From Istanbul with Fangs

Movie Night!

Dracula in Istanbul – a Turkish delight from 1953.

That’s about all that needs to be said isn’t it?

What can we surmise from the title alone?

  • It’s probably not gonna be good. But that’s never stopped me.
  • It’s not gonna be in English and the subtitles are probably gonna be…novel.

True on both counts.

The film’s female lead is played by Annie Ball (about the only pronounceable name in the cast). Ms. Ball’s character dances a lot for Red Cross charities (seriously) behind a stage curtain that trumpets proudly the show sponsor’s name; The Minerva Sewing Machine Company (seriously!). The Muslim background of the film is reaffirmed often, which makes you puzzle over why Ms. Ball’s performances aren’t for the Red Crescent instead of the Red Cross, especially since no crucifixes are used in the struggle against the vampire.

On the clearly positive side, had there been such an award in 1953, I’m sure this film would have won the Oscar for “Best Use of Diaphanous Costuming”. You don’t even need those high-tech eyeglasses that used to be offered for a buck on the back of 1950’s comic books.

Truth in advertising warning; Istanbul only appears in a long-distance twilight skyline shot over the strait. For this it gets a title credit? Good agent.

I liked it.

The Thrill of Opening Night

Once upon a time long, long ago, theatre was invented. About 15 minutes later, I was cast in a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion.

Peering back through the nainsook scrim of geezer memory, it seemed like a real good time.

The planet, at the time, was lousy with hippies…when hippies were still hippies and not yet freed from the specter of the Selective Service. Student loans and Aids had not yet been invented. Ways were free, which was good ‘coz we didn’t have much money. But, as Bob Dylan explained; “When ya got nuthin’, ya got nuthin’ to lose…How does it feel?” Well…actually…it felt pretty good.

There was no snow ever. I didn’t own a coat. For a buck-ninety-nine you could get a 21-shrimp plate (plus fries and a drink) for a vegan (as defined in those days before we learned to spell keto and sushi) lunch at the Kampus Korner. Two more bucks would get you a burger and a beer at the Paddock Club for dinner. I didn’t need the beer so I was left with some change for the pinball machine. Besides, I had rehearsal for Androcles and the Lion to navigate and needed a clear head.

Androcles and the Lion featured an actor in a floppy lion suit growling and crawling about the stage.

You just know that’s gonna be cool.

I remember I played a beggar/criminal type in rags and scabs. I remember I yelled a lot. I remember I was definitive. I was excellent. I was the reason to buy a ticket.

I remember being shocked that the play’s review overlooked my six lines. I assume it was a rigged review.

I recall there was a character named Ferrovius; another poor person destined to be devoured in the arena. Ferrovius would come to the theatre each night, put on his make-up, and dress for the show. He would then report to the costume shop, where the costumer would tease and spray his hippie-ish hair into a foot high maelstrom of chaos. Ferrovius would then leave the costume shop, march directly to the full-length mirror in the green room, whip out a comb, and fiddle with his “do” until he had a Troy Donahue thing happnin’ that Troy woulda envied.

In those ancient days, this is what we called a Proud Boy.

I learned from watching this routine.

I knew that as a species, we lie.

I learned from this observation that within the spectrum of deceit we practice, we lie most fiercely to ourselves. We preach against vanity and we teach against vanity as a cautionary tale in the theatre.

But then we put a full-length mirror in the green room.

(sigh…)

But in a world of modern Proud Boys, and coronaviruses, and children in cages, and the designated hitter, this vanity and self-foolery seems more charming than destructive.

One night I watched the rehearsal of the first scene of our show. It was a lively and erudite scene between Androcles and his harridan wife. It ended with the wife slapping Androcles.

I knew Androcles, and I had done a couple of shows with the actress playing his wife. After his scene, Androcles and I were chatting and I decided to be helpful.

“You know, I’ve worked with your wife. She’s a remarkable actress.”

“Yes. I’m glad she’s playing the part.”

“You may not know…uh…she…uh…gets very…uh…pumped up…on opening night. You…might want to be prepared.”

“Oh, I get excited too! It’ll be great.”

I watched the opening scene from the wings on opening night. The big first moment came. The wife’s eyes grew eggs-over-easy. Her hair began to rise like Sigourney Weaver’s in Ghostbusters. Her face ruddy-fied to borderline ruby. She inhaled and several audience members fainted from the dip in available oxygen.

She swung.

It was titanic.

Her heels were firmly planted. Her hips opened in front of her shoulders. The arm came through after the hips with flashing bat speed, and the launch angle was a pure 30 degrees.

Androcles dropped straight to his knees on contact and spun 180 degrees, which was good: it left him aimed in precisely the correct direction to slither off the stage.

There were several seismic centers in the region that measured the event and one even issued a tsunami alert before realizing the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek was completely underground in Lexington.

No one was seriously hurt and the play went on and I was great.

I don’t really remember what I did.

Probably, after that first scene, Androcles didn’t remember either.

Wanted: Tree Planters

It doesn’t take long to plant a tree, but after you’ve done it, you’ll have a goodly wait till you get the full benefit of what you’ve planted. When I was in my twenties and thirties I planted trees and shrubs. Then I sat back and waited.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act. It was for me.

I had time.

Now…maybe not so much time.

I planted trees where I could see the result.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

I had time.

Now…maybe…

I’ve visited places that people gush about; Arizona, Alaska, Mexico… I liked ‘em, but there were few trees and of few varieties. I missed my trees.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Hollies, tupelos, dogwoods, chincopin oaks, ginkgos, maples, magnolias, spruce, birches…

I cherish them all.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Now, at this certain age, I know planting trees is for the pleasure of others. I will still plant them. They still fill me with hope for what will come. It is still a selfish act.

Yesterday, I saw hooligans and terrorists rampaging in our nation’s capitol.

I didn’t see any tree planters.

Tree planters have hope.

Meal-Planning in the Time of the Cholera

… or a kind of compulsory tailgating.

I’m gonna steal this term from my friend Tyler Madison. He used to live quite near to Commonwealth Stadium (as do Janie and I). During home football games, we get barricaded by game traffic and can’t easily leave the house. This mostly pleasant imprisonment initiates a scouring of the pantry for sustenance. Sometimes the results are, shall we say…creative?

These internal foraging skills have served us in good stead during this year of “sheltering at home” (euphemism for “occasionally being too lazy to go out”).

Hunting and gathering in the wilds of the kitchen cabinets…

Tonight we were, shall we say…fortunate?

Janie had recently made a Trader Joe’s run. With demonic glee, she announced the night’s menu;

  • Asparagus Risotto.
  • Misto alla Griglia (Marinated Grilled Eggplant & Zucchini)
  • Garlic Naan (Indian Bread)

Wow.

Just wow.

Be still my bleating tummy.

I have a couple of thoughts about this roster of edibles.

  1. Tonight’s meal is comprised 100% of delicacies I had never heard of much less eaten until I was deep into my twenties. Growing up, my dad considered a meal pretty much complete as long as it contained pork chops, brown beans, and fried potatoes. You could add more if you wished, but those dishes were basic sustenance.
  2. It would not have surprised me to find that this meal was accompanied by a disclaimer; “No animals were hurt or destroyed by this meal”.

Now, all that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the feast.

I am a lucky guy.

Frogs and Dogs

I posted a picture of the knot of frogs that inhabits our little pond. That’s what a group of frogs is called. I’m inordinately proud to know that.

I like the frogs.

One night recently, our wonder pup, Chloe, cornered the largest frog who had wandered a few feet away from the safety of the water. I had to intercede and provide the frog with a corridor to safety. There was a hop, a dive, and a splash – all was well. Chloe gave me a glare that screamed; “I don’t know you anymore.”

I like the dog, too.

The frog was being a frog; venturesome and stupid.

The dog was being a dog; a gleeful hunter.

Let them be what they are. Value them for what they are.

Sure they have their limitations, but as frogs and dogs, they’re jes’ fine.

Those limitations however, as charming as they are, are limitations. They prevent me from asking/hiring/electing them to be something other than frogs and dogs. For example, I believe Chloe’s penchant for chasing squirrels would make her unsuitable for driving my car and the frog’s constantly damp condition would render it unwise to assign electrical repair needs to him/her.

Nor would I nominate or elect either of them to be President.

But…as dogs and frogs…I like ‘em jes’ fine.

Christmas Whackers

I got tools for Christmas.

I’m sorry. I shoulda warned you before I said that. You might have been standing in a place where it’s hazardous to faint.

But it’s true.

My personal foundations are shaken. I’m questioning every tenet by which I’ve navigated the years. How has it come to this? Tools…and all the expectations and assumptions that accompany them…given to me…whose past attempted claims to the adjective “handy” were usually rebuffed and ridiculed with cause decent, and alas….

Janie gave me tools for Christmas.

She has followed and encouraged my perennial struggle to rein in the sly and raging ambitions of the trumpet vine under which we live. She understands my frustration when the vine soars high above my reach and threatens to initiate unholy congress with the overhead wires that power our house and allow our home to communicate with the rest of the planet. She knows of my aesthetic dissatisfaction with the ugly dead arm of a high branch on our 40-year-old dogwood. She senses my fear that the lower branches of the tupelos out front are scaring the strollers in our neighborhood.

Thanks to her, I now have new armaments to aid my battle.

I now have a wicked, 12-inch tree handsaw with apocalyptic teeth that devours with utter disdain bark, pith, pulp, and small student vehicles parked illegally.

I now have an extension that will allow me to clip twigs and branches from another area code.

Great…I think.

Chloe, the pup of wonder, worries that, these new weapons in my hands might lead to the wrong limbs being severed.

Janie coos “You missed one there, cowboy.”

I’m a lucky guy.

Whackers for Christmas.

Ouch.

Turning Toward the Morning

One of my favorite voices belongs to a singer/songwriter/sailor/boat builder from Maine. His name is Gordon Bok. I’ve never sailed nor built a boat and I’ve never been to Maine. Thus, I don’t always understand what he’s singing about. He sings about north winds and waves and storms and nautical conversations with meteorological entities. He describes negotiations between fishermen and the elements. He keens of the fearful waiting of a fishing community awaiting either a reassurance of their loved ones’ return after a storm, or a mortal tally of the lost.

No, I don’t always understand his jargon or his tales, and I suspect that often what I do understand is incomplete and inaccurate.

But he sings so beautifully.

One of his songs, Turning Toward the Morning, resonates with me as this difficult year swirls around its sordid drain. In it, Mr. Bok describes;

“When October’s growin’ thin and November’s comin’ home, you’ll be thinking of the seasons and the sad things that you’ve seen. And you’ll hear that old wind walkin’, hear him singin’ high and thin. You could swear he’s out there singin’ of your sorrow.”

I heard that old wind.

I heard it a few years ago in a small vacation rental on the moors of Nantucket Island. It never ceased. It whispered and rumbled and insisted. It sighed and soughed and implied. It whistled and crooned and threatened. It was intimate and indifferent and in control. Janie and I fled back to Kentucky.

I hear that old wind now.

I hear it on the news. I sift the news of its reality show trappings as best I can. I know they’re driven to create desire in me for reverse mortgages, free transportation to my yearly checkups, clean gutters, drugs with manufactured names I can’t pronounce, miracle pillows, and miracle spring water. I don’t mind this hucksterism. Hell, I grew up thinking I could order eyeglasses from my comic books that would enable me to see through people’s clothes.

No, I need the news services for the facts I can glean, not for that old wind “singin’ of my sorrow.”

I hear that old wind in the concerns of my friends.

My friends are smart (most of the time), optimistic (most of the time), and want to do the next right thing (pretty much all of time). But, for the most part, they are not spring chickens. They fret to near bitterness that they will not get to see the results of the great repair job that will begin on January 20, 2021. That old wind murmurs that it will take time to inoculate everyone to thwart the pandemic, it will take time to re-staff and refocus our efforts to build the better country we were building before the vandals were allowed entrance, it will take time…

So what.

We still must begin.

We have begun before, and I for one enjoyed that beginning. I’ll enjoy this one as well.

Mr. Bok scratches his head over our fretting;

“It’s a pity we don’t know what the little flowers know. They can’t face the cold November. They can’t take the wind and snow. They put their glories all behind them, bow their heads and let it go. But you know they’ll be there shinin’ in the morning.”

Put your glories all behind you. Bow your head and let it go. There are new glories to create.

Ronald Reagan’s campaign told us “It’s morning in America.” (LOUD BUZZER) Wrong! Thank you for playing.

The morning is now.

It always is……now.

It will be glorious and exciting. Just what us geezer-refugees from the Age of Aquarius need…a mission bigger and longer-lasting than ourselves.

Mr. Bok;

“If I had a thing to give you, I would tell you one more time that the world is always turning toward the morning.”

It is the dawning.

Be there shinin’.

Mamas Don’ Let Yer Babies Grow Up to Be…

…actors.

It’s a poor business plan for all but the tiniest portion of the population.

No, wait…let’s not sugar-coat it.

It’s a poor business plan for all but the tiniest portion of the tiniest portion of the population.

By profession, I’m no actor. I’m a retail manager. In 50+ years, I’ve performed in well over a hundred shows. My lifetime income from acting (so far) is somewhere in the neighborhood of less than $5,000. Retail management paid my bills.

The best actors I’ve known have made most of their money from activities other than acting.

  • One is an artist of rising reputation in oils and watercolors.
  • One is a successful screenwriter.
  • One is a lawyer.
  • One is an accountant.
  • Several are teachers (grade school and college).
  • One is a motivational speaker.
  • One trains doctors.
  • One was a pari-mutuel employee.
  • Several are waiters in restaurants.
  • One is a farmer.
  • One makes jams.
  • One reads horoscopes.

You get my point.

We don’t pay people to act.

But we like it when they do.

My professor and mentor Charles Dickens used to assuage parents of acting students; “There’s nothing nobler than bringing the greatest words and ideas in the English language to life on the stage.”

Spot on, Charles!

Of course he didn’t address the absence of paychecks for this noble stance.

I recall Charles sitting in on my audition in New York for a summer theatre job in Vermont that would allow me to work backstage and perhaps play a bit part, for the handsome remuneration of zero, zilch, nada, goose egg. After the audition, Charles treated me to lunch with an actress that was currently in a Tennessee Williams play and had just been lauded by Mr. Williams in a national magazine as the definitive actress for his writing. The lunch was nice and the company was impressive until she mentioned that her show had one week to run until it closed. I asked her what she would do then. She replied she would head to the unemployment office on Monday.

“Noble” don’t pay the rent.

No, don’t let your babies grow up to be actors…for a living.

But let them act.

Yes, yes, yes!

Let them act.

Let them learn to walk and talk at the same time…in front of a roomful of people. Let them learn to command a room. Let them learn to listen well when someone else commands the room. Let them learn to trust others on stage and let them learn to be worthy of trust. Let them learn to speak loudly and clearly and let them learn the power of being silent. Let them learn to laugh freely and know why. Let them learn to cry freely and know why. Let them learn to swing a sword to effect. Let them learn to kiss to greater effect.

Let them learn to be something other than themselves. Thus, they can shatter the limits of what they can be themselves.

There’s nothing nobler…or more useful.

Ask any of my list of best actors if they could be what they are for a living without their acting.

Ask yourself.

Snarling Charles & the Case of the Purloined Letter

(With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)

The geese were flying south and the geezers were gathering outdoors.

It was late October in Lexington, a season that normally chased flocks and folks towards shelter. But this was a spectacular unseasonably warm sunny morning. It had been predicted days before by the Gospel According to the Weather Channel. Thus, these codgers had arranged to assemble for one more chinwag before winter drove them indoors and Covid drove them apart. As Snarling Charles passed through the gate, the host’s fire pit, fountain, and grill were roaring, and the house pup was busy establishing Trumpian relationships trading nebulous promises of affection and loyalty for immediate material riches such as surreptitious scraps of edibles.

A jolly time seemed in the offing.

Heightened celebration was in the air.

Charles had received a phone call from his wife on his drive to this convening of convivial complainers. She had gleefully given him the news that CNN had just called the election for Biden. Charles had harboured (spelling is correct – Charles being the anglophile that he was, the “u” was ubiquitous) hopes that he could break the news to his colleagues, but alas, TV is faster than Lexington’s rambling lanes. The champagne was already flowing and the burgers were sizzling when he arrived at the gate. The pup was entertaining her own notions of a canine American dream…with mustard.

After hopeful toasts to the eminent end of a national nightmare, the usual litany of personal medical updates ensued, and was capped with the group’s retelling of theatre horror stories which had been burnished and improved since their last recounting.

Then someone remarked to Charles that they had noticed his latest “Letter to the Editor” in the local paper a few days before.

Charles, who had melted his snarl to a mere smirk in the glow of champagne, charred beef, and good companions, immediately snapped to attention. One eyebrow and one lip corner reached for the heavens; “Oh really? I didn’t see that.”

Charles was a writer.

Charles was a successful writer, and more importantly, a good writer.

People who speak French well, speak French whenever possible.

People who swim well, spend as much time in the water as they can.

People who write well…

Charles was a lousy poker player (that snarl…). He didn’t play poker very often.

He wrote well. You guess how he spent his time.

One of his most effective writing outlets was writing Letters to the Editor. They were sometimes pithy. They were sometimes pissy. But they were always strongly stated and well-written; rants perhaps, but rants with vocabulary, grammar, and panache.

This particular letter had been about standing ovations in the local theatres.

Now…

…in a nation where white lawyers and their wives are standing barefoot in the lawns of their mansions brandishing guns at people of color, and…

…a quarter of a million people have died from a virus in eight months, and…

…wildfires are consuming California, and…

…people in Flint, Michigan cannot safely drink the water from their faucets…

…we might have more pressing issues than surplus, unearned standing ovations in the local theatre.

But for Snarling Charles, this was one more thing that needed to be addressed and it was something to which he could bring some expertise.

Good for him.

As he put it in his letter;

“The automatic leaping to their feet of audiences in our town for any and every stage production, regardless of quality does a disservice to the labours of our best performers.”

He was proud he had written it. He was happy to hear it had been published. He was sorry he had missed it.

When he returned home, he indulged in a little more celebratory sparkling wine with his missus, walked the good dog Nigel, and delved in the past few days of the local paper until he found his missive.

Sure enough, there it was, just like he wrote it…sort of;

“The automatic leaping to their feet of audiences in our town for any and every stage production, regardless of quality does a disservice to the labors of our best performers.”

“Labors?”

Where’s my bloody “u”?

Octopi Flicks

It’s an understudied genre.

Why?

And why should we…

Make that…why should I…care now?

Well, I’m always arrested by synchronicity. I noticed and leapt on the opportunity to see the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed on successive nights by movie monsters from the sea. Both films featured a giant octopus. It got me thinking (eight to the bar, no less) about my favorite cinematic cephalopods.

Here’s a useless little list;

Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009) is a classic zero on a scale of one to ten, BUT it does posit and show in a flash the perfectly implausible result from an aerial giant shark attack on an airplane, and an equally implausible performance by Debbie Gibson. On the positive side, the Golden Gate goes down, and the truly big octopus achieves a deadly draw in his death match with the titular fish…though to honor true disclosure, I should point out there are sequels. I suspect the sea creatures and the sequels should be avoided.

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1953) also destroys the Golden Gate, but this time the octopus gets the assignment and does a much better job. This flick had serious world-ending talent involved. Faith Domergue was in the midst of a great few years of weird movies. She was imperiled twice in 1955 in This Island Earth and Cult of the Cobra. Kenneth Tobey was capping off a trilogy of sci-fi adventures; The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). And of course the star of the show was the creation of Ray Harryhausen, genius of stop-action wonders. All of this talent and effort just to produce instant calamari – a San Francisco treat?

Isle of Fury (1936) is a tedious little film that allows Humphrey Bogart to shuck his impeccable South Sea Island white suit and wrestle with an octopus. I’m believin’ every minute.

Sometimes the octopus is human. Maud Adams plays the title role in Octopussy (1983). The actual octopi in the film are fairly inconsequential. Ms. Adams is most certainly not.

Two films depict the same octopus. Bride of the Monster (1955) is a truly dreadful Ed Wood-directed exercise that features a ludicrous performance by Tor Johnson and an even more ludicrous watery struggle between Bela Lugosi and a rubber octopus. Ed Wood (1994) recreates that cinematic moment in a funny and pitiful way. I loved them both.

Without hesitation, my favorite octopus film is Cannery Row (1982). There are special performances by Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, Frank McRae, and M. Emmet Walsh. John Huston’s narration, the frog hunt, Doc and Suzy thinking they could dance, and the beer milk shake are all remarkable elements, but it all revolves around those eight baby octopi and their ill-fated dangling of a misplaced hope at the edge of the end of the Western World.

What’s my takeaway from this foolish survey?

Perhaps a word of advice to San Francisco;

Yer gonna need a bigger bay.