: 1. phr. liar, liar, pants on fire.
The day Richard Nixon took the big dirt nap in 1994 was Earth Day, and a minor earthquake rattled Southern California near his burial site. I've always thought it wasn't so much an earthquake as the earth doing "Ptui" to get rid of him. Nixon was buried in San Clemente, French for "without a pardon," near the Nixon Library.
Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush, and Clinton made the service look like Four Presidents and a Funeral. I don't remember if Ronald Reagan was there, but neither does he. The first lady, Pat Nixon, or "Poor Pat" as she was usually referred to, was not there. She had predeceased her husband by five years. Who can blame her? Tricia Nixon Eisenhower was a reminder that we all had gotten older. Henry Kissinger mumbled through his eulogy, sounding like Marlene Dietrich doing "The Man I Love."
The funeral was another event in the long Nixon rehabilitation--he got us out of Vietnam (he did not), he started talks with China (it was the only country that would talk to us at the time), and the Watergate break-in was ordered by Hillary Clinton. It was an astounding bit of revisionism.
Nixon is dead! Long live Nixon as Newt Gingrich and his band of Republican House majority tricksters. The GOP hired O. J. Simpson, Kato "Pretty Street, No Cars" Kaelin and Lance "I saved Jay Leno's career" Ito to focus attention out west, away from the right side of the country while they dismantled the government in one hundred days or less, by taking out a "Contract on America." My theory is that Nixon ordered it from the grave.
But I get ahead of myself. I began performing stand-up comedy in 1981, the same year that Ronald Reagan began his comedy. The president was known as the master of the one-liner. His gigs were well produced and spun by a professional atmosphere queen, Michael Deaver. Security was a problem, and after the assassination attempt on Reagan, Alexander Haig did not reassure us with "I'm in charge now" from a White House Situation Room/Tanning booth.
After he was shot, Reagan achieved an untouchable quality. Mustn't make fun of him, hush, hush, he was almost assassinated. My theory is that the Republicans did it. I am not so callous as to suggest they shot him, that was Jodie Foster, but I am suggesting when he was in the hospital, Reagan was reconditioned. Same thing happened with the pope the same year.
Nancy Reagan was such a piece of work, she should have been on my comedy payroll. She seemed so lifelike. It was her Valium-laced frozen face that launched the War on Drugs with "Just Say No." The "thank you" was implied. At one photo op press conference, she toured a crack house and decried how awful it was, yet one suspected that for our Drug Czarina it had something to do with a plaid couch.
I never got used to saying "President Ronald Reagan." It was like saying "President Merv Griffin." Reagan wasn't so much a president as the host. He was having such a good time playing president and going on vacation that he decided to run again. The Democrats nominated Walter Mondale as sacrificial lamb and rightly suspected it was going to be a real rout, so they put a woman on the ticket, Geraldine Ferraro. That way they could lose heavily, then say "I told you so," and not try a woman again for another hundred years.
In his second term, Reagan completed the work of his first term--the rich got really rich, everything
was deregulated, advocacy programs were quashed, the Savings and Loan program was trashed, the deficit was tripled, unions were busted, Housing and Urban Development was in shambles, banks were closing, the military got lots of new toys, the religious right was stronger, and AIDS was ignored. This proved that the operation to make Reagan a perfect asshole had been a success.
During his second term, the Iran Contra scandal came to light, with the gap-toothed Caucasian soldier of fortune Oliver North running money through the White House so he could get his own talk show. In what later became the Alzheimer's defense, Reagan claimed he thought it was a war for drugs, not on drugs, and that Iraq was the past tense of Iran. He also said he thought it was Pittsburgh, not Bitburg.
Polls showed that people disliked everything Reagan was doing but somehow liked him as a person and thought he should run for a third term. There were rules against that in what was left of the Constitution, so Gramps couldn't run and besides he'd lost interest. The Republican Convention was held in Houston in August, so that Republican women could wear their furs
in the air-conditioning and nominate Vice President George Halcyon Bush.
My dad said George Bush seemed like a nice enough guy with lots of experience--senator, ambassador, head of the CIA under Nixon, vice president. I argued he just couldn't hold a job. Head of the CIA was the scariest thing on his ré. When Curious George announced in the most emphatic tone he'd ever used that he didn't eat broccoli, never liked Broccoli, that even Bar couldn't make him eat BROCCOLI, I half suspected every time he said broccoli he was giving someone the signal to invade another Central American country.
When George Bush got the nod from his party he announced his running mate, a true comedy gift, Dan Quayle. Even though Doogie Quayle made Bush look downright presidential, he was not as unnerving as his brittle wife, Marilyn, who always gave the impression that it was really Lily Tomlin in there (still looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe). Dan went on to become a spokesman for Cliff's Notes and was himself a wonderful speaker. During one address to a Rotary Club luncheon at the Cincinnati Golf and Country Club, he quoted Rodney King, from the Los Angeles riots, "As Mr. King once said, 'Why can't we all get a lawn?'"
The Bush/Quayle ticket went up against the Dukakis/Bentsen ticket. Mr. Charisma Bypass, Michael Dukakis, lost me in the presidential debate, when CNN's Bernard Shaw asked the first question, "Mr. Dukakis, if your wife, Kitty, were raped and became pregnant, do you think she should be allowed to have an abortion?" When Dukakis did not jump over the table to punch Shaw out or say something like, "How dare you even put that idea into words, you little weasel," he lost me. Instead, the bloodless wonder, Dukakis ended up talking about drug kingpins; his campaign started warming up that tank.
Once he became president, George Bush revealed a vein of Styrofoam and no matter how deep he tried to go, he always ended up bobbing on the surface. His inaugural speech was like being present at the death of language, the original Dead Poets Society. After the Reagan years, there were only three people of color in the Republican Party. Their slogan was "Republicans--the Other White Meat." George Bush tried to dispel the "whites only" image of his party, often referring to his Mexican-American grandkids as "the little brown ones over there," and nominated Clarence Uncle Thomas to the Supreme Court.
All went smoothly during the nomination process of Clarence Thomas until Anita Hill came forward with her sexual harassment charges and was put on trial by the so-called Ethics Committee. Arlen Sphincter, of Pennsylvania, read his favorite passages from The Exorcist. Utah's Orrin Hatch looked as if he'd sat in something. And Joe "Hair Plugs for Men" Biden kept the proceedings going and going so long, I half expected to see one of those pink Energizer bunnies banging the drum slowly down the table.
Bush's approval ratings slipped. The election was drawing near. What to do, what to do? He started flexing his Commander in Chief muscle and invaded anything. Panama; Operation Just 'Cause George Felt Like It. Somalia; he should have sent in salad shooters. Saddam Hussein questioned George's manhood; Poppy went up to Maine, blasted around in his high-speed cigarette boat, thought things over, and finally invaded. It was all televised and managed by Norm Norm Big as a Dorm Schwartzkopf who went on to be a spokesman for the Quality Value home shopping channel.
The Operation was televised by CNN, though it should have been a Sunday afternoon sport show "Shooting Fish in a Barrel." The only good thing about the Operation was that Bernard Shaw was trapped under fire for three days in a hotel in Baghdad. Bush's ratings were boosted for a few minutes, even though he didn't really get the job done because the dictator Hussein is still alive in a bunker somewhere. His ratings hit an all-time low when he puked and landed facedown in the Japanese Prime Minister's lap, talking about jobs, jobs, jobs.
Presidential candidates should be drug-tested. Take it from me, you cannot fly to forty cities in two days and not take drugs. I know they didn't fly through Newark. By the end of the 1992 campaign, George was hanging off the backs of trains, talking about bozos, wacked out on Ritalin. He was defeated by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton who was speeding nonstop on white sugar and junk food.
After Gramps and Poppy, President Bill Clinton (no relation) was like having your brother as president. He could talk, and after twelve years of pretty wild syntactic rides, it was nice not to wince every time the president opened his mouth.
The first strains of "Inhale to the Chief" had not even died down, though, and I was disappointed in Clinton. This is a lot like saying, "I'm so disappointed in the patriarchy." He backed up on gays in the military, health care reform, Lani Guinier, welfare reform. Whenever he talked, I swore I could hear that backing-up sound trucks make.
When President Clinton announced in a State of the Union address that "the era of big government is over," it sounded like vintage Reagan with a touch of Elvis. When he signed a bill eliminating welfare, just before his second presidential campaign, he made Nixon look like a liberal.
When Bill Clinton ran for a second term, he ran against Bob Dole. After 114 years of trying, Dole finally received his party's nomination because Liddy Dole at the Republican Convention nailed her landings in a fabulous floor routine to the music of "Oh My Man I Love Him So" and created an image of a Kinder, Gentler Bob. All for naught. So few people voted in the elections that the ones who did were called activists. Nobody wanted another old guy president who couldn't talk.
The American people got an unexpected windfall in President Clinton's second term. A twofer. Two presidents for the price of one! One, the numbingly detail-oriented talking policy work and two, a total Babe Magnet. No wonder he lost weight! Despite allegations about his sexual performance, Americans liked his job performance. The more accusations of sexual misconduct, the higher the approval rating. One wondered how many women it would take to get him to 100 percent.
When President Clinton announced that big government was over, the subtext was that the era of big global business was cranking up. The middle person was eliminated. Despite antitrust laws, mergers continued: CBS and GE, ABC and Disney, NBC and Microsoft, RJR Tobacco and Nabisco, Bill Gates and Martha Stewart until everything was owned by seven white guys, not including Martha Stewart. Smaller players were allowed to buy items the federal government was selling off in an end-of-the-millennium tag sale. I bought a lovely minimum security prison. A friend bought Arizona.auntieKate
: 1. v. to rile up small children before their bedtime and then leave.
Family used to be a nice little noun, e.g., "Look, honey, it's the nuclear family, and why, they're burned to a crisp," but in the mid-1970s it became an indiscriminately used adjective. The "family restaurant," the "family foodstore," the "family movie," the "family fun place to be." The word "family" described values and hamburgers with an uncanny leveling effect.
After fifteen years of incessant talk about the family this, the family that, lesbians and gay men wanted to have families of their own. The lesbian and gay baby boom bloomed. The constant drumbeat to return to family values fused with the disco beat of the gay anthem, "We Are Fam-a-lee."
I have no kids that I am aware of; I love kids so much I knew not to have them. For me, children, like cats, suck all the oxygen out of a room. I glaze over and wave after wave of teary-eyed, wide-mouthed yawns begin.
After a near baby-sitting tragedy involving Lincoln Logs and a butane lighter, I knew that it would not be healthy for me to have kids. Certainly not for the kids. Something hideous was bound to happen to my child--she'd fall down in the well, he'd swallow a hammer, drown in the pool--and then I would be devastated for the rest of my life and get shrill and brittle like Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People.
The gay baby boom came along just in time. I had plumb run out of little nieces and nephews and quite frankly I needed the material. Over the years, my sister, Mary, has been so generous with her kids' comments, I put her on my payroll.
Mary is a great mom; I'm so proud of her. Driving along with her son, five, and daughter, two, strapped in their car seats, they were rocking out with Raffi singing about being happy and gay, when Paul yelled, "Mom, what's gay?" Mary, bopping along, yelled over her shoulder, "Really, really happy." She drove on but had one
of her patented "ooojeeze realizations" that maybe he meant more.
At home, he asked again, "What does gay really mean?" Mary took a deep breath. She says motherhood involves lots of deep breathing. She stalled him with a question, "Where did you hear it used?" perhaps hoping the conversation would veer off in a whole word versus phonics discussion. "On the bus. And it wasn't good." They live outside Washington, D.C., and the kids on the bus often use "politician" to insult each other.
She breathed in deeply again. "Well, Paul, when a man and woman get together (Clintonics for "have sex"), it's one thing. But when a man and a man or a woman and a woman get together, that's gay." "Oh, you mean like Urvashi?" he said, naming my girlfriend, not me, already caught in the family conspiracy not to make sexual references to anyone living or dead in his family.
Grace had her own definition of gay. One day while Grace was playing in the basement with a friend, Mary heard her exult, "Let's pretend we're gay!" Mary, at the top of the stairs, neck craned, ear cocked for strains of Johnny Mathis's, "Chances Are," heard Grace's friend ask, "What's gay?" No hesitation, "It's when two girls get together, dance, and have fun."
This graceful logic cannot be dismissed with a
Linkletterish kids say the darnedest things. Grace can shift a dominant paradigm. After watching the 1993 March on Washington, she turned to my sister and said, "Now tell me again, Mom, why do ungay people not like Aunt Kate?"
My gaydar has always been on readiness to detect any signs in my nieces and nephews. Paul has moved the needle to full purple alert a few times. When Mary brought Grace home from the hospital, Paul was fine with her, but after a few months, when it didn't look like she was going to be leaving anytime soon, he gave her a pop to the head. Mary saw him do it and reprimanded him. She told him he was supposed to protect his sister, not hit her, then asked why he had hit her. He said, "I didn't like her outfit."
When he was three he looked me right in the eye and said, "I still want to grow up to be a girl you know. I like red, but I really like to wear gold." I cut up an old gold lamé coat for his birthday. Another clue came when he announced he wanted to grow up and know everything. He told Mary he wanted to grow up and buy a town house. He didn't say apartment, or mention track lighting, but he did stress town house.
In one after-dinner conversation about children and families, he announced he wanted to grow up to be gay. Mary, who'd had her kids the old-fashioned way, remarked, after a deep breath, "Paul that is certainly an option, but if you do that, you won't be able to have any children." Without missing a beat he said, "Oh, yes I will. I'll adopt. Or I'll take Grace's leftovers." Then he looked at me, but asked his mom, "Can two girls have a baby?" Another breath. "Paul, we have gone over this again and again. A man and a woman can have a baby, not two women." He said, "But they can try, right?"
Lots of gay people are trying and we really don't have the language for it, yet. Not for lack of talking. Everyone's talking about having kids. Over dinner, friends debate fresh sperm versus frozen sperm. And that's just the appetizer.
One friend declined a dinner invitation with "I can't. I have to go upstate to inseminate." Whatever happened to barbecuing?
At one barbecue, I was grilling away, talking to a friend's seven-year-old son, and asked him, "You want a hot dog?" He looked horrified at me and said, "I can't! I'm a lesbian."
Another friend, whose child care fell through at the last minute, had to bring her daughter to a graduate school class she was taking. The baby started to gurgle and coo and try her first word "d ... d ... d ..." and a woman sitting next to her smiled benignly, leaned in and said, "I think she's trying to say Donor."
Gay couples and single parents are trying all manner and methods of child getting--from the old-fashioned way to the simple turkey baster technique, to the more complex procedures, to hiring surrogates, to adoption. Like many straight people, there are gay people who should not have children. One seventy-two-year-old friend confided that she was thinking of becoming a single mother. When she wasn't looking, I stuck a cabbage patch on her arm. The stroller contingents in gay pride parades are larger than the S/M contingent.
Instead of baby showers, we throw going-away parties. Bye! See you in ten years! We had a baby shower for a friend who adopted the sweetest baby boy. I got them a Michelin tire.
The gay baby boom shows some lessening of gay
and lesbian self-loathing, or to paraphrase that old Paul Anka song, "I'm having my baby, what a wonderful way of saying how much I love me." But when I ask my friends if they are going to raise their children to be gay, even the most militant of mommas and poppas goes
all squishy and dreamy, "She'll be whatever she'll be." Since we are living in one big heterosexual mall, kids need a little extra help to be gay. Oshkosh, tool belts, and trains for the girls. Lamé starter Fiesta ware and Spice Girl accessories for the boys. That's where aunts come in.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Don't Get Me Started by Kate Clinton. . Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.