Sunday, March 2, 2014

f*ck (nsfw)

Last week a friend posted a Gawker video of consummate New York actress Elaine Stritch saying "fuck" while on the Today show to promote Shoot Me, the new documentary about her life.

I actually don't understand why hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford were so surprised, except to fain chagrin for anyone in the home audience who was offended by it. But I suspect most people would have been more surprised if Stritch had not said "fuck." She has built a long career on being herself—a crusty New York broad who speaks her mind with unapologetic gusto and humor—and everyone knows it.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

gray's papaya lights go out on 8th street has spent the past few days celebrating the life and death of Gray's Papaya at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, with photos of its bright orange lettering being removed from its awning and reminiscent post from followers about drunken munchies and Gray's goofy signage.

I, myself, best remember Gray's Papaya, and the Famous Ray's Pizza of Greenwich Village a few blocks up Sixth Avenue (which also recently closed for the second and final time), on my late-night walks home from Bob's NYU dorm during our first year in New York, when he lived in graduate student housing on Third Avenue and I lived in the Jesuit Community on 17th Street.

Friday, December 6, 2013

madela's peace and 1960s christmas

Jim and Jane Henson’s handmade
Christmas card from 1960.
Nelson Mandela’s death reminds me of all the great men and women who put their lives on the line for peace and justice, especial those of my childhood.

As a kid in Catholic grade school in the 1960s I was very aware of what the "reason for the season" really was. It was something more powerful than Santas kneeling before a manger, a fish on a bumper sticker, or a fight in a mall parking lot over being wished the wrong happiness.

We were taught that the message of the first Christmas was the longed-for good news of the coming of peace and justice to those who needed it most: the poor, the war-torn, the oppressed, and to ourselves when we recognize our humble role in the story. The great messengers of my childhood were not just from MY church or MY country, but from all over OUR world, and these men and women literally risked their lives for it.

I remember how, in grade school art classes at this time of year, we made faux-batik Christmas cards, by covering a bright rainbow of crayon colors with a thick layer of solid black crayon, and then carving words and patterns through the black down in to reveal the colors. The waxy messages were mostly of peace, as we listened to the words of JFK, MLK, RFK, Gandhi, John XXIII, Dorothy Day, and the Berrigans. We learned that Peace, with a capital “P” was not a silent night or a snowy nativity scene, but something radical, that stood in the face of the predominant culture, that often told us, even Christians, something we might not want to hear, but sounded more like “glad tidings of great joy” than any other words being preached.

May Nelson Mandela rest in the peace he championed, and may we all continue his work to bring it to the world.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

kempster all-saints day

This week, many people have celebrated All-Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls Days, but my family has one more of its own: November 5th.

It started back in 1888, when my father's father Edward Llewellyn Kempster was born on that day. And it remained a major day of celebration until grandpa's death in 1990, having lived to be 101.

But only a few years later in 1995, my mother died on November 5th, followed over the next couple years by two of my father's siblings—my uncle Brenton Kempster and my aunt Mary Kempster Hand—both passing on that day in subsequent years.

The year following the last of these deaths, my father called to say that there had been yet another November 5th passing. I braced myself, only to hear him say, "I tried to start my car this morning and found the battery was dead."

In my family, we use the day as an opportunity to send the "traditional" Facebook post or email, to wish each other well, and say "be careful."

I wish the same to you all.

Friday, October 4, 2013

bullying & empathy: honk if you hate bullies

I was bullied in grade school. I hate bullying passionately. It breaks my heart. It makes me angry.

But I was disturbed by this story about a Ft. Hood, Texas father who, upon hearing that his son was bulling his fourth-grade classmates, forced him to stand at a busy intersection holding a hot pink sign that read, "I am a bully. Honk if you hate bullies." The father made the case that “we don’t need another Columbine."

"Bullying is also a form of public humiliation," the father told a radio interviewer. "Maybe he understands that when he humiliates someone publicly that doesn't feel good. Hopefully he'll take that with him so the next time he tries to bully someone he'll think about it twice."

This dad needs to learn the right way to teach empathy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

love songs to blue skies

With art school, parish duties, and New York at my doorstep, I barely had time to be homesick for California, that first autumn in 1989. But I was. I missed Berkeley's temperate climate and dramatic landscape, the way nature entered everyday life, how people treated one another, the forward-thinking politics, and my friends. Oh, my friends. And the deep, clear blue West Coast sky that saturated Berkeley's daylight, the shadows, and my mood most of the year. 

Having in the past only visited New York during its damp springs and hazy summers, I had no idea that crystal blue skies were a trademark of New York autumns. Nor would I ever have guessed that over the years I would live here, whenever I'd glimpse a shard of azure cutting all the way down between the skyscrapers to the uptown end of an avenue, that I'd begin to associate such glorious blues with meeting Bob in September at NYU, visiting SoHo galleries on October weekends, picking apples from a Union Square farmer's cart, shuttering at the forgotten backdrop of 9/11, embracing the annual brisk relief from summer's oppressive street smells, or relaxing to the sound of a lone saxophone crooning a love song under a canopy of copper leaves in Washington Square.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

pat robertson puts the “phobia” in homophobia

Salon reported yesterday that YouTube refused to be bullied into protecting Pat Robertson and his producers from themselves on this one:
“Last month, Pat Robertson said that gay people wear “special rings” equipped with tiny razor blades as part of a “vicious” gay plot to spread HIV. While most of us would say such an ignorant statement sounds like pretty much all of the other hateful garbage Robertson says on the regular, the Christian Broadcasting Network got really, really nervous about this particular statement and edited it out of the final broadcast of the “700 Club.” They also filed a complaint with YouTube to keep Right Wing Watch from posting the video online.” Read more.
For every 10 or 50 or 100 of us who know Robertson is off his rocker, there's someone who gobbles up what he has to say, and uses it to justify his or her own prejudice, hate speech or physical violence against LGBT people. I was grateful to see that the interviewer was visibly uncomfortable with Robertson's response and that the producers of the 700 Club did not allow it to air on their show. The fact that someone leaked the footage to YouTube says that at least one person on the show's crew either agreed with Robertson or wanted the world to see what a demented monster the televangelist truly is. Either way I fear the small percentage that may see the clip and take it as divine justification.

People like Robertson sometimes seem like a waste of my breath, of the bandwidth and space in my brain or on this blog. But I think this kind of destructive thinking on the part of a religious leader and television personality with a following needs to be called out, as it appears YouTube felt as well.

Watch the video.