Ticklish Times in NY-29

Ticklish Times in NY-29
By Barry Crimmins

You probably wish former New York Congressman Eric Massa would just go away. It's not so easy for me. You see, "away" for Massa is just a few miles from where I live. So I guess I better get in front of this sad story -- or at least upwind of it.  

Until last Monday, Eric Massa was my congressional rep. I am not running from this. We all make mistakes and by "we all," I mean New York's 29th Congressional District.

I did in fact help Massa during his first Congressional campaign in 2006. I offered my services because he was running against the nincompoop Republican incumbent, Randy Kuhl. Beyond Kuhl's odious political record, there were whispers about domestic violence and heavy drinking that led to a divorce. To make matters worse, Kuhl, a man in late middle-age, sported a henna-tinted perm. That's right, my previous congressman went to a salon to have his hair fashioned into a clown wig. Truth in packaging, I suppose. So we were sent running into the arms of Eric Massa. It wouldn't be long before we'd learn the aptness of the maxim concerning politics and strange bedfellows. As you must know by now, they don't come much stranger than Mr. Massa.

I was never comfortable around Massa, a perpetually fidgety and clammy man. He seemed insincere but I took it as insecurity. He came off as a dork who was trying to be make it as a cool guy. He never knew when to shut up and was forever laughing at his own shitty jokes. But he wasn't Randy Kuhl and in this part of the world that was all we needed to know.
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                                                                     RANDY KUHL
After losing to Kuhl in 2006, Massa immediately began running to unseat the incumbent in '08. The newly minted Democrat (he had been an "R" until Kuhl stood between him and political glory) never stopped complaining about the rigors of the campaign trail. His beefs about the need for endless fundraising were sensible but he seemed to spend about two hours a day talking about the five hours a day he devoted to begging for campaign dough. Since he was a cancer survivor, his complaints about long hours were understandable. Then again, why not shut up and just take a goddamned nap?

When Massa wasn't bitching about campaigning, he was trumpeting his military background. A Naval Academy graduate (the University of Chickenshit, according to members of the regular Navy), he asked me to emcee an event for veterans at a war plane museum. This was when I began to doubt Massa's judgment. There are plenty of progressives in New York's Connecticut-sized 29th district and I could have helped with them. Instead he chose to wheel out his most leftist supporter in a freaking airplane hanger in front of a bunch of elderly vets. The former GI's were much more interested in the single-payer beer tap than my observations about our sorry political state. It was a long and unforgettable night, no matter how much I attempt to repress it.

After the Great War Plane Massa-cree of '06, I reduced my involvement with Massa to occasional donations to the contribution can at his Corning office. In 2008, I was happy to see him finally send Kuhl home to his beloved wine country in Hammondsport.

I hoped Eric Massa would become a hard-working and principled dork in Washington. But the next thing I knew, the new congressman was breaking his pledge to not take money from PACs. He did so after (you guessed it) an explanation about how much of his time was lost to raising campaign money. He was still making that complaint yesterday so apparently the PAC money must have served to do something other than eliminate time-wasting fundraising.

Massa made a name for himself when he voted against President Obama's so-called health care reform bill. I called his office before the vote because I'm a proponent of single-payer care. "The rest of the world isn't wrong, we are," I proclaimed.  When I received a Massa mass mailing meant for reactionary Obamacare opponents, it became obvious to me that my congressman was playng the issue both ways. To people like me, he could talk about his support for single payer. To the teadouchebaggers, he could brag about his opposition to Obama. In the end, nothing happened. Tie goes to the corporate medical racketeers.

To his credit, Massa called for U.S. withdrawal from the quagmire in Afghanistan. Yay, principled dork! After that I made a mental note to throw more dough into his campaign can. That was it until a week or so ago when, with the rest of you, I heard Massa announce he wouldn't run for reelection because his cancer had flared up. Before we could react to that sad news, Massa set his spin machine on "puree." He told us that maybe he just has an issue with scar tissue and not cancer but nonetheless his health and his staff and his family could not stand an inquiry being made into his conduct by the House Ethics Committee. So he was resigning immediately! Why? Because he was guilty of  using"salty" language to his staff and god knows, Washington will put up with anything but salty language. It was, as we all remember, the fucking tapes that did in Richard Nixon.

Soon more allegations trickled out: although eligible for laundry service while serving on a ship, Massa had allegedly chosen to do his own washing in a laundry directly across from where enlisted men showered--and at the hour when most of them were showering. And there was a tale of Massa attempting to grope a male lieutenant who was a bunkmate.
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At this point I sort of realized that where there was so much smoke, something had to be flaming. Rather than write a million obvious, snickering  jokes about "poopdecks" and "seamen," I instead wrote Massa a kind note because I felt sorry for him. I'd by now guessed why he was so clammy-- it must get pretty humid cooped in a closet in a world full of homophobes. His nervousness and uneven demeanor now made sense. And so I wrote him and thanked him for his efforts, wished him good health and prosperity and asked him to ignore the cruelty directed at him.

That was Saturday night. On Sunday he went on his radio show and tried to explain himself. It got mighty weird. He told of how when men sleep in the same bed together they should sleep one man under a sheet, the other over it. This method helps avoid any accidental sexual contact. How about flipping a coin and the loser gets the floor, Eric? The Three Stooges were the last guys I can think of who could sleep in the same bed free of sexual overtones.

Then he told of how he ended up at a table with all 15 of the "bachelors" on his congressional staff at the end of a drunken wedding party. Massa, by the way, uses the word "bachelor" more often than a 50's movie about marriage-averse single men. Before long and due to his own loopy disclosures, it became obvious that he seeks the company of bachelors more often than say, Clifton Webb.
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Anyway, Massa and his staff were holding a post-wedding bachelor party, right where mixed couples had cavorted just a short time earlier. Massa's account of what followed with his 15 hand-picked, drunken, unmarried, dateless, male staffers could make anyone clammy.

"On New Year's Eve, I went to a staff party. It was actually a wedding for a staff member of mine; there were over 250 people there. I was with my wife. And in fact we had a great time. She got the stomach flu," recalled Massa.

{And as we know, it's always fun when your wife gets the stomach flu!}

Massa then danced with the bride and then a bridesmaid. He explains, "I said goodnight to the bridesmaid. I sat down at the table where my whole staff was, all of them by the way bachelors." (It's raining bachelors! Hallelujah!)

"One of them looked at me and as they would do after, I don't know, 15 gin and tonics, and goodness only knows how many bottles of champagne, a staff member made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid and his points were clear and his words were far more colorful than that," Massa said. "And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, 'Well, what I really ought to be doing is fracking you.' And then [I] tousled the guy's hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where it wasn't right for me to be there."

At best Massa is naive and self-aggrandizing. Mostly he seems like a guy who is used to being well enough positioned in the pecking order to be able to impose silence on his underlings -- even after humiliating them. So he tells this story in which he actually brags about being a cockteaser or tousler or something. The question is, is that even what happened?

I fear it went more like this:

Massa: Her? I don't need to fuck her when I can fuck you. C'mon let's go up to your room. I'll show ya what I can do!

Nervous senior staff member: Congressman, I think it's time you went back to your own room.

(Hey, it's as feasible as anything Eric Massa has come up with.)

On the same radio show, Massa explained that a former Navy bunkmate asked to be moved out of quarters the two shared because of an incident in which Massa claims to have walked in on the roommate while the roomie was masturbating. The former congressman claims that upon walking in on his bunkie, he slapped him on the leg and asked, "Need any help?"

OK, let's flip over all the cards here: I can't imagine any straight man ever doing that. I can't imagine any well adjusted gay man ever doing that, either. I can, however, imagine a clammy, desperate, closeted gay man doing that. Particularly one who could pull rank after offering to pull other things. What is unimaginable is that at a time when he has been exposed for a lifetime of serial sexual harassment, he would offer one disturbingly cheesy anecdote after the next and expect them to exonerate him.

Massa is pretty obviously gay or bi, and who cares? Except for the part about being in the closet and running for congress from this bigoted, fairly backwoods district. He's now provided a led-lined bunker in which the backward-ass status quo around here will bivouac, comfortably entrenched for the foreseeable future. Thanks again, Eric.

Even after his radio antics, I was glad I'd written Massa a kind note. The poor guy was falling apart and there was no need for me to be anything but kind to him. But, Jesus, did I wish he could have decided that it's easier to be out and gay than closeted and preposterous. Of course that's easy for safely-straight-by-coincidence-of-birth me to say.

But then Monday came and with it word that Massa was blaming the Dems for doing him in over Obamacare. I began to get pissed, not because I am an Obama zombie but because this clearly wasn't the case. And I began to realize he was much more predator than victim. The craziness escalated: Massa told a story about a nude confrontation with Rahm Emanuel in the congressional gym. Apparently, there were no witnesses to this encounter -- Emanuel included. And then he decided to state his case on the Glenn Beck Show. By that point, I had really had enough. I wrote Massa again to tell him that I rescinded my earlier compassionate email. I further suggested that if he still had a taste for salty language, he should read my blog. Hi, Eric!

Appearing on Beck, where he somehow managed to out-blather the host, Massa delivered no promised details about corruption in Washington. Beck was crestfallen. Massa had proven he could tease reactionary cocks, too. In this interview came further disclosures from Massa -- this time about tickle fighting his now infamous staff full o' bachelors. A five-man pileup resulted when the supposedly happily married Congressman celebrated his 50th birthday at a stag party with the bach staffers at the condo they shared with Massa in DC. Eventually his chief-of-staff suggested to his boss that he better get his grab-assing self some new accommodations and so Massa moved into his office. I'm guessing he started making the bachelors work a lot of OT after that.

Network commentators of all stripes have come together to openly mock, and guffaw at, Eric Massa. Ever the revisionist, Massa now says he wasn't driven out by Dems or cancer or salty language but that he forced himself out. If only he had done that a long time ago, he could have become a respectable member of the GLBT community rather than a disgraced man who is now exiled to a rural area that has just received a booster shot of bigotry.

Lost in all this is the fact that we have no representative in the House for at least several weeks. This means Massa is not there to speak against clomping deeper into the quagmire in Afghanistan. This means that thousands of unemployed people in this district have no voice whatsoever in the House. This means Massa's gay constituents will have to listen to many neighbors denigrate homosexuals because of Eric Massa's cheesy behavior -- behavior that is all too common among people with power over other people, regardless of  their sexuality. And this means that, embattled governors and lint-headed appointee senators notwithstanding, the most untainted New York Democrat to whom orphaned 29th District dwellers can look is Charles Schumer. To paraphrase my good friend Mike Donovan, if you left Charles Schumer alone in a room with a rat, he'd fuck the rat.
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This just in: word comes that Massa may have laid his hands on a male intern. If this sordid rumor becomes a proven fact, Eric Massa will remain in the news and will deserve to be there. And now former shipmates have come forward to confirm many of the sordid details looming in Massa's past.

Mercifully, NY- 29 will soon be put out of its misery. After some baying reactionary reclaims the House seat for the R's this year, the census tally will be revealed and the 29th will be chopped up and redistributed to other districts. It barely survived the 2000 count and the district as it stands has less hope of returning to Congress than Eric Massa himself. So for now, the main task around here is remaining upwind of the stench.

ADD COMMENT

philMonday, May 10th 2010 6:09PM

great post, but nevermind all this....what about the dogs?

Lettie and Lu are doing fine and we're heading out for a romp as soon as I complete this

massaWednesday, April 14th 2010 12:40PM

 kind of long

Then stick to reading twitter

Walter DufresneFriday, March 12th 2010 2:26PM

And I thought only Brooklyn had all the crazy, complicated characters and campaigns!  Thanks, Barry, for such a lucid description from the other end of the state.

ADD COMMENT

A. Whitney BrownThursday, March 11th 2010 12:50PM

Really great post, Barry. Puts a lot into context. I, too, thought him clammy the only time I met him, and just really kind of creepy.  Yup, district will likely be gone after the census anyway. NY is set to lose one and what is it, Georgia to gain one? Ah, well....

Eric HansenThursday, March 11th 2010 11:13AM

Thanks for providing the background detail about Massa.  In particular, I think you're the only one to point out he started out as a Republican - which may help explain his take on medical care reform.

Somewhat surprised that New York Post didn't lead with "Massa's in De Cold Ground". . .or, a bit more abstruse,  "Massa's in DEM Cold Ground".

Here in northern Manhattan we have Charlie Rangel, who increasingly comes across as the man he ousted, Adam Clayton Powell. . .without quite the same flamboyance or charisma.  However, I think Rangel retains enough local support that he will stay in office until his body gives out.

Dan M.Thursday, March 11th 2010 12:33AM

Outstanding!!

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Gina FoxWednesday, March 10th 2010 9:53PM

Superb explanation of entire sorry sorry mess and you did not let yourself off the hook. My admiration endures.