Monthly Archives: October 2017

Halloween Euro-Trash

It’s Halloween season and it’s movie night!

I’m immediately hooked solid when a flick’s philosophical underpinnings are spelled out in the opening dialogue and are obviously words to live by.

In tonight’s film, a casual chitchat suggests;

“Dealing with a murderer is not only repugnant, but it can lead to…complications.”

While I accept the probable veracity of the statement, I have yet to have this sentiment pop up in any conversation. That’s most likely for the best. I suspect a life too-filled with “murderer”, “repugnant”, and “complications” in its language is directly linked to a reduced life expectancy.

But in a horror flick? We’re off and running!

Now that line sounds like something Charlie Chan might have said. But no, it’s one of the many pearls of wisdom included in the Euro-trash classic; THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE. This is another inexplicably overlooked candidate for adaptation to a Broadway musical.

Check out this snappy exchange;

“Sulphuric acid!”

“Yes. We’ll be using it to dispose of the anatomical parts and other organic things.”

Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? …”other organic things”… what could “other organic things” possibly be? And do we really want to know?

This film has many of the basic elements of great bad film-making;

  • A secret cave with shiny, jagged rock walls but a perfectly flat floor (only in the movies can such a geologic miracle exist).
  • A fully functional mad doctor laboratory (with much gurgling and bubbling equipment) in said secret cave.
  • Sporadic electricity (besides most of the acting). This state-of-the-art laboratory is lit by torches, but the electrical equipment works – go figure.
  • Whispering. Everyone in the film whispers. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. I’m guessin’ the actors are actually moonlighting golf commentators.
  • A hunchback with a foot fetish and the ability to climb tile-roofs like Cary Grant in TO CATCH A THIEF.
  • A student nurse whose apartment has dead animals and a Modigliani hanging on her walls. Clearly student nurses make damn good money in Europe and have a remarkable range in taste.
  • Grave-robbing, decapitation, artificial life (besides most of the acting).

The only thing missing in this epic is Godzilla!

Great bad Halloween fare

I loved it.

The Homeward Three-Step

Revisiting a moment from last year…

 

The Homeward Three-Step

 

Multitasking – I’m thinking of giving it up.

Oh, it’s been fun to pretend to be smarter and more productive now than 30 years ago when I was doing a mere one thing at a time. But it’s not true…and I think I’ve always known it was not true. I think the myth of the miracle of multitasking stems from a phrase I heard so often when I was younger; “Humans only really use about ten percent of their brain’s capacity.” I’ve never seen any research to back up that statement. Perhaps the research exists, but in these days of fake news on the internet I’ll wait till I hear Jon Stewart say it.

But suppose it is true… So what?

Maybe we need to have some empty space in our heads in order to manipulate the knowledge and ideas and experiences and memories that we acquire in living. Everybody knows that to build something cool with Lego pieces, you have to spread them out to see what you’ve got to work with. I think that might also be true of our brain’s inventory. Maybe we need unused brain capacity as an uncluttered space from which we can survey our stock of thoughts and ideas and perhaps we need some uncluttered time and attention to conduct that survey.

I used to play a bit of chess. I wasn’t very good but I enjoyed the hell out of it and I believe it made me a better and more useful person. I have not played a complete game of chess since about 1986… 30 years… What happened?

Multitasking happened. To even play chess badly, you have to play chess totally, un-distractedly. You can’t study the board, remember the openings, juggle with time/position/power, and calculate an endgame; while checking your email, checking your voicemail, returning a phone call, updating your Facebook page, and watching a baseball game. It just doesn’t work that way.

Chess demands your complete, undivided attention. Your cat does too, by the way. Of course your cat can be appeased as long as part of your multitasking involves taking the cat’s picture and putting it on your Facebook page. Chess does not offer that option. Maybe that’s why we see far more pictures of kittens than chess games on our screens. To play chess is to do one thing…

one…

one thing…

at a time.

How embarrassing.

How shameful.

How unproductive.

This has been buggin’ me for years, but what could you do about it? Extreme multitasking has become something to which we all aspire and something on which we grade each other. Yet, even in the blizzard of multitasking I have found myself carving out uncluttered space and time in odd places.

When I was working in various parts of the state I had a lot of windshield time. Yes, it was a curse, especially on the interstate between Elizabethtown and Bowling Green, being pummeled by semi’s. (I’m convinced that if you built a windmill farm in the median of I-65 you could power the entire state from the turbulence of those trucks.) But it was also a blessing in the form of un-distracted time to consider the whence, the wither, and the why of your days. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Why are you making the trip? I don’t miss the driving. I do miss the cogitation.

My newest oasis in the multitasking sirocco is being provided courtesy of Chloe, my wonder pup.

We walk………..a lot.

We ramble all over our neighborhood and in our meanderings we have now met and visited about a dozen canine and human neighbors. Chloe is a social addict. She loves to visit her acquaintances. I fear her social hunger is fueled by being stuck with a boring white-haired guy all day.

Sigh.

Whatever.

We walk a couple of times a day. When we commence we walk briskly, with purpose, with dispatch. We walk several blocks to see if Bailey, or Stupie, or Izzie, or Bert are out. We pause in front of the houses of Chuck and Joe (the greatest men on the planet in Chloe’s opinion). We keep a sharp eye out for joggers and walkers we recognize and JoAnne, our mail carrier and Rusty, our Herald-Leader delivery champion.

When we have reached the apogee of our walk and turned for home (having accomplished our biological missions as well – well, hers anyway), we embark on Chloe’s Homeward Three-Step. Urgency has now left the building.

We take three steps, stop, and turn to admire the sun on the magnolia tree at the Greek lady’s house.

Three more steps and validate the new fence at Chuck’s house.

Three more steps and explore the intriguing leaf and pine-straw pile on Berry Lane. Chloe is convinced there’s a dead body beneath the pile – I think it’s a carcass formerly known as squirrel.

Three more steps and we pause to discuss whether Dino Risi’s delightful film IL SORPASSO might have influenced the creators of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I believe it did, but Chloe thinks I’m over-thinking a couple of rock ‘n’ roll flicks.

Three more steps and we sit for a spell to consider the possibility that old hootenanny folk music from the early 60’s might have new relevance and usefulness during a Trump presidency.

You get the idea.

Un-distracted time. No multitasking.

Woof.

“Cathedral Bells Kept Time”

“Cathedral Bells Kept Time”

Nanci Griffith made that observation in her song/reminiscence; “Three Flights Up”.

I lived it…

…for a while.

I’m an unrepentant, nay, make that a gleeful old hippie. If you don’t know the term…look it up…please!

In my college years and early twenties my friends and I generally lacked;

  • Money
  • Computers, laptops, cell phones, fitbits, I-pads or pods, thumb drives…
  • More than three TV channels
  • Multi-tasking urges
  • Regular haircuts
  • Pizza delivery (don’t laugh, gasp – it’s basic human right in my book)

It was a nightmarish time; a time to survive and be made stronger by surviving.

<<  snort!  >>

We didn’t have reality shows. We had reality.

We didn’t have social media. We had each other.

To quote Ms. Griffith’s song again;

“There were blinking pictures

Of how we’d sit and chat.

Some of them are scattered

Some are shattered in my mind.”

I remember many all-night random congregations over kitchen tables in shabby apartments. Discussions that originated at that evening’s rehearsal or that evening’s session at the Paddock Club continued after hours, sometimes till dawn.

Bob Dylan nailed it in his “Dream”.

“I dreamed a dream that made me sad,

Concerning myself and the first few friends I had.

With half-damp eyes I stared into the room

Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon,

Where we together weathered many a storm,

Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of morn.”

Earnest discussions, at times lubricated by beer and wine and carry-out burgers from Tolly-Ho.

We solved everything and solved nothing.

We knew everything and knew…the same.

“As easy as it was to tell black from white,

It was all that easy to tell wrong from right.”

We basked in the surety of our opinions about, Vietnam, the draft, Artaud, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Prine, Richard Nixon, Malcolm X, Ginger or Mary Ann; every burning issue of the day.

We were most sure of each other.

We listened to each other. We didn’t check our phones or email. We didn’t channel-surf. We didn’t update our Facebook page. We didn’t fact-check each other’s lies/stories. We listened and were entertained and, I think, mostly enlightened by each other’s presence.

“Cathedral bells kept time.”

Yes. Usually, we were in no hurry to part.

Last night a small group of people representing almost 400 years of friendship gathered with Janie and me at the house, ostensibly to celebrate Halloween, but really to celebrate each other. Dinner was great, Janie’s Halloween decorations were over the top, and the conversations were finally suspended (not ended, mind you…suspended) by the chime of Christ the King Church ringing 2:30am (I drift happily and deliberately from verisimilitude here, but you get the idea).

We solved everything and we solved nothing.

We still know everything and we know…less.

Checking in once more with Mr. Dylan…

“I wish, I wish, I wish in vain

That we could sit simply in that room again

Ten-thousand dollars at the drop of a hat

I’d give it up gladly if our lives could be like that.”

Last night…

…it was.

As nice as it was…I’m glad I didn’t have to fork over the $10,000 though.

Bad Checks, Baseball, & Bicycling

Bad Checks, Baseball, & Bicycling

 

Yesterday I went to a softball tournament in Frankfort. It was an all-day affair featuring 8-year-old young ladies missing pop flies, running from base-to-base with joyous abandon regardless of their safe/out status, bearing bats bigger than themselves, and chirping sassy, abusive cheers at the opposing team (which I suspect had cleansed a bit by their parent/coaches).

Janie and I loved it.

Cynics may suggest our delight may have been heartily induced by the un-biased fact that one our favorite nieces was the best player on our, alas, winless team.

Meh…haters will hate.

It was a beautiful day; sunny, temperature perfect. I’m at a ball game, listening to the opposing fans parent-splaining shrilly about keeping your hands up, keeping your eye on the ball, and wait’ll we get home. There were hot dogs…not good hot dogs, mind you…but there are no bad hot dogs at a ball game. That’s what yellow mustard is for.

Man.

How good can life be?

Between games, I mused about the last time I was at these particular playing fields.

I would’ve been 23 or 24 at the time. I was managing two Shoppers Village Liquor stores and living in Frankfort. I liked living in Kentucky’s capitol city. I lived a couple of blocks away from the Capitol Building and the Governor’s Mansion. It was a lovely neighborhood. I was cycling a good bit then and thoroughly enjoyed the impeccable pavement in my neighborhood……it’s good to live near the state capitol.

But not all was hunky-dory.

One of the bete-noirs of retail is bad checks. This is a problem that is rapidly fading as we sail into a cashless world, but in the early 70’s this was a serious impediment to a successful retail endeavor. As such, it fell to the store manager to collect these abominations.

I hated this duty and felt unsuited for it.

But as an actor living by desire in Central Kentucky, a locale that paid zip/zero/goose-egg to its actors, the sponsorship of my employment was paramount. If collecting bad checks was the rent for living in the Eden of my choice…so be it.

This duty led to some interesting adventures and interesting neighborhoods.

One of them had its denouement at the very softball fields of my past weekend.

It was a $20+ promise on a now worthless check. But in the early 70’s, $20 was a week’s rent, or a month of gasoline for the car, or a couple of days’ meals. This was not something to be abandoned without a fight.

I fought.

I first called the offender; no cell phones, only land lines…no answer.

I then drove to offender’s home (not as many guns back then). I parked in front of the address and rang the doorbell. No answer……BUT there was a twitch of the window curtain. Young and invulnerable and Sherlockian that I was, I decided further investigation was called for.

I drove around the block to the alley (alley…not as many guns back then) and waited. Sure enough, the offender emerged from his house in a bathrobe, smoking a cigarette. He spotted me and darted back into the house. I darted around to his front door. He was waiting for me. I received a promise of payment within the week.

Another promise unfulfilled.

Research ensued.

I discovered my offender played in a softball league on Tuesdays (aren’t smaller towns great?).

The next Tuesday, I was on the aluminum bleachers at the fields (Yes! The same ones my butt occupied yesterday!). There was my offender, warming up with his team. I sauntered over (“sauntered”…le mot juste…).

“Crestfallen” has always been a favorite word of mine and I believe I witnessed its living definition at that moment.

“I’ll get that money to you this week, I promise.” Was volunteered.

“Fine”, I replied.

I continued; “I love ballgames, ya know. I especially like ‘em when I know some of the players. And tonight I see a bunch of my customers here.

“If we’re not settled up by next Tuesday, I’ll be back and it won’t be to see the game, as thrilling as the contest might be. It’ll be to let everyone know……”

By Wednesday afternoon, I had received full payment for the check, plus the interest contributed of a choice selection of loud, vulgar abuse……rest easy, there was no vocabulary I had not heard before.

That’s OK.

I wasn’t feeling that good about myself anyway.

Conclusion?

We should pay our actors if we want’em to stick around.

“Good Drooler” — Resumé Fodder?

Birthday Party 01

The Birthday Party” (1971)

 

In my second year at the University of Kentucky I was cast in the student production of Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party”.

It was a great experience for me. I was working with friends I admired and this was my first and only (so far) exploration of a Pinter script.

There were precious moments in the process.

One actor who was required to play a vital scene while more than a little tipsy, had never to my knowledge drunk alcohol in his life. The director was coming from a philosophical place that required “bridging the gap” between reality and theatre to the point where the “bridge” was no longer required. He aspired to leave storytelling behind in favor of “story-living”.

I find this approach more often to be better therapy than good theatre…but that’s for another time.

It was decided that it would be useful and wise to finish one evening’s rehearsal at the actor-in-question’s apartment, where, as a cast, we would get our actor blotto in a safe environment while the rest of us raided his fridge and rummaged through his LP collection (show music – OLD show music – good grief!). It was a reasonable strategy…except… The character in the show was a quiet, steady, murderous drunk…an ominous cloud on any horizon. Our actor was…not so much. As the cherry vodka took hold, he began to sing…loudly…every Fred Astaire ditty in the entire Fred Astaire ditty-book. Ominous cloud? More like the munchkins in THE WIZARD OF OZ celebrating the demise of the Wicked Witch. The disappointment in the room, both from the failure of the experiment and the dearth of danceable tunes in the records, was palpable. Our cast dissipated into the night when our befuddled cast-mate began wailing Harry Lauder songs in a blurry brogue.

I played the lucky (?) victim of the birthday party in the title of the show. He appears in the third act after having been ravaged overnight in a torture/interrogation session. He’s a wreck…a shell of a living thing. He sits, non-responding, slack-jawed, drooling, throughout the scene. Again, the director begged for realism.

Drooling.

A skill sadly neglected in most acting classes.

Not much call for drooling in musicals…or comedies…or…life, for that matter.

But if you need a drooler…I’m yer guy.

It was the closest I ever got to being in a reality show.

I didn’t care for it. I’m an actor/storyteller and a civil human being — one is pretend and one is real. I rarely confuse the two and when I do, it’s not good.

Do you suppose there are times and places when reality shows are appropriate and harmless entertainment, and times and places when they’re not?

These days I find myself watching the news and thinking about that far too much.

Vipers vs. Verdi

Vipers vs Verdi

After my weekend immersion in Verdi with LA TRAVIATA, it might be good to “cleanse my palate” with some pure cultural junk.

I’m thinkin’ the 1976 made-for-TV-when-made-for-TV-was-NOT-a-recommendation “piéce de reptilian”; RATTLERS might be just the ticket.

Whatta film!

We’re talkin’ ludicrously poor child acting getting killed by the critics and the chemically-altered snakes in the first scene. This flick’s got nowhere to go but up from here. I can’t wait.

But first, a last few thoughts about LA TRAVIATA…

It was a beautiful production – beautiful to look at and beautiful to hear. It featured evenings of high C’s, crashing curtains (intentional), flying cutlery (intentional), and sexy flamenco dancing (damned intentional).

BUT…

I have a serious quibble with the second scene.

Yer tellin’ me, Mr. Verdi, that Violetta is gonna give up her bucolic “piéd a terrific” with her lover (with servants, no less) and return to the city to be exploited sexually and subsequently die because her lover’s daddy TELLS her to? This old hippie (look it up if you don’t know the term) is thinkin’ “that dog will NEVER hunt.”

Maybe…

…just maybe…

…if there were chemically-altered snakes in the country…

…but even then, I don’t know.

Open Letter to a “Facebook Friend”

A “Facebook friend” posted this today and it made me sad.

“Say what you will, maybe I’m a pessimist, but it kind of seems like people are inherently awful. Yes, there are good people, but aren’t they often motivated by outside forces (God, morality, opinions of others, etc.) to be good?” –a Facebook Friend

An open letter to a Facebook friend…

I know we’re merely “Facebook friends” and I’m of another generation (times two – ack!) and I’m probably breaching 85 rules of social media etiquette, but you invited folks to “say what you will”.

I could not disagree with your statement more.

I believe far more people are inherently good than not and that they will evince that goodness most often if less affected by “outside forces”. I believe the outside forces have grown in volume and subsequent influence over us in my lifetime and while I revel in having immediate access to the entire Oxford English Dictionary (something I used to have to drive to the public library and find a parking place to access), over 10K songs on my ITunes shuffle, 200+ channels of cable TV (on which, much of the time, the Spectrum monster commercials are the most appealing options), three major 24/7/365 news channels repeating the same panel discussions, opinions, and guesses every hour – very like a 1960’s AM radio station, and IMDB at my fingertips no matter where I am on Earth to settle those burning arguments (wagers) like; “Was Alex d’Arcy French or Egyptian?” (by the way, he was both), aside from access to the OED, I’m not sure these outside forces have made me a better person.

I think, in most situations, we know on a cellular level how to behave. We know how to treat other people. We understand the sheer “mathematics” of the Golden Rule. But these things we know get drowned out by outside forces…and others’ expectations.

How, today, can we reason with our inner decency when our hands are filled with pads, pods, and phones and our ears are filled with buds? Our inner voices are outvoted every waking instant. A friend of is fond of pointing out; “We are entertaining ourselves to death.” (Man, I wish I’d said that.)

Simply put; I believe we are good and the outside forces tend to deflect and misdirect and confuse that goodness.

That said, I don’t believe you’re a pessimist……but you’re damn sure acting like one.

Please stop.

Turn off the devices for a moment – not forever – don’t panic – for a moment.

Listen to what you know is right.

Save the world.

Geezer rant over.