Chicago celebrated gay pride over the weekend with a parade, a “queer prom,” and enough inordinate self-esteem and alternative lifestyles to choke a Clydesdale. You go, gay people! I absolutely adore what you’ve done with the Bravo network, and your secret invasion of the Republican party these last few years has been faaaaaaabulous! Unfortunately, there was a party pooper in your midst on Saturday afternoon at the corner of Halsted and Addison, a man wearing a sandwich-board sign bearing the slogan PRIDE LEADS TO SHAME. But what does Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Shame” lead to on my iPod if I press play and then use the shuffle option? “The Fool on the Hill,” by the Beatles.* (I love the shuffle option. It’s the Magic 8-Ball of the 21st century.)

Now, pride is one of the seven deadly sins, and if God would get off His duff and revise His original list, I’m sure He’d add a space for homosexuality at number eight, as fundamentalist Christians have requested via prayer and daytime talk shows for years now. (In a recent e-mail God told me, “Rob, I got paperwork that stretches back to the 1400s — and I’m talking B.C., my friend — so don’t expect any amendments or late additions anytime soon. Also, you should probably get that mole on your neck checked out.” I don’t like when He calls me Rob, but He’s God, so I let it slide. And it’s a skin tag, not a mole.) But until that day it’ll have to remain a nonfatal sin, and if something like a gay pride parade offends you, just call it a “double whammy” parade and see if that suits you better. We’re never going to be able to make everybody get along with everybody else, but as long as we can find nonviolent ways to help each other ignore the people we can’t tolerate, then that should be good enough.

However, it can be difficult to stay positive these days, not to mention positively ignorant. Consumer confidence is low, and for good reason. And gas prices be goin’ crazy, y’all! I don’t have a car here in Chicago, but those fuel costs are driving up food prices, and now I can’t afford to eat dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House more than four times a week. The waitstaff says it’s not the same on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays without me asking for extra butter, but what can I do? Money’s too tight to mention, but sadly my pants can no longer say the same.

A few weeks ago I watched a rerun of that Carter-era TV chestnut Eight Is Enough, in which patriarch Tom Bradford, played by Dick Van Patten (a.k.a. People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive 1979), let his teenage son, Tommy (Willie Aames), calculate the monthly family budget for the Bradford children. See, Tommy got angry when his dad refused to give him money for a new guitar even though his sister Mary had been given money for dance lessons. That’s straight-up reverse sexism, you understand. Tom decided that the fair thing to do would be to let Tommy plan the budget, which he handled with aplomb, and the episode ended with Tom being put out to pasture and slaughtered for his meat since he no longer served any useful function in his family.

No, of course that’s not how it ended — Tommy couldn’t put up with his siblings’ constant demands for more money and accusations of financial favoritism, so he handed the budget back over to his dad, who made everyone understand that sacrifices would have to be made because of high gas prices and food prices. Now, that episode aired in the spring of 1980. Did we as a nation learn nothing from the Bradford clan? Guess not. But I do know I’d be happier to make sacrifices for President Van Patten than for President Bush. He’s the Pillsbury Doughboy of TV dads — if you got angry at him for not having an exit strategy in Iraq and punched him in the stomach as hard as you could, he’d just giggle, and soon you’d forget why you were angry in the first place.

Maybe America is simply the victim of bad karma right now, just as China’s earthquake in May was the result of bad karma caused by its government’s treatment of Tibet. Or, as actress Sharon Stone put it while speaking to Hong Kong’s Cable Entertainment News at the Cannes film festival: “I’m not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?” Sharon could also be referring to her career post-Casino, so perhaps she learned a valuable lesson about playing nice with others sometime around the release of 2006’s Basic Instinct 2. That gorgeous blonde is still crazy after all these years and I commend her for it, because without the Sharon Stones of the world, slow news days would be a lot less interesting.

In case you’re curious, I know the source of all the bad karma in the world, and it ain’t China. It’s TMZ, the televised offshoot of, “your official site for entertainment news, celebrity gossip, Hollywood rumors, celebrity video and photo galleries.” Whoa whoa whoa, watch where you throw that “your” possessive, TMZ. What, you think we’re friends just because I watched your TV show twice? That barely makes us acquaintances in my book, and I still can’t get your weird cigarette smell out of my clothes. What do you put in your rolling papers anyway? The ashes of long-dead Peabody Award fantasies?

TMZ the show — I know better than to surf anywhere near the website’s deadly riptide — is the media equivalent of those people in your life who live to annoy you by constantly pushing your buttons, never letting you forget things that a mature person would know better than to remind you about, and sometimes even flicking your ear while you’re in the middle of a conversation to see if you lied when you once said that you “would never choke someone to death unless it would make the world a better place.” TMZ is set up like this: a guy who pretends he’s Ben Bradlee stands at the front of the newsroom and asks his star reporters what stories they’re working on. They then look down at their notepads, which I assume are filled with crude sketches of genitalia and reminders like “Find new weed connection on Craigslist,” and pretend that they have actual notes written down. Their stories go something like this: “Yeah, okay, we’ve got footage of Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks playing with her kid near the Washington Memorial in D.C. She was taking all kinds of pictures of him. But the good-looking Dixie Chicks weren’t there. Just the runt.” (We then hear derisive giggles from the other newsroom goblins.) “What? … she’s the ugly one … huh-huh … hey, I’m just being honest.”

Where are Woodward and Bernstein when we need them, if only to toss a grenade into the TMZ newsroom and eliminate the source of all this bad karma! (Come back, John Tesh. We didn’t know what we had till it was gone.) TMZ also recently made fun of pop star Seal for getting angry at paparazzi, and showed a slo-mo replay of him tripping over a curb while sticking his own camera in photographers’ faces. The moral of each TMZ story seems to be “Screw you for not being able to take a joke, popular people!,” but if celebrities play along with the invasion of their privacy and happen to be in a good mood for the 30 seconds that are required before they can lock themselves inside their cars and drive away, the moral is “You know, MacGyver‘s Richard Dean Anderson is a pretty cool guy. Really down to earth. He told us a story about being kicked out of the Boy Scouts when he was a kid for farting during a scout meeting, and that’s awesome, because I can totally relate to that! He wasn’t at all like Jessica Alba, who wouldn’t answer us when we asked ‘How’s it going?’ and stuck that camera in her face. I mean, you just had a baby, Jessica. Lighten up, okay? You should be glowing. But you’re not. Why aren’t you glowing, Jessica? Is it because your new movie, The Love Guru, bombed on opening weekend? Or is it just because you’re stuck up and you think you’re better than us because you’re rich and beautiful?! I will make it my mission in life to destroy you and everything you stand for!!!!!!”

TMZ is battery acid for the soul. But there’s still time for you to save yourselves, stalkerazzi. Like Sharon Stone said, just be nice to people, and good things will come of it. No, your stalking won’t cause an earthquake, but did you hear any reports on the radio about those wildfires in Big Sur last weekend while you were driving two cars behind George Clooney all afternoon? Do you think the anger you cause those celebrities to feel might be fanning those flames closer and closer to where you live and breathe? What if Sharon really does know something we don’t? What if she had a talk with God or Buddha or Bruce Vilanch or whoever she worships and He told her that He really does cause “natural” disasters to happen when He thinks mankind needs a wake-up call? No, not the kind of wake-up call you give Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie when you root through their trash cans at 5 AM looking for nonchalantly discarded nude photos! I’m trying to get deep here with you, TMZers, so pay attention! When Judgment Day comes, will you be ready? Will you not make some pointless remark about Terminator 2: Judgment Day star Arnold Schwarzenegger “totally rockin’ the Speedo last weekend in Malibu” but instead focus on the subject at hand and repent all your worldly sins? No, you don’t have to repent your secret alternative lifestyle. Well, not unless God revises that list of deadly, decadent, delicious sins before Judgment Day. And if he does, Dick Van Patten had better watch out. What, you didn’t know he was gay? C’mon, everybody knows that.

Okay, not true, but stick with me, TMZ, and you could learn something. But if you flick my ear even once, I swear I’ll choke the unborn children out of you.

* Since this edition of Sugar Water is two days late — how did you make it through the past 48 hours? — here are lots of free MP3s for you. Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Shame” led to the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill,” but Marah’s “Shame” led to Jamiroquai’s “King for a Day,” and Shirley & Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” led to Common’s “Sum Shit I Wrote,” a title that sums up my preceding verbiage much more succinctly than I ever could.

Evelyn “Champagne” King, “Shame” (from 1992’s The Disco Years, Vol. 5: Must Be the Music)
The Beatles, “The Fool on the Hill” (from 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour)
Marah, “Shame” (from 2002’s Float Away With the Friday Night Gods)
Jamiroquai, “King for a Day” (from 1999’s Synkronized)
Shirley & Company, “Shame, Shame, Shame” (from 1991’s Soul Hits of the ’70s: Didn’t It Blow Your Mind! Vol. 14)
Common Sense, “Sum Shit I Wrote” (from 1994’s Resurrection)

And, because our nation is in a bit of a slump right now, here’s a 1981 non-LP single from Bill Withers:

Bill Withers, “U.S.A.”

And finally, no matter how bad things get, there’s always a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen windowsill, even for the TMZ gang:

Grant Goodeve, “Eight Is Enough” (from 2005’s All-Time Top 100 TV Themes)

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About the Author

Robert Cass

Robert Cass lives in Chicago. For Popdose he's written under the Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback banners and collaborated on the series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.

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