Friday, March 31, 2006

Go ahead and journal, girl!

This is a journal, but I haven't really been journaling, yet. Oh I can relate an event, but I'm still nervous about relating my personal journeys. I will though. Some bloggers are so good at this. My friend Alex can make you laugh until you faint about a trip to the store or stop you in your tracks and make you think and cry about a trip on the train or a going out for a smoke in the rain. Being an entertainer and just being Alex, she definitely has an interesting life, for sure. But the beauty is, she writes mostly about aspects of things we all experience but ignor, pass by or take for granted. And, sharing what she is feeling, she just lays it right out there. I'm not saying it's easy, but just saying she does it.

My mother had a serious bout with cancer and got through it pretty well. She had good doctors and was lucky, blessed, all that. Now the scarring from the radiation is causing a problem in her throat and the docs are trying to figure out what to do. The easiest methods of dealing with this are not an option so they are looking at possible surgery. It would be a big surgery so, don't know. Plus the cancer may be back. We are waiting for test results. Waiting and hoping. Whew! STRESSHUMONGO!
Dealing is all I can do. Dealing, researching, being her advocate with the doctors, and dealing some more.

Monica is my rock. But, she is having an unusally stressful school year so I have to remember she is my rock, but she is not A rock. Gotta take care of that girl. We went to see Nan Mason and Russ Long last Saturday. Big stress buster! Always good to see Russ, and Nan was in rare form. Nan sang Monica's favorite, Those Were the Days, which include some Nan antics that OMG! crack Monica the fuck up. Good to see that. We actually got up and went to church Sunday morning too. Absolutely the most uplifting and renewing support we could hope for.

Anyway my mom keeps busy cooking, doing those darn crossword puzzles and 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles faster than the speed of light, (I never get to see the finished picture before it's off the table and a new one started) and watching her sitcoms. She hates all new sitcoms. She loves Beaver, Lucy and Andy Griffith, period. Of course movies, she likes all kinds but especially the older ones. Oh, and those damn James Bond-a-thons. She is also busy helping 7 year old great-grandson Marcellus with his homework, teasing 2 year old great-grandson NJ with cookies, fussing about Bush and his cronies, asking me what is it that is so fascinating about Paris Hilton, keeping up with Bobby and Whitney and asking me when is Alex going to write another movie or actor tribute. So she is dealing as well as she can. But that's JoJo (short for Josephine) she's always been strong and always, always busy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


She's a Republican! Yeah what. I like Judy because she says just because she is a Republican, her views are not set in concrete with all other Republicans. And, indeed they are not.

I have always been an independent voter although mostly voting Democratic. Yesterday in the Illinois primary Monica and I registered as Republicans to vote for Judy Baar Topinka for governor. I've been watching Judy for a while since I noticed she has no qualms with breaking with traditional or popular conservative Republican thinking.

A graduate of the Northwestrn School of Jounalism, Judy became an accomplished reporter and editor. In 1980, Judy was elected state representative for the Western Illinois suburbs serving two terms followed by ten years in the State Senate.

In 1994, Judy was elected the first woman Illinois Treasurer and was relected in 1998 and 2002. She has over 250 awards including the Molly Pitcher Award and the Everette McKinley Dirksen Award for Outstanding Public Service.
Now Judy Baar Topinka is running for governor. She will face the present gov Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich has been to me a disappointment.

Judy has been steady in her public support of GLBT issues and people. She was instrumental in arranging finances for the new Center on Halsted, and is a friend and supporter of Equality Illinois, an organization fighting for equal marriage rights for gay people. Judy has been a familiar face in the annual Pride Parade for as long as I can remember... so Run Judy Run and I hope you Win in November.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Aware: Black Voting Rights Expired?

There are several emails being widely circulated on the net that African Americans will lose their right to vote when the 1965 Voting Rights Act expires in 2007. This is a rumor and is NOT true. The email is marked urgent and encourages us to pass it on to others and to contact our congresspersons at once! The latest version of this email is in the form of a letter authored by Dr. Camille Cosby, wife of Bill Cosby. SHE DID NOT WRITE IT.

This rumor is widely believed but it is all a misunderstanding that has grown to urban legend status. My mother believed it and I had a hard time convincing her otherwise. “How do you know?” Because I know, just trust me. (Now how could she argue with that?) But she said,“yeah right, we'll see.”

Seriously, I explained to her that the 1965 Voting Rights Act does not expire, only its Special Preclearance Provisions are subject to review and renewal in 2007. And, that it is not the Voting Rights Act that gives us the right to vote anyway.
The basic right of all American citizens to vote, regardless of race, is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and does not expire. Moreover, African Americans specifically were granted voting rights by the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed immediately after the Civil War. The basic prohibition against discrimination in voting contained in the Fifteenth Amendment and in the 1965 Voting Rights Act is permanent.

The 1965 Act was necessary because even with all these wonderful official words saying Black Americans are guaranteed this basic right, somehow many states in our great nation managed to come up with creative obstacles. Polling Taxes were levied on poor Blacks and the amount was subject to change on a whim. Of course there were all kinds of weird registration requirements, ridiculous placements of polling places and outright intimidation.

The Special Provisions of the 1965 act were put in place to address these problems and was set to come up for review every few years. I guess it was assumed that these sorts of discriminatory acts on citizens exercising their right to vote would not be permanent. HA! The Special Provision was renewed in 1970, 1975 and again in 1982. Now it is due for renewal in 2007. The Special Preclearance Provision also provides that certain states must have the approval of the U.S Attorney General before making any changes to their voting rights laws. I certainly hope Florida is one of those states. Remember the 2000 presidential election?
So my fellow Americans, it is not true. Our right to vote is not and has not ever been in danger. So get out there, get registered and do it!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Out The Box, Please!

Well by now you know I went to the circus three times, count 'em three times in a week. So, either:

a. I'm some kind of a nut.
b. I'm married to some kind of a nut.
c. I have some nutty friends who are in the circus.
d. I want to be a clown (shut up)
e. I have a mad crush on Lola Jenkins.
f. I think circus stuff make good posts.

Three of those are true, you pick.

Stilettos, Circus and Soul got really good reviews from the Chicago newspapers and magazines. Whenever my friend Alexandra is in anything I usually watch for the reviews, but this time I really didn't. I guess because I was so busy going to the circus I didn't have time to read about it. Anyway, Alex brought to our attention on her blog (the best on the net) post Time /Out Chicago Review that Time Out Chicago Magazine referred to her comedy in the circus as Drag Queen humor. Drag Queen humor? First of all Alex is not a Drag Queen. Secondly, did he not understand the story line going on in that show? Alex played a Diva with a capital D. Period. Everyone got that except the reviewer guy.
His whole tone and choice of words were really insulting not only to Alexandra but to the show. This show was enjoyable for all ages but with the slant this guy put on it, I could see some folks wondering if it was good fare for the kiddies. He began in the first sentence letting everyone know Alex is Transgendered. Big deal she doesn't hide that but it is certainly not something people would automatically know if they didn't already know. I think that was his point. He had to make sure folks knew. It was killing him that people may have gone home not knowing that fact. OMG! ...... Let the labeling begin!

An aside here. Alexandra Billings is an amazingly talented singer and actress. The first time I saw Alex in a play, I was a goner. Then after the play, she came out and talked to the audience about AIDS and the important work Season of Concern does. She was sincere and sweet and funny as hell. I went home that night NOT knowing she was Transgendered. A few days later I stuck her name in the search thingy and ...Monica!!! Alexandra Billings is Transgendered! Moni replied, "she is not". Yep she is. Moni said "that's cool". That was it, so what.

He catagorized her choice of songs as '70's era Boystown and then said about the combination of Liquid Soul, Alex and the Midnight Circus "It is to be sure a peculiar three way". OK, now my mind may be down in the sewer eating pizza with the ninja turtles, but if you are reviewing a family theatrical event, you can come up with different phrasing than that.

I actually think and Alex thinks he liked the show but you'd have to read it carefully to discern that. It was a very blow bite blow (a Maya Angelo-ism meaning something positive then something negative...) type of article with a slant that connotated something other than what it was.

I understand, I think, another reason this upset Alexandra is because she works hard at her craft and it hurts when someone who is supposed to be reviewing her work, pigeon holes her into a little box. Alex has proven long ago that neither she or her talent are containable in any box.

So Alex wrote Time Out Chicago a letter and so did I. Here is my letter.

I went with five members of my family including two small children to see "Stilettos, Circus and Soul" at the North Light Theater in Skokie, IL. We loved it! I read the review in Time Out Chicago after seeing the show and I am confused and disappointed with the tone and slant of the review. My concern is how and why it skewed Alexandra Billings' performance around to be drag queen humor. The article hurries to mention in the first sentence that Ms. Billings is Transgendered. A fact of her life certainly, but I fail to see its relevance in reviewing her performance in this show, especially since a majority of the audience probably did not know this and simply enjoyed her as the extremely funny centerpiece of the show. Or, to this reviewer does Ms. Billings being Transgendered automatically label her comedy as drag queen humor.

Time Out Chicago usually does a good job in a city as culturally rich and diverse as Chicago. But the descriptive language in this review is misleading and unfortunate. Time Out Chicago Magazine owes Alexandra Billings an apology.

We both got notes back that they are interested in printing our letters in the magazine, (hopefully with an apology to Alex).

Monday, March 13, 2006


Yep, saw the Stiletto Soul Circus on its closing show. I like to see the last show because the performers usually pull out all the stops. This is especially true with our friend Alexandra Billings. She is already one of the funniest people alive, but in a last show, she kills. Ad lib just doesn’t describe it, especially if the cast and audience are feeling it with her. Alex’s wit was moving fast although Stilettos last audience was not as sharp as it could have been. But those of us that were picking up on her under the breath jokes and asides were in heaven.

Monica and I saw this show three times. We’ve done this before with Alex’s shows. I don’t really care that much for opening nights. I like to let a show gel first. But I do like to go near the beginning because it’s interesting to see the development and how it changes. Of course I’ve got to really like the show to care. We saw it with my family and then with our friend Eric. This guy has the most infectious laugh and I don’t know when I’ve seen anyone enjoy anything more. Once the lights went down, I don’t think the smile left his face. He and Monica damn near knocked me out of my seat laughing, while at the same time I was keeping this old guy next to me from touching and rubbing my leg. I WAS MOLESTED AT THE CIRCUS! I said one word to him. HEY! I guess it was the look in my eyes because he totally stopped.

This has been a hard school year for Monica because she has no teacher aid and the kids are MONSTERS. So she likes nothing better than to watch Alex sing and do her thing. After the show Alex, Russ, Eric, Monica and I went to Baker's Square for a late dinner. We had a great time catching up, talking about the show and the recent Oscars. You haven't lived until you've seen Alex doing Katherine Hepburn singing It's So Hard Out Here For A Pimp. OMG! So Funny! Wonderful Evening!

For the last show we were with our friends Bill and Lee. Bill and I worked together for years but never socialized until a chance meeting at The Gentry last summer. These guys are sweet and funny and such enjoyable company. They have been fans of Russ Long and Alexandra Billings and another of our favorites, Honey West for years. It’s amazing we didn’t discover each other sooner. They absolutely loved the show saying it was even better than they thought it would be.

As the show wound near the finale I started to feel a little sad because soon we’d have to say goodbye to Russ who is going to his fabulous new home five hours away and to Alex who is going back to L A. Probably won’t see either of them again until summer. I have to admit that I cried a little when Alex did her flying thing around the stage. I wonder if she knows just how beautiful she is doing that. Monica says she looks like an angel.
So we had a lot of circus family and friends this week. It was fun!
And now, not a clown or juggler or brilliant doggy or witty Diva in sight. It’s Monday.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

GORDON PARKS 1912 - 2006

Gordon Parks has died at age 93. He was a cultural icon. A prolific and versitile artist, he was an accomplished writer, composer, pianist, film producer and director. But, I knew him best from his Life Magazine photography of the struggles and triumphs of Black life and poverty.

Gordon Parks was the youngest of fifteen children, born to Sarah and Andrew Parks in racially tense Fort Scott, Kansas. Gordon felt secure in his home where his parents taught the children to value honor, honesty and education. After his mother’s death he was sent to live with his sister and her husband in St. Paul MN. At age 15, after an argument with his sister’s husband, Gordon found himself out own his own. His first jobs were mopping the floors and playing the piano in a brothel, busboy at a hotel and a railroad porter. It was during his travels with the railroad that he developed an interest in photography. He bought his first camera for $12.50 and took his first photos on the Seattle, WA waterfront, even falling off the pier as he photographed seagulls in flight.

Back in St. Paul, he began to make a name for himself as a fashion photographer. Parks was encouraged by Marva Louis, wife of Joe Louis, to move to Chicago where he earned a living in fashion photography while also documenting life in Chicago slums. In 1942, these photos led him to a job in Washington D.C. as a documentary photographer. His well known photo that he called “American Gothic, Washington D.C.” is a photo of Ella Watson, a Black woman who had mopped floors all her life for the government, posed with a mop and broom in front of an American flag.

In 1943, he tried for a position with Harper’s Bazaar but the Hearst Organization would not hire a Black man. But, Vogue and Glamour recognized his talent and by the end of 1944 his photos appeared in both magazines. In 1948 Parks became the first Black photographer for Life Magazine. He covered over 300 assignments including the murder of gang members, the Ingrid Bergman-Roberto Rosellini love affair, Malcolm X, Black Panthers, and Martin L King’s death.

Parks began his film career in 1962 by writing and directing a documentary about Flavio Da Silva, a young asthmatic boy dying in the hills of Brazil. Parks photo essay on Flavio resulted in donations of thousands of dollars, enabling Parks to bring the boy to the United States for treatment. Parks remained friends with Flavio who is healthy and living outside Rio de Janeiro.

He won a 1968 Emmy for his documentary “Diary of a Harlem Family”. He then became the first Black to produce and direct a film for a major studio, Warner Bros. The film “The Learning Tree” was based on Parks 1963 novel. He hit commercial success with "Shaft" in 1971 and "Shaft's Big Score" in 1972.

Gordon Parks published three autobiographical novels, several volumns of poetry with accompanying photos, and wrote the music and libretto for the ballet "Martin" based on the life of Martin L. King.

In 1995 Parks donated his films, photos and writings to the Library of Congress and "The Learning Tree" was registered as a classic. In 2002 he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.

Gordon Parks was truly a renaissance man, but was best known as a photojournalist.
"I picked up a camera because itwas my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or gun, like many of my childhood friends did...most of whom were murdered or put in prison...but I chose not to go that way.I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so."

Gordon Parks body of work is an amazing contribution to American culture and record of American history.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


My favorite pastime is watching talented people do their thing. Movies, theater, singers, musicians, dancers, comedians, athletes, artists, poets make me happy. People being skillful, creative and expressive with their minds and bodies, rejuvenates, recreates and relaxes me.

Saturday I went to the circus. Amazing, because I had a bad circus experience and swore off them. I like the new type of circus acts with the spinning spirals and all that. But, I like the pure circus arts of juggling, acrobatics, dare devil acts, contortionists, clowns and especially balancing acts. I am like a kid with balancing acts. How do they do it? It’s not possible yet there it is. That’s the fun of the circus for me.

I like animal acts too. Horses are my favorite animal in the world. (It took my mother years to convince me that I could not have a horse in our south Michigan Avenue apartment.) So, people doing tricks on galloping horses, knock me out. I like tigers, just to look at them and I like dogs and seals doing things they shouldn’t be doing. I went to the circus with my family a year ago. It was the UniverSoul Circus which is an African American owned and predominantly performed circus. Wonderful thrilling, death defying high wire performances, horses, dogs, clowns the works all to R & B and rap music. Phenomenal. Then came the lion tamer. Well, ladies and gentlemen these beautiful lions and tigers were obviously tamed out of their skulls, higher than Richard Prior on fire. Made me sick. This guy is strutting around using his whip and chair while these glazed eyed felines were swiping at the stars whirling around their heads. I had some words with the guy standing by the big top door thanking us for coming, and I sent some emails the next day. I know they are being investigated. It’s a shame.

My nephew Nolen and his wife Aisha and their 2 year old son Nolen Jr. (NJ) and my niece’s 7 year old son Marcellus and Monica and I went to the circus Saturday because I know three of the participants. WE LOVED IT!.
This show is an innovative idea combining circus art, jazz/soul music, theater and a chanteuse, STILLETOS, CIRCUS AND SOUL at the North Light Theater in Skokie, IL.
The band Liquid Soul led by saxophonist Mars Williams, is definitely a dance band with smokin’ horns and funky guitar and a hip-hop beatboxer.
The Midnight Circus is a company of amazing acrobats that incorporates theater into their performances. I know Mitchell Fain who is a talented circus artist, actor and director. He plays the “theater guy” in Stilettos…
The “Diva” is played by actress/singer Alexandra Billings who is the most talented person on earth. This is not my opinion, it is fact. She is accompanied by amazing pianist Russ Long.
So Liquid Soul + Midnight Circus + Alex Billings = Big Time Fun Yall!

The fun starts with believe it or not, the ushers. These old gents are so funny. They make jokes and tease the kids. By the time you get to your seat you’re ready. I must admit I was a bit anxious because I really wanted to see Mitchell do his circus thing and I hadn’t seen Alex do anything since 1922 or so it seemed. And here was Alex and Russ in the circus. Whoda thunk it. It’s going to be bizarre.

The opening scene is spectacular people, be on time don’t miss it. They close the doors for the first scene because people are coming down into the aisles from the ceiling. Yep. Acrobats are running everywhere doing penguin like belly flops and Alex looking quite the gorgeous diva, trying desperately to get out of their way. Hilarious!
Alex sang! WooHoo! She sang ‘Come Rain or Come Shine” accompanied by the beatbox guy. Damn, that was sharp!
Alex sat on a stool by the piano and made us laugh. She came on and off stage interacting with the acrobats while the story unfolded and made us laugh. The band provided funky sound effects that went along with the circus acts and stage action. And, they even kept little NJ boogying in his seat.

The acrobats were brilliant and unbelievable. There was Wire Girl, Pretzel girl, Aerial Hoop Girl, Trapeze Punk, the clown and awesome jugglers. German Girl, Aisha’s favorite, was funny, intense and STRONG baby. The guys with me loved Karate Guy who looked like he stepped out of a video game. Marcellus got his autograph. Monica liked the Pretzel Girl doing her thing to Russ Long’s Moonlight Sonata. We all loved Lola the performing dog who seemed to know what she was doing, no tricks.

I loved the storyline and self deprecating humor of the circus which can usually be so spotlight awwwing and staunchy. Not the Midnight Circus! And the Diva, flouncing around in her superior self importance, having to introduce the DOG, at the request of The DOG! PRICELESS!

The finale was as exciting as the opening. Alexandra actually wrapped her arms in two sheaths of cloth and flew above the stage. She was graceful and beautiful. Wow!
It was breathtaking.
At the very end all the kids were invited down to the floor to dance. My three guys went down and had a ball!
This show is a feast of color, sound, music, movement and beauty. I'm going again.
Cycles on the wire, human pyramids, Liberace, hoops of fire and Alex flying! That’s a hell of a circus, baby!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Night 2006

Overall I liked it. John Stewart is just funny to me. I missed all of the pre-show red carpet stuff this year. Oh well.
First up, Dolly Parton and her original song for Transamerica. It made me cry. I have such love-hate feelings for that film, very personal. My friend Alexandra, had the lead role offer rescinded in deference to Felicity Huffman who had a more bankable name. That's show biz, it happens, but it hurts. But, I like the song and wanted Dolly to win and bring attention to the film.

The song that won, "You Know It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" by Three Six Mafia, was a shocker to say the least. In context to the film "Hustle and Flow" the song is perfect. Some commentator this morning said the audience didn't get it. WELL, they voted for it.
Personally I like the song, but "Pimp" and Oscar? Wow. The Academy is recognizing hip hop.
Three Six Mafia won right after they performed which is too bad because they looked very dapper in their formal wear earlier.

Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin, absolutely hilarious.

I was happy with the big six awards including Crash as best pic. So, there really is only one more thing I want to say.
The winner of the night is Salma Hayek! Absolutely Gorgeous!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Nan Mason is an extremely talented singer/entertainer and she has an extremely big heart to match. Fat Tuesday night at The Park West, we attended “Chicago Sings for New Orleans”, a benefit for New Orleans Musicians Clinic Emergency Fund. The proceeds will benefit the many musicians affected personally and professionally by hurricane Katrina.

I thank Nan, because I have a great appreciation for the New Orleans contribution to American music, both historically and as a place where musicians flourish. I thank Nan because this wonderful Mardi Gras evening would not have happened without her passion and hard work. Of course, anyone who has ever seen this Chicago Diva at work, (five nights a week at the Chestnut Grill) knows she is capable of both. I thank Nan because it afforded us a way to contribute to the Katrina cause and to music. Also to be thanked is everyone who helped Nan especially Eric McCool, a guy I’d always want in my corner on any project. Of course Porsche Exchange of Highland Park for underwriting everything allowing more bucks to go to the NOMC. I will definitely be buying my next Porsche from them.

The second we arrived at The Park West, the celebratory spirit of Mardi Gras was evident. Bright colors, feathers, masks and beads and gorgeous dancing ladies in little more than feathers, masks and beads is always a great touch. Uh Huh!

The line up included Chicago performers who donated their time like, Ron Hawking who did impersonations as well as his trademark Ole Blue Eyes, The Chicago Rat Pack, jazz pianist/vocalist Judy Roberts, song stylist Frieda Lee and the amazing Russ Long on piano who never ceases to amaze us with his virtuosity and versatility. Show stoppers, Lynne Jordan & The Shivers brought in the blues with a number that made you think of a down home juke joint. We loved it! Then Jordan rocked the hell out of Proud Mary.

Nan’s husband is the phenomenal horn player Terry Higgins. I mean this guy just lines up the damn horns, woods and brass, and blows his ass off. Terry blows cool, mellow, soulful, passionate, and takes you to a soaring, roaring, dazzling expansion of any horns vocabulary. I spent most of the night yelling, tear it up Terry!

The special guest, New Orleans trumpet player Kid Merv really brought the feel of New Orleans to the stage as well as the reason for the show. His Armstrongesque scatting and playing got folks out of their seats and dancin’.

Merv’s new baby was born during Katrina and they were forced to remain in the hospital until it was unsafe to stay any longer. He and his family escaped to Baton Rouge and now are living temporarily in Arizona.

At the end of the performances all the musicians jammed together while the audience danced. Yes Nan, Monica and I danced.

Nan sang Over the Rainbow and at the end of the show This Is My Life. My dear Monica has an annoying as hell habit of handing me tissue when I get emotional which is often. It’s annoying because she always knows when it’s going to happen. I love when Nan sings that song and that night she was wonderful so here come the tissue and the tears. Thanks Nan you’re the greatest.