Friday, December 11, 2009

Terminal Stage




More shouts to Barack Obama for vindicating yours truly, not that this will be recognized or lead to lavish cash prizes. Timing is key in our fevered culture, and my error was to state the obvious a year in advance, while most danced amid clover with HOPE-sparkled eyes. Now that "betrayed" stragglers are getting into the act, the fates have shown me a different path, one that leads to spotlights and mikes.

This makes karmic sense. This is how it began for me. Without my early stage experience, which veered all over the road, I never would have had the nerve to opine politically, at podium, on radio and TV. It's one thing to offer jokes and bits that may or may not fly; it's another universe to critique the system and its imperial policies, especially to those enriched by it.

When I began to debate politics and media, I was scared shitless. I felt like a tourist, a poseur. What gave me the right to mix it up with Ivy Leaguers and those with government connections? I prepared like a lunatic. Spent months in the NYPL on 40th and 5th, reading, Xeroxing, memorizing. Bounced ideas off (when not irritating) my FAIR colleagues. I went into battle armed with what I could hold, though early on, I sometimes engaged those I was not ready for.

Rob Owen was one. I appeared with Oliver North's contra courier on Barry Farber's late night talk show on WMCA New York. I'd done Barry's show several times before, arguing with the likes of Cliff Kincaid of the proto-fascist Accuracy In Media and National Review's Richard Greinier. But they, like Barry, were agreeable reactionaries, Kincaid more so off-mike than on. Rob Owen represented a deadlier level. Unlike stateside propagandists, Owen was directly involved with the contras in Honduras, a staging ground for terrorist attacks on Nicaraguan citizens. The man had serious blood on his hands. This realization deeply frightened me.

When Owen arrived, he seemed like an average suburban guy, not out of place at True Value on a Saturday. He brought along a burly man -- friend, bodyguard, personal assassin/food taster, I didn't really know. When we were all introduced, the burly man kept glowering at me, weird smile on his face. I felt like I was being sized up. Owen, when not talking, closed his eyes and rubbed his temples as if suffering a migraine. He paid no attention to his sidekick who was paying extra attention to me.

At one point, our discussion landed in Cambodia. Why, I don't recall. But I do remember Owen, during a commercial, leaning towards me and hissing, "And I suppose you think that American B-52s helped create the Khmer Rouge?"

"I think it's agreed upon that carpet bombing created the conditions for Pol Pot's rise, yes."

"Yeah?" Owen's eyes widened. "Well, that's BULLSHIT!"

Owen literally spat that out while burly man snickered as if it was the funniest thing he'd seen all day.

This dude's nuts, I thought to myself. I'm in way over my head. Why did I leave comedy again?

Fortunately, Martin Lee, with whom I worked at FAIR, showed up, albeit a half hour late. Marty was more experienced with the American far right than I, and settling in he gently, firmly picked Owen apart. I retreated and left early, embarrassed that I'd thrown in the towel. It was a tough but fruitful lesson. In a sense, Owen popped my political cherry. After him and his pal, I never feared another opponent, especially when debating Israel/Palestine, where I encountered some truly crazy motherfuckers.

So, my early stage experience nourished my political debate years which strengthened my present state of mind. At 50, I crack wise anew, eager to see how it goes. If I bomb, so be it. After being around those who advocate bombing poor people, a silent stage is positively life affirming.