IRABrian was the eldest of three children born to a father who was the owner of a large resort in Ireland. His dad was also an IRA assassin. When the government came down on his father Brian’s family lost everything.

The children, Brian, Mick and Ceil, came to the United States to escape government persecution. Brian was a talented writer and soon found work with one of the largest PR firms in New York City. We met one day while walking our dogs near our apartment complex in Riverdale, an area of the West Bronx. It was one of those meetings where you instantly know that the other person is a kindred soul. We allowed our dogs to run and play while we talked about the news, politics, religion and women. We agreed that our wives should meet so we set up a tentative dinner date. At that dinner it became clear that although Brian’s wife, Carol, was a wonderful, warm woman, she was intellectually no match for him. It would be kind to consider her less than smart. Her lack of intellect had absolutely no impact on our growing friendship and soon the two families became extremely close. Every weekend brought a party or a dinner. Drinking was not a social grace it was an integral part of the relationship. We consumed enormous quantities of alcohol, both at home and at our two favorite watering holes in New York City, The Irish Pavilion and P.J. Clarkes.

In our apartment complex lived another transplant from Ireland. Jim was the Vice Counsel from Ireland and as such he steered clear of Brian’s family affiliation. The two could not have been more unalike…Brian was in your face, after laughing at you first, and Jim was always the diplomat. Jim and his wife threw a party one night and, of course, he invited me, my wife, Brian and Carol. During the course of the evening I found myself in a heavy discussion with one of Jim’s friends concerning Germany in the 1930′s. The man’s argument was that the German people were more or less duped into thinking that they were doing something beneficial. He even stated, not knowing I was a Jew, that if I had been alive during that time and living in Germany I probably would have gone along with Hitler and joined the Nazi party. Before I could answer Brian stood up from his chair, drink in hand, and walked over to the man. He looked him dead in the eye.

“Well, I can tell you this,” he began, “there is a fundamental difference between the way I would have treated Hitler and the way you would have treated Hitler.”

“Really?” replied the guy, “what would that have been?”

“I would have cut Hitler’s nuts off…and you would have licked them off.”

Brian never smiled, gave no indication of emotion. He was stating a fact, just as if he was giving a weather report. He went on.

“You stand there in your fuckin’ Sears Roebuck suit and tell my friend here how he would have acted under Hitler because that’s the way you would have acted. And do you know why you would have acted that way?”

By now the man had stood up and was moving towards his wife who was already gathering up their coats.

“I’ll tell you why,” continued Brian, “because you’re a racist little prick, that’s why. Care to deny it?

The man never answered. I watched he and his wife put on their coats and walk over to Jim to say their good nights. Jim seemed surprised but the two of them shook their heads and walked out. Jim came over to us.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Don’t know,” said Brian, “we were just talking politics and he said he had to leave. Maybe he had to get the babysitter home.”

Jim, a puzzled look on his face, turned and walked away. I looked over at Brian, smiling. “Nice work,” I said.

“Thank you, I thought so. Let me get you a refill there.”

Some months later Brian was having a party at his apartment. Some members of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, were in New York on a fund raising mission. Brian had invited them up for food and drinks. He also invited Jim and his wife and told them to feel free to bring some Consulate people if they wished. When we got to Brian’s the Sinn Fein contingent was already there and had been into the Jameson for quite a while. Brian introduced my wife and I and we felt right at home. This was a tough looking group, even the women, and several of the men preferred to keep their topcoats on leading me to believe that they were carrying firearms. There was, as the saying goes, revolution in the air. Sometime later the doorbell rings and Brian answered it. In walks Jim and his wife with a half a dozen Consulate people. When they see the Sinn Fein group their faces freeze. From the opposite side come nothing but icy glares. The room goes quiet. Jim grabs Brian by the arm and pulls him close.

“What the hell is this,” he says, nodding towards the group from Sinn Fein.

“A party,” answers Brian.

“I can’t be seen with these people…none of us,” motioning to the rest of the Consulate people behind him, “can be seen with these people.”

“Why not?”

“Brian, you know perfectly damned well why not.”

“For Christ’s sake…leave the politics at home for once. Just a bunch of us sitting down together for food and a few drinks. Come on,” he went on, throwing an arm over Jim’s shoulder, “relax.” He motioned to the three couples behind Jim, “Come in, all of you, you’re welcome here.” He began to shepherd the whole lot of them down the hallway and into the living room. One of the men in a topcoat pulled Brian aside.

“What the fuck are they doing here?”

“Same as you,” Brian replied, a look of surprise on his face, “they’re here for some relaxation, good food, and conversation. Isn’t that why we’re all here?” The guy released his grip on Brian’s arm and took a step back. Everybody was moving slowly. Suddenly a camera flash went off and there was pandemonium. Carol, Brian’s wife, had decided it would be great to take a photo of the party, very few there agreed.

“What the fuck!” yelled one of the topcoat guys. “No fucking pictures!” Everybody started yelling and demanding that the photo be destroyed. The Consulate people were all worried about their jobs and the Sinn Fein folks were acting out of pure hatred. It started to get nasty when Brian held his hands up and yelled, “OK, OK…no need to get excited.” He turned to Carol and said, “Darling, would you please pull that film out of the camera?” Carol, frightened by the intensity of the group reaction, immediately opened the camera and pulled out the film, exposing it to the light and destroying the image. “Everyone alright now?” Brian asked. There were mumbles from the group. “Jesus, what a bloody bunch of fuckin’ commercial travelers you’re all turning into,” he went on, “take the sticks out of your arsses and grab something to drink.” Slowly the tension began to dissipate. Jim and his groups took off their coats, poured themselves some drinks and gobbled up the wonderful food that Carol had provided.

The rest of the evening went without incident. There was no mingling between the two groups, but they did eat and drink in the same room without so much as a harsh word. I looked around and thought to myself, “Jesus…gunman and diplomats breaking bread together…only Brian could pull something like this off.” That was the essence of the man. The greatest dreamer I ever met, yet a realist and a bit of a pragmatist at the same time.

We were driving into Manhattan one morning and somehow the discussion turned to sex. It wasn’t a topic that had come up before between Brian and I. We didn’t engage in locker room banter. We eased into it from a political discussion that had its base in the moral and morays of the United States versus Europe. Brian’s contention was that so much of America’s policy seemed to be dictated by a certain machismo. We were, he contended, a nation passionately interested in maintaining an image of being ever ready for a fight. “Fifty Four Forty Or Fight.” “Don’t Tread On Me.” “Remember The Alamo.” “Remember The Maine.” “Walk Softly And Carry A Big Stick.” We were infatuated with our own manliness.

“Look at the way homosexuality is viewed in this country,” he explained. “The blanket condemnation of homosexuality is absurd.  It’s like saying that you must go through life using only your right hand.”

Forty years later and that statement still seems remarkably perceptive to me. In his own way Brian was the most “macho” man I ever met in my life, yet I never saw him throw a punch or physically confront someone. He knew nothing about cars, boats, power tools or sports. He fell on hard times a few years later and borrowed some money from me. His inability to pay it back destroyed the friendship. I could have cared less about the money but Brian just couldn’t face me. It appears that even the most macho of us have our weaknesses.

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Dad and me...just out of Brooklyn

Dad and me…just out of Brooklyn

I just attended the fiftieth reunion of my high school class. I know, many of you readers are shaking your heads in disbelief at that fact that after doing some basic math you’ve come to the conclusion that I must be around sixty eight years old. Well, all those hours of math homework paid off for you.

There’s going to be a good deal of hither and yon in this piece as I attempt to attach the past to the present. This is not a piece that will be served well by metaphors or allegorical phrasing…we’ll be in need of flashbacks and flashforwards.

The fiftieth reunion was not an event that I had any intent of attending. In the tiered social structure of high school I would rate my position as a 6th or 7th tier inhabitant. There were reasons for this and not all could be laid at my feet.

We begin our flashbacks/forwards here: I was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1945. Brooklyn in the forties and fifties was a wonderland.  Flatbush, Brooklyn was inhabited by children whose daily concerns ranged from the loss of a skate key, hoping your mother didn’t notice that you hacked off he broom handle for use as a stick ball bat, to whether Sandy Koufax’s arm would be ok for the weekend game against the Giants and if your dad would actually allow a television in the apartment. (By the way, at this time in my life there were 4 of us living in a one bedroom apartment….consider this a flash/flashback)

By the time I was twelve years old my Dad had begun to make some decent money and we became members of the Jewish migration. Let me explain this urban diaspora. In the fifties, if you lived in Brooklyn and you wanted to own your own home you moved to Long Island, if you lived in the Bronx you moved to Westchester. These were the two great Hebraic migratory routes that were created by a combination of geographic and mystical forces. We moved from East 16th Street and Avenue O to Rockville Centre, located on the south shore of Long Island. We may as well have moved to Chile. The culture shock was overwhelming.

I attended sixth grade at Hewitt School in Rockville Centre. A large, brick edifice with a rolling front lawn and a large,  open grassy area in the rear that served much the same purpose as a prison “yard,” that is areas were apportioned off for specific activities and social groups. I spent most of my time on the baseball field playing in the before- school ball games. I was the scourge of second base, great with the glove, not so great with the bat.

Rockville Centre was divided in a manner similar to the Hewitt School rear fields. Jews in one area, Gentiles in another, and Blacks definitely in a well defined, strictly enforced upscale suburban ghetto. Hewitt School serviced the upper middle class/borderline upper class Jewish population. There was a powerful social structure in place, a cast system that was headed by a select few (in prison parlance they are referred to as “shot callers) whose judgments were unquestioned and final. At the age of twelve this group of youngsters had already formed a rather sophisticated society that, it could be said, overrode the adult authority system that was in place in the form of the schools faculty.  Wealth and privilege were the coins of the realm and those without either, yours truly included, were left to fend for themselves. The social illuminati were ruthless in their treatment of those outside the inner circle. I was far enough out to sometimes loose site of the circle.

Flashforward: High School, 1960. The elite of Hewitt School had now been joined by the elite one other grammar school to form an even more powerful ruling body. Where did I fit in? Not many places would be the easy answer. To add to my problems of being one of the unwashed I took to cutting school, piling up as many as 45 days of being classified as “absent.” I didn’t waste that time, I would read, or head into Greenwich Village, or…on special days…I would bask in the glorious sun of Belmont Race Track. As an aside, my attendance at Belmont rewarded me with one of the more dramatic moments in my life…I was there on June 9, 1973 to watch Secretariat win the mile and a half by thirty one lengths.  My Uncle Milty and I were at the track early and watched Big Red warm up in the paddock area.  I digress.

High School was a trail of tears. I actually remember very little of it other than some of the fist fights (there were many) and the feeling of being so much less than practically all of my classmates. There were attempted interventions by the school in the form of continued trips to the office of the Guidance Counselor, and even sessions with the school psychologist, but all to no avail. I simply could not mold myself into a part that would fit into the machinery. It was not nobility that caused this, but rather an innocent flaw that was even more powerful than any natural drive to survive. So, there I was. flailing my way through high school like some windup toy with a decaying mainspring.

Flashforward: I received a notification from a website that somehow tracked me down and informed my that there was go be a grand fête celebrating 50 years since we all received a piece of paper informing us that we were now adults and expected to make our own ways in the world. I must insert here that I received a similar notification five years previous alerting me to the 45th anniversary of the same event. Apparently my classmates attached a great deal more significance to this celebratory passage than did I. The 45th came and went without even a thought of attending.

Now, to the real heart of this story. At just about the time that the 50th notification arrived I also received news that my best friend (actually one of three boys that I was comfortable with in those years) was returning to the States after living the past 35 years in China. I knew that on one of his yearly trips back to America he actually attended the 45th reunion. He told me that I should really attend the 50th, “not for them, but for you.” His reasoning was that these horrid figures from my past were just that…from my past. They had, in the past 50 years, developed into different beings…some better, some worse, but all different. He insisted there was no more social order, we were now all just folks approaching those “golden years” of our lives. “Mr. Everything” in high school was now just a 68 year old guy who had problems with skin cancer. I listened, mulled it over and concluded that changed or not, there was no reason for me to reunite with these people. Certainly there was far more to lose in the gamble than win…I could end up confronting some of the old nemesis and either embarrass myself of actually hurt somebody. Nope, I appreciated his input but I would not attend. Then it happened. One of those life experiences that simply sweeps you off your feet.

Flashback: Hewitt School held a sixth grade prom. That’s right, a prom for 12 year olds. If you didn’t have a “date” for this affair you were the victim of some righteous ridicule from your classmates. Not wanting to be more segregated than I already was I asked Linda (last name withheld to protect the innocent) and surprisingly she said, “yes.” A dark haired beauty, I was momentarily pulled from the darkness, basking in the bright sunlight of a conjured romance. It was short lived. What follows was one of those moments in your life that is neither “good” nor “bad.” In cycling when a climb is beyond categorization…so steep and so long that it cannot be classified it is referred to as an “HC” climb, standing for “hors catégorie,” literally out of category….beyond what can ever be expected. Well, I was subject to a hors catégorie event by my prom date. It seems that a bunch of the illuminati boys had gotten together and convinced Linda that I was not fit to be her date. She had to break it off or face the wrath of the school movers and shakers. Now, simply telling me that she would no longer go with me would have been ego crushing enough, but try to imagine the following scene. I am involved in the daily baseball game that took place before school began. I was at my usual position at second base when I noticed Linda walking in from left field. This was one of life’s moments when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but you know it’s nothing good. When she got to the pitcher’s mound she stopped, her books held tightly to her chest, and said, “Richard, I won’t go to the prom with you.” She then simply turned and walked away. The game was forgotten. Nobody moved. This was this nightmare where you find yourself taking a dump in the middle of Yankee Stadium while they are playing the Sox. Nobody even looked at me. To be perfectly honest, I have no remembrance of what happened next.  I do know that my momentary elevation from being an unnamed class satellite to an actual “member” of the class evaporated like smoke from a match. From that moment on I was at war with my classmates and that war went on for six more years. When I moved on to high school it increased in intensity in that it became more physical. I looked for reasons to fight anyone I deemed to be a member in good standing with the illuminati. My poor Mom was a daily fixture at the school, promising to cooperate with staff in attempting to mitigate and regulate my outbursts. Nothing worked.

Flashforward: It is a month before the 50th reunion. I receive an email that was forwarded to me through the website that tracks down people for events such as this. It was from a woman named “Linda” but her last name was unfamiliar to me. It started off,” Richard, I don’t know if you remember me, but…” I won’t go on with the rest of what was a very personal story. As it turns out that day  on the ball field in sixth grade had haunted her all these years. As a matter of fact she told me that she had related the story to her daughters as cautionary tale in how peer pressure can lead to decisions that forever stain your conscience. I was amazed at the email and immediately responded by telling her that she was a rare soul indeed and I would be forever in her debt for having taken the time to communicate with me. For days her email played in an endless loop through my conscious mind. I told Penny, my wife, about it and her joy was evident in recognizing that some of my well known skepticism and distrust of the world had been somewhat ameliorated by this one contact. I decided that perhaps I needed to rethink my opinion of my fellow man…I would attend the reunion.

The day of the reunion arrived, Penny and I made the trip from Cape Cod down to Long Island. She would visit with her sister while I stayed overnight at a hotel in Lido Beach, where the reunion would be held. For some reason they couldn’t find a suitable venue in Rockville Centre. I skipped the afternoon football game where my former classmates sat under a “Class of 1963” banner while teenagers gawked at the bunch of senior citizens sitting in the bleachers with cushions under their asses to ease their hemorrhoidal suffering. The appeal of it simply escaped me.

I showered, dressed and made my way to the Lido Beach Country Club. Parking the car I began to walk towards the welcoming awning, joined by others who were obviously my classmates but not a word of greeting or mutual recognition was exchanged. Upon entering the catering hall the first image I was faced with was a crepe draped display of photos of classmates who were “No Longer With Us.” My first image of this reunion was of dead people. If one were to be writing a screenplay it could be said that this foreshadowing was presented in a rather heavy handed manner.

Two steps up to the main reception area and who is standing there? Linda, the girl, now the woman, of my baseball game rejection nightmare. Dark haired, almost painfully thin she glanced at the name tag we were all given, smiled, opened up her arms and embraced me.

“I’m so very glad you came,” she said.

I smiled, nodded in agreement and exchanged some pleasantries that I can no longer recall. In a matter of minutes she excused herself, informed me we would “catch up later,” and moved to a circle of men and women who had been beckoning her to join them. I suddenly felt as if I were back on the infamous ball field. Was everyone staring at me, sniggering up their sleeves? I moved farther into the crowd, examining name tags as I went. Some of the names were familiar  but their was no relational database that I connected them to. Finally I came upon a man who used to be my next door neighbor. We smiled, shook hands and blurted out as many stories of the “old days” as we could. We soon ran out. There was nothing now but dead air between us. He did explain to me that he was part of a monthly get together with 4 of my other male classmates where they talked and “drank too much.”  No invitation, just a declaration of the existence of this group. As I walked around the room I could see the circles forming. It was as if they were the bumpers in a human pinball game and I was the bright shiny ball, bouncing from one to the other, occasionally scoring a few points, but in the end I slid down that chute that all the played out balls reside in. Within an hour all the illuminati had reclaimed their status in the circle, followed closely by the academicians in their circle and the jocks in theirs. Laughter filled the hall and as I moved from circle to circle I eavesdropped on endless replays of conversations concerning homes in Florida, thriving practices, papers published and children/grandchildren on scholarships and fellowships.

Standing there, beer in hand, it struck me. Out in the world, attending to their daily tasks, living their individual lives, these people could quite possibly have changed in the manner described by my boyhood pal. However, once the herd mentality kicks in it’s the same cast system that existed 50 years ago. People may change but groups rarely do.

I came upon a man, dog faced, tired looking, unsmiling, and looking at his name tag I realized he was one of the worst of the social bullies I faced in those tormented years. My first instinct was to tap him on the shoulder and ask him if he wanted to step outside and settle some differences we had a half a century ago. Everything about him was gray…his hair, his skin, his slightly frayed wool sweater. He was, in a word, sad. Would taking him outside a thrashing him for several minutes make me feel better? Yes, it would, but I knew that soon after that wonderful feeling of self satisfaction waned harsher feelings of embarrassment and shame would simply flush that satisfaction down the drain.

I walked over to my pal, put my arm across his shoulder and said, “I heading out.”

“Already?” came the surprised reply

I nodded, walked away to find Linda, located her with a group of ten or twelve others attempting to cram themselves into a photobooth which had been rented for the occasion and decided it was best to just keep walking.

There I was, out in the parking lot 50 years after I last gathered with these people. Had anything changed? Certainly physically they had, and perhaps, as noted earlier, on an individual level things may have changed. But, as a collective nothing had changed. There was a ruling class, an intellectual class, a working class and “all others.”  I took a deep breath of salt air that wafted in off the Atlantic. Life was good, but was it true that you can never go home again? No. You can go home, but don’t expect it to be a better place than you left.

There are two members of that class who I maintain contact with…all the rest I will never see or hear from again.  Perhaps that’s the way is should be.

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fifty shadesWomen’s sexuality is a topic I can speak on with absolutely no authority, which, if you turn that phrase around, states that I have no authority to speak on women’s sexuality. But I’m going to. I have spoken of greater and lesser things with no authority to do so and I don’t see why I should stop at this point in my life.

Let me take you back to a different time. The mid sixties when both coasts were alive with the pounding heartbeat of revolution…social, sexual, musical and political. I lived through those times, right smack dab in the epicenter of the kicking out of the jams. As my opening paragraph spoke of women’s sexuality I will limit my observations and conclusions to that singular element of the greatest trip this nation has ever been on.

“Want to ball?” It was a common phrase and in the parlance of the time it meant, “would you like to have sex?” The key here is that it was a phrase spoken as often by women as it was by men. If a woman was attracted to a man, or, perish the thought you Republican assholes, was simply horny she would attempt to clarify and rectify her situation. “Yeah, he and I balled last night but I’m splitting for Russian River for a month so I doubt I’ll ever see him again.” Ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not that’s the way social business was conducted, and aside from the occasional bout with an STD nobody was the worse for wear. Women’s sexual appetites were not “allowed” to be equal to men’s, they simply were. Nobody granted that right, women simply took it.

I will get a bit personal here and relate a story that more or less exemplifies the accepted mores of that time. I was living on East 7th Street, between Avenues C and D…right in the middle of the infamous East Village. In the brownstone next door to me a woman, we will call her “Tiger” for this story because that’s what we actually called her, lived with her boyfriend. I found her knee bending attractive but with her “old man” in the picture I could only look and daydream. One day she approached me at a party we both attended and during the course of our conversation I learned that her boyfriend, a jazz musician, was going to be out on the road for the next several weeks. She wanted to know if I would be willing to fill in that opening on her calendar by “shacking up” during his absence. I don’t believe I have to tell the readers my answer. She also made it abundantly clear that upon his return I was, once again, out of the picture. Even now, when thinking on those few weeks I can’t help but run the Paul Simon lyrics through my head…

”Oh, oh, what a night
Oh what a garden of delight
Even now that sweet memory lingers
I was playin’ my guitar
Lying underneath the stars
Just thankin’ the lord for my fingers
For my fingers”

Well, time passed, his gig was over, he returned to Tiger’s loving arms and I was a “used to be.” I was young, my heart was broken, but god I would do it again in a moment (were it not for being married to a tall, red headed beauty).

What’s the point this tale? Tiger was acting on her own desires and needs, mine were secondary. She didn’t need a “Fifty Shade of Grey” to set her free. She didn’t need “My Secret Garden” to grant permission. She was a living, thriving human being and that was all the cause required. That, dear friends, is how we lived our lives. Sexual longings and desires were not something that was gender specific. Somewhere along the line things changed. I must have slept through the passage of this social contract but goddam, who in the hell voted in this new wave of female sexual guerilla warfare? I know it’s necessary, but why? When did females stop being able to ball who they wanted when they wanted? I have news for you, seek out some nice gray haired lady attending the next Rodney Crowell or Tom Rush concert and ask her if  “Fifty Shades” shocked her. You will almost certainly get a “are you fucking kidding me?” look in reply.

I don’t know who or what took the equality of sexual desires and gratification that existed in the sixties and turned them into some repressive force that polarizes women into creating “Fifty Shades” in an effort to somehow reclaim their own sexual independence, but whatever that force was it certainly did a bang up job. I am aware of the fact that almost all social standards are mere pendulums that swing with the times but at what point did this wave of equality break and role back revealing a male dominated, religiously founded sexual politics that, in the year 2013, still finds books such as “50 Shades” to be both shocking and necessary? I know I am often guilty of not paying attention to what is occurring in our boring society, but are people really still stunned by the fact that a woman may actually have sexual cravings that go beyond being stretched out beneath her mate while he acts as a human piston? We seemingly have gone from 1968 to 1768.

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migrant-mother-childrenCan we dispense with “women and children” already? I mean, serious! If I hear one more person bring up women and children (and especially innocent women and children) in context to war or otherwise, I’m going to show them just how innocent I am not.

For starters, as a woman, I take offense at being lumped into the same category as children. I am not a child. There is a clear and inarguable difference between an adult female and a child as demonstrated by the law. Say I robbed a bank. Could I go back with my head hung low, hand over the money, and offer my apology to the branch manager, then expect to return to my usual routine? What if I beat the snot out of my co-worker because she was bugging me? Would it result in a talking to by the CEO and some lessons on getting along? I wish. And my snotty co-worker should thank her lucky stars that I would be treated as an adult and subject to the full arm of the law.

And this business of prepending “innocent” to the phrase as a trick to give it more weight…

“Chemical weapons are indiscriminate. They don’t just kill soldiers, but innocent women and children too.”

There are so many things wrong with that statement, I hardly know where to begin. We have thousands of female soldiers for crying out loud. Are they no longer women because they wear a uniform? Setting that aside, let’s consider innocent. Show me one truly innocent adult? Male or female? Go ahead. Show me. I’m waiting.

And for that matter, show me a truly innocent child. What is innocent about sibling rivalry, stealing candy, feeding your beans to the dog, or lying about your homework? We simply give children the benefit of immaturity, that’s all. Anyone who has ever raised a child can testify to how disturbed and calculating these creatures can be.

But the biggest problem with the statement Women and Children is that it implies men are somehow more expendable. Less valuable. More culpable in the problems of the world. As if no mother ever indoctrinated her child with extreme religious ideologies. What about the men—the shopkeepers, accountants, grandfathers, and students—who were killed by chemical weapons in Syria this summer? Do we care less about them? Is it really more acceptable for them to die because they were male?

This phrase, sans innocent, may have been appropriate during the War of 1812, but in 2013 it diminishes the contribution of women and dispenses entirely with the value of men.

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Lord Byron wants you to get your shit together, slob.

Lord Byron wants you to get your shit together, slob.

There are tons of books, classes and even wikiHow pages regarding how to write a poem and others giving tips for how to read it aloud, but what about how you look while you do it? No one comes to a reading to hear you or your poetry. No one likes poetry, anyway. People come to drink whiskey or coffee, make fun of you, or hook up with damaged MFA students. It’s not how you read, darling; it’s how you look. 

After seeing countless horrifying photos of myself looking like a total sad sack at the microphone, I decided to do some research into how to better my appearance for poetry readings. This matters, a lot. However, there were no tips to be found. I had to, through trial and error, come up with my own regimen. You too can follow these steps for a stellar look when it matters the very most: those times when you are sharing universal truths and renderings of the soul with really bored people who would rather be anywhere else but in that folding chair.

Botox. First of all, it doesn’t matter how young you are. You need it. Second, you don’t need to be making those poop faces while you read and Botox injections prevent that from the get go. 
Also, get some filler in those sunken poverty stricken cheeks of yours, would you?

Makeup: the more the better. It rhymes with breakup and you’d have nothing to go on about without all those breakups, would you?

Makeup: the more the better. It rhymes with breakup and you’d have nothing to go on about without all those breakups, would you?

Makeup. Newscasters and stage actors use it. Beauty queens use it. Drag queens use the hell out of it. Get some Max Factor pancake-style makeup and a big bottle of shimmer and learn how that shit works. Don’t forget the plumping lip-gloss. I don’t care what gender you are or how you feel about makeup in your everyday life. Since when is a poetry reading anything like everyday life? Look at yourself, drunk in your bathrobe, greasy-faced and two days past smelling good. You don’t have the right to get up at a podium looking like that. Get yourself together, poet. Don’t forget to curl those lashes, or better yet, apply fake ones. Easy on the glue.

Do it this way or don’t do it.)

Do it this way or don’t do it.)

Black clothing. Poets are depressing and should only ever wear black. Black turtlenecks are ideal unless you are over the age of 15. If you are 16 or older, black turtlenecks give you more chins than anyone needs. Don’t be stingy. Leave some chins for the rest of us. If you don’t want to wear black, you should either dress like a loan officer or else wear a very low cut shirt. Shawls are pretty poet-y and work well for those who overly emote. However, no poop face. See above (Botox.)

Hair. Poets, this is where you can go wild. You can wear your hair in any number of ways. Throughout the ages, poets have had various hairstyles and most hairstyles are suitable to wear to poetry readings. Exception: the ombre. Enough with that already, okay? Anyway, the best poet styles are shaved heads, severe bobs, butt-length tresses for cisgender men, tight buns, or berets instead. Some clichés are good clichés. Also, make sure your hair doesn’t make you look well to do. As important as it is to look great when reading your poetry out to audiences, it’s more important not to look like you can afford good shampoo, because all the great poets were broke as hell and died alone in garrets, coughing their lungs out and wondering why they wasted their lives writing shit that rhymes.

This is poop face. Don’t do this.

This is poop face. Don’t do this.

Lighting. I don’t care if a Long Beach Alcoholics Anonymous Poetry Slam Night (thank you, Henry Rollins) or a Presidential Inauguration. Lighting is where you get your god damn inner diva out. It should be completely pitch black in the room so no one can see you, or else you should demand the same lighting Beyonce had that time at the Super Bowl. Again, though. No poop face. No amount of good lighting will conceal poop face.

Stand up like a man, soldier.

Stand up like a man, soldier.

Posture. For god’s sake, don’t fidget. Stand still, keep a steely gaze, and pretend you will die a horrible death if you slouch. Also, remember this: breathing is important, but don’t let it make you look like you have a food baby. You must breathe, but do it with the utmost discretion.

Use of a microphone. If you are unfortunate looking, position the microphone so it covers most of your face. Microphones are God’s gifts to your audience, and not just because they make it so you mumblers can be heard. In fact, that’s what’s wrong with them. Turn it off and hide behind it unless you can work out the above advice and look really good, okay?

Masks and costumes. Finally, if all else fails, wear a mask or dress up like Prince and leap around the stage yelling profanities and falling to the ground in tears. Do the splits and eat some fried chicken. Start a softball game or just shut up and buy everyone a drink. Since no one really likes poetry, the least you can do if you can’t look good is make a total fool of yourself, or buy everyone a drink.

Prince would never ever look bad or make poop face.

Prince would never ever look bad or make poop face.

So, that’s it. Remember: in poetry, looks are everything. Let us know how these tips worked for you, but without photos, it’s meaningless. Send pictures of your poetry stage beauty to dena@haliterature.com. Don’t worry. We totally won’t judge!

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