Hot Air: America & Stonewall

Yesterday’s Big Talk was a repeat of my January 17th, 2019, episode featuring Zaineb Istrabadi.


I selected her for this year’s Fourth of July program because, as an immigrant, I consider her to be the model American. Her family came to this country because they actually feared for their lives in their native Iraq back when the Ba’ath Party was just sinking its talons into all phases of life in that historic land. The Istrabadis came to America because it promised freedom and safety, the same reasons tens of millions of other individuals and families from foreign lands have come here.

Zaineb, too, is scared to death that this holy land will devolve into something ugly. For my money, there’s already plenty ugly hereabouts, yet America still offers a modicum of freedom and a smidgen of opportunity for both its native citizenry and those who wish to become Americans.

A person who truly loves this country ought to be afraid, even in the best of times (although, quite frankly, I don’t know what years were “the best of times” here, considering the Native American holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, and the sins committed throughout history by our plutocrats). Any time human beings amass power, there’s a chance they’ll use that power for their own edification and to hell with what’s good for the rest of us. A good rule of thumb: Fear those in power, always.

It reminds me of my days riding motorcycles. I never for a single moment lost my fear of being on a bike. You can have a fender-bender in a car and walk away from it. But if you have a collision on a motorcycle, there’s a damned good chance you may never walk again. Or even breathe. I loved my motorcycles and, today, mourn the fact that I’m physically unable to operate one. Yet I was always scared. As I should have been

Likewise, we Americans should always be afraid our country might turn rotten, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love it. To continue the motorcycle metaphor, this country speeds forward in a precarious balance; we — the riders — hoping not to slip onto the hard concrete surface of tyranny or smash into oncoming anarchy. Lots and lots of us firmly believe things are turning rancid already. I happen to be one of them. Still, I hold out hope the Trumpification of America just might be a blip on history’s radar screen. I ask people, again and again, what do you think: Is Trump a bump in the road or is he the road?

Anyway, here’s the link to the Jan. 17th (and yesterday’s) Big Talk with Zaineb Istrabadi.


Here’s a fascinating trove of trivia I discovered as last week’s 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots approached.

Image: NY Daily News/Getty Images

The Stonewall Inn was a Mob-owned bar with two dance floors on Christopher Street in Manhattan, New York City. The place opened in 1967 and was one of quite a few gay bars owned by the Genovese crime family as well as other hoodlums in New York, mainly because their clienteles were ill-served by “legitimate” business owners and, because gay men at the time generally were loath to being outed, customers at such places were, well, docile. Nobody wanted to start trouble in a gay bar because that would only bring the cops and attention to the place. Later, the Mob in New York and pretty much every other big city in America ran adult book stores for the same kinds of reasons. A guy playing with himself in a movie booth or two fellows meeting for anonymous sex in said booths certainly wouldn’t start trouble lest the world might find out about their embarrassing proclivities.

If there’s anything Mobsters like, it’s a docile clientele. The only thing they like more than that is making lots of easy money and, let’s be frank, selling sex and/or booze are two of the easiest money-making propositions extant.

In any case, homosexual acts being illegal in New York State (as well as 48 others states in the union; only in Illinois were homosexual acts not illegal at the time — who knew?) NYPD officers raided the Mob-run gay bars on a regular basis. Keep in mind, though, the police and organized crime traditionally have been, shall we say, friendly rivals in this country. The cops never failed to drop a dime to the managers of the gay bars about to be raided that night so that excess money, liquor, and sensitive patrons (politicians, celebrities, big businessmen, and — yeah — police brass) could be moved out of the place before the doors were busted down. By the way, most of the liquor served at the Mob-run gay bars was of the watered-down variety, just like the swill the Mafia served at its strip joints.

When the disturbances on Christopher Street broke out on the night of June 28th, 1969 (actually it was during the early morning hours of said date), it was because New York cops busted the joint, this time looking to round up whichever Mobsters happened to be in the place at the time. The story goes that for some odd reason, the Stonewall’s bosses had not made their regularly scheduled payoffs to the local police and so the raid was ordered to put the fear of god back in them. Who knows why the hoodlums were in arrears? Somebody on one side or the other had failed to deliver on his part of the deal, that’s all the cops needed. These are the days, BTW, before Frank Serpico and others laid bare the sickening, all-encompassing corruption inside the NYPD.

In any case, female cops along for the ride in the raid, took suspected drag queens into the bathroom to check on their junk. Those with guy junk, natch, were hauled in, transvestitism being illegal in New York as well as most of this holy land in those benighted days. As the cops started loading Wise Guys and drag queens into their paddy wagons, the bar patrons who’d been allowed to leave the place and who remained on the street out front, started throwing pennies and then rocks at the cops and their vehicles. More people joined the crowd and the next thing anybody knew, riots broke out both that night and the succeeding one.

The rest, of course, is history.

More Trivia

Doucette as Truscott.

BTW: The author of one of the pieces I link to above is a fellow named Lucian K. Truscott IV. The name rang a bell when I first saw it. Truscott turns out to be the grandson of World War II General Lucian Truscott, Jr., who was instrumental in developing the US Army’s first commando unit, the 1st Ranger Battalion. He also was a chief planner of the Allied invasion of Sicily as the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. In the movie Patton, he was played by veteran war and cowboy picture actor John Doucette.

All the numbered Truscotts were military guys. The general’s grandkid, Lucian the fourth, a graduate of West Point, made a name for himself when he challenged the United States Military Academy’s requirement that all cadets, even non-believers, attend chapel services. The US Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the cadets who did not want to attend services. After graduation, Truscott served in Ft. Carson, Colorado, where he wrote articles detailing the heroin addiction problem in the Army and blowing the whistle on what he considered an unjust court martial. His superiors threatened to send him to Vietnam unless he knocked off writing such pieces. He elected to leave the Army with a less than honorable discharge and went to work as a reporter for the Village Voice. He then wrote a novel called Dress Gray, dealing with a homosexual murder scandal at a fictional military academy. The book was made into a 1986 NBC-TV miniseries starring Alec Baldwin.

Truscott IV’s piece on the Stonewall Riots is a must read.

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