All posts by junesboy

Caravans

I’m in Mexico and I’ve seen the caravan.

Actually, I’ve seen several.

My favorite was led by a decorated burro carrying a beautiful bride. The groom strutted beside her, followed by musicians, and formally-garbed family members and well-wishers. They sang – yes – “Ay-i-yi-yi-i-i” rang in the narrow cobblestone street.

I sang too.

The caravan did not seem to heading in a direction that threatened an invasion of my country and I admit to mixed feelings about that. This looked like a group of people that would make any country better.

The bride and groom were younger than, and the street was older than my country. I felt happily in between.

So, I sang too.

I was told a bit later by a cab driver that 28 weddings were taking place in San Miguel today. 28 caravans not coming to invade the US.

I also saw a caravan of uniformed schoolchildren with backpacks released from school for the day. They ran, they screamed, they giggled…some of them even danced.

None of them demonstrated any invasive intentions.

Last Sunday I was part of a caravan of gringo baby-boomers bouncing through the countryside to an open-air venue that featured killer tacos and US rock from the 60’s. It was a real good time, but frankly, it felt more like an invasion than the other caravans I’ve described. Still, there was no threat in the air or on the news…just Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs in Spanish.

I know there are serious sadnesses in our hemisphere that need to be addressed.

But there are also celebrations to be had around every corner if we are open to them. Fear and threats and lies will deny us the celebrations while doing naught to assuage the sadnesses.

I am in Mexico now and with me is spring.

I’ll go home tomorrow where spring is eminent.

I vow to celebrate that spring…and sing…and find me some killer tacos.

Frettin’ in San Miguel

“You learn a lot when you travel.”

“Travel makes you a bigger person.”

“Travel broadens…”

Yadda yadda yadda…I have heard all the travel bromides my whole life and I believe them.

Then why do I hate it so?

Fretting.

To travel today is a banquet of fret.

I fret about tickets and time and baggage and passports and house sitters and currencies. It does not spark pleasure.

In my work life, I believe the most important thing I was paid to do was to fret. I fretted over every store, every day. I fretted about employees’ attendance. I fretted about inventory. I fretted about equipment. I fretted about the weather forecast.

It’s hard habit to break.

So…

This week Janie and I are traveling and it has triggered my almost subdued fret habit.

Now I’m fretting over hiccups and bird poop.

However, we’re here now. The traveling part is over until we return.

It’s old and beautiful, the weather’s perfect, the food’s fine, and the company has been sparkling.

Plus I’ve picked up some Spanish.

“Hiccup” is “hipo.”

“Fret” is “inquietarse.”

“Bird poop” is “caca de pajaro.”

You do learn a lot when you travel.

Dickens and the Deity

Charles Dickens was a good friend of mine.

No, not that Charles Dickens.

This Charles Dickens was a teacher/director in the University of Kentucky Theatre Department in the 60’s and 70’s and yes, that was his real name. He was tiny and skinny with a voice that was neither tiny nor skinny. He shuffled though the halls of the Fine Arts Building during play rehearsals followed by Bridey, his Scottish terrier and smoking (it was long ago and a freer age then – dinosaurs still roamed the savannahs, probably smoking).

Charles was an important teacher for me, though I never had a class with him.

How does that work?

Charles was my director in four different shows and he was a fellow actor in three. I learned much about theatre in those experiences.

But my first experience with Charles (unbeknownst to him) was before I even reached UK.

The year was 1969.

The place was the Guignol Theatre.

The reason was the Kentucky High School Play Competition.

I had competed earlier in the year at the regionals. We did well, but did not advance to the state finals. It was at these regionals however, where I met and befriended Jim Varney (see “Pre-Ernest Musings in the archives of this blog). Thus, I was simply a spectator, enjoying the efforts of other schools.

Charles was one of the judges.

I knew of Mr. Dickens. I had seen one of the plays he directed and heard exotic tales. Don’t get too excited. “Exotic” to this Southern Baptist-raised high schooler probably consisted of hearing of Mr. Dickens;

– Wore turtle necks.

– Drank…something…other than Coca-Cola.

– Quoted old movies like Gospel.

– Smoked…(sotto voce)…a lot!

Exotic.

But here he was, in the house of the Guignol, about ten rows in front of me.

We were watching and evaluating the same plays.

I felt wiser instantly and was reveling in my newfound sagacity.

Then Henry Clay High School took the stage.

For some unfathomable reason, they had chosen to do a miracle play; “Noah’s Ark.”

There it was, a gigantic backdrop of the title boat. In front of the ark, strutted sheet-bedecked high-school actors announcing and pronouncing archaic and utterly boring lines that didn’t even have the good manners to be iambic pentameter. At least you could have danced to that. It would be another nine years until Animal House came out. Otherwise, I would have erroneously assumed I had stumbled into a toga party.

The play crawled along through pomposity and vague righteousness until it reached a tense moment. The tense moment was tipped off by a tiny rumble of thunder offstage right. The ark backdrop wavered and from out of the top of the ark, holding on for dear life, popped a head in the midst of a medical cotton nimbus and beard.

It was God.

God stabilized his precarious perch, looked down, and sternly said; “No-O-ah-H!”

Now you fellows reading this, at this point I need you to keep in mind the age of this young boy-becoming-a-man and recall that first tough moment when your voice changed. Now, please turn and describe that moment to the females in our audience so they can also comprehend what just happened to our young actor…

…as he was playing God…

…In the Kentucky State High School Play Competition.

OMG.

As if that weren’t enough…

…at that moment, a great rolling guffaw filled the theatre,

It was the hooting of Zeus,

It was the howl of Odin,

All emanating from this tiny man judging the competition.

It was Charles Dickens, laughing at God.

My inchoate sagacity evaporated.

I wanted to hide under my seat and await the inevitable lightning strike.

It was exotic.

I learned a lot about theatre from that blasphemous chuckler.

Butterfly’s Relentless Pizzicato

Last night I experienced Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for about the 50th time; three live productions, two radio broadcasts, and countless various recordings. Since I first heard a Met Saturday broadcast performance in my teens, I don’t believe any years have gone by that I haven’t least experienced “Un Bel Di” at least once. I look forward to another 50.

It’s not my favorite opera. It’s not even my favorite Puccini. It’s only a perfect story, told to perfect music. It is of small things and huge ideas. It crashes planet-spanning cultures into each other. It pits religions against each other. It stirs ancient needs and passions (pure and sullied, exalted and mundane). It hints that miracles can happen, and replies to itself that usually they don’t. It does all this in one house with a garden, on a hill, near the port of Nagasaki.

It is inevitable and cruel;

– Give up your child.

– He will not return.

– You cannot grow.

– You are alone.

But…

-There are seasons.

-The cherry tree blossoms.

– The ships in the harbor keep coming.

– The pizzicato in the orchestra at the end of Act II will…not…stop…

It’s a story I could tell you in an hour, so of course an opera will tell it in three hours.

So what?

To be told a story artfully, to hear and feel music and startling word choices, to revel in the joy of knowing someone of my species thought of this and wrote it down…for me…is not a thing that cries to be hurried.

I hope I will always have time for Butterfly. Otherwise, why bother to resist?

…the…pizzicato……will………not…………stop……………

Ridin’ the Bus

Before we get to the bus…

I think my favorite “Peanuts” cartoon featured Linus asking Charlie Brown; “Didn’t you ever get into any fights at school?”
Charlie replied after cogitating for a panel or two; “No, I formed discussion groups.”

Now, to the bus.

I rode a lot of busses in junior high and high school.
I rode school busses. I had to be at the corner of our street on time, rain or shine, or left behind. If I missed the bus, I had to race two blocks to the next nearest stop and try to catch it. If I missed it there, the Taliban (not yet invented) was summoned to slice my head off in front of 23,403 people in Rupp Arena (not yet invented) and my remaining limbs would be shrink-wrapped (not yet invented) and shipped to Hogwarts (not yet…) for wand-blasting experiments. There was no parental ride to school.

I never missed the bus.

If I had, in my parents’ eyes I would be to blame; a worse alternative than anything in the last paragraph. Not the driver, not the weather, not the roads……me.

I never missed the bus.

There were students on the bus who were bigger than me. I devised strategies to deal with them. In my parents’ eyes, if there was a problem, it was mine.

There were students who were smaller than me. Ditto.

There were girls. Ditto.

There were students whose skin was a different hue than mine. Ditto.

No one got shot. No one got pregnant. The driver drove and looked straight ahead.

We all got along until we could arrive at our destination…every day…for years……what other choice did we have?

There were no fatalities.
But there was learning of a sort.

Today, we live in gated communities, drive our children to school, pick them up after, and schedule play dates.

We decry the current tribalism tearing our country apart; “Why can’t we get along with each other? Why are we so divided?”

Perhaps we have not learned to get along with each other. Perhaps some of our rolling classrooms devoted to getting along with each other have vanished.

“…I formed discussion groups.”

Yes, I most certainly did.

I had to.
And it has served me just fine.

Son of Hankerin’ for Horsehide

I’m sittin’ here in the gloom…
… and the wetness that is this Kentucky night.
The color palette outside my window ranges from slate to indigo to gray to charcoal to stygian abandon-all-hope black.

What could possibly redeem this evening?

My dog is bouncing off the walls; “Is it spring yet? Can I go out? Can I come in? Can I go out and then come in…three times?”
The cat languidly blinks at me; “Deal with it, fool.”
There’s joy for me in these critters, but no succor for this murk.

But lo!

The first baseball spring training game is on the tube, like an oasis shimmering in a desert-ordeal flick.

My first glimpse of this game in Arizona features short-sleeved, sunglasses-bedecked fans enjoying the sun.

The sun; whatta concept!

Palm trees peeking over the outfield fences.
Green.
Dry.
Bright.
Gulp!

The game is apparently between the Cincinnati Reds (masters of last place for the last 5-6 years) and the Cleveland Indians (legitimate contenders).

Apparently.

Actually, the game is between unknown strangers wearing uniforms that say; “Cincinnati” or “Cleveland.” That’s how it is in the early days of spring training.
This being so, one of the charming traits of these pre-season games is the uniform numbers.

I just watched #62 of the Indians walk #78 of the Reds, filling the bases (#’s 80 and 68 were already on second and third). #63 of the Reds then flied out to #72 in center field and #84 struck out to end the inning. These stratospheric numbers are issued to the players who are “just glad to be here” and have no chance of making the opening day rosters. In a few days, they will be dispersed back to the camps of Asheville, Louisville, Akron, Missoula, and Waddy-Peytona; towns that will not appear in your newspaper’s daily “Major League Standings.”

Another less-than-charming trait of spring training is the absence of extra-innings. The teams are only playin’ nine and settlin’ for ties. The teams are there to practice and get in shape…not win. This jars me to my genomes. It’s a violation of all things baseball. I need some president to blame.

I also notice there’s a “pitch clock” counting down in the background. Good luck with that.

Wait a minute! #105 just caught a stinging line drive in the left field corner! I hope, if he ever makes it to the big leagues, his number is maintained at #105 for at least a year so I can connect today with that day. Maybe, by then, I’ll also have learned his name.

But forget all that.
Cling to what’s important;
– Green
– Dry
– Bright
– Players chasing and throwing and batting and catching spheres……

Tell me again why I enjoyed Harry Potter books so.

Hankerin’ for Horsehide & Hope

Whatta day!

Epstein and sex with 14-year-olds, R. Kelly and sex with 14-year-olds, Kraft and sex for pay, human-trafficking implications, videos…

A president unqualified (or too qualified) to address any of these issues…

A president going to Vietnam as his staff worries that he may cede advantages to North Korea and thus to China and Russia in his deluded quest for the Nobel Peace Prize…

A president under 5-8 investigations for a dismaying litany of transgressions…

A Kentucky legislature that celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting by expanding concealed-carry rights, and persists with the “War on Coal” myth by hamstringing Kentucky’s successful solar industry…

More rain on the way and that damn ark is still not practical…

Good grief!

Where’s the solace?
What’s the solution?

Well…
…if I may humbly point out that the first baseball Spring Training game is scheduled for tomorrow.

What this world needs is baseball.

Baseball!

Epstein, Kelly, Kraft, Trump, Bevin, Thayer haven’t screwed that up……yet.

Tanner Roark, a man I never heard of till he was traded to the Reds in December, will take the mound for the Reds and pitch one inning and be followed by eight more pitchers of which I’ve never heard. I will be sitting in Lexington, in the rain I’m told, while these strangers gambol in the Florida sun on geometrically-structured fields of green and play THE game. Dank, drenched, and cold as I may be…I will feel a glimmer of promise that all can be okay.

We can fix anything if, somewhere, baseball is being played.

A foolish notion? Yes, of course.

About ten years ago, our Lexington minor league team gave out baseballs as a promotion. These were baseballs bound in basketball material instead of horsehide.

This afternoon I found myself reaching for that relic as I listened to the tawdry details of today’s headlines. I spun the ball through the various grips of the pitches I once threw when I played the game.

– Two-seamer – My best control pitch; when I needed a strike, this was the call.
– Four-seamer – An early-in-the-count temptation against an intimidating batter.
– Curve – My best pitch; if I hit my release point, you’re dead.
– Circle Change – Might be good if the batter and the umpire were blind.
– Screwball – Might be a strike if it didn’t hit the batter.
– Knuckleball – Mystical, unhittable, in a fantasy and strong headwind.

I felt a little better after the exercise. It was like yoga for my right hand.

Then I meditated on the Reds’ off-season roster changes.

– If Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray, and Alex Wood ALL return to their best forms,
– If Nick Senzel becomes the answer in center field,
– If Joey Votto finds another ten home runs,
– If Matt Kemp can squeeze out one more productive year,
– If Yasiel Puig can explode into a superstar,
– If the spirit of Johnny Bench invades Tucker Barnhart,
– If Britain can possibly figure out Brexit.

If all that happens, maybe…just maybe my beloved Reds can climb out of last place. It would be nice to finish ahead of SOMEBODY.

In baseball, we live for hopeful tomorrows. There’s always another game.
The ball may bounce our way tomorrow.
I might get that screwball over the plate tomorrow without braining someone.
It’s possible.
It’s always possible as long as there’s another game tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

Tanner Roark, whoever he is, on the mound, in the sun.

For a couple of hours, forget Epstein, Kelly, Kraft, Trump, Bevin, and Thayer.

Tanner Roark, whoever he is, on the mound, in the sun.

I need to start lining up World Series tix.

MAGA Hats and Tweeds

It was in the halcyon days of the mid-70’s. I was working in the wine department of a Shoppers Village Liquors (later to become Liquor Barn). I was wearing blue jeans, an army surplus shirt, Dingo boots, and my hair hung down to between my shoulder blades. I was a certifiable hippie-type who knew his wines. There were plenty of certifiable hippie-types in Lexington in those days, but most of them knew more about Pabst Blue Ribbon than Mumm’s Cordon Rouge.

One afternoon, I approached a middle-aged gentleman in the French aisle with my best; “May I help you?” He continued to gaze at the Beaujolais Villages selection for a moment (lost in the Fleury and the Brouilly) and murmured; “Are these all Beaujolais? What’s the diff-f-f-f…?”

Along about “diff-f-f-f…” he had glanced up at me, assessed the likelihood of any credible assistance from such a creature, and reached the conclusion of zero, zip, goose egg, and bupkiss. I caught a fleeting glimpse of despair in his eyes.
“No…I’m just looking.”

I’d seen this play before.

<< Let’s take a little reference side trip shall we? >>

In acting, an actor should quickly learn the difference between what they do and what others see, or they’ll never progress and they’ll never know why.

  • I go on stage and do my piece, tell my story.
  • When I finish, I step off the stage and the watchers tell me what they saw.
  • If there are differences between what I did and they saw…I change.
  • My story is paramount.

If my hearers/watchers/audience don’t get my story, it doesn’t matter what I thought I was doing. If I want to succeed, I change and change and change until my story gets through the way I want it to be heard and understood.

I’m an actor and a storyteller. I’m foolish a goodly bit of the time, but I’m not often stupid.
And I wasn’t in the mid-70’s.

<< End of little reference side trip. >>

I pondered hard after my exchange with the fellow struggling with Moulin-au-Vent, and realized I was tilting with a few windmills of my own.

I really liked selling wine. I wanted to do more of it. But the signals I was sending were inhibiting me. I knew my hair and my fashion choices spoke nothing my quality, but others were making instant negative evaluations. Their prejudices were obstructing me. I was paying a price I no longer wished to pay.

I scheduled a haircut.
I called my professor from UK and asked him to teach me about tweed coats.
I had learned to tie a double Windsor a few years before from my friend Chuck Pogue.
I had an eye exam (previously scheduled) and when the doctor suggested contacts, I opted for glasses.

Voila!
“Perfesser Lesser” was born.

I was amazed and delighted and a little bit disgusted by the change in fortune.

People respond to the signals we send. We may ridicule them for their response, but we choose the signals. We are in control of the signals we send and thus are in control of the response we elicit.

I was not my hair.
I was not my boots.
I was not my army shirt.

Nor was I my tweed jacket and my glasses.

These were simply signals I chose at different times of my life.

Similarly, the young man from Covington Catholic standing in front of the Native American drummer was not his hat.

But the hat was his signal.
The signal was his choice.
He was in control of the response.

It took me until my mid-20’s to decide I no longer wanted to pay that particular price.

I had the Côte d’Or to explore.

And yes, the choice has been golden.

On Dangerous Ground

Movie night!

Tonight’s treat is as old as me, and no it’s not silent.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND features Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray, Robert Ryan, and a raging Ward Bond; strong ingredients in this noir that ranges from the alleys of New York City to the snowy hilltops of Upstate New York.

Have you ever played the game where you imagine the all-time guest list of the perfectly fascinating dinner party? I do constantly. For many of those rosters I include Ida Lupino. She’s smart, strong, smart, pretty, and pretty damn smart. I’m bettin’ she has some tales to tell. I understand she directed (uncredited) this film for several days when Nicholas Ray was ill.

In this film, Ms. Lupino plays a blind person. In spite of a script that calls for the other characters to be oblivious to her lack of vision for ludicrous lengths of time, she’s just fine. And when she huskily rebuffs sympathy from Robert Ryan near the end of the flick, tears are near at hand.

I’m a fan.

For me, Robert Ryan can be intense and effective (THE RACKET and THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE) or dreadfully unengaged (THE LONGEST DAY). This is pretty good Robert Ryan. He’s scary as a hardened NYC detective, and confused and vulnerable with a brave lady in distress.

I’m buyin’ it.

Ward Bond is a vector of vengeance in the snow. I hope he doesn’t find me.

For me, film noir only works when the ammunition is live.
The pound of flesh must be paid.
Redemption comes, but there are consequences.

Check, check, and check.

This film’s a good’un.

Slouching Towards Hermitude

I find myself slouching towards hermitude these days. Every morning Janie and I sit on the sofa in our living room, with our coffees and muffins and digital newspapers and dog and cat. At some point I ask her; “And what is on your agenda today, young lady?” She usually has one or two things planned. If, between the two of us, we have more than two obligations, something inside of me dims a bit. If we have less, I thrill.

That probably sounds dull and sad.
I don’t care.

I’m grateful for Janie, the sofa, the coffee, the muffin, the dog and the cat… and the space and the time.

After 40+ years of fretting about getting stores open in bad weather and keeping them open in the face of employees’ and lawmakers’ whims and peccadilloes, I am genuinely surprised to learn I prefer fretting about which book I should read next, or which Puccini I should listen to, or whether Fellini should have made Amarcord before I Vitelloni and La Dolce Vita…or whether my beloved Reds could truly be a contender this year given their winter acquisitions.
Of course my fretting doesn’t affect any of those things, but they affect me and I believe I’m made better by them.

Oh yes, I now watch too much news and fret about that also. And no, my fretting doesn’t affect any of those happenings. And yes, they do affect me and I am not made better by them. All I can do is resist and await opportunities to act and vote and stay focused on what’s right and kind.

It’s tempting to burrow into our library and fret in solitude…as long as Janie and the critters aren’t too far away………and as long as my friends are within reach somehow, even if it’s by smoke signals (some of my friends nurture odd Urban Amish habits – one of them just started using email last year though the fake news didn’t report it).

What kind of ersatz hermit is that?

Last night I babysat with an old friend. He’s just had a knee replacement, is recuperating and has challenged his wife with his recuperation. I surmised her sanity remained intact though her patience was exhausted. She needed a break and my friend needed some of Janie’s fine veggie/beef soup. I delivered the soup and a few hours respite.

It was just the two of us and the soup and a movie and the continuation of a conversation that has lasted for slightly over fifty years.

Most of the time it’s been civil.
Most of the time it’s been intelligent.
Occasionally it’s been clever.

100% of the time it has been continued in the blissful belief that this conversation is important to our health and the health of the planet. All problems are solved…even if it’s by disagreeing and going away to ponder a bit.

There’s no hate. There’s no name-calling.
There is some sneering, but that’s just because that’s the way my friend’s face is constructed when he gets excited.

It was a real good time.

I seek these opportunities with my friends, old and new, and grow from them. Janie and I thrive on the laughter and the foolishness and the wisdom of our friends.

What the hell kind of hermit is that?
I fear I’ll never earn my Hermit Union Card at this rate.

I guess that’s OK.

But…
…I slouch on…