What! A!! Show!!!

Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of Janie and Roger gettin’ hitched for the first time.

Of course we’ve been married over a dozen times…to each other! Every time we are honored to attend our friends’ weddings, it becomes our wedding. During each ceremony, hands are held (shyly…can you believe it?), and vows are rediscovered with sideways glances (slyly…you can’t make this up).

34 instant years…

How shall we mark the occasion?

Well, many might think it’s a paltry plan. We have shared head colds (negative test) the last week and both of us are just a mite puny. We’ll probably stay in, order in, and reflect a bit on how fortunate we’ve been to find each other and how perspicacious we’ve been in knowing quickly that we had found each other.

After 30 years, retirement and the pandemic have driven us indoors, reduced our social interactions, and focused our attentions inward and toward each other. The connection was strong and is now even stronger. LeGuin and Kazantzakis would not be surprised.

But I always am.

Always.

Darlin’, after 34 years it feels like this is where we came in.

Can we stay and watch this show again?

I wanna be sure I don’t miss a thing.

Jim Rodgers’ Natal Day

Oh!

The places we’ve gone…

…the people we’ve been!

We’ve been to Pennsylvania (THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON, ERRATA), and Texas (THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS). We’ve been to Sweden (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC), Spain (MAN OF LA MANCHA), and England (THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, SWEENEY TODD, and CAMELOT).

We’ve plumbed the depths of Oscar Wilde and Western Kentucky (FLOYD COLLINS).

All because you saw us there.

I’ve been a lawyer, a doctor, a murderer, a playwright, a sheriff, a barber…

…the King of England…

……a starkeeper……

Hell.

I was even a goose!

All because you said I could.

Once, we even got to sing together. That might have been the best.

Jim, you are a fine, fine traveling companion.

Thank you.

Frankenstein 1970

There are few verities in this world, but I know of some; death, taxes, and there’ll always be a Frankenstein film I haven’t seen.

This is one.

Tonight I remedied that omission.

Ugh.

Many think Boris Karloff played Frankenstein in the best known film of Mary Shelley’s amazing story. Not true. Mr. Karloff played the monster created by Baron Frankenstein. It was not until this 1958 film that he actually played someone in the Frankenstein family, a descendant of the baron, facing a future of dwindling funds, who rents out the stark Frankenstein manse to a documentary film crew that resembles the film crew in ED WOOD.

I usually enjoy Mr. Karloff’s performances, but in this case Messiers Clive and Cushing did it better.

Having consistently watched more than the recommended daily dose of mad scientist flicks, I’ve acquired a dubious expertise in movie laboratory sets. This film’s iteration features bank after bank of consoles of dials and switches and gauges…very like a low-budget version of Dr. No’s lab. It lacks one of those lightning producing orbs that are dear to my heart, but it does have some dripping tubing in various places that suggest that somewhere there’s some fine bourbon bein’ born. There’s also a contraption that looks like a cross between an MRI and a crematorium…and an EZ-Bake oven… smokin’ up the joint. All-in-all, I’d give the lab an 85. It was easy to dance to.

Oh. On the audio side of production, the lab has the capability of disposing of human bodies. When it’s employed, it does so with the distinct sound effect of a toilet being flushed. I can only imagine how that was received in 1950’s movie houses. I can only imagine the glee of the movie critics of the day.

On the positive side…

There’s a moment early in the film that shows us three members of the film crew framed in front of a large, gothic fireplace. It recalled to me the opening scene in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with the Shelleys and mad, bad Lord Byron. It may have been accidental, but I prefer to think the director and writers were paying homage.

Eventually we arrive in a ludicrous confrontation between a mummyishly-bandaged monster and a beret-wearing cameraman in a cave with a perfectly flat Hollywood cave floor (are there any other kind?)

I simply wouldn’t have any other way.

My Favorite Bookstore 3: Rokuro-Kubi 1

I had only been working a week at the Bait Shop.

The Bait Shop was a book store with only a miniscule inventory of books about fishing.

It did boast several sizable aquaria with mesmerizing arrays of tropical fish; mostly cichlids and one tank of bosemani rainbows. I had already discerned that the cichlids were an opinionated bunch that moved their furniture constantly and spit gravel when disgusted…or about to give birth. The rainbows were sleepy and “just happy to breed here.”

Thus, the Books and Interesting Tidbits Shop was a touch tropical, certainly topical, but not your typical book store.

I had yet to master the chimerical shelving system for the books. My high school part-time job at the public library had taught me the essences of the Dewey Decimal System (DDS). The logic parceling out shelf space at the Bait Shop however, was totally uninfluenced by the DDS. For example: Francois Truffault’s HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAULT was deliberately placed next to James E. Vance’s GEOGRAPHY AND URBAN EVOLUTION IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. When I groused to Sam Cooger, the banjo-playing partner/owner of the shop, he sneered; “Melvil Dewey was an anal nerd. Numbers on books – whatta load of crap. He probably never even saw the Frisco Bay and I know he never saw VERTIGO. We should be guided by such ignorance?” He leaned back in his corner and crooned “It’s so neat ta beat yer feet by the San Francisco Bay.”

Gifted by such guidance, I fumbled about on the road to dim-as-could-be until, one day, I had an epiphany. Of course Hugh Lofting’s DR. DOOLITTLE IN THE MOON belonged next to Guy Boothby’s DR. NIKOLA not only for the dubious medical pedigrees of the titular characters, but also for their similar portrayals of cats as alien and not completely sympathetic critters. I confidently slid a handsome first edition (in dust jacket no less) of Carl Van Vechten’s THE TIGER IN THE HOUSE to the right of those books to mollify any negative feline vibes. Benji Andante, the other store partner/owner peered at my decision and pondered… “A bit obvious, but shows progress. Balance has its place, but not everywhere. Sometimes a clear vector is useful, but let’s leave it that way for few days and see.”

I wasn’t sure I understood what Ben had said…actually…I was sure I didn’t understand. Still, I marked it down as a win. The day before, he had paraphrased Albee (or Stoppard – I can’t keep ‘em straight when he starts rattling) to encourage me; “A step is positive, any step, even a negative step, because it is a step.”

Now…where should I put George F. Worts’ THE HOUSE OF CREEPING HORROR?

Garrotes are involved. Perhaps in the Spanish language section of the shop, next to the screenplay of Santo Contra el Espectro de el Estrangulador?

Or next to A BLUEGRASS CONSPIRACY – murderous doings by elements striving to return a small town that once was a crossroads for illicit substances to those profitable, if less righteous days.

Or next to Manly Wade Wellman’s THIRD STRING CENTER book-for-boys, to demonstrate a useful, if often pummeled career path après high school football hero-dom.

Sam disrupted my cogitation; “Ya know, Cayton, yer not much help, but ya sure are slow.”

Ben; “He’s trying, Sam. Not particularly well, but… Put it next to the Wellman, maybe it’ll improve the prose.”

He continued; “I got a call from Mo Stern. He’s coming in this afternoon.”

Sam erupted; “Christ! I’m not up to that today.”

Ben gazed at me.

“Cayton, you’re a theatre major, yes?”

“I am. I’m rehearsing Synge’s Playboy of the Western World now.”

“Ah yes; ‘I’m thinkin’ it’s a queer daughter you are to be askin’ yer father to be crossin’ the Stooks of the Dead Women with a drop taken.’ – do you get to say that?”

“No. That’s someone else’s line.”

“Pity.”

Sam and Ben had a strange conceit about communicating privately with each other. They would slide up next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, but facing opposite directions. They would then murmur to each other in a tone that anyone nearby could clearly hear…but to them it served as a private conversation.

Sam; “Seriously, I don’t think I can do this today. Give the kid a try. God knows he ain’t worth his salt yet on anything else.”

Ben to me, after a moment of mindful breathing; “Here’s what we need for you to do this afternoon…

We have a customer. His name is Mo Stern.

Mister Stern loves books. Always has. A while back, he began to lose much of his sight. Forget what that meant to his life otherwise. He loves books. He has adapted admirably in his everyday living. We are part of his adapting…maybe the most important part. He loves books and now it is near impossible for him to read them.

We maintain a list of the books he wishes to “read.” When we get two exact copies, same editions, of books on his list, he buys them both, and…he comes into the shop, and…we read them out loud to him from one copy, while he follows along in another. Pages are turned simultaneously, chapters are finished simultaneously, until the book is complete. He then takes both copies in case he might want to “reread” the book someday.

He loves books. He has passion for reading.

I believe passion is an important ingredient for the theatre. I know you read well and, I assume, speak clearly. Else, no audience will seek you out for long.

Will you do this?”

(…to be continued…perhaps…)

Oligarchs vs the Dollar Dog

I stumbled across a genuinely interesting baseball game while channel-surfing.

It was a college game pitting top-ranked Texas against a UCLA team who lost ten players to the professional draft last year. This game was part of a weekend event; the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic played in the Houston Astros’ major league ballpark.

Normally, in early March, if I stumbled across a game on the tube, it would be a major league spring training game, featuring players of whom I’ve never heard, wearing numbers on their branded, recognizable major league uniforms in the 80-99 range…numbers you’ll never see in the regular season. The same could be said of the players themselves.

But tonight, I’m watching players of whom I’ve never heard, wearing uniforms of unusual colors and logos — colors and logos you’ll never see in the major leagues. The same could be said of most of the players themselves.

Normally, the teams I’m watching this time of year would be playing in the dry sunshine and sere landscapes of Arizona, or amongst the palms of muggy Florida, on green fields, the geometry of which have been pretty much set for over a hundred years.

Tonight, they’re playing in a major league ballpark, the geometry of which was set over a hundred years ago.

Tonight, I watched a tiny batter with a tiny strike zone receive an unsurprising base on balls, steal second base, steal third base on the next pitch, and score on the subsequent sacrifice fly. To see two stolen bases in today’s major league season, I might have to watch two dozen games. Instead I would most likely be watching six strikeouts and a home run every three innings.

Be still my beating heart.

Why am I watching an interesting (and non-exhibition – it really counts) college game being played passionately before a crowd of about 20,000 instead of a meaningless spring training major league game?

Well, it’s because the billionaire owners and the millionaire players of major league baseball have decided to not play their game…their GAME…a pastime…once upon a time, the national pastime.

It’s probably good that I’m not the czar of baseball.

If I were, I would cap it all.

It’s the national pastime. It’s a game.

There would still be $1,000 tickets, but there would be many more $10 tickets.

There could be champagne and caviar (non-Russian, thank you very much), but the hot dogs and beer would be a dollar.

The oligarchs of baseball, the owners and the players, could still compete for bigger shares of broadcast money, but they couldn’t double-dip on the fans in the stands.

If this radical stance drove current baseball players from the game…well, I just watched that same tiny baserunner score on a beautifully executed squeeze bunt. I’d pay ten bucks to see him do it in person.

If this radical stance drove current baseball owners from the game…well, as I was growing up, watching Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek call the Saturday Game of the Week, and listening to Waite Hoyt and Claude Sullivan call the Reds games on radio, my dreams of the perfect career were to be an astronaut until I was thirty, and then become the owner of a baseball team. I suspect I’m not alone in those aspirations.

It’s merely baseball, whether it’s played in Dodger Stadium, or Castlewood Park.

It’s sublimely baseball, whether it’s played in Dodger Stadium, or Castlewood Park.

It’s not baseball if it’s not played.

You Say Hund & I Say Hound

Movie night!

I guess it’s hubris…or karma…or just a mess of “what goes around…”

I’ve written before about my delight in the imaginary languages one finds in the movies. Tarzan’s “Kreegah!” and Michael Rennie’s “Klaatu narada dikto,” don’t terrify me, they thrill me.

Well…

…this has been my week to be challenged by unknown-to-me real languages in movies without the aid of either subtitles or English dubbing.

I used to be inordinately proud to be able to rattle off the first lines of José Marti’s Guantanamera, but to truly be “un hombre sincero,” I should confess that’s about the sum of my mastery of Spanish.

Yet I found myself caught in in the sluggish whirlwind of Jesus Franco’s lesser known masterpiece; Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. Sluggish, because any film featuring Howard Vernon as your action-driving monster has a lot of inertia to overcome as soon as the opening credits have run. Whirlwind, because you can always add an ineffectual fistfight with a non-titular werewolf at the end of the flick to liven things up a bit, and director Franco, consummate artist of the box office, knows this and complies.

Still, it might have been helpful to understand what few words were left in the script between the grunts, growls, and howls of the monstrous troika propelling this miscarriage.

And then there’s German?

Sigh.

I can mumble a few syllables of Stille Nacht at a noisy Christmas party and I can spin a few wine terms like “trockenbeerenauslese,” but other than that, I’m schnitzel.

But I have been eagerly anticipating viewing the 1937 German film; Der Hund von Baskerville since it arrived in my latest box of goodies from Sinister Cinema. Imagine my initial dismay when it sported no dubbing, no subtitles.

But ya know…it didn’t matter.

I am an amateur Sherlockian. I have read and watched Sherlock Holmes stories for almost 60 years. I have seen so many film versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles, so many times… The best film version was written by a friend of mine. Hell, Janie and I even vacationed in a small cabin on the only moors in the US.

I know this tale.

The actors could bark their lines as quickly as they pleased and I corrected them even more quickly. I knew intimately what Sherlock’s rooms, and Baskerville Hall should be like. I knew the paths and the mists and the perilous bogs. This was terra familiar.

I delighted seeing Mrs. Hudson fussing over Watson’s experiments with tobacco ash. I despaired watching a ridiculous “hound” that might have been the inspiration for The Killer Shrews. I needed no explanation for Sir Henry’s imperious pique over his missing shoe.

I don’t know the German for “cognoscenti,” but I know it was me.

And I loved it.

Ach!

My Horrors Have Always Been Cowboys?

An in-depth viewing of BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA is on the slate for tonight.

I like horror movies.

I like cowboy movies.

I don’t like this.

That’s probably about as much in-depth analysis as the flick deserves but here are a few stray thoughts.

1. The film is directed by William Beaudine, whose nickname was “One-Shot Bill”. I’m thinkin’ that moniker is not complimentary to anyone involved with directing a film unless he happens to have a hot date waiting in the wings. This flick goes far in validating my thinking.

2. Virginia Christine appears in the film. Most of you know Ms. Christine, if you know her at all, as Mrs. Olsen in the Folger’s Coffee commercials of the 1790’s (feelin’ a little old this evening). But Ms. Christine had an acting career beyond coffee hucksterism, though frankly, this performance is probably not the best testimony to that fact. It’s certainly not “the richest kind.”

3. The costume budget musta been real tight. The two title characters never – I mean never – change clothes. One costume each for the whole movie. (One-Shot Bill = One-Shirt Bill?) I know that sounds picky, but it jars my suspension of disbelief. I can’t believe I just said that about a movie featuring a vampire fighting an American gunslinger.

4. Putting Billy the Kid in a sea-foam green chamois over-shirt might…just might…lessen his credibility as a tough guy.

5. Casting a thirty-plus year old actor as Billy the “Kid” more than likely damaged the film’s box-office appeal to teens. Perhaps if he had played a guitar and crooned a little cowboy/vampire/surfer ditty it coulda been redeemed.

I doubt it.

The Winter of Our Discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of…

…Puerto Rico?

Who knoo?

Good grief!

Snow last week, snow predicted this weekend…

Covid, Omicron, Boebert, Greene, Gaetz, Paul, striated stink bugs and a host of other such plagues in the air…

Tornados, floods, robo-calls…

Frettin’ ‘bout my non-existent student loan, the expired warranty on my 13-year-old car, whether I’m getting’ all the benefits I deserve, whether a jerk from half a planet away from our house will be allowed to play tennis and infect another continent another half a planet away…

It’s too much for a geezer to keep track of, especially with it all happening in a season bereft of…

Baseball.

And now it seems there may be a disruption and delay to the beginning of spring training if not the regular season itself.

What’s an old frettin’ fool to do?

Lo!

Behold!

Tonight on channel 261 (who knew there even was a channel 261?), the fifth game of the semi-finals of the Roberto Clemente Puerto Rico Winter Baseball (Beisbol) League is being televised live…on at least three cameras.

Yes!

On a TV station that may only exist in Diagon Alley, baseball is being played on green grass on a warm night in a place Trump can’t get to (it’s an island, you know). The Mayaguez Indios are leading in this best-of-seven series 3-1 over the Carolina Gigantes. Mayaguez is also leading in this game 4-1, and if they hold on, they start playing in the finals this weekend, unthreatened by snow.

Fierce

The game is being played in Mayaguez’ home stadium. I believe it seats about 12,000. Tonight it looks to me like a crowd of about 1,000 devotees (and me) are watching this titanic struggle.

And the announcers.

The announcers are enthusiastic and under the sway of the Puerto Rican Travel Department. There are frequent digressions extolling palm trees and ocean breezes. S’okay by me – I like those things. Besides, their digressions are not as frequent and distracting as the current trend of US baseball announcers trapped in their home studios with no ocean breezes. No, tonight’s patter is mostly about the baseball game they’re watching…I think.

The accents are foreign to my untuned ear (go figger). But I pick up an occasional word or phrase and their enthusiasm for their game and their obvious embarrassment for bad plays resonates with me. I sense my Spanish becoming better with every entrada (see what I did there?).

What else is foreign?

Uh-uh
  • There are no player names on the jerseys.
  • Every fourth or fifth batter gets a caption below his at-bat that shows his name and few hitting stats.
  • The hitters don’t look like transformers. The only hitting equipment I’ve seen is a tattered protector on the pitcher-facing elbows of a few hitters.
  • No pitching speed figures appear on the screen.
  • No moseying. The pitchers stay on the rubber, ready to throw. The batters stay in the box, ready to hit.
  • I just saw a foul ball land in a sparsely populated section of the stands. The nearest attendee let it lie. It was apparently too many rows away from the comfort of his beer.

I’m kinda wishin’ I was there.

Ocean breezes…

Baseball…

It’s an island, you know…

The Gadget Queen & the Dangling Conversation

I think it was about ten years ago.

Janie, the Gadget Queen, came home with a new ornament for the Christmas tree and began to install it. Three days and two outside independent contractors later, it was hung, swingin’ on an artificial pre-lit branch, hard-wired, synced, registered to vote, and fully protected by warranty from all annoying phone calls. It was a porcelain mouse with a porcelain top hat and porcelain conductor’s baton sitting in rabid anticipation on an open porcelain songbook. The sucker must weigh five pounds. When it dangles on its branch, the whole tree leans into a non-existent wind.

A protocol was soon established.

  1. I enter the living room and say in the most natural and un-sheepish voice I can muster; “Hello, Mr. Christmas.”
  2. The ornament answers with an enthusiasm I cannot fathom; “Well, hello to you! If you’d like to see what I can do, just say; ‘Play a carol’ or ‘Lights on.’”
  3. I quickly and meekly say; “Lights on.” Mr. Christmas’s renditions of traditional Christmas carols are harsh betrayals of the spirit of the season that rival those of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the 101 Mantovani Strings. They are to be avoided.
  4. The tree instantly blazes with pre-lit illumination and Mr. Christmas chirps; “Ta Da-a-a-h! If you’d like me to do anything else, simply say; ‘Hello, Mr. Christmas.’”
  5. Then I slide under my electrically heated throw (a Janie gadget), with my synced morning paper (an electronic facsimile of the Lexington Herald-Leader downloaded on my Kindle…another Janie discovery), with my cuppa coffee Janie programmed the night before on yet another whiz-bang contraption she found. I ponder the subtle differences from memories of my first thirty years on the planet…and ponder a few choice suggestions for Mr. Christmas as to what else he might do.

But…

…to be honest…

…I kinda like the guy…

…mostly because of the amusing soliloquies he inspires from Janie.

If, perchance, Janie arrives in Mr. Christmas’s sphere of influence before I, she sings out; “Hello, Mr. Christmas!” to no effect. She then repeats the magic phrase into a silence. She then croons seductively; “Hello-o-o, Mr. Christmas…” Nothing. She barks it, shouts it, drawls it, accents it (British, Irish, Scottish), translates it (French, Spanish, Greek, Urdu, Latin-Classic and Pig). Nothing works. It is entertaining at first and then becomes triumphant when I call from the next room; “Hello, Mr. Christmas”, and the arboreal firmament shimmers and Janie simmers.

To quote that great motivator of men, Strother Martin; “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

This surreal reality show has unfolded now for ten years.

I hope it continues as long as he doesn’t play carols.

Queasy Rider

Rick the Smear was shallow and damned proud of it.

He bragged about it.

He repeated funny stories his friends created to describe his reading habits (Clair Bee baseball stories, Agatha Christie cozies, and the Sunday funnies) and viewing habits (Ed Woods’ DEVIL’S NIGHT ORGY, NBA regular season basketball, and reruns of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND…he was a dedicated Ginger fan……sigh).

He claimed he couldn’t even spell “conspiracy theory.”

He even invented his moniker; “I’m so shallow I’m a smear.”

Nobody was fooled, but it sounded great and you could riff on it forever.

The truth was he was a pretty sharp guy. His acting work was beyond superior and his painting and watercolors were beyond that. Plus, he could sing a little and his juggling was mesmerizing. The man could fling a half-eaten muffin twenty feet in the air, deliver an act-ending Oscar Wilde zinger, and then catch and swallow the soaring pastry in front of a full theatre house. I admit that last might not testify to his profundity…but YOU try it.

But now…

But now…he had bought a Vespa.

Topping out at about six-foot-five and pushing 70 years, he had indulged in a mid-life dream about thirty years late. He was ecstatic, living out the memory of a 22-year-old hippie-type art student zipping along the 1971 perpetually summer (but beautiful) coastal lanes of Santa Barbara, in the guise of a 70-year-old silver-haired mensch on the often stifling (but also beautiful) ocean-less county roads of Central Kentucky.

Yes…a dream.

A dream perhaps tainted just a bit by the heat and humidity, or the jacket-requiring chilliness of Kentucky’s changeable weather. And compromised a just smidge by the prudency of taking a quick inventory of every passing pickup (and there were plenty of those, given the restraints in velocity of what a Vespa can do) to ascertain the presence of a gun rack and a passenger with a free hand. We all know how that flick ends and it’s not with; “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Still…

…there was such glee…such jubilation…

…until…

…there was a beyond-inconvenient flat tire on a hunting-and-gathering foray to the Dixie Café.

Scrapes, bruises, an embarrassed call for rescue and a ride home, and a screwed-up reuben on rye…

<< sigh >>

The Vespa was sold the next week.

As Rick the Smear was fond of saying; “I didn’t say I was stupid…just shallow.”