Encomium 9/11 – George Merkouris

[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]

George Merkouris


Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This also always reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)

Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.

It was effortless for one to love him.

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.

So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that while I never forgot you, I never will…


About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:


Legacy: Martin Luther King Jr. August 28, 1963

Martin Luther King Jr. by Peter Max

Martin Luther King Jr. by Peter Max


I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for white only.”

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interpostion and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

My New Hero

Once I stopped weeping, I wanted to track down this beautiful young man and hold him to let him know that everything will get better.

But, by the end of the video, I realized he already knows that.

Heroes come in many a various guise. Here’s a face of the New World Hero. The bilious hatred from the Republican politicians hellbent on halting and destroying all anti-bullying legislation is palpable, but they are on the wrong side of history. I’m not naive to believe the old proverb “Love makes the world go round…”. That’s an ideal fallacy borrowed from an old Broadway musical (CARNIVAL, if you care). It’s actually hate and greed and war and prejudice that twirls this world. But there is enough love to balance such innate antipathy. And there is Jonah Mowry…

So, please, Jonah, wherever you are…please know that, as cliched as it is to say it,  there is good in the world. And please also understand that you are wrong – there are not a million reasons for you to be here, as you bravely state in your vid – the actual number is far beyond what you can possibly think. You are stronger than the hate, braver than the bullies, you tower the cowards. You are a man.

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up…



Imagine If The Tea Party Was Black

Clearly this is the most profound essay on the bleeding, pustulating scab of America known as the Tea Party Movement. Anti-racist essayist/polemicist Tim Wise doesn’t relegate to blatant name-calling, but that’s what makes him a smarter – and more important – man than I’ll ever be.

This bowel “movement” – once (and still) a punchline – is a frightening reality we can no longer afford to dismiss as a demented (that’s still true) fringe group.

Fuck the fundamental mendacity – damned the blatant hated bigoted blackest threads woven into the very fabric of their bloodline tapestry. None of that matters to the Tea Baggers. What matters is “their truth”.

I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. Neither Conservative nor Liberal. I’ve championed both parties throughout my life, soley dependent on the candidate and the issues.   But, sadly, many Conservatives have aligned themselves with the Tea Party as a mechanical monomaniacal ploy for  power. Nothing more, nothing less.

But never forget that the Tea Party Movement – and those Conservatives who have nailed their palms to it (e.g. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin,  Satan’s daughter Michele Bachmann)  – is basically absolute ANTI-AMERICANISM masqueraded in the Red, White & Blue.  They are the real terrorists. They are the American Taliban.

Imagine: Protest, Insurgency and the Workings of White Privilege

by Tim Wise

Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure–the ones who are driving the action–we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

So let’s begin.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters–the black protesters–spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government. Would these protesters–these black protesters with guns–be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry, screaming, black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a black rap artist were to say, in reference to a white politician and presidential candidate: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” And what would happen to any prominent liberal commentator who then, when asked about that statement, replied that the rapper was a friend and that he (the commentator) would not disavow or even criticize him for his remarks. Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said in 2007 about Barack Obama, and that’s how Sean Hannity responded to Nugent’s remarks when he was asked about them.

Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister–who also works for the organization–defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and “going through a tough time in his life” would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that’s what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as Executive Director of his group, America’s Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.

Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn’t want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough–“living fossils” as he called them–“so we will never forget what these people stood for.” After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said, about Barack Obama’s administration, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals, generally.*

Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the U.S. military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies, that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

Imagine a black radio talk show host gleefully predicting a revolution by people of color if the government continues to be dominated by the rich white men who have been “destroying” the country, or if said radio personality were to call Christians or Jews non-humans, or say that when it came to conservatives, the best solution would be to “hang ‘em high.” And what would happen to any congressional representative who praised that commentator for “speaking common sense” and likened his hate talk to “American values?” After all, those are among the things said by radio host and best-selling author Michael Savage, predicting white revolution in the face of multiculturalism, or said by Savage about Arab Muslims and liberals, respectively. And it was Congressman Culbertson, from Texas, who praised Savage in that way, despite his hateful rhetoric.

Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up The New York Times.

Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her “typical redneck trash,” or a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds.” After all that’s comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on freerepublic.com last year, when they referred to her as “ghetto trash.”

Imagine that black protesters at a large political rally were walking around with signs calling for the lynching of their congressional enemies. Because that’s what white conservatives did last year, in reference to Democratic Party leaders in Congress.

In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

Game Over.

*(Denver Post December 29, 1995)

Jai Guru Deva Om***

Reality (and logic…and truth…and common sense) gives Creationism a bad name.


***That persnickety genius John Lennon was a very spiritual (religious?) man, which goes to show that just because you’re one of the greatest songwriters in history doesn’t automatically mean you’re always the smartest…