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…)

Avoiding Covid Nightmares

SCARSO03I have a friend who loves movies, but was forbidden horror flicks as a child by parental decree. As an adult, he has always been a busy, busy guy; works hard (and a lot) and plays just as hard (and yes, a lot).

At least he did.

Ol’ Mr. Covid has him workin’ from home these days and nights, hidin’ his face, and checkin’ the TV guide.

Now, his age having earned him his Most-At-Risk achievement badge, and having burned through most of Netflix, he was thinking of finally dipping his toe into the horror movie pool (provided he be assured of getting his toe back).

He knew of my fascination with awful films (content and competence) and asked if I might suggest a sampler of gruesome cinema.

Oh…I might…I very well might……and I did.

I suggested a double feature with a lagniappe.

I would start by queuing up Manos, Hand of Fate (1966) and setting a timer for two minutes. That’s all you need. It’s kinda like most of the songs in “Phantom of the Opera” – the same six words rolled around forever in various permutations. Don’t get me wrong, Manos is a truly, deeply, greatly, lousy film and well deserving of every ugly thing that’s been said about it. However, even loving it as I do, two minutes is plenty. It justifies all the parental decrees against horror films and validates the reverence you feel for your folks.

Then I suggested The House of Usher (1960). It’s a Roger Corman effort; safe, distant, costumed from another time, featuring moonlit seas and a castle, dark and looming. In short, a solid horror film vocabulary, but nothing too close to home to keep you up at night. However, the Richard Matheson script is scary. The performers? Well, Mark Damon is a total cypher, but Vincent Price’s hair is to die for, and someone very well may.

My main feature for the evening would be a Hammer Dracula flick; The Scars of Dracula (1970). It’s not my favorite Hammer Drac but it contains all the basic food groups; bright crimson blood, buxom babe, blood, strange dental work, blood, foolish old man, blood, Michael Ripper, blood, Chris Lee, blood, and blood. Yum-m-m-m-m! Even if you hate it, you’ll be able to go through life saying you’ve seen a Hammer Dracula. And again, nothing too close to home to disturb your sheltering-at-home slumber.

Now, that’s an awful night.

Thanks fer askin’.

It’s The Angry Red Planet for me tonight. It’ll be a great escape from the angry blue planet I’m currently on.

Cue the Fog………Ack!!

If you hang out with theatre people for any length of time (say 15-20 minutes), you will hear many stories and quickly perceive that many of their stories fall into genres. Most theatre folks have tales about;

  • Working with children.
  • Working with animals.
  • Costume or prop malfunctions.
  • Outdoor theatre misadventures (there’s a sub-genre about bugs).
  • And……fog.

Yes, fog.

And yes, I’ve got a few fog tales if you’ve got a minute (or say 15-20 minutes).

My fog adventures, unfortunately, are not John Carpenter’s; pirates emerging to terrorize my

home town while Adrienne Barbeau croons seductively on the local radio station from her lighthouse studio.

Sigh.

I attribute that lack to the fact that Lexington is land-locked. Our nearest body of water is the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek (and we covered that trickle with concrete a long time ago), our closest Pirates are the baseball team in Pittsburgh, and our closest lighthouse might be 400 miles away on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston.

No, my on-stage fog experiences are more pedestrian, but here they are anyway.

Fog in the theatre usually comes from machines though there are exceptions.

I was in a production of The World of Carl Sandberg in the spring of 1972. My friend and fellow cast member, Vicki James, gave a rendition of Mr. Sandburg’s poem “Fog” that was so evocative I remember it vividly 45 years later. Indeed, I have many times been balked or paused in life, gathered myself……”and moved on.” Fog won’t stop me. It will only make me pause…think……and move on.

Ten years later, in a more-than-dubious production of Dracula, my friend and fellow cast member, Paul Thomas, managed to manufacture a personal fog bank by furiously puffing (heaving!) on his pipe in a sad attempt to obscure his presence in one particular way-more-than-dubious scene. I still harbor hope that I can forgive him for his attempted escape one day.

But those are exceptions. Most stage fog emanates from machines wittily referred to as “fog machines.”

My first experience with fog machines was in a 1981 production of Brigadoon. Oddly enough, it also included Paul Thomas, though in this case he is blameless. The show was in the Opera House in Lexington. The opening scene featured Paul and me as American hunters in the wilds of Scotland who have lost our way in the fog. We discuss our predicament and spot a village in the distance (neat trick considering the fog in which we’re supposed to be lost) – all behind a scrim as the orchestra in the pit plays gorgeous Lerner and Loewe music.

The dress rehearsal went fine, but the director wasn’t satisfied with the quality and quantity of the fog in the first scene. It wasn’t convincing as a fog that would baffle vibrant Americans. He ordered a second fog machine for opening night.

On opening night, the music began and the fog machines (plural) began. By the moment our opening lines were required, the fog, restrained by the scrim, had achieved a height of 7.3 feet. Paul and I could not see the audience, and the audience could not see us. When we spoke we waved our guns in the clear air above the fog to let the audience (and each other) know where we were.

Then the scrim arose and a slow tsunami of fog rolled out over the edge of the stage, into the orchestra pit, and into the first few rows of the audience. It was a sight to see; the violinists slashing at the fog with their bows. I think they feared pirates were eminent. I think the audience in the front row feared they had been lured into a bizarre Gallagher-esque experience (albeit with prettier music).

We all tend to resist taking steps backwards in our lives, especially in the arts, but the second night’s performance of Brigadoon employed but one fog machine.

In 1989 I was cast in an outdoor production of King Lear as Lear’s Fool. I have played a couple of Shakespeare’s fools. I have a wealth of personal, real-life experience to bring to such roles. It’s a gift.

Early in the rehearsal process, I made a creative decision that was accepted as valid by the director, Joe Ferrell. I felt the Fool would grovel and slither throughout the story as he insinuated his opinions on Lear’s actions and decisions, never reaching past the height of Lear’s waist. I wore out a set of kneepads during the show’s run.

Mr. Ferrell had also made quite a few creative decisions himself (as directors are wont to do), one of which was to employ fog machines during Lear’s nighttime meanderings through the stormy countryside, bereft of shelter and family, and increasingly bereft of his very senses.

Reasonable enough.

From my Fool-ish point of view however (about three feet high, remember), the fog machine was at eye level and only an arm’s length away. In one long scene, as Lear (my friend and fellow cast member, Fred Foster) raged against his daughters, his fate, and the weather for what seemed like four iambically-pounding hours, I crouched in the mouth of the belching fog. My makeup melted off. My costume dripped in streams. I gurgled my lines.

When I came out for my curtain call, I didn’t bow.

Instead I shook myself like a dog to share my wealth of moisture with those nearby.

It’s good to share.

My favorite and grandest stage fog episode was on closing night of a 1992 production of Sweeney Todd.

The house was sold-out. The cast was in place behind the curtain prepared for their grand reveal. I was storming around backstage, working myself into a damn decent homicidal frenzy.

The fog machines commenced.

However, a sold-out house was not enough for the kind-hearted and slightly greedy director, Dr. James Rodgers. He was scurrying about to find room to seat some last-minute, ticketless arrivals. He had folding chairs located and brought to place one-by-one in the corners of the house.

The fog machines dutifully blew.

A pre-show announcement was deemed necessary.

The fog machines gleefully blew and blew.

The orchestra finally began the overture.

The curtain was raised.

The cast began to “…tell the tale of Sweeney Todd.”

I strode to the doors I expected to open and allow me to attempt to scare the bejeezus out 400+ people.

Instead, the fire alarm, triggered by the fog, had summoned first responders.

The fire department arrived with the Lexington and UK police – all with bells and whistles and lights a-blazin’. We were evacuated from the building; the audience to the front lawn of the Fine Arts building and the cast and crew to the street behind the building’s loading dock. Both groups could see other in the emergency-light-decorated twilight of a lovely Kentucky summer evening – a far cry from the dingy, industrial Fleet Street of our show.

Eventually, the authorities were persuaded that conflagration was unlikely. They were thanked for their efforts and invited to stay for the show. They chose to go about their duties instead, which was a good thing as I don’t know where Jim would’ve seated them! The audience, the orchestra, the crew, and the cast reassembled and an evening of theatre juiced by the pre-show capers turned out to be real nice clambake after all.

The fog machines were smug despite having grossly overplayed their part.

Drinkers of the Wind


Drinkers 01

The answering of the phone

One day in the late summer of 1987 the phone rang at Roger and Janie’s house and the wrong person answered.

It was a time of great changes and great busy-ness.

Janie and I had just gotten married and bought a new house.

The liquor stores which were my business career had just unexpectedly become mega party stores (Liquor Barn) and my primary responsibility.

I had just completed an eighteen month performance schedule of directing one play (Bullshot Crummond – Actors’ Guild), singing and acting in two (A Little Night Music – UK, and Man of La Mancha – UK), acting in three (The Curse of the Starving Class and The Ebony Ape – Actors’ Guild, and Deathtrap – UK), and singing in one friend’s doctoral recital.

Whine, whine, whine… too much goodness…too much opportunity… woe is me.

But I truly was stretched thin and worn out at that moment.

And then Dr. James Rodgers called and Janie answered.

In 1987 Janie knew there were two phone calls to which my answer was nearly always “yes”; Jim Rodgers and Joe Ferrell. Well, why waste time? Jim wanted me to do a show. She said; “Of course, Jim, whatever you want.”

“Of course.”

Oh-h-h man!!

Well there’s no lettin’ Jim down once you’ve promised. I was now a member of the cast of Drinkers of the Wind.

Jim wrote Drinkers. It was a celebration of the horse, a compilation of poetry, songs, stories, and chants by Shakespeare, Shel Silverstein, Saki, Steinbeck, Greek legend…and Doc Rodgers himself. Jim wrote the piece! Another reason why ya don’t let him down. It’s his baby!

Yes, it was a celebration of the horse, but in one scene I had to play a goose. Go cypher on that for a while.

I hated that goose.

At least I wasn’t alone. Jim had recruited a stellar cast; actors that I admired and was challenged by; Billy Breed, Martha Campbell, Trish Clark, Russell Henderson, and Eric Johnson. Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone in the cast was experiencing personal pressures of their own. It led to a grumpy group meeting each night in the face of Doc Rodgers’ sunny instructions. Despite that, progress was made.

BUT…there was the challenge of Helen Hayes looming.

Helen Hayes

UK’s College of Fine Arts wanted to enhance their visibility. To do so, they scheduled a “Gala”. It was held in the Singletary Building and featured performances by various disciplines of the College capped by an appearance by the legendary Helen Hayes. It was a big deal and the night of the Gala the Singletary was packed and the crowd was decked out to the nines and all a’twitter.

Jim had committed our cast to provide a scene for the Gala and not just any scene. The most difficult scene in the show was a retelling of the legend of Bellarion and Pegasus. It was long, it was complex, and it included Billy Breed as Pegasus dancing to the words – words, mind you, not music. Any misplaced or mis-stressed syllable would pretty well leave Billy hangin’ high and dry.

Ah-h-h, no pressure there. It was a week before our opening night and instead of having a useful working rehearsal, we were doing our hardest scene in front of 1000+ people and Helen Hayes.

I remember, before the show that night, looking around the small dressing room in which we were all crowded and thinkin’; “Well, at least we’re rockin’ these tuxes.” You seek solace where you can.

In that dressing room we decided to run the lines for the scene one…more…time. As we did, I noticed Billy over in the corner marking his choreography with tiny moves as we recited. I’m not namin’ names, but one us skipped a line.

Silence ensued.

Soul-crushing silence ensued.

A silence of the damned ensued.

We immediately looked at Billy and he had acquired the hue of Casper the friendly ghost…with a facial expression that was far from friendly.

We were called to the stage.

We were introduced individually. Little Martha Campbell was first. When her name was announced, she marched martially and grimly to her place, fists clenched. She picked up her chair, ate it, and spit the splinters into the lights. She gave the audience a look that said; “I got yer Helen Hayes right here.”

I dunno…

It gave me a kind of perverse courage.

We did the scene.

Billy lived to tell the tale……and later moved to Oregon, about as far away from UK as you can go.

Whatever.

We hadn’t embarrassed ourselves in front of Helen Hayes (though I don’t believe she bought season tickets).

Now, we only had to do the show.

Opening night

A week later we opened. After the Gala we worked diligently, confident in the knowledge that our loved ones would still love us (as long as we didn’t press the matter) and that we probably wouldn’t derail the performing career of Billy (as long as we destroyed the evidence). Plus, we were still rockin’ those tuxes.

Then Jim dropped a little bombshell.

It seemed there was something called “The Dean’s Circle”. This was a group of donors to the College of Fine Arts. One of the perks of being in The Dean’s Circle was having a Q&A with the cast after Theatre Department production opening nights. The cast of Drinkers did not see it as a “perk”.

Whine, whine, whine, whine.

I mean, if anyone from the audience asked me about my motivations while playing that damned goose…well, the College of Fine Arts was probably gonna be lookin’ for a few new donors.

We did the show.

We peeled off our tuxes…slowly.

We trudged upstairs to face Judgement.

It was a love fest.

There were no questions. It was a contest between audience members to extol their favorite scenes from the show. They liked everything and everybody……except for the goose.

The grumpy cast members looked at each other. The shame in each other’s eyes was palpable.

The rest of the run featured an enthusiasm fueled by “let’s make up for”.

It was great.

But (sigh) …it wasn’t over.

The National Tour

Jim reassembled the cast and reconstituted the show that early spring (you cannot say “no” to this man!). He had booked us in colleges and junior colleges in Eastern Kentucky for the week of UK’s spring break.

For three days the cast (sans Jim who had developed a convenient cold/flu-like symptoms/plague/pneumonia/bone spurs) loaded our stools, boom box, and tuxes into a van and charged out to the exotics of Cumberland, Betsy Layne, Somerset, Hogwarts, Riverdale, etc. Eric was driving – a poor choice. The redbuds were a’blooming – an excellent choice.

We arrived at one venue (which will remain nameless) after driving on a mountain trail on which I swear I saw while peering down the rider’s side of the hill, Gandalf crying “Fly, you fools!”, and then through the back of a bedroom closet through Narnia, and then through the rabbit hole, and then down the yellow brick road. I’m sure there was probably a more direct route but, as I said, Eric was driving.

We were scheduled for two performances at this stop. We set our stage (six stools) and our technology (one boom box), donned our tuxes (still and always stylin’) and waited in place to be introduced. I was in the wings stage left and could clearly see Trish in the wings stage right.

A small matronly lady marched to center stage and said; “Y’all settle down now, y’hear?”

And they did.

That’s when I knew I was in the presence of a mensch.

I confess to being impressed and more than little intimidated.

Then she said; “These people have come all the way from Lexington.”

And walked off the stage.

I looked across the stage at Trish and she gave me a wide-eyed shrug that announced; “We’re on our way, Buster!”

And we were.

After the first performance, we had lunch in the school cafeteria and pulled ourselves together for our second show. I will admit that there were some unkind aspersions made in respect to Jim Rodgers’ health and absence. Something to the effect of “If he thinks he’s sick now, wait till I get a’hold of him!” But it was all in good fun……right?

I was stage left.

Trish was stage right.

The mensch marched.

And said; “Y’all settle down now, y’hear?”

And they did.

Then she said; “Yer ‘bout to see some real good actin’.”

And left the stage.

I looked across at Trish and she gave me a wider-eyed two-thumbs-up that announced; “We’re stars, Buster!!”

And we were.

I’m proud of that show.

I’m happy for the time I spent with my friends…yes, even Jim.

And that one sentence from the mensch might be the review in my life of which I’m most proud.

Be that as it may, I try to answer the phone at home before Janie whenever I can…and I still hate that goose.

Were You in That? – A “Grand Night” Memory

In Lexington, the University of Kentucky’s extraordinary Opera Program has for the last 25+ years staged an extraordinary event; “It’s a Grand Night for Singing”. Over a thousand people a night for two weeks assemble to hear remarkable voices sing Broadway/Hollywood/Billboard tunes. It’s supported by an orchestra and choreographed by a team of Broadway-seasoned professionals. It’s a startling evening. You just don’t GN 02expect this level of performance, energy, and talent from a basketball school. It’s a great tribute to Dr. Everett McCorvey who conceived the idea and has nurtured it through two-and-a-half decades and a couple of generations of participants.

I have been fortunate to have been a participant in this event a number of times. In fact, I think I may hold the record for having the most numbers cut from “Grand Night”. Hey, the standard’s high.

My friend, Dr. Tedrin Lindsay, has been a featured performer in this event for 20+ years. His piano-playing is energetic and passionate, yes. But he is also a man of great imagination and this shines forth in his performances. This is what live performance is about.

Tedrin has posted some of his remembrances of “Grand Night” moments.

May I indulge in one myself?

For the third year of “Grand Night”, Everett asked me to be part of a quartet of singers to sing a medley from “Kismet”; And This is My Beloved/Baubles, Bangles and Beads. I had never met my fellow singers until I arrived at the first rehearsal for the number in Everett’s old studio, the studio that was so tiny it was 80% piano. We crowded in; Everett, Cliff Jackson at the piano, and singers Angelique Clay (soprano), Phumzile Sojola (tenor), and a young bass from Louisville whose name evades my geezer memory.

We rehearsed for about an hour. My fellow singers didn’t sing to me, they sang through me. I had never heard so much sound in my life. You could see the sound in that little room. After the rehearsal, I crossed the street to the Medical Center for an MRI to confirm that all my major organs were intact and in their proper places.

I was in heaven.

I was singing these stunningly beautiful songs with these crazy talented singers in front of an orchestra for a thousand people a night……in a tux.

Just kill me now.

After the show, I asked my wife if she liked the number. She replied; “Were you in that one?”

Everyone’s a critic.

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.”

Montana Joe & Weird Willie

“I am sure, as many as have good beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.”

Rosalind said it prettily and clearly and thus endeth our final run-through before technical and dress rehearsals and then opening night.

I was in the wings, muttering; “I’ll bid you farewell. There won’t be a half-dozen people a night that’ll understand that line.”

It was 2007 and the play was Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

My head-shaking over the prospects of decipherability of this closing line was not a singular bobble. I was doubtful about many such moments in the play. Moments? How ‘bout whole ten-minute segments of brilliant verbiage swirling over, around, and through a 21st century audience like Casper the Friendly Ghost, leaving them feeling like something remarkable had happened, but who knows what it was…and I guess it’s okay…it sounded impressive.

And most of those bewildering lines were mine.

I don’t like As You Like It, but I admire it.

The speech; “All the world’s a stage…” is worth the price of admission by itself.

I have seen the play four times and now performed it once.

‘At’s enuf fer me.

Bitterest Fool

I was playing one of the fools and was well on my way to crafting the bitterest fool in the history of theatre. I was too old to be flopping about in voluminous motley, toting elfin ingénues and scolding the audience in iambic pentameter.

But I did it.

Why?

Well…

…it was Shakespeare…

…it was a fine cast…

…and it was being directed by Montana Joe and he asked me to do it.

As I said, the run-though was now completed, and I could go home, flip though the script, and look for a bit of brightness that I was sure I was neglecting.

But no-o-o-o-o.

Montana Joe assembled the cast for a few notes.

Joe sat in the front row.

The cast sprawled on the apron of the stage.

Rapt and waiting.

Else, why would you show up for the first read-through, except to hear Montana Joe’s musings for the run of the journey?

Joe slouched and stared a hole in the carpet about three feet in front of his feet. He slow-tugged at the end of his not-quite-Fu-Manchu mustache. His eyebrows lifted to allow room for his pupils to beseech the firmament for le mot juste.

“There is a moment…when we are working on a play…probing and exploring…and playing…and stumbling…and discovering.”

Joe sank a little in his chair, his shoulders and arms and head folded in. We leaned in to hear.

Inherently, we are lost and looking. A director is pointing and guessing…we find things. Some finds are rejected. Some finds are clung to.”

Joe sank further in his sucking pit of a seat.

“Then…there is this moment…when the play takes on a life…when that life is taken on by the cast…and no longer belongs to the director.”

Seat A12

At this point, Joe’s seat (seat number A12, I believe) became a full-fledged black hole and began to whisk him away. His chin was curled to his knees and he plunged away butt-first, muttering…growling…crooning;

“What…a…joy!”

After the guffaws from the cast, we called the local fire department. They came promptly and managed to retrieve Montana Joe and we quickly established call times for the remaining tech rehearsals and headed home.

What a spellsinger.

Shakespeare in 5/4 Time?

Movie night!

Wanna hear Othello play the piano?

Wanna hear Desdemona croon the blues?

Wanna see Iago rattlin’ a hot drum solo?

It’s all in All Night Long, Basil Dearden’s 1962 jazz retelling of Shakespeare’s OHELLO.

Set in Richard Attenborough’s swingin’ two story Mayfair apartment, top jazz performers gather to celebrate Rex and Delia’s one-year anniversary with an all-night jam. Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Johnny Dankworth, and Tubby Hayes are playing guests. Even Cleo Laine gets a shout-out as the guests arrive. Patrick McGoohan schemes and plays drums. Henry VIII (Keith Michell) blows weed and sax.

The acting in the film is generally sub-standard. The story is convoluted and implausible. It may be neither iambic nor pentameter, but the music is hot.

The movie is mostly a curiosity, but it looks great and the music makes up for considerable mediocrity.

There’s even bongos!

“Don’t worry man…everything’s co-o-o-o-o-l.”

I Vote Republican

Yes.

Yes, I do, not as often as I vote Democratic, but I do.

And will continue to do so.

I voted for Louis Nunn, Larry Hopkins, Linda Gorton, Ryan Quarles…

Had I the chance, I would have voted for Alice Forgy Kerr a number of times.

I voted for Ernesto Scorsone even though he answered my phone call with; “Rodge, I think the world of you, but you’re on the wrong side of this issue.”

Before I retired, I supported political candidates financially and wish I still could. My pitiful contributions probably ran 60% Dems and 40% Reps. The candidates I supported probably lost more than they won…about my same success at predicting today’s weather.

I support and vote for the best people I can identify, Democratic, Republican, black, white, animal, vegetable, mineral…

I’ve not had an absolute deal-breaker of an issue that has kept me from voting for the best person I could identify…

…until now.

I will never vote for Mr. Trump or anyone who supports him.

Everything instilled in me by my parents, by my Baptist Sunday School upbringing, by my public schools, and by my journey through life argues against it.

I guess I’m brainwashed.