End-of-the-Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day and I hope you had a jolly one…or a merry one…or at least a hopeful one.

Well, that’s over with now. If you need proof of that, check out Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) schedule for tomorrow. I’m thinkin’ it must be End-of-the-Earth Day. It’s one mad scientist after another.

It’s devil bats (floppy puppets), giant shrews (big dogs with fake plastic teeth), human flies, perilous body fluids, disappearing corpses, human panthers, living heads on the wrong bodies, and of course man-made men who tap dance (“Oh, sweet mystery of life…”).

Whatta buffet of planet-threatening buffoonery.

I love it.

And I love TCM.

A few days ago, an affable representative from Metronet called on us to explain their new venture aimed at competing with Spectrum for our cable and internet service.

Janie will make that decision for us. She’s a smart modern gal who watches a wide selection of TV and visits a large number of useful websites and services, all of which make our lives infinitely better. That’s what she said.

I’m a well-oiled geezer who toddles from TCM to CNN to MLB. It’s about the same number of channels I watched when I was ten and three channels were all we had. I’m told we grow and progress, but sometimes the evidence…

As Janie absorbed the pros and cons (and prose and cons – see what I did there?) of the pleasant and earnest sales rep, I perused the list of channels offered by Metronet. It was the usual 5,436 channels.

I skipped through the 400-page document until I had assured myself that TCM, CNN, and my beloved Reds were represented.

My work here is done.

Wait!

If we switch to Metronet, will I still be able to see the Spectrum “monster” commercials? I would truly miss that sandstorm-loving mummy and his murderous puppet friend.

That might be a deal-breaker for me.

And that friends, is why we let Janie make those decisions.

Happy End-of-the-Earth Day!

Happy Rumors

Janie and I had a hilarious night at the theater last week. We attended Woodford Theater’s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors.

This is theater craft at a very high level.

First (and always first) there’s the playwright. Neil Simon is nothing if not a craftsman. He’s successfully written relentless froth and relentless foolishness and relentless heartbreak and relentless hope…and made us laugh with every step along the way.

And then there’s Rumors.

Relentless farce…there’s no other kind of farce.

It never stops. It’s one implausible twist after another, never giving you or the characters onstage a moment to recognize the implausibility of what’s happening. Just gasp another breath before the next guffaw.

It is a genius of craft, and Mr. Simon nails it.

This production nails it as well. The director, Joe Ferrell, has to be a relentless traffic cop, keeping things moving at a terrific pace (no time to think, remember?) while maintaining clarity between moments and relationships and physical mayhem.

Check, check, and check.

This collection of actors seemed to enjoy each other’s company immensely. The audience felt comfortably ensconced in a nest of affection. Nothing serious is happening here no matter how seriously we’re doing it.
Relax…and try to keep up.

By the time Carmen Geraci tells his second act story (perfectly, by the way), we have fallen in love with the foibles of the ensemble. Deafness, gunshots, blood, hunger, thirst, suicide, marital betrayal (imagined and real), police interrogation, and career destruction…
…meh…
…nothing serious happening here…
…keep laughing and move on.

And then there’s the set.

The designer of this production, Todd Pickett, understands farce.

Farce demands doors.
Lots of doors.
Doors that work fiercely. They can be slammed repeatedly and quickly to punctuate and define beats in the show.

Farce demands room to run, or at least dash. Everything has to done right now in farce. There’s no moseying in farce.

Farce is an onslaught. It must fling color at the audience.

Check, check, and check.

Thank you, Mr. Pickett.

Thank you, cast.

Thank you, Mr. Ferrell…
…again.

The Three Kevins

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Haggard Leaning, Moi Reclining

I have worked on stage with The Three Kevins.

Wanna touch me?

The Guignol Theater at the University of Kentucky has a history that extends to the middle of the last century. A history of that length has room for several “Golden Ages.” I like to think I was lucky to have been a student in one of those halcyon eras. In the early 70’s the theater department was flush with young actors who had participated in the two-year experiment of one-week summer stock theater experience in the Guignol called Centennial Theater. New York actors mingled with UK student actors rehearsing one play in the afternoons and performing another in the evenings. I arrived on the campus in 1969 to a collection of veteran players and immediately understood I had to catch up quick or sprout roots in the UK library. My academics atrophied but rehearsals were soaring.

I foolishly accepted the trade then and I wisely accept the trade now.

Another “Golden Age of the Guignol” happened about ten years later. Dr. Jim Rodgers attracted a talented faculty and talented student actors followed.
Tim McClure, Martha Bernier, Sheila Omer, Lisa Jones, Sue Grizzell, Walter Tunis, Patti Heying, Bill Felty, Julie Klier, Billy Breed, Nancy Shane. What an assemblage of talent!

But I think of it as the time of The Three Kevins; the “Kevins” being Haggard, Hardesty, and Kennedy.

Kevin Kennedy was bright and quick. I worked with him in Terra Nova. The Antarctic was not nearly as cool as his wit. I think he makes violins in Colorado now.

Kevin Hardesty has a voice that makes you listen eagerly even if he’s merely reading the phone book. I worked with him Glengarry Glen Ross. Kevin is currently the rage as Daniel Boone in the Chautauqua Program of the Kentucky Humanities Council.

Kevin Haggard is a professional actor. He moves with reason and purpose. He speaks from the heart when his character must, from his head when his character must, reluctantly when his character must, and impetuously when his character must. I worked with Kevin in The Curse of the Starving Class. I’m a fan.

This reminiscence was triggered by viewing a Fox program I’d never heard of; The Resident. Kevin Haggard appears briefly as a hospital board member participating in decisions that would not qualify one as a “better angel.” Kevin had three or four lines and maybe a total of 40 seconds of screen time. A small part, but played with integrity and attention. Just what I’d expect from Kev.

Kevin moved to Nashville from Lexington and seems to be always working as an actor and seems to have become respected in his profession and seems to be happily married. Talented and nice guys don’t finish last.

I have worked on stage with The Three Kevins…and all these Guignol Golden Agers.
I was made better by all of them.
Lexington was made better by all of them.
That’s what the arts do.

Cherish them, please.

Caravans

I’m in Mexico and I’ve seen the caravan.

Actually, I’ve seen several.

My favorite was led by a decorated burro carrying a beautiful bride. The groom strutted beside her, followed by musicians, and formally-garbed family members and well-wishers. They sang – yes – “Ay-i-yi-yi-i-i” rang in the narrow cobblestone street.

I sang too.

The caravan did not seem to be heading in a direction that threatened an invasion of my country and I admit to mixed feelings about that. This looked like a group of people that would make any country better.

The bride and groom were younger than, and the street was older than my country. I felt happily in between.

So, I sang too.

I was told a bit later by a cab driver that 28 weddings were taking place in San Miguel today. 28 caravans not coming to invade the US.

I also saw a caravan of uniformed schoolchildren with backpacks released from school for the day. They ran, they screamed, they giggled…some of them even danced.

None of them demonstrated any invasive intentions.

Last Sunday I was part of a caravan of gringo baby-boomers bouncing through the countryside to an open-air venue that featured killer tacos and US rock from the 60’s. It was a real good time, but frankly, it felt more like an invasion than the other caravans I’ve described. Still, there was no threat in the air or on the news…just Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs in Spanish.

I know there are serious sadnesses in our hemisphere that need to be addressed.

But there are also celebrations to be had around every corner if we are open to them. Fear and threats and lies will deny us the celebrations while doing naught to assuage the sadnesses.

I am in Mexico now and with me is spring.

I’ll go home tomorrow where spring is eminent.

I vow to celebrate that spring…and sing…and find me some killer tacos.

Frettin’ in San Miguel

“You learn a lot when you travel.”

“Travel makes you a bigger person.”

“Travel broadens…”

Yadda yadda yadda…I have heard all the travel bromides my whole life and I believe them.

Then why do I hate it so?

Fretting.

To travel today is a banquet of fret.

I fret about tickets and time and baggage and passports and house sitters and currencies. It does not spark pleasure.

In my work life, I believe the most important thing I was paid to do was to fret. I fretted over every store, every day. I fretted about employees’ attendance. I fretted about inventory. I fretted about equipment. I fretted about the weather forecast.

It’s hard habit to break.

So…

This week Janie and I are traveling and it has triggered my almost subdued fret habit.

Now I’m fretting over hiccups and bird poop.

However, we’re here now. The traveling part is over until we return.

It’s old and beautiful, the weather’s perfect, the food’s fine, and the company has been sparkling.

Plus I’ve picked up some Spanish.

“Hiccup” is “hipo.”

“Fret” is “inquietarse.”

“Bird poop” is “caca de pajaro.”

You do learn a lot when you travel.

Dickens and the Deity

Charles Dickens was a good friend of mine.

No, not that Charles Dickens.

This Charles Dickens was a teacher/director in the University of Kentucky Theatre Department in the 60’s and 70’s and yes, that was his real name. He was tiny and skinny with a voice that was neither tiny nor skinny. He shuffled though the halls of the Fine Arts Building during play rehearsals followed by Bridey, his Scottish terrier and smoking (it was long ago and a freer age then – dinosaurs still roamed the savannahs, probably smoking).

Charles was an important teacher for me, though I never had a class with him.

How does that work?

Charles was my director in four different shows and he was a fellow actor in three. I learned much about theatre in those experiences.

But my first experience with Charles (unbeknownst to him) was before I even reached UK.

The year was 1969.

The place was the Guignol Theatre.

The reason was the Kentucky High School Play Competition.

I had competed earlier in the year at the regionals. We did well, but did not advance to the state finals. It was at these regionals however, where I met and befriended Jim Varney (see “Pre-Ernest Musings in the archives of this blog). Thus, I was simply a spectator, enjoying the efforts of other schools.

Charles was one of the judges.

I knew of Mr. Dickens. I had seen one of the plays he directed and heard exotic tales. Don’t get too excited. “Exotic” to this Southern Baptist-raised high schooler probably consisted of hearing of Mr. Dickens;

– Wore turtle necks.

– Drank…something…other than Coca-Cola.

– Quoted old movies like Gospel.

– Smoked…(sotto voce)…a lot!

Exotic.

But here he was, in the house of the Guignol, about ten rows in front of me.

We were watching and evaluating the same plays.

I felt wiser instantly and was reveling in my newfound sagacity.

Then Henry Clay High School took the stage.

For some unfathomable reason, they had chosen to do a miracle play; “Noah’s Ark.”

There it was, a gigantic backdrop of the title boat. In front of the ark, strutted sheet-bedecked high-school actors announcing and pronouncing archaic and utterly boring lines that didn’t even have the good manners to be iambic pentameter. At least you could have danced to that. It would be another nine years until Animal House came out. Otherwise, I would have erroneously assumed I had stumbled into a toga party.

The play crawled along through pomposity and vague righteousness until it reached a tense moment. The tense moment was tipped off by a tiny rumble of thunder offstage right. The ark backdrop wavered and from out of the top of the ark, holding on for dear life, popped a head in the midst of a medical cotton nimbus and beard.

It was God.

God stabilized his precarious perch, looked down, and sternly said; “No-O-ah-H!”

Now you fellows reading this, at this point I need you to keep in mind the age of this young boy-becoming-a-man and recall that first tough moment when your voice changed. Now, please turn and describe that moment to the females in our audience so they can also comprehend what just happened to our young actor…

…as he was playing God…

…In the Kentucky State High School Play Competition.

OMG.

As if that weren’t enough…

…at that moment, a great rolling guffaw filled the theatre,

It was the hooting of Zeus,

It was the howl of Odin,

All emanating from this tiny man judging the competition.

It was Charles Dickens, laughing at God.

My inchoate sagacity evaporated.

I wanted to hide under my seat and await the inevitable lightning strike.

It was exotic.

I learned a lot about theatre from that blasphemous chuckler.

Butterfly’s Relentless Pizzicato

Last night I experienced Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for about the 50th time; three live productions, two radio broadcasts, and countless various recordings. Since I first heard a Met Saturday broadcast performance in my teens, I don’t believe any years have gone by that I haven’t least experienced “Un Bel Di” at least once. I look forward to another 50.

It’s not my favorite opera. It’s not even my favorite Puccini. It’s only a perfect story, told to perfect music. It is of small things and huge ideas. It crashes planet-spanning cultures into each other. It pits religions against each other. It stirs ancient needs and passions (pure and sullied, exalted and mundane). It hints that miracles can happen, and replies to itself that usually they don’t. It does all this in one house with a garden, on a hill, near the port of Nagasaki.

It is inevitable and cruel;

– Give up your child.

– He will not return.

– You cannot grow.

– You are alone.

But…

-There are seasons.

-The cherry tree blossoms.

– The ships in the harbor keep coming.

– The pizzicato in the orchestra at the end of Act II will…not…stop…

It’s a story I could tell you in an hour, so of course an opera will tell it in three hours.

So what?

To be told a story artfully, to hear and feel music and startling word choices, to revel in the joy of knowing someone of my species thought of this and wrote it down…for me…is not a thing that cries to be hurried.

I hope I will always have time for Butterfly. Otherwise, why bother to resist?

…the…pizzicato……will………not…………stop……………

Ridin’ the Bus

Before we get to the bus…

I think my favorite “Peanuts” cartoon featured Linus asking Charlie Brown; “Didn’t you ever get into any fights at school?”
Charlie replied after cogitating for a panel or two; “No, I formed discussion groups.”

Now, to the bus.

I rode a lot of busses in junior high and high school.
I rode school busses. I had to be at the corner of our street on time, rain or shine, or left behind. If I missed the bus, I had to race two blocks to the next nearest stop and try to catch it. If I missed it there, the Taliban (not yet invented) was summoned to slice my head off in front of 23,403 people in Rupp Arena (not yet invented) and my remaining limbs would be shrink-wrapped (not yet invented) and shipped to Hogwarts (not yet…) for wand-blasting experiments. There was no parental ride to school.

I never missed the bus.

If I had, in my parents’ eyes I would be to blame; a worse alternative than anything in the last paragraph. Not the driver, not the weather, not the roads……me.

I never missed the bus.

There were students on the bus who were bigger than me. I devised strategies to deal with them. In my parents’ eyes, if there was a problem, it was mine.

There were students who were smaller than me. Ditto.

There were girls. Ditto.

There were students whose skin was a different hue than mine. Ditto.

No one got shot. No one got pregnant. The driver drove and looked straight ahead.

We all got along until we could arrive at our destination…every day…for years……what other choice did we have?

There were no fatalities.
But there was learning of a sort.

Today, we live in gated communities, drive our children to school, pick them up after, and schedule play dates.

We decry the current tribalism tearing our country apart; “Why can’t we get along with each other? Why are we so divided?”

Perhaps we have not learned to get along with each other. Perhaps some of our rolling classrooms devoted to getting along with each other have vanished.

“…I formed discussion groups.”

Yes, I most certainly did.

I had to.
And it has served me just fine.

Son of Hankerin’ for Horsehide

I’m sittin’ here in the gloom…
… and the wetness that is this Kentucky night.
The color palette outside my window ranges from slate to indigo to gray to charcoal to stygian abandon-all-hope black.

What could possibly redeem this evening?

My dog is bouncing off the walls; “Is it spring yet? Can I go out? Can I come in? Can I go out and then come in…three times?”
The cat languidly blinks at me; “Deal with it, fool.”
There’s joy for me in these critters, but no succor for this murk.

But lo!

The first baseball spring training game is on the tube, like an oasis shimmering in a desert-ordeal flick.

My first glimpse of this game in Arizona features short-sleeved, sunglasses-bedecked fans enjoying the sun.

The sun; whatta concept!

Palm trees peeking over the outfield fences.
Green.
Dry.
Bright.
Gulp!

The game is apparently between the Cincinnati Reds (masters of last place for the last 5-6 years) and the Cleveland Indians (legitimate contenders).

Apparently.

Actually, the game is between unknown strangers wearing uniforms that say; “Cincinnati” or “Cleveland.” That’s how it is in the early days of spring training.
This being so, one of the charming traits of these pre-season games is the uniform numbers.

I just watched #62 of the Indians walk #78 of the Reds, filling the bases (#’s 80 and 68 were already on second and third). #63 of the Reds then flied out to #72 in center field and #84 struck out to end the inning. These stratospheric numbers are issued to the players who are “just glad to be here” and have no chance of making the opening day rosters. In a few days, they will be dispersed back to the camps of Asheville, Louisville, Akron, Missoula, and Waddy-Peytona; towns that will not appear in your newspaper’s daily “Major League Standings.”

Another less-than-charming trait of spring training is the absence of extra-innings. The teams are only playin’ nine and settlin’ for ties. The teams are there to practice and get in shape…not win. This jars me to my genomes. It’s a violation of all things baseball. I need some president to blame.

I also notice there’s a “pitch clock” counting down in the background. Good luck with that.

Wait a minute! #105 just caught a stinging line drive in the left field corner! I hope, if he ever makes it to the big leagues, his number is maintained at #105 for at least a year so I can connect today with that day. Maybe, by then, I’ll also have learned his name.

But forget all that.
Cling to what’s important;
– Green
– Dry
– Bright
– Players chasing and throwing and batting and catching spheres……

Tell me again why I enjoyed Harry Potter books so.

Hankerin’ for Horsehide & Hope

Whatta day!

Epstein and sex with 14-year-olds, R. Kelly and sex with 14-year-olds, Kraft and sex for pay, human-trafficking implications, videos…

A president unqualified (or too qualified) to address any of these issues…

A president going to Vietnam as his staff worries that he may cede advantages to North Korea and thus to China and Russia in his deluded quest for the Nobel Peace Prize…

A president under 5-8 investigations for a dismaying litany of transgressions…

A Kentucky legislature that celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting by expanding concealed-carry rights, and persists with the “War on Coal” myth by hamstringing Kentucky’s successful solar industry…

More rain on the way and that damn ark is still not practical…

Good grief!

Where’s the solace?
What’s the solution?

Well…
…if I may humbly point out that the first baseball Spring Training game is scheduled for tomorrow.

What this world needs is baseball.

Baseball!

Epstein, Kelly, Kraft, Trump, Bevin, Thayer haven’t screwed that up……yet.

Tanner Roark, a man I never heard of till he was traded to the Reds in December, will take the mound for the Reds and pitch one inning and be followed by eight more pitchers of which I’ve never heard. I will be sitting in Lexington, in the rain I’m told, while these strangers gambol in the Florida sun on geometrically-structured fields of green and play THE game. Dank, drenched, and cold as I may be…I will feel a glimmer of promise that all can be okay.

We can fix anything if, somewhere, baseball is being played.

A foolish notion? Yes, of course.

About ten years ago, our Lexington minor league team gave out baseballs as a promotion. These were baseballs bound in basketball material instead of horsehide.

This afternoon I found myself reaching for that relic as I listened to the tawdry details of today’s headlines. I spun the ball through the various grips of the pitches I once threw when I played the game.

– Two-seamer – My best control pitch; when I needed a strike, this was the call.
– Four-seamer – An early-in-the-count temptation against an intimidating batter.
– Curve – My best pitch; if I hit my release point, you’re dead.
– Circle Change – Might be good if the batter and the umpire were blind.
– Screwball – Might be a strike if it didn’t hit the batter.
– Knuckleball – Mystical, unhittable, in a fantasy and strong headwind.

I felt a little better after the exercise. It was like yoga for my right hand.

Then I meditated on the Reds’ off-season roster changes.

– If Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray, and Alex Wood ALL return to their best forms,
– If Nick Senzel becomes the answer in center field,
– If Joey Votto finds another ten home runs,
– If Matt Kemp can squeeze out one more productive year,
– If Yasiel Puig can explode into a superstar,
– If the spirit of Johnny Bench invades Tucker Barnhart,
– If Britain can possibly figure out Brexit.

If all that happens, maybe…just maybe my beloved Reds can climb out of last place. It would be nice to finish ahead of SOMEBODY.

In baseball, we live for hopeful tomorrows. There’s always another game.
The ball may bounce our way tomorrow.
I might get that screwball over the plate tomorrow without braining someone.
It’s possible.
It’s always possible as long as there’s another game tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

Tanner Roark, whoever he is, on the mound, in the sun.

For a couple of hours, forget Epstein, Kelly, Kraft, Trump, Bevin, and Thayer.

Tanner Roark, whoever he is, on the mound, in the sun.

I need to start lining up World Series tix.