Friday, October 29, 2010

McCancer, Martina & Manic Me

email from the Ozarks
(Vol. 3, No. 1)
Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Here in the alternate universe that is Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- where a transgender Christian evangelist is running for mayor and a former gay porn star for city council -- we were NOT happy to learn of the existence of one Clint McCance, the vice president of the school board in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, who went on a very UNpleasant and hateful anti-gay rant on his personal Facebook page, calling for “fags” to commit suicide and saying he would disown his children if they turned up queer and he‘s glad gays “can‘t procreate“ and is further happy so many of us received an AIDS diagnosis straight from God. He’s a real charmer, that Mr. McCance…

As I vented on Facebook (yes, I finally surrendered to the FB Universe a few months ago, dragged kicking and screaming, but am now fully addicted and ready to start a twelve-step group for crazed “micro-bloggers” like myself…). Anyhoo, I said on Facebook -- in a moment of blind rage at this Neanderthal giving Arkansas a bad name with his spectacularly evil and over-the-top hate-speech -- that ol’ Clint deserved to be called “McCanceR” because he is a cancerous growth on the bottom of a the left big toe of the body of America. (Did I mention that Facebook is responsible for the virtual death of good writing??? Get it? “Virtual death.” ;p )

McCancer’s free-fall of a mea culpa to Anderson Cooper last night was riveting, but this whole Arkansas PR disaster (though maybe a jackpot for “bullying awareness“) has been so crazy, I’m hoping it will inspire an even rowdier than usual Fall Diversity this weekend, when throngs of homo-sekshul revelers from near and far descend on this unlikely gay mecca in the Ozarks. Fall Diversity -- sort of a hillbilly circuit party, with drag shows, dykes-on-bikes poker runs, a mass “Public Display of Affection” in Basin Park (noon Saturday!), midnight breakfasts, and even a queer literary event this year -- coincides with Halloween, which is very big in Eureka Springs. And owing to an endless summer heat wave and drought, the fall foliage has peaked a little early, meaning we are in for probably the most beautiful weekend of the year. This picturesque Victorian spa town is one of the hotspots in America for the “leaf peeper” set, who come from parts unknown to gawk at the gorgeous Ozark landscape dappled with oranges and reds and yellows.

After this exhausting Clint McCancer episode, gawd knows we NEED to escape this severely damaged world and have some FUN! Planet Earth seems more chaotic than ever, and it feels especially apocalyptic here in America, where everybody is broke and angry, anti-gay bullies are driving teens to suicide, and the lunatic fringe known as the Tea Party is gaining power with a slew of horrifying candidates like Sharon Angle, Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell. As I heard Ann Richards say to a gay audience at the Human Rights Campaign’s Black-tie Dinner in Dallas fifteen years ago (regarding the rising tide of nut job right-wingers out there), “I remember when the word ‘crackpot’ MEANT something!” ;p I miss Ann so much.

So, you may have noticed this is the first time I have really resurrected “Email From The Ozarks” in a couple of years. I never said it was going to be a “traditional” blog, whatever that could possibly mean at this point… It all started with three very long essays I wrote during my six-week stay at The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow when I first relocated to Eureka Springs from Houston in August of 2007. Then the next year I did a couple of essays about Obama and my trip to the Democratic Convention in Denver, but I had pretty much given up on anything more than an “occasional“ blog. The term “email” (and even “blog”) sound quaint to me these days, when Facebook has pushed those mediums into the background of my virtual universe.

Oh, and I had a little setback. ;p The ol’ bipolar started acting up. ;p I prefer the almost extinct term “nervous breakdown,” which is what a manic episode would have been called back when Judy Garland and Debbie Reynolds were having theirs.

In the Spring of 2009, slightly manic, I emailed my old friend (not kidding) Martina Navratilova, saying that I was ready to take her up on her offer of helping me get a job with the Tennis Channel, which she does commentary for at Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian Opens. The idea of traveling the world with Martina was just too fantastical not to pursue. If you don’t know about my hopeless tennis obsession, I won a lot of junior tournaments as a kid in Texas, and from the age of ten, I was obsessed with professional tennis, which was in the Golden Age of its first incarnation and on network TV at least a couple of hours most Saturdays and Sundays.

I loved Borg and McEnroe and Vilas, but it was WOMEN’S tennis I was REALLY interested in. I had just turned six when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome, and I have very vague memories of seeing some of it on TV. It was already near the end of Billie Jean’s reign as a champion, so naturally the star I became most obsessed with was Martina. I was eleven when I saw her in the flesh for the first time at the 1979 Virginia Slims of Dallas at SMU‘s Moody Coliseum (yes, a cancer-causing product, one marketed especially to women, was the original tour sponsor of this healthy sport for women!).

I would see Martina at the Virginia Slims every year, gradually asking for her autograph and getting to tell her that I worshipped her. I still don’t understand how my obsession with Martina didn’t clue my parents in to the possibility that I might be GAY. In 1982, when I was 14, my best friend and next door neighbor Debbie’s sister’s boyfriend, a sports reporter for the The Bonham Daily Favorite, was able to get me a press pass, and, impersonating an actual reporter, I crashed my first of Martina’s always-entertaining post-match press conferences and asked my first question (if she liked playing in front of her Dallas friends; she DID ;p ).

Then when I got to the University of Texas, I convinced the sports editor at the Daily Texan to give me an assignment so I could get credentialed for the women‘s tournaments in Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas (sadly none of these exist now), and that began my life as an occasional tennis writer, usually for obscure, often GAY, publications. After many personal encounters with Martina over the years, in places as far-flung as Wimbledon and Palm Springs, she started recognizing me, and in ‘96, we had our first phone conversation and started emailing back and forth occasionally. I could go on and on about Martina, but you will have to wait for the book I’m working on for all the details.

So last spring, I sent Martina one of my rambling, stream-of-consciousness emails. She emailed back that I should go for it and that she would be happy to vouch for me and that I could just forward her email to Ken Solomon, the CEO of the Tennis Channel. As, I was in the process of doing this, I realized that if I forwarded it as it was, Mr. Solomon would see below my un-erased, long, over-the-top email telling Martina why I would be so perfect to work for them. I thought, "Why NOT?" That would definitely get his attention. I then emailed Martina to tell her what I had done. "Ballsy, I know," I wrote. She responded simply, "When in doubt, go to the net!"

Coming from the nine-time Wimbledon champion, the greatest net-rusher in the history of tennis, I was beside myself with excitement. Two weeks later, Solomon had still not responded and Martina said to give it until the following Monday, then try again. He got right back to me this time, and that began a series of email exchanges and, finally, a phone call. A major Hollywood TV executive and creator of the Fine Living Channel, he was incredibly nice and seemed intrigued, but he was non-committal, saying they didn’t have a position as “Assistant to Martina” for the French Open. I was sure I could convince him to let me “intern” or “audition” at the French, which would begin the last week of May. He was encouraging, and seemingly impressed with my chutzpa and my encyclopedic, idiot savant-like knowledge of even the most obscure tennis history.

It’s hard to know which chicken or egg came first, but my excitement over the prospect of being with Martina in Paris in May either caused, or was the result of, some off-the-charts mania. I have had a handful of major manic episodes, lasting as long as three months, over the past fifteen years. These extended psychotic breaks have gotten me into all kinds of trouble, including a few legal skirmishes, the alienation of friends, and the kind of humiliation that always makes my subsequent depressive episodes even worse.

So there were some crazy days late last spring and early summer, and two weeks during which I was really out of my mind. One afternoon, still thinking I had a shot at finding a way to Paris, I telephoned Ken Solomon’s cell number. He picked up and said he was on the tarmac at LAX, on a plane about to take off for Paris. We had a quick and friendly exchange. “IIIIII want to be on a plane to Paris,” I announced. “Well, you started the application process a little late for the French," he said, "but let's keep talking and see what we can make happen.”

I knew I was out of my mind, but the mania is so intoxicating that you luxuriate in it and don’t want it to stop. You are invincible. You own the world. You can travel the world with Martina. These are called “delusions of grandeur.” But when you’ve had the life experiences I have, it’s hard to think in those terms. Some of the grandeur I’ve experienced has been of the real, non-delusional variety. I have had the privilege of working for Ann Richards and being friendly with people like Liz Carpenter and Martina and Billie Jean, and through tennis and politics and journalism have gotten to meet people like Nelson Mandela and Lily Tomlin and the Queen of England and Johnny Carson and Annie Leibovitz and Liza Minnelli and Carl Sagan and yes, even Oprah! ;p I have gotten to party like a rock star and visit the world’s great cities and live in places like New York and San Francisco and Aspen and Honolulu and Eureka Springs, Arkansas! All of these things would have been considered “delusions of grandeur” before they actually happened. If I wasn’t bi-polar and hadn’t had the manic vision to dream crazy dreams, a lot of these things would never have happened.

When you are bipolar and you finally go for help, you learn that you are going to have to take these powerful medications that will sedate you and ward off the mania, but that might leave you feeling FLAT and bored and unmotivated and uninspired and FAT (one of the many side effects of the meds; I have also had to have half my teeth pulled because of dry mouth caused by fifteen years of a twice-daily regimen of various pills). If you want any sort of stability and functionality, you have to settle for a less colorful and eventful and joyous life, and that’s hard for somebody who has had so many high highs. You’re not necessarily depressed, because your cocktail includes anti-depressants that are effective, but you feel resigned to a life of mediocrity and flat moods.

SO, loooong story short, I had a major freak-out here in Eureka Springs last year, featuring all KINDS of erratic behavior. I somehow managed to stay out of the newspaper, except for the very funny police blotter of the Lovely County Citizen, which gives a colorful description of events but doesn’t use actual names. But I did apparently get talked about on Geekfest, our crazy local online forum, and that’s probably worse. I still haven’t forced myself to find the thread, but I will need to for the book. It’s a gossipy town with nothing but eccentrics, but most of the people are forgiving, so I am thankful for that.

Again, you will have to wait for the book, but I will tell you that there were all kinds of FALSE rumors about me, for instance that I was “off my meds.” This wasn’t exactly true. Basically, I kept taking the uppers and quit taking the downers. Some Eurekans swore they had seen me DRUNK, and I drink very little. But it is practically mandatory that all Eurekans smoke weed.

After discovering the joys of cannabis in college, alcohol never had much appeal for me. In my first blog entry, I wrote about my discovery of Eureka Springs after attending the Rainbow Gathering of ’07, held in the gorgeous Ozark National Forrest, about an hour south of Eureka. At this tribal freak-fest, where I hung out for a week in the camp of the Radical Faeries (Google it!), a fabulous drag queen from Pittsburg named Sharon Needles (read it again) proposed that my “rainbow name” be “Truman Ca-pot-head.” Perfect! ;p And before I get off this subject, I want to urge any California voters reading this to help get out the vote for legalization of marijuana on Tuesday!)

I also become a chain-smoker of whatever regular cigarettes I can get my hands on when I am manic. Otherwise, I am a nonsmoker. And I have never been a big coffee drinker, but I drank lots and lots of high-powered java on this bender. The manic episode also coincided with me having to move out of the place where I was living near the Crescent Hotel and into a wonderful little studio apartment right downtown, so the chaos of that added to the insanity.

So in my extremely altered state, I had some mishaps here and there. I was accused of “cat-napping” the most famous cat in town, Leo, a giant 20-pound orange tabby with long “Maine Coon” hair, who is the resident cat at one of Eureka's best art galleries. I’m saving that one for the book, but in an unrelated feline event, I went out to the Good Shepard Humane Society to adopt a couple of cats, as I hadn’t been allowed pets at the place I was moving out of. I picked out a pair of severely disturbed but adorable orange tabbies who had spent the first year of their lives climbing the fences of their small cubicle. The shelter let me borrow two cat carriers, but I decided to run back and picked out another one I had been eyeing on my frequent visits to the hang out with the kitties. What could a third kitty hurt? It was an average size grey and white mutt kitty, and since there was no carrier in sight, I found a pillow case and used that to transport said kitty to the front. Needless to say, kitty was NOT happy by the time we got there, and the shelter workers were quite disturbed at my behavior, so I left with just the two tabbies. Someone from the shelter came the next day for a “safety check.” They let me keep the kitties, but I was ordered not to return to the shelter.

And what did I NAME the precious kitties? Little Martina Jr. and Little Bradley David Jr., of course (now “Marty” and “B.D.”). I wrote Martina of this development, telling her that the kitties were both male, which I found appropriate, doing a little gender-bending with the names. Martina was spending time in Paris with a new girlfriend and wrote back about her new puppy named Sascha.

Around this time, I attended the fabulous party of a really nice, wonderful friend here. Not only did I come up with some pretty bizzare behavior (a lot of which I truly don't remember, but others at the party told me later), I somehow got home with his Pee Wee Herman doll and various DVDs and refrigerator magnets that I had “borrowed” without telling him. I also“floated” checks all over town, thinking my Tennis Channel paycheck would surely cover them. And I conned the then-director of the Writers’ Colony into buy me a Blackberry in exchange for doing some work on a project for her. (Another loooong story.)

Just several weeks before the French, I decided I had to get to Los Angeles where I could just show up at the Tennis Channel offices in Santa Monica and sell myself to Ken Solomon. I involved an old friend out there -- she was ready to give me enough of her frequent flyer miles for a ticket to L.A. Let’s just say that when I hitched a ride and arrived at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport without a ticket and tried to make the frequent flyer thing happen by phone with Paula in California, I attracted the attention of Homeland Security and was swiftly arrested on ridiculous charges of disorderly conduct.

I kept a manic stream of emails going to Martina in Paris, and she played along with all my antics, until she had to tell me to “cut it out with the marriage stuff.” I had decided it would be funny to maybe announce that Martina and I were getting married. Martina was getting some bad press after being sued for by her most recent ex, and I had told her in one of our phone conversations, “You should marry ME. Now THAT would be an ideal gay marriage. You know I would never try and take you to the cleaners.“ She thought it was funny, but naturally wasn’t crazy about my brilliant idea to break news about our “gay marriage.”

On the eve of the French, I wrote an email addressed to both Martina and Ken Solomon, saying, "C’mon, it’s not too late to get Bradley David Williams to Paris! If somebody could just wire a couple thousand dollars to my account, I could get a passport overnighted and be in Paris by the third day of the tournament."

I had tried very hard to conceal the severity of my mental state in all of my communications, but this last-ditch email had to have made my insanity pretty clear. Martina very nicely emailed back that she thought I should “give up on the idea of coming over here at this late date” and maybe shoot for Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. “Thanks for telling me like it is,” I wrote back, sobered by the development. That was the beginning of the end of the mania, followed of course by a free-fall descent into depression and isolation.

Martina and I have had a number of phone conversations since, and she has been great. The Tennis Channel thing could still happen at some point, but my sane self tells me to be careful of the “delusions of grandeur.” Even if it did happen, I might not be in any kind of shape to thrive in the job.Of course the kicker is that my manic episode from hell made me re-think the book I have been working on for the last three years. It was planned as a collection of funny personal essays, a la David Sedaris. Devastated by the path of destruction I had caused and determined for it not to happen again, I decided that it should be a more serious book about my struggles with manic depression. (I actually prefer this dated term to “bipolar,” and so does my beloved Carrie Fisher, who says “bipolar sounds like gay bears in the arctic.”)

So it may take another three years to finish this big, serious (yet still hilarious) book about mental illness. Working title: “MOODSWINGER -- Tales From The Bipolar Underworld.” Of course with the “Death of Writing” comes the “Death of Reading” (or is it vice versa?) and who knows what the publishing world will look like when I finally finish it. I’ve considered just tweeting the whole book in 140-character morsels.

In case you are wondering, the Clint McCance debacle and the breathtaking response from the gay community inspired me to tell this story really for the first time today. Thank you for reading it. Now let’s all have a beautiful weekend, wherever you are, and celebrate Diversity. Much love to all my friends, virtual and otherwise! And don’t forget to V O T E !

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Grammar, Blanche! GRAMMAR!!

Today I got this lovely email from Blanche Lincoln, whose fate is in the hands of Arkansas voters tonight. It is an invitation to her “watch party” (interesting that she didn’t say “victory party”), and I was appalled to see the last paragraph, which contains a breach of basic grammar.
It’s not “Join Steve and I…,“ Blanche. It’s “Steve and ME.”
Grammar Nazi that I am, I tried to tweet about this and make a funny stink, but unfortunately I have learned from my Twit-viser, @EurekaJanet, that my string of tweets were not the easiest to make sense of. Thus, I wanted to print Blanche’s email, in its entirety for all to see. Then I invite you to go back to and read my tweets from today @Eureka Brad and maybe they will make sense now.

Dear Brad,

Fresh off a tour of 28 counties in seven days, I just voted with Steve at our polling location. Runoff election day is here and we have a great feeling about today! But we still need your help.

Right after we voted, I recorded a short video message for you. Take some time to watch our video then find your polling location, grab a friend and go vote!

Click here to watch our video.

This is your last chance to vote! The polls close tonight at 7:30 PM.

I also hope you'll join Steve and I at our watch party tonight. It's at Next Level Events, 1400 W. Markham Street in Little Rock. We're going to kick it off at 7:30 PM.

Look forward to seeing you tonight.



Tuesday, December 16, 2008


(Vol. 2, No. 3)


Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”

December 7, 2008

Happy Holidays!! And we have a LOT to be happy about, kids. In fact, I’ve been going around telling people that this is one of the happiest times of my entire life. Barack Obama’s stunning triumph has given me such hope and made me so proud of my country. I wasn’t sure we had it in us. One of my main justifications for supporting Hillary early on was that I truly didn’t feel that Barack Obama was electable. Last fall on my crazy 19-states-in-23-days road trip, I was a guest on my friend Stephanie Fraser’s radio show in Vermont (you can listen to the 10-15-07 interview online at, and I went on and on about how I didn’t think this racist country would elect a black president, especially one with a first name that rhymes with Iraq, followed by the middle name of Hussein, then a last name that sounds like Osama. In this post-9/11 world, I thought Obama’s name alone would prevent him from being elected. I have never been so glad to be wrong. It was such a gift from Baby Jesus that we had the economic collapse during the election, which focused the media and the electorate on our pocketbooks rather than making the election an ugly referendum on “Are you gonna vote for THE BLACK GUY?” In this age of dumbed-down, sensationalist media coverage, it would have been so easy for the election to have devolved into endless man-on-the-street interviews asking the absurd question -- “Do you believe Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim?“ I’m a Born-Again Atheist myself, but I loved Colin Powell for posing the question, “So what if he WERE a Muslim?“

I told everybody I saw on Election Day, “This is one of the happiest days of my life.” For everybody who has ever felt marginalized in this country and for all the folks who have fought for progressive causes like gay rights and women’s rights and the environment and world peace and ending racism and classism and all the other -isms, November 4th was an astounding victory. So, too, was it a crushing defeat for all the bigots and small-minded conservatives and religious nutcases in the land, and that alone is reason for jubilation.

I did lose a lifelong friend because of this election. Ever since my twentieth high school reunion a few years ago (Class of ’86 -- Woo-Hoo!!!), I have been on the email list of one of my classmates -- I’ll call her Lucille -- and in the months leading up to the election, I was bombarded with daily anti-Obama emails from Lucille, some of them blatantly racist, almost all of them quite offensive to me. I held my tongue day after day, and I wanted to keep receiving the emails just to know what kind of garbage was out there on the Internet about Obama. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an email that I awoke to exactly one week before Election Day -- a “Letter From A Black Christian” on why he could not support Obama. Of course it was some religious wack-job who, in his letter, felt compelled to outline the five gruesome steps of the partial birth abortion procedure. Changing the subject at one point, the man wrote, “There is a REASON the homosexual community is supporting Barack Obama.” Yeah, it’s called EQUALITY. Well, this sent me over the edge. I wrote a pointed email response, which I thought was going out to the whole email list, but it turned out that my entire exchange with Lucille was just between us. Lucille’s hostile email reply caused me to pick up the phone and give her a ringy-ding at her place of work. With a few choice words, I called Lucille out on her hypocrisy, which I can’t go into without violating her privacy more than would be ethical. Let’s just say I threw a devastating blow Lucille’s way, ending this lifelong friendship, whatever was left of it, with a major flourish. It felt so liberating. As I wrote to Lucille, John McCain and Sarah Palin couldn’t say anything that might be perceived as blatantly racist, but every time they talked about Obama “pal-ing around with terrorists” and called him “anti-American” and “unpatriotic” and implied he might be a “Marxist” or a “socialist” or a “communist” or a “community organizer” -- all of that was designed to play on the small-mindedness and bigotry of a lot of people in this country. If anything had happened to Obama during the campaign, there would have been blood on the hands of John McCain and Sarah Palin for the dangerous words they used day after day in inciting their supporters. But somehow, America mobilized behind this remarkable man and said NO to the divisive, “God-fearing,“ anti-intellectual, “Family Values,” race-baiting, gay-baiting politics that we have come to know from Karl Rove and the Republican Party, which we have seen crumble before our very eyes. This is a HUGE moment for our country and for the world. Obama’s victory has inspired me to be my best self and dream big and strive for greatness.

All of this will constitute one of the central essays in the book I am working on -- what Obama means to me and to the world, my adventures at the Democratic Convention (SEE my last blog -- Vol. 2, No. 2), and the exhilarating demise of the lifelong friendship. Oh, and about the thrill of getting a fabulous email from Arianna Huffington herself on Election Eve, thanking me for the print-out I had sent her of my Denver blog. My self-imposed deadline for finishing this memoir is April Fool’s Day. I want a 2009 release date, hopefully launching the long-awaited fame and fortune that people have always predicted for me. I have NEVER had a beard or mustache (or been attracted to them, for that matter), but I decided two months ago to stop shaving until I finish the book. I may have a long, unruly Ozark beard before all is said and done. Whatever success the book achieves, I’m just happy to finally make creative use of all the rich material I’ve been collecting throughout my crazy life.

We’ve already had our first snowfall here in Eureka Springs, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Enjoy this moment, and embrace the spirit of hope that 2009 promises!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Denver Diary -- A Mile High With The Obama Nation

Denver Diary -- A Mile High With The Obama Nation

email from the Ozarks

(Vol. 2, No. 2)

Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”

October 2, 2008

Here in the alternate universe that is Eureka Springs, where “Kill Your T.V.“ is a popular slogan, folks don’t normally fret too much over whatever is happening in the outside world -- but this is BAD, ya’ll. As we teeter on the brink of a 21st Century “Great Depression” -- my grandparents, all of them great storytellers, filled my childhood with vivid first-hand accounts of bread lines and rationing and hoboes -- I cannot think of many places (on the American mainland, anyway) I would rather be than this already-surreal Ozark village that I‘m calling home. I‘m not the first person to write about this historic spa town -- people have been trying to describe Eureka for over 125 years, and the best description I‘ve heard so far is “Mayberry on acid.” We’re just hoping for a decent October, which is peak tourist season around here, when “fall foliage” freaks from near and far descend on our town to see the gorgeous mountain backdrop dappled with flaming reds and yellows and oranges. While it’s hard not to be distracted by the beauty of Eureka in autumn and by all the nightmarish “breaking news“ on CNN, my Obama blog can wait no longer!

I invite you to put down the razor blade, take a break from rearranging those deckchairs on the Titanic, and enjoy this madcap recap of my trip to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Much of this stuff will make its way into the closing essay of the book I am writing here, so consider it a sneak preview. We’ll know on November 4th how the chapter ends. (Unless it’s a tie again. Weren’t we going to finally get rid of the Electoral College after Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and lost anyway to the pathetic embarrassment that is what‘s-his-name?)

So I left Eureka Springs for Denver on Friday, August 22nd, in what now seems like a very innocent time, before anybody had ever even HEARD of this cartoonish moose-murdering evangelical “family-values” super-heroine from the tundra… I have a LOT to say about Governor “Abstinence Only“ (“THINKS, but NO thinks!”) with the knocked-up 17-year-old and the bastard grandbaby on the way, but I better muzzle myself because, “Families are off-limits!” Yeah, and I have a “Bridge To Nowhere” I’ll sell you real cheap...

I drove up through Missouri (pronounced Missour-UH in these parts) and across southern Kansas, one of only eight states I had heretofore never set foot in. I loved the flat, wide-open prairies and embraced the nothingness of it all, stopping in Eureka, Kansas to check my email at the town library (no Blackberry or laptop for this low-tech, impoverished scribe!). Telling the librarian where I was from, I said, “I guess there’s probably a Eureka in every state.” “No,” she said. “Only in 19, I believe.”

I was thrilled to see I had received a bunch of fabulous emails with positive feedback on the blog I had posted the night before, all about my beloved Hattie Nichols -- the black woman in Bonham, Texas who helped raised me -- and how I would be thinking of her in Denver, where I would hopefully get to be there in the flesh to see a black man accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Especially intoxicating were the e-responses from several of the more high-profile people on my email list, such as: Marion Winik, the celebrated memoirist and frequent voice on NPR (I knew Marion in Austin, where she and her late husband Tony were the subjects of my very first “big deal” published feature article, which made the cover of a respectable gay rag called the Texas Triangle, circa 1993; btw Marion’s new book, “The Glen Rock Book of the Dead,“ is available on Amazon); Celia Morris, the writer, feminist and former wife of the late literary lion Willie Morris (Celia lives in D.C. and has invited me to the party she is already planning for Obama’s inauguration); Crescent Dragonwagon, authoress of children’s books and cookbooks (her latest is “The Cornbread Gospels“), and co-founder of The Writers’ Colony At Dairy Hollow (which brought me here to Eureka Springs a year ago); Rosemary Daniell, the acclaimed poet, essayist, writing coach and founder of Zona Rosa (, a network of empowering writers’ groups for women around the country; and -- I saved the coolest for last -- Martina Navratilova, tennis legend and pop culture icon, who wrote in her reply, “I would have liked Hattie.” (How cool is it that I know Martina, my childhood idol???)

But I’m not one to name-drop… ;p

Another half hour down the road, I stopped in El Dorado (pronounced Duh-RAY-doe), the Kansas town where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, lived until age 13, when her family moved to Seattle and eventually to Hawaii. I have become semi-obsessed with Ann Dunham, who died of ovarian cancer at age 52 in 1995. This free-spirited single mom was highly intelligent -- an anthropologist who had finally earned her doctorate three years before she died. She was eccentric and relentlessly curious about the world and, according to her best friend in high school, an unapologetic atheist, even as a young teen. I’m fascinated that she died so young, having no idea to what degree her son would go on to conquer the world just a dozen years later. She was a dreamer and an intellectual, and I am very curious about her role in shaping her son’s world view.

There’s no “Home of Barack Obama” sign anywhere, though he drew a big crowd at a rally in El Dorado last January, his first-ever visit to the place of his Dunham family roots (btw, he also has distant Arkansas kinfolk, including the Bunch family in Eureka Springs!). I stopped at the tourism office and talked to a woman who had done a lot of research into Obama’s connection to El Dorado.

Then it was on to Garden City, Kansas, located in the far southwest corner of the state, where I overnighted at the Wheat Lands Motel, the very hostelry where Truman Capote stayed when he was there researching “In Cold Blood.” I was half-awake all night, tuned in to the middle-of-the-night coverage on CNN of Joe Biden’s imminent ascension to the ticket.

I’ll write much more on Garden City and my Truman Capote connection in my book, but let’s get to Denver already!

I arrived in the Mile High City on the eve of the convention, and before I could even find the place where I was staying, I saw a tent with Obama merchandise set up in a gas station parking lot, manned by an entrepreneurial out-of-towner. A friend in Eureka Springs had given me money to bring her back a poster and a button, so I stopped. Purchases in tow, I continued on, using my directions [lucrative blog product placement!], and when I looked up in the rainy sky, there was a fantastic rainbow, which would prove a symbolic foreshadowing of a near-perfect convention experience.

I arrived at my friend Todd’s lovely home, greeted by sunflowers as big as your head growing near the front door. Todd, a Michigan native, and I were exchange students together in Germany as youngsters and have somehow stayed in touch all these years. I visited Todd and his wife Carol when they were living in Boston in 2000 (when I got to go to Martina‘s induction at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI), and now they are in Denver with two adorable little girls, Maya and Lily, and a fabulous guest bedroom in their basement that they very generously offered for my use during the convention. From their house, I was able to get to downtown in 20 minutes -- a beautiful drive through old Denver residential areas, avoiding highways altogether.

I had only ever been to one national political convention -- sixteen years ago when I was just a few years out of the University of Texas and working as something of a Junior Press Aide (I reject totally the title “clerk“ -- surely one of the tackiest and most demeaning words in the English language!) to the Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Ann was tapped by the 1992 nominee, her buddy Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, to chair his convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, and as part of Ann’s staff, I got into the hall every night, enjoyed some of the best parties, and even scored a free ticket to a Broadway show.

Without my “I’m with Ann!” automatic entrée and no press credentials (I had missed the deadline by about five months), I knew the Denver convention experience was going to be very different. In many ways it turned out even better. My strategy for the week was simple -- not to worry about getting into the Pepsi Center for the first three nights of the convention, but just to concentrate on getting into Obama’s big speech on the final night at “Invesco Field At Mile High” (this, I learned, is the corporate-publicity-whore of a stadium built seven years ago when the old Mile High Stadium was imploded in favor of more luxury skyboxes at a site just up the street).

When they first announced that Obama would open up the convention to the masses and give his acceptance speech in this 75,000-seat stadium, I had thought, “Great, surely with that many tickets, I don’t have to worry about getting in.” Oh, how tragically naïve… When the “community credentials” became available, over 100,000 online requests were received within the first 48 hours. I have had a lifetime of what I used to call my unbelievable “ticket karma” (before I quit believing in karma), but Obama’s speech in Denver would be the hardest ticket I have ever had to score!

I spent the first three nights of the convention watching the speeches on a movie screen at the Starz Green Room, a special media hangout near the Pepsi Center. Taking over a tri-level art-house cinema located on a college campus, the Denver Film Society and several other entities hosted this operation, which included intimate panel discussions with movie stars and media personalities, screenings of presidential-themed films (“Being There,” “The Candidate“) and the latest political documentaries, and a LIVE feed from the convention stage projected onto a movie screen in a sleek lounge featuring a fabulous catered buffet, open bar, comfy furniture, and famous people everywhere you looked. For a political junkie like me, it was HEAVEN.

Most of the programs at the Starz Green Room were sponsored by SeaChange Communications, an L.A.-based firm run by Victoria Hopper (wife of actor Dennis) which “unites prominent entertainment figures with key players in national politics.” On the first day of the convention, there was an 11:00 a.m. panel discussion on the Blogosphere, featuring Arianna Huffington, that I did not want to miss.

I have long been fascinated by Huffington, the Greek-American dynamo who evokes Zsa Zsa Gabor with her over-the-top glamour, beauty and exaggerated European accent, dahling. But unlike Zsa Zsa, Arianna is a major intellectual, who was president of the prestigious Cambridge Union debating society in college (she was Arianna Stassinopoulis then) and later won acclaim for her biographies of Picasso and Maria Callas. After moving to the U.S. in 1980, she married and had two daughters with Michael Huffington, a Dallas-born oil heir who eventually became a Republican congressman from California (he barely lost the 1994 U.S. Senate race to Diane Feinstein). They divorced, he came out of the closet as “bisexual,“ and Arianna made a huge about face in her politics, going from conservative Republican to ultra-liberal Democrat (although she had been involved with liberal California Governor Jerry Brown before she met Huffington).

Arianna became a familiar TV personality with her frequent appearances on Larry King and Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect,” then ran for Governor of California in 2003 in that crazy election that resulted in Governor Ah-nold (she came in fifth out of a field of 135, even though she had dropped out of the race a month earlier). And in the last few years she has sky-rocketed in importance with the Huffington Post, now the number one political website, and was named in 2006 one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” In Denver, she was very much the belle of the ball amongst the assembled media.

Finding the Starz Green Room just in time for Arianna’s 11 a.m. panel, I was extremely frustrated not to be able to get past a security checkpoint and threw a minor diva fit. Even though my name was on the list, I didn’t have my credential for the Starz Green Room, which they told me I had to pick up at another location downtown. “How am I supposed to get to the Arianna Huffington panel discussion that starts in five minutes?” I demanded. “Who ever heard of credentials not being available AT the actual venue?”

The security for the convention was breathtaking, with mean-looking machine gun-wielding officers patrolling the streets and large areas of downtown completely closed off. The Starz Film Center is located on something called the Auraria Campus, home to three different colleges -- the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the University of Colorado at Denver. The entire campus was shut down for the week and fenced in, with just a single footpath open for the media to access the Pepsi Center (and the Starz Green Room, which was half-way between the security checkpoint and the arena).

Several hundred yards in another direction from the security checkpoint was a circular drive where all the media got dropped off in their chauffeured SUVs and sedans, and there I was able to hop a Starz Green Room shuttle van to go pick up my credential at a downtown art gallery they had taken over for the convention. (Starz, by the way, is the L.A.-based entertainment company that owns the cinema in Denver as well as the Starz and Encore cable movie channels, etc.)

So I made friends with the cute twenty-something shuttle driver, Cameron, who would shuttle me throughout the week. Credential finally around my neck, I was able to get through the security checkpoint and catch the last twenty minutes of Arianna’s panel, which also included Newsweek columnist and talking head Jonathan Alter. I bolted down the aisle of the theater to an empty seat in the third row, and Arianna, sitting in a director’s chair, looked at me and smiled as if I were a long lost friend. I had never met her, but when I approached her after the panel, she greeted me as though she knew me. I told her about how I had interviewed culture critic Camille Paglia fifteen years ago and we had talked about Arianna Huffington, who was a fairly obscure figure then. (Camille scoffed at Huffington’s book on Picasso because, “She said he was a bad artist because he was mean to his girlfriends.” When the two women appeared on a TV show together, Camille was “prepared to HATE her,” but instead they had totally hit it off.)

“Oh, I loooove Camille Paglia,” Arianna said. She told me to come to the “Oasis” -- the lounge she had set up in Denver for the media to come and relax. I also got to chat up the Huffington Post “Style Editor” Kira Craft, and we discussed how retro Hillary’s pantsuits are, like the ones our mothers wore in the 1970s.

I visited the Oasis several times during the week. Arianna is very “New Age,” which was reflected in the offerings at the Oasis -- all the free massage, yoga, smoothies, and pistachio nuts you wanted. The Oasis was set up in an office building downtown, adjacent to “The Big Tent” -- a two story structure, sponsored by Google, that was convention headquarters for the Blogosphere, with bloggers blogging and panel discussions being streamed onto the Internet. This was the first national political convention where the Blogosphere played a major role -- the blog phenomenon was still in its infancy at the conventions four years ago.

On the second day of the convention, Tuesday, I was at “The Big Tent” taking advantage of the chair massages being offered near the entrance. Just as I had gotten comfortable in the chair, with my face looking down through the padded oval, the very nice massage therapist from Boulder said, “You may want to look up -- Katie Couric just walked in.” Katie was there with a CBS film crew to check out “The Big Tent” and came directly towards us. Set up next to the massage area was a Youtube booth where anyone could make a video and immediately upload it to the Web. After she made her video, Katie’s film crew captured her getting a chair massage as she talked through the padded face rest. “Brian Williams would NEVER do that,“ I said, and she laughed. I told her I had met her in New York years ago at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I asked her about her encounters with Ann Richards over the years. “I miss her, too,” she said.

The entire week was just one celebrity sighting after another. I saw Gary Hart walking alone down the street, on his cell phone. I ran into Chris Matthews, who I watch every day on MSNBC, at the famed Tattered Cover Bookstore. And I got to meet a slew of Hollywood stars -- Susan Sarandon, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Hathaway, Alan Cumming, Angela Bassett, and Annette Benning -- at a brunch celebrating a new documentary, “14 Women,” narrated by Benning and featuring the women of the U.S. Senate.

During the week, I also got to talk to a number of VIPs attending events at the Starz Green Room -- Dan Abrams of MSNBC, actress and anti-cancer activist Fran Drescher, director Cameron Crowe... Amongst the big names I saw, but did not bother trying to meet, were Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Josh Brolin, Andrew Shue and Dee Dee Myers.
On the first night, watching Michelle Obama’s speech on the big screen, I chatted up a friendly, good-looking guy who I would see hanging around the Starz Green Room all week. It wasn’t until two days later that somebody told me it was Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, whose gorgeous wife Simone Bent was there working on the staff of SeaChange.

“I can’t believe I didn’t know who you were,” I told him.

“Why would you know who I was?” he said.

“Because I read your mother’s book, and you were in that Showtime movie ‘Soldier’s Girl,’” I said.

I remembered seeing his mom accompanying him to the Golden Globe Awards several years ago, when he was nominated for “Soldier’s Girl.” He played the lead in this true story of a military man who was beaten to death for having a relationship with a woman who was a male-to-female transsexual.

Also on the first night, I struck up a conversation with an interesting woman who turned out to be Grace Guggenheim, daughter of famed documentarian Charles Guggenheim. She was at the convention, along with her brother Davis (who won the Oscar for directing Al Gore’s ’An Inconvenient Truth’) to appear at a screening of their father’s famous documentary about Bobby Kennedy. It was the 40th anniversary of the film being shown on the floor of the 1968 convention and televised LIVE on all three networks. I was there at the Starz Green Room on the last day of the convention, when many of the Kennedys, including Ethel, showed up for the screening.

On Thursday morning, having asked around throughout the week with no success, I began my search for the coveted Obama ticket in earnest. I first popped my head into the historic Brown Palace Hotel, where I found Teresa Heinz Kerry, the glamorous diva who almost became First Lady four years ago, as well as Mark Shields, the commentator for PBS’s McNeil Lehrer. Shields has a house in Austin and I had met him ten years ago at a funeral, so I didn’t hesitate to approach him. “I’m desperate to get in tonight,” I told him. His suggestion was to go to the Oxford Hotel, where the Finance Committee was headquartered. “They’ll have tickets,” he said.

I got on the public transportation and made my way to the other side of downtown and found the Oxford Hotel, only to be told that the credentialing for the Finance Committee was at the Hyatt Regency. I got back on the public transportation and went back across downtown to the Hyatt. The first person I ran into, exiting the hotel through a revolving door was Henry Cisneros, the dashing former mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton. He actually remembered me from Texas but couldn‘t help. I found the Finance Committee set up in a ballroom on the third floor, and they said I could fill out a “Special Request Form” for a ticket but that it did not look good.

The hotel lobby was hopping with VIPs like Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman of MSNBC, as well as politicians like House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and the gorgeous former congressman Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee, now head of the Democratic Leadership Council. I asked until I was blue in the face, but no luck.

Then I ran into Arthur Schechter from Houston, who was Hillary’s top finance guy in Texas. He said he had just come from a finance meeting upstairs and that I might find somebody with tickets up there. I found a roomful of Democratic fat cats but nobody I asked knew of any extra tickets.

Back in the lobby, I begged a couple of Jewish ladies with a stack of tickets to please let me have one. “Are you a member of Hadassah?” one of them asked me. I should have just said, “Yes,” but I’m a bad liar. Nothing doing.

Then somebody told me that the people with the tickets were the “D-Triple-C” -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- and that they had an office across the street in the Convention Center, the massive building that had been used all week for caucus meetings (I had gotten to hang out with the gay caucus there and had also seen Hillary Clinton there the day before when she met with her delegates and officially “released” them to vote for Obama). I made my way across the street and through what was like an airport security check (you had to take everything out of your pockets and get wanded). After much effort I found the D-Triple-C office, set up in a small room in the bowels of the Convention Center. I walked in and saw two young women, probably college age, behind a table.
“I worked for Ann Richards when she was Governor of Texas,” I announced with over-the-top authority. “You probably weren’t even born then, but I am desperate for a ticket for tonight and somebody told me to come here and beg.”

“Who told you to come here?” one of them asked.

Without thinking, I blurted out the name of the biggest fat cat I knew -- “Arthur Schechter.”

“Oh, OK,” she said, handing me one of the “community credentials,” featuring a hologram with Obama’s face and the American flag.

Mission accomplished. It was after 1:00 p.m., just hours before the program was due to begin at Invesco.
I walked to the stadium, where it took me a full hour to get from the end of the line to the entrance. My credential said Section 539 (seating was first come, first served within your assigned section), and when I looked up and around the massive stadium, I saw that my section was on the very top tier and behind the podium, where I knew I would not be able to see much. So, as I have done so many times before, I just walked around to where I wanted to sit and found a perfect seat, half-way up the first tier with an unobstructed view of the podium. I sat between a college student from Massachusetts who was volunteering for the campaign and had been stationed in Colorado Springs, world headquarters of the Religious Right, and a woman from Michigan who was the wife of Hillary delegate.

It was an incredible night. Everything came off beautifully, from Stevie Wonder’s crowd-pleasing performance of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I‘m Yours” to Al Gore’s powerful address to the dramatic fireworks display at the conclusion of Obama’s soaring speech. In a stadium that seats 75,000 for football, there were 84,000 people crammed into every seat, including the delegates and media down on the field, and VIPs like Oprah hidden away behind glass in the luxury skyboxes. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, when you know you are witnessing history. It was a great moment for Barack Obama, for America and for the world. And whatever happens on November 4th, it was a moment that can never be taken away.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Reluctant Blogger Returns...

The Reluctant Blogger Returns

email from the Ozarks

(Vol. 2, No. 1)

Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”
August 21, 2008

I’m leaving in the morning for Denver and wanted to post the following essay about the convention, which I just read tonight at Poetluck, our monthly community potluck and literary salon at The Writers’ Colony At Dairy Hollow. It was the writers’ colony that brought me to this amazing place from Houston a year ago -- I spent six weeks in residence at the colony and am now in a wonderful living situation here in Eureka Springs, continuing work on a book of personal essays (it’s coming along slowly, but I’m hoping for a 2009 release date). I remain incredibly ambivalent about the whole blog thing, but felt inspired to share. And I promise to blog again with an update after convention. Enjoy…

President Obama and Me…

I stuck by Hillary through thick and thin, stomaching all the awkward moments and ugliness, most of it apparently caused by a few infantile fools in her inner circle. I wanted desperately for her to bow out on May 7th, the day after she lost in North Carolina and barely won in Indiana. That’s when the math became impossible, and I kept thinking how much better all those millions of dollars could be spent instead of continuing a campaign that had already been defeated.

But no, we had to have this “dance” -- where Hillary could take a second place victory lap and get the respect and recognition she clearly deserved and bow out on her own terms. There was apparently fear amongst the dinosaurs of the Democratic Party that if Hillary suddenly got out the minute the math became impossible, her most maniacal waitress-voter fans and aging “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” feminist sisters might take to the streets, or at least refuse to get behind Obama in the fall.

I don’t agree with the pundits who say Hillary blew the race. Yes, her campaign was often a mess, but NOBODY could have predicted the Barack Obama phenomenon, something unprecedented in American politics. As for the general election, obviously a lot is going to happen in the next two months -- a month is an eternity in politics -- but if the Democrats manage once again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, all hell is going to break loose and the Obama Nation may well demand sovereignty (I propose annexing all of New England).

I have decided to go to Denver for next week’s Democratic National Convention. I have an old friend in Denver I’ve been needing to visit (free place to stay!), and I need to make a brief, long-overdue return to Aspen, where I spent three crazy months in the aftermath of John Denver’s 1997 death in an ill-fated quest to write the definitive biography of the iconic troubadour (but I have very rich material for the John Denver essay that will appear in the book I am writing).

But I have a very personal reason for wanting to be in Denver to witness this historic event. I have had so many important women in my life, and right up there with Ann Richards and all the other divas I have somehow become personally acquainted with, is Hattie Nichols. Hattie, who died at age 96 in 2002, was not a diva, however. She was a humble, dignified, black woman in Bonham, Texas who helped raise me. She cleaned house for my family and for my maternal grandmother, Granny, who was born in 1904, the same year as Hattie, and who would say things like, “Yes, we love Hattie, but she’s always known her place.” Hattie always sat in the back seat of the car when Granny drove her home.

Hattie’s mother had worked for Granny’s parents, and her daughter worked for my mother for many years, and we think it’s likely that the history of Hattie’s family working for my family goes back to slavery. (Granny, an avid genealogist, would often say, “We were always good to our slaves. When they were freed, they didn’t want to leave.”)

I grew up hearing my mother tell the story of when she was a little girl and the family would take off in the roadster for a summer vacation in scenic Colorado. They would take Hattie along and drop her off in Denver, where she had family. On the long journey to and from Colorado, when they would stop at a roadside restaurant to eat, Hattie had to stay in the car and they would bring her food out to her. Some motels would allow “negro servants,” but only if they were dressed in uniform.

Hattie had a quiet elegance about her and was as sweet as anyone I have ever known. Far from the stereotypical southern mammy, she was tall and thin as a rail in the simple white work dress she wore, but she enjoyed making our family FAT with her amazing feats in the kitchen. Every Tuesday of my childhood summers, I got to have lunch at Granny’s and savor Hattie’s cooking. In these, my pre-vegetarian days, I lived for Hattie‘s specialties, which I would later come to know as “soul food” -- decadent staples like fried chicken, smothered steak, salmon croquettes, macaroni and cheese, creamed potatoes with gravy, apricot fried pies and her famous biscuits, which were small and delicate and sublime.

I was determined not to be a racist from a very early age. I have never understood racism -- especially the racism I have seen in the gay community -- because I identified so much with Hattie and all the black kids I went to school with. While I wouldn’t fully figure out my sexuality until years later, somewhere deep down I knew that I too was different and at odds with the bigots of the world. I admired Hattie Nichols as much as anyone I knew and the fact that she had been treated her whole life as a second class citizen, or worse, just did not compute.

When I was a Junior in High School, I chose Martin Luther King as the subject of my term paper. I worked very hard on it, got an A, and was very proud of it. I remember leaving it out on the dining room table for Hattie to see when she came for her regular Friday shift at our house. Years later, I would visit Hattie at her modest home and we would sit on her porch swing, talking about the changes she had seen in her life.

In the fall of 1990, when I was working on Ann Richards’ historic gubernatorial campaign, Ann traveled to Bonham for an event at the Sam Rayburn Library (Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the House, was and is Bonham‘s claim to fame). I raced home from Austin to be there and was thrilled to see Hattie at the ceremony. My college friend Denise, who had accompanied me, took a fantastic photo of me introducing Ann to Hattie. I had it blown up, and Ann signed it, “To Hattie Nichols -- I loved meeting you in Bonham. Thank you for doing such a good job helping raise Brad.” It still hangs in Hattie’s house, where her daughter Bettie now lives.

So I will be thinking about Hattie in Denver when a black man accepts the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, something Hattie probably never even dared to dream possible.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jesus And Me...

email from the Ozarks

(Vol. 1, No. 3)

Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”

September 26, 2007

Lordy, lordy, look who’s 40, indeed… ;p

I had a great birthday and heard from all kinds of people I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this blog. By the way, I am officially a blog now and you can find current and archived entries at … Day after tomorrow, I’m off on a big three-week road trip all over the eastern U.S., which you’ll hear all about next time, but I doubt I’ll be blogging from the road.

The big unexpected result of this whole blog thing, for me, has been the instant gratification achievable through blogging. I just have to unleash the blog on the world, and ten minutes later, I already have fabulous ego-stroking emails of praise from friends and complete strangers all over the place. Instant gratification, you may know, is a rare thing when it comes to writing.

Well, I finally submitted to the full Passion Play experience. As I have previously written, Eureka Springs has a Christian theme park of sorts, where they put on “The Great Passion Play” and also boast three religious “museums,” a re-creation of the “Holy Land,” a restaurant, two wedding chapels (weddings are a huge industry in Eureka), a big chunk of the Berlin Wall with the 23rd Psalm scrawled on it in German, two gift shops, and the 67-Foot Jesus, “Christ of the Ozarks.” Last blog, I mistakenly wrote that the mastermind behind Jesusland, ol’ Gerald L.K. Smith (the white-supremecist founder of the fascist organization known as the “Christian Nationalist Crusade”) was buried near the foot (“feet?”) of 67-Foot Jesus. It turns out Jesus has no feet. Second only in size to the Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro, our seven-story Jesus was supposed to be even taller. But that would’ve required putting a flashing red light on top of his head to keep planes from accidentally crashing into it, so they cut poor Jesus off at the knees.

You can’t really write about Eureka without writing about Jesusland, but it probably would’ve taken me a very long time to force myself to experience it if I hadn’t gotten in for free as a journalist. The all-inclusive ticket, which gets you the whole enchilada, an all-day affair, costs $47.00.

First stop was something I’ve truly been dying to see since arriving here -- the Museum of Earth History, devoted to the insane notion of creationism. Where to begin… Well, it takes almost an hour if you listen to all of the recorded audio tour, transmitted through a wireless hand-held device that you hold up to your ear. The narrator, one G. Thomas Sharp, runs an outfit in Oklahoma called the Creation Truth Foundation, which is responsible for the museum’s content (PLEASE go to their website -- -- and click on “Museum of Earth History“ and you will see a stupefying TV commercial for this attraction).
You Texans will be thrilled to learn that Sharp is building a similar creationism museum in Dallas (naturally), on the campus of something called the Christ of the Nations Institute. According to Sharp’s bio, he earned a PhD from South Florida Bible College and Seminary “with an emphasis in the philosophy of religion and science.”

With a southern accent and terrible grammar (he talks about things happening “simultaneous” for example, rather than “simultaneously”), Sharp confidently outlines the “facts” about how the Bible MUST be interpreted literally if you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the earth is only 10,000 years old, and humans coexisted with the dinosaurs. I guess they’re trying to lure the young ’uns with the ridiculous dinosaur theme. The museum’s gift shop is called the Dino-store and they sell all kinds of dinosaur stuffed animals and other dinosaur-related gifts and souvenirs, as well as books and videos on creationism.

Amongst the almost fifty exhibits at the museum are several “museum-quality replicas” of dinosaur skeletons (they don’t tell you they’re not real unless you ask), and at one of these, the narration starts like this: “Were dinosaurs on the arc of Noah? This is a commonly asked question. The Biblical worldview on this issue is rather straightforward...”

OF COURSE there were dinosaurs on Noah’s arc, idiot, because the Bible says there were two of “EVERY” animal! Sharp explains that most of the dinosaur fossils that have been excavated, which are nowhere near as old as the evil scientists of the world want us to believe, have been the size of a cow or smaller. And of course Noah would’ve used young dinosaurs that could fit on the arc more easily. I’m thinking even baby T-Rexes could’ve gobbled up the two kitties and the two rabbits, if not ALL the other pairs of critters.

In the interest of full disclosure, my sister and her husband are right-wing fundamentalist Christians who home-schooled their three children so that they could teach them this “Biblical“ view of the world. They have a bumper sticker on their car that says “Vote Pro-Life,” although they are proudly apolitical and, to my knowledge, have never even been registered to vote.

But I digress… At the Museum of Earth History, as described in the brochure, “visitors journey through three epic periods of ancient history: life before the fall of man, the post-fall world and life after the devastating effects of the great Genesis Flood.” But it’s fun for the whole family!

I quickly made my way through the other two “museums” -- the Bible Museum, featuring “over 10,000 bibles in 625 languages and dialects,” and the Sacred Arts Center, a vast collection of mostly contemporary “Christian art.”

Next it was time for the Holy Land Tour, where they take you around in an open-air “tram” (with a “God Is Awesome” license plate), letting you off for “Moses’ Tabernacle,” “Bethlehem,” “The Sea of Galilee,” and “The Last Supper.” Various characters from the Bible, dressed in the traditional robes and Velcro-strapped sandals of the period, explain what these places represent. All the actors, even Mary, have Northwest Arkansas accents and, again, hideous grammar. The tour is two-and-a-half hours, but it goes by like five years. I thought it would never be over.

Now it was time for the extremely mediocre (I’m being nice here) buffet, at which you are forced to endure a hillbilly Christian family singing about Jesus, followed by what we had all come for, “The Great Passion Play” itself. The spectacle, which features camels, sheep, donkeys, doves, and a cast of hundreds of humans (many of them local hippies trying to pay the rent), lasts two hours, but it goes by like four decades.

Performed on a 550-foot-wide, multi-level stage built into the side of a mountain, in an outdoor amphitheater with 4,100 seats, the show goes on, rain or shine (you can buy a plastic poncho with the “Great Passion Play” logo all over it) five nights a week, May through October. This, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” is billed as “the number one attended outdoor drama in America,” but the show has been struggling for years, with occasional rumors that they might have to shut it down altogether.

Did I mention that the actors in the Passion Play are mouthing the words to a pre-recorded audio tape with movie music in the background? At the end of the two hours, after we have witnessed the excessively gory crucifixion, Jesus (whose voice sounds like that of an average Joe from Fayetteville) is lifted up by barely visible wires, not into the heavens but into the trees.

The entire Jesusland experience seems ultra-tacky to me on many levels, but these Christians EAT IT UP! There is constant ooh-ing and ah-ing about how “just wonderful” it all is. Most of these Christians appeared to be retirees, many of them morbidly obese. I cannot imagine how, with Jesus on their side, these people cannot resist Satan’s high-calorie temptations!

I will say I didn’t detect anything overtly homophobic at Jesusland. Of course this could be a calculated attempt to keep Eureka’s shockingly huge gay and lesbian community from picketing outside the entrance.

Calling myself the “Atheist in the Ozarks,” I feel compelled to explain my atheism and spiritual history here, but I’m running long, so that will have to wait. But according to the frequent admonitions of the Passion Play staff throughout the day, people like me are going straight to the fiery flames of hell on account of us not “accepting Jesus into our hearts.” Believing in a God that you are supposed to “fear” is something I cannot grasp, just like I could never make sense of the whole “he died for our sins so that we could have everlasting life.”

And of course these folks believe the end is coming very soon. I say let’s get it over with. As the bumper sticker says, “Jesus is coming! Look busy!“
But enough about me and Jesus…

Youtube has become my best friend at the writers’ colony, where television is banned. If you are ever having a bad day, just go to and type in “ethylina ring” and you will discover an over-the-top Liza Minnelli impersonator named Ethylina Canne performing, at a gay pride event in San Luis Obispo, California, my favorite Liza number, “Ring Them Bells.” I saw Liza perform this at an AIDS benefit in Houston in 1994 with my favorite women in the whole world -- Ann Richards, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King -- in attendance (the concert was tied in with an “old-timers“ tennis exhibition benefiting AmFAR).

Written especially for Liza by the brilliant Kander and Ebb, “Ring Them Bells” is like an entire musical in one song -- an elaborate farce about 31-year-old spinster Shirley Devore, who lived in Apartment 29E at 5 Riverside Drive in New York and had to “travel ’round the world to meet the guy next door.” It is ten year’s worth of psychotherapy in five minutes! Don’t deprive yourself, kids.

I gave this advice in a recent note to somebody who really needs it -- the international jet-setting socialite and arts patron Lynn Wyatt of Houston. I became friendly with Lynn, and a number of other Houston socialites, partly through my fundraising work at the Houston Grand Opera. Lynn is best friends with Liza and Elton John, and her home in Houston became known as the “Wyatt Hyatt” over the years, as everyone from Princess Margaret to Truman Capote to Mick Jagger enjoyed Lynn’s hospitality. Well, Lynn’s husband, oil tycoon Oscar Wyatt, is currently on trial in a federal court in New York, accused of giving kickbacks to Sadam Hussein in exchange for lucrative oil-export contracts in the U.N. “oil for food” scandal. Oscar is 83 years old (the ageless Lynn is 72 but looks 30), and it is hard to believe they would send him to jail at his age, but he is facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars if convicted.

Lynn, who has often appeared on international “best dressed” lists, has been arriving with Oscar at court, dressed in appropriately subdued dark suits, but with head held high and flashing her ever-present beaming smile. Even in the eye of this storm, she has insisted on continuing her fabulous life pretty much as usual.

"People are going to think what they think anyway," she told the Houston Chronicle, "and I don't pay any attention to that."

She has, however, curtailed her time on the French Riviera, where until now she always rented a villa in Cap Ferrat for the summer. But she did fly back and forth to Europe this summer, staying with friends in France, attending designer Valentino’s 45th-anniversary celebration in Rome, visiting Lord Jacob Rothschild’s archaeological digs in Greece, and spending personal time with Prince Albert and Princess Caroline in Monte Carlo (Lynn was friends with the late Princess Grace and Prince Rainier). Lynn’s annual birthday party, which she hosted each summer at her villa, became hugely famous, but this year she was treated to a more intimate black-tie birthday party by Elton John at his estate in Windsor, England.

Oscar and Lynn were big Ann Richards contributors, and I had an emotional phone chat with Lynn the day after Ann died. She has Ann’s Texas drawl and star power, and as one of her friends told the Chronicle, “There's nothing Lynn can't handle, nothing she doesn't do gracefully. As so many have said and have experienced here and around the world, she's the best of Houston, a sublime ambassador for Texas.”

I had planned to write about Carry Nation, the crazy hatchet-carrying prohibitionist who spent the last several years of her life in Eureka Springs, but that will have to wait.

October is peak tourist season here in Eureka, as this is one of the hotspots where Americans flock to see the fall foliage. It’s not too late to book a room, and you could combine looking at the gorgeous red and yellow and orange leaves with Willie Nelson’s concert on October 26th (I‘ll be back by then). Of course you shouldn’t miss the Passion Play experience, but if you don’t want to shell out the $47, you can get an exquisite tour of Eureka with the “Atheist in the Ozarks” for a whole lot less. ;p

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reluctant first blog...

email from the Ozarks

Bradley David Williams

August 29, 2007

Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world!

This place has so much character -- and so many characters -- I can't believe it took me 40 years to discover it. A mere village of just 2,000 people, Eureka Springs is New Orleans meets Aspen meets San Francisco meets Hooterville! I got here two weeks ago today, and I'm here for good! ;p

So how did this Houston-based journalist end up in the alternate universe that is Eureka Springs? After spending the first week of July at the Rainbow Gathering, camped out with 5,000 hippies and freaks of every stripe in the gorgeous Ozark National Forest of Arkansas, my two traveling companions and I descended on Eureka Springs, just an hour's drive to the north, to come down from our Rainbow experience. Somebody had told me that the town had a writers' colony, so we found it, chatted up a young Israeli writer in residence, and when I got home, I went to the colony's website and filled out the online application. I was accepted, and not even two months later, here I am. I'll be at the writers' colony through November and then plan to find a place here to live.

When we first arrived here in Eureka Springs after the Rainbow Gathering, we checked into the Matterhorn, a 33-room, $50-a-night motel with posters everywhere depicting the Matterhorn, the famous Swiss mountain peak, but the architecture more resembles a Bavarian farmhouse than a Swiss Chalet. The town has given itself numerous hokey nicknames over the years, not unusual for a town built around tourism, and the most absurd of all is "Little Switzerland." No ski slopes here in the Ozarks -- at just 1,200 feet, the area rarely sees more than a few snowfalls each winter -- and of course it is no tax haven for the wealthy… Nope, it's not alpine here in the least, and the town's zany political landscape could hardly be called neutral. (There IS good chocolate here, including a famous fudge shop called "Two Dumb Dames.")

It's a town that has brought together quite a diverse populace: hippies, gay men and lesbians, artists, writers, historians, massage therapists, foodies, musicians, mountain folk, antique dealers, innkeepers, outdoorsmen, bikers, retirees, environmentalists and lots and lots of wacky right-wing fundamentalist Christians. Oh yes, this place has an array of tacky Jesus attractions, including a huge complex where the Passion Play is performed, a number of small religious "museums" (including a new one devoted especially to the ridiculous concept of creationism!) beckon the ignorant science-phobes of the world, and a garish 62-foot statue of Jesus -- "Christ of the Ozarks" -- can be seen for miles around. We also have the famous Thorn Crown Chapel, recognized nationally, even by atheists like me, for it's architectural greatness.

Needless to say, the religious zealots around here were none too happy when the city council unanimously passed a "Domestic Partnership Registry" on May 14th of this year, recognizing the town's many same-sex couples and inviting gay tourists to come "get married" here. One local Reverend inadvertently boosted gay tourism by publicly scorning Eureka Springs in the national media as "the most homosexual city in the South."

On my first night in town, I attended a packed meeting of the fledgling Gay Business Owners' Guild, where I got to introduce myself and even met the mayor, a stylish woman who is a classically trained pianist and gives ghost tours of the historic Basin Park Hotel, opened in 1905, on the side. Most of the gay community adores Mayor Dani (inexplicably pronounced Dana) Wilson, given her support of the Domestic Partnership Registry and efforts to boost gay tourism. The fact that this tiny town has become something of a mecca for the gay tourist is nothing short of amazing. Some twenty percent of the town's accommodations are gay-owned inns and Bed-and-Breakfasts.

Still, with all these gays in the Ozarks, I have yet to have a date! :( It's mostly boring gay couples here, I'm afraid.

But this gorgeous, funky little village is a dream of a place to call home. It's the best-kept secret in America, I am convinced. While many have heard of Eureka Springs, it is criminal the number of Americans who have never experienced its quirky charm. I hope to help put this place back on the map, bringing back the prosperity of 100 years ago, when the unofficial population was said to be at least five times what it is today and tourists flocked from far and wide to drink and soak in the "magical, healing" waters emerging from over sixty picturesque springs throughout the town. Among some thirty hotels back then, the city boasted a huge limestone castle in the wilderness called the Crescent Hotel, built in 1886 and still thriving today.

I have resisted the blog phenomenon until now, and because I detest the computer-geekiness of the term "blog," I am thinking of this instead as a mass email to the world. I don't want to be a slave to this thing, and I may get a webcam at some point and just do a video blog, so for now I just plan to do my "Email from the Ozarks" as an occasional thing. I'll report on the crazy goings-on in this heathens' hamlet, and will rant on any number of subjects. I aspire to be "the Hunter S. Thompson of the Ozarks" -- I tell people I want to be the gay Hunter S. Thompson, "but without the suicide hopefully." I have coined the term "gonzo-gay journalism" for my brand of reportage and am working on my first book here, a memoir in the form of a collection of confessional, humorous personal essays.

I am enjoying the last days of my thirties. I turn the big 4-Oh! on September 13th. Last year, on my 39 th birthday, my beloved friend, mentor and former boss Ann Richards died (right out of the University of Texas, I worked on her historic 1990 campaign and then became one of her press aides in the Governor's Office), so it will be the one-year anniversary of her death on my big day. The Rainbow Gathering helped me solve my decades-long mid-life crisis, and I am thrilled to be starting my 40s in this extraordinary place that I am calling home for the foreseeable future.

This sudden and unexpected relocation to Arkansas, "The Natural State" as the license plates say, coincides with the presidential campaign of former Arkansas First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'm a big supporter of Hillary's, and I just got to talk to her last month at Lady Bird Johnson's funeral in Austin. "You're going to win," I told her, and I believe that. Love her or hate her, she is the most competent and qualified candidate in the race, and I believe she deserves to be our first woman president. I'm not predicting she will undo all the damage George W. Bush has done, but I believe she will do a good job and may be able to lead us into a more civilized, enlightened and inclusive era as a country.

"I talk to a lot of people," I told Hillary in Austin, "and people say, 'Hillary thinks she's better than everybody else.' And I say, 'She IS!!!'"

This had her doubled over with laughter. She does have a sense of humor, and I think it will gradually come out over the course of the election.

In the short time I've been in Arkansas, I have visited all of the Clinton sites -- Bill's childhood home in Hope (I was there with Ann at the 1992 Democratic National Convention at New York's Madison Square Garden, where he accepted the nomination and ended his speech with, "I still believe in a place called Hope."), the impressive Clinton Library and Museum in Little Rock, and the house he lived in while attending high school in Hot Springs.

And just last week, I visited the house in Fayetteville where Bill and Hillary lived for several years while teaching law at the University of Arkansas. I couldn't stay long, but I got a quick peek at the room where they were married, and there in a glass case was Hillary's hippy, granny-style ivory wedding dress. Imagine my disappointment when I got home and read in the brochure that it is a REPLICA of the dress she wore! Why? Better a photo of the actual dress than a fake reproduction, I say. Upon further investigation, I learned that the original is in storage at the Clinton Library, and I assume Hillary is saving the sacred garment for her own presidential library.

And as for Owen Wilson, who I have always adored (the Wilson brothers are from Dallas, where their dad ran the local PBS affiliate and their mom, a protégé of Richard Avedon, is a respected photographer), let his shocking suicide attempt remind us not to take ourselves so seriously. Life is too short to spend it making ourselves miserable over the ridiculous pressures and stresses of this often absurd world we live in.

For a fabulous (and cheap!) vacation, and possibly a life-changing one, come see me in Eureka Springs. I shouldn't be hard to find -- just ask for the "Atheist in the Ozarks." ;p