Monthly Archives: June 2018

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.