Thursday, August 28, 2008

forty five years ago today

delivered August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

role model gold

Last night there was a huge upset to the Chinese gold medal diving sweep when Matthew Mitcham, Sydney Australia's openly gay, 20 year old diver did as close to a perfect backwards two and a half somersault with two and a half twist dive as one is ever likely to see.

Mitcham is the only openly gay male Olympian in Beijing this year and though he struggled to get his partner into China with him and though he has repeatedly spoken about his sexual orientation in interviews there's been no mention of it in any major media coverage.

Why is that?

Why is it I know about the fiancees and spouses of several track and field athletes but only learned of Mitcham's struggle to get his boyfriend into China by doing extensive internet
searches? Why is it that Bob Costas asked the US volleyball gold medalists about their husbands with great interest and yet an openly gay gold medalist in a host country with a heinous record of human rights atrocities perpetrated against gay people is not seen as news?

Someone has decided that it is very important for the media to continue perpetrating the lie that male gayness and athleticism are incompatible.

Earlier in these Olympic games I sat riveted in front of my television watching the men's synchronized diving with great surges of emotional pride. Americans David Boudia and Thomas Finchum, neither of whom have spoken of their orientation, are talented, muscularly honed and at the same time rather effeminate young men at the top of their chosen sport. I watched them climb to the top of the board where one of them would crack a joke and the other would cover his mouth and giggle girlishly just before they would compose themselves and perform the most improbable feats of gymnastic daredevil in the air before plunging perfectly vertical and unison into the pool below them.

Every four years the eyes of countless Americans, and indeed citizens of every nation, are on these young people and though the sexual orientation of a few of these young champions is most doubtless the nation cheers for their victory with great pride. Young gay people being showcased and held up as a source of national pride is so foreign a concept and though it may remain unspoken it is very real.

Growing up gay in a straight world is difficult to say the least. Every movie, nursery rhyme, TV commercial and cartoon tells you that you're different and therefor wrong. For me, the unspoken sense of shame, the feelings that I had somehow disappointed my family, the sense that something I did or something I was rightfully incited the teasing and mockery I received from other children, the need to keep my feelings a secret and, eventually, the visceral belief that I was a second class citizen were overwhelming. So to witness the nation cheer as young gay men perform, near superhuman, feats of strength and grace melts away what remains of years of shame and self-loathing.

For NBC and any other media source that reports on these Olympic games and keeps the news of Mr. Mitcham's sexual orientation quiet: SHAME ON YOU.

Like it or not, we live in a world where the volume of role models for young gay men is slim. Television and films are full of gay characters who are either deviants, tragic figures or clowns. Where a straight boy can turn on a TV at any time of the day and see sports heroes, TV dads, judges, policemen, pilots and even political figures a gay boy might see Jack from Will and Grace. A promiscuous clown, a fool. Acceptable because he is there to be laughed at.

Last night when Matthew Mitcham took his Olympic gold dive a message went out to every young gay boy around the world:

You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. No matter what your family, the people at school or your church tells you - you are a person of worth and you are fine just the way you are.

When the young Olympian realized he'd won gold tears ran down his face. As I watched, tears ran down mine as well. I'm so proud of him. I'm so happy for him and I'm also happy for the next generation that now has a wonderful new role model in Matthew Mitcham. As do I.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

cruisin' the park

This morning in the park while I was walking Zeke I saw Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Suri. They had two big bodyguards and an assistant with them. The little girl seemed fascinated with Zeke so I went over to her and said:

"Would you like to give the doggy a cookie?"

I took a dog biscuit out of my back pocket, broke it in two and handed it to the child. Tom and Katie were right there. Tom said "Go ahead give the dog the cookie" but Suri seemed scared and backed off. I said "I know he's big but he's very gentle. See?" and patted his head. Tom took the biscuit from Suri and gave it to Zeke. "Look, the doggy likes cookies" He said. We tried it again with the same results.

Tom looked at me, took my hand and said "Thank you, really thank you so much."

Maybe I'm reading more into it than was there but it was almost as if he was saying:

"Thanks for seeing us as human. Thanks for not taking out your phone and snapping a picture of me or my baby. Thanks for treating my kid like a kid."

I left the incident star struck and more than a little overwhelmed at the power of celebrity.

Friday, August 22, 2008

a family affair

I recently spent eight days with family. Three days of preparation with my father, my mother and her husband, three days with thirty five extended family members and two days of cleanup with my father, my mother and her husband.

I am still recovering.

I love my family, I am annoyed by them and I am also left with an uneasy feeling that I've done something wrong, or at the very least, have disappointed someone.

They can push my buttons because they installed them.

I have found that the best thing for me to do on these occasions is to stay in the kitchen and cook. I enjoy it, I'm good at it and it gives me the feeling, real or imagined, that I'm being useful.

Here are some of the things I prepared for the occasion:
(everything was either chilled or room temperature)

Carrot ginger soup
Lemon chicken
Potato salad
Watermelon salad with Kalamata olives, Feta, red onions and mint
Beet, fennel and grapefruit salad
Onion tart
Grilled asparagus with Gorgonzola butter
Baccala salad
Blue cheese stuffed grilled figs wrapped in bacon
Arugula and mint salad with oil cured black olives, red onions, oranges and Ricotta Salata
Sauteed cauliflower with capers, Red peppers and golden raisins
Spinach and cheese Strata
Green chili and chorizo Strata
Plates of various cheeses, crackers and spreads
A platter of smoked salmon (with pumpernickel triangles, cream cheese, red onions and capers, of course)
A platter of heirloom tomatoes dressed with basil, olive oil and coarse sea salt
A hazelnut torte
and two flourless chocolate cakes

I also made Ginger and Peppermint ice creams. (two separate flavors)

People seemed to enjoy the food and that pleased me.

I've been asked to post the recipe for the Baccala salad so here it is:



1 1/2 lb choice-grade skinless boneless salt cod, rinsed well
1 1/2 qt water
3 celery ribs, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup small pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1/4 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup chopped drained bottled roasted red peppers
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup small fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil


Put cod in a large bowl and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Soak cod, chilled, changing water 3 times a day, up to 3 days (see note, below). Drain and chill until ready to use.

Drain cod and transfer to a 5- to 6-quart pot with 1 1/2 quarts water. Bring just to a simmer and remove from heat. (Cod will just flake; do not boil or it will become tough.) Gently transfer cod with a slotted spoon to a platter to cool slightly.

Shred cod and stir together with celery, garlic, olives, roasted peppers, parsley, and basil.

Stir together lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, and oil, then pour over salad, tossing to coat well. Season with pepper and chill, covered, at least 1 1/2 hours for flavors to develop.

• Salt cod differs in it's degree of saltiness. A less salty variety may need only 1 day of soaking, while another could require up to 3. To test it, simply taste a small piece after 1 day; you want it to be pleasantly salty but not overwhelmingly so.

• Salad can be chilled up to 2 days.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

mid life crisis

For a long time my primary purpose was: avoid personal discomfort at any cost.

The best way I found to do this, for about twenty seven years, was by filling myself with drugs and alcohol. Oh I found other ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings as well. Food was, and still is ,a good one, sex, shopping, working out, pornography, computer games. Almost anything can increase this list to become compulsive and unmanageable. But of all the behaviors and methods I've used to avoid feelings drugs and alcohol always worked best.

While under the influence I had to do something. One can't very well just get a buzz on for twenty seven years with nothing else on their plate, so I created various versions of who I thought I should be.

A serious musical performer was something I believed I should be for more than a decade. I actually did this very well and I suppose that had I been sober through those years I may have achieved an elevated level of success in that arena. The combination of unpleasant people and the discipline needed to maintain success in that industry, however, got in the way of my true love; getting fucked up.

So I left that incarnation to create the next one, which was unclear to me due to my confused mental state but lasted, nevertheless, for about fifteen years. I suppose I was a professional party boy for lack of a better title. It is during this period that the posted picture was taken. Sexy? Perhaps. But definitely not a nice guy and you may notice how there seems to be no life behind the eyes. Yes, I became the walking dead. Zombified and driven from one moment of immediate gratification
to the next with no consideration of others and no thought of personal consequence. Humping my way through life like some deranged inchworm. It was fun. Then it was fun with problems. Then it was just problems.

By the grace of something greater than myself I've been delivered from that state and brought to where I am now. The road from there to here has been painful and long but I've broken free of emotional and spiritual torture. I've survived disease and overdoses, I'm recovered and I'm grateful but still nagging questions reverberate inside my head;

Is it too late to become the man I was supposed to be all along?

Certainly my life doesn't look the way I imagined it would. I catch glimpses of myself in storefront windows and I recoil with disbelief. Who is that? When did I get so old? Time passed and I must've been too high to notice. I was supposed to be settled and winding down by now but it seems I've only just recently been put in the right direction.

What I am faced with are questions of faith:

Do I believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be?

Have I been saved so that I can help others through my experience?

Is God doing for me what I cannot do for myself?

Avoiding personal discomfort is no longer important. What proves to be of significant worth is the suspension of judgement, of myself as well as others, and letting myself be guided by love.

Friday, August 1, 2008

let the sunshine in

As a kid I grew up listening to the original cast album of HAIR. I loved it. I didn't quite understand all of the songs or what they meant but I could sing them all. Surely a puzzlement to grown ups who weren't musical theater savvy or "hip" enough to know where the tunes came from, I would walk around, seven or eight years old, singing little songs with lyrics about hashish and the Kama Sutra.

When I was ten years old my father took me to see the Broadway show, already running for five years at that point, and I knew that what those people were was what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Dancing, running, singing joyously and beautiful. Celebrating free love, acceptance of each other and being true to one's inner self. Self expression through sex, drugs and non-violence. Standing up for what they believed in, slamming the conservative societal values of the time and saying very clearly "I won't fight your war for you" and the cherry on top of it all: they got naked.

This all represented to me an adulthood I couldn't wait to be a part of. By the age of thirteen I had hair below my shoulders, was wearing patched jeans and was listening to the Stones. I very soon discovered the joys, and confusions, of drugs and promiscuity. Whether I knew it or not I was desperately looking for the freedom that I had found in HAIR.

But as I came of age the world became a different place. The "Love Generation" of the 1960's morphed into the "Me Generation" of the 1970's. The great rock and roll bands of the 60's were replaced with disco and punk rock, psychedelics were traded in for cocaine and the war ended. Seemingly, there was no longer anything to fight for.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of HAIR. Last night I went to see the anniversary production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. I was expecting a time-capsule piece. A tongue in cheek, musical review of familiar songs and dated 60's themes. True, there was some of that but there was also a lot that was surprisingly timely and topical.

So much has changed since that innocent and naive year of 1968. Drugs are no longer an acceptable method of protest, escape or mind expansion. We've all since seen the ravages of what drugs can do to individuals, families and even communities. The raising up of Timothy Leary in 1968 was pushed aside as we saw the drug related deaths of Judy Garland in 1969 followed by Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendricks and countless others both with and without celebrity.

Free love and sexual experimentation became a frightening prospect when in the early 1980's people, mostly gay men, started dying from a mysterious sexually transmitted disease that was first called "Gay Cancer" then GRID, "Gay Related Immune Deficiency", and is what we now know as AIDS.

Most biting in the present revival of HAIR are the differences and the similarities of war. There are no more draft cards to be burned. When there was a draft everybody was a potential soldier. Now the military is filled with kids using their military service and training as a way out of poverty. It is, disproportionately, a poor man's army. Out of the 435 members of congress and the 100 members of the United States Senate not one has a child serving in the United States military.

The war is no longer being televised. As a kid I clearly remember my parents watching news reports of men walking through the jungle with firearms and footage of wounded men being air lifted to safety. We are no longer allowed to see the damage of war first hand, the human cost. The present administration has put a ban on all media as to images of war. No wounded soldiers, no flag draped coffins, no prize winning photographs of terrified children running for their lives toward a camera, looking helplessly at the lens and pleading to viewers who might perhaps care about the outcome of such conflicts.

What we do still have is involvement in a war that is questionable at best. We have an ongoing war that few support, that no one can win and that there is seemingly no way out of.

Poignant and chilling the beautiful, young cast, black and white, look into the audience, make eye contact and stage whisper in unison:

"prisoners in nigger town
it's a dirty little war...
take weapons up and begin to kill
watch the long, long armies marching on"

After the thirty five year interval between performances I went back to HAIR ready to take a nostalgic look at the lifestyle I wanted to grow into only to realize that HAIR is not about adults at all. It's about kids. Kids choosing to drop out of school and leave the picturesque simplicity and American Dream of their parent's Eisenhower years behind them and find a path, a voice and a life of their own. Funny how I can look back now and see those years of unrest and turmoil as comparatively innocent and idyllic, far away from the corruption and cynicism the twenty first century has brought.

While the members from the original "tribe", if still alive, would now be in their sixties and seventies, I continue to want to be one of them when I grow up. How I still romanticize that late 60's lifestyle. A lifestyle attainable for such a very short period by so few that will never be again. Even as I buzz what hair I have and struggle to keep my middle aged belly in check I long for a pony tail, beads and a brocade vest. The most fitting homage I can make to that time is to take it's best intentions and apply them to my own resolve as best I can: Be true to myself, fight for social justice, surround myself with a community of loving, like minded friends and let the sunshine in.