Shelter from the Storm

Whoosh!

That was a storm!

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

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

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

She’s a complex woman.

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

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

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

I confess.

I felt bitter.

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

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

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

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

Their moms would probably be ashamed.

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

Life Under the Hedge; 2 – A Chinwag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“@#$!%&^*”

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

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

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

“What does a hedge know about Apocalypse Now?”

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

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

“You have it in your library.”

“…AND you have tendrils…”

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

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

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

“Yes…yes, I was……”

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

“How ‘bout Master Blaster?”

“I said ya looked good with that hose.”

“…gotta get a hat…”

“That’s the ticket.”

Life Under the Hedge

Janie and I live under a hedge.

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

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

No, we truly live under a hedge.

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

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

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

The result?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, why would it speak to me?

(Cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone”)

Pranks for the Memories

Dial 01

Pranks in the theatre are traditional…unfortunately.

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

Pranks in the theatre are mostly legendary…mostly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did both.

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

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

 

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

Get More Game in the Game!

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

Ten or So Things I Learned From Harlan Ellison

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

Darkness Dispelled

I was on the road to Damascus a couple of weeks ago, sitting in the darkest back row of the Singletary Concert Hall for my fifth viewing of this year’s It’s a Grand for Singing (a hugely popular show-music extravaganza, mounted by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre), when the light hit me.
I was listening to three dying soldiers in the show The Civil War dictating a message their fathers;
“…I tried to remember you are judged by what you do while passing through.”
I was jarred.

Live performance can do that to you.

That concept had been important to me until the last two years. I hadn’t thought about it as much lately. I’ve been too busy following the daily outrages of the Trump Family & Friends Medicine Show.
Before that carnival hit town, I had resisted successfully the dubious lure of reality TV.
Honey Boo-Boo, roguish pawnbrokers, Kardashians, and dynasties of ducks claimed not one minute of my attention…not one minute. Then I had allowed the Trump Reality Show powered by the 24/7/365 news industry to hijack my focus. I now am urgently convinced of the higher priority of Melania’s jacket, Hilary’s emails, and Sarah’s dinner difficulties over the abandonment of NATO, neighborly relationships with countries that actually share our borders, and most of the progress for health care made in the last ten years.
Interlude #1
People who farm are called farmers.
People who work are called workers.
People who earn are called earners.
People who loot…
A few minutes after the soldiers’ number, a single plaintive voice grew to three voices, then to ten, then to about forty voices reassuring us from the show Dear Evan Hansen;
“Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, and when you’re broken on the ground……you will be found.”
Forty young voices singing what our leaders should be offering in response to daily reports of rising suicide rates of our youth, our veterans, our rural communities, and even our successful. Instead, we are distracted by chants of “Lock her up!” and self-pitying name-calling tweets of “witch hunt”, “me”, “no collusion”, “ME”, “fake news”, and “M-E-E-E!!”
Tweeting and chanting are legitimate forms of expression. Singing is better.
Interlude #2
People who sing are called singers.
People who act are called actors.
People who write are called writers.
People who tell stories are called storytellers.
People who mock the afflicted…
People who lie…
The show closed gloriously with a stage-full of circus-clad passion and hope from The Greatest Showman;
“But I won’t let them break me down to dust. I know that there’s a place for us…for we are glorious!”
Damn straight.
The reality show people may lie, loot, despoil, degrade, mock, and commit treason. They may then flee justice or even flee the country. But they will pass and be judged by what they did while passing through.
We will rebuild and restore and fix and repair. For we are glorious.
Interlude #3
People who teach are called teachers.
People who nurture are called nurturers.
People who heal are called healers.
People who restore are called restorers.
People who believe…
People who resist……
Literature, drama, poetry, music, and art have become time windows through which we can look back to before 2016 and be reminded of the glorious path we were on before the reality show took over. We can recapture our distracted momentum.
There will be damage to undo. We have undone damage before.
I think I know where we can find about forty young voices and citizens to help.
I believe they will resist…for they are glorious.

Perfect Baseball Weather – Alert!

“Boy, the weather’s great tonight and s’posed to be even better tomorrow. Looks like perfect baseball weather for tomorrow afternoon’s game! C’mon out!!”  –tonight’s dogged Reds announcer.

It is a beautiful night. The forecast is rosy. The Reds are playing poor baseball tonight and deservedly losing…again. The Reds’ season record is sadder than sad, bluer than blue…deservedly. Tonight’s crowd is less than impressive. The announcer’s exhortations for attendance are understandable.

But “perfect baseball weather” sets me to thinkin’…

I understand the idea of perfect baseball weather, but I have an expanded definition of what that is.

  • It’s October, 1976. I’m in a tiny apartment in Dallas with my old friend, Chuck Pogue, and my new friend, Larry Drake. I’ve convinced them (being lapsed baseball fans) to tune in the Reds/Phillies playoff game on Chuck’s 12-inch Sony Trinitron. The temperature in the dim room was probably about 72 degrees. Watching that magnificent Reds team utterly dismiss Philadelphia delighted me and rekindled a passion for baseball in Chuck and Larry that never left them. The weather was perfect that day where I was.
  • Last summer, Janie and I drove over to a community softball field in Frankfort to spend a sizable chunk of a hot, sunny, humid day watching her great-grand-niece play. Eight-year-old ladies running randomly after ground balls and running with abandon around the bases to compile football-like scores, followed by a drive home with my babe through the farms and green-ness to which I am addicted, was perfect baseball weather to me.
  • My back yard in the early 60’s playing wiffle ball; it never rained…never.
  • High in the red-seated Alps of Riverfront Stadium, architecture actually swaying a bit with each impassioned roar of the crowd, watching the Reds win a World Series game in the bottom of the ninth while I was wearing a winter jacket and gloves…yes, perfect baseball weather.
  • Eating Dodger Dogs at Chavez Ravine while the visiting Cubs’ Ernie Banks in an immaculate white business suit is introduced to the crowd…no complaint about the climate here.
  • Sitting three rows behind Joe Morgan at Riverfront a week after his induction to the Hall of Fame; I recall it was hot, it was humid, there were bugs, it was perfect baseball weather.
  • It was also perfect while sitting behind the dugout of the Hickory Crawdads at the Lexington Legends field and being embarrassed as Chuck harassed the Hickory players to give us a hat. I later ordered the hat online – that’s just how cool it was – the hat, not the weather.
  • There was another memorable Legends night when it was 186 degrees and the setting sun was smack in our eyes during the first six innings and the Legends lost by five. But a train chugged past the left field fence, whistle singin’, and a promotional baseball bound in basketball leather and stamped; “UK Wildcats” was given out. Perfect baseball weather.
  • Tonight the Reds have continued to play poorly and are further behind and will undoubtedly lose again. But I’m sittin’ in the library, the windows are open, the frogs are singin’, the dog is chasing a mouse with glee and incompetence while the cat Googles “mouse”, and Jeff Brantley is describing his prodigious eating adventures. Perfect baseball weather to me.

Make America great again?

It’s great now.

Baseball is being played in perfect weather all over the land. How great is that?

Don’t screw it up…or give it away…or loot it……and shun those that do.

Let’s play two.

Lloyd Rowe – Another Varney Yarn

“Lloyd Rowe…”

Jim squinted like he could glimpse the man in question on the far horizon.

“…I haven’t thought about him in ages…haven’t wanted to.”

I was impressed with the solemnity of the moment until I reminded myself that the “far horizon” was the Green Room wall beneath the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky about eight feet in front of Jim, and just how many “ages” can a 20-year-old have actually seen?

My friend and fellow student, Bob Perkins had suggested to me that I might want to ask Jim Varney about Lloyd Rowe if I had sufficient time for a good story. This seemed like just the moment to pose the question.

It was September, 1970, and like clockwork, here was Jim, not a UK student – hell, he hadn’t even graduated from high school according to local legend, lurking in the Green Room at UK. This was a September tradition…like mums at the Saturday football games. Jim would drop in and loiter in this theatre department lair in hopes of broadening his life experience by meeting and “mentoring” the hopeful freshman actresses newly arrived on campus…or, as Jim referred to them; “sweet young things.”

This “mentoring”, to outward appearances, seemed to last a couple or three weeks until the young lady would reappear, a generally gladder but wiser girl devoted to catching up on classes missed.

Hey.

It was a freer time.

We spoke freely. We dressed freely. We undressed freely.

AYDS was still just a dietary supplement candy advertised on Paul Harvey’s radio show.

On this particular afternoon in the Green Room, the requisite young lady was present filling out some requisite semester-starting forms, I was present killing time until some rehearsal started – any rehearsal, and Jim loped in. He sized up the prospect (singular), and turned to me with a normal greeting; “Well, Goddy-dam, it’s Leasor. Howya doin’ Podge?”

I could have just let things follow their inevitable course…but no-o-o-o-o-o-o. I thought if I got Jim started on a saga it might disrupt the day in an entertaining way.

“Tell me about Lloyd Rowe.” I ventured.

That’s all it took. We’ll let Jim tell it from here.

Lloyd Rowe…

“…I haven’t thought about him in ages…haven’t wanted to.

Lloyd Rowe was mean.

He was a mean, mean man.

He was the meanest man in the world…and he knew it…he was proud of it. He got up every morning expecting to receive an award for mean-ness.

He didn’t bother to spit nails, he just digested ‘em. The only salad he would eat was poison ivy.

He took little petite little small-ass Donnie’s cake away from him and ate it. (Whatever that means.)

The laws of physics and medicine bowed to his hateful will. One day he was shot by a bullet in the chest. He whistled sharp and growled “Git back here.” That bullet backed up, healed instantly out of pure spite, and gave Lloyd a written apology.

Mean.

He was driving to Louisville one day and ‘long about Waddy/Peytona he had four simultaneous flat tires and he ran out of gas. He said; “This’ll not do.” He removed the gas cap, pissed in the tank, and crooned; “Go-o-o-o.” That car reached the White Castle in Downtown Louisville in two minutes flat and was a molten heap when it arrived. Lucky it was still under warranty.

He once lived on spite and nothing else for five months just to hurt himself.

He started campfires with small animals as kindling.

MEAN.

He decided one day to visit the mountains in Eastern Kentucky. His aims were two;

  • He wanted to broaden his life experiences by paying court to the Low-Life Sisters. There were three Low-life Sisters; Bunny Jeanette, Juanita Dean, and the little baby Nylon. Miz Low-Life had given birth to Nylon in a drugstore and named her after the first product she saw. Other naming possibilities spr-r-r-r-ing-g-g-g to mind. It would make an intriguing parlor game.
  • And two. He wanted to spend a serious moment with Greenbury Deathridge.

Greenbury Deathridge was the meanest man on Earth…and he knew it.

You perceive the problem, n’est-pas?

Lloyd wanted to settle the issue and establish harmony on the planet.

Well, he wanted to settle the issue.

He climbed mountains for thirty days through heat, humidity, snow, cyclones, tsunamis, baseball strikes, plagues, earthquakes, and “Gunsmoke” reruns. When he got to Greenbury’s cabin, he learned that the man he was seeking had died seven days before. Lloyd took that personally. He knelt at Greenbury’s grave…for three days…in abject disappointment and holy resentment. Finally, he dug up the corpse and carved it into a bar of soap. That seemed to bring closure.

He sought solace in the arms of Bunny Jeanette Low-Life, but at a crucial moment in their relationship, she cried “Oh, sweet Jesus!” Lloyd froze, appalled. He extricated himself, dressed freely, and marched back to Lexington on foot (his car being a molten heap at the time).

At this point in Jim’s narrative I cried enough.

Jim was jarred out of his fake memory rapture.

The requisite young lady? Oh, she was in love.

 

Oh, sweet Jesus.

Cannabis, Candor, & Courtroom Drama

“Thank you for your candor, Mr. Lay-zer.” the judge intoned, and with that I knew my fate had been determined.

It was around 2005 and I was in my 13th month of jury duty. At that time, federal jury duty called for 10 days of actual service or one year of being “on call”. The clock, however, did not begin until you had actually been called and served the first day. I had, by the time this call was issued been “on call” for 13 months. It felt like a side hustle at an occasional $15 dollars a day and a lot of worry and schedule-shifting.

This jury call was unusual. I was accustomed to reporting to a jury pool of 25-30 people, but when I had surrendered my phone for the day and passed the metal detector, I entered a juror’s room packed with 80-100 bleary souls.

There aren’t many comforts in a jury room, but there is coffee and I wonder about that. I mean, you’re pretty well limiting how long a court session can be when you immerse the jury pool (note the choice of words there) with java. Someone’s gonna have to pee or they’re gonna get pissed. Of course, it could increase the alacrity of the jury’s deliberations and save a little time there. Comme-çi comme-ça.

This was a big trial from out of town, moved to Lexington because of local notoriety in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati. Thus, a large jury pool was summoned.

I gathered from the voir dire, the two defendants were accused of possessing a semi-truck full of marijuana, intending to informally retail same. I learned after the trial, that one of the defendants, instead of making that “one phone call” to his lawyer, placed the call to his girlfriend who was just then firing up the grill for a celebratory cook-out at their apartment homestead. Being an adaptable, quick-thinking gal, she ran to freezer and removed several chunks of cold cash and surplus inventory from the semi and employed them to get the charcoal started. The police arrived soon enough to preserve some evidence but not soon enough to prevent an escape of intriguing fumes. I understand attitudes improved and vocabulary decayed in Cincinnati for about a week.

Uh…that last paragraph…

…if you scrambled all the words in it and subtracted every other letter and divided by two and had a beer and squinted real tight, it might spell; “urban legend”…or not……oh, wow!

Whatever.

In court, the judge began the day by wishing the jury a “good morning” and then turning to the attorneys and wishing them the same. The prosecuting attorney, a local fellow, returned those good wishes. The defense attorney did as well, adding that being from Cincinnati, he admired the quaintness of such civility as a “good morning” in a courtroom. I, having just interpreted his comment as being called a hick, made a mental note that if I ever was caught with a semi-truckload of marijuana and made to miss a real interesting cook-out, his would not be my first phone number to call, even if it was a cute number.

I glanced at the judge and thought I caught a flicker of “Well, bless your heart and fuck you” in his visage.

I felt we were simpatico.

Actors are often foolish that way.

Voir dire began.

The judge, in order to expedite the process, decided to ask some basic winnowing questions to the group. Useful queries like;

  • Is anyone here not a US citizen?
  • Does anyone here not speak English?
  • Does anyone here not know how many fingers are on their left hand?
  • Does anyone here not have a pulse?

We handled those pretty well as a group.

Then he asked a hard one – I wanna be sure I get it right;

“Does anyone here think…let me say this right…uh…marijuana is illegal…should it…maybe it…well…uh…lemme just say it. Does anyone here think marijuana should be legal?”

I raised my arm, confident in the belief that it would be lost in the forest of other raised arms.

My arm was a specimen tree, alone in a sunny field, commanding the attention of every eye in the universe.

<< A side note, if I may. >>

I had determined early on in the jury process that the best way to repel being selected for a panel was to look as much like a 2005 Republican as I could. I showed up every day dressed in gray slacks, blue blazer, light blue Oxford button-down shirt, double-Windsor-knotted tie (red, white, and blue foulard), short hair, and glasses…and flag pin. If I coulda found a place to slap on a flag decal, I woulda. I think it kept me out of a few juries, but it made me the foreman of almost all of the juries for which I was selected. Comme-çi comme-ça.

This side note is only important to truly depict what the judge saw when his eyes followed my specimen tree arm down to the rebellious source that raised it.

<< End of side note. >>

Where were we?

Oh yes.

My arm was a specimen tree, alone in a sunny field, commanding the attention of every eye in the universe.

The person in the seat next to mine subtly adjusted his seating choice by two to the right.

The judge gazed, open-mouthed, in my general direction. I suspect he was reconsidering the accuracy of his “good morning” greeting.

An exchange of information ensued.

“Your juror number, sir?”

“Juror number 73, your honor.”

“(Consulting his print-out) Mister……Lay-zer?”

“Close enough your honor.”

“Mr. Lay-zer, did you understand the question?”

“I think I did, your honor.”

“So…you are saying you believe that possessing, selling, and using marijuana should be legal?”

“I do, your honor. I have been in the alcohol retail business for over thirty years. It seems to me that it would be hypocritical for me to believe marijuana should not be legal.”

“I see…”

A longish pause before the judge continued; “Believing as you do, do you believe you could render an impartial verdict based on the facts to be presented at this trial?”

“I think I could, your honor. You are asking me to make a decision based on the law as it is, not as I think it should be. I think I’m capable of that.”

“Hm-m-m-m. Well, thank you for your candor, Mr. Lay-zer.”

I knew then I was about to get the rest of the day off.

I made another mental note. If I ever was caught with a semi-truckload of marijuana and made to miss a real interesting cook-out, I would not want this particular judge.

BUT, if I was the taxpayer lookin’ to keep juries fair and impartial…I might.