Not So Great Gatsby: Why I’m Leaving Facebook

friendDear Nick,

I’m often conflicted when this time of year rolls around. I have so many things to be thankful for, yet I find myself pining for the latest car or the newest gadget. And maybe, in a way, that is what Thanksgiving is all about. We sit around the table and spend less than a minute telling our friends and family what we are thankful for, and the rest of the day gorging ourselves on food and drink. Then the following day we wait in line to trample others to race to buy things that we probably don’t need. It’s conflicting and confusing and, I guess, part of being human in the modern world.

But I am very thankful for everything I have and all the relationships I have with my family and friends who are like my extended family. All 2,137 of them. Yes, according to Facebook I have what in mathematically technical terms one would describe as a “buttload” of friends. Now, it all started out innocently enough, with real friends and family members, and then grew to work colleagues and people I met who I thought were nice. And then I started accepting friend requests from people I met and of whom I had no opinion. I never accepted friend requests from people I didn’t like. It wasn’t until after I became Facebook friends with these people that I began to dislike some of them or feel bad for them or disagree with some of them. And I now know way too much about some people. What they eat, where they go on vacation, what their ultrasounds look like.

There is a false sense of importance when you have 2,000+ fake friends. You begin to believe you are more important to people than you are. There is something really exciting about having someone “like” a picture or status you post, and it’s even more exciting if you receive many “likes.” I would be lying if I told you I didn’t sit around and try to come up with witticisms or compose pictures with the intention of having them liked by the Facebook community. I pictured all my new and old friends reading what I wrote, chuckling softly as they thought, “I have got to give that a thumbs up.” It was fun, exciting and addicting.

Facebook is not bad. I am not saying that. I have reconnected with old friends and actually forged new friendships through the site. But personally, I have come to terms with Dunbar’s number and know that I can either be a crappy friend to over 2,000 people or I can be a great friend to a select few. When I considered what I was thankful for, my friends were at the top of my list, old sport, and I realize that I was in some imaginary competition to collect a book of faces. I feel that I would rather collect memories based on relationships, and sometimes relationships need work.

It’s only been a week or so, but only three of my 2,137 Facebook friends noticed I left the social media community. At least only those few have asked me about it. I have been calling friends and emailing folks and actually getting together, and I tell you it’s been liberating. I haven’t seen a picture of anyone’s lunch or read an inspirational quote or humblebrag about anyone’s kid in over a week, and I can’t believe I lived any other way. I love my friends, and the actual effort I will need to exert will be like re-learning the muscle memory in some ways of being a friend. It’s on my terms and less voyeuristic, and more respectful of my personal space and theirs. If more people would try it, I am of the opinion that not having Facebook would become the new Facebook.

Yours Truly,




A Christmas Carol Dazzles at Trinity 

carolTrinity Repertory Company’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol features a top-notch cast of adults and children and some truly inventive staging.

Fred Sullivan Jr. plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a cranky old miser who treats everyone with disdain, including his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit (Stephen Thorne). One night, Scrooge is visited by his deceased former business partner Jacob Marley (Tom Gleadow) who warns him of the impending visit of three spirits: the ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past (Elise Hudson) who descends from a moon, the irreverent Ghost of Christmas Present (Joe Wilson, Jr.) who flies over the audience on a wire, and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Ralph Adriel Johnson), an otherworldly figure.

Director Taibi Magar has succeeded at getting vibrant performances from the large ensemble. Sullivan is never less than compelling as the haunted Scrooge, who slowly morphs from a man whose spirit has been broken to one who has achieved redemption. This role seems tailor-made for Sullivan, who delivered a superb comic turn in Laughter on the 23rd Floor earlier this year. He is a master at physical comedy.

The supporting actors are every bit as effective. Gleadow delivers a memorable turn as Marley, who rises out of Scrooge’s bed in an eye-popping moment in the story. Rattling chains and sporting ghostly makeup, he is a terrifying apparition. Wilson, an engaging performer who most recently appeared in Ivanov, is one of the highlights of the show. Anne Scurria, who plays multiple roles, has some funny moments as Mrs. Partlet, who tends to Scrooge. Scurria’s comic timing is impeccable as she reacts to Scrooge’s transformation. The child actors are also impressive, especially Henry Siravo as Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim.

This incarnation of A Christmas Carol is notable for one clever interlude that features Scrooge in some very familiar locations. I won’t spoil the surprise.

The joy of giving to other people is a timeless message and one which is worth repeating in this cynical age.

One caveat: A Christmas Carol contains some intense scenes and therefore may not be suitable for very young children. It is recommended for mature theatergoers.

A Christmas Carol runs until December 31. Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St, Providence, trinityrep.cominfo@trinityrep.com401-351-4242

The Busy World Is Hushed

busyThe Busy World Is Hushed, being performed by Epic Theatre Company, is a thought-provoking and at times heartbreaking examination of faith and religion. The most remarkable quality of Keith Bunin’s play is its deft balance of comedy and drama in telling a story about tortured characters.

Hannah (Mary Paolino) is an Episcopalian minister who discovers an ancient gospel that she believes contains the “true words of Jesus.” When the play begins, Hannah hires a young writer named Brandt (Kevin Broccoli) to write a book chronicling the teachings of the gospel. Brandt tells Hannah his father is dying from a brain tumor and explains to Hannah that he isn’t sure if there really is a god. “Religion is a desperate attempt to make death more bearable,” he says.

One day, Hannah’s son Thomas (Stephen Peterson) shows up at the church, bloodied and bruised after hiking. Thomas is a troubled man who never healed after the traumatic death of his father. He travels the country like a vagabond and returns home occasionally to rifle through his father’s journals.

Brandt and Thomas soon discover a mutual attraction and fall in love, a situation Hannah encourages for her own selfish reasons. Meanwhile, Hannah and Thomas are at odds over her faith in God and his complete lack of faith in any type of religion, and the story takes many dramatic turns. The power of The Busy World Is Hushed comes from the conflict the characters have in trying to understand why a loving God could cause so much pain in their lives.

Paolino is convincing and deeply sympathetic as Hannah tries desperately to turn her son around. Broccoli displays a masterful sense of comic timing, and also excels in the dramatic moments. He is particularly effective when Brandt expresses his heartbreak late in the play. Peterson, making his debut on the Epic stage, more than holds his own working with Paolino and Broccoli. His character drives much of the conflict in the story.

The Busy World Is Hushed is a compelling entertainment and does what all great theater does: it stirs the heart, the mind and the soul.

The Busy World Is Hushed, performed by Epic Theatre Company. Through Nov 23 at The Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston. For tickets, go to artists-exchange.org/epictheatrecompany.html or call 401.490.9475.  

A Stereotype Guide to Ending Cannabis Prohibition

mjguideWith the midterm elections taking place in November, politicians across the nation have been hitting the campaign trail hard; shaking hands and kissing babies. They are out “trick-or-treating,” looking to discuss the Affordable Care Act, unemployment rates, public assistance and how they need our help to make our communities better places to live (and maybe score some candy).

Now it seems that the latest “posh” Halloween costume for these politicians has come in the guise of the Cannabis Abolitionist. They like to focus on a few staple topics that revolve around preventing access to minors, providing tax revenue and social disparity in the justice system; all topics that weigh heavily on the working class family. Indeed, the lower income demographics are by far the most affected by such social injustices, which are perpetrated by the U.S. War on Drugs. However, I do not believe that this is the demographic that is going to sway public opinion in one way or another, nor do I believe that this is the demographic that is going to make the difference at the polls.

If you look at data collected from the US Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2012, you can see an extreme contradiction to what cannabis prohibitionists and the government have been telling us for over 75 years. Cannabis is not a low-income, minority based epidemic. Even though marijuana arrest and incarceration rates are disproportionately biased toward minorities, the use of cannabis is equally consistent among white people and spans a multitude of demographics.

Of everyone in the U.S. who has reportedly tried marijuana, 76% are white and only 11% are black. However, when marijuana users are divided by race, whites and blacks have tried it at about the same rate (38-39%). In addition, the relation between cannabis use and different income levels is almost non existent, with 38% of all people who earn less than $75,000 having tried marijuana, compared to 39% of those who earn over that amount. Finally, the age demographic to participate in cannabis use the most is between the ages of 26 and 34, at 55%. Ages 18 to 25 fall close behind at 52%, with 35- to 49-year-olds coming in third, at nearly 50%. Only 37% of those over the age of 50 have ever smoked pot. The gender gap is fairly narrow between males and females as well, with 47% of all men and 38% of all women having tried cannabis. Therefore, attempting to create a generalized profile for those who smoke cannabis becomes quite a challenge, as there is an equal chance that anyone under the age of 50 from any walk of life has smoked pot as there is that they haven’t.

Studying the information gathered from the census reports (as well as exit polls conducted by Edison Research of Somerville, N.J., for the National Election Pool) we can define a more appropriate target demographic for the campaign to end marijuana prohibition. When broken down by race, the voting demographic is directly proportionate to the demographic of those who smoke weed. The white demographic made up 72% of the total vote for the 2012 elections. African Americans made up 13% of the vote, with the hispanic demographic coming in third at 10%. Asians and all other races made up the remaining 5% of the voter turnout. Does this mean that everyone who smoked marijuana voted? I highly doubt it (no pun intended) but it does raise the question, “How can the minority vote be persuaded to become more engaged in the political system?”

I believe this is the reasoning behind a misguided concentration on the minority population, by people advocating an end to prohibition. There has always been an assumption that the minority communities have more of a stake in the cannabis movement because statistics show that they are more likely to be implicated in criminal activities by the authorities. However, this does not in any way represent the majority of the cannabis community. Indeed these communities would benefit the most from such changes to marijuana prohibition, but judging by the voter turnout from past elections, even if this demographic doubled their political involvement toward an end to prohibition, this would not be enough to sway an outcome.

If you take into account the age demographics for past major elections, there is another interesting parallel to be drawn. Voter turnout by age was the highest between 40 – 64 year olds, at 48%.  30 – 39 year olds brought in 17% of the vote, followed by 16% from those over the age of 65. The 18 – 24 year old demographic brought in 11% of the vote, with only 8% coming from the group ages 25 – 29.  The elderly community (as well as that 30 – 39 age group) represent the second highest turnouts for voter activity at the polls.  However, these two demographics represent the lowest groups for those who have actually used marijuana.

I find the elderly demographic to be the most surprising, especially with the major advancements that have been found with cannabis use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. This is a group that has been molded by more than sixty years of anti-cannabis propaganda and it could be argued that they are likely set in their beliefs. They tend to represent old Republican ideals and come from a generation that has always viewed the use of drugs as an ugly mark on our society.  This generation will eventually be replaced by those 40 – 64 year olds, who dictate the current elections and are not as opposed to the current views and science that surround cannabis use.

Finally, we can review the income demographic that participated in the last presidential election. Voter turnout in 2012 was far higher for those who earned above $75,000 (at 77%) than it was for those who made less than $50,000, which rose from 59% – 62% since 2008. Although there is a significantly larger number of Americans who earn under $50,000 annually, those in the higher income bracket vote in larger numbers.  Because of this fact, the percentage of the actual vote weighs in favor of the wealthy. This higher income demographic is where I see the largest potential to market the legalization campaign in the U.S.

If legalization efforts would provide more of a focus toward those people from higher income brackets, there is a chance that cannabis initiatives could gain some momentum at the polls.  I don’t believe that these initiatives are defeated due to a lack of conviction by those in low income areas or minorities that have been affected by the war on drugs.  I believe that the data, gathered over a multitude of election years, proves that voter participation “is what it is.”  The turnout may fluctuate from election to election, but over a ten year period, there are no consistent trends in any one direction. These figures provide a basic prediction of what to expect through each election and the predominant determining factor tends to be that high income, white people determine election outcomes.

For the cannabis initiative to have the highest success rate, groups need to focus their efforts on demonstrating an appeal to the high-income, white demographic.  To accomplish this goal, the effort will have to demonstrate that there is a proven potential to generate revenue.  Since it’s already been proven through various models of taxation and regulation around the world, including those in Colorado and Washington, there should be a plethora of persuasive information. If presented by the right people (see previous paragraph), there is a chance that those in the $75,000 and up category will finally put their money where their mouths are.

Considering that 39% of this demographic have smoked weed, I would imagine that they wouldn’t have any moral issues with legalization, yet they do not seem to be expressing their views on the ballots. Maybe their views would change if they saw a way to benefit from it? Not only has the marijuana industry generated more new employment opportunities in our staggering economy than any other U.S. industry in the past decade, but there are billions of dollars to be made in this new market. Without the support of the people who can fund these opportunities, the fruits of our labors will never grow.

This Veterans Day, Don’t Thank a Veteran

In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I’m treasuring my remark to a grandson who asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?”

“No,” I answered, “but I served in a company of heroes.”

-Mike Ranney

Easy Company, 506th, 101st Airborne WWII

This Veterans Day, 96 years to the day since the WWI armistice was signed, the American combat veteran is in a status unprecedented throughout our nation’s history. Once the holiday of our fathers and grandfathers, a decade of sustained global warfare has swelled the ranks of those Americans who can say they too went to a foreign land prepared to fight, and to die. The U.S. combat veteran is your neighbor, your mailman, your doctor, your town constable, your homeless disabled transient, your friends and family and that buddy from high school. They responded to a call for action ignored by most. They volunteered to absorb a litany of horrors, and face the smoke-obscured deadly hydra of terrorism with bravery in their souls and love for their brothers and sisters at their side. The beast stared into them daily for days, weeks, months, years, and they stared back with a grin and defiant middle finger while America invented reality tv and cultivated a ridiculous obsession with pumpkin spice.

Learning our lessons from Vietnam, the unpopularity of the War on Terror and subsequent Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom did not lead to mass ostracization of our heroes as they returned home from a hell you could never imagine. Enshrined in our righteous post 9/11 fury, the American troop became focus of both pride and unwarranted pity. Yet, for all our flag waving and back thumping, we fail our veterans every day.

I have covered at large the epidemic of veteran suicide plaguing our nation, and the broken system that spawned it. We have discussed before, dear readers, the skyrocketing rates of vicious prescription medicine abuse cycles being thrust upon these warriors by a smiling doctor with a gleaming Support our Troops sticker on the back bumper of his car. You and I read of veterans dying while waiting to be seen at VA hospitals. Corruption, bureaucracy and a network of raging indifference has cut down many a warrior who survived traversing the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, an evil arises in the east. The beast has grown a new head in the form of an insane terrorist organization hell bent on turning the region back into the Middle Ages. Again, tens of thousands of my brothers and sisters keep a wary eye on the news, praying for the word to come down that it’s time to switch the machine back on, time to grease the wheels of a juggernaut of power and destruction unknown throughout the entire course of human history. Again, politicians are wringing their hands and spewing half truths and fallacies. Again, most Americans could not care less but for the 5 minutes of thought they devote on the topic upon glancing at a headline on social media. Again, our military industrial complex holds its breath, waiting for word that the registers will soon again be flush with cash. And again, the veterans from the last war whisper warnings in the ears of all to no avail, warnings of lessons learned the hard way in the streets of Iraq and hills of Afghanistan. Just as every war that ends is supposedly the war to end all wars, ever will this cycle continue for the next millennia, as it has done for the previous two.

This Veterans Day, do not thank a veteran. Though well-intentioned, that platitude is as much of a dismissal as it is a pleasantry. Instead ask him how he is doing. Ask her what made her join the military; I guarantee you will be surprised at the very wide range of responses to that one. Ask them about a funny story they have from deployment, for it is just as much about fraternity and the hijinks that ensue from the collective boredom that comes when you drop a large group of American youth in a foreign country with little to do other than win a war. Ask him what he thinks of the current situation; he may surprise you with his insight. Support politicians who fight for cannabis reform to expand access to medical marijuana to veterans suffering and dying from PTSD and grievous bodily injury. Volunteer at your local Soldier’s Home or V.A. hospital. Treat them with the respect they have sweat and bled for, the respect not to be treated like some damaged goods for your empathy.

This Veterans Day remember war veterans make up our numbers in America more than they have in generations. We are proud of our service, we love our country and we want nothing more than to ensure that all the sacrifices made by our fallen brethren were not only appreciated, but not in vain.

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori

-Lt. Wilfred Owen, British Army WWI

Metamorphoses: Love Is the Moral

metaHe’s King Midas with a curse
He’s King Midas in reverse
-Graham Nash

Like Ovid’s original collection of myths, Mary Zimmerman’s beautifully elegiac Metamorphoses defies categorization. Zimmerman’s series of transformative tales are presented in something of a Reader’s Theater style, but to pigeonhole the work into so narrow a definition is to do the play a grave disservice. Director Kira Hawkridge has embraced the fluidity of Zimmerman’s work and stretched the boundaries of both the script and the playing space in Out Loud Theatre’s current showing. Taken piecemeal, these individual myths are gorgeous and entertaining, but this succinct epic is a complete cycle, constantly referring back to itself and infused with the idea that love is the most transformative power of all.

The compact space of Artists’ Exchange 50 Rolfe Square is a challenge for any director, but Hawkridge has seen it as less of a challenge than an opportunity. The audience can easily be outnumbered by the sizeable cast and attendance bestows a certain responsibility (especially in the front rows) as the players inhabit every inch of the room, inviting us to silently become part of their universe. That universe is ascetic, at first – a bare room barely illuminated by strands of bulbs hanging overhead – but as the players enter, fashioned as vagabond travelers in ragged layers of brown and black, a ladder and the touch of a final bulb brings to life Cosmogony, the tale of the creation of the universe.

Things move quickly from here on in as the tale of Midas takes over in what becomes the play’s arc of redemption. Alan Hawkridge is magnificent as the rapacious hypocrite who tells us that “family is everything” while constantly shushing his lively daughter. And though we know what is to happen, the tragedy is no less heart-wrenching as she is turned to gold with a leap in his arms. The symbol of a gold piece of rope is complemented by the brilliantly designed costuming. As the layers of brown and black are shed with each tale, softer tones of beige and grey appear, and Midas’ daughter’s dress is gold by degrees, blending in with costume designer Alex Maynard’s overall palette. Midas’ own costume is subtly adorned with found pieces of hardware, lending a modern, industrial edge to the soft fabrics of the entire wardrobe.

We move from Midas through a series of tales speaking of the power of love to transform man’s baser natures. Original recorded music by Chris Korangy and Mark Tiberiis blend with live sounds on percussive instruments. Individual lines in Zimmerman’s script are taken up by the players in choric fashion and bodies are constantly in motion, creating walls both literal and metaphorical. The overall effect is a delicious wash of sound and image, like the pull of a tide, that could come across as earnestly collegiate if not executed so deftly by Hawkridge and her cast. Her gamble with the small space pays off as moments where the players join as one to warn and beseech are inches away, making us palpably afraid at times. In a bigger room or a traditional proscenium stage, these moments of studied blocking would seem almost disingenuous. Here, these collective group images are the centerpiece of a play that has just as many moments of individual grace. Sarah Leach and Lauren Ustaszewski are particularly compelling in their pieces and Aubrey Dion delivers a hauntingly beautiful ode to death that brings proceedings to a quiet halt for one bewitching moment.

As life is transformed into death, it is, of course, love that is the moral of all the stories. “The soul wanders in the dark until it finds love,“ we are told as the final tale of Baucis and Philemon makes way to the resolution of Midas’ tragedy. That resolution is almost vague, a pagan image seen in the periphery, but all the more resonant for its lack of pretension and the choice to not button the ending too neatly. The play does not end so much as it continues elsewhere, the players acknowledging the moment and moving on to continue their tale. Midas will transform again and again and his touch is a warning to us all to value love and life over the transitory aspects of this world. Out Loud Theater imbues its spirit into each of its productions and Metamorphoses is their calling card.

Out Loud Theatre presents Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman at The Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Sq, Cranston. Tickets are $15 ($12 Students with ID). Through Saturday, October 4th at 7:30pm. For more information, call 401-490-9475 or email outloudtheatre@gmail.com

Angels in America Part I — Epic Theater at Epic Theatre

An Exploration of Gay Lifestyle

Staging Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, especially in an intimate space like Epic Theatre’s 82 Rolphe Square, is a daunting task that takes artistic courage and strong acting. This production has both.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, is a 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play in two parts. The play was made into an opera by Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös in 2002 and an HBO miniseries in 2003. Set in 1985 in New York City, the play explores the intersecting lives of a gay couple facing AIDS, a young Mormon couple facing addiction and closeted homosexuality, and Roy Cohn, the real-life closeted gay attorney made famous during the McCarthy investigations during the Red Scare. The lines of fantasy and reality blur throughout the play. Boycotted in Charlotte, NC, in 1996 due to its controversial exploration of gay themes and lifestyle, Kushner’s in-your-face writing keeps the audience on its toes, never knowing what they’ll be witnessing next.

Directed by Ashley Arnold and Kevin Broccoli, the intimate space and overlapping scenes make the three-hour show easy to take. Strong acting dominates the play, first by Broccoli, as Louis, most notably in a speech about democracy and race. Michael Puppi’s Prior Walter perfectly blends strength and fear as a young gay man facing death. His scenes are touching and terrifying as his character fights to make sense of what’s happening to him.

R. Bobby, as Roy Cohn, deftly plays a despicable human being struggling with his own demons. His character brings dark humor to the story. In his opening scene, with wit and speed, he simultaneously talks on the phone to five different associates. Melanie Stone’s spacy portrayal as Harper Pitt, the valium-loving Mormon wife prone to hallucinations, is precise. Her husband, played by C.T. Larsen, easily balances fear and determination in his character. The four actors playing multiple roles each have “steal-the-show” moments, like Mary Paolino playing the Rabbi and the Angel, Theodore Clement as the ghost of Prior Walter and as Roy Cohn’s doctor, Victor Terry’s drag-queen Belize, and Joan Batting’s Hannah Pitt, yelling at homeless people in the Bronx. The dramatic closing scene, filled with all nine actors, leaves the audience eager to come back for Part II.

The set works well for the staging, except for a few mixed-era pieces that seem out of place. The attempt to heighten the element of fantasy in the play via lighting was distracting, either being too small for a scene or by actors who couldn’t find their light. Other technical elements, however, like sound, enhance the dreamlike quality of the play.

Lighting issues aside, this is a show not to be missed if just for the ’80s history alone, especially for the millennial theatergoer. And for those of us who were there when, it’s always good to be reminded of our nation’s history, particularly for gay rights. As New Englanders, it’s easy to think we have come so far, with marriage equality and all, but the fear of being out is an ever present risk for so many gay and transgender people in our country and our world. Angels in America provides a reminder. Epic Theatre Company’s mission is “to bring provocative contemporary work to Rhode Island as well as new perspectives on classical theater … striving to continue the tradition of event theater, where each production has built-in excitement both for the audiences and the artists involved.”

How fitting that a play, classified as “epic theater,” is being just that, at our own Epic Theatre.

Part I: Millennium Approaches and Part II: Perestroika are being produced, alternately, through June 29th, with back-to-back performances (with a break for dinner) for those interested in seeing the play in its entirety on June 22nd and 29th. For ticket and performance information, visit artists-exchange.org/theatre82.html

401 Counterculture: The Straight Scoop on Life on the Pole in RI

silenceWhisperLipsRI Dancers and Club’s look the other way type of attitude

The adult industry in Rhode Island has seen a very challenging 12 months. In August 2013, a 15-year-old girl was discovered dancing with a fake ID at Cheaters, long known to be an establishment of supposed ill repute. In November, undercover journalists documented prostitution being solicited at several clubs. In December, undercover Providence police officers busted dancers offering more than the menu services at Satin Doll right in down city. The local media has cried epidemic, and to believe the news reports, every dancer in every club in RI is selling herself with underage girls at her side. Mayor Taveras and Governor Chafee both called for massive reforms on strip club laws governing private dance booths and the hiring procedures of dancers. It would seem we have descended into utter debauchery and filth that is rotting the soul of the capitol city.

But what is really going on? Certainly the underage busts are a tremendous problem that should be dealt with as harshly as possible if it is found management was aware (there is not evidence of this). Is anyone surprised that dancers in a strip club may occasionally offer services barred by law? And why do we care? Are the girls victims or masterminds? Are they systemic or isolated incidents? The oldest profession in the world is the oldest for a reason; certainly prostitution will always exist in the Ocean State regardless of the presence or regulation of adult establishments. Is it fair to these businesses that they are subjected to gotcha journalism and targeted by police and levied heavy fines and/or suspensions of licenses for the actions of two consenting adults behind a closed door? Don’t the police have more pressing matters in a city being ravaged by drugs and violent crime?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves before joining a witch hunt. We must put aside any prejudices and moral dilemma, look at the facts of the matter, and form an educated opinion.

To gain a full understanding of the situation, I sat down with “Brandy,” a veteran former feature dancer in RI, and talked about the life RI dancers are leading, and if the recent negative attention is hype or a mere glimpse into a bigger problem.

Adam Schirling: How many clubs did you dance at in Rhode Island and for how long?

Brandy: I worked in two clubs here in RI for about 14 months.

AS: How soon after starting dancing in Providence did you witness prostitution occurring in the club?

B: As soon as I was done getting ready in the dressing room and got to the floor, I witnessed prostitution. My first lap dance, in a $25-a-song booth, consisted of an 85-year-old man with a remote controlled vibrator in his pocket who loved to talk about bestiality. This was within the first 20 minutes that I ever worked as a dancer. The first club I worked at was more dive like. It was a more nasty strip club than a high-end escort type club, where I later worked. I have to say, the level of prostitution going on in both clubs I worked at was equal, but the money in the more high-end club was better for doing weird things.

It became clear to me, on my first day dancing alongside my sister, that prostitution is part of the gig. Some girls just didn’t participate, and they walked out of work with $100 to $200 compared to the thousands some girls were making a night. I recall older, more experienced dancers saying, “Girl, we’re gonna turn you into a whore! That’s the way to get regulars. That’s the way to get paid. ”

AS: Did you personally know any underage dancers or were any ever discovered to be underage?

B: I’m sure that in my 14 months of dancing, I ran across a few underage girls. I don’t personally know any. Management always checked IDs , made photocopies, and tried to make sure no underage girls were working the club. It would be bad news for them if anybody found out. Underage girls were bad for business, and no one wanted to get raided.

AS: Does management promote drug and alcohol use among dancers? Did you personally ever witness any overdoses among girls working?

B: Management did not give two fucks if their girls were fucked up on drugs or alcohol. If you were a newer girl and management didn’t know how you acted when you were fucked up, they may make you sit a shift out or send you home if they thought they could get in trouble for having said fucked up girl work. But once they saw what a girl could handle without endangering the club, anything went. Management in one of the clubs found a rolled up wad of cash with cocaine stuffed inside. When the girl came running, looking for her cash, all management did was throw the coke in the trash and hand her her money. She didn’t get in trouble at all. Another girl, she was top bitch in this club, nobody could top her. She was open about her dick sucking abilities, she was open with the fact that she was a prostitute. Management adored her. She got booked for all the bachelor parties on stage and always was invited to the most private VIP parties, athletes and politicians. She got caught selling coke and was suspended for a shift or two. Management would urge you to get a drink and relax, but sloppy, messy, stumbling girls was a problem for them. So they didn’t encourage girls to be messy sloppy, but they did not care if a girl was coked up, on pills, drunk, falling, puking … as long as you pulled yourself together before you hit the floor.

It was totally a look-the-other-way situation. One of the girls made excellent pot brownies and would sell them for $5 a pop and they were … so very good.The house mom at one of these clubs received pot brownies in lieu of tips once a week.

As far as straight up ODs, I never saw a girl being rushed to the hospital because she was going to die. But girls would routinely be nodding out, sleeping in a swivel chair set aside for such drug stupors. Newer girls who couldn’t keep it together were refused the shift, because girls who walked around in 8-inch heels who were nodding out were liable to fall and really get hurt. Those shoes are no joke. Neither is heroin, though.

I mean, crazy shit, dude. For example, I can’t take opiates, I’m allergic. But one old bag of a dancer would sell me Percocet every single time I got drunk. I told her to stop, but every time I had one too many she would take $30 and give me one tiny pill. I would be sick for days after. It sucked. But these girls, the job, drugs are part of the gig. I’d say 60% of girls dancing are addicts. It’s clear. Girls take the amount of money they need to buy 30 pills and divide that by how much dick they need to suck to make that money. For 30 pills, for one or two days worth of drugs. It’s disturbing what some girls will do for drugs. Initially, I went into the business expecting more drugs and less prostitution. But it’s pretty equal.

AS: Does management encourage prostitution among the dancers? Or is it more a look-the-other-way situation?

B: Does management encourage prostitution? They always supplied little paper cups and mouthwash in the bathroom of the dressing room. So … It was routine for girls to come back from a champagne room and beeline for those little paper cups to get the fucking grossness out. You could almost bet money on who just participated in a sex for money exchange. When a girl walked out of a champagne room, you can see on their faces that look that says, “I just did something bad,” mixed with the look of, “But I got $500 for it.” That shamed look mixed with a bit of pride.

If a girl got caught participating in prostitution in a club and arrests were made or the media caught on or if they got threatened by the police, they would have no other choice but to crack down. One club took  more slats out of their doors to see more of the champagne room after one particular arrest or raid.

AS: How soon after you started working were you propositioned for prostitution? How often did it occur?

B: I was propositioned for prostitution the first day, and every single day after that until I stopped dancing. It happened 50% of the time. I would approach a man and he would make it known immediately that he was looking for more than  a lap dance or an all nude  champagne room. Immediately I knew if I was the girl for them or not based on what they wanted. I’m not saying I was a perfect angel, but straight-up prostitution wasn’t my thing.

I’ve done hours-long champagne rooms or dinners where these men would talk to me for hours. Whole nights they paid for to talk to me. Those were the only regulars I ever had. Talkers. But prostitution runs rampant. Right now, as I’m typing this, I’m 100% positive there is a girl somewhere in a Providence club giving a blow job or having sex. Right now.

AS: Did cops, politicians or local celebrities ever try to curtail sexual favors due to their office while at the clubs? If you didn’t personally witness it, was it talked about? Such as a police officer demanding sexual favors under threat of drug/prostitution arrest? What about sex between the owners and dancers?

B: I never was propositioned by police or politicians. I never saw the girls and owners mix. The house moms took care of the girls and the owners would come in once in a while to hand out free drink tickets.
Clubs can’t legally be brothels, so if it goes on it is rarely discussed. I don’t know if there were ever girls who were forced to trade sex for freedom. But in one club, it seemed to always be protected by the owner’s connections. He ran the most high-end strip club in RI, where girls were practically giving away blow jobs, and nothing really ever happens there. It’s not in the know.

AS: Did you ever fear for your safety or the safety of other girls while working? Any incidents stand out in your memory?

B: Yes, of course you fear for your safety. You enter a dark club with hundreds of men with no windows and two bouncers. Hundreds of extremely horny and drunk men. But you put it in the back of your mind. You protect yourself. You never go home with anyone. You don’t put yourself in a position to get hurt. There are bouncers, and I’ve never gotten really badly hurt on the job. The guys who like to strangle are scary. You can’t be letting strange men in a strip club strangle you or pull your hair. I’ve heard some girls claim rape. But the doors are like an inch thick. Scream a little bit and the bouncers would break in and stop it. The girls, though … When strippers attack, that shit gets real. Those heavy lucite heels can knock you out. Girls throw hot curling ions at each other, pull weaves out of other girls’ heads. Bouncers trying to control 10 angry women in a dressing room the size of a closet can get really bad. I was never really bored though. You work, do your job, and go home, and you have rent money and savings and nice things. You bear the burden of seeing that dirty dark side of humanity. You try to live a normal life without letting the job consume you.

AS: Certainly dancers across the USA have similar tales for good and bad. What would you say was the worst part about dancing in a RI club? And what positives, if any, did you take from the experience?

B: Being treated like a straight up object takes its toll. I was turning into this empty, sexually confused, ugly person. The men can be just so vulgar, so crass. Like who in their right mind says to a girl, “I’ll give you $20 more for anal”? This is just what it is.

It’s part of the gig. I’m happy I went into it with half a brain. There are things I did take away from it. I grew up. In the more high end club, I had to compare to the most put together, sober girls. I focused more on my health and what I put into my body when I was at home because I knew the amount of alcohol I was ingesting three nights a week was dangerous. I worked out and had the best clothes and makeup. I took away this — maybe imagined — power. I control my life. It’s a really tough industry to endure. It gets painful to do after a while. That imagined power fades away, and you see it for what it really is: a brothel where they encourage you to make money by any means. The worst part is that it makes a person so jaded,it sucks the life out of you.

The best part is knowing the power of your actions, on men, on people in general. The worst part? Seeing some girls just fucking fade away.

COSMIC CAPSULE: Monsanto – Quite a Monster

monsantoHoroscope decides business success

A lot of folks don’t agree with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the same rights as human beings. Human or not, corporations do have horoscopes. Financial astrologers often use the date and time of a stock’s first trade to predict fluctuations in a stock’s price. But to learn what is going on inside the company itself, a horoscope for the date and time of incorporation is used. Studying the transits to that chart provides a way to gauge the ups and downs of a company.

Monsanto was founded by John Francis Queeny who filed incorporation papers in Jefferson City, Missouri, on November 29, 1901. The company is famous — or infamous — for GMOs PCBs, Agent Orange, Dioxin, and a host of health scandals and environmental disasters. If you’ve ever wondered why they are still in business, a look at the horoscope explains a lot.

What pops out right away is the rare Jupiter/Saturn conjunction in Capricorn. This chart has Mars and Venus in Capricorn as well. Although the Sun, representing the boss, the CEO, is in Sagittarius, the cluster of Capricorn planets positioned in the 11th house gives this company more of a Capricorn flavor, providing a solid structure and longevity. Monsanto is built for business. With Aquarius rising, this company has a strong foundation that includes innovation with a blend of liberal and conservative qualities that reinforce one another. This chart is the chart of a money maker that knows how to use the connections that society has to offer. Jupiter and Saturn together in the 11th house of friends is a guarantee of friends in high places and the ability to use those friends to advantage. The Moon in late Cancer opposes Venus in Capricorn and sits 90 degrees, a square from the dwarf planet Ceres, the Goddess of grain. Moon, Venus, Ceres, the earth, food, nurture and nature, are all tied up together in this chart. Venus in Capricorn has her business suit on and she’s all about making money, and look who she is connected with. Another key point is the Uranus Pluto opposition. The Uranus Pluto cycle is a 126-year cycle. Astrology is the study of cycles and this particular cycle is one of great importance in the life of Monsanto.

Pluto is the destroyer, transformer and reformer, ruling toxic waste and other icky things. The use of power to control others as well as the power of the group belongs to Pluto. Uranus is the humanitarian, revolutionary anarchist. In Monsanto’s chart, Capricorn gives structure that is institutionalized and entrenched, and kicking down that structure is Uranus’ joy. When Pluto and Uranus engage; society changes.

By the 1930s, Pluto and Uranus moved from an opposition, a 180 degree separation, to a square, a 90 degree separation. The depression, the dust bowl, Social Security and The Securities and Exchange Act all occurred during this time. Also during this time, Monsanto purchased the Swann Chemical Company, a manufacturer of PCBs. There were concerns at the time about the toxicity of PCBs, but Monsanto bought the company anyway and the rest is history.

In the 1960s Pluto and Uranus were together in the sky, forming a conjunction three times mid-decade, although the energy was felt throughout the decade. The 60s are famous for civil rights, women’s rights and the Vietnam War. But other significant events occurred then as well. Early in the decade, Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring was published and had a huge impact on the environmental movement. President Johnson signed Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, creating Medicare.

Today, Uranus and Pluto have separated and are once again positioned in a square aspect. This phase was ushered in by another financial meltdown, the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the birth of the Occupy movement and the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

This square aspect will be exact seven times between 2012 and 2015. On April 21, 2014, there will be an exact square with the addition of Mars and Jupiter forming what is called a grand square. This is a celestial battle and this battle will not be fun for Monsanto because Pluto, the key player, is sitting right on Monsanto’s powerful Jupiter/Saturn conjunction. Uranus is squared off against this conjunction as well, ready to create havoc and kick down walls. Jupiter opposes it and although considered a good guy, he can at times be too much of a good thing.

Eco-warriors be warned, Mars is in the thick of this battle, but he is retrograde in Libra. Retrograde Mars favors the defense, not the offense. Mars is the initiator; retrograde he has some surprises for the one who initiates.  Vladimir Putin, with this Mars sitting on his Libra Sun, best beware.

Monsanto is vulnerable during this period and will be vulnerable for a while. My guess is they are working on legal defense and planning strategy. Whether they are in a legal battle now or not, this company is organized and proactive. They are looking to the future because they know that protests, banning and restrictions will continue.

Around the first day of summer in June, Mars in direct motion will hit Monsanto’s Jupiter/Saturn conjunction again. Some kind of agreement or settlement could be reached. It’s a tough call because Mars likes to fight and do the demonstration thing, while Libra loves to negotiate and wants an agreement.

The 21st of July is another significant date to watch. Expect an unusual tactic, an unexpected action, something that disrupts the orderly running of business.

In January 2015, Pluto continues his battering of Monsanto’s powerful Jupiter/Saturn conjunction. When Pluto arrives, all the crap comes to the surface. Pay attention. In late November 2015, Saturn begins a yearlong assault on some of Monsanto’s vulnerable points. When Saturn comes calling, it’s payback time. First it is going to roll over Monsanto’s Sagittarius Sun. This will bring pressure to whoever is heading the company at that time, as well as to all upper management. Next it will hit the Mid Heaven, a critical point in any horoscope. This is a point of exposure, and Saturn brings you what you earn whether it is honor or disgrace. When Saturn transited Richard Nixon’s Mid Heaven in the early 70s, he won the election by a landslide, but Watergate was waiting in the wings.

Monsanto, the poster child for the corrupting influence of money on the legislative, judicial and regulatory process, is firmly entrenched, but this celestial battle is taking place on or around critical planets and points in their horoscope. Pluto is inexorable; he destroys so something new and better can be built.

For the environmentalist, keep up the pressure. Don’t give up and don’t go away. And don’t despair. Under these transits seemingly insignificant events, decisions and actions turn out to be tipping points that evolve and result in deep, profound change. The corruption prevalent in society today is systemic, and Monsanto is one of many corporations that use and abuse this system. When Uranus and Pluto take this type of celestial battle stance as they have been taking and will continue to take over the next few years, the energy encompasses and the fallout includes large groups of people. They bring the mob to the town square taking on those societal constructs that have become rigid and outgrown their usefulness. Like Jim Crow in the 60s, it is time to go.

Lunar Notes: Your April Horoscope

lunarMonthly Horoscope

Aries: The winds of change disrupt your life, from the domestic and very private to the professional and very public. Your natural instinct is to act on impulse, but try curb that instinct. This is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. A lot of these issues require a conversation. As the Full Moon approaches, you will be better able to express yourself and articulate your desires.

Taurus: You really want to spend some quiet time enjoying solitary pleasures, but folks keep intruding. A friend in need may be a friend indeed, but don’t put yourself out on a limb for a friend or anyone else during this period.  There’s some wrongheadedness going on around you. Be wary of lies, deception and fraud. Don’t sign anything and check every story and rumor out. The truth will come out in the end.

Gemini: Your friends want to take you out for something new, different and exciting. Have fun but be careful with the money. These wild evenings on the town may cost more than you expected. A possible romance gets off to a slow start; there’s some confusion there. You’re looking good on the work front — probably because you’ve had a ton of work and haven’t had a chance to come up for air.

Cancer: Try to avoid coming on too strong or too emotional. This may be difficult because personal and professional relationships are under a lot of stress. News from afar may be upsetting as well. Try to maintain an even keel.  Take the time to socialize, visit a museum or take in a concert, anything that will take you away from the routine. Someone surprises you with an unexpected action.

Leo: Don’t spread yourself too thin; take on and complete one project at a time. Try to avoid making any major decisions now. Your judgment is off from too much busyness, receiving bad advice or simple miscommunication.  Try and carve out some down time. You need quiet time to think. Your mind is full of ideas and new possibilities, and you need to assimilate all this before you act.

Virgo: Relationships can get a little sticky during this period. Someone may try to exert control over you and try to manipulate you into taking actions that you are reluctant to take. This person does not have your best interests at heart. Keep your eye on your finances. A forgotten bill, a tax liability or insurance payment throws the budget out of whack. Don’t loan money to friends.

Libra: Someone close to you changes their direction or course of action in such a way that it has a great impact on you on a lot of levels. This may affect your career, your working routine, family and domestic issues. Try to remain objective when dealing with difficult people. Some folks will act in a totally unexpected manner. While your career is going very well, you may be facing a cash shortage. Mind the budget.

Scorpio: Your instinct prods you into making changes in your daily routine, work and eating habits. You face criticism at work. Don’t criticize back; that’s not the way to handle it. You have a lot of responsibility now with a lot to do. Make sure to get your needed rest. Take the time to have some fun. Put yourself out there; there’s a possibility of a certain someone entering your life with whom you will have a spiritual connection.

Sagittarius: Romance, fun and games with young people or the young at heart is how you spend your time this month. Have your fun, but don’t overspend or take unnecessary financial risks and stay away from the casino.  Unexpected cash flow, in or out, cautions you to keep your finances in order. A romantic or fun relationship develops with someone unusual or from a different background.

Capricorn: Capricorn is in for a bumpy ride this month. They’re coming at you from all quarters and this creates a lot of stress. From that stress you express some deep and profound truths. You may shock some folks. Keep the conversation going; you may learn something. An old friend proves their worth.

Aquarius: This is a busy time for you with a lot of mental activity. You have a lot of projects going on. Don’t scatter your energy and try to avoid mental fatigue. Be careful what you write and what you say. Be sure that all is clear as miscommunication can cause a lot of problems. There is no such thing as a routine for you this month because all is everything but routine.

Pisces: Your social calendar is full; you can’t possibly attend all these events. Go to the events that bring you the most pleasure. You are expanding your network of friends and in that group there is a possible romantic interest. Money is an issue, but there are some things money can’t buy. Pisces is very much aware of that fact. You’re figuring out what is important to you.