Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Honest Abe? Or gay Abe?

Everyone knows the story of Abe Lincoln, right?

It's the mother of all "try, try again" mantras.

Practically every political spot he ran for, he lost the first time, but he persevered, living in a log cabin that he built with his own two hands until four score and seven years later he won the Civil War, thereby freeing the slaves, after which he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theatre and died April 15, 1865 - the darkest day in American history to that point, and the reason we pay taxes on that day.

But there's one point that many folks may not be familiar with.

Now, I'm not quite sure how we got to talking about this, but it came up the other night in the newsroom right here at the Union-Sun & Journal.

We were talking about log cabins. That lead to a comment about Log Cabin Republicans. I quipped that the Log Cabin Republicans were aptly named since the founder of the party was gay.

"What are you talking about, Scott," one of my colleagues shot out, half sounding like they wanted an answer and half sounding like they just wanted me to shut up.

"Abe Lincoln. He was gay," I said, calmly.

"Says who?" asked my unnamed colleague, gruffly.

"I don't know," I said. "I learned it in college. He had a gay lover when he was younger. The whole Mary Todd thing - a facade."

Well, that was it. I might as well have told my co-worker that HE was gay, judging by his reaction.

He wanted proof.

Well, I must admit, I don't have diagrams or photos or eyewitness testimony. I do, however, have some second hand information and a man who says he has the diary of honest Abe's lover.

Add that in with Abe's charm, social conscience, and fashion sense and it seems plain as day to me.

The year was 1837. Lincoln, then 28, was admitted to the Illinois Bar on March 1, and he moved to Springfield on April 15 (there's that date again), becoming a law partner of John T. Stuart and living with Joshua Speed, with whom he shared a bed - literally.

You see, when Lincoln arrived in town, he hadn't enough money to buy bedding at the general store, but Speed, the 23-year-old merchant behind the counter took pity on honest Abe and invited him into his own bed, free of charge, which happened to be just upstairs.

For the next four years the two men shared that bed along with their most private fears and desires.

The previous three paragraphs are fact. Indisputable. Any historical worth his or her salt will say, "Yup, that's the God's honest truth."

One man, however, says that he has some documentation of what happened in that bed for those four years.

Both men eventually married and had children; they remained close until they had a falling-out in 1855 over the issue of slavery.

But that didn't change their feeling for each other, says Larry Kramer.

"There's no question in my mind he was a gay man and a totally gay man," says Kramer, gay activist and founder of ACT-UP. "It wasn't just a period, but something that went on his whole life."

Kramer claims to have the proof, a diary written by Joshua Speed, as well as a stash of letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his love affair with Lincoln. The secret pages, which were discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, now are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa.

Unfortunately for the world, Kramer won't let the world see them.

Mark Mead, spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans in Washington, says he is entirely familiar with Kramer's claims, but he dismisses them outright.

"It's completely irrelevant to me and I would think that a lot of our membership don't care," Mead told me by phone Monday morning.

Asked of the possibility, he said, "Since he's deceased, we'll never know."

The group has been around in one form or another for about 25 years, but just became the "Log Cabin Republicans" about a decade ago.

The "Log Cabin" notation is in reference to Lincoln, but officially, it's in reference to his ideals, not his sexuality, the group says.

Here's what I don't get though: What's the big deal? I mean, when I brought this up Friday night at the US&J, it started a debate more intense than the "pop or soda" one that we're always having.

I'm told that 10 percent of all people are gay - statistically speaking.

That means that Lincoln was likely one of the four gay president's we've had so far.

So what?

He's been dead now for 137 years. Does his sexuality really make a difference in how we see the man? I just can't see how or why it would.

I mean, he still won the war - still freed slaves - still persevered. Plain and simple, he's still Abe Lincoln.

Lastly, I was surprised how few people that I've talked to between Friday night and now knew that Lincoln was gay.

I thought we were more informed than this.

You do all know that Jesus was black, right?

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Luck smiles not on WNY

Here we go again.

For anyone not paying attention, last Friday the FBI arrested four men from Lackawanna on charges that they provided support to the al-Qaida terror network.

For Western New York, the timing was perfect, as it was Friday the 13th and just another sign of the bad luck that this region has undergone in the past decade-plus.

Saturday, the FBI arrested a fifth man, and Sunday it was learned that there had been a sixth man who was arrested in Bahrain earlier in the week.

Prosecutors say the men were members of a terror cell trained by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and were under investigation even before the Sept. 11 attacks. They said the men had intensified their communications this month.

An FBI agent said Saturday that the group amounted to an al-Qaida-trained cell, trained at the same Kandahar camp that John Walker Lindh attended.

Watching the whole story unfold over the weekend just made me shrug my shoulders and shake my head.

Of course, it's Western New York's fault. It seems to me that major news stories to come out of Western New York tend to be of the negative variety. We're notorious as a region for breeding bad news, whether its blizzards or bombers, missed field goals or "no goals."

For the life of me, I can't think of another area of the country that has contributed to so many "bad news" stories.

We were the home of Tim McVeigh, O.J., and John Wayne Bobbitt. A president was killed here 100 years ago (McKinley) and a doctor was killed here four years ago (Barnett Slepian).

During any bad weather in any other part of the county, somebody says, "It could be worse. We could be in Buffalo."

You know how some people are famous for being famous? We'll, we're famous for being notorious.

First off, of course its a shame. We are also the home of some real great societal contributors, right?

Jack Kemp lost a bid to become vice president six years ago.

Rick James was jailed for dealing cocaine, assault and torture. The King of Funk confessed to Rolling Stone that at least by being in prison he "could not do drugs."

John Rigas built a cable empire then bilked it for millions of dollars. We might lose our hockey team because of him.

The Goo Goo Dolls continue to sing.

And we wonder why we have such a bad rap.

At least we have Buffalo wings. Too bad it took a movie starring Bill Murray to remind us that we should have a festival for them.

When I was in college and people would ask me where I was from I frequently wanted to lie. Maybe I could say I was from Chicago ... or Indiana. No one from those communities was famous for having his wife give him a 10-second sex change. (Look up Bobbitt in a French dictionary, by the way).

But in the end, I would always tell the truth.

"I'm from Niagara Falls," I would say.

To which they would say, "Oh, I didn't know you were Canadian."

"Yup, sure am, eh," I'd retort. "There's a lot of things aboot me that you don't know."

At least that way I wouldn't have to deal with any Buffalo jokes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Happy Patriots Day?

I'm not afraid of much.

A couple weeks ago, we had a bat flying around in our house, but I caught it in a pot and took it outside while my wife hid under the covers in the bed.

Fear factor? None.

But some things concern me.

Imagine if you will: It's Sept. 10, 2072 instead of 2002. America is gearing up for their Patriot Day picnics. For most, it means another day off work and a sale on all airbikes at the local Fujimaki dealership.

Paintsoft (the paint division of Microsoft) is holding their annual "Let's Roll" paint event, a vague reference to what some patriot said back on Sept. 11, 2001 — when all this Patriot Day stuff started.

The big three airline industries are selling all plane tickets to New York and Washington for only $911, in tribute to those who flew somewhere or did something back on that fateful day that patriotism began ... or something like that.

No one's really sure what Patriot Day means, how it began, or why we have two days off in two weeks — but hey, any reason to barbecue is a good one. (Thermal grills are on sale, by the way at AOL-Time-WalMart.)

One thing is certain. Someone named Al Kayda said "Stay inside and have a six pack" sparking the global recession that could only be ended with zero percent financing at your local Fujimaki dealer.

Okay, now return to today and consider my assessment of the future.

Now, before you say, "implausible, ridiculous, and asinine," think about this: define the difference between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.

For those who can answer my question, I say, congratulations. How many years did you serve in the military?

For those who can't, welcome to the IAC — the Ignorant Americans Club.

Ashamedly, I must admit that I am a member.

Heck, I always forget whether I can't wear white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day or vice-versa.

Throw in Arbor Day and I'm absolutely out of it.

Maybe — just maybe — that's why 2/3 of the world hates us. We are so self absorbed (How much did your stock plummet because of Sept. 11?) that we have no global view.

It's all about how whatever affects ME.

When is the last time that you whined that a traffic accident made you late for a meeting, picnic or other "life altering" occasion. Did the people in the accident live? Did you even check the paper the next day to find out?

Aug. 31, the Union-Sun & Journal ran a story about the terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics and I had NO CLUE what it was about. Finally, my wife and I came to the conclusion that since they weren't Americans who were killed, we didn't learn it in school.

We're such a young country that the History Channel is reportedly running reruns of Seinfeld.

We have had a mere 43 presidents in our nation's lifetime, but the average adult cannot name all of them. There are 50 states, but again, naming them all is considered a talent.

Dare to not know who botched the Red Sox chances at winning the World Series in 1986, though. What are you, a communist?

Look folks, it's inevitable. Less than a generation from now, we'll be trying to decide between ham and cheese or baloney and cheese for the picnic, and whether to go camping or on a cruise for the "holiday."

All I ask is that we all eat our baloney sandwiches respectfully and try to remember why it was on sale.

By the way, Memorial Day (in May) was organized following the Civil War with the purpose of honoring deceased soldiers. Veterans' Day (in September) is a day to honor all veterans, originally a commemoration of the end of WWI. And Bill Buckner botched the World Series.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

US&J scribe takes up juggling ...

Forgive me if I seem confused or disoriented.

You see, I'm in the middle of moving.

Not in the literal sense. More figuratively.

I'm switching jobs.

I'll still be with the Union-Sun & Journal, but doing different things ... covering different things.

Instead of City Hall and the Lockport School Board, it will be town and village halls and the Roy-Hart and Barker school boards.

For two years, I covered the city and all it entails. What a rush it can be covering the politicrats in Lockport. Constant fodder, I assure you. I seldom
- if ever - lacked for something to do.

But, you see, it wears you down.

So when the opportunity presented itself for me to split my time between being an editor for our fine publication and covering the easternmost part of Eastern Niagara County, I didn't take too much time to make up my mind.

I can't imagine that I'm going to regret my decision, either.

There are difficulties, mind you.

You know how once you really know what you're doing, your job gets easier and easier? Second nature almost?

Well, I had hit that plateau. I was in the zone. (My self-opinion may be somewhat overinflated, but someone's got to think highly of me.)

Anyway, back to the moral.

So, now that I'm in a different ZIP code, I'm not sure where the zone is any more.

I have a huge learning curve to overcome, too.

I have a lot of people to get to know.

Their likes, dislikes, kids' names. You name it. (I've got to fill my Palm Pilot up with something.)

But I'm in that odd sort of situation that we all put ourselves in occasionally
- like when we go to our spouse's family reunion for the first time and don't know ANYONE.

For them, it's easy. One new name to remember.

"Scott Leffler. Lockport Journal. I'll be covering your town now."

For me, though, I'm taking in way too much information to be good for me.

I'm meeting supervisors, board members, clerks, attorneys, dog catchers.

"So let me get this straight. Your name is Fluffy and you cast the tie-breaking vote on whether or not to call a snow day?"

And that's per town.

Now take into account the fact that my move has me covering ... (deep breath) ... Royalton, Hartland, Middleport, Somerset, the Village of Barker, the Barker School District and the Roy-Hart School District.

That's a whole lot of dog catchers to learn. (Roy-Hart doesn't have a dog catcher. At least I don't think so.)

Plus, I'm holding on to an old staple of mine, Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems.

At least that's the same. Well, except that they have a new spokesperson - Barbara Barkley replaced Doug Hoy about two months ago
- who for the life of me I can't seem to find time to sit down with for introductions.

Splitting my time up eight different ways in only three days (I did mention that I'm also editing part-time, right?) makes the calendar function on my Palm Pilot incredibly useful. The calculator part, too.

Some of the meeting people has been somewhat daunting, but I think I can handle it.

I am, after all, good with people. (There goes the self-opinion meter again.)

As long as I can stay organized, I'm sure I'll be fine.

And if not, maybe I can convince Roy-Hart that they need a dog catcher.