Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lessons From an Unlikely Source

As hard as I try to avoid watching Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, not only do I seem to end up turning my television on right when it airs (and I don’t even know when that is), but the other cable networks choose to air things I don’t want to watch at the same time, so I end up watching it again and again. And much as I hate to admit it, I really enjoy it.

Last week I caught an older episode that had me laughing out loud repeatedly. What you have to understand if you’ve never watched the show is that Gene Simmons is not the same character he was in the 70s and 80s. He’s a putz. He’s the only one in the family without a wicked sense of humor, and most of the time he’s actually the butt of the jokes being told. As his daughter describes him, he’s usually in his “onesie” by 7 p.m. and asleep by 8. He could easily be the most un-fun person on reality television, who just happens to be surrounded by people who are really fun.

So, this episode I caught saw Gene and Shannon go to Vegas to attend her sister’s wedding. First they all attended a show by the comedian (and I use that term loosely) Carrot Top. When the show was over, the girls had a bachelorette party and Gene went backstage to hang with Carrot Top.

I need to interject something first. I haven’t seen Carrot Top in a good decade or so, and when he appeared on this episode, I almost threw up. Here is a man in his mid-40s wearing gobs of makeup and so grotesquely muscular in the chest and shoulders area that he looks like a clown on steroids. The more I looked at him, the more I felt certain he was going to go into a ‘roid rage and turn into the clown from It. Just when you think the freakish can’t get freakier…

Gene and Carrot Top cavorting around were as funny as watching paint dry. Perhaps the two unfunniest people in the same zip code had teamed up to entertain reality T.V. watchers, and for some reason, the camera operators didn’t fall asleep while on assignment. But then, something happened that I like to think was unscripted because it was hilarious.

Carrot Top was creating one of his dumb props, which he said was supposed to represent Paris Hilton in jail. It was comprised of steel bars and he was attaching long, silver vibrators to them. Dumb. But Carrot Top walked away, and fluffy-headed Gene wandered over and picked up one of the vibrators. A moment later we all find out that this vibrator has epoxy on it and it is now glued to Gene’s hand.

Twenty or thirty years ago, this would’ve been a good shot of a gratuitous lifestyle epitomized by a rockstar who helped define the sex, drugs, & rock ‘n’ roll era, but this is 2008, and he is so far removed from being a cool, hip, wild rockstar that seeing him holding a vibrator was funny enough, but to know one was adhered to the palm of his hand was hysterical. They’d show him standing there, annoyed, insisting it be referred to as a “back massager”, whining about the pain of his skin being stuck to this sex toy, and the dead-pan delivery of it was so convincing that I can think of no one worse for this to happen to. That’s how unfunny this guy has become. However, he could not get the vibrator off his hand. The hotel nurse tried to pick away at it, but he whimpered about the pain so she gave up. The next day he had to attend Shannon’s sister’s wedding with his jacket held over his arm because the vibrator was still stuck to his hand, and what’s worse was he didn’t want to tell Shannon about it because he thought she’d be furious. How does someone as unfunny as Gene Simmons hide from the world the humiliating fact that he’s accidentally glued a vibrator to his palm?

Anyway, he finally came clean with Shannon and ended up at his plastic surgeon’s office to have it removed.

I wouldn’t have even mentioned how funny that episode was if it wasn’t for the fact that the one I saw before that one was so incredibly moving. I never would’ve imagined this silly show would be so emotional.

Sophie had a paper due on the military, and after a pathetic and unsurprising look at how Gene performed in some bootcamp exercises, he and Sophie visited a veterans hospital, where Gene talked with some of the patients to hear their stories and thank them for their service. The stories were absolutely heart wrenching. One soldier said he volunteered to serve in the military so no one in his family would ever have to, and here he sat in a wheelchair in a VA hospital. I was choked up just listening to their stories, and then Gene started talking to an older guy who was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and in an attempt to thank him for everything he gave and everything he did, Gene started to cry and had to take a moment to collect himself.

By then I was sobbing because I was thinking of how seldom these people probably hear any kind of thanks for their service, and no matter where the motivation to do this came from, Gene seemed to be genuinely moved by how very much it costs each individual who joins the military. You hear statistics about how many people have been killed or wounded in the War in Iraq, but you don’t get to see what those numbers mean, which I think is largely a political ploy to ensure support of the war. Seeing the aftermath is a whole different experience, and while I know plenty of people who have served in various branches of the military, they’ve all managed to come through intact. However, there are plenty who don’t, who won’t ever live normal lives again, and it’s difficult to think about what that means to them.

As much as I hate to admit it, this episode really got me thinking about how forgotten the wounded soldiers become and how much they sacrificed to answer an honorable call.

Here we are, about to enter Memorial Day Weekend, which is more about grilling out than remembering and paying tribute, and I’m thinking it’s about damn time I stand up and say something.

Thank you to all the folks who are currently in the military and all the folks who have been in the military. Thank you for your sacrifice, for your service, and for doing all of this despite the lack of appreciation you receive from most of the civilians. Thank you to the families of servicemen and servicewomen who support their loved ones and take care of one another in their absence so that they can do this job that is too great for the rest of us to do. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who could make a lot more money in the civilian world, but choose to devote their careers to helping our military when they need it. And as weird as this sounds, thanks to Gene Simmons for bringing this home to some of his shallower fans, who might never have thought about what a huge commitment it is or what it can cost people, and to his non-fans who sometimes forget all this.


Anonymous said...


Izzy's brother served in Iraq and you could feel the tension in the house while he was away. Every day they were so sad because they didn't know if he was still alive or not. Every call he made was like someone had just given his family $100,000,000. We all went to greet him when he and his men returned from Iraq. Everyone was silent and breathless, impatient for the Marines to enter the All-State arena. Then, the lights started flashing and the announcement came....Everything went black, but the floor was rumbling, the walls were trembling...not because of machines, but because of the CHEERS of the people. I burst into tears right then and there because thee weren't Americans proud of their country...these were families finally whole again. Every time I think about it, which is often, is so moving to me.

And about Vietnam. y dad was a Veteran, and do you know what disturbed him most? It wasn't the final escape from Vietnam, it wasn't the terrified fleeing refugees who were screaming for a spot on the helicopters, it wasn't the rush on incoming helicopters that he had to help push off the ships because there was no space for them. No, it was how he was received when he returned home. People threw eggs and things at him and called him baby-killer even though he was in the navy and had nothing to do with that massacre. Americans hated him just because they could, and forget about what war does to a person! I think the Vietnam Veterans have even more to despair about because they were never heroes, even though they were fighting a war that ought to have never been.

Gardenbuzzy said...

My neice's husband (my nephew-in-law?) has been in Iraq since last August, I believe. He's getting a couple weeks of furlough and will be coming home, I think, this week. They live in Colorado Springs, so we won't get to see Josh, but I'm just so glad he's getting to come home and be with Katie for awhile.

And I also say, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all our soldiers and vets. We really need to make Memorial Day more about remembering and less about grilling.

BeckEye said...

Any time I'm able to afford it, I usually donate to the Disabled Veterans. It seems like one of the most worthy causes out there.

Anonymous said...

I saw the VA hospital episode last year when it first aired and I sat there and cried along with Gene. Thanks for mentioning it. It was what made me really like Gene Simmons.

And HV? You're welcome! I'm glad you were one of the people I was protecting for 22 years.

VA sends

Anonymous said...

My 'play son' called me yesterday from Iraq. There is so much that I want to ask him but I can't since security is an issue. All I talk about is home and that seems to be enough.
God watch over Manny and all of the children at war.

Anonymous said...

gene simmons son of holocaust survivors comes from israel to live the american dream. as much as his sexist attitudes toward his conquests of groupies annoys me i got much respect for a guy who makes it due to his sheer work ethic.
rock on gene.

Magnoire La CHouette said...

Get the audiobook to Shannon Tweeds Kiss and Tell. Gene reads the foreward and Shannon reads her book. It's really funny in parts ans she's lead an interesting life.
I recommend it!
I, too, give to Disabled Veterans like my late Daddy did.