Monthly Archives: November 2018

Pitchin’ Steel

The last traces of a flaming rose sunset flee from another Bluegrass summer day. The birds go silent. The bats dart and dip. Yellow squares on dark blocks mark the welcoming windows of home and the neighbors; open windows seeking relief from the viscous warmth of the evening. Windows open also to the sounds of the evening; anger and laughter from the flesh and blood within or on television (The Honeymooners perhaps).

Also open to the sounds from without; the passing cars, porch conversations, sirens, and…

Two and a half pounds of steel gliding forty feet through the night air.

Two and a half pounds of steel slowly flipping once and once only like a gymnast in slow-motion.

Two and half pounds of steel crashing into dust and sand, sliding to a violent rendezvous with a one inch steel stake firmly anchored in a cubic foot of concrete sunk far below the surface of the planet. Its cry of defiance of the dying of the day pierces the night.

THUD!

CLAN-G-G-G-g-g-g-g-g!

This is repeated three more times.

Some neighbors’ windows close. Some expletives are un-deleted.

The twelve-year-old mind behind this performance trudges the forty feet to pick up his horseshoes and prepare to continue his metallic meditation in the other direction.

And make no mistake: a meditation it is.

Each shoe is banged against another to remove the dust gathered from the previous throw. Every bang rings like a mighty bell. This backyard, this horseshoe pit, is 500 miles from the nearest ocean, but ships at sea spring to emergency stations upon hearing these mad night bells from Central Kentucky.

Each ring of each shoe is a soul-centering om-m-m-m-m to this nocturnal pitcher of steel.

Probably not so much for the neighbors.

Each earthward swing of the arm, each precise release of the shoe, each slow arc of the flight, each moment of mayhem when steel meets steel, is a mantra of serenity deliciously smashed by gravity.

I loved to pitch horseshoes.

My dad built the pit. He dug the hole and poured the concrete and angled the stake. He built the frame and filled the whole schmegegge with sand. Pretty soon the sand was mostly beaten away and dirt remained, but everything else endured my constant pitching.

I pitched for hours. The ring, the swing, the fling, the flight, the landing, the clang, the trudge, repeat ad infinitum.

I thought no great thoughts. I solved no personal problems.
I simply became one with the dust and the clang and the air and the motion and the gravity and the steel and the night and the summer…

…and then my mom framed in the yellow square of our back door;

“Roger Lee! It’s time to come in. You’ve bothered the neighbors enough tonight.”

Can I get an amen?

An Opera House…in Kentucky?

You Can't Take It 10It would have been about 1:00 in the afternoon on a weekday in 1970…
…in an opera house…
…in Lexington, Kentucky.

Why was I there?

Was it to see a production of Carmen, or Madama Butterfly, or Rigoletto?

Nah!

I was there for the weekday bargain matinée at the Opera House Movie House on a fairly sketchy block of North Broadway. For a $1.50 I was settling in for a cinema mini-festival of the Barbra Streisand/Jack Nicholson classic; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (she sang, he didn’t…thank God) followed by Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer in the mud (neither sang as I recall…thank God).

The theme of this film pairing is strikingly apparent; tedious films employing and contrasting singing and cannon fire as mediums for selling a ticket or two…and maybe a tub of Buttercup Popcorn.

Frankly, I don’t recall much of the afternoon that was indelible in an uplifting way. I recall a long afternoon of affordable and forgettable flicks. I recall dimness, not just in the screening room, but in the lobby (skimping on lighting – a double savings; lower electric bills and less spent on actual housekeeping). I recall passing on the Buttercup offerings; the dim lighting couldn’t obscure the sharp, refinery whiff emanating from the butter(?)-dispensing mechanism. I recall the occasional skittering noises of the legendary rodent cleaning crew in the dark rows of the screening room celebrating the discarded remains of the Buttercup offerings.

Hey!
Buck fifty.
Two films.
You get what you pay for.
Plus Yves Montand and Ivo Garrano…and Mickey and Jerry (without Tom).

Well…that was then.
Eight years later, at age 27, I’m playing the 70+ year old Grandpa in Studio Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You on the Opera House stage – same building. The seats are new. The balconies and boxes are gilded and populated with Lexington theater-goers. The lights are bright. The lobby, halls, staircases, carpets, and aisles are proudly pristine. No Buttercup products are in sight (or in smell).

What happened?

In the 70’s, the Opera House was attacked by ice storms, gravity, and old age. The wrecking ball loomed.
The city of Lexington and a group called The Opera House Fund said “No.”
A serious architect, and a serious Lexington, and a serious Opera House Fund (thank you Linda Carey and W. T. Young) redesigned and restored the structure – not to a museum roadside attraction, but to a thriving driver of Central Kentucky’s performing arts community.

A year after the success of You Can’t Take It With You, I played a deliciously young and foolish Cornelius in Studio Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker in a Saturday afternoon performance to 54 (count ‘em!) attendees in a house that seats about a thousand. Another fairly grim afternoon in the Opera House, but at least the grimness was in striving for something good, not in hygiene or affordability.

I should mention here that in both of these shows I got to work with my friend Paul Thomas. Paul has retired a myriad of times from the teaching profession and is now the House Manager of the Opera House. I believe the Opera House muckety-mucks value his participation, but are unaware that his best and highest use is ON-stage, not off. Such is fickle fame.

In 1981, I urged everyone to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Lexington Musical Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. This was a notable production for Paul’s vocal exploration of musical scales of which Schoenberg never dreamed.

In 1982, Paul and I played in Brigadoon, also for Lexington Musical Theatre. Paul demonstrated a technique for holding a gun that the NRA is still trying to explain and justify.

Both of these edifying experiences were on the Opera House stage.

In 1987, I had the totaling fulfilling experience of playing Dr. Watson to my friend Eric Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes in the world premiere of my friend Chuck Pogue’s luscious script; The Ebony Ape, on the Opera House stage in an Actor’s Guild production. A two-story set, perfect and beautiful costumes, Fred Foster, Julieanne Pogue, Martha Campbell, Rick Scircle, Matt Regan…a glorious time for Mrs. Leasor’s little boy.

This was also on the Opera House stage…thank you very much.

A year later, in The King and I (a Lexington Musical Theatre production directed by my friend, Ralph Pate), Janie and I appeared in our one and only show together. She was lithe and lovely. I was…not so much, but I got to sing some beautiful songs for which I was not particularly suited (not, alas, an uncommon occurrence).

This was also on the Opera House stage. Sorry…but look at Janie! Isn’t she fine?

Carousel 01Now…
…skip ahead with me to 2006.

I’m asked to play the Star Keeper in the University of Kentucky Opera Theater’s production of Carousel at (you guessed it) the Opera House.

Well, I guess I could.

I walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to return to life and assure his daughter that she’ll “Never Walk Alone.”

Whoa.

This is a far cry from 1970 and Waterloo and…

“On a clear day, rise and look around you and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
You’ll be part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
You can hear from far and near the words you’ve never heard before.”



Well…
…maybe…
…not so far.

The Polls Are Closed – Let’s Drink!

Elections used to be funny in the alcohol business.
Funny as in “ha-ha?”
Funny as in “odd?”
Yes…both.

Until about seven or eight years ago, liquor stores in Kentucky could not open on Election Day until the polls closed at 6pm. That prohibition led to intriguing moments on the Monday nights preceding Election Days and odder moments commencing at 6pm after a precious few of us had voted.

One Monday night, I was the 22-year-old, long-haired-hippie assistant manager of a Shoppers Village Liquors on the north side of Lexington. A cowboy came in. Well, he wasn’t really a cowboy, though he had a hat and boots. His boots were better than mine, but my Triple-X Beaver Stetson with an RCA crease and a front-exploding feather band put his chapeau to abject shame.
No, he wasn’t a for real cowboy. He was some kind of a law-enforcement entity (sheriff, constable, double-ought agent, witch-finder…whatever) up for re-election in his home county of Estiharlamorgistan. He needed half-pints for the campaign. He asked for six cases of half-pints of Old Forester and started peeling bills. Now six cases of half-pints is almost 300 bottles. At that stage of my inchoate career in alcohol, I had not even seen 300 half-pints of one brand, much less have it on hand for purchase. I explained that to the ersatz town marshal, sold him the seven half-pints I had on hand, gave him directions to my nearest competitor, wished him good luck on his campaign, and meditated on the validity of my faith in democracy and the value of my puny personal vote.

The usual routine for opening the store on Election Night was often eerie.
I would hover near the front door with my key, and watch the clock and the parking lot. If the weather was good, the folks who had been waiting would congregate outside the door and there would be banter and jocularity. Banter and jocularity…on Election Night…sigh…I miss it so.
If it was a cold night however, people would cower in their dark cars until they saw me actually unlock the doors. Their dark cars would look like tombstones in the dusk. The customers would emerge as a group and shuffle in. If the first arrival had ever growled; “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” I would not have been at all surprised. I would not have corrected them as to my name or gender. I would simply and quickly started hammering boards over the windows.

Most of the time though, it was a real good time.

The best time was when my friend, radio personality Dave Krusenklaus, decided it would be fun to make an evening of celebration out of Election Night. Celebration…on Election Night…sigh…I miss it so.
He rented a limo and a tux and planned to meander through a selection of candidate campaign celebrations. Well, a procession like that could only start at the Liquor Barn at 6pm!
Kruser’s limo pulled up. He was broadcasting live and he led a large and raucous crowd in a countdown to the polls closing and the store opening. My employees loved it.

The worst Election Night was my own damn fault.

I had been working in my office all day. From my desk, I had a straight on view of the front door and had watched as hundreds of customers had walked up to the front door, read the CLOSED TILL 6PM sign, and left. No retailer could remain unaffected by such a travesty. My frustration roiled until I left my office to wander into other parts of the store and recover from the total unfairness of life.
When I reached our receiving area, I noticed that a tiny delivery of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons was being processed.
Sensing an opportunity to reclaim some of the day’s lost sales, I raced back to my office and triumphantly tweeted the delivery.
By 5:30, the line stretched around the building. The store manager, realizing who was responsible for drawing this horde which exceeded his supply of Pappy by a factor of 20, ungraciously turned over the crowd control responsibilities to me. I spent the rest of the evening explaining and apologizing to little good effect.

THAT was not a real good time.

Those prohibitions are now gone and that’s probably for the best. But…it was a quaint reminder that Election Days are special days…not just another day.

Special day…Election Day…sigh…I miss it so.

Election Night, 2016

I remember Election Night 2016…searingly.

It was to be a coronation of Hillary Clinton, and a continuation of progress made over the previous eight years.

Ms. Clinton, perhaps, had not run the most inspiring campaign. She kept it civil. She didn’t lie every day. She kept it smart. She didn’t rely on help from a foreign country – a 70-year sworn enemy of the US.

Could she have done more? I guess you can always find more to do, but at the time, it seemed enough.

President Obama had not delivered on 100% of all we hoped. He had only provided health care for millions, prevented a banking meltdown, reversed the worst recession of my lifetime, hunted down the mind behind 9/11, sparked hope in my LBGTQ neighbors, and gave us eight years of no war and no scandal.

Could he have done more? I guess you can always find more to do, but at the time, it seemed enough.

Besides, look at the opposing candidate. The US would never elect someone who;

– Lied every day – about things large and small.
– Mocked the afflicted.
– Hid his tax returns after promising to release them.
– Lied every day – about things large and small.
– Selected a Vice –Presidential running mate that did not believe in evolution.
– Paid women to hide extra-marital affairs. The plural used to be superfluous but the bar has been seriously lowered.
– Lied every day – about things large and small.
– Referred to refugees from Mexico as rapists.
– Spoke of his primary opponent (from the same party, mind you) as having an ugly wife and a father who conspired to assassinate Kennedy.
– Lied every day – about things large and small.

And the US didn’t elect such a person.

But…
Part of the US did…the part that voted.

I watched that evening in November, 2016 with slack-jawed disbelief as John King on CNN puzzled over inexplicable returns from the Panhandle of Florida.

As Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin returns came in, it became clear what the eventual electoral outcome would be and the dread set in. Within six hours we had moved from being on the verge of a golden age of progress towards a world of our parents’ (The Greatest Generation) dreams to a possible end of the greatest experiment of democracy the world has known and a naked plundering of the nation’s treasure and ideals.

Much of my adult life has been spent being a manager of people, locations, money, time, and products. When crises emerge, they are challenges to be met and fixed. Thus, my first thought was; “How do we fix this?”

The next morning, as Janie learned of the results, the look on her face flickered from disbelief to fear to “Whose ass do I need to kick about this?”

That day and the next, I talked young people off the ledge. I had met them during rehearsals for RAGTIME with UK Opera Theater a couple of months before. They were excited about casting their first presidential votes. Now they were crushed.

It was a tough holiday season.

A friend who voted for Clinton openly wept at our dinner table.
Another friend, a teacher, a lifelong Republican, for the first time in his life declined to vote at all rather than vote for this choice of candidates. He was dismal and lousy company – pondering retirement and slouching towards hermitude (I don’t think that’s really a word, but it’s accurate).
One acquaintance had voted Green. A guiltier aspect I have never seen on a human being, though I do remember a similar look on Lilly, my former dog, when confronted with a seriously compromised Birkenstock sandal.

Since his inauguration, Mr. Trump has done little to ameliorate the fear and much to exacerbate it…and doesn’t seem to care.

All along the way, Mr. Barr has abetted Mr. Trump, with his votes and with his silence.

How do we begin to fix this?

In Kentucky, in 2018, we can deprive Mr. Trump of Mr. Barr’s vote and his permissive silence.

Plus, we can replace him with a bright, energetic Kentucky voice, who seems less interested in party affiliation and personal power than doing what’s right for the country.

Yes, I’ll be voting on Tuesday.
Yes, I’ll be voting for Lt. Col. (Ret.) Amy McGrath.
And yes, I’ll be voting for her replacement in 2020 if she can’t meet expectations.

That’s how we begin to fix things.

I’m old. I fear we will not be able to repair the damage done in the last 21 months to the environment, to our world leadership, to our security, and to our civility in my lifetime, and yes, I’m bitter about that.

But the old hippie in me growls we must begin.

We begin on Tuesday.

Jake

Jake is probably the finest dog I’ve never met.

And there are so many amazing dogs I’ve never met;

I have great admiration for the feats of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Sergeant Preston’s King, Flash the parachuting dog in THE FLAMING SIGNAL (1933), and Smokey & Shadow the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Alsatians in SIGN OF THE WOLF (1941).

I empathize with Nick & Nora’s Asta, and Red’s Rover…they have to endure much and they endure it with good humor.

I root for Lady’s Tramp (successfully) and Ol’ Yeller (not so successfully).

I laugh out loud at Goofy, Pluto, and Odie.

Benji, the Shaggy Dog, and all 101 of those Dalmatians…well, maybe not so much…but they’re cute, I guess.

But they’re not real dogs. I mean some of them are real dogs, but none of them are REAL DOGS.

<< side note >>

Didja know that the Shaggy Dog was played (uncredited) by a dog named “Chiffon”? Chiffon needed a better agent.

<< end of side note >>

I think Jake is a real dog

Jake belongs to a friend of mine who doesn’t live in Lexington. She has posted pictures and escapades and gripes about Jake for several years. Through her postings I feel like I know the critter and he’s fine one.

I know of his dietary lack of discrimination. “If I can chew it and pass it, it’s food.”

I know of his utter and violent defiance of screen doors. This stems from his belief that if aliens (or Russians) wanted to infiltrate our country, they would come disguised as screen doors.

I recognize (from afar…far far afar) his olfactory ability to locate patches of otherwise unidentifiable dead things (Charnel No. 5), and roll with vigor, applying them liberally until said olfactory abilities have been obliterated.

Now that is a REAL DOG.
That is a dog’s dog.
I’m a fan.

I understand Jake is going through a tough time right now. That means my friend and her family are going through a tough time.
If you would, send some good thoughts their way.

Zeke’s a fine dog. There’s not much better to be.
And I’ve never even met the guy.
Sigh…