A Shaggy Endorsement

janie 86 chloe-futon
Vote for McGrath…woof!

Kanye West gibbering in the White House…

A man who repeatedly yells of his fondness for beer in the US Senate inevitably confirmed by that Senate to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court…

Children in cages by order of the current US President…

People like the neighbors I grew up with, in an arena screaming “Lock her up!” as the current US President looks on encouragingly…

The tsunami of lies daily from the current US President…

The current US President…

A congress that supports the current US President…

My US Representative that has voted with the current US President 97% of the time…
These make for a raw day.

Or…a good day to talk to the dog.

I’ve written about Chloe the Wonder Pup before (see “The Homeward Three-Step”). She‘s not a beauty, ‘cept to me. She’s shaggy. You wanna grab some shears and make a sweater. She usually has debris spackling her face. She is flotsam and jetsam and blind love personified. She can howl like a banshee at squirrels…they shake…with laughter.

“Chlo, my girl, whaddaya think about this mess?”

“Piss on it! Is Chuck out in his yard?” (Chuck is our neighbor on the corner for whom Chloe has a totally inappropriate passion.)

“No, He’s working. I’m serious here. The country seems to be tearing itself apart because of this current President.”

“Is the current President here? Is Joanna here? (Joanna is our mail carrier for whom Chloe has a totally inappropriate passion.)

“No, he’s not. He’s in Washington. And Joanna won’t be here for another hour.”

“Why are you worrying about someone who’s more than five blocks away? How far away is Joanna?”

“Closer, probably. Are you saying I should worry more about the people nearby?”

“Well, duh. You can’t do anything about the far-away guy. You could however, change that local Representative guy. That might help.”

“So, you’re suggesting voting for McGrath?”

“Woof!”

And that’s my shaggy dog story for today.

My Un-Silent Planet

The planet on which I live is not a silent one.

It moans…
…parents of another language resort to non-verbal sounds of despair over their separated children housed in cages in the land of their dreams.

It keens…
…of past things loved and lost…times, mates, values (imagined and real)……whole species.

It shouts…
…for teams; “GO BIG BLUE!”…for charismatic leaders; “LOCK HER UP!”…for artificial seasonal landmarks; “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

It laughs…
…at the happy foolishness of friends…and…at the misfortunes of strangers…dammit.

It whispers…
…words of love…and words of mere seduction.

It vows…
…”I do”…”I will uphold”… “I will defend”

My planet does all of these sound-producing things and more.

It also sings.
It sings of love and death and life and hate.
It sings of celebration and it sings of despair.
It sings of birth and marriage and graduation and waking up on a sunny morning.
It sings of forests and highways and deserts and oceans.
It sings of God and it sings of the Devil and it sings of the people caught between the two.
It sings of the planets and it sings of the girl next door.
It sings to inspire and it sings to console.
It sings.
It sings!

My friend Dr. Everett McCorvey has a sign in his studio. It reads;

“God likes me when I work.
He loves me when I sing.”

I cannot attest to the scientific accuracy of his sign, but of all the gods I’ve read about and studied, this rings 100% true. I believe every breath and every cell in my body is made better when I sing. What god worth his salt wouldn’t cherish that? And if that’s true for li’l ol’ me, how much truer is it for the whole planet? Every breath, every cell made better by singing.

Singing is the best thing my planet does.

I sing every day.

I sing everywhere and for no reason at all.
I sing to the dog and the cat – they are bewildered by it and react to it like most humans confronted by things they don’t understand: they hate it. But since I feed them, open rebellion has been avoided. Lord help me if the kibbles run out.

My wife, Janie, tolerates it with saint-like patience. I am aware that obscure Sondheim lyrics while loading the dishwasher and the noir growlings of Tom Waits while driving the car can be unnerving, but so far, she hasn’t applied for a concealed carry license…that I know of.

Thus, I add to the un-silence of my planet.
I invite you to do the same.
Throw your head back.
Cut it loose.
Wail!
Sing!!!

GN 04

A Literary Lady

A Literary Lady

I love Southern literature.

Unabashedly.

Robert Penn Warren, Zora Neale Hurston, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, James Lee Burke, Sharyn McCrumb, William Faulkner, Manly Wade Wellman, Anne Rice, Davis Grubb, — you list ‘em, I probably like ‘em.

What is it?

As usual, I overthink it a lot. But I suspect it’s simple; they’re good writers that lack winter.

Wandering in the sensual and furtive Appalachian hills of McCrumb, Warren, and Grubb. Exploring the night-time potential of New Orleans alleys and courts after a rainstorm with Williams, Burke, and Rice. Scanning the critter-filled wetlands with Hurston and Rawlings. Cataloguing the Behinders, Frogfathers, Shonikens, and Gardinels of the Smokies with Wellman.

None of these reading experiences require snow and that’s just hunky-dory with me.
Maybe the best of them all for me is Carson McCullers. Her MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, and REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE are winter-less crucibles, in which individual human ingredients are combined with passion, and striving, and sweat, amidst leaves that never fall. Then those ingredients are swirled and re-separated back into their original human shells as changed people. Rarely are the changes clearly for good or ill…even death. Some are changed forever. Some revert to old paths and patterns and expectations.

In a land of no winter to close doors behind you, survival is generally not a concern, but in a land of no winter to close doors behind you, going backward is always an option…an option too often and too quickly employed by too many.

I have a new Southern author to suggest…at least, she’s new to me.

I met Judy Higgins at a meeting of an arts-related board on which we both serve. When I learned she was a published author, I obtained a copy of her first novel; THE LADY, and asked her to sign it. I read it this week.

There are many echoes of McCullers in this novel.

It is a coming of age story, set in rural Georgia in the late 50’s. Television reception is painful, if it exists at all. Entertainment mostly consists of conversations in the kitchen, a grand piano, conversations on the veranda, high school proms, conversations over dinner, visits from neighbors…you get the idea; no texts, no emails, no Netflix…no screens……faces instead. Class/race inequalities and privileges abound. Human strivings, some for more, some for any, abound. Winter threatens no one’s existence, but what will that existence be?

Ms. Higgins seems to endorse the advice of Joseph Campbell.

“Follow your bliss.”

For Ms. Higgins’ young protagonist, music is her bliss.

In her struggles Chopin, Schubert, and Mozart are her weapons and her solace.

Her aunt’s advice?

Don’t let anyone come between you and your music.

Excellent advice from another fine southern writer.

I Found a Patriot

I’ve been asked to walk house-to-house to defend my country.

I’ve been asked to send money to defend my country.

I wish I could.

I’m a retired geezer lacking the energy or funds to do either.

But I have a voice and the desire……and yes, perhaps a bit of fear.

The best case scenario for what’s happening in Washington is that our country is being plundered for its treasure. Our current elected officials are pursuing revenue streams instead of good deeds. Rentals at Trump properties, golf cart rentals, sales of MAGA gear, NRA contributions, junkets to watch the eclipse, campaign funds redirected for parties and vacations, new dining room tables, intensification of marijuana and immigration prohibitions that augment prison populations that benefit the stockholders of private prisons (including the Attorney General who makes these decisions), a tax cut of which 80% of the cut goes to the richest of our population, the sale of our precious park lands…our park lands, dammit!

This is the best case scenario.

The worst case?

The weakening of our country and our democracy. The abandonment of our world leadership to Vladimir Putin, a known gangster.

This can be fixed.

But it must be fixed in a lot of places.

One of those places is in Kentucky. Just as in WWII, everyone must do their part. Our part is to elect Lt. Col. (Ret.) Amy McGrath.

Amy McGrath has fought for her country. It is a habit for her.

Her habit is not to fight for bankers, or payday lenders, or Democrats, or Republicans, or conservatives, or liberals. Her habit is to fight for her country.

I believe this to be true.

I will vote for her.

AND I will hold her accountable for my beliefs.

Somehow, I’m not worried about that part.

The Big Lebowski

Looking forward to seeing The Big Lebowski on a big screen in a real moo’om pitcher theatre tomorrow night.

I finally got around to watching The Big Lebowski on an endless and gloomy flight to Alaska. I watched it on my tiny laptop with a lousy headset. I possess an overblown belief in the grand, super-sized movie screen housed in my imagination. I believe I can watch my friend Chuck Pogue’s Dragonheart on a TV screen at home and hear Sean Connery’s dragon whisper behind me, from a mouth of teeth and fire that could fricassee my head and swallow it like a hot-buttered kernel of popcorn and never miss a word of “The Code” until a burp interrupted his recitation.

I actually believe that…and it fills me with happy wonder.

But this Lebowski viewing plumb defeated me and was totally unfair to any flick. I’m sure it affected my judgement.

I like some of the Coen Brothers’ work a lot. Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Blood Simple are favorite films for me.

I know Lebowski has a fervid following. But I found it to unpleasantly disjointed and certainly overly reverential to bowling. I have bowled in the past (in a league no less!) and enjoyed the hell out of it, but I never experienced the metaphysical awe of flying pins represented in Lebowski. I mean, come on! It’s not baseball!

What I really admired in the film was;
– John Goodman’s boisterous performance.
– John Turturro’s sharp cameo.
– Sam Elliott’s finest performance since his star turn in Frogs. (Talk about damning with faint…)
– The opening and closing monologues (again Elliott).

It was an OK film, but it was no Blood Simple. I don’t think I blinked after the first twenty minutes of that film until the closing credits.

I’m hopin’ the big screen at the Kentucky Theatre will “pull it all together” for me.
The geezer abides….

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.