Friday, October 30, 2009

My Weekend Crush

Sometimes, all we have is a dream. Though, often it is that hope against hope that defines our very humanity. The story of Terri White is all about dreams and humanity – the very best of both. Told in a simple yet astounding article in The New York Times this week, it is the kind of story we love to read complete with a hard-earned happy ending. It’s also a reminder that what makes life tough can also makes it worth living.

You see, Terri is a singer and a damn good one at that. For years she flirted with success, but more often than not ended up singing her heart out at piano bars around New York City. But then, times got harder. Last summer the 61-year-old couldn’t make the rent and ended up sleeping in the park. That’s the story we know too well – when talent goes untapped, when life throws its sharpest elbows. (To read a more personal account of Terri’s talent, check out my friend Scribegrrrl’s blog. In fact, just check it out in general. That gal can write.)

But from there, the story is the stuff of Hollywood dream factory. A police officer who recognized her from the piano bars saw her, broken and alone. He made some phone calls. A friend had a place for her to stay. Another friend knew of an opportunity in Florida and still another bought her ticket. Blanche DuBois couldn’t have asked for more kindness.

In Florida she met and fell in love with Donna Barnett, a “stately 62-year-old jewelry designer.” See, snuck the gay thing in on you, didn’t I? And then came the chance to audition for the pre-Broadway presentation of “Finian’s Rainbow,” which led to a role in the Broadway version. And that is where she is today, singing her heart out again but this time to the roar of a packed house. From the mean streets to the Great White Way. Come on, even Disney is jealous.

Life, for all its loud indignities and cruel disappointments, can turn out beautifully when we least expect it. To dream is never foolish; it is, in fact, a basic human necessity.

17 comments:

;) babs said...

what a wonderful story!
thank you, ms. snarker.

have a nice weekend everyone,
;) babs

madmags said...

I was amazed and so touched by this story when I read it in the Times. Thanks for providing the video so that I could fully appreciate the greatness that is this woman!!

Julia said...

I met this couple at a concert in Michigan this summer. I only briefly talked to them (Terri was singing with a local band). They were not only an a gorgeous couple, but also came off as incredibly confident, wonderful people.

I'm so happy you posted this story, because I never got their names. Also because I like to tell people about how I met this badass older lesbian couple at a local bar who thought I was a sweet girl.

Purity McCall said...

Having just returned from the US, and having read this in the paper on the plane home, I just wanted to say as someone from Europe it strikes me that the romanticising of stories like Terri's may not be unrelated to the facts of this, and many other cases.

Now clearly most folks in the US have no sympathy with the 'socialist' (oh if only) way of life we state safety net supported types in the EU live. And Europe is not without its homeless. But they are there as a result of a good system imperfectly implemented, not from a structural failure of society as a whole to deal with the problem of what happens to people who stumble and fall.

The unbelievably huge number of Americans living on the streets, in cars, and friends' sofas literally beggars belief. I've visited for both work and fun the US numerous times over the last 20 years. I love the energy and the attitude and the enthusiasm of the American people. But the 'anyone can make it if they have a dream and keep on going' mentality embodied by this story and the reaction to it is seems to perfectly illustrate the lie at the heart of American life. *Not* everyone can make it. In fact only a tiny minority do. And it's as much a matter of chance as anything else who does and who does not. And they leave behind them huge swathes of people who will never have the moment on the Great White Way, who will slip through and out of life without those dreamt of rewards, or even the basic right enshrined in UN law to a roof over their heads.

I am so happy that this woman has made it off the streets. I hope that life continues to go her way. But one or two turns would be all it takes to put her right back there. For there is no pact in US society that regardless of whether we like someone, or approve of them, or even know they exist, we will support them when they fall beneath a certain line. And yes, of course, it's big government so it gets abused. But I sleep better at night knowing that for all there might be some people out there benefiting unfairly from my hard earned taxes, people like Terri need not end up falling quite so far off the radar of civilised life.

The message in this story is not a romantic and heart warming one. It's a dreadful indictment of a wonderful society that has a fatal flaw: the cult of individualism. There is so much Europeans could usefully learn from Americans, but I am glad we have (yet - it's coming I'm sure) to fully fall for this one.

Megan said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful story! Great Friday inspiration.

Dana said...

I left this as a comment on Scribegrrrl's blog, but I'll leave it here, too: Terri White’s new spouse, Donna Barnett, is the mother of Brett Berk, author of The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting, among other things. He did a very funny piece for the Advocate about his mom trying to “out-gay” him.

Vikki said...

That voice...well, it gave me chills.

As for Purity McCall's comment, I agree completely. On the night of the election and in response to his victory, Obama said, "So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other." I want so much for that to be the way this country moves forward but I'm not sure that the idea of individualism upon which this country was founded will ever allow it. I hope for the best but prepare myself for more of the same.

Bent said...

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world". I love the awareness of the hardships of people being discussed here. Change starts with the awareness of the need for it, and the compassion is a big fuel for lifting movements off the ground that will actually put feet to the promises. I have hope for us yet. We are not all in this for ourselves, and the more compassion and love we put out there, the brighter our future will be.
Ms. Snarker, what a marvelous experience to have on this morning. Thank you so much.

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

I love a happy ending :)

Norma Desmond said...

How did you know that this was JUST the reminder I've been needing lately? Damn you, Snarker, for making me tear up today. :P

(Also, I gotta say, I love when non-Americans come here to trash Americans. It kinda makes me giggle.)

dc said...

Thanks you Purity McCall for your sober and thoughtful comments on the particular and larger aspects of this story.

And Norma Desmond's reply is not unexpected in its predictability.

Anonymous said...

WOW, i remember going to hear her sing at the piano bar, had no idea what happened. she is PHENOMENAL. glad that her story has a happy ending

Purity McCall said...

Thank you DC. Though I do understand that the impression of being 'trashed' can cause one to be perhaps a little less temperate than one might otherwise be. Particularly when there is a sense of territoriality in the mix. In fact I am pleasantly surprised to see only one such comment so far! But then America is a country founded on free speech and respect for others.

I do think though, as Vicki points out, that President Obama perhaps has his finger on the pulse of the problem. Here's hoping he can make some headway addressing it. As I said, and contrary to Norma Desmond's impression, I greatly enjoy America and American culture. Nevertheless, it's hard to sit by and watch so many suffer so greatly (including 2 friends, one of whom actually ended up on the streets in a frightening parallel of Terri's story).

And of course Norma if you feel the need there is plenty in Europe to 'trash' - we could begin with gay rights in the former Eastern bloc countries! The rise of far right parties here in the UK would be another good target. The failure of our governments to support small business and entrepreneurs another.

But perhaps rather than merely 'trashing' we could use the wonderful Ms Snarker's site as the cause for healthy debate and exchange of respectful opinion? As Bent pointed out, it could be just the opportunity to 'Be the change you want to see in the world'...

CupCake said...

What an incredible story, and an incredibly voice! I can't wait to go read the story in its entirety. Thank you for sharing. It's good to be reminded amongst all the bad news we have thrown at us that there is still hope for happy endings.

Josephine said...

I love this story. It's nice to know that sometimes things really do work out for people in life. I also fully agree with Purity McCall's comments. It is much too easy to slip through the cracks in this country, and it's scary that we have this huge underclass who aren't experiencing any of the benefits of living in such a rich country. I find it embarrassing. We can do a lot better than this.

BACKCOUNTRYBABE1 said...

What a wonderful ending to a beautiful beginning! Does anyone know where in the Keys the jewelry shop is?

generic viagra said...

Indeed it is an amazing story, but I was looking for the video for a full understanding of the story.