The best thing about these blogs is I sit here tinkling away at the keyboard some evenings — and you’d think I was high as a kite the way they come out, but I’m not, haven’t even had a drink since New Years — grinning like Liberace rolling on E while he plays the Turkish March for the blue-rinse brigade in Vegas. Sometimes I will write something that catches me completely unaware and I snort and Coke Zero goes through my nose and onto the keyboard.
It’s not Spanking Galliano that gets me going these days, that’s sort of sad in a twisted way, and it’s certainly not the Satanic Natalie Portman. It’s Mama Gaddafi from the House of Gaddafi. I’m feeling a need to repost that image from an earlier blog with the caption:
The idea that Muamar Gaddafi is some disgruntled drag queen mother from a voguing House such as the ones featured in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning might date me, but it’s still gets me giggling. What I like best is the notion that you can take such extraordinary evil and turn it into something that you can laugh at, even for a little while. I say for a little while because I’ll bet that when it’s all over in Libya, we’re going to see some pretty awful shit uncovered. Shit that the West has turned its collective eye away from for forty years.
I am not the only one making fun of Gaddafi and his fashion sense online, so I propose we try to laugh at it now before we discover the real atrocities. This period before the Grim Truth reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which came out in 1940 at the beginning of World War II, when what was going on in the camps was just a rumor. As far as I know, and I am a filmmaker not a cinema studies geek so I am probably wrong, there wasn’t another movie that made fun of Hitler until the original The Producers came out twenty-eight years later.
For those of us who grew up as expats in Italy in the 70s and 80s, we were probably more keenly aware of what was going on in the former Italian colony of Libya than other countries in the West. Most Americans of a certain age weren’t very aware of Gaddafi or Libya until this recent civil war, which is what this is; the Lockerbie bombing happened almost twenty-three years ago.
There were quite a few Libyans in exile in Rome when I was growing up. For those who might have missed the details, “Libyans in exile” are one of Mama Gaddafi’s big pet peeves. In the turbulent, violence-riddled 70s, Gaddafi used to recall the exiles from time to time, and if they didn’t return to Libya, he would send out hit squads to assassinate and make examples of them.
Two of the best years of my life were when I was lucky enough to be a student at St. Stephen’s School in Rome. I liked it so much, I ended up boarding there, even though my family only lived across town. I was an amped-up screaming teenager, my parents were in a screamingly ugly marriage, so it was probably deemed money well spent to have me live out of the house.
It was teen paradise. I flourished. It was the 70s, times were lax, you could smoke in school — literally in a designated smoking area within the school where they served you cappuccinos and cornetti — without your parent’s permission; nobody gave a damn. All you had to do was check in at night, wait for lights-out, hop over the wall and nobody was the wiser. The school only had about a hundred and ten students, less than half of them boarders, so we were one big family living in this converted monastery on the Aventine Hill near the Coliseum. On sunny days, our Classical History classes took place in the Roman Forum itself, with the teacher standing on a broken column in from of the old Senate telling us stories. We could easily hear the chariots thundering, the mobs led by the Gracchi, the triumphal marches; we were there, it wasn’t a set in a film, a picture in a book. History was our backyard.
There were a couple of Libyans at school, one of whom was named Jowdat Rifat, a giant of a guy a couple of years older than me with a big bushy mop of hair and a bully’s sense of humor. There was another Arab kid, I think Libyan, who spoke no English and thus only communicated through Jowdat. This Arab kid apparently despaired of the Western infidels, of our smoking and our cappuccino sipping, and thought we should all convert. Jowdat convinced him the only way to do this was to do the Muslim call to prayer in English.
As I mentioned, St. Stephen’s is housed in a converted monastery. There is a large central atrium in the building with a garden. Classes are held on one side of the building, the dorm rooms are on the other. Very cozy.
We were all in class one afternoon when the Arab kid who spoke no English flung open the windows of his room overlooking the atrium and bellowed from the top of his lungs, calling the faithful to prayer, beckoning them to Islam, “I-I-I-I WAAAAA-NNNNAAAA BUTT FUCK!” over and over, just as Jowdat had taught him. It was a wail passionate enough to revive the New Caliphate. When you are a 14-year-old stuck in a boring Math class, something like that is really fucking funny.
Another one of Jowdat’s pranks that he never tired of repeating was to throw me in the fountain in the middle of the atrium whenever he could. I really bothered him. I was loud and a smartass, and way too big for my britches for a freshman, and was already the best friend of the prettiest girls in school. I was also a “fag,” his words, which is also why I was the best friend of the prettiest girls in school. Being thrown in the fountain stopped when I performed in drag as the evil stepmother in AA Milne’s The Ugly Duckling for a school Christmas pantomime my freshman year. I played it as a truck driver doing Dolly Parton Realness, with obscenely orbital boobs, toadstool crinoline country western dress, platinum wig of cascading frosty curls; the full Gaddafi, in other words. Yes, St. Stephen’s let you smoke, they gave you coffee while you smoked, and you could perform in drag over the holidays. I haven’t ever been as happy since. Jowdat loved that show, couldn’t stop repeating my lines form it whenever he saw me. From then on the dunkings stopped and I was firmly in his good graces; I had put my fagginess to productive use.
I never really paid much attention to the school rumor that Jowdat was saving up his pocket money to buy a Ferrari after he graduated. According to his Israeli roommate and best friend, Itay, this was the gospel truth, much to the envy of the other boys, but I didn’t really care because I wasn’t really into cars, in Italy of all places. The absurd cash was what was memorable for me: just imagine how much pocket money you must be receiving every month to save up for a Ferrari.
I moved back to New York the year Jowdat graduated. We were never that close, but we did live three doors down from each other for two years at St. Stephens, and I was very friendly with Itay. As Itay related it to me later, a year after he and Jowdat graduated, Gaddafi issued one of his recalls of the Libyans in exile, who drive him so extra nutty — you know, the same ones he blamed for starting the current unrest. Jowdat refused to go back. A few months later, his beloved Ferrari was mangled in a suspicious accident in London and he was killed. He was nineteen years old.
So, yeah, I make myself laugh about Mama Gaddafi and her tacky muumuus and her sunglasses and Amazon bodyguards, and her general hysterical schizo behavior. But it’s really gallows humor on behalf of all Libyans trying to wrench themselves free even at the cost of their lives, and in memory of Jowdat, who I can still see lumbering down the hall of that perfect school, coming to dunk me in the fountain.
Come on, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton. Do something. Yes, NATO jets buzzing around are fine, but attack already. I for one am itching to see Gaddafi end up like one of his predecessors:
In other not even marginally related news, it’s appears our Fearful Leader is backing away from the noxious Defense of Marriage Act. Just typing that makes me retch with indignation. It’s amazing to think that a group of people can be thought of as such a threat to marriage that it needs to be defended. Couldn’t they have thought of a less offensive title? Maybe the “You Can’t Because You’re Fags, That’s Why” Act?
Makes you wonder why we aren’t all rising up in revolt. Speaking of which, I’m about to screen The Inside Job at my dear friend Yvonne’s suggestion. Apparently I’m going to go off the rails when I see it. Yum.
Okay, one last glimpse of the Glamour Girl because I know you’re aching for it: