Pinball and the Jolly Green Giant

October of 1969 was a golden time.
The nation had shown hope a few months before when 400,000 scruffy young people had assembled on a farm in Woodstock, New York and flipped a non-violent bird to the election of Nixon in 1968 and to anyone over forty in general, all to a soundtrack of Havens, Crosby, Baez, Stills, Hendrix, Sebastian, Garcia, Chicago, Mountain, and Traffic. I wish I’d been there.
The planet had shown hope a few months before by putting two Earthlings on the Moon. I wish I’d been there.
My own hopeful expectations for college, severely damaged by Physics 101 (“Is that real water?” –actual question from one of the 15,341 students in the lecture), and the first day in Theatre Arts 101 (we spent the hour learning to spell “theatre” and “playwright”), had been nursed back to health by being cast in all three stage productions of the Theatre Department that fall.
This particular October night was sublime. I’d had a nice late afternoon rehearsal for “The Skin of Our Teeth.” I was off-book and my character was significant but not major. I could watch and admire the work the other (older) actors were doing.
My rehearsal for “Billy Budd” followed. My part was unusual, but small. He was a slimy little fellow and his intentions were obvious. No real problems and again, older actors from which to learn…plus, I got to climb ratlines and scream like Fay Wray… it was a real good time.
After those rehearsals I retired to the Paddock Club, a bar and restaurant just a few feet off campus in the shadow of Stoll Field. It was dark and decrepit. There were the requisite neon signs (“Miller High Life – The Champagne of Bottled Beer”), vinyl booths with split open seats, and rickety bar stools with seats in similar condition. It also featured clarinet and bassoon playing music majors from Tatooine (I suppose they paid out-of-state tuition) lurking and practicing in the gloomy corners of the front room, and ominous banjo plunking from somewhere in the back room. But it especially boasted cheap beer (denied to my 18-year-old driver’s license), barely acceptable burgers, and three battered and forgiving pinball machines (these being the unenlightened days before Nintendo). As such, it qualified handsomely as a bona fide theatre hangout.
This night, I was having my way with the middle pinball machine; Gottlieb’s fine “Target Pool”. This was a hall-of-fame machine with great rollovers, crisp and quick flippers, and a gazillion target drops for those blessed with blazing flipper skills and a keen eye. It also seemed impervious to a well-timed hip shove from the right side. This machine could not even spell “tilt.”
Had “The Zone” been invented then, it would have been inhabited by me that evening.
I had eighteen free games on the board when I finally stepped back, turned regally, and announced to the waiting players; “My gift to you…remember, and speak well of me.”
Cheers?
Jeers?
Who’s to say?
It was a noisy bar that evening…hard to tell.
I retired in my nimbus of tawdry glory to a table in the second room of the bar, a six-top table with an open chair. The other five seats were occupied by Clay, Cecil, Edd, Barry, and Bruce – fellow “Billy Budd” cast mates. While I had been pounding my way to erzatz high esteem on the middle machine, they had been pounding their way to a similar state of bliss with cheap brew and cheaper braggadocio. This quintet was from all over Kentucky; Somerset, Paducah, Madisonville, Jackson, and Paris. Just as everything looks better through the bottom of the glass, the hazy hometown memories of my friends had been brought into idyllic and even hazier focus through the bottoms of several glasses.
As I joined them, the one-upmanship was breathtaking…as was their hops-enhanced breaths themselves.
“We spent every summer on the creek.”
“We had the best Fourth of July celebrations at the lake.”
“We had bigger lakes.”
“We had a river.”
“We had two rivers and two lakes.”
<< (reverential and reloading pause, aka take a sip) >>
“We had barbecued mutton.”
“Grilled burgers for us.”
“Fried chicken here.”
“Hot dogs…”
<< (testosterone gathering pause) >>
“I can eat more mutton than any of you.”
“I can bury you eating burgers.”
“Fried chicken.”
“Hot dogs…..”
<< (a moment of existential group angst – what did any of this mean and to where could it possibly lead except to another futile beer, and besides, it was almost closing time) >>
Throughout this redolent and blurry exchange, two things became apparent to my young, but sober perception;
1. Here was an opportunity for greatness.
2. But however that greatness manifested itself, it would probably be without the participation of Bruce. Bruce had spent the bulk of the debate reading a book (Antonin Artaud’s THE THEATRE AND ITS DOUBLE, I believe). He clearly had not had enough beer and would presumably be thinking clearly, as clearly as one could think reading Artaud.
I innocently suggested to the table; “Let’s put it to the test and have an eating contest!”
I like to think Stanislavsky would have been proud. I was drawing upon my sensual memory and recreating every Mickey Rooney flick I’d ever seen. I might just as well have said; “Hey kids! I know! Let’s put on a show!!”
And lo and behold…they responded just like Mickey Rooney’s film colleagues. No, they didn’t sing, but they eagerly demanded details and swore they were in.
Testosterone and beer…essential ingredients for good decision-making.
They each put up five dollars. It would be winner take all. These were serious stakes in 1969. You could eat for three days on five bucks. My monthly rent was $35. Hell, my tuition that fall was $125, not being from Tatooine.
The negotiation as to what food medium to use was fierce, but in the end, practical. We couldn’t afford mutton, hot dogs, burgers, or fried chicken. Besides, the logistics of preparing those items was beyond the culinary skills of actors and costume designers and set builders. Corn was affordable, but not on the cob. The vagaries of sizes of cobs and how to determine when a cob had been suitably gnawed, would invite snarls of unfairness; these being the unenlightened days before instant replay.
We settled on Jolly Green Giant Corn Niblets in a 7-ounce can.
It was measurable and fast; a minute or two in a pan on the stove and voila; ready to be gobbled.
A date was agreed upon.
And lo and behold, once more…Bruce looked up from his reading and murmured; “I’m in.”
The next morning a notice appeared on the Green Room bulletin board;
“Come one and come all to the FIRST ANNUAL SUPER-FANTASTIC ORIGINAL CORN-EATING ELIMINATION CONTEST AND LIGHT SHOW – PLUS SELECTED SHORT SUBJECTS”
We had agreed that Edd would be the “Light Show” since he only weighed 128 pounds and Barry would be the “Short Subject” – he was about 5’8”.
I solicited successfully a contest site, another cast member’s apartment near campus, and lined up volunteers to cook, keep time, cheerlead, and clean up the inevitable hurling incident (Cecil was a big man physically, but he went down first and hard – it was not a pretty sight).
It was a grand affair.
Wally Briggs and Mary Stephenson from the Theatre Department faculty were honored as the King and Queen of Corn. Wally composed and performed a bit of doggerel for the occasion. There was beaming all around. Bonhomie and simmering corn odors filled the air. Greatness, indeed.
The contest itself dragged into the wee hours. By the denouement the contestants were haggard and gray…except for Bruce. He sat in the corner steadily chewing while reading a book (TOWARDS A POOR THEATRE by Jerzy Grotowski as I recall).
It took till 2:30am to declare a winner.
Bruce had quietly, without fanfare, without hurling, had finished off his book and his opponents.
We all repaired to Bozo’s Diner for Bozo burgers and hash browns…Bruce was still feeling a bit peckish (as peckish as one can feel having read Grotowski).
The fall of ’69 was good.
How’d we survive all that greatness?

30 Years

Janie 19Thirty years ago tomorrow I did the rightest thing in my life.
I’ve been right and I’ve been wrong.
I’ve been smart and I’ve been stupid.
I’ve been strong/good/lucky and I’ve been weak/poor/unfortunate.
I’ve been right and I’ve been wrong…
…and sometimes had no idea which.
But thirty years ago I was so very right, and bright, and lucky.
I listened to a wise and beautiful woman and she was kind enough to let me marry her.
It was the rightest thing I’ve ever done…
…and I knew it even then…
…and I know it even more now.
Janie is spectacular.
And me?
I’m trainable.

Drinking With Stanislavsky

“Is that what you call drunk?”

It was a gentle question from the director, delivered quietly, but the sneer behind it was clear.

I was appalled. I was nineteen and had never had an alcoholic drink in my life. What was wrong with me? How did the director know? What did I do wrong?

Wait a minute.

The question wasn’t for me.

The director, a 22-year-old student himself, was relentless; “You understand this guy’s a drunk…and he’s a hired killer…and he’s in no hurry? You understand that?”

Relentless, as only a student peer can be; “You played that like a cartoon.”

Relentless; “Have you never been drunk in your life?”

Eddie, the actor being skewered; “Well…as a matter of fact……no.”

Amidst the snickers, I tried to become invisible in my shock; (“Holy moly, there’s two of us on the planet!”)

The director, juggling his months-old worldly sophistication with two decades of Southern Kentucky parental expectations, struggled to find a path that would advance his play without making his mama ashamed.

“Well…we’ll need to fix that.”

A date was set. Eddie volunteered his apartment, which was great ‘cause he had the only TV set in our cast. The plan was to rehearse and then take the whole cast over to Eddie’s place and get him drunk. The director would question Eddie during the liquid applications, we might do some of the scenes from the show, and Eddie would absorb a useful sensory memory from which he could draw upon to portray his villain on stage.

Ol’ Constantine Stanislavsky would be so proud.

Cherry vodka was the agreed-upon ingredient: one pint was the agreed-upon dosage. I’m reminded here of the gospel according to Woody Guthrie; “There’s a lotta truth in a pint of whiskey…but not too much in a quart.”

What could go wrong?

Eddie’s character in the play was Irish, sullen, murderous.

Eddie was a big fan of Fred Astaire and Cole Porter and had always wanted to sing.

It was loud. It was full of glee. It was occasionally in tune.

It was useless for the purposes of the show, but it validated my belief in the basic, boisterous, goodness of the human race and the genius of the American songbook.

Unfortunately, it made me miss the late night movie I was hopin’ to see on Eddie’s TV. I think it was Flying Down to Rio, Fred and Ginger’s first film together.

Sigh…

High art demands sacrifice.

Atticus vs the Sound Effects

Mockingbird 01Summer outdoor theatre is a miraculous thing.

The miracle happens about six months after the summer theatre season, in the depths of winter. There is a moment when snow is on the ground and the wind’s a’howlin’. There is a moment on the ninth straight day of no sun at all, a moment when the clothing layers reach seven, when soup sounds real good once too often. At that less-than-golden moment, the summer night you spent on stage the previous year becomes pure gold.

That memory is purged of the heat. The roasted rehearsal on that concrete slab on that Saharan Saturday morning in full costume evaporates from your recall.

The bugs (many of which unsuccessfully screen-tested for the classic film Them and still harbored virulent stage revenge dreams) that you ducked, swatted, and often swallowed during performances were forgotten.

The memory of the “dead characters’ cocktail lounge” that grew in unholy influence during the run of the show until the curtain calls became wobbly bows from which returning to a fully upright position was far from certain, became quaint instead of alarming.

Rain? Lightning? Make-up that melted faster than it could be applied? Hecklers?

All vanished…erased…never happened.

It’s a miracle.

All that’s left is;

– Riding a bike to rehearsal.
– Humidity and iambic pentameter – a remarkably compatible combo.
– Bright, pretty, scantily-clad actresses.
– Loud voices.
– Large, well-lubricated audiences.
– Stars and moons (one per night) and pool of artificial light in which to speak beautiful words.

That’s all that remains.

It’s a miracle.

However, some of the non-miraculous is worth remembering as well.

In the summer of 1999, I was lucky enough to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. My luck expanded to include the fact that I was working with many of my favorite people in the world; Jeff Sherr, Eric Johnson, Anitra Brumagen, Sidney Shaw, Walter May, Glenn Thompson, Michael Thompson… It was a real good time.

Most of the time.

The first act of the show ends with Atticus’ closing statement to the jury. It’s about a ten-minute summation – inspirational and dramatic as hell – an actor’s dream.

On one night’s performance I arose to give the speech to a crowd of 1,000+ people (yes, most likely well-lubricated). As I walked downstage I heard the medivac helicopter approaching and I knew from previous festival experience that the flight path would be directly over our stage and loud. I took a dramatic pause before commencing the speech that exactly matched the flight path of the copter. Mrs. Leasor didn’t raise any fools.

I plunged into the speech and was achieving some momentum when, about five minutes in, I heard the sirens of the ambulance go ripping through the night.

At minute eight, the low-flying private plane rattled over and as I was winding up for the socko finish, you could hear the freight train moanin’ lonesome through the night.

Mercifully, the speech and the act ended, the lights went dark, and the cast trooped offstage. As I walked off the stage, Eric Johnson was exiting directly behind me and I heard him mumble; “Well, that was certainly a tribute to the combustible engine.”

I wept.

Shelter from the Storm

Whoosh!

That was a storm!

It may have been a genuine eyewitness-authenticated “frog-strangler”. I went out après-cataclysm and inventoried the frogs in our pond. I’m missing two. Perhaps they’ll reappear after a jaunt to Oz, but I’m doubtful.

Vanishing with the frogs was electrical power, internet access, and cable TV to the house. Quel horreur! I wasn’t sure how I’d survive till the generator kicked on thirty seconds later and gave me enough light to find the pizza delivery phone number.

Janie fled the state, leaving me with a compromised house, instructions on feeding feral cats three miles away, and two depressed critters (oh man, we have to put up with the white-haired geezer all week!)…and a giant plate of brownies for the ciné-cabal assembling at the house Saturday night.

She’s a complex woman.

I waved as she drove away to the relatively storm-free Finger Lakes. Bob Dylan’s protective heroine in his wonderful song “Shelter From the Storm” came to mind.

“In a world of steel-eyed death, and men fighting to be warm, ‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.’”

Not my lady! She’s hittin’ the road, Jack, and won’t be comin’ back till the electric coffee-maker’s perkin’.

I confess.

I felt bitter.

Then I turned and walked into my generator bubble of quasi-comfort and munched on a couple of muffins she’d baked and left for me (I gave half of one to the depressed dog).
Shelter from the storm…it can take many forms. One form may be a roof, or a hedge, or a generator, or a muffin…or a gathering of friends.

The clan assembled Saturday night to enjoy three of the many good things in life; laughably-lousy films, any pizza, and each other. It’s a group of geezers of an age yet undetermined by carbon-dating. They’ve suffered some losses. Some physical; alacrity, hue of hair (or hair itself), stamina… Some of the heart; Sidney, Georgeanne, Tonda, Glen, Craig, Harlan… They’ve also gained from the years; thoughtfulness, vocabulary, timing, patience…waistline inches…

They are a group that has done and continues to do much. They teach, act, think, write, care, sing, paint, think, direct, care, speak, manage, organize, think, and care. In the stormy outside world they are looked to for answers: they are authorities in various fields. Tonight, however, they gather in the shelter of each other’s company to laugh.

And laugh they do, often and raucously, loudly and sometimes inappropriately.

Their moms would probably be ashamed.

I’m proud to know ‘em and thrilled I can bribe my way into their busy company occasionally with pizza, bad flicks, and shelter from the storm.

Life Under the Hedge; 2 – A Chinwag

Janie and I live under a four-to-seven-foot high hedge of trumpet vine on top of a six foot brick wall.

This would be a good moment for you to read the previous blog entry concerning the hedge; Life Under the Hedge.

The hedge is lush, green, and geographically greedy.
The hedge is insidious, persistent, and smug.
The hedge is reassuring, constant, and protective.
The hedge has tendrils, flings seed wisps that fly like Saharan dust, and networks well.
The hedge is sentient.
The hedge is chatty.

“You did a helluva job on those Japanese beetles this afternoon.”

“Thanks. You see what they’re doing to our knockouts? They’re shredding the leaves!”

“They’re determined. They’re hungry. But you took care of ‘em. You looked like a gunslinger out there with your hose set on ‘JET’, bangin’ and splashin’ ‘em off the roses. It was impressive. You were like a Master Blaster Gardener. I didn’t know ya had it in ya.”

“Mock if you must, but it got rid of the bugs.”

“Granted. The filthy beetles vanished……and returned in ten minutes…still hungry…still determined…and somewhat less filthy for the shower you provided.”

“@#$!%&^*”

“Eloquently put. Might you have a Plan B?”

“I do, as matter of fact. I’ve got some spray coming that should take care of the problem. It’s an organic soapy insecticide spray.”

“An organic soapy insecticide spray… Doesn’t quite have the same terrifying ring to it as ‘Raid’ or ‘Agent Orange’. I’m imagining you in a Master Blaster Gardener baseball cap and a white Windex-type spray bottle screaming; ‘I love the smell of an organic soapy insecticide spray in the morning! It smells like victory!!’……feeble.”

“What does a hedge know about Apocalypse Now?”

“I have tendrils. The Lowe’s next door watched it on Netflix last week. I was diggin’ the Doors music, but Brando and Hopper jumped the shark for me. It’s a great film, but Conrad’s story is better.”

“Agreed. Hey, wait, what does a hedge know about ‘Heart of Darkness?’”

“You have it in your library.”

“…AND you have tendrils…”

“I also have dim hopes for your organic soapy insecticide spray and fear for your self-esteem and the roses. Might you have a Plan C?”

“Ya know, you could help. Isn’t this what a wall is supposed to do? Keep out unwanted foreigners?”

“No, no, no. First of all, I’m a hedge, not a wall. The wall has no tendrils. The wall doesn’t talk and a wall can’t stop hungry and determined. Stop listening to Trump. You were raised better than that.”

“Yes…yes, I was……”

“Let’s see how the organic soapy insecticide spray works. Maybe it’ll be sensational and we can brainstorm a different name for it.”

“How ‘bout Master Blaster?”

“I said ya looked good with that hose.”

“…gotta get a hat…”

“That’s the ticket.”

Life Under the Hedge

Janie and I live under a hedge.

No, we’re not hobbits…though it’s a tempting notion.

No, we’re not deluded…I’m pretty sure.

No, we truly live under a hedge.

Almost 20 years ago, we built a brick wall behind our house. By design, it has missing bricks in a pattern that enables you see through it. It has a mighty trellis on top of it and an iron gate with a heron silhouette.

When it was completed, on the guidance of the wall’s designer (our friend, Sanford Pollack), we planted trumpet vine next to the wall. We didn’t quite follow Sandy’s guidance as faithfully as perhaps we should have. His suggestion to plant one vine was utterly disregarded. It looked so puny. So…we planted six.

As the vines grew and became one, we threaded it into the wall itself and eventually, into the trellis. We removed any trace of green below the trellis, but let the vine run amok above.

The result?

Today, under the trellis, the vines are 1-4 inch woody snakes entwining the bricks. They resemble Hugh Lofting’s line drawings of trees in his “Dr. Doolittle” books or the various dancing trees in Fleischer cartoons. Those squiggly sequoias support the hedge above the trellis.

The hedge is about 30 feet long and ranges from 4-7 feet high above the trellis, reaching a peak of about 13 feet above the ground, and is quite impenetrable. It’s dense, green, and celebrates each summer with hundreds of clumps of butter-yellow and orange-red trumpet blossoms. I’m told it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite garden plant. I share his opinion except when I’m combatting the hedge’s myriad “volunteers” that insinuate themselves everywhere at the rate of several inches a day.

I love living under the hedge despite the constant battle with its efforts of expansion.

– It’s on the weather side of the house and garden. Its mass offers at least the illusion of some natural defense against natural assaults.

– When cirrus-eyed poets from pre-drone days wonder at “How many colors of blue make up the sky?” and speculate on eyes watching us “make love well” from above, I’m happier with the illusion of privacy the hedge offers.

– In winter when the vines are denuded of their foliage, I’m encouraged when the hedge becomes a chattering condo for tiny nesting birds, though the heron gate beneath suffers the indignity of the resulting guano rain.

Yes, I love living under the hedge, and weirdly enough, despite my determined eradication of its invasive offspring, I think the hedge patronizes me and thinks me to be of some interest.

Otherwise, why would it speak to me?

(Cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone”)

Pranks for the Memories

Dial 01

Pranks in the theatre are traditional…unfortunately.

Pranks in the theatre are just good clean fun…uh…no.

Pranks in the theatre are mostly legendary…mostly.

Pranks in the theatre make the bestest stories after a few drinks…thank God.
My favorite on-stage prank story tells of Tallulah Bankhead. Ms. Bankhead was, I gather, a high-maintenance performer who, though admired for her ability to fill seats in the house and provide steady paychecks for her fellow company members, garnered little affection from said company members along the way.
One evening, in a dramatic duet scene, as Ms. Bankhead passed near the phone on the set, the sound booth thought it would cute to ring the phone unexpectedly. Ms. Bankhead paused, looked at the phone and waited. Sure enough, it rang again. She picked it up, listened for a moment, turned to the other actor on stage, and said; “It’s for you.” She handed him the receiver and exited stage right.

Touché and more than a bit touchy.
I despise theatre pranks, but I love the stories. I could bore you with a few dozen more, but despair not. I’ll simply refer you to a lovely coming-of-age-summer-stock-theatre flick; Those Lips, Those Eyes. Frank Langella plays a summer stock leading man and prime target of some very funny moments.
I will share one and only one from my own experience.

I was in a play that featured a second act moment in which I had to enter a darkened room to find a dead body sprawled. I was to turn the body over, examine it, and then leave it to rearrange the scene of the crime to suit my nefarious purposes, all before my wife entered to share a 20 minute or so scene to finish the act.

This was in a small theatre in which the audience was a mere 5-10 feet away from the action on stage, a small theatre in which the lights (the very warm stage lights) were a mere 5-10 feet away from the action on stage.

I entered, perceived the corpse, and knelt to turn it over and study it. The actor playing dead (extremely well, I might add) had used his eyebrow pencil to cleverly and legibly write a message to me on his eyelids, one word for each eye. This exercise thus required the message to be concise, no 144 characters here. I vividly recall the message to be; “F@#K YOU”. I may not have that spelling exactly right.

There I was, facing a cozy packed house, watching my every response, torn between the bred-in-me demand that “the play must go on,” and atavistic urge to defile a corpse, real or feigning.

I did both.

I rearranged the crime scene as required by the script, I also took a moment to fetch the heavy woolen blanket from its perch on the back of the sofa and respectfully and gently cover the foul corpse from head to toe…under those relentless lights…for the rest of the act.

By the intermission, when I next saw the corpse’s face, the message had melted away.
Occasionally, there’s justice in the world, even in a world of make-believe.

 

As I’ve stated, I despise theatre pranks, but I love the stories and I’d be happy to hear yours.

Get More Game in the Game!

This evening, the Yankees are rudely and repeatedly defining “launch angle” for the Boston pitcher. I’m not convinced geometry was the pitcher’s best school subject.
This afternoon and yesterday afternoon, my beloved Reds played powerfully and dominated the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. If they continue this style of play, I’m convinced that by September they can be out of last place. After that, the sky’s the limit…well…maybe a .500 season’s the limit.
I love baseball.
It is experiencing some problems, yes, but it has always needed adjustment. The players and coaches have always made those adjustments. Those adjustments, the ones from the players and coaches, work best. Adjustments that originate outside the game may sometimes be necessary, but are usually inferior. The designated hitter, performance-enhancing drugs, inter-league play, tinkering with the height of the mound, replay review…these have not improved baseball. It is a validation of the rigorous beauty of the game that it survives such crimes against its nature.
For example.
The defensive shifts dictated by sabermetrics are a nuisance and have currently shaped the game into a homerun or strikeout experience. The hitters have adjusted to the shifts. They understand that an out is an out, whether it’s a strikeout or a ground ball to a third baseman improbably standing in shallow right field to which he has no valid passport. Hitters will always try to “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” So…where ain’t they? For sure, there are no fielders in the stands beyond the outfield wall. Hit ‘em there! Thus, the 25-degree launch angle becomes a player adjustment to the coaches’ defensive shifts. As I watch the Yankees hit their fourth (woops, make that fifth) homerun in the first four innings off David Price, former Cy Young Award winner, I know this is not the same game I’ve watched for over 50 years.
But that’s OK. Pitchers will adjust. I suspect low outside sliders two inches off the ground, and high inside four-seam fast balls two inches off the batter’s chin will become a bit more prevalent. Put yer 25-degree launch angle on that, Buster!
The game as it’s played on the field will adjust to every nudging of the limits with a correcting nudge. That doesn’t worry me.
There are a couple of things that do trouble me. They concern the length of the games. Understand, I’m not at all bothered by the fact that a game, if tied, could theoretically last forever. I cherish that threat. Bring it on…and on…and on…and…
(I’m hearing Harry Carey braying in the background; “I don’t care if I ever get back.”)
At this point, I should take an opportunity to recommend W. P. Kinsella’s novel, THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY to you. It posits just such an expression of the potential of an eternal horsehide struggle. Mr. Kinsella’s better-known book, SHOELESS JOE, is the book upon which the film Field of Dreams was based.
No, I acknowledge when I purchase a ticket to a baseball game that the rest of my journey on this mortal coil may consist of wearing out the path between my seat and the hot dog stand till the end of time or till the end of me. I’m good wit’ dat. I like baseball game hot dogs and I made out a will.
I’m not looking to put baseball on a clock. What chaps me is the amount of time spent on non-game activities. The time stolen from the game and the audience’s lives by equipment adjustments, equipment changes, pitching changes, pick-off attempts, mound meetings, off-the-mound/out-of-the-batter’s-box meditative strolls needs to be examined and eliminated.
I wanna see some baseball.
I have a few suggestions. Yes, I am aware they are adjustments not originating from the players and coaches, and therefore probably inferior, but I gotta try. Four-hour nine-inning games are only helping the beer vendors.
My probably inferior suggestions;
– Pitchers, you get one unsuccessful pick-off attempt to a particular runner on a particular base. After that, each unsuccessful pick-off attempt costs you a BALL on the batter. This would save time, make stealing bases more viable, thus making a base hit more enticing.
– Pitchers, if you leave the mound between un-hit pitches, it costs you a BALL on the hitter. No moseying. Stay on the mound and pitch.
– Batters, if you leave the batter’s box between un-hit pitches, it costs you a STRIKE. No meandering. Stay in there and hit.
– No batting gloves. Go back to pine tar. Pine tar doesn’t have to be adjusted after every pitch.
– Batters, if you wear protective gear while batting, you must wear the same gear while running the bases. We will no longer have to wait while you effect a costume change at first base.
– Coaches, one pitching change per inning, barring injury.
– Coaches and catchers, the only visit to the mound allowed is during a pitching change. If you need to communicate with the pitcher, use hand signals, smoke signals, or just shout in pig latin.
– Eliminate all replay reviews. Let the umpires call the game. If they make a mistake, well, so do the shortstops. It’s a game for chrissakes. A game! If the important thing is (as the announcers assure us in their most funereal tones) to “get the call right.” Why do we allow Mr. Trump to do anything?
I feel we can get a regular nine-inning game down to about two and a half hours or less and keep all the excitement.
See the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Throw the ball. Run like hell.
It’s really pretty simple.
And it’s beautiful.
Even the pine tar……beautiful.

Ten or So Things I Learned From Harlan Ellison

I knew it was coming. I had heard he was ill. Still…the death this week of Harlan Ellison is a gut punch.
I feel diminished, but that feeling’s not accurate. Though I never met the man, he enhanced me. He pointed a way to empowerment and wit and ferocity. On many days, he is my favorite writer. This is one of those days.
Things I learned…
1. “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
Perhaps Ellison’s most relevant statement since the onslaught of the radio talk shows. It’s a pretty safe bet if you can’t spell your opinion or you’ve cut and pasted your opinion, you haven’t researched your opinion. You’re simply spouting randomly or piping “ditto” into the chaos. It’s unhelpful at least, certainly a waste of everyone’s time (including your own), and probably destructive of anything that might possibly “make America great.”
2. “Don’t start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don’t. They’ll make you look like chopped liver.”
This is so obvious. Just tune in to a Trump rally or any politician’s town meeting. This also applies to getting into social media debate with a professional writer. Geez…these people write for living! Or suggesting to LeBron James; “Let’s settle this with a game of HORSE.”
3. The three most important things in life are sex, violence, and labor relations.
No. I didn’t buy it either at first. But his essays on the subject convinced me…or perhaps made me laugh so hard I could no longer think rationally.
4. “No one gets out of childhood alive.”
A grim notion, but I fear its accuracy. I still think artists have a chance, but even they must constantly “beware the little deaths” warned of by Carl Sandburg. As I write this, the strains of Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” are snickering through my head.
5. “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”
Probably Ellison’s most famous quote. I know it sounds like bumper sticker wisdom, but…duh!
6. “Once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.”
I know a number of well-meaning, successful people who started out with a two-step plan for their lives; 1. Make a lot of money and 2. Help others. However, after achieving #1, they added a third step; 3. Forget #2. I suspect Mr. Trump scoffs at the very idea of the #2 step.
7. If you work at Disney, nobody f#@ks with the Mouse.
Just ponder that a moment. These are words to live by…or at least words to remain employed by.
8. “…love and sex are separate and only vaguely similar. Like the word “bear” and “bare”. You can get in trouble mistaking one for the other.”
In my 60’s… I think… duh.
In my 20’s…I think I shoulda listened to Harlan.
9. A number of other very specific things that have been helpful to know;
“Ignorance is never having seen a film by Akira Kurosawa.”
Listen to your dog.
Trophy-hunting is a poor idea, especially on Ristable.
“…you can fight City Hall…”
10. And finally, if you’ve not read any Harlan Ellison, you have that to look forward to. I suggest starting with my favorite Ellison story; “Jeffty is Five.” Jeffty is always five, another good thing to know.
Thank you, Mr. Ellison, and now that you’re on the other side, please send back messages as you promised. You ain’t a writer for nothing!