By Lauren Mayer, on Tue May 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with France. On the one hand, we use “french” as a positive adjective, applied to everything from kissing to toast, and we admire French cuisine and fashion. (I’ve always had this image of impeccably chic French women with a spartan wardrobe of 3 perfectly fitted sweaters, a pair of slacks, a pencil skirt, and 2 Hermes scarves, out of which they create 300 different, equally stunning outfits. As well as never getting fat despite enjoying daily champagne and truffles.) But we also use being French as a symbol of snobbery and effete-ness (remember how John Kerry was attacked during the 2004 election for speaking fluent French?, which was supposed to reflect everything that was wrong with his privileged background). And there was that unfortunate episode in 2003 when France’s refusal to participate in the Iraq war resulted in Congress renaming a familiar side dish – anyone remember “freedom fries”?
So France’s latest news will probably cause some mixed reactions, but I for one am thrilled that the country we associate with ooh la la and romance has now opened up official recognition of romance (i.e. marriage) to same sex couples. Sure, France is a largely Catholic country, but it’s also a place we associate with l’amour, toujours l’amour. (Madame Popejoy, my high school french teacher, would be proud of me, I didn’t even have to look up the spelling!)
Quick disclosure – I was actually born in France. (I have no french roots, but my dad was in the airforce about to be stationed in Labrador; he & mom had a whirlwind courtship and he swore the last thing he would do before he shipped out was to get her pregnant. And it was. So she went to France, where her parents were on sabbatical and which was at least a little closer to Labrador. So while I have no recollection of my 3 formative months in France, I have a soft spot for the country.) (And my parents checked, as a US citizen born in an Air Force Hospital, I could run for President. Of course, at the time they checked, Donald Trump wasn’t around. . . . )
Anyway, here’s this week’s song in celebration of France joining the increasingly large list of countries that have legalized same sex marriage:
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue May 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
As last fall’s election made painfully clear, we are a bitterly divided nation: liberal vs. conservative, urban vs. rural, blue vs. red. States in particular have gotten increasingly polarized, with many state legislatures in the control of super-majorities, and each with their own occasionally defiant ideology. Some are pro-business & anti-regulation, some have enacted their own abortion restrictions, some have legalized marijuana even for recreational use, etc. And many states have well-accepted images – Texas has cowboys and oil mavericks, Florida is the home of retired grandparents with New York accents, and thanks to the TV show Portlandia, Oregon is now known to be laid back yet trendy. And so forth.
But what’s happening to California? We’re still a lopsidedly blue state, known for our mild weather, tourist attractions, and botoxed spray-tanned movie stars, but we also used to be the proudly progressive state, or as my Long Island father-in-law calls us, “the land of fruits and nuts.” However, now 12 states plus the District of Columbia are ahead of us in legalizing same-sex marriage. And that includes all of New England, which used to be a bastion of Puritan conservativism. (In my freshman history class at Yale, where I was the only student from the west coast, we learned that the early colonial settlers preferred New England to Virginia because they feared the milder southern weather would encourage indolence and leisure - the professor helpfully added, “so that could explain what’s wrong with California.” Fortunately, I have neither blond hair or a tan, so no one realized I was one of those self-indulgent slobs who’d been corrupted by sunny weather.)
But I digress – Minnesota’s vote for marriage equality is a cause for celebration, and I also understand that legislators in California are waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Proposition 8, but it’s still just a little embarrassing to realize that the way state legislatures are jumping on the bandwagon, we probably won’t even make it to the top 20. And of course there are plenty of liberals in Minnesota, but we don’t exactly think of it as a wild and crazy state full of drag queens and hemp growers. Minnesota has always defied easy categorization, with stoic, independent residents who don’t mind the harsh weather, a place whose congressional delegation can include both Al Franken and Michelle Bachmann, a state which includes wide open spaces and the thriving Twin City area where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat in the air. So sure, I expected they might come around on marriage equality, but I still thought California would get there first. Now is our only example of leadership going to be allowing right-turn-on-red, as Woody Allen once observed? (Congrats to any of you who recognized that as a line from Annie Hall, and yes, I’m one of those fair-weather fans who prefers Woody Allen’s funny movies . . . . )
Oh well, we can drown our sorrows in organic chai lattes and kale smoothies (which by now they probably have in Minnesota too), and sing this song celebrating the latest good news on marriage equality despite California’s diminishing hipness . . .
Like any woman in show biz, I’ve had a long history of crushes on gay men. There was the cute scene partner in acting class, the fellow waiter who won my heart by knowing who Ella Fitzgerald was, and the incredibly talented sax player who had me fooled for awhile since musicians tend to be not just straight, but straight with a vengeance. And there was the awkward-but-sweet college buddy with whom I reconnected after he’d come out to (and in) San Francisco and transformed himself into a buff, bronzed hunk, but with the same sweetness and intelligence. We spent so much time commiserating about our bad luck with men that we half-seriously began to think we should just marry each other. (My mother heard about this and objected, “But Lauren, you know there would be a problem marrying him – he’s not Jewish!” When I told her that perhaps being gay might be a bigger obstacle, her response was “Oh, that’s no big deal, they can fix that.”) (In case she reads this column I should explain, that was over 20 years ago and she’s MUCH better informed now.)
Having a crush on a gay friend can be really frustrating, knowing that he’d be perfect for you except for the sex thing. (My college friend and I did try to date a little, but it just didn’t work, for obvious reasons. He told me that if it wouldn’t work with me, he knew it could never work with a woman, which I hope was a lovely compliment instead of evidence that I turned men gay . . . ) But having a crush on a gay celebrity is stress-free – you know there’s no chance of anything happening, it’s just a fun fantasy. And it’s not as illogical as it seems; these guys are never going out with me regardless of their sexuality, so why not have fun? Plus when a celebrity comes out as gay, he simply adds to his attractiveness by his honesty and bravery. My list of celebrity crushes has included Ricky Martin, Nathan Lane, Victor Garber, Neil Patrick Harris, David Hyde Pierce, Nate Silver (he’s the political statistician who writes the NYTimes ’538′ column and accurately predicted the outcome of every state in the presidential election – smart is almost as much of a turn-on as funny!)
I’ve never really followed sports, other than knowing my husband will be in a foul mood if ‘his’ team loses (which makes no sense to me, he doesn’t actually know any players on the SF Giants or the Warriers or Sharks, so why does he care?) (In case he reads this column, I realize that on the other hand, he doesn’t understand my crush on Nathan Lane, et al., and since he doesn’t tease me about it, I won’t give him any grief about the team thing). But I am now following the sports scene, thanks to Jason Collins coming out as gay. Collins didn’t just come out, he expressed himself beautifully, he handled criticism with grace and dignity, and he comes across as smart, articulate, and thoughtful – but I almost can’t keep my mind on all those wonderful qualities, I keep getting distracted by his gorgeous physique, his rippling muscles, and that matinee-idol smile. And I don’t think the depth of my crush is at all impaired by the fact that before his announcement, not only had I never heard of Mr. Collins, but I’d also never heard of half of the teams listed in his bio. (Memphis Grizzlies? Minnesota Timberwolves?)
So while I still admire all my previous crushes, and I look forward to more cute-and-funny celebrities coming out, I only write love songs for really special gay men. Nate Silver qualified during the election, but I think even more people will understand why I need to sing about Jason Collins! (In case he reads this column, I would LOVE to meet him and I promise not to drool – at least not too much.)
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
Last week’s speedy Congressional action, giving the FAA more flexibility to deal with sequestration-imposed cuts, was hailed by many as a great example of government functioning at its best. But I’m feeling a little like the little kid who insists the Emperor has no clothes – wasn’t the pain of those cuts supposed to be the point? I thought the idea was that if the impact were felt across the board, constituents would complain and Congress would act to find a less Dickensian way of resolving the budget disputes. But apparently that doesn’t apply to frustrated business travelers, or Congresspeople who want to get out of DC as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, do a google search on ‘heartless sequester cuts’ and it takes 0.41 seconds to get 5,310,000 results. (I was going to write ‘and you’ll get thousands of results’ but that sounded like an exaggeration so I did the actual google search – yes, the truth can be even more ludicrous than my imagination.) But of course kids in the Head Start program, homeless people, elderly cancer patients, furloughed federal clerical workers, etc., don’t have the political pull to get the pain of their cuts alleviated.
Don’t get me wrong – I travel frequently and I have spent many frustrated hours in airports coping with flight delays and missed connections, and it’s horrible. It also reminds me of how plane travel has deteriorated – I still remember the first time I went on a plane as a 7-year-old, flying with my family to see grandparents back east. My sister and I had new dresses for the occasion, white patent leather mary-janes, and matching little purses, and it felt so glamorous and chic. (And I’m not advocating going back to that – I still remember how itchy my dress was, and I’d much rather fly in yoga pants and sneakers than in the skirt suit, pumps, and girdle my mom probably had to wear.) (In case you missed last week’s column, or are too lazy to do the math, this was in 1966, not 1956 . . . and yeah, I walked uphill to school both ways, in the snow, in southern California . . . . )
But these days only a few privileged business travelers get anything close to a luxurious experience, and the rest of us shlumps not only have to suffer cramped seats and nonexistent service, but we get our noses rubbed in it because we always have to go through business class on our way back to steerage, adding insult to injury and fostering class resentment. (I’m always thrilled when I see a whiny toddler as I go through business class . . . )
Of course, you could claim that travel delays are the big equalizer, since even a first class ticket can’t help you if the flight is cancelled. But if the point of the sequester was to make the cuts so painful that everyone would suffer and we’d have to find alternatives, this latest Congressional move seems completely wrong-headed. Although it does at least show us that Congress IS capable of quick, decisive action – and fortunately it’s great fodder for comedians. (Granted, making fun of Congress is as easy as making fun of the Kardashians . . . and I’m not above either!)
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
Sure, California has lots of advantages – fabulous weather, beautiful scenery, and being on the cutting edge of everything from computer innovation to right-turn-on-red. But there are plenty of drawbacks, besides the obvious (cost-of-living and housing prices are insane, New Yorkers like my father-in-law refer to our home as ‘the land of fruits and nuts’). And one of the biggest problems here is political.
Granted, I’m grateful to live in a state where my kids aren’t taught creationism in science class, or where I don’t worry that a personhood amendment is going to make my birth control pills illegal. But when lunacy happens on the federal level, there’s often not much I can do. For example, many people were horrified by last week’s Senate vote, blocking watered-down background checks on gun purchases (that were supported by 80-90% of all voters – one of the rare occasions where WTF? is a totally appropriate reaction). All the left-leaning organizations tell us we’re supposed to contact our senators and representatives and give them hell. But what do I do when my legislators are all very liberal women? I mean, am I supposed to call Dianne Feinstein and complain that the assault weapons ban, which SHE sponsored, hasn’t gotten further? That’s like the old borscht belt joke about the Jewish mother at a Catskills resort, complaining that the food was “just awful, I couldn’t eat a bite, and besides, the portions were so small!”
And while I am grateful to California innovators for all the advances in computers and internet connectivity, now I can’t pretend to be from another state. I get emails saying “Let Senator so-and-so know you’re angry about the background checks vote” and when I call the number, something in the system figures out what my zip code is and redirects me to Barbara Boxer’s office voicemail. I mean, technology is great, but that feels a little creepy to me, especially when I was getting really good at imitating a southern accent.
So to all my friends in red states who envy us in more liberal parts of the country, at least you can make some noise, and possibly some difference, by contacting your legislators. And trust me, I know your pain, I grew up in Orange County, which I like to think of as the red state in the middle of California. I was one of two students in my entire high school trying to drum up support for McGovern . . . . . and before you whip out your calculators, yes, I’m old, but not THAT old, it was my freshman year and I was only 13 and I can’t lie about my age because my teenage sons are good at math and lousy at keeping secrets . . . . oh never mind, here’s a song about being blue in a blue state:
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
Parents of teenagers are used to over-reactions – if someone doesn’t laugh at their Facebook post, they’re despondent, or a bad hair day leads to “I’m too hideous to go to school today,” or my personal favorite, teens who stare at a completely full refrigerator and moan, “There’s nothing to eat!” This could be a valuable skill in politics – in fact, I used to hypothesize that moms of toddlers could solve even the toughest diplomatic crises (“Israel and Palestinian settlers, if you can’t agree on how to play nicely with the occupied territories, I’ll put you both in time out!”) But these days, I think the additional skills gained by dealing with teenagers could help even more.
Because our political system has become so virulently partisan, even the slightest policy proposal creates shock and horror – both sides are guilty of over-reaction on occasion, but lately the most flagrant example is this week’s Senate vote on background checks for guns. From the way the NRA and many politicians are reacting, you’d think Senators Manchin & Toomey had proposed banning assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, and any ammunition and were considering banning bows & arrows and fishing poles. Strengthening existing background checks and closing a couple of loopholes is a really mild step, and from all the times Wayne LaPierre has ranted about ‘bad guys with guns,’ it’s hard to understand why he is so opposed to making it slightly harder for a bad guy to get a gun. The whole thing smacks of teenage over-reaction – “Today, background checks, tomorrow, they’ll have to pry my gun out of my cold dead body” is logically identical to “if Jason asks Kendra to prom instead of me, I’ll never have a social life and I’ll die alone.”
We already regulate weapons – no one is screaming about the slippery slope caused by the fact that you can’t own a nuclear missile just in case the coyotes out back get feisty. And we already regulate a TON of products and services that haven’t sent us on a never-ending decline into fascism – so far the government isn’t coming after our cars just because they’re registered, and while food vendors do need licenses and health inspections, it hasn’t led to goose-stepping officers shutting down little Susie’s lemonade stand. So get a grip, gun lobby – and to help you stop acting like hysterical teen girls who couldn’t get Justin Bieber tickets, here’s a musical reminder of all the things that have survived being regulated . . .
I may be a card-carrying knee-jerk liberal, but I do my best to understand opposing points of view. (Maybe it was all my years as a high school & college debater, where you had to argue convincingly on both sides of any question.) I may not like their reasoning, but I can see why gun enthusiasts worry about any new laws, or why people who view life beginning at conception would try to ban abortion – They have something at stake. However, I have yet to see a single way in which allowing same-sex marriage does anything at all to heterosexual marriage. Divorce rates are down in Massachusetts, kids still play hockey in Canada, and the “it’s not natural” argument has been thoroughly debunked, not just by psychologists but by the volume of evidence about animal homosexuality being perfectly natural. Bonobos do it, birds & bees do it, and probably educated fleas do it. (Apparently there are even bisexual flowers and trees!)
The most recent arguments against marriage equality have gotten even more ludicrous. First there was Sue Everhart, the Georgia Chairwoman of the GOP, who claimed that same-sex marriage would encourage fraudulent marriage claims in order to get federal benefits, but neglected to explain why people don’t do that already with straight marriage. Then Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon & new darling of the right, stuck his foot even further in his mouth by using a weird series of fruit analogies (??) to explain that just because he linked gay marriage, pedophilia and bestiality in an argument against gay marriage, he didn’t really mean it. But Dr. Carson is just the most recent marriage equality opponent to bring animals into the discussion. Rick Santorum used the ‘slippery slope’ argument almost 10 years ago, Bill O’Reilly once famously claimed people would want to marry their pet turtles, and recently Texas Representative Louie Gohmert digressed from his opposition to limiting ammunition magazine sizes to opine that we needed some limits or people would start marrying animals. As Jon Stewart ranted last week, “What’s with all the animal f-&#*%ing?”
Even Bill O’Reilly has seen the writing on the wall, and recently drew fire from his fellow conservatives by correctly stating that most of the objections to marriage equality involved bible-thumping rather than rational thinking. And as more and more conservatives have children who come out to them, I think we’ll see more conscience-driven switching. Of course, as a humorist, I’m still hoping for one of the more staunch opponents to be caught tickling his interns or playing footsie in an airport men’s room, but in the meantime, might I suggest that anyone who is still against marriage equality start using an argument that doesn’t involve nature or animals. And while they’re trying to come up with one (good luck!), here’s a musical look at the whole animals argument:
There are occasional moments when I feel so confused by an aspect of our culture, it’s like being an anthropologist studying an obscure tribe, or Jane Goodall observing chimps. Usually those moments have to do with my teenagers – a joke they think is hysterical which goes completely over my head, or my 16-year-old trying to explain what makes a video go viral. (He discovered Gangnam Style before it had a million hits, which gives him some authority as being ahead of the pop culture curve.) When one of my videos topped 8,000 hits, his reaction was, “Well, mom, that’s viral for old people.”
But my most recent “I feel like Jane Goodall” moment was in a supermarket check-out line, behind someone who definitely had more than 15 items; to keep from glaring at her, I started reading the magazine and tabloid covers. I pride myself on being fairly well-informed about both politics and entertainment, so it was rather dismaying to realize I hadn’t heard of a single name in those headlines. Every single one of them was from some reality TV show, although I couldn’t tell you which ones were from The Bachelor, which from Survivor, etc. I felt like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, bemoaning the end of true celebrity as a result of some artistic accomplishment. (“I’m still big, it’s the reality shows that have gotten bigger . . . “)
I used to say I wanted the kind of fame that was celebrated by those American Express ads, where talented-but-not-totally-famous people would say, “You know my name, but you probably wouldn’t recognize me.” You know, I’d be acknowledged for my artistry but not hounded or bothered in private. But apparently that type of fame has been eradicated by a stream of Snookis and octomoms, and the worse the behavior, the bigger the celebrity. So this week’s song is a musical musing on life, fame, and what makes someone truly noteworthy.
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 1:30 PM ET
Hag sameach, happy Pesach, and how appropriate that the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage will begin on the first day of Passover! Sure, most of us think of Passover in terms of biblical history, the one time a year we open the Manischewitz, or trying to find appetizing uses for matzoh (there are some great recipes online for chocolate-toffee-covered versions . . . ). However, Passover is also a celebration of a pivotal moment in history (the Jews escaping from persecution in Egypt), just as the Supreme Court case is a pivotal moment in the history of gay rights, and of the freedom of gay couples to have the same legal recognition as heterosexual couples.
I see some personal links between the events, as well. As a card-carrying Jewish mother, I like to joke that I’m secretly longing for a gay son (so he’ll go shopping with me, and he’ll never replace me with another woman). Plus Jews have lots in common with gay people, in that we’re often reduced to stereotypes and have experienced group discrimination – it makes sense that so many of us support marriage equality. (In fact, our synagogue performed same-sex ceremonies before they even considered interfaith marriages!)
Plus the connection between gay rights and being Jewish is what got me to The Recovering Politician in the first place. Last summer, I was researching ways to publicize my album of Chanukah comedy songs, and I came across an article about Chanukah music by Jonathan Miller. I wrote to him out of the blue, never expecting to get a response, but not only did he reply, he invited me to contribute to the site’s discussion of last year’s Chick-Fil-A controversy. I wrote about some of the same reasons, why Jewish mothers support gay rights, including a song about being a liberal Jewish mother, and joked that I should do a weekly song. Jonathan said Sure, I thought, Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?, and 8 months and 40 songs later, I’m still finding plenty of inspiration in current events.
So since a big part of the Passover Seder is to express gratitude, I’d like to officially thank you, Jonathan and The Recovering Politician, for launching a whole new creative venture and for providing a sane, civil community for discussion and sharing opinions.
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 5:00 PM ET
March always tends to be a rather bleak month. In most parts of the country, the charm of snow has definitely worn off, and even here in California, we’re getting a bit tired of gray cold weather. And there’s plenty of gloom and doom in the news, between various fiscal crises, a federal government paralyzed by partisanship, and Lindsay Lohan being sentenced to her 6th stint in rehab. But we Californians are always looking to find meaningful life lessons in our challenges, to let our spiritual selves rise above adversity. Which works great when I get stuck in traffic and do a few deep cleansing breaths, but it can backfire too. Constantly being told to find a brighter side, when there isn’t one, just makes us feel worse. I tried to find a silver lining in having a nasty cold and a huge work commitment that I couldn’t get out of, but I ended up just feeling like a spiritual failure with an ugly red nose. However, I remember hearing some wise words when my kids were younger and took Tae Kwon Do – the instructor told them to absorb blows by making sounds, so they’d release all that negative energy. (Or something along those lines – I may be mixing things up with old episodes of “Kung Fu.”) Which one could interpret to mean, Go ahead and vent – so I did, mostly by sending a couple of self-pitying texts to my closest friends, since my voice was out of commission. And sure enough, I felt better, on top of getting some really nice, sympathetic responses.
Spring will be here soon enough, and it will probably be easier to rise above fiscal cliffs and traffic jams when the weather is nice. But in the meantime, give yourself a break – instead of trying to look for the good in your challenges, go ahead, kvetch! (Which is Yiddish for ‘releasing negative energy.’ Or close enough . . . ) Here’s a song to help you: