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.

 

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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.

Thoughts and Prayers and Magic Spells

Prayer doesn’t change things: Prayer changes YOU.

I mean, knock yourself out praying if that’s what spins your bow tie. But, don’t imagine for a moment that it’s going to change a damn thing about what is going on around you, be it machine-gun massacres, apocalyptic hurricanes, devastating earthquakes or even whether your transmission will make it another week until payday.

Thoughts and Prayers are just two of the ways people internalize the every-day stimulus called Life. There are as many ways people internalize Life as there are people: You can Self-Medicate, Fight, Hide, Isolate, Meditate, Cut, Resist, Despair, on and on into an infinite number of combinations of the way we process and deal with the world around us.

The point is we ALL internalize Life, and for anyone to offer up proudly that they’ve given a thought – they’re THINKING  – about something the rest of us can’t get out of our heads, is *stunningly* self-absorbed.

Thoughts and Prayers is shorthand for, “I am powerless to stop this from happening and I will wish REALLY hard that the Omnipotent Being of my choice will deign to show mercy on this untenable situation.”

Thoughts and Prayers have the same efficacy as Wishes and Magic Spells.

Thoughts and Prayers and Wishes and Magic Spells are what you offer up when there is nothing else you can do.

You earnestly have Thoughts and Prayers and Good Wishes for a friend with an illness because that’s all you can do: It’s out of your hands.

But THIS situation isn’t out of the hands of Congress. They CAN change the law, they simply refuse to because there’s too much money gushing in from the NRA.

So, when ANY Politician offers the mealy-mouthed phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” about Las Vegas or The Edge Nightclub or Sandy Hook or the inevitable NEXT GODDAM SCHOOL SHOOTING what they’re really saying is, “It’s out of my hands, there’s nothing I can do.”

They are offering wishes and magic spells instead of protecting us from madmen who mow down human beings like you take an edger to errant weeds.

“It’s out of my hands, there’s nothing I can do to protect you. But – I’m thinking about you.”

Perhaps if the folks who survived Las Vegas are REALLY lucky they’ll get a golf trophy dedicated to them.

Thoughts and Prayers were not what we offered al-Qaeda after the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and Flight 93; and Thoughts and Prayers are NOT what we should be offering Domestic Terrorists.

Thoughts and Prayers are political speak for: “It’s out of my hands because I’m going to keep taking NRA money soaked in the life-blood of kindergartners and concert goers – but I will ask God to keep you in His thoughts.”

How DARE they pretend God has ANYTHING to do with blood money from the NRA and gun manufacturers who saw their stock go up 3.5% in the hours after Stephen Paddock forever changed group dynamics and the way we will attend concerts, sporting events, and large outdoor venues?

Thoughts and Prayers indeed.

Politicians Thinking and Praying to end murder-by-guns in this country is an infuriating waste of time, and allows them to pretend THEY don’t control the legislation that would prevent another Las Vegas massacre.

Statesmen might as well swing cats over barrels of rainwater and cast spells under a full moon as offer Thoughts and Prayers – they have the same efficacy.

Praying is a highly personal thing between you and your God and is not a replacement for doing your job – whoever you are – and hiding behind ‘God’ when you refuse to do your job is an affront to truly spiritual people who do not use their religion as a prop.

Beyond that? I have yet to see any evidence that Thoughts OR Prayer actually works any better than the aforementioned Wishes and Magic Spells.

God sat out the Holocaust and Manifest Destiny. Babies die of brain cancer and inexplicable tragedy befalls the purest souls, while people like Pharma-Douche, Martin Shkreli, are richly rewarded for bankrupting people just before killing them by making life-saving medication unaffordable.

I have heard all my life that the worst, most inhumane things in the world are all ‘God’s Plan’. Well, then, if God already has a plan what good is there in praying for things to change?

Remember – Prayer doesn’t change things: Prayer changes YOU

Oh – and while we’re at it? God doesn’t have a $20 riding on game, so don’t thank him for the touchdown. God didn’t send a boat to rescue you because he hates the person who drowned. If God exists, trust me on this, neither She/He/It or Jesus gives a tinker’s damn if you won a fucking music award. Stop abusing your deity with self-serving trivialization revolving around your oversized ego.

Here’s the thing: Many of my dear friends and a goodly number of kind strangers believe their prayers will change the course of my illness. I so, SO appreciate that another person on this cold planet cares enough about me to appeal to their God, and plead my case for lenience and a bit longer stay here. I love that I am so loved, and cannot imagine a greater treasure from my friends and well-wishers.

Were it possible that God(s) might listen, I respectfully and humbly ask people to direct those supernatural powers to something bigger than me. I mean, if the power of Thoughts and Prayers can actually change things, how much of a GIANT asshole would I have to be to ask any God to put me before the truly suffering in the world?

I mean – I appreciate the Thoughts and Prayers… But, I am going to die whether or not I’m cured. I would rather my life be shorter if suffering in the world would be lesser.

Don’t pray for me – ask your God to make Congress enact legislation to end our home-grown Gun Fetish that leads to the massacre of innocents and a staggering suicide rate.

Imagine a jumbo jet being blown up by terrorists every week, until the end of time – that’s our Murder rate. Now – imagine a stadium full of people the same size as the Las Vegas concert – 22,000 – and once a year all those people put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger. Wouldn’t you do ANYTHING to stop that concert? Wouldn’t we be working around the clock to crush the terrorists behind the plane attacks? What is the difference between it happening in a steady trickle or an angry gush? The people are STILL dead.

The God’s Honest truth here is that it’s not Thoughts and Prayers that will end this crisis, it will be us demanding action and forcing change. We’re not willing to put in the work to rid our society of this sickness, and we have some nerve demanding God do what we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves.

Pray all you want – but never confuse praying with actually doing something.

Oh – and Second Amendment Fetishists? I have two words for you Sons of Bitches:

Well Regulated

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me. C.S. Lewis

Use It Or Lose It

***The following is a restored version of the original piece I wrote on this. The updated version is chronologically next, titled ‘Losing the First Amendment to Putin’s Trolls’*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can it be that so many people have been manipulated into saying folks have no right to have a political opinion because of the amount of money they have? How long until we don’t have ENOUGH money to have an opinion?

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

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

Oath of Military

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

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

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

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

 

 

Trump Zombies and Violence

Greg Gianforte’s election to Congress in Montana after assaulting a reporter has exposed the violent truth about Trumpers: They have decided they didn’t want to have to think critically and wanted a lawless bully to clear out a safe space for them using force.

45 would be NOTHING if not for his Cult followers. They aren’t misunderstood souls who have been led astray. No – these people have waited their whole lives for a stupider, meaner, more vindictive version of Reagan.

They fucking LOVE him and his scorched earth policy.

These were the people in school who stood behind the bully and egged him (or her) on. They often lacked the intestinal fortitude it took to be an honest-to-god bully, but could be counted on for malicious snickers and ostracizing as well as violence under the cover and protection of a group.. They were conferred power and status through their association with said Bully and flaunted it when the Bully was not around.

They are the tribe in Lord of the Flies that put Jack in charge and followed him into savagery.

They willfully and with malice choose to support a corollary of anarchy – it’s not that there are no rules, it’s that they are ignoring any that don’t suit their purpose of regaining a position of being the shitter and not the shittee. Oh, sure, they’re still getting shat upon in spades, but they’re okay with it if they can do a little shitting of their own.

The people who support him – the Public and Politicians – are all motivated by the same thing: The acquisition of Power

They are willing to allow 45’s destruction of the Constitution and looting of the Treasury if they can get a taste of the action.

Gianforte’s assholery didn’t spring up out of Zeus’s forehead. People *like* the tough talk and promises of cutting the safety net out from under other people – and they’re SURE it will never happen to them. Lest we attribute his victory to early voting, remember Gianforte raised $100K in the 12 hours after this hit the news cycle.

Whenever you’re tempted to reason with a Trumpologist remember that this is not an isolated incident. The Governor of Texas joked about shooting Journalists on Friday and it received a collective yawn. There are Press pens at 45’s events that are nothing more than modern day stockades. My god – POUTS assaulted the Prime Minister of Montenegro when he shoved him in the chest – and Trumpologists are *giddy* that he’s showing people who’s boss.

Assaults on and the arrest of Journalists are becoming all too common and not getting nearly enough coverage – by which I mean none at all on the Fox propaganda mill. 2 reporters in the last 10 days were arrested for asking politicians questions. Press and protesters at the Turkish Embassy were beaten by Erdogan’s goons and that goes by unprocessed in the never ending shit geyser.

Violence against political opponents and the press have become normalized and encouraged. It is only a matter of time before a member of the Press is murdered, and before this implied violence makes its way further than a murderous White Supremacist in Portland.

There is a serious mental illness problem in America. Its face may be Donald Trump, but its heart are Trumpers: The 2 in 5 adults who think violence is an appropriate response to questions or intellectual disagreements. Their brutality is vindicated by a man like Trump, and his “I’ve had ENOUGH of rules!!” behavior gives them permission to ignore facts and embrace their cruelty. The really frightening thing is they’re just getting warmed up.

 

The Barber and the Campfire Girl

camp-fire-girlThe first time I was skeeved on by a man I was 9 – he was the barber up at Laurel Canyon and Strathern, across from the 7-11.

I walked home alone from school once in a while. He would talk to me when I would walk by. One day he offered me a dollar to stay and talk with him for a while. I felt uneasy, but he was an adult, so I went inside and sat down in a chair. I could see into his back room and the walls plastered with hard core porn, there must have been hundreds of magazine pages.

Seeing the pictures made me scared and I got up to leave; as I did so the barber insisted on picking me up to see ‘how much I weighed’. I remember trying to maneuver away and him grabbing and lifting me, his hands across my non-existent breasts.

Just then a customer came in, and I remember the barber getting flustered and telling the confused customer that I was his niece as I made my escape. I was shaking so hard it was difficult to walk home. I said nothing to my mother, instinctively knowing I would get yelled at.

I NEVER – EVER – rode my bike past or walked past his shop again. I avoided that place like the plague. I would turn left at the light and walk down to Cantara (praying he wouldn’t see me at the only light we could use) or ride my bike behind the Corner Store, using their parking lot to avoid riding in front of his shop.

At 9 years old I learned that men could be predatory, and the barber made me feel unsafe in my own neighborhood.

Don’t tell me you’re sorry – speak up yourselves! Give voice to your story, or put a stop to harassment and assault whenever or wherever you see it. #ItsNotOkay #SexualHarassmentIsReal #NotOkay

 

This, That and Renewing Social Contracts

New Years Eve 2015

One thing about writing is that it forces you to look at things more deeply. What I’ve discovered over the last month is that it’s very easy to find negative things that people are willing to share. That limitless ability for the negative is, in fact, very limiting for a writer. Negativity begets negativity and it leaves little room for solutions.

It’s so easy to find unbelievably stupid things on Facebook or Twitter, and I don’t want to have to go looking for them anymore.

To put it another way: I’d rather stub my toe in surprise at the idiocy of some people’s vitriol rather than grab a hammer and smash my toes with it by looking for ugly things on purpose.

So, in the spirit of the New Year and new beginnings I’m tweaking the format and presentation of my blog.

I’m no longer limiting myself to the things I’m too polite to put on your wall. I’ll still do that, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a whole big wide world out there to be dissected, and I mean to get to it.

With a new direction comes a new name: This About That.

I appreciate anyone who’s made it this far, and hope you’ll indulge me as I tinker with the format, and try to get it to where I want this blog to be.

Enough, then, on the house keeping.

Let’s get on with this, shall we?

*

IMG_20141230_141142291[1]

New Years is always a time to take stock about things (no this isn’t going to be a listicle). I want to talk about Social Contracts and how important they are to civilized life.

What is a Social Contract? The short version is that it’s the moral and political obligations we, as citizens, have with each other and the state to form the society in which we live. It’s basically what makes us behave and what makes a society liveable. Some are laws, others are rules and manners.

I think the whole rules and manners portion of the Social Contract has been sorely tested in the last decade. Most people have become self-centered and egotistical in a way we couldn’t have imagined at the turn of the century. Those unpleasant traits make for unpleasant fellow citizens.

The problem is they don’t see themselves as fellow citizens because the whole world revolves around them. When you think it’s all about you, you excuse any kind of selfish behavior. Because that’s what bad behavior is – pure selfishness.

There are many different ways you can be selfish and break the Social Contract, and one of the biggest ways is being a bad neighbor. Screwing with the place where people live and are trying to enjoy their days off is inviting trouble.

If you live in a condo or an apartment then a bad neighbor is the one who blares their music or TV. They’re the ones who argue and slam doors. It sounds like they’re practicing Riverdance in clogs upstairs. They’re selfish and bludgeon you with the sounds of their life, and think nothing of it.

The suburbs have their issues, too. Take my neighbor, for instance. She did not mow her back yard all summer, and let the front yard go to weeds thigh high. We put up with it until August, when we finally called the city. She ignored the first notice completely. She got around to hitting some stuff in the front with a weed whacker after the second notice, but never raked it up. She never did another bit of yard work this year. It will come as no surprise that she has not shoveled her walk once this winter, leaving the sidewalk covered in ice that people have to walk over to get to the mailboxes.

What motivates her to be such a bad neighbor? She doesn’t work outside the home, so it’s not an issue of never being there to do it. So what’s the problem with just doing the bare minimum to keep it legal? She knows better, and bought a house in a nice middle class neighborhood and then came in and shitted up the place. She liked the way the neighborhood looked, but was just too selfish to keep her house up like the rest of us, and it affects our property values. She is not keeping up the Social Contract morally or legally.

I’ll tell you who else breaks the Social Contract in my neighborhood: The neighbor 2 blocks away who leaves their dog out all day long to bark and bark and bark. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live next door to that poor, tortured beast. Who does that to an animal they love? Who does that to their neighbors? A selfish person who doesn’t give 2 craps about the Social Contract, that’s who.

One of my pet peeves for Social Contracts is driving while texting or talking on your phone without a hands free device. How could you be so selfish? Even where it’s legal you should not be doing it because it’s dangerous. It is morally wrong to put the life of everyone around you at risk while you stare at a 4 inch screen or hold the phone to your ear unable to respond properly to an emergency situation. Yet, I know at least one person who reads this will do this very thing. Why? No respect for their fellow citizens or the Social Contract. The notion that you’re above it all.

You see it everywhere you look: People bring their dogs into the supermarket or pharmacy. I once saw a woman at Walgreens put her dog on the counter and it immediately sat down. She had no idea why I might be disgusted. She was not only clueless, she was absolutely offended at me and told me to mind my own business. As if it wasn’t my business that her dog’s ass was sitting where I was supposed to put my items to be rung up. Staggering selfishness.

If you’ve traveled by airplane anytime since 2001 you will have noticed how aggressively rude and the-world-revolves-around-me-selfish travelers have gotten. There’s a marvelous Instagram account devoted to pictures of passengers who simply can’t observe a modicum of decorum. It’s called Passenger Shaming. Check it out. It’s wonderfully awful, and shows people at their selfish worst.

Another way people behave selfishly is by angrily wearing their politics on their sleeve, and expecting yes-men agreement from all who read it. It seems the more bitterly divided we’ve become as a society the more the Social Contract becomes strained when it comes to partisanship and being polite. Personally, I’m sick of the unvarnished hatred that’s become the norm in this country. People think nothing of putting hurtful, hateful posts about opposing political views on their Facebook wall, knowing full well that many people who read it will be offended. They’re not doing it to change minds and hearts, they’re doing it to be hurtful. They’re violating the manners clause of the Social Contract, by selfishly expecting people to read their offensive rantings and put up with it silently.

The point is too many people are self-absorbed and have adopted the notion that the rules don’t apply to them. The question I have is this: Are you one of them? Are there small ways that you fudge the contract? Do you ignore inconvenient rules? If you do, take a minute reflect on what it means to society when you put yourself first at the expense of others. It encourages bad behavior in everyone.

If you do uphold the Social Contract I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So, at this time of the year – the time of resolutions and fresh beginnings – lets take the opportunity to renew our commitment to being a better member of society. Be the good example others need and know that you’re doing the right thing. Do it for yourself and because it’s the right thing to do. Do it because it makes the world a better place.

Have a great 2015.