Saturday, June 30, 2007

Clay and Kimmel: iObsessed

(The sound of a phone ringing in the darkness, followed by a loud groan.)

Kimmel (unseen): Somebody...better be...DEAD. (The bedside lamp switches on, and Kimmel squints painfully at the clock and snatches the phone.) HELLO!

Clay (exuberantly): Hey, Jimmy!

Kimmel (pointedly): Well. If it’s isn’t Mr. Eastern Time Zone.

Clay: Oh...sorry! Ah’m jest so excited! Ah’ve bin callin’ everbody Ah know!

Kimmel (wincing): Why? Did Kathy Griffin get kidnapped by aliens? No, wait, don’t tell me -- Perez Hilton died of hair dye poisoning!

Clay (laughs): No! Jimmy, Ah was--

Kimmel: You singlehandedly brought about world peace?

Clay (smugly): Nah. Ah was savin’ that fer next week. Jimmy. (barely able to contain himself) Do Ah sound different?

Kimmel: Different? No, you sound like you’ve been sucking on helium as usual. Why?

Clay: Oh, yore such a kidder. No...Ah jest wondered...well...guess what Ah’m talkin’ ta ya on!

Kimmel (sleepy, impatient): Clay, I don’t know. An orange juice can on a string? A shoe phone? The Psychic Friends Network?

Clay (proudly): Ah’m talkin’ ta ya on mah brand new...iPhone!

Kimmel: That’s all? That’s what you called about? That’s why you woke me up at four in the morning?

Clay: Well...yeah! Jimmy, it’! Ah’ve bin sittin’ here all night playin’ with it--it does so many amazin' thangs!

Kimmel (wearily): I could make an analogy here, but I don’t think I will.

Clay: Ah even blogged with it...TWICE.

Kimmel: Really. I hope you rested in between.

Clay: No, Ah didn’t need to!

Kimmel (shrugs): Well, you ARE ten years younger than me.

Clay: Eleven, but who's countin.' So...Ah bin surfin’ the Net, lookin’ at pitchers, listenin’ ta mah songs, gittin’ directions--

Kimmel: Since when do we guys ask for directions? And here’s what I want to know: does it make a sandwich?

Clay (laughs): Ah don’t think so...but Ah haven’t made it through the whole manual yet.

Kimmel: Well, it's nice to know somebody actually reads those things. (yawns) I’m going back to bed. I’m glad you like your new toy. Oh...and by the way, whaddya think I’m talking to YOU on?


Clay: You got one, too -- an’ ya didn’t TELL me?

Kimmel: iConfess. long before you lose it? I got a bet going.


Clay: Jimmy? Git iStuffed.

A heartfelt thanks to shine in nc for the use of her lovely iPhotoshop.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Clay and Kimmel: Gift Grab, Part Deux

(Clay, swigging from a can of Mountain Dew, slouches in a big leather chair in Jimmy’s living room in L.A. Jimmy is stretched out on the sofa, clearly in convalescent mode, surrounded by wilting floral arrangements, big stuffed animals, balloons, magazines, newspapers, used Kleenex, half-empty donut boxes, and dirty dishes.)

Kimmel: Hey. It was nice of you to come and see the poor invalid.

Clay: No problem, Jimmy – Ah hadta come out here fer rehearsal anyhow.

Kimmel (sarcastically): Oh, now I feel special. You wanna see my scar?

Clay (shudders): Nope. An’ Ah got here a few days sooner than Ah hadta, when Ah coulda bin home with mah dogs, who Ah think have forgotten who Ah am, Ah’ve bin gone so much. If that makes ya feel any better.

Kimmel: It does. Hey…are there any other fan sites where I should be posting my thank you message?

Clay: Ya mean, mah fan sites?

Kimmel: Hey, it looks like they’re MY fans too now. And I’m theirs. (melodramatic sigh)

Clay (sardonically): Oh, a love affayre made in heaven. Well, don’t git too cocky, or Ah might hafta blog about how disgustin’ you are. Did yore maid take the week off? Coss it smells like a dumpster in here. (sniffing) Or a funeral. Or both.

Kimmel: No, this is just since this morning. The maid’ll be back…eventually. If she hasn’t quit.

Clay (shaking his head): An’ yore always callin’ me a slob. You’d think Sarah woulda come in here an’ straightened up.

Kimmel: Clay. We’re talking about a woman who actually likes potato chip crumbs in the bed. And don’t get me started on how hard it is to clean peanut butter off my--

Clay (sticking his fingers in his ears): LA LA LA LA LA…(removes them, pointedly changes the subject) Anyhow, Ah think mah fan club site was prolly the best place…fans of all walks, an’ all that.

Kimmel: Oh. Too bad.

Clay: Why?

Kimmel: Well, I’m only two bathrobes short of covering my entire crew for Christmas, I’ve gotten addicted to these Fannie May Pixies, and the children’s hospital definitely wouldn’t mind more stuffed animals. And I was still hoping for a box of Cubans and a case of Becks. And of course, you know I can always use more of these…(he reaches over to the coffee table and displays a very large pair of bright red plaid boxer shorts, emblazoned with the legend: CLAYMATES HEART U!). So I was thinking maybe a second wave—what’s so funny?

Clay (cracking up): Oh, yore jest like a kid ‘bout all these presents. It’s rilly cute. An’ Ah notice you didn’t even mention mine.

Kimmel: I did too! I called up that slacker Adam Carolla on his radio show and told him about it. Some friend…as opposed to YOU, HE didn’t send me shi—anything. Didn’t you hear me say nice things about you?

Clay (deadpan): Ah'm shore it won't surprise ya ta hear this, but Ah’m not a big Adam Carolla listener, Jimmy. (pouting) Ah bet ya didn’t even look at mah gift. Jest tossed it onta the pile with all the rest.

Kimmel: Hey, I was saving the best for last. (picks up a big ceramic bedpan and looks into it) This is very nice. Did you really decorate it yourself?

Clay: Ah shore did. Ah bet yore impressed that Ah took time outta mah busy globetrottin’ schedule ta make you that piece o’…art.

Kimmel: Oh, I am. And I love it. (reluctantly) Um…Clay?

Clay: Yeah?

Kimmel: I’m sorry, but…who’s this supposed to be a picture of?

Clay (with a smirk): Well…Ah wanted ta put somethin’ in thayre that only YOU could ‘ppreciate. So Ah painted that Gawker-Stalker woman you reamed out on Larry King.

Kimmel (contemplating it): How 'bout that. (wicked smile) Well. I’ll be SURE to put this to good use.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Clay and Kimmel ("The Climmel"): I See London, I See France

(Clay in his hotel room in London. His cell phone rings. He checks the display, grins and answers.)

Clay: Hola!

Kimmel (bad British accent): Cheerio, old boy. Pip pip and all that. D’you have Prince Albert in a can?

Clay (mystified): Do Ah have WHO in a WHAT?

Kimmel (normal voice): Clay, didn’t you make crank phone calls as a kid?

Clay: Please. Mah mom woulda wore me out with a stick. No joke.

Kimmel: So, I see you snuck in a trip to Spain and you didn’t even tell me.

Clay: Jimmy, these days when Ah wake up in the mornin,’ Ah hafta stick mah head out the winda ta figger out whayre Ah am. An’ who’s sendin’ you copies o’ mah blogs? Unless yore an actual member o' mah Oh-Fishul Fan Club?

Kimmel (lying through his teeth): Of course I am.

Clay: Good, coss otherwise you better cough up the thirty bucks, ya cheapass. Ah don't s'pose yore gonna tell me yore screenname?

Kimmel (clears throat, changes the subject): Sooo...did you do anything fun in Spain?

Clay: Nope – Ah was thayre on business, an’ rilly busy. Somebody did try ta git me ta go to a bullfight, though.

Kimmel: And you didn’t go?

Clay: Nah…Ah hate the sight o’ blood, an’ Ah cain’t stand cruelty ta animals. (sotto voce) Unless thayre’s barbecue involved. Don’t tell PITA. (normal voice) Those matadors are purdy gutsy, though…Ah hafta give ‘em that.

Kimmel (bemused): Hmmm…matadors…I think I better file that away for future reference.

Clay (knowingly): Jimmy, Ah’m not wearing a matador costume OR fightin’ a bull on yore show. Don’t EVEN go thayre.

Kimmel: Actually, I was thinking of Guillarmo.

Clay (shaking his head): That pore guy. Ah don’t know why he puts up with you.

Kimmel: Are you kidding? He loves taking his mom to movie premieres and schmoozing with celebrities. Sure beats guarding the Porsches in the parking lot. So what if he has to wear slingbacks once in a while. But…he did make me promise not to make him put on a bra anymore. So, looks like that slot is open for next season.

Clay (wryly): Good luck with THAT one. Mebbe yore Uncle Frank’d be innersted. So…y’know mah tour is comin’ ta L.A., finely.

Kimmel (reluctantly): Um…yeah…

Clay: Jimmy, yore comin’ ta see me, aren’tcha?

Kimmel: Well—

Clay (severely): Now look, ya slacker. You’ve never seen me in concert—

Kimmel (defensive): Sure I have. You’ve sung on my Pontiac Garage stage, remember? And in my studio.

Clay (heatedly): That doesn’t count! You better git yore sorry butt ta mah show, which is right across town from you, by the way, or Ah jest might have other plans the next time sweeps rolls around.

Kimmel: Oooh, now I’m scared! (laughs) Okay, okay…I was just screwing with you. Sarah and I had already decided to come. Of course we’re gonna be there. So…are we supposed to wear big gaudy tee-shirts and blinky hats and feather boas and carry big honkin’ cameras and hold up huge signs that block everybody else’s view? And scream and throw underwear?

Clay (sigh, major eyeroll): Oh, Jimmy. That is so 2003.

Kimmel: Oh, okay…I’ll behave myself. I can’t speak for Sarah, though.

Clay: Jimmy, Ah fully expect her ta make a spectacle o’ herself. Ah’d be kinda disappointed if she didn’t. An’ Ah’m shore she’d feel right at home with some o’ mah more…um…enthusiastic fans.

Kimmel: So, now you’re in London? Geez.

Clay: Yep. Gotta talk ta some producers, but then we were hopin’ ta mebbe git in some sight seein’ today. Not shore whayre we’re gonna eat yet…we wanna go somewhayre upscale. Y’know…classy an’ understated.

Kimmel: Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. Don’t you know there’s a McDonald’s in the Tower of London?

Clay: Jimmy? Bite me.

Many thanks as always to my partner in crime Fountaindawg for her dreamy 'shop.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Clay and Kimmel ("The Climmel"): Jetsetter

Clay relaxing on the hotel balcony in Mexico, typing on his laptop. His cell phone rings. He squints at the display, grins and answers.

Clay: Hey!

Kimmel (bad monotonous Austrian accent): Mistuh Aaaaken. This is your buddy Aaahnold, the GUH-va-nate-tuh. (Clay bursts out laughing) Hasta la vista, beh-bee! Now listen--

Clay (cracking up): Ah’m listenin’...

Kimmel (as Aaahnold): I want you to come beck to Cah-lee-FO-neeah to acksept a very imPOtant awawd.

Clay (playing along): An’ what might that be, Mister Governator?

Kimmel: “Da Man Most Likely To Lose Im-PO-tant Body Pahts in a Foreign Country.”

Clay (laughing): Jimmy, you are so fulla merde.

Kimmel (normal voice): Ooh la la! Speaking Franch after your big trip to Paris, huh?

Clay: Oui! (deliberately) Bon-JOOR, mon-SEWER.

Kimmel: Heh. Is that all the French you know?

Clay: Hey, gimme some credit...Ah happen ta know four phrases besides this one.

Kimmel: And they are?...

Clay: One: “Whayre’s the bathroom?”

Kimmel: Trés important...

Clay: Two: ”What time is it?”

Kimmel: ...Came in handy, I’m sure...

Clay: Three: ”How much does it cost?”

Kimmel: ...Right. Like you even have to ask. And?

Clay: ”Leave me alone, dirtbag.”

Kimmel (laughs): Oh, that one was vital, I’ll bet! Who’dja say that to?

Clay (deflated): Well...nobody. Ah was hopin’ Ah’d git a chance ta use it aginst the paparazzi, but actually, nobody even recognized me over thayre.

Kimmel: Hard to believe. That must have been a relief, huh?

Clay: Well, first. After a while, Ah gotta admit, it was rilly weird. ‘Course then Ah went to the Louvre* an’ took a look at Michelangelo’s David an’ it kinda put it all in perspective. Ah mean, after seein’ that, Ah shore couldn’t figger out why all those wimmin’ve bin chasin’ after ME.

Kimmel: What, you’re saying you’re not the spitting image of Michelangelo’s David?

Clay (shudders): Not even close -- more like Mickey Mouse.

Kimmel (eagerly): Hey, who was that “movie actress” you ran into over there? C’mon, spill.

Clay: No, Ah promised her Ah’d never say. An’ y’know Ah don’ ‘n’ tell.

Kimmel:’re no fun. So, I read your blog -- now you’re in Mexico?

Clay: Si, Señor.

Kimmel: Man. You jetsetter you. Canada to France to Mexico, all in a little over a week. What’s next? Asia? Africa? Akron?

Clay (yawning): Could be anywhayre. Ah’m gittin’ used ta lettin’ it all hang out on airplanes, that’s fer shore. An' that includes mah stinky feet. An' you prolly read that Ah hadta hurry ta mah manager's birthday party the minit Ah landed, so Ah looked -- an' prolly smelled -- like somethin' the cat dragged in.

Kimmel: Well, I hope you wore your nice wrinkled cargo shorts. Hey, that reminds me. I read someplace you asked for milk?

Clay: So? Ah like milk, an’--wait! (warily) Why are ya bringin’ that up?

Kimmel: Well, I saw something the other day and...well, I thought you’d like it--

Clay: Jimmy. Tell me ya didn’t send a cow ta mah house. Ya wouldn’t do that ta me, wouldja, after sendin’ me that wild turkey last Thanksgivin?’ Ah’m still findin’ turkey poop in mah shoes.

Kimmel: No, I didn't send you a cow. Wish I'd thought of it, though! Are you saying you’d rather have Odor Eaters?

Clay: Well, those Ah could actually USE. As you prolly read.

Kimmel: Hey, I don’t believe everything I read, especially about you. Or and enthusiastic fans.

Clay (with a sigh): Ah'm glad, Jimmy.
*Okay...I know Michelangelo’s David is at the Uffizi in Florence, not at the Louvre in Paris. It’s called creative license, people.

Many thanks to my buddy Fountaindawg for her wonderful 'shop.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

“Let them call me names. It doesn't make it true."

“It’s not what you are called: it’s what you answer to.” --- African proverb

Clay Aiken is in the news again.

Seems like some gossiper mocked Clay last week. Seems like some people shrugged, some laughed and some got mad. Lots of energy and passion was expended.

The mention was pretty dumb, so it took little of my time.

There are other things in life much more worthy of laughter or outrage.

As I do with the sometimes hyper-serious Jeremiah of U2, Bono (whose music I adore and whose commitment I admire), I make fun of Clay Aiken myself. Clay’s a bundle of delicious contradictions, he can be melodramatic, he has odd allergies and self-confessed phobias. He’s been known to caricature his own accent, his limbs seem to go off in different directions when he walks and his ever-changing face is a cartoonist’s dream.

He knows this.

Gifted with a quicksilver wit and a sense of self-deprecation, no one makes better Clay Aiken jokes than Clay Aiken.

Four years ago, when he first arrived in the public eye, Clay was parodied as a country bumpkin, a bible-touting, straight laced conservative momma’s boy. The evidence is a bit different: he is a Southerner, but from Raleigh, a major metropolitan area, not from the country; a devout Christian who’s done his own soul-searching (briefly attending the Moravian Church) and a man who lives with an attitude of loving acceptance across the lines of race, gender, age and orientation; a lifelong registered Democrat who self-describes as “progressive,” and a strong, independent man --- who is a proud momma’s boy. What do you know: he doesn’t mind expressing love for the woman who raised him.

Somewhere along the line, the first joke got old, and so a few decided to play with the idea that Clay was some demented funhouse mirror opposite of the man most people had come to know him to be. There was the fan fiction from Bizarro World, which changed with every tick of the clock, the nameless, faceless “anecdotes”, riddled with impossibilities and inconsistencies, supposedly having taken place in locations Clay has never been with people he has never met --- or conveniently invented after the fact, as in an Eastern European hoax which miraculously popped up only after Clay blogged later that he’d vacationed there.

Funny: in the age of communication, there’s never been a shred of realistic evidence. Damn, didn’t anyone have a camera phone when “Clay” was sitting barefoot on the floor in first class, demanding a glass of milk?

With so many over-hyped, half-baked and wholly invented tales in the news, it’s no wonder Clay has mockingly dubbed himself the King of Controversy.

I suppose that for the gullible, the childish, the bored, the shock jock morning zoos, the alien baby tabloids and those who yearn to see good people fall, the fictions held a moment of entertainment value. As for me, I roll my eyes and move on. It's not just laughably fake, it's trifling, and that is just boring.

Call him names based on unbelievable nonsense. It doesn’t make it true.

Clay, despite his faults and failings, is a pretty admirable human being. From his UNICEF Ambassadorship to his own Bubel/Aiken Foundation to his service on the President’s Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities, from supporting the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon to Ronald McDonald House Charities to U.S. Marines Toys for Tots to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF in support of survivors of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, Clay is dedicated to service to such an extent that even some of his fans voice concern that he spends too much time with charitable endeavors and not enough time on his career.

(I think he balances his music career and his activist concerns pretty darn well.)

When did this desire to serve begin?

A "pre-fame" Clayton Aiken (right) with Y camp counselor friends.

Not when he knew he would be in the public eye: it began half a dozen years earlier than his television debut, in his late teens, when he was a YMCA camp counselor fighting with his bosses at the YMCA to include children with disabilities in their camps. At nineteen, he was the lead teacher for a class of students with autism, triggering his desire to understand children who live with that “puzzle.” He was a counselor and mentor for the CAP-MR/DD program (Community Alternatives Program for Persons with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities). There, he met the Bubel family, working with their son Mike, who has autism.

Clay and Mike Bubel. Photo from The Bubel/Aiken Foundation.

Three years before there was an “American Idol”, Clay was pursuing his degree in special education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

And despite these documented truths, some would say that his dedication to inclusion is an act. Unless Clay is unusually prescient, it’s ludicrous to believe that he decided to become a special education teacher on the off-chance that there would one day be a television show that would succeed despite the odds against new shows, on which he would be selected from a field of tens of thousands and survive multiple rejections before making it to the finals, where he would be able to use a portion of his interview time to pretend to be a compassionate person who wanted to make a difference --- and hope that got included in the televised package.

Call him self-serving. It doesn’t make it true.

In his first major television interview with Diane Sawyer in October 2003, Clay talked about how it was both inexplicable and a bit frustrating to him that
anyone would think he was perfect, just because he doesn’t smoke or drink, because he doesn't use the F word (well, at least not very often, as he admitted)
and because he thinks it is important for people in the public eye to be good role models for the children who admire them.

In an Elle Magazine interview with Alison Glock, written during the summer of 2003 and dated that October, Clay told one of the first of his “isn’t life absurd?” stories, an incident where he was amazed and frustrated when a clerk told him they didn’t have any chicken available --- at a still open KFC restaurant. These stories, like Mark Twain’s tall tales, often seem exaggerated for comic affect (the old man in the airport who hit Clay with his cane, the limo driver who ignore Clay’s request to lock the doors until finally bellowing “THEY WILL BE LOCKED!”, Clay getting sick and passing out on the floor of an Eastern European McDonalds, while his best friend Kristy carefully put down her tray before coming to assist him.) To me, the KFC story is mock-bossy Clay at his best.

In the “American Idol: Life On the Road” special in January 2004, Clay is seen walking quickly off the stage at the Chicago AI2 concert, fuming about all of the technical breakdowns that cut off half of his first song, the record-breaking single “This Is The Night,” and forced him to physically haul himself up onto the stage from a malfunctioning hydraulic lift. He is angry, yes, but he makes the point that he feels that, through the incompetence or inattention of a technician, the fans had been robbed of the show they had paid for.

Some fans affectionately labeled this incident Pissy!Diva!Clay! A few other people, through jealousy or boredom or malice, used this and other invented or exaggerated tales (including a tired retread of a fake Josh Groban “Coke or Pepsi?” diss) to try to make a case that Clay is demanding.

Has Clay Aiken ever been rude to a fan or a deejay or someone else he came across during his public life? Undoubtedly, yes --- I know I have been, and not just to fools who deserved it. Might as well admit that I have sometimes been in the wrong. But for the dozen or so tales that are floating around (including a few that are clearly urban myths), there are hundreds and hundreds of verifiable examples from fans, media professionals, other entertainers, school groups and the myriad philanthropies with which Clay is associated of a generous, good-hearted, thoughtful, kind and sometimes bitingly funny man who went the extra mile.

Call him a diva. It doesn’t make it true.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at
you, then they fight you, then you win.
--- Mohandas Gandhi

A good joke has to be based on a kernel of truth. Snark --- wit paired with bite --- is hardest of all to do well, because it requires intelligence and balance. Overdone, it degenerates into cruelty.

I’ll laugh at Letterman and Stewart and Colbert (and now, shockingly, Kimmel, once among the worst of sophomoric, name-calling “humorists”), even when they tweak someone I like and make me wince. As biting as their humor can be, it almost always rises above the simple mean-spirited jibes of lesser talents, whose humor seems to be based more on volume than wit.

There’s been a trend for a while, that I don’t employ but that I do understand the reasoning behind, of taking back words once used to demean. Years ago, out of the blue, a stranger passing on the street called me the N word --- and I laughed at him and saw him deflate like a two cent balloon.

Some African Americans, women and gay people, for example, reclaimed and diffused hate speech, stripping those words of much of their power. But something disturbing happened in concert: neutral descriptors like “gay” became substitute insults, shrieked at volume in comedy routines and adopted by teens as a synonym for bad or useless.

The use of words associated with racism, sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance rarely make for good humor, largely because many people using them don’t have the wit and insight to be able to puncture the armor of those grievous human failings. They seem to think there is something funny in being black or female or gay or Jewish in and of itself, so they shriek those terms or a derogatory substitute and then dissolve into mocking laughter. No work or wit involved.

Set down you chains
And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength to that
which you wish to be free from
--- Jewel, “A Life Uncommon”

So I don’t waste my days railing against that smarmy, puerile doodler or the fourth-tier comic harridan or the late night talk show pairing of Dumb Humor, followed by Dumber. Why bother with people whose schtick is so boring and pathetic?

The most ridiculous of all are those who would deny Clay’s talent. I have no objection to those who don’t care for pop music or a reviewer who opines that Clay should have material befitting his talent. But for those who would attempt to group a singular talent like Clay Aiken with the fifteen minute flavors of the month?

Now let me see: shall I get all twisted up over opinions on Clay’s talent and potential from some obscure community college blog, the psychic network of reviewers who slammed his latest album without bothering to play it --- or listen to the evidence of my own ears? Or consider the generous praise he’s received from Hall of Fame, platinum-selling, award-winning career artists like Neil Sedaka, Gladys Knight, Verdine White, Robin Gibb, Heather Headley and fourteen time Grammy winning producer David Foster, Clay’s mentor and friend?

Clay and David Foster performed together at the Pacific Economic Conference in Vancouver. Among the dignitaries in attendance were California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.(Photo from the Vancouver Courier.)

Clay has sold five million, broken first week sales records for both his debut single and his first album, and shattered the record for debuting holiday CDs.

He’s generated $28 million at the box office, across seven tours in three and a half years --- and counting.

Call him untalented. It doesn’t make it true.

There are people in the public eye whose excesses almost beg to be mocked. There they are: the trio of starlets, stumbling out of clubs night after night, drunk off their pantiless asses. There’s the athlete tainting the game with instant muscles and artificial power, achieving meaningless records courtesy of banned substances. There’s the pompous, morally superior, self-righteous radio guy --- who was a drug addict. There’s the brilliant actor spiraling out of control, crashing cars and falling asleep on strangers’ lawns (now, thank God, sober and succeeding one day at a time.) And there are those who are liars and clowns of both parties in Washington’s corridors of power --- or in a church, government office or school right in your community.

I’ll laugh sometimes, but there isn’t much humor behind it. Too much of this behavior veers from sad to pathetic to disheartening.

Then there are those who are far worse: the actor and the sportsman who hid abuse and violence until it sprang into the news in ugly and tragic headlines, the top selling artist who is alleged to have abused the innocence of the very young, the gun wielding, angry self-haters who delude themselves into believing that their brothers on the other Coast are the enemy. These are serious societal problems, and it’s impossible for me to find an iota of humor in actions like those, least of all in skits with dancing trial judges.

In an era of cyberbullying, insult humor and “legitimate” major media using tabloids as sources, I could literally spend all day replying to people whose raison d’etre seems to be to deride others. I know that most of their dark stars have risen only because some people keep clicking that link, watching that show, buying that publication.

I didn’t need Clay Aiken to tell me to ignore them, but he is right. They don’t deserve to be any part of my life, so I sure as hell won’t open the door and invite them in.

But is silence always the answer? When is it appropriate, even imperative, to reply?

One example in my life is when name calling springs from ignorance rather than malice.

I think of Clay himself, saying that he will speak up when someone uses the R word as a synonym for silly or worthless. I have three nephews, now in their late teens and early twenties, remarkable young men who are a joy to be around. A few years ago, when all of their high school and middle school friends used to hang around the kitchen table playing poker, I’d sometimes hear their conversation while I was making a meal.

Now my reputation among these kids is of the quirky, playful aunt, the one who knows the names of the rap artists and can tease them in their own slang, which elicits many a laugh. So when someone dropped the R word, I didn’t have to get indignant and make anyone feel defensive.

Smiling but straightforward, all I needed to say was this:

“Hey, guys, you might use that word, but don’t use it in this house. Think about it: what you call ‘retarded people’ --- people with intellectual disabilities --- aren’t stupid. A lot of them are working hard to learn and are doing their best. I bet you know some really smart kids who choose to act stupid, don’t you? What’s their excuse? Find a better word.”

I have no illusions that all of those kids stopped using that offensive slang, but there has been a time or two when I overheard one of those kids start to say it and then correct himself, or another of the friends say, “Nah, don’t say that, they’re okay.”

Small victories.

I’ve learned in time not to use a blowtorch to kill a flea. There are times, though, when discriminatory public policy, inequitable laws, leaders misusing the power on loan to them from the people, and inaccuracies or distortions in major media do need to be confronted. I believe that staying silent in the face of racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and homophobia can imply approval, and it must remain to the individual to decide when to say, “I do not approve.”

It just seems pointless to me to live life in perpetual battle mode, seeking a way to get even.

If we fight eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, then we would have a nation that’s blind and toothless." The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the end, I simply don’t care that some no-name blogger or fourth rate gossiper titters and name-calls people better than they could ever dream of being. They have no power, unless we give it to them.

I know that there have been some who have called me names, mainly based on stereotypes and their own faults and failings. They don’t care about my truths: that I am a left-leaning social activist, a seeker in the Judeo-Christian tradition (with a touch of Zen), an advocate of the fundamental human rights, including civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and the rights of people with disabilities, an entertainment industry professional, a lover of music from classical to Hollywood musicals to British Invasion to Motown to jazz to world beat to grunge to neo-soul to alt-rock and alt-pop, an African American woman --- and a fan of Clay Aiken.

Clay and I come from very different worlds, but we have at least one thing in common. Call me what you will. It won’t make it true --- and, like my wise African forebears, I will not answer.


You have heard that it has been said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. --- The words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:38-41.

Imagine that: rather than sinking to the enemy’s level, try lifting him up to yours. It doesn’t always work and it might take years to change attitudes and behaviors, but there is no power capable of affecting transformation greater than love.

I have learned to pick my battles. I don’t waste my energy doing battle with a speck. I don’t mistake a snarky joke or a minor diss for a monumental affront. And I’ve tried to learn when the right thing to do is to take action, in lessons learned not from a pop singer but from Jesus and Gandhi and King, though I think Clay has learned those lessons, too.

Nonviolent social change is not a philosophy for the weak and the timid. It requires patience, understanding, forgiveness and courage. It requires being slow to anger. And it requires the knowledge that, from time to time, the best thing to do will be to go ahead and turn over a few tables.

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