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**

 

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Happy Birthdays To Me

As a child my folks gave me the everlasting gobstopper of birthday gifts: They forgot what day was I was born.

I didn’t find out until I was 17, when I was getting my first driver’s license, that my birthday is actually December 3rd and not the 4th, as I grew up believing and celebrating. Why, on the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman set there were several of us who had the same birthday and we all called each other December 4th, like a club. Now, I was finding out that it was all a lie?

I’d sent away to get my birth certificate, which took forever (turns out when you ask for the wrong day it takes oodles more time to get the damn thing). But, it finally arrived in the mail. I grabbed it without glancing at it (who the hell checks to see what day they’re born?) and snatched up the paperwork as well, and begged my mother to take me down to get the coveted and all-powerful driver’s license

The place was packed, and it seemed to take forever to get to the front of the line. I gave my paperwork to the overworked DMV employee and waited for him to hand me my written test. It seemed to take too long as he stared at my paperwork. Finally, he looked over his bifocals and asked, “Why do you have December 4th as your birthday on all these forms?”

“Because, that’s my birthday,” I answered, confused.

“No it’s not. Says right here it’s December 3rd.”

I stopped for a moment. Then I became was certain this was a regular joke he must play on teenagers getting their license for the first time. I laughed.

He spun my birth certificate around on the counter, with his finger on Date of Birth.

Stunned, I stared at the paper and could only say, “Mom?”

She looked over my shoulder and muttered, “What the hell?”

But, there it was in official purple ink with the raised seal: December 3, 1963.

“Mom?!” I asked again. “You got my birthday wrong?” I demanded.

There was a beat, just enough time to see the people in line breathlessly leaning in to hear the answer, like the old EF Hutton commercials. (link for those not a fossil, like me)

“Well,” she shrugged, “there were so many of you I lost track!” she said with a ‘what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it?’ chuckle and a splay of her fingers.

I was positively floored. I took the written test in a stunned fog. Somehow I managed to pass the driving portion without ploughing into a curb. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I felt like I didn’t really know who I was.

Later that night, and ever after until the day she died, my mother vehemently insisted that my birth certificate was wrong, and that what she said at the DMV was a joke, waving off any questions. I was born so close to midnight, she said, they must not have changed the date on the birth certificate stamp. The 4th, she insisted, was my birthday, and that was the day my family continued to celebrate it. My father, uncharacteristically, kept his own council. My parents washed their hands of it and that was that.

 

Claudia and Dad Birthday

 

Everybody else, though, needed my legal birthday. A fact I didn’t know. Hell, at that age I had no idea how it all worked. I was on my own in that department, and my parents pronouncement that my birth certificate was wrong was enough for them. Which meant that I over the next few years I had to change the information on file with the Social Security Administration, the IRS, Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA, both schools I was attending and just about everything else that uses your birth date for registration or as an identifier. Up until last year the AFTRA retirement department (for some unknown reason) STILL hadn’t changed my birth date. It was one of dozens of such changes I’ve made over the years.

The first and hardest change to make was with Social Security. I finally got around to it after my 18th birthday, when I could put it off no longer. I waited for hours in an uncomfortable plastic chair, to find myself sitting in front of a surly clerk trying to explain my situation.

“I have to change the birth date on my Social Security card.”

“Why?”

“I got a copy of my birth certificate to get my driver’s license and it turns out that my birth certificate was wrong.” At her confused look I continued, “See, my birthday’s really the 4th , but the hospital put the wrong day on my birth certificate because they forgot to put the stamp forward. So now I have to change my birthday on my social security card, even though they made a mistake.”

After a long, expressionless look she said, “The hospital got your birthday wrong?”

“Yeah, so even though my birthday’s on the 4th I have to change everything because the stupid hospital made a mistake.”

She held her hand up to stop my inane chattering and got to work. The instant she opened my file and saw the 2 pages single spaced of jobs I had done she sputtered, “When did you get your card?”

“When I was 5”

Instantly I became a novelty. She was happy to help, and interested in my story. Now, remember that it was almost unheard of at that time to have your social security card at that age. For my part I was amazed that they knew how much money I made each year. I wanted to know if I could see how much money I had made. I clarified: I wanted to know if I could see, but my parents couldn’t find out. She raised an eyebrow, and said, “Sweetheart you have the right to see this. They don’t, anymore.” I was floored.

I knew I’d made a lot of money, in a vague sort of way. I knew I worked more than any of my immediate peers, and had done so since I was a toddler. But I was never allowed to know how much. That was strictly forbidden. I was in the dark about everything to do with the money I rightfully earned, and it was a beating offense to ask where my money was. The notion that some stranger could print this up for me was dizzying. Simply dizzying.

An hour later when the paper work was done, I stood thanking the woman. I left clutching a 2 page print-out of the work I’d done since I was a toddler – it was a list of how much money I’d earned. I sat in my car, opened the envelope and gasped. My hand was shaking so hard I could barely hold the pen as I added up the columns. The heat was monstrous, but the sweat that ran down my back was cold. I remember the sick feeling I had looking at the total. More than three-quarters-of-a-million in today’s dollars. I added the figures again, and then again. They were the same every time.

That day, in those moments, sitting there in the blistering heat staring at those 2 sheets and all those zeros changed everything. I was 18 years old, but I finally had irrefutable proof in black and white (from the government no less!) that I was being robbed by my own parents.

Sitting in the shitty car my parents forced me to buy, roasting in the Southern California heat and looking at the figures my parents had forbidden me to see, I began to get angry. Really angry. A deep rage began that day that came calling for years afterward.

It was the beginning of the end of their hold on me, and a major catalyst for my quitting television and leaving Los Angeles.

In the years to come I found that even these figures were false. I had made more than a million dollars, and my parents lied not just to me, but to the IRS, Social Security, The Unions and my agents. You can read about it here if you want to know the gory details. (link)

The irrefutable facts are this: Their birthday fuck up had the unintended consequence of giving me my freedom.

And it was a fuck up, to be sure.

Although I wanted to believe that my parents hadn’t forgotten which day I was born, the evidence began to pile up.

I wasn’t born in a log cabin in the Appalachians and recorded in the family bible. I was born in one of the biggest hospitals in Los Angeles.

I wasn’t born anywhere near midnight, when there would be some plausibility of the hospital not changing the date.

In the 37 years since I found out from a public servant that my birthday wasn’t really my birthday, I’ve never met one person who had a hospital get their birth date wrong. Not one. I’ve never even met someone who knew a guy’s uncle’s cousin that it happened to. I never met a doctor who had heard of such a thing.

But, it wasn’t until after my mother died that I discovered the truth, hidden in the mountains of boxes in her home I was going through.

In a box of pictures and mementos I found a pile of paperwork and magazines from the hospital. There was a certificate of live birth from the hospital for a girl, dated December 3rd. I have an official looking piece of paper from the hospital with a gold seal and stamp, dated and signed in Sister Christine’s copperplate handwriting, welcoming said baby girl to the world on December 3rd, 1963. My mother kept these, yet never told me about them. All this paperwork she kept says I’m born on the third and she insisted to the bitter end that she was right. The hospital, the nurses, the doctors, the priests and nuns were all wrong. Everybody was wrong; everyone but her and my dad. For a guy who didn’t know when to stop talking he positively channeled Harpo Marx on this issue.

So, the truth is, I just never did enough to differentiate myself from the rest of the crowd and that my parents cared so little about me as an individual that they just lost track. No matter how many fortunes I made they couldn’t remember who I was. They really DID lose track.

My birthday and that craptastic tale was always part of the Ho-Ho-Horrible Christmas that was my youth. As a young adult it pissed me off to no end that EVERY YEAR I would have to explain this screwed up story to anyone who knew me before I turned 17.

Friends made after 1981 call me on the 3rd, to this day my brothers only ever call me on the 4th,  and childhood friends are always confused.

This afternoon I fielded my first query of the year: Is it the 3rd or the 4th?

I have one friend I’ve known since I was 11 who – without fail – EVERY year asks the same question. Every. Year.

“Now WHAT day do you celebrate your birthday?”

“ARGH!!!!!”

Then it hit me: How lucky am I that people give enough of a damn about me that they would ask – that they would care enough about me to want to wish me a happy birthday WHENEVER it may be.

The date isn’t important: I’d been carrying around this anger baggage about my parent’s lack of parenting and was missing the love sent my way.

So, I made the decision to change the whole dynamic, and grabbed that bull by the party horns, and made it my own.

My birthday? It’s December 3rd AND December 4th – and the 7th, too, if you want. It makes not a whit of a difference when I celebrate another ride around the sun. What matters is that I made it, I’m still kicking, and I have people who love me.

THESE are the Everlasting Gobstopper gifts and promises I gave myself:

To move beyond the realization that I wasn’t anything but a paycheck to them

To never treat my son as a revenue stream or inanimate object with no voice

To break the cycle of their abuse, and let it end with their death

To speak up when I see abuse – wherever I see it

And – most important –

To accept the love I am deserving of from the wonderful people in my life

 

Happy Birthday Typewriter

 

Two birthdays used to be SO grating – now it’s just great!

This weekend as I’m lounging on the beach in Mexico I will tell them it’s my birthday on Sunday and then again on Monday. Hell, yeah – I’ll admit it: I’ll start milking that cow tomorrow at the airport, and be trying to use it on Richard as we’re driving home from the airport when we get back.

I plan to be here this time next year, writing about how 365 days and nights reveal their treasures and sorrows.

I will feel all my feelings deeply and keenly – It’s my life, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste a minute of it.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more around the sun.

 

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.

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!!”

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t an agenda, dammit. It was information.

trump-rope-tree-journalist

Welcome to the post-fact world.

It is a place where your opinion is as good as empirical proof. You’re ‘feels’ count as much as peer-reviewed Scientific Evidence. And if what you don’t like is on tape ? Wave your hands and repeat this magic charm: “Lib-rul Mee-Dia, Lib-rul Mee-Dia, Lib-rul Mee-Dia” and suddenly proof of your candidate boasting “Grab Them By The Pussy!!” isn’t sexual assault anymore.

Don’t like those pesky ‘facts’ the Lügenpresse has inconveniently dug up? Vilify them and threaten them with murder! Why not? The GOP Presidential candidate is openly encouraging physical violence against the Press, saying they have too much freedom and should be jailed. It’s bad enough this bloviating Fascist (with a capital F) is saying it, but he’s doing so to the cheers of tens of millions of Americans rabid to destroy our First Amendment rights – and all with the endorsement and monetary backing of the Republican Party.

Now we are asked to indulgently chuckle when Deplorables wear shirts advocating murdering the Press, and the overthrow of our Constitution.

I know several journalists who are near the breaking point: Burnout, depression, disgust and hopelessness now have a new colleague: FEAR. They are all are asking if it is worth it to be constantly vilified and have your motives questioned or be outright disbelieved, all while being terrifically underpaid and having to face a shitstorm when they print actual facts.

At the same time I know dozens of out of work journalists who are dying a million deaths at this election’s coverage and the propaganda churning out 24/7. We feel helpless and wish we could use our expertise to bring some context to stories that are either ignored or blown out of proportion. We long to put a halt to the continual indignation cycle the News has become.

When corporations pulled the plug on Newspapers and quit funding Television and Radio Newsrooms adequately, and when they decided clicks were more important than truth they fired tens of thousands of people whose job it was to research and write about facts. Most folks don’t realize the skill it takes for a producer to research any given subject, and put together pieces and write questions for their anchors. It is a lost art.

People don’t realize it, but all of those unemployed people were the screen that separated the facts from the bullshit. We gave you a baseline from which to start the discussion about social and economic issues, as well as local and international events. It wasn’t an agenda, dammit. It was information.

But, you fired us – and they fired us. They couldn’t make enough profit by employing an adequate number of educated professionals to ensure accuracy and excellence. You couldn’t be arsed to pay for a quality product. Do you pay $10 a month for Netflix but won’t pony up $5 to subscribe to a news site like the New York Times? Congratulations – you’re part of the problem.

The collapse of Traditional News has left a void that blogs have filled, which has given rise and fed the needs of modern Conspiracy Theorists.

I used to deal with Conspiracy Theorists when I was a Talk Radio Host in the 80s and 90s, before Talk was all taken over by screeching hatred, thanks to the Mays brothers of Cheap Channel fame. People like this were a novelty and a hoot to put on the air. The longer they talked the more they just showed how bug-nuts crazy they were. FWIW: Just like today, the Conspiracy Theorists then glommed onto the New World Order, The Illuminati, The Jews and the UN taking over the US. I’ve been hearing that any day now the Dems are coming for your guns. Any. Day. Now. Oh, and Chemtrails are REAL, man (and fluoride and vaccines). None of that has changed in 30 years.

What has changed is that AM radio was taken over by the Alt-Right a quarter of a century ago, when the Mays Brothers shit canned anyone who wasn’t Frog Marching to their ultra-conservative tune. Liberal, Progressive, Middle-of-the-Road and Soft Republicans (those who believed in compromise) were no longer welcome in their 500 station cross-country monopoly that had a stranglehold on the industry.

Soon AM radio became a vacuum of hate speech and lies. Rush Limbaugh defended his pathological lying by saying he was an entertainer, not a news person. Glenn Beck simultaneously cheated thousands of old people out of their life savings in a bogus gold investment scheme, while managing to poison them with convoluted non-sensical conspiracies about Obama’s secret S.S. Civilian Army and the Boston Bombing ‘Cover-Up’. Anti-Journalist and Supreme Radio Hack Sean Hannity was rewarded for years of lying on behalf of the GOP with a plum job at Fox, where it appears Trump’s hand is up his puppet ass this very moment.

AM Talk Radio encouraged sick, gullible, uneducated and mentally unstable people to plumb the depths of their paranoia. No conspiracy was too obscure or far-fetched, and for these lost souls that conspiracy made them feel smarter than everyone else and in control.

The saturation of the AM dial with non-stop conspiracies is what tilled the ground for this current Conspiracy Theory movement.

The internet, which tends to make smart people smarter and dumb people dumber, has given these Conspiracy Theorists an echo chamber that validates them and gives their insane theories credibility. They are no longer at the margins of media, where people point out just how mentally unstable they sound. They don’t have to wait on hold to get on the air and be crazy – they can go online 24/7 and get their biases confirmed and their paranoia stoked. Now, people like Alex Jones are revered, instead of being revealed for the whack-job charlatan he really is.

30 years of encouraging the worst in people and stoking paranoia leads in a direct line to Candidate Trump, and the flaming Porta-Potty of his campaign this election cycle.

Sure, Trump may not get elected tomorrow, but the Conspiracy Theorists won’t be going away any time soon. They’ve been emboldened by a misogynistic, bigoted, racist, homophobic candidate. Their nuttery has been sanctioned by the GOP, and their hypocrisy encouraged by Evangelical Christians who apparently think the Commandments are actually the 10 Suggestions.

If Trump loses expect to see these people lose it mentally, because people in positions of power (I’m looking at you Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell and John McCain) haven’t insisted on the Facts being recited any time in recent memory. They chose, instead, to endure the repeated lies for the sake of political expedience.

There’s a smorgasbord of conspiracies to choose from. Would you like a Truther, Birther or Vaxxer conspiracy? Can I interest you in some Jadehelm? Or, would you like something from Secretary Clinton? She is, after all, a dead, sick, Manchurian Candidate who murders political opponents.

Or, would you like the total bullshit conspiracy being screamed by Trump in full-throated rage that the election system is rigged if he doesn’t win– and that it’s being rigged by the Press? You know – the conspiracy that has called for the open murder by hanging of the Fourth Estate, while simultaneously choking the shit out of the Constitution until it dies.

Is it any wonder my friends still left working in the Press are disillusion and scared shitless?

If you’re not concerned you should be, because they’re just getting warmed up,  and no matter who wins it’s going to be a very long 4 years. I’ve a feeling they’re equally as poor at winning as they are at losing.

Oh, and don’t bother arguing the facts with these folks, it’s a waste of time.

Lack of evidence is proof of conspiracy.

It’s a Post Fact World, baby. Strap in.

Infant Mortality & Immoral Cash Cows

Infant Mortality Rate Black Denver

Colorado is a healthy state, with the fewest obese people and the fifth lowest infant mortality rate in the nation; but the odds of making it to your first birthday are better if you are born in rural Cuba. Even more shocking: A black child born to a middle class family in Denver faces an 18% greater risk of infant death than a child born in Libya – ground zero for ISIS.

Child ISIS

 

The US has the largest GDP in the world, but the shameful truth is that 57 countries and the entire European Union have a lower infant mortality rate than us.  What they all have in common is Universal Health Care – the desire to provide all citizens with basic health insurance, and protect them financially from the burdens of illness or accidents.

 

Amendment 69

 

This November Coloradans will get to vote on Amendment 69. I’m hoping we choose to show the United States how Universal Health Care works. Colorado has successfully implemented the country’s most progressive ideas and, in some cases, even made them profitable. Our quality of life is unparalleled due to forward thinking and planning, and the willingness to pay a bit more to ensure it stays that way.

 

Light Rail

 

Denver’s Rapid Transit system of commuter trains, light rail, bike highways and paths, buses, HOV and HOT lanes has been named the finest in North America. Our State Parks, Natural and Wildlife areas are the envy of the world, providing access to millions of acres of spectacular wilderness. Decades ago Colorado’s cities and counties set aside funds to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of open space, as well as money to develop and maintain City Parks and Recreation Districts. By 2025 our ‘Colorado the Beautiful’ project will ensure that every resident will live no more than a 10 minute walk from a park, a trail or open space. Proposition 64 has been a model for how to intelligently implement legalization, and has brought the state $135 million in direct taxes and fees in 2015 alone, and helped increase tourism to 72 million visitors who spent more than $20 billion dollars.

It is natural that Colorado embrace Universal Healthcare so that we can further secure our superior quality of life. We wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel – rather, we can implement the kind of health care delivery system that works all over the world, and costs less than our current system.

Unfortunately, Amendment 69 getting on the ballot means Colorado is getting pummeled with astroturf movements: the fake political groups which are made to look like grass roots activism. They look local, but are entirely invented and well-funded by the Big 5 health insurance companies (United Healthcare, Anthem, CIGNA, Humana, & Aetna). The Big 5 *need* single payer not to work here, because that would be the end of them.

Their big cry is the cost: By focusing on what will surely be at least 8 figures for Colorado alone, they are ignoring that we’re ALREADY paying more than any other industrialized country in the world for health care – and not everyone is covered. In fact, we’re the only developed nation in the world without universal health insurance. Moreover, the Big 5’s stock values have quadrupled in last 5 years, making them $14+ BILLION in profits in the last year – and an average projected 5-year growth rate of 12% annually. The resistance is them seeing their obscene profits and stock values dry up. These are the same companies that used to cancel the policies of the sick and those who would *dare* to use their benefits. Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how Obamacare forcing them to cover pre-existing conditions would destroy profits? Tell me how that worked out as they generate $45 *per second* in profit.

I find it unscrupulous and ethically repugnant that these businesses have a model based on squeezing as much as they can from sick and dying people. It’s immoral – and I think our way of providing health care should be viewed as profiteering and should be made illegal.

In an effort to hold on to their cash cows, the Big 5 insurance companies will misdirect attention from their obscene profits by invoking the politics of envy, and trotting out the Red Herring of the ‘Zero Sum Game’ fallacy. That’s the despicable practice of telling one group they will get less if another group gets something more. It is a contemptible lie that economic systems are incapable of growth, but too often it is an effective one.

 

With Universal Health Care some will pay more, of course. Some will pay less. But, all will be covered. Doesn’t a just and civilized society take care of the least among us? Who wants to live in a country where we let the poor die from easily treatable diseases – or those not so easily treated? Who yearns to live in a country where the wealthiest among us is at greater risk of dying in our first year than children born in countries synonymous with genocide?

Our GDP is $1.5 trillion bigger than the entire European Union’s combined. That gap represents more than the current GDP of Australia, yet the EU manages to fund universal health care and paid parental leave for more than half-a-billion people (compared to our 318 million) – and their infant mortality rate is 47% lower than ours. Hell, even Australia has universal health care and paid family leave – and their infant mortality rate is 34% lower than ours!

Healthcare is a right for all, and not one that is based on a tax bracket – just like the right to clean water and air, and the right to free speech. The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t recognize that right, and Colorado is working to change that with Amendment 69.

Amendment 69 3

In an effort to sew fear the Big 5 lobby is flogging the idea of ‘Rationed Care’. Care is already rationed: It is entirely rationed AWAY from the uninsured. It is rationed from people who face paperwork designed to discourage them, multi-hour telephone wait times, and web sites with outdated information and broken links. Care is rationed with the automatic rejection of a doctor’s order for a procedure or expensive medication; when a perfectly valid medical directive is over-ridden by a policy written by an accountant and the appeal is handled by an uncompassionate desk jockey who never went to med school. Care is rationed at most doctors’ offices where hour-plus wait times to get into the exam room are common. It already takes months to see a specialist, and days to get an appointment with a GP for a serious issue. If you need help urgently you are encouraged to go to the ER, which generates a multi-thousand dollar bill the moment you walk in the door. Make no mistake – we *do* ration our health care, and not very well.

Will it have problems? Of course it will. Any new business, cabinet or venture has rough patches. But, Good is not the enemy of Perfect. We should not forgo making things better because we cannot attain absolute perfection. I see this as an attempt to move forward, and a way to take the Big 5 insurance companies and their unethical profits out of our Right to Life.

As for those who call this Unconstitutional? Please go back and read your Preamble: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are LIFE, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

It’s right there in black and white: In order to protect our Inalienable Right to Life the Government (notice the capital G) may create institutions through the will of the people to secure our Right to Health.

Amendment 69 means my inalienable Right to Life supersedes any insurance company’s Right to Profit, and Coloradans can finally take medical profiteering away from the Big Insurance.

The question is will Coloradans embrace universal health care as a right if it benefits the poor?

Too many people would rather cut off their nose to spite their face, in that even though it would be cheaper and it would lower our infant mortality rate they would reject universal coverage because it would mean the poor might get something ‘they didn’t pay for’.

If we pool our resources we can cover everyone for less than the majority of us are paying now. Sadly, there are many Americans who don’t want equality and just want to punish the poor – or, at the very least have the poor ‘know their place’.

Ultimately, the question Americans need to answer is: Are we OK with the fact that a child born in Beirut has a better chance of seeing its first birthday than a child born in Washington, D.C.?

 

Dick Move, Sony

The_Interview_2014_poster“If you’re thinking of going to see or download “The Interview”, Don’t. Just, don’t. After seeing it, I wanted to take a shower. It’s the kind of movie that, if you were on a plane watching it (where I see most movies these days), you’d want to be sure that nobody nearby could see that you were watching it. It’s like 22 Jump Street, but without the complex plot. It’s like Dumb and Dumber, but without the production values. The movie makes you wish that you were of another species. It also wasn’t all that funny. Amazing that the worlds first Cyberwar was waged because of this POS.”

The instant I saw the trailer for ‘The Interview’ starring James Franco and Seth Rogen I knew it was the type of movie I would avoid at all possible costs. Watching the trailer for it one October afternoon in a local movie theater was painful. Right about the time the conceit of the movie is revealed – assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jung-un – my husband and I looked at each other in distaste and mild shock. We leaned together, I whispered furiously, “This will go over well…” “Who greenlit that?” my husband wondered. It looked stupid, vapid, tasteless, offensive, juvenile and unfunny. In short: a waste of time and film. I expected it to bomb the weekend it opened and die a quiet death.

Fast forward a month to the 24th of November and the Sony hack that some are calling the first Cyberwar. Others, however, myself included, have reservations about calling it a Cyberwar, and see this as corporate espionage happening to a foreign company.

When it started the hackers did a series of data dumps over several weeks that encompassed everything from personal health information to salaries; there was credit card information, passport and social security numbers, music, movies and emails. Lots and lots of emails. News organizations like CNN and sites like Gawker read and disseminated what was in those emails, unable to resist being the first to report the contents of stolen information.

Each day brought new salacious gossip about major Hollywood players. Of particular interest were the emails of Amy Pascal, the head of Sony Pictures. The tone of her emails paint her as a less than compassionate figure.

Unless you were hiding in a bunker or steered clear of the news completely there was no avoiding the intense coverage of the hack and the information released.

I don’t think anyone believed the damage those stolen emails could do – not even Pascal, and she knew what was in them. It briefly raised the questions about the expectation of privacy of things said in personal emails, but in a larger way served to illustrate the reality that there is no such thing as privacy.

Sony has been desperately trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube and has been threatening legal action against everyone from private citizens to Twitter and ABC. Sony is trying to get them to stop publishing their corporate secrets, and the general consensus is, “We didn’t steal it so it’s not unethical for us to report on what we found. Up yours.”

There really are no good guys in this situation. Everyone from the hackers to the awful Sony executives to the bottom feeding media printing information gotten through corporate espionage – they all suck.

One interesting thing about the Sony hack is that ‘The Interview’ was never mentioned when it first happened. On November 24, 2014 when the hack happened no Sony employees could access their company computers or email. There was an image of a skull with these words: “Hacked by #GOP. Warning: We’ve already warned you, and this is just the beginning. We have obtained all your internal data including secrets and top secrets. If you don’t obey us, we’ll release data shown below to the world. Determine what you will do till November 24, 11 pm (GMT).”

That’s it. No mention of the dog of a movie, ‘The Interview’. No initial outrage or demands about halting the release of it. In fact, it wasn’t until December 9, 2014, that the hackers demanded halting the release of ‘The Interview’ – 16 days after the initial hack.

At first Sony pictures was resolute about releasing the film. As they held steady more stolen information was released.

Some unnamed members of the FBI hinted that they’d been able to link the attack to North Korea, but the government didn’t come down definitively and say the insular country was behind the attacks.

Finally, an ill-defined ‘9/11-type’ threat against theater-goers hit the internet, and that made theater owners back away from the film. In short order the top 5 theater chains in the country had dropped the film and would not be showing it on its Christmas day opening.

On December 17th Sony pulled the plug on the theatrical release of ‘The Interview’.

If major players in Hollywood were angry at Sony before they were furious now. The proverbial wrath of the heavens opened up against the entertainment juggernaut.

Sony executives were called cowards, traitors and much, much worse. It was said that North Korea was calling the shots. Having a movie pulled because of threats meant that there would be a chilling effect on future controversial projects. Hollywood rightly asked itself what kind of projects might get passed up or put a stop to because of cyber-threats?

The usual partisan types somehow managed to make this a failing on the President’s part, and in a display of breathtaking cognitive dissonance they demanded a fast government reaction to the corporate hacking of a Japanese company. Never underestimate partisan hackery.

Suddenly, the country was indignant that they wouldn’t be able to see a film most wouldn’t have gone to see with a gun to their head.

The backlash got stronger by the day. There were questions about what would happen to the movie? Would it ever be released? What about the first amendment? Why would Sony let itself be censored? What kind of message does it send? And most important: If you cave in on this movie where does it stop?

The hue and cry reached its zenith on December 23, and Sony finally caved in about caving in. It decided to release ‘The Interview’ on Christmas day after all.

Some 331 independent theaters, including those owned by George R.R. Martin and Michael Moore, said they would run the film. These theaters made room to screen the film and reaffirm our constitutional right to free speech.

Everyone cheered and Sony looked like the good guy – for about an hour. Then they announced that they were also going to release ‘The Interview’ on pay per view through Google, YouTube and Xbox on Christmas Eve, 24 hours before it would be in the theaters.

Dick move, guys. Total dick move on top of a metric ton of dick moves.

Sony undercut the independent movie theaters who put aside screen time to play their steaming turd of a movie by releasing it online a day early. That means no ticket sales, no popcorn or sodas or candy sales for the independent theater owners. Just empty seats for a crappy movie whose only sizzle factor was that it had been briefly banned. But that ban was over the day before, and in computer time that’s an eon.

Sony’s dick move meant that there was only $2.8 million million in ticket sales for 331 theaters over the Christmas weekend ($2100 per screen – just dismal). Compare that with Sony’s online sales of $15 million for Christmas Eve through Sunday and you can really see how they screwed independent movie houses. Trying to recoup $80+ million dollars sunk into the film on the backs of small theater owners is unethical. That seems to be a trend with them.

Sony has treated employees, contractors, distributors and movie houses with utter disdain, but what happened to them needs to be addressed. The question is by whom? Us? Japan? The World Court? The local jurisdiction where this is being done?

As I said, I find it a stretch to call this a Cyberwar. I think Cyberwars are associated with governments, infrastructure and defense, and as important as Madonna’s new album is, this is corporate espionage not an act of war.

And that’s where I run out of ideas. I have no clue how to protect something as complex as a multifaceted multinational conglomeration. Anything I say will be woefully inadequate. I wish I had an answer.

It seems the only thing I can do is hope the white hat hackers are more committed to the cause than the black hat hackers, and that countries start working together to combat cyber-crime.

What is the take-away here? Never ever write anything in an email you wouldn’t want published for the whole wide world to see and judge you for.

Abandon the notion of privacy because not one person, company or entity is safe from being hacked. Not one. Act as if your life is on display – because it is.