The Twinkie Offense

It just isn’t fair.  Thanks to the vicissitudes of corporate life (an unresolved labor dispute, or merely executive greed?), a whole generation of Baby Boomers is now in mourning for a gummy dessert most of them haven’t let past their capped teeth in years.

Maybe this is the Twinkie’s long-delayed execution.  That scarily yellow cake has been on Death Row since Dan White accused it of killing Harvey Milk.

Of course, most of the people now known as Twinkies don’t remember Harvey Milk—or, for that matter, much of anything that happened before the advent of smartphones.  Take Tristan, for example.

First of all, 20 years ago was anyone named Tristan?  Until recently, the only Tristan I had ever heard of sang himself to death on stage next to Isolde.  (Sorry, Twinks, you probably won’t get that reference.  But there’s only so much I can do without calling up the ancient past—or, as you whippersnappers call it, B.C., Before Cellular.)

Tristan was the first sign that I had reached middle age.  When you start getting chased by twinks, you know you’re officially old.  In fact, Tristan was the first—and, I suppose, only—man I’ve ever slept with who was technically young enough to be my son.  We met at a party, and I thought he’d just be a good friend.  Until the next day, when he texted to tell me he’d dreamt about me.  Texting quickly turned into sexting (oh, how the neologisms fly in the digital age).  The interesting thing, of course, is that men of Tristan’s age communicate almost entirely through text, as if telephones were never intended for voice.  Even email was apparently too old-fashioned for Tristan.

When you’re in bed with a man nearly 20 years younger, it’s hard not to think back to your own youth.  Is this what I was like? I thought, as he arched his back and revealed ribs where, on my 40-something body, only a round belly was in view.  Was that my energy level at his age?

When it was finally over, I lay back and tried to catch my breath.

“What’s this?” he said suddenly, the hint of a surprised chuckle in his voice.

I rolled over to see him gazing at the nightstand, the flickering blue numbers on my digital alarm clock.  His eyes were riveted on the machine as if it had landed from Mars, as if he thought little green men were going to spill out of the speaker at any minute.  He genuinely had no idea that such things had ever existed.

“Um, that’s a clock,” I said.  I couldn’t have been more taken aback if we were still in the dining room and I’d found myself saying, “Those things placed around the table—they’re called chairs.”  Or like Annie Sullivan at the end of The Miracle Worker:  “W-a-t-e-r:  it has a name!”

Okay, so I’ve had the clock since the 80s.  It has a very 80s vibe, in fact, the sort of design that screams “futuristic,” as if the manufacturers assumed it was ahead of its time and would fit in better in the 21st century.  Little did they know that the 21st century would give a whole new meaning to minimalism.  Tristan probably used his cell phone as an alarm clock.  If he wasn’t too busy texting on it.

So for him that oversized clunker on the nightstand marked me as old, its blue numbers counting out my age with every dropping minute.  But at least it was still working.  In 1980, planned obsolescence hadn’t yet become a principle of manufacturing.  That clock radio has lasted me through at least 2 cell phones, 5 computers, 3 DVD players (and yes, gulp, a couple of those artifacts known as VCRs), and 3 iPods.  And it probably cost me 10 bucks.

In contrast, Tristan has probably never owned any single item for more than a year. While Twinkies cakes have an infamously long shelf life, the gadgets of their eponymous humans do not.  (I’m not sure I can say the same for that clock radio:  after the apocalypse, it’ll probably be playing dance music for the cockroaches.)

Of course, in actuality, even the Twinkie—human or spongy—is susceptible to the ravages of time.  The shelf-life story is apparently a myth.  Someone on the news yesterday said that Twinkies actually can survive for only a month before starting to turn stale.  For the human variety, I think it’s closer to a decade.  When Tristan turns 30, the first telltale signs of gray will appear at his temples and he’ll probably start moving a chunk of his expendable income away from electronics and toward skin-care products.  Even a Twinkie’s priorities change over time.

But in the business world, all is seldom lost, and where there’s money to be made, someone will step up to the plate.  According to the pundits, the liquidation of Hostess will perforce include selling of its assets—the recipe for Twinkies chief among them.  Soon, those luscious yellow cakes may start pouring out of another oven, and the mouths of America can start watering again.

Never fear, my friends:  Twinkies always get picked up.

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Minnesota Nice ’n’ Easy

My friend Phil owns a hair salon in Minnesota.

I know what you’re thinking.  And you’re right.  When the Mormon mother in Angels in America, seeing Prior as a “stereotypical homosexual,” asks if he’s a hairdresser, his quick reply is, “Well, it’d be your lucky day if I was!”

That wasn’t the case for another woman at Phil’s salon recently.  As you may know, Minnesota—one of the first states in the union to pass nondiscrimination legislation for gays—has a referendum on the ballot this year that would amend the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.

So when someone walked into Phil’s salon the other day sporting a “Yes on 1” button, he threw her out.

This incident was simply the straw that broke Phil’s otherwise flexible back.  He’s been debating the issue right and left for weeks now, and inviting those who disagree to unfriend him on Facebook.

But somehow the message doesn’t always get through.  Some people tell him he’s overreacting.  Apparently they don’t understand why he’s so emotional at the prospect of losing his civil rights.  When he tells the homophobes to fuck off, he’s accused of destroying civil discourse.  In the spirit of “getting along,” he’s being asked to respect the fact that other people have different opinions on the subject.  The way, I suppose, we have different opinions on whether the tax rate for the rich should be 35% or 37%, or whether trash should be collected on Wednesday or Thursday.

As someone whose civil rights were dismantled 4 years ago by the respectable voters of California, I know where my friend is coming from.  A few days after the 2008 election, when I was marching in the streets with my friend Patrick to protest Prop 8, a woman leaned her head out a car window and said, sympathy dripping like treacle from her voice, “Why be so angry about it?”  Oddly enough, I think she might have been on our side, but even she didn’t get why we were so pissed.  She thought our anger was hurting us, and that we should just get over it.  Patrick told her to fuck off, and she drove calmly away, no doubt toward some more hospitable hole in the sand.

I wonder if that woman—or Phil’s would-be client—would have been marching in the streets if the voters had outlawed her right to abortion, or her right to marry a man of a different race, or her right to vote.  A hundred years ago, women in this country had none of those rights.  I wonder if she would have been furious.  I wonder if she would have understood the value of anger.  I wonder if she would have understood the limits of civil discourse.

While I disagree with conservatives on a lot of things, I’m willing to engage with them on economic issues, or defense, or climate change.  In my mind, those issues are all complex; they’re not black and white.  There is room for compromise, room for assessment of theories, room for unexpected variables.  Those positions are not founded upon hatred.  Greed, perhaps, but not hatred.

Civil rights are a different story.   They’re not about a gamble on results.  If you choose one economic policy over another, the value of your choice will be seen down the road:  either the economy gets better, or it doesn’t.  Civil rights aren’t about the future; they’re about now.  The consequences of women’s suffrage, or same-sex marriage, or color-blind hiring are not the point.  The point is respect for human beings.  Not their opinions, but their humanity.

So I’m with Phil and the rest of those in Minnesota who are fighting the good fight.  If you don’t respect his humanity, then you don’t respect mine.  And, in this one area at least, you don’t deserve civil discourse.  You don’t get civil discourse unless all the parties engaged have civil rights.

Or, as Tony Soprano said when his mother put out a hit on him, “She’s dead to me.”

So let that woman with the hate button on her lapel search the streets for a hairdresser.  May her hair grow greasier and stringier by the day.  And for her sake, let’s hope her drugstore has a big supply of Miss Clairol.  She’s on her own now.