.

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 moving to Colorado. No – really. Don’t get out of bed. My car is packed and I’m leaving. I’ll call when I get there.” I was out the door like my ass was on fire. 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 to buy my first Subaru – a Brat that I adored and defined the new person 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.”

There are times when I think back to that night at Diamond Jim’s… That night, THAT dinner 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 money like nothing they’d ever seen had just turned on. The family income tripled in one fortuitous afternoon. What’s not to celebrate? They were 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.

 

 

On November 18th, 1975, Joan Darling handed us all a small blue box before rehearsal. From the gasps of the folks around me I knew it was something special. I untied the thick white ribbon. Greedily I 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.

My parents stole an unconscionable seven-figures from me without the bat of an eye – and stole my childhood as well, and there is no way to forgive that. None. People keep cheering on children in show business with no oversight.

I will always be grateful that I was so terrifically lucky that my bondage was in the company of greats – I know not every child actor gets that. I learned comedy at their feet. I know that the IBM Selectric typewriter Norman Lear made sure arrived in my schoolroom has meant all the difference in the world to me.

In the end, all I was paid for 15 years of hard labor amounted to a Venti Latte a day – no extra pulls.

10 Absolutes About Abusers

Those of us who’ve escaped the orbit of a Narcissistic Psychopath are fully aware of how Trump & Company are bludgeoning America into submission with relentless lies and sadistic behavior. We’re all too familiar with watching helplessly as our abuser breaks everything we hold dear just for the fun of it, and then lies to our face about what our eyes can see.

If you’ve never been trapped by a Narcissistic Psychopath you are in very real shock right now at finding a person utterly lacking in compassion or empathy is controlling your life and means you very real harm. The continual Gaslighting and threats to your safety become a steady feedback loop of anxiety, and the sustained emotional assault actually causes physical and mental harm.

Understand that this ceaseless firehose of bald-faced lies and indignities is designed to overwhelm and humiliate, and ultimately to make us all passive by cutting so deep into our soul we beg for the pain to stop, even though we know there is no mercy.

Those of who have walked down this path owe it to those who have not to take their arm and assure them as we walk through the darkness they are not alone, nor are they crazy.

To wit, I offer these irrefutable Truths About Abusers – especially Trump and Company:

  1. You aren’t human – you’re expendable chattel without rights
  2. Your opinion, wants are 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

Now repeat these truths until they are so ingrained they can’t be shouted away.

Trump and his acolytes are soulless entities who will suck every ounce of you out of you if they can, and eventually being around them becomes a fight to keep your sanity and your personality from being swallowed by inexhaustible evil.

The urge is to give up and give in by not looking around to see about how bad things really are. It may be easier in the short term for some to ignore the reality in our collective Home – but you can’t wish away the Authoritarian that lounges insolently in our Parlor any more than you can reason with the termites and rot that infest the walls.

No matter what we do – compliance or fight – understand that there is no depth which Trump and Company won’t plumb, there will be no savagery left undone, no barbarity overlooked, and no opportunity to inflict sadistic inhumanity will be missed.

Accept that none of us will come out the other side of this fight the same, nor is it our fault that Trump and Company are evil. These facts exist together and separately, and all we can do is try to mitigate the damage.

I will do the very best I can to give voice to our #Resistance. I am here.

Embrace the reality that Trump and Company are relentlessly evil and will continue to screw with our heads and our very lives until we are compliant and submit to watching our country slide back 100 years – or until we’ve had enough and fight back like we mean it.

RNC Trump Flags

Preaching To The Choir

It’s best if we accept the reality that Trump speaks to the vacuum of compassion in his followers. All their life Trump Apologists (Trumpologists) have known on an instinctive level that they lack something most other people have, but can’t quite grasp what it is.

Trump is their Jack from Lord Of The Flies because he validates Trumpologists lack of empathy and need to destroy things and take pleasure in other’s pain – they grunt and nod as Trump eschews the Conch and the Rules of Law and Decency.

The sooner we accept this the sooner we will be able to break free from the notion these folks can be reasoned with.

They don’t WANT to be reasoned with, they don’t want a middle ground – they don’t want to live peacefully.

What they want is for you to abase yourself to their God, and mouth their beliefs and surrender your Civil Rights to their religion.

They want to control your life and be in charge of who you can marry and where you can live and when you will have babies – and even WHEN YOU WILL DIE.

To that end I offer my Brothers and ReSisters a basic template of how to respond to ANYONE ignorant enough to insist Donald J. Trump is a good President.

You won’t change a Trumplogst’s mind, but you will help other Resisters who read it to shake off the continual gaslighting from the Administration and Russia (but, I repeat myself), and the numbness from the never-ending fire-hose of terrifying and infuriating news.

Think of the following paragraphs as Colorform Facts that you can mix and match for the Trumpologists in your life. Use them all – or use just one.

Copy, paste, share, and use in good health. It will always be here when you need it. Most people don’t have the time to put together and fact check a list like this that has taken me 2 ½ years to curate.

So, Sing It Loud! Sing It Proud! Raise up your voice and speak the TRUTH my Brothers and ReSisters!

Sure, I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s so damned EASY to forget what we’ve been through – and sometimes the Choir needs practice:

 

Journalists should be jailed and or killed. Mexicans are rapists & Blacks are lazy. POWs aren’t heroes because they got caught & US soldiers with PTSD aren’t strong. A woman questioning him has to be on the rag. Syrians should be put in concentration camps, and deported. Muslims should have to register and wear ID tags and mosques should be closed.

Trump cruelly derided the grieving parents of a Gold Star soldier, while himself taking 5 deferments from Vietnam. When asked which foot had the bone spur that allowed him a medical deferment after playing 4 years on the college tennis team Trump told the reporter, “You look it up.”

During a campaign rally Trump viciously mocked Serge Kovaleski, a physically disabled New York Times reporter, who pointed out that Trump was pretending to have personally witnessed the thoroughly debunked urban legend that thousands upon thousands of Muslims were cheering in New Jersey on September 11, 2001.

Donald Trump incites violence at his rallies and believes protesters deserve to get beaten up by wistfully pining for “the old days when they’d be carried out on stretchers.” Encouraging violence, he promised to pay the legal bills of anyone assaulting a protestor in the crowd.

Before declaring his candidacy Trump faced more than 4,000 lawsuits on everything from fraud to unpaid bills, contract disputes and sexual discrimination.

Trump has been found guilty and fined twice for violating the Federal Fair Housing Act, due to his management company’s egregious policy of racial discrimination against African Americans.

He was forced to pay a $200,000 fine to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission for denying blacks casino floor jobs and forcing black employees to be removed from sight when Donald and Ivana visited.

He made fraud, racketeering and elder abuse charges vanish from his bogus Trump University by paying off tens of thousands of plaintiffs, whom he defrauded to the tune of $50 million.

He has contributed no money to charity – None. His Foundation is not only uncertified, it is being investigated by the state of New York due to good-faith donations being misused. Paperwork shows nearly half-a-million dollars in charitable funds were used to pay Trump’s personal obligations of legal bills and fines on his for-profit business, including a $120,000 penalty from the city of Palm Beach for code violations by his prized Mar-a-Lago Club. Beyond that, Trump made an illegal political gift of $25,000 to Pam Bondi – the Florida Attorney General who conveniently decided not to press charges on Trump and his Trump University. He used $40,000 to buy oil paintings of himself and even paid his son’s $8 Boy Scout fees out of the charitable fund.

He lies when it’s easier to tell the truth, claiming to be the first person to predict terrorism in the United States.  Trump continues to flog the lie that his first wife competed as a skier in the 1972 Olympics for Czechoslovakia, even though it’s easily verifiable that the Czechs didn’t even field a team that year. A marker on the third green of his Virginia golf club boasts of the 100% pulled-out-of-his-ass ‘River of Blood’ Civil War imaginary battle – and Trump unironically goes so far as to say of the historians who vehemently deny any fight took place within miles of the course, “Where they there?”

He is a thin-skinned narcissist who rage-tweets about anyone who disagrees with him, going so far at one point as to encourage people to watch a non-existent sex tape of Alicia Machado, former Miss Universe from Venezuela, when she detailed his fat shaming of her.

A raging racist, he spent several years and thousands of dollars ‘investigating’ Barack Obama’s birth certificate, encouraging Birthers, and conveniently ignoring the fact that no matter where Obama was born in this great big wide world, his mother being an American citizen MADE HIM ONE, TOO – with all the accompanying privileges, like being President. Please note that John McCain was born in Panama and Trump didn’t say ‘Boo’ when McCain ran for President because he was a white dude.

 

Beyond all of this – NEVER forget this is a man who has promised state sponsored murder and torture of children, and who thinks the Press exercises entirely too much Freedom.

This self-imagined dictator promises to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

He has proudly broken every Commandment Christians purport to hold dear, except murder – and he brags of being able to shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue without it costing him a single follower.

He is working in cahoots with Putin – and no matter how they try to deny it – Trump is ON TAPE begging straight into the camera for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, which they did.
A ‘Good President’ wouldn’t sentence thousands of children to death, and let 9 million more lose their insurance coverage – as happened at the end of September, when the CHIP bill was not reauthorized.

A ‘Good President’ wouldn’t let the Pre-existing Conditions clause die, or allow Health Insurance Companies to sell worthless policies, or refuse to tell it’s citizens about ACA policies with subsidies.

A ‘Good  President’ wouldn’t let the people of PR die of cholera and thirst. A ‘Good  President’ wouldn’t golf while the people of California are being burned alive and out of house and home.

A ‘Good President’ doesn’t spend 1 in 3 days at his own properties, exhausting the Secret Service budget in weeks that was meant to last a year.

A Good Man doesn’t make fun of POWs and soldiers who died for our country, or a Mayor who is pleading for the very lives of her constituents.

Oh yeah – A Good HUMAN would never, ever, ever “Grab Them By The Pussy!!”

 

 

 

 

 

How Have You Harassed Me? Let Me Count The Ways…

I was 9-years-old the first time I was sexually assaulted. It was a friendly neighborhood barber who felt me up on the pretense of seeing how much I weighed – he did this after leading me into in a back room whose walls were papered with hardcore porn. I shudder to think what might have happened had a customer not walked in just then and allowed me to escape, heart pounding and sure I had done something wrong.

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I was mercilessly teased about my breasts throughout my teens by schoolmates, strangers and colleagues. I was absolutely scarred from years of cruel mocking about my tiny breasts which were as much a function of my build as they were my mother starving me so I would keep getting booked on print work.

“You’re a pirates dream! A sunken chest!” “Mark likes you. Mark C. Bloom (a So Cal tire store) likes all flats!” “Carpenters love you – you’re flat as a board!” “Hey moon-tan! Didja leave your tits at home?” “You’re part of the itty-bitty-titty club!!” And on and on and on. I’ve been handed band-aids to use as a bra and had men come up and feel my back because “I’m looking to see if your titties are coming out the back! The gotta be somewhere” Yes – it’s been a real laugh riot having men tell me my bewbs aren’t quite big enough to sooth their mommy issues.

A make-up man I thought quite highly of had a daily joke of looking down my shirt, seeing how flat I was and stuffing 2 tissues in to plump things up. The cast and crew thought that was high comedy.

It wasn’t all jokes about my breasts, though. In high school there was the English teacher who took to giving me shoulder rubs and trying to look down my blouse, small as my breasts were. I wasn’t special, though, he did that for all the white girls and I’d been warned. No young woman ever put herself alone with him willingly.

There was the douche-bag History teacher who refused to give me a higher grade than the captain of the basketball team – even though I’d gotten more answers correct on my tests. “It will never happen,” Mr. Vanderveer said huffily, looking down his nose, “I will *never* give a girl a higher grade than a boy.” Even my beloved music teacher wouldn’t let me try out for drum major – because I was a girl. Since I knew how to twirl a baton I was welcome to put on a skimpy leotard and be eye candy – but, no position of power for females was offered. I stuck with my sax, instead, preferring to be a mediocre musician to an object to be ogled.

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No girls allowed in Pop Warner or Little League (unless it was a fantasy commercial) – but I could be a pom-pom girl if I wanted! No girls allowed to deliver papers or take shop classes. No girls allowed to serve the alter in Catholic mass – yeah… Scratch that. Talk about a blessing in disguise.

I was in the first group of girls allowed to play an instrument in the Los Angeles Police Department Junior Band. Previous to that the only way females could participate was if they were twirling flags and sashaying, while sporting white go-go boots. Meanwhile the guys were playing music and styling in sharp military-style uniforms. We gals sure were welcomed warmly in that here-to-fore all-male marching band and symphony orchestra paid for by the tax dollars of the citizens of Los Angeles. Wait – no we weren’t. We were hazed and resented for ‘forcing your way where you don’t belong’. Officer Horde actually laughed when I asked if he thought I might try out for Drum Major someday. I was beginning to see a pattern.

 

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As a teen in the 70s I spent summers in New York City doing print and commercial work. I nearly changed my name to ‘Mira!!’ from all the men hollering it at me from every construction site I passed, them grabbing their flaccid penises and making disgusting sucking-kissy noises at the clearly under-age girl.

 

Serious Question: Has yelling, “I want you to suck my big cock” from a passing car ever worked for any man in the history of time? Do they think screaming ‘Show us your tits’ will actually reveal to them nipples and areolas? Of course the clear corollary to that fallacy is that SO many men think telling women they aren’t fuckable is some kind of kryptonite that will kill us. It’s beyond their scope that we aren’t all waiting breathlessly to have our bodies validated by a stranger’s desire to have sex with us.

 

I grew up in an era of unwilling Title IX accommodations, and outright hostility at those women who wanted equality or free agency. Men called feminists ‘bra burners’ and despised those who would exercise their right choose to terminate a pregnancy they could not or did not want to take to term. Men winked and nodded at each other over women’s heads about our so-called intelligence and proficiency, and while we insisted, “I’m RIGHT HERE” they nodded condescendingly and said, “Sure you are, Sugar Tits. Now, isn’t that cute?”

 

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I was raped at age 16 by a person in a position of power – these are all the details I’m willing to share now, and it is still my story to tell someday. Suffice to say the highlight of the experience was after hearing the man would face no charges, I sought solace from a priest who looked me square in the eye and said, “You must search deeply and ask yourself, “What did I do to bring this upon myself?’ and then ask forgiveness from the Lord.”

What did *I* do to bring this upon myself? What did *I* do to encourage a man 25 years older than me to attack me when I was vulnerable and physically incapable of fighting back or even keeping him off of me? I’m not ashamed to admit that when I became an adult THAT mind fuck paid for a few therapists vacations.

Things became more difficult when I became an adult – and not just because of the rape. Suddenly, at the age of 18 I was expected to know how to navigate being legally objectified. When you’re jail-bait you’re subjected to endless leering. But, when you achieve the age of majority – even though you’re still very much a kid – predatory male behavior kicks in to high gear.

When I turned 18 I briefly had an agent and interviewed a would-be manager – both men at least 15 years older than me – who each tried to turn a professional relationship into a casting couch. The agent had a habit of creepily calling me at 8 am because, he said, he really liked hearing the sound of my voice when I woke up in the morning. The manager, over the course of a 2 hour interview tried to kiss me.

Let’s not forget a male actor I had worked with numerous times who didn’t recognize me when I was 18 and wearing a saucy red jumpsuit and big hair. I was going in to an interview and he was leaving one when I recognized him from 20 feet away, only to have him mistake my smile of recognition as a come on. I wanted to vomit at his leer, and when he realized who I was he tried to pretend he wasn’t checking my ass out.

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There was the predatory douche in the acting class at Cal State University Northridge with whom I was doing a Chekov piece who mauled me during rehearsal at his home, insisting we needed to spoon before doing the scene, and physically wrapped his arms around me against me will, forcing me to lie next to him on the couch, where I could feel his erection. I was numb and terrified.

Mr. Mauler missed the next class, hanging me out to dry on our scene presentation, screwing me on my grade. I spoke up in class about what had happened, and another female student looked incredulous and said it had happened to her, too – being held against her will, and then he didn’t show for the scene. We were the only 2 women he’d been paired with, and twice he’d physically overpowered his scene-mates into forced intimacy and blew off the performance. He was clearly using rehearsal time as assault time. The Professor’s reaction was to give us each a passing mark for our scenes, and him 2 goose eggs he was allowed to make up by doing scenes with a male actor. He wasn’t kicked out of class because… you know… It could really hurt his reputation if this made it into his permanent file.

 

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The real corker happened just before I left California, when I was managing the box office at The Hollywood Palace, just off of Hollywood and Vine and directly across from the Capitol Records building. The Palace was a high-end night club that held 1,800 people and featured all the best current and up-and-coming acts; it also had an exclusive restaurant and on the second floor a roof-top private club that people fought tooth and nail to get into, including Althea Flynt, the wife of Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt.

It was at The Palace that Larry Flynt’s weaselly assistant tried to coerce me and 2 other female co-workers to wear string bikinis and stiletto heels into a federal court to push wheel barrows full of pennies in to pay one of Flynt’s obscenity fines. I was offered the princely sum of $100 to leave my dignity at the door. Somehow I found the power to decline without alienating a client.

Later, when the Weasel found out I was a former child actor, nothing would do but he kept insisting I needed to do a spread-eagle signature Hustler pictorial. He thought he was complimenting me by mercilessly nagging me every time he saw me to do something I had not ever had a fleeting passing interest in. I was expected to be cordial to this tool who insisted on acting like he was my pimp, because Althea and her groupies brought in big bucks, prestige and probably coke.

There was a lot of coke at The Palace then. Hell, there was a lot of coke all over Los Angeles then. It was sucking in friends and family, and I’m grateful I held strong against trying it, much less using it. My manager at The Palace had a problem with coke and as his addiction progressed so did his inexcusable behavior.

I’d been there 2 years, and the abuse had ratcheted up slowly over the weeks and months. It began with cruelty, “Jesus, you’re an uptight little Catholic girl, aren’t you?”  and moved to unwanted dirty jokes. It wasn’t long until there were slaps on the ass and finally to him exposing himself on a regular basis. His favorite way to do it was to turn his pocket inside out and ask if I wanted to see a one-eared elephant, followed by pulling his semi-turgid penis out of his pants.

The job paid really well and was fabulously cool, it allowed me to sleep and attend class and take time off for any acting jobs I got. I learned to look away when he took his dick out, and to spend as little time alone with him as possible.

He began to frequently and fruitlessly demand sex from me “When are you gonna give it up?”  Then, he allowed the bar staff to have a semi-secret betting pool regarding which male employee would bed me first.

Knowing all this, I had to grit my teeth and be pleasant to his princess girlfriend who pretended to be oblivious to the way her boyfriend was literally swinging his dick around.

As his cocaine addiction progressed his anger became explosive, and his behavior unpredictable. The owners began to show up less frequently (their problem was alcohol, not coke) and Cocaine Manager became more erratic.

One busy Friday evening Cocaine Manager came in to the box office with a glaze in his eyes that let me know he had his load on. I had no patience for a coked-up, drunk boss, and when he made the elephant appear for the umpteenth time I opined that it was the shortest trunk I had ever seen.

His fury broke like a wave, and in a flash as he grabbed my right nipple, and squeezing as hard as he could he twisted my breast. I screamed and he let go, then I ran to the bathroom, locked the door and cried. That fucking psycho yelled through the door, “You watch your filthy fucking mouth, you hear?” before slamming the door on his way out.

At home in the wee hours I could see the angry bruise that was forming on my breast, and when the morning came I called the police about the assault. It was then I heard for first time in my life – but no-where near the last – how the police refused to get involved with a ‘He Said, She Said’ situation. I couldn’t believe my ears that yet again someone who had physically assaulted me would get away with it.

Refusing to let the matter go, I had my doctor document the bruise on my breast and nipple, and took the matter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was then being run by that superb sexual harasser, and current Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. I filed my grievance and waited to for something in the mail to tell me what would happen next.

One evening a few weeks later, as I was preparing the will call and guest list for that night’s show, the door from the club into the box office blasted open, the knob hitting the wall so hard it left a hole where it bounced off. Cocaine Manager was standing in the doorway as angry as I have ever seen anyone in my life. He rushed forward and grabbed my arms and began to shake me like a rag doll. The EEOC had called the woman in Human Resources and she immediately told Cocaine Manager about my complaint. His answer was to physically assault me.

“You went to the GOVERNMENT about me you fucking bitch?!!!” he was screaming in my face as my head was being whipped around and his hands dug into the flesh on my arms. Suddenly my breasts were on fire as he was grabbing and squeezing them viciously. “You don’t want me to touch your tits?!! How’s this?!!”

He flung me by my arm into the wall, like a crack-the-whip.  Nearly incomprehensible with rage he shrieked, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY CLUB YOU FUCKING CUNT!!! GET THE FUCK OUT YOU’RE FIRED!!!!!”

As I scrambled out the door with my purse and coat he kicked me in the ass as hard as he could and I hit the wall in front of me.

The police STILL refused to get involved – He Said, She Said, and all that.

In the end the EEOC dropped the case because they couldn’t see that Cocaine Manager had done a single thing wrong. According to them, my going on a date with 2 different co-workers had given my supervisor carte blanche to demand sex from me. His physical assault and retaliation didn’t enter into it because I had no standing  to make a complaint to begin with.

It was shortly after that I left for Colorado at the age of 20.

Yes – ALL of this happened by the time I was 20.

When I started this list I figured I could crank out a few pages about the ways I’ve been harassed. I have already put down 2,500 words and I’ve only covered the stories I remember (right now) from the first 20 years of my life.

It’s sobering to realize just how many stories I have. But, even more sobering to know that nearly every woman in this country has their own stories to share. Yes, Stories – plural.

I’m going to keep telling my stories, because if we don’t tell them how the hell are men ever going to know what’s REALLY happening? We need them to stand up for us – and they need to understand how god-awfully pervasive it is.

I’ll keep telling my stories. Isn’t it time to tell yours and make your voice heard?

 

 

Losing the First Amendment to Putin’s Trolls

When did the First Amendment become a wedge issue, and what’s the point of having it if you can’t exercise your rights freely?

The narrative has been successfully changed from NFL athletes taking a knee to protest racism to them hating America, the Flag and First Responders.

I am FLABBERGASTED – fucking flabbergasted – at people buying into the meme of football players making too much money to protest. This is a Fox News ‘politics of envy’ gambit. Where was their outrage at the overcompensated game show host who became president? Beyond that, WHY is it a problem for well compensated people – athletes or otherwise – to speak up for the oppressed?

The fact is: People who have succeeded have a moral responsibility to help those who are oppressed, and not pull the ladder up before they get their turn. It’s the same reason I donate to the food bank: Because I needed it once and I’m in the position to help, and feel morally obliged to put my hand out to lift up those I left behind.

What kind of horrible people would successful athletes be if their attitude was ‘Fuck you – I got mine, you get yours’? That’s EXACTLY why I hate the current iteration of the GOP, with their bootstraps and prosperity gospel.

This issue has Putin’s Trolls and Russian bots all over it. It reeks of the bullshit from the election. Did you think Trolltopia in Macedonia – the city of 10,000 hackers, trolls and spammers who do Putin’s bidding – was going to go away when Trump was putsched in?

America is literally fighting over our First Amendment rights! How can this be?

How can it be that so many people have been manipulated into saying folks have no right to have a political opinion because of the amount of money they have? There’s not means test for using the First Amendment. Because if there is, how long will it be until we don’t have ENOUGH money to have an opinion?

The other false narrative I’ve seen pushed is that the flag is more important than the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, itself. I’m sorry – What?

Soldiers don’t swear to defend the flag, FFS.

Oath of Military

If you’re THAT offended for the flag over at people exercising their rights, perhaps you should put a bit of thought towards the flag clothing and hats and cups and coozies for sale  on Herr Trump’s site.

This issue isn’t about the Flag, though. It’s about our inalienable First Amendment rights as Americans and our Constitution. The Flag is nothing more than a physical representation of the rules and instructions on how to operate the Republic, and that which we hold most dear.

In the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision of West Virginia V Barnette regarding forcing people to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

It’s not Trump’s place to tell people how and where they can be patriotic Americans.

It is OUR place, however, to fact check every damned meme and story we want to buy into or we are spreading evil and lies, too.

We must also speak up, speak out and protest. We’d all better start using our First Amendment rights before it’s just a ghost of the past that we daren’t even whisper about.

The First Amendment: You’d better use it before you lose it.

Resist, my friends. Resist.