Letter To A Lost Friend

I wrote this for another site in December 2011, just after Christopher Hitchens died. I’m less wistful now than when I wrote it, but I meant what I said and haven’t changed a word. It was a hell of a time. I feel lucky to have lived it.

Christopher —  

I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Writing to you after you’ve died. As you know, I’ve reached out to you since a mutual friend told me of your illness. Ceased my attacks and critiques. Not that I changed my mind about your pro-war position, but my feelings ran deeper than partisan rifts.  

We never met again. Friends said it was because you were in treatment. Weak. Unable to talk. I know that’s true. But maybe you simply didn’t want to see me. I understand. All I desired was to look you in the eyes one last time and say thanks. So this will have to suffice.  

I have more memories of you than you did of me, the proper balance, given our relationship. When you read my initial attempts to write political criticism, you were honest but encouraging. Made minor corrections while highlighting lines you liked. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. When young writers seek my advice or input, I remember your generosity and offer them my own. I still hew to your belief that first thoughts are not best thoughts. That the best stuff must be dug out. You were right.  

My favorite memories stem from those long nights and weekends in your and Carol’s apartment. If I seemed star struck, I was. I couldn’t believe you took me as seriously as you did. The two of us sitting at that long dining room table next to the kitchen. Me trying to match you drink for drink. Rookie hubris. You made it seem effortless, wreathed in Rothman smoke, longish hair tousled. We’d talk through the early hours, you more than me. I was happy to listen and learn.  

There were the C-SPAN gigs. Twice you took me along, early morning, when neither of us had any sleep. In a DC cab as the sun came up. You’d click on your debate switch and your eyes became electric. Your energy was boundless. When I appeared on C-SPAN, I tried following your example. Disaster. Massive hangover on national TV. It still hurts to watch that tape. I think you kept me up that night to test my endurance. To see if I could hang. I made it. Barely.  

You opened doors for me. Recommended me to Jonathan Larsen at the Village Voice when the Press Clips column was vacant. I felt I wasn’t ready for that stage, but you did. Larsen went with Doug Ireland instead. No matter. There were other jobs.  

You got me into Mother Jones. Your endorsement put me in the New York Perspectives editor’s chair. That was vital to my education. It’s where I really learned to write. It was through you that Tariq Ali and Colin Robinson read my work. Tariq later published Savage Mules. Belated thanks for that.  

So many moments swim through my mind. Our physical feats competition on your building’s rooftop. You teaching me how to properly cook salmon in your kitchen. The day we spent together at the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York. You introduced me to Norman Mailer and Norris Church, saying “And of course you know Dennis Perrin.” We hung out with Dick Cavett and Ron Reagan, Jr. Made fun of Charles Krauthammer who sat in front of us in Madison Square Garden. We hit the reporters’ bar and talked about how awful Bill Clinton was going to be.  

We then went to HBO Studios where you were to debate John Podhoretz on Comedy Central. It was a live show. You said “fuck” several times. Moderator Al Franken told you to stop. You replied, “I thought I was allowed to say whatever the fuck I wanted!” The segment ended early. The night was just beginning.  

When I pissed off Noam Chomsky, sharing with you something he wrote to me privately, you spoke to Noam and straightened it out. I was thoughtless. You were selfless. You helped me many times like that. When I asked for a blurb for Mr. Mike, you didn’t hesitate. When we saw each other at readings or signings, you always hugged and kissed me, cigarette ash falling on my shoulder. “So good to see you, dear boy! Care for a drink?” I never refused.  

I’m sorry we fell out. That was never my intention. I simply didn’t understand your reasoning. It felt false to me. When I reminded you of forgotten statements that undermined your pro-invasion arguments, you didn’t deny them. You just got shitty with me. Pulled rank. When I wrote “Obit for a Former Contrarian” for Minneapolis’ City Pages in 2003, you reacted as if I stuck a shiv in your gut. You emailed me from Kuwait, demanding that I confess to planting the story in New York Post’s Page Six. I told you the truth. I didn’t. But you wouldn’t believe me.

From there it grew worse.   You later feigned little knowledge of me. The same tactic that Sidney Blumenthal used on you. Why not? It works. But mutual friends told me different stories. One wanted to set up a debate between us. Carol thought it was a good idea. You were horrified by the suggestion. Spoke of my betrayal. You never got over that “Obit” piece. Thing is, that piece is filled with love and respect for you. Severe criticism, too, but couched in whatever affection I had left.  

You were wrong, old friend. You endorsed and pushed for all manner of imperial violence. Your glee over Fallujah blew my mind. After all you had written, roasting imperial toads with scathing wit, you were in the end no different than them.  

Yes, I wrote harshly about this. To you personally, on my blog and at Huffington Post. For a moment I considered taking it all down, out of respect for your passing. But the old Christopher would blanch at that. And he would be right.  

In your collection For The Sake of Argument, you wrote this to me: “For Dennis — close reader, meticulous viewer, who answers back to the consensus. With warm fraternal greetings, Christopher.” In No One Left to Lie To, you penned, “Dennis is a good man. C.H.”

I’d like to think that somewhere inside of you, these sentiments remained. I’ll never know. But many positive sentiments about you remain in me. Some friends have mocked me for this, but they didn’t know you as I did.  

So long, Christopher. I’ll never forget you.

Gary Kroeger Is Still Smiling

Being erased is not a pleasant experience. Former SNL cast member Gary Kroeger knows this intimately. In a 2018 New Yorker profile of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary’s old friend and former cast mate, writer Ariel Levy recounted her subject’s early years, specifically the Practical Theatre Company in Chicago.

It was from PTC that JLD, with Brad Hall, Paul Barrosse, and Gary Kroeger, were hired by SNL. Only thing is, Levy never mentioned Gary. Everyone else had a say, but Gary was airbrushed from his own history. This blew my mind. I asked Levy about this glaring omission. She said that there simply wasn’t room for Gary’s name. I replied that it was only two words. Sorry, Levy shot back. Them’s the breaks.

This hurt Gary. He didn’t publicly admit it, but the snub stung. Gary left showbiz to raise his two sons in his hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa. He booked steady work in LA, but felt that his sons needed a more grounded upbringing. Yet that showbiz flame never really faded.

I learned this when Gary and I reconnected on Facebook, several decades after we first met in SNL‘s Studio 8H. We both moved to New York City in September 1982. I, too, arrived from the Midwest (Indianapolis) after performing in a comedy group, the key difference being that Gary was on national television, and I worked open mics at comedy clubs.

About a year later, I met a Letterman writer who invited me to SNL‘s Friday night camera blocking session. It was a very heady experience for a 24-year-old still relatively new to the scene. Cast, writers, and crew were scattered throughout the small studio. I sat on a bleacher seat and tried to remain inconspicuous. It was amazing to be there.

The second time I went to a blocking session I met Gary. He stood next to me, watching Jim Belushi, Robin Duke, and Brad Hall run through a sketch with host Michael Palin. I whispered something about the sketch to Gary, who smiled and asked if he knew me from somewhere. I said I was a tourist who wanted to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, but got there too late. So I thought I’d take in a show.

Gary laughed, and during a break he and I began talking. Gary was very open and amiable. When I confessed that I didn’t work at NBC in any capacity, but knew someone who did, Gary didn’t rat me out. We got along well, traded stories about our backgrounds and talked about what we hoped to achieve. One of the writers thought we were brothers. We did have the same haircut.

After attending several blockings and meeting Robin Williams, Jerry Lewis, Terri Garr, and Michael Palin, my joyride came to an abrupt end. Director Dave Wilson banned all non-staff from the studio (while producer Dick Ebersol walked around with a baseball bat). Gary and I went our separate ways.

I went Cedar Falls to visit Gary, right before the chaos of the Iowa caucuses. Campaign buses and workers were everywhere. Numerous snow-covered yards displayed Bernie, Amy, and Pete signs. Gary was in the thick of it. A partisan Democrat, he reveled in the politicized atmosphere. When we saw each other for the first time in 36 years, Gary welcomed me with a smile and warm hug.

Gary is a vibrant 62, eyes still sharp, energy keen. (I’m two years younger, but somehow Gary makes me feel older.) He seems to know practically everyone in Cedar Falls. He shakes hands and pats shoulders with a politician’s zeal, which makes sense, given that Gary ran for Congress in 2016. He lost, but the political bug remains embedded, and he hints at a future run for another office.

Gary also misses “the sizzle but not the bullshit” of showbiz, and he maintains a theatrical air. He has a recurring dream about returning to SNL, something he concedes will probably never happen. “Lorne doesn’t bring back Ebersol regulars,” he says, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy notwithstanding. When he watches the current show, his mind goes back to those moments just before air. The nervousness and anticipation. The excitement of live performing. “There’s nothing like it,” Gary says wistfully.

We talk about his time on SNL. While he’s proud of his first two seasons, Gary admits that his final season was his best. “That should have been my breakout year,” he says, and normally, he’d be right. Gary was hitting on all cylinders, but it happened in the shadows of Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Christopher Guest. Still, some of Gary’s performances that season were stellar. My favorite remains Gary as a pretentious actor auditioning to play Superman. Though his character is killed, Gary is the heart of that sketch. All sizzle, no bullshit.

When Gary had dinner with Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, he shared a private story. “I told him, ‘Hey Chris, when I was a kid I was a Superman freak. I loved Superman so much that in the second grade I used to wear my Superman suit underneath my clothes.’ In my child mind I thought that if anyone saw the S under my shirt, they’d think I was Superman. I wore the cape, too, and it bunched up in my pants. One of my classmates loudly asked ‘Gary Kroeger, are you wearing a diaper?’ Imagine my horror. I wasn’t really Superman. I had nowhere to go except probably cry.

“After I told that story to Chris Reeve, he went on The Tonight Show and told Johnny Carson that same story, as if it had been him! The audience loved it, and I’m sitting there yelling ‘YOU STOLE MY PANEL!’ I don’t think it was malicious on Chris’ part. It’s just a great story for a talk show.”

“I’ve been thinking about where my place is [on SNL] and what my strengths were,” he says. “I didn’t get a three-picture deal out of it. I didn’t become a household name. I’ve never been asked to host the show. So it’s easy to look back and say ‘I kinda sucked.'” But thanks to social media feedback, YouTube, and the passing of time, Gary is able to better assess his SNL work.

“I always knew what I was doing,” Gary adds. “I made conscious acting choices that were my own. Now I’m able to look back and say, I did it. I touched that reality. I had a front row seat.”

He also became friends with writer Larry David. Gary witnessed several scenes that later became Seinfeld plots, including David planning to slip a mickey to Dick Ebersol during the end-of-season party at the Rainbow Room. Gary doesn’t recall if David actually dosed Ebersol, but he immediately recognized it when George Costanza planned the same revenge on his boss.

Gary received an offer to audition for Seinfeld as Elaine’s boyfriend, which he turned down. While seemingly inexplicable, Gary provided the context for his action. He had booked Archie: To Riverdale And Back Again, a TV movie with a series option. At the time, Seinfeld was near the bottom of the ratings and only paid scale. It was assumed that it would be cancelled. The Archie paycheck was much larger for about the same amount of work. Easy choice, right?

Of course, Gary regrets that decision. He’d be part of Seinfeld lore, his younger self frozen in endless syndication. He also felt that he offended Larry David, which is why when he was offered a part on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Gary thought that David either “forgave me for passing on Seinfeld or simply forgot about it.” This time he took the gig, playing a weatherman who Larry suspects is giving false weather reports so he can play golf on an empty course.

Curb showed that Gary still has it, and should he really desire it, he could easily fit into a show, a film, maybe even a drama. He’s taken enough lumps over time to season a somber side. And he’s still a great impressionist. His Alan Alda, which he did on SNL, remains fine (though I give a slight Alda edge to Bill Hader). But no one did a better Walter Mondale, not even the brilliant Dana Carvey. Had Mondale won in 1984, Gary’s profile definitely would’ve risen. Playing the President on SNL establishes you.

“Give me a little Mondale,” I say to Gary at the tiny Waterloo airport. He slides right into it, that nasal Minnesotan accent still distinct and pitch perfect. We hug goodbye. This was a genuinely warm and delightful reunion, and I’m happy that we’ve both made it this far. Gary’s great — make that Gary Kroeger is great. Two words that will always have room on my page.

When Clowns Cry

“You wanna pet my dawwwg?”

Jerry Lewis offers his tiny dog to me. I’m hesitant to touch it because this is Jerry Lewis, comedy legend, pop culture icon. Though he’s using his little boy’s voice, Jerry has a reputation for sudden anger, and he’s bigger than I’d imagined. Hair slicked down, aviator glasses, sports jacket, open collar shirt, expensive watch. Just like he looked on Carson, Cavett, and Merv.

I’m a bit frozen, but I pet his dog regardless. It has long white fur flecked with black. I don’t know its sex and don’t venture a guess. I pull back my hand and smile at Jerry. He briefly smiles, then leaves.

It’s November, 1983, SNL’s Studio 8H. Jerry is that week’s host, and I’m lucky enough to watch him rehearse. He seems casual but aloof. Save for Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, I doubt he knows the names of the rest of the cast, and probably doesn’t care. He questions some of the jokes in each sketch. He takes issue with one writer who assures Jerry that a green-screen piece will kill on-air. Other writers mutter jokes about Jerry, but he doesn’t hear them. He looks like he wants to get through this as quickly as possible.

My comedic interest in Jerry Lewis then was recent. I never really liked his work growing up, but honestly, I never truly studied it. Jerry Lewis seemed like another fading hack from yesteryear, doing ancient bits for nostalgic applause. I was attracted to newer, daring forms — Python, National Lampoon, and of course SNL, which was the main reason why I was at 8H in the first place.

When I moved to NYC the year before, I’d gotten to know a few comedy writers who respected Jerry Lewis and were astonished by my agnosticism. One had written a manuscript analyzing Jerry’s films which he suggested I read. It painted a different Jerry Lewis from the one in my head. He was a conceptual, innovative genius who navigated rough showbiz waters with confidence, arrogance, and bizarre, inexplicable behavior. Jerry was a complicated comedy giant. There was no one like him before, and there certainly wouldn’t be one after.

At the time, NYC had numerous theaters that featured old films, so Jerry Lewis’ work was never far away. With a fresh perspective, I went to see THE BELLBOY, THE PATSY, THE ERRAND BOY, THE LADIES MAN, and of course THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, which I’d remembered from childhood. But these viewings were different. I began to understand what those other writers told me.

The precise physical timing; the comic framing and use of bold, contrasting colors that created a hyper-reality; the surrealist slapstick that was as dazzling as it was often baffling. The total commitment to it all. I didn’t connect to every gag, and was put off by the more maudlin scenes (what Dean Martin called “that Chaplin shit”). Yet here was a definitive brilliance that I had missed. I was converted.

Unfortunately, most people will remember Jerry Lewis primarily as a difficult celebrity, the guy who’d weep, rant, and sing on the Muscular Dystrophy telethons. Younger comics, especially women, will see him as an unrepentant sexist, homophobic asshole. Cinéastes will appreciate his films, great, bad, and awful, as a peculiar, singular genre. Then there are those, some of whom I still know, who’ll forever revere Jerry Lewis simply as Jerry — the larger-than-life comedy force that mesmerized them as kids.

I appreciate and share elements of those takes. But if you limited me to one tribute, it would be THE KING OF COMEDY, Martin Scorsese’s dark meditation on fame and delusion. To me, it’s Jerry Lewis’ best work, a solid, honest performance that will never age. Amid the film’s chaos, it’s Jerry who provides the steady flow. You get a vivid sense of who he was and how he viewed his professional career. It’s as close to Method Jerry as we ever got.

And I got to pet his dawwwg.

The Saga So Far


Yes, I know — I go to the trouble of starting a new site, only to let it rust after a few entries. I have my reasons, though few are terribly compelling.

Basically, the current political/cultural climate sickens me so much that I prefer to read books about time travel and old Hollywood debauchery than type out broody observations. Rejecting a political writing career was a wise move, as the partisan noise that passes for commentary would have long ago had me gnawing on my straitjacket.

Perhaps if I were new to the scene, eager to tear through its rotting flesh. I once felt that way, raising the black flag and ready to cut throats, as Mencken put it. But everything now seems like a crude rerun. There are those who navigate this terrain well and they have my respect, however puzzled I am by their commitment.

I suppose it’s because I’ve seen too many minds warped by this environment. It’s a measure of how preposterous US political culture has become that such violence is commonplace.

I was reminded of this while watching TRUMPED, a behind-the-scenes campaign diary on Showtime. Political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann follow candidate Donald Trump from his first announcement to his stunning victory. The basic arc is the same: Trump spouts crazy shit while the corporate media rolls its eyes and barely stifles its contempt.  Halperin and Heilemann are especially smug, secure in the belief that Trump doesn’t stand a chance against the superior Hillary. Knowing what ultimately happens makes their behavior unintentionally amusing.

Indeed, their shocked expressions on election night made me laugh. The experts got it completely wrong. How could this happen to such smart people? It’s like they hallucinated Trump’s win and hoped that by morning their heads would clear to the proper reality of President Clinton.

What was presumably intended as a historical document comes off as dark comedy. Yet what really struck me was the lack of perception. I also assumed that Hillary had it sewn up; nearly the entire corporate political establishment was behind her. But I didn’t enjoy Halperin and Heilemann’s inside access to Trump’s campaign. If I’d seen what they recorded, I might have still bet on Hillary, though not as confidently. It’s clear that Trump tapped a serious, populist vein, regardless of intention or sincerity. Hillary and her followers ignored that, when not mocking the concept and demeaning those who gave Trump a shot.

Since then, American politics have gone haywire, primarily among liberals who peddle conspiracy theories while clinging desperately to the established Dem order — what remains of it, that is. Trump’s presidency is an erratic nightmare, but apart from Bernie Sanders and those radicals who support him, there isn’t much serious resistance from the liberal camp. For them, Trump is a stylistic embarrassment. They don’t oppose corporate capitalism, just Trump’s chaotic version of it. Their main belief is that once Russian interference is exposed and punished, things can get back to normal.

This is why I hesitate to write extensively about our present moment. Distributing political views in a madhouse holds little appeal for me. Maybe I’m selfish, maybe I’m tired. Maybe the laughs I do find hurt too much to share. I’ll let you know if my condition improves.

Punch Drunk LOL

Piece-Now.jpgHave you ever hit someone so hard that they cried? How well do you take a punch? Ever been on the ground, trying to fend off kicks to your head? Ever been cut? Ever been shot?

These questions aren’t meant to be rhetorical. I’m curious in the serious meat/real world sense. More and more younger people of my acquaintance are, if not directly advocating “punching Nazis,” sympathetic to the violent concept. Given the current landscape, such feelings are probably inescapable, however inadvisable.

But, fascists don’t deserve free speech! They must be pushed back, made afraid, and ultimately defeated!

You’d think we were fighting for the Spanish Republic. Yet a 21st century America led by a media-created, soft-skinned narcissist doesn’t rise to the level of Falangist Spain, much less Nazi Germany. We have our own brightly-lit, pulsating hell to deal with. I’d like to say that it’s unique, and in many ways it is, but imperial decline is nothing new. Only the toys get more expensive.

When it comes to denying fascists free speech rights, Noam Chomsky would disagree with you. After all, Noam defended the free speech rights of French writer Robert Faurisson, who trafficked in Holocaust denial and was fined by a French court (also, allegedly physically attacked). While Noam deplored Faurisson’s views, he nevertheless felt that the state should not determine historical truth. Promoting a vulgar theory of history should not get you fined or imprisoned, and certainly not punched.

Ah, but if we don’t stop fascists at the polemical stage, their dangerous ideas will spread and lead to another Nazi state!

I’m not a historian of fascism (though I’ve known a couple and have read from their shelves), but I do know that the US is nothing like 1933 Germany. It’s larger and more culturally diverse; dissent has in many ways been marginalized, yet remains strong and influential, thanks to social media. In other words, we’re not heading to the camps anytime soon.

The spontaneous defense of Muslim immigrants and refugees is not strictly an answer to encroaching fascism, but a widening and deepening awareness of the present moment. You don’t need to sucker punch Richard Spencer to show fascists where you stand. Strength in numbers and solidarity is a more effective, lasting reminder. Under Trump/Pence, that collective strength will further solidify.

Still, there are adventurist souls who seek direct confrontation. They’re welcome to it, but what’s the end game? Assaulting some asshole scrawling swastikas on public transit may feel good, yet does nothing to undermine the larger problem. And I wonder to what degree this actually happens. There’s lots of talk, but where’s the daily, hourly video feed?

I’ve met and spoken to some of the people calling for this, and like many domestic radicals before them, most couldn’t kick open a bag of flour. Their romance with violence remains theoretical and, in the Twitter age, a spectator sport. Which brings me back to the top of this piece.

I’ve been punched, kicked, stomped, and thrown against walls; I’ve returned the favors, though not as sadistically as my tormentors. I’ve been cut. I was once shot at and somehow wasn’t hit. I’ve fired automatic weapons, a rocket launcher, and thrown live grenades (courtesy of Uncle Sam).

I’ve known violence, and it’s not a meme. We should be bashing corporate capitalism. It’s not as immediately satisfying and is much more elusive, but it’s the true face we need to punch.

Deny Everything


In 1979, Dead Kennedys released “California Über Alles,” a satirical attack on then-California Governor Jerry Brown and his “Zen fascists.” It was rumored that Brown would challenge Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination (which he briefly did); DK lead singer Jello Biafra imagined a New Age Nazi regime where jogging and mellow vibes would be mandatory.

Funny for its day.

Brown never became president, but Ronald Reagan did, bringing with him a darker blend of fascist notions. Biafra’s parody of Brown was suddenly pointless. He rewrote the song, casting Reagan as an American Shah bent on war and Christian conformity. It was re-titled “We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now.”

Accurate, though given present reality, increasingly quaint.

Is Trump worse than Reagan? Hard to say this early in, but the signs aren’t encouraging. I don’t recall this much craziness at Reagan’s dawn — and Al Haig was Secretary of State! (“Scary man, with morals of a styrofoam cup” as SNL put it at the time.) But then, elites were pretty comfortable with Reagan who was much more popular than Trump. There’s nothing like an unstable narcissist to drive a wedge into the so-called “consensus.”

As we’ve seen, liberal reaction to Trump is all over the place, ranging from conspiracy theories to left-bashing to calls for a military coup (Sarah Silverman’s brilliant suggestion). Marches and demonstrations have increased (I went to three in one week), and there are pleas for a general strike or anything that will slow if not hinder the machine. Bernie Sanders’ campaign anticipated this, but it took Trump to get liberals off their asses and into the streets.

It’s nice to see liberals arise from their eight-year slumber. I don’t know how long it will last or how deep their waking commitment runs, but with President Trump there is no lack of stimulation. Of course, mainstream Democrats remain loyal to the system, regardless of who’s managing it. For many, Trump loses on style points, not for using the weapons honed and passed on to him by Obama. And in case anybody was confused, Nancy Pelosi reminded us that capitalism rules.

Vive la résistance!

Some radicals are opting for more direct confrontations. After fascist dweeb Richard Spencer got sucker punched in DC, and a group of demonstrators aggressively shut down an appearance by alt-right celeb Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, violence is being considered as a viable tactic. We’ve been here before, usually with disastrous results (there are those who think that the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 were successful, but somehow global capital survived). I suppose each new generation must experience this personally, so we’ll see how violent resistance flies this time around.

I would counsel my young, eager radical friends to think this through. Captain America knocking out Hitler is cute, but physically confronting domestic fascists carries serious risks. Unless you’re armed or know how to fight, chances are good you’ll get the worst of it. Ask the survivors of the Greensboro massacre of 1979, where communists took on the Klan and paid dearly, five with their lives. And don’t forget the fascist-minded in uniform, who have the increasing power of the state behind them. Something to consider before donning the black mask.

It appears, dear ones, that we are in deep shit. And it’s only just begun.

March Point


Climate activists blocked the Red Gate entrance to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump supporters, many in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, tried to push through but were repeatedly rebuffed. Some waved their passes and cited credentials, as if this would magically disperse the blockade. Then an angry man stepped forward and punched one of the activists (a young friend, Andrew) in the face. He quickly left, scorned and heckled; Andrew smiled and said “That’s not the first time I’ve been hit today.”

That might have justified fearful talk about Trump’s fascist base, yet they were in scant evidence compared to those protesting. Some  seemed bewildered by the numerous groups represented. I heard one guy say to his friend that this was the first time he’d seen actual communists. Others muttered “garbage” and “scumbags.” An older Trump fan asked me if I’d ever seen “so many losers.” I stared at him for a beat, looked at his red cap and replied, “No.”

While much of the Trump faithful looked like they came from central casting (especially the Bikers For Trump, who no one dared block), there were non-white people wearing Trump gear as well. Two Black men argued about one’s support for Trump, the other shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you crazy, man?!” he yelled. “Are you suicidal?!”

Despite it all, Trump was sworn in. I watched his inaugural address in a Capitol Hill bar filled with his supporters. They were oddly quiet as Trump bellowed, and looked down when a few of us openly jeered or laughed at Trump’s “promises.” Regardless of their candidate’s victory, D.C. is doubtless seen as foreign soil. Mocking Trump in a small town bar would probably elicit a different reaction.

The Women’s March the next day made the inaugural look like a county fair. (I was surprised that no food truck proprietor put out a sign that read, “Before you smash patriarchy, try our falafel!”) I’ve participated in many marches and demonstrations, but I can’t remember the last time I felt such passion and focused energy. Every street leading into the Capitol teemed with pink-clad humanity, opposition to Trump firm, faith in each other strong.

Not everyone shared the same anti-Trump perspective. Naturally, there were countless pro-Hillary signs and clothing (though not as many Bernie Sanders displays). This included references to Trump being Putin’s Puppet, hammer and sickle emphasizing the supposed connection; the FBI as the KGB; calls for Trump to be prosecuted for treason, and the rest of the DNC script.


I’m not sure how to alter this mindset. Facts are essentially meaningless. Once liberals embrace a line, they tend to dig in and double down. It’s why many of them still bash Ralph Nader.

There were numerous young people for whom this was their first mass action. Most appeared content to chant, cheer, shout, and march. A segment peeled away and approached one of the White House gates. Secret Service police looked edgy as the crowd swelled and the chants grew louder. People began warning about possible pepper spray use. A sweet young man, maybe my son’s age, gulped wide-eyed and asked me, “Would they really use pepper spray?” I smiled back and said, “Yes, they would, so stay alert and be ready to run.”

He fought back his fear, waved his fist and chanted with the others. Whatever tension existed soon dissipated. A SWAT officer helped a man in a wheelchair negotiate the crowd, wished him well and gently patted his shoulder. Since there was no where else to go, people began moving away from the gate, fanning out among those still marching on the main streets, or streaming into overcrowded Metro stations. The mood remained buoyant throughout.

Everyone wonders what’s next. No doubt Trump will provide daily fuel for opposition, but in what direction that goes is anybody’s guess. Radicals and social democrats will try to expand on the Sanders model; mainstream liberals may seek another savior or beloved celebrity to guide them. The youth now politicized will hopefully deepen their engagement. There remain some rifts in what has the potential to be a powerful, political force. Simply being anti-Trump is not enough.

And what of working class people who support Trump? Liberals tend to write them off completely, while radicals look for economic common ground. As Trump inevitably screws over his followers, perhaps they’ll be open to real populist appeals. I have relatives and old friends who voted for Trump. Maybe that struggle begins at home.

(Photos: Laura Guyer)

Smooth Operator

Give Barack Obama this: he knows how to leave the stage.

Commuting the prison sentences of Chelsea Manning and Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera ostensibly showed the Real Obama under the imperial cloak, the savior at whom eager progressives threw themselves in 2008. And who knows — maybe a genuine heart does beat in Obama’s chest. I’m sure that Manning and Rivera embraced the news regardless of true presidential intent. Take what you can get.

Manning’s commutation was especially ironic, given Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers. It put liberals in an odd position, since many have been touting the CIA in reaction to Trump’s victory. Of course, liberal support for secret police is nothing new, and in this they’ve had a friend in Obama. How rich it is to see them scurry about, trying to wrap their partisan minds around Obama’s actions. Imperial decay does have its rewarding moments.

Now that he’s done, what do we make of Obama? If not for him, we probably would have experienced President Hillary, though if she lost to Trump, she might have lost to McCain/Palin as well. (With Hillary, it’s always a crap shoot.) So we can thank Obama for sparing us that.

On the whole, Obama was the perfect neoliberal president at the most opportune time. He steadied the imperial ship after the chaotic Bush/Cheney years, while keeping in place and expanding that administration’s commitment to surveillance and war (there was no way that Obama would ever close Guantánamo). His drone program, operating in at least seven countries, has been more forward-looking than the traditional boots on the ground approach. He bailed out the big banks and preserved Big Auto. His adoption of Mitt Romney’s version of health care produced mixed results, and is now (it seems) heading for the scrap heap.

For Democrats, Obama has largely been a disaster. Unlike the Clintons, who command loyalty and deference from party regulars, Obama didn’t really help down ticket candidates. The party remained in corporate centrist hands, beat back a populist challenge with whatever weapons they could grab, which resulted in the monumental embarrassment of losing to Donald Trump. With Obama leaving, these political geniuses have retrenched themselves, certain that they control the party’s destiny. They probably do, which should alarm Democrats, but it will take more than last November’s defeat for them to learn their lesson, assuming that ever happens.

When my three-chord polemic SAVAGE MULES was published in ’08, Obama-mania was at its height. This didn’t bode well for sales, even though I mentioned Obama only at book’s end. There was little chance that my critique of the Democrats would derail Obama’s campaign, but a number of liberals, from websites to bookstores, wanted nothing to do with it or me. (Glenn Greenwald, then at Salon, was one of the few in the media to honor his commitment to discussing MULES.) Still, I think I got it mostly right:

“Little wonder that Barack Obama’s rhetoric cast such a strong, hypnotic spell over [liberals]. His oratory was sweet music. Hillary simply spooked the room, putting everyone on edge. But Saint Obama spun much gentler yarns, elevating captive moods while keeping all in place. After the madness of the Bush years, Obama clearly seemed the most logical choice to manage the abattoir — smiling, waving, oiling his hammer gun, making sure that the conveyor belt’s running smoothly and efficiently.”

With Trump’s orange riot blowing into Washington, Obama looks better than ever, at least better than he should. He and his glamorous wife Michelle will be the toast of countless parties and benefits, earning millions while receiving praise for his sane, steady leadership. Unless Trump kills us all, that is.

The Fisher Queen


Biographers shouldn’t have regrets, because once your book is published there’s little you can do to alter its narrative in subsequent editions. Hopefully, the biographer has chosen wisely, angering as few of the subject’s survivors as possible.

When I landed MR. MIKE, I felt elation and dread. Suddenly, the life and work of a seminal American humorist was solely in my hands, making me hyper-conscious about not pissing off numerous celebrities and powerful showbiz figures. I wanted to be taken seriously, and this narrowed my creative approach.

Michael O’Donoghue’s widow, Cheryl Hardwick, granted me full access to Michael’s voluminous files. I was allowed to use anything that Cheryl had not previously removed. Still, I was cautious, for I knew that Michael had … let’s say singular, private experiences with notable individuals who might not be in a sharing mood. My focus narrowed even more.

One Sunday afternoon I discovered a file titled “Puppy Flesh” which contained various items connected to Michael’s affair with Carrie Fisher. Puppy Flesh was his pet name for Carrie who was nearly twenty years Michael’s junior. This was emphasized by a glossy photo of Carrie, dressed as a little girl, sitting on Michael’s lap — Lolita to his Humbert. There was no real time frame for their affair (it looked to be between the first two STAR WARS films), but it was clear that they had a rather intense one.

There were love letters and poems, mostly written by Carrie. Some were sexually explicit, others sweet and tender. One letter devolved into scribbled gibberish, which made sense as Carrie confessed that she was tripping on LSD. Regardless of catalyst, it was obvious that Carrie adored Michael, and poured her emotions into these missives.

I sat on the floor with the file and pondered. Should I use any of this? How would Carrie Fisher react if I did? She certainly wasn’t shy about sharing her drug and booze history, but this was pretty private. Did she even know that the file existed? I spent the rest of that day running various scenarios through my mind. In the end, I made fleeting mention of their relationship and left it at that.

I interviewed a number of people who knew Carrie, but never Carrie herself. I don’t recall why; our paths simply didn’t cross. I’m sorry for that, because I suspect we would have had a revealing conversation, not just about Michael, but also the original SNL world she inhabited.

Of course, now that conversation will never take place. Dying at 60 is relatively young, though given Carrie’s tempestuous life, it’s probably as old as she was destined to live. Her books and live show, WISHFUL DRINKING, affirmed Carrie’s quick, self-deprecating wit. You saw why she could hang with heavyweight talents, how she was much more than an ageless fantasy for STAR WARS fanboys.

I don’t know what happened to the Puppy Flesh file. I may have made copies of her letters, but if I did, they’re packed in an unmarked box in my attic. The only public evidence of her relationship with Michael is her brief appearance in MR. MIKE’S MONDO VIDEO. In a piece called “American Gals Love Creeps,” where various female celebs confess their sexual attraction to society’s losers, Carrie sits on Michael’s green couch in his Chelsea apartment, confiding that she wouldn’t kick Ralph Nader out of bed.

Nader should’ve been so lucky. So long, Carrie. However flawed you were, you remained inimitable. RIP.

Old Realities

kissputHenry Kissinger could be dead by the time you read this, or he’ll outlive us all. I put nothing past the old war criminal. As Kissinger continually proves, he is not to be underestimated.

Nixon’s former valet (Gore Vidal’s description) recently spoke about Russian hacking, which Kissinger not only expects happens, but should happen. Far from clutching his chest in outrage, the good Doctor reminds us that great powers spy and lie, cheat and look for openings. Putin identifies with the rich history of Russian nationalism, Kissinger says, “which [Putin] believes, probably correctly, has some very unique features.” This makes Putin a difficult puzzle, “a problem we have never had.”

I can see a younger, robust Kissinger flying to Moscow for a series of meetings with Putin. For all of his awfulness, Kissinger wasn’t an ideologue, but a realist — a realpolitikist, if you will. Putin would be one more foreign feather in Kissinger’s diplomatic cap, a challenge, yes, but someone who ultimately understood the balance of global power.

And don’t forget the private parties. Russian leaders love parties. Brezhnev threw some memorable ones.

What makes Kissinger’s comments even more diverting is the memory of Hillary’s team practically groveling for his endorsement. To his credit, Kissinger withheld it, which made Hillary’s overture look desperate and pitiful. After all the chaos and bloodshed Hillary helped to unleash, after all the encomiums to the great man himself, Kissinger wasn’t impressed enough to Be With Her.

That must have been a long walk back to campaign headquarters.

Kissinger’s cool assessment of Putin runs counter to the anti-Russian delirium still affecting countless American liberals. Now that the Electoral College won’t overturn the election results, Democrats are somewhat at sea. Tearing at their clothes, shouting “The Russians have taken over!” isn’t a long-term political strategy, nor even remotely close to political reality. But it’s a hell of a lot easier than organizing a grassroots resistance to Trump.* Consider it primal scream therapy for the enlightened.

*Had Hillary won, I’m sure Kissinger would find something positive about her leadership potential. But she didn’t, so Kissinger turned to Trump and said “I believe he has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president.” This is who Hillary actively courted. Ouch.