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The Club and My Shame

I’m 50 (almost 51). I’m white. My hair is short. I’ve been married to the same (wonderful) woman for 25 years. I have lived in the suburbs, in the southern half of America, for most of my life. I represent an industry that is made up of a lot of people who would be considered conservative by most. I’ve been the member of quite a few Christian denominations (yes denominations, not just congregations). In essence, if I were a book and you were judging me by my cover you’d just assume I was a conservative Republican who subscribes to all the beliefs and theories that those things imply.

Here’s the thing. I’m neither conservative or Republican. I’m not a Democrat and I don’t consider myself liberal either, but my “cover” has rarely led anyone to believe I’m a member of the liberal Democrat club, and it has often led people to believe I’m a member of the conservative Republican club. What that means is that people say things in front of me that I seriously doubt they would say if they knew I wasn’t really a card-carrying member of their club. This is most notably true with the topics that we are taught to not talk about at dinner parties: race, religion, sex/gender and politics.

Normally it isn’t that big of a deal. When it involves politics, in particular, it tends to be more entertaining than anything else. But in other areas, the things I hear can truly be disturbing because they reveal an individual’s belief system that I just can’t reconcile myself with. Go on a racist rant? I can’t look past that. Talk about women as sex toys, second class citizens or, God forbid, possessions? Nope.

But there’s one area that really hits home hardest: anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions. This one’s hard, because, quite frankly I was at one time guilty of saying some pretty shitty things about and to gay men. As a young intern in the early 80s I worked in a part of Washington, DC that had a vibrant gay community. I was a typical young, insecure guy and the fact that I was propositioned by gay men on several occasions really bothered me, largely because I thought it called my masculinity into question, and so I lashed out. On one drunken night, in particular, I screamed some terrible things at a guy I thought looked at me wrong. It was hateful, it was mean, and I would have deserved any condemnation or criticism I received.

In my fraternity, I originally had a nickname, FM, that started out as a positive because it was based on the song by Steely Dan and in particular the line “no static at all” largely due to my being laid back. Then word got around about the propositioning and FM morphed into “fag magnet” which I just rolled with. Ha-ha, funny, right?

Not too many years after graduating I got married and had kids. As the kids got older I would tell stories about my younger days, including the FM stories. Again, ha-ha funny. Now I want to be clear. I got past my insecurity and became a strong believer in equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and I don’t think anyone would have accused me of being a “hater.” Still, I had vivid memories of the night I screamed at the young guy, and I was extraordinarily ashamed by them, yet I had no problem with gay jokes or with the casual way that guys my age refer to things as “gay” and not in a happy sense.

That all changed when, in his second year of college, our oldest son came out. He told me over the phone – a conversation I’ll never forget – and the flood of emotions I felt was overwhelming, and probably not what you’d expect. I was horrified he’d felt the need to wait so long to tell us. I was scared for him, for what he would face in the world. And I was mortified at the realization that he’d had to listen to his dad tell FM stories, and to endure the casual, negative references to gay men I’d likely subjected him to.

I do feel the need to clarify that I don’t think he ever had reason to doubt his mother and I support him completely. He knows, I truly hope, that what we want for him is what we want for his sister and brother; to find a happy, healthy relationship with a person who makes his life exponentially better than it would be without them. It’s as simple as that: health and happiness, and we truly don’t care if it’s with another man as long as that man is a good person and makes our son happy.

Over the months after he came out, we navigated these new waters with our son, in particular how he wanted to deal with telling family and friends, and hopefully creating an environment that would allow him, and us, to thrive. One thing we discovered was this: we have some really good people in our lives. I don’t know of a single family member who thought less of our son, and I don’t know of any instance where he, or we, have been shunned or cut off by friends.

One thing I discovered about myself is this: I’m no longer okay with just shrugging when people assume I’m part of their club and they say something negative about another group of people, in particular, the LGBTQ community. It’s become personal, and visceral, for me.

When our son came out we still belonged to a church, but after listening to several men in the congregation, who assumed I was part of their club and who I otherwise respected, talk about the need to fight against gay marriage and to not let “those kind” ruin our church, I left. Sure, I could have stayed and fought, but here’s the thing: the church wasn’t worth it. When you say things like “we accept you despite your sin” to a gay person you’re telling them that their fundamental being is a sin and that is something I will never accept.

This is especially tough in business. My job sometimes requires me to work with people who hold what I consider to be odious beliefs, but because they think I’m part of the club I think they share those beliefs with me more freely than they do others. To do my job I have to ignore that and focus on the business at hand, but it’s getting harder and harder to do. I’m truly beginning to understand the meaning of cognitive dissonance, and I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep it up.

It’s a testament to how weak my character has been that it’s taken it becoming so personal for me to be truly engaged. It’s shameful that I haven’t stood up and said, “I think this is wrong” when people have made racist, misogynistic or homophobic things in front of me because they assumed I was part of the club.

I’m tired of being ashamed, and it’s about time I start letting people know their goddamned club sucks.

No Hugging Zone

Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Donald Trump, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin. That’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of powerful and influential men accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior (like pinching butts during photo ops). Sadly, the list of men who have abused their positions of power in this way would be pages long if I were to do the research, and it will undoubtedly keep growing because men in power will continue to behave this way.

What is changing, hopefully, is that their victims are refusing to stay silent. If that causes men to pause and worry about their every interaction with the people over whom they have some power or influence, then so be it.
For as long as I can remember the places I’ve worked have had a no-closed-door policy for one-on-one meetings between members of the opposite sex unless there’s a large window that allows others to see into the room. The reasons for that are easy enough to understand, and most people I’ve met who manage other people follow that rule pretty closely.
There is, however, one custom that is not ubiquitous but is widespread enough, that I think we need to address it in the context of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior: hugging in a business environment. While hugging is not my preferred mode of greeting anyone to whom I’m not related or very good (personal) friends with, I’m often confronted with offered hugs at business meetings. It could be at a conference, or a lunch meeting, or even a regular meeting: there’s often someone who wants to hug and I’m put in the no-win position of offending them if I refuse to hug, or giving a hug that makes me feel awkward.
Now, this is nothing new for me. I didn’t grow up in a huggy family, so when I went to college and suddenly had girls I barely new offering up hugs I wasn’t sure what to do about it. That feeling has continued throughout my career, and now I’ve come to believe that some people sense it because they shake hands with me while hugging the person standing next to me, which I’m totally good with. So, not hugging is actually my default preference.
There are, however, plenty of people who insist on the hug and I’m becoming firmer in my belief that hugging has no place in a business setting for the same reason that I don’t think it’s a good idea to have closed-door, one-on-one meetings with a member of the opposite sex. Simply put, if I give 100 hugs there’s a very high likelihood that all would be okay, but there’s also the small chance that someone will find it inappropriate. What if the hug was held for what that person felt was just a little too long? What if they think I’m sniffing their hair for some odd reason? What if they feel the hug was a little too tight? What if they feel like my hands were in the wrong place? Hell, what if in the course of the hug my hand accidentally brushes somewhere inappropriate?
I’m sure this sounds like nitpicking, or maybe even like a guy going to extremes in reaction to stories in the news, but I’m okay with that. You see, I prefer an environment where everyone involved is in a position to be comfortable doing their jobs. One of the reasons we have social norms is to help people understand what is appropriate behavior in a variety of situations. While shaking hands has its own downside, whether it’s the person trying to break your knuckles or the person with a cold trying to infect you, there is almost zero risk of it being taken as inappropriate touching.
So here’s my plea: let’s add hugging to the list of things that are better not done at work, along with talking about religion and politics. It might seem stiff and formal, but in today’s reality, it’s better for everyone involved.

Passing the Buck

As I write this Hurricane Harvey is, finally, leaving Houston and southeast Texas in its wake and heading towards Louisiana. During the several days that the hurricane inundated the Houston area there emerged many stories of heroism, harrowing escapes and increasingly desperate attempts by leaders to cope with a level of flooding never seen in their community’s history. In the midst of all

In the midst of all this the pastor of a very well-known mega-church, Joel Osteen, came under mounting criticism for not opening the doors of his church, a building that was once a coliseum that housed the Houston Rockets, to help the displaced and desperate residents of his city. His church’s initial reaction was to post pictures of their facility showing that it was inaccessible due to flooding, but then some local folks visited it to check it out for themselves and found that the facility was indeed accessible and pretty much dry compared to other parts of the city, and they shared that info (with pictures) on social media and the pressure on Osteen and his church mounted. Eventually, they did open the church as a shelter and to collect donations of clothes and sundry items, which is great, but the fact that the leader of one of the largest congregations in the country took so long to make it happen is a stain that will be hard to wash off.

So how did Osteen proceed to try to wash that stain? He appeared on the Today Show and promptly tried to pass the buck. Here’s a quote from the interview with him: “(The city) didn’t need us as shelter then,” Osteen said. “If we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked. Once they filled up, they never dreamed that we’d have this many displaced people, (and) they asked us to become a shelter. I think this notion that somehow we would turn people away or we weren’t here for the city is about as false as can be.”

You can see the interview for your self here.

He went on to say that the church was concerned for people’s safety because the building had flooding issues in the past. That’s all well and good, but here are the problems with his reaction:

  1. What kind of church leader waits to be asked to help?
  2. What kind of leader of any stripe tries to shift blame during a crisis?

To be clear, it’s a good thing that the church has rallied and is contributing, especially given the resources it can bring to bear. I’m pretty certain it would have, eventually, even without the pressure of the criticism from social media. But Osteen himself showed some real deficiencies of character and leadership in how he responded to the crisis itself and the criticism that resulted.

Eugeology #19 – Yngwie Malsteem’s Rising Force

So #19 on Eugene’s list was a totally new listen for me. I’d never heard of Malmsteem before, and don’t ask me how to pronounce his first name, but the Wikipedia page had me intrigued because it was all about how this guy’s skill with the guitar. I do love me some good guitar solos.

So here’s my take. Yep, the guy can play. Nope, I’m not a big fan of listening to 40 minutes straight of his riffs. He definitely has a classical music influence, and there are some parts that can only be described as soaring – hell, there are organs! – but I don’t care how good someone is on the guitar, it gets old after a while. It kind of comes across as one long ego trip.

Let’s end on a positive: there’s no denying this guy’s talent, and I think if you break it up and put individual songs on a playlist that’s buffered by other, more lyrical music, it would be a more enjoyable listening experience.

Links & Notes

Rising Force Wikipedia Page

Yngwie Malmstreem Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Eugeology #18 – Foghat Live 1977

Soooo, it’s been more than a little while since I’ve done a Eugeology post. Life got busy and, well, shit happens. So here I am about 15 listens behind Tim, and a few less than that behind Eugene. Hopefully, I’ll catch up to them before the year is done.

Eugene’s pick for #18 comes from a band that anyone my age has heard, but if you’re like me you might not have realized they recorded more than two songs. Okay, maybe that’s just me, but until I listened to this album if you’d asked me to name a Foghat tune I’d have said Fool for the City (first song on this album) and Slow Ride (last song on this album). Obviously, they recorded more than that, but I’ll be damned if I knew what they were.

This album only has six songs, and as I mentioned before I’d heard two of them many times before. I’m a fan of both, and the live versions from this concert recorded in May, 1977 are both very strong. Of the four songs in between I probably like “Honey Hush” best, but it’s followed closely by “I Just Want to Make Love to You”.

Total play time for the album is about 38 minutes, so it’s an easy listen if you just want to check it out. If you’re a fan of bluesy rock then I definitely recommend listening; if not then you wouldn’t be missing a lot if you skipped it. Or you could just listen to the beginning and the end and you’d get the best they have to offer.

Links & Notes

Album Wikipedia Page

Foghat Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Eugeology #17 – King Kobra’s Ready to Strike

After last week’s weirdness, this choice from Eugene was a welcome return to more standard ’80s hairband rock. Lots of guitar riffs, soaring lead vocals punctuated with backing vocals on the refrains – yep, that’s our ’80s hairband sound and we’re going to stick with it. And with a name like King Kobra, what else would you expect?

If we were using a 5 point scale I’d give these guys a solid 2.5. Didn’t love it, but it was about average. The lyrics and lead vocals were a little strained and more than a little than over the top at some points, but given the genre and the era, I don’t think you can hold that against them.

Of the ten tracks, I liked Shadow Rider and Dancing With Desire best, mainly because Mark Free’s vocals were, comparatively, more restrained and didn’t draw as much attention to themselves as on the other tracks. They also had less of the glam-band feel and fit what I’d consider a more traditional hard rock mold. Overall, the album wasn’t bad but it did have the feel of a debut, which it was.

Long story short – it wouldn’t hurt you to listen, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.

Update: Just read Tim’s take and he is going to disagree with my review wholeheartedly, and I’m pretty sure Eugene will too. The trend I’m noticing is that they enjoy the hallmark features of 80s hairbands more than I do. I agree with Tim that the guitar play is strong without being over the top – I should have mentioned that in my initial review – and that Free’s got a helluva voice. I just don’t think the style is in my wheelhouse.

Links & Notes

Ready to Strike Wikipedia Page

King Kobra’s Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Eugeology #16 – Alice Cooper’s Special Forces

This is a review I struggled with because I just don’t know that I have the music-review chops to adequately describe what I think of this album, so let’s just make it simple: this album is weird. Why? Well, it just is. It doesn’t sound like other stuff I’ve heard from Alice Cooper, and it doesn’t really fit neatly any genre with which I’m familiar.

Just because it’s weird, though, doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are definitely some tracks I thought were kind of fun like You Want It, You Got It, You Look Good in Rags and Don’t Talk Old to Me, but I swear I couldn’t give you a single example of anything that it’s similar to in my experience. Hell, if I didn’t have the album’s Wikipedia page to reference I couldn’t even tell you the 5-year timeframe in which it was recorded. The year was 1981, by the way, and I challenge you to listen to it and say it really sounds like anything else coming out at that time.

Hate to be a broken record (insert pun groan here), but it’s just plain weird. I think I’ve decided I don’t overly like it, but I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I just don’t know what to do with it, or what to tell you about it, so give it a listen yourself and see what you think.

Links & Notes

Special Forces Wikipedia Page

Alice Cooper’s Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too