All posts by junesboy

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…

The Gatton Signals

Imagine being in a play, standing onstage, in front of a hundred…or a hundred thousand people, and not remembering what your next line is.

I wouldn’t think about that if I were you…you’d only get depressed.

Being on stage, pretending to be someone else, is such a high, why doesn’t everyone wanna do it? I have always suspected the fear of “going up” on your lines is a major deterrent to participation.

It’s an understandable fear.
But it so rarely happens.

It happened to me once, and that once was before I was ever cast in a show. In the eighth grade I was asked to introduce my friend who was running for Student Council President of Bryan Station Junior High for his campaign speech to the ninth graders. I moseyed to the podium and announced to my upper classmen; “I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say.”

I collapsed and died on the spot, blocking the podium, and requiring the County Coroner to be called to determine the cause. My candidate lost his election, turned to drugs and dog-fighting, read way too much Bukowski, and eventually voted for Nixon twice and would have voted for him again if given the chance…a wasted life.

Ah-h-h-h! None of that really happened except losing the election.

What also didn’t happen is; I never have gone up on my lines again…after well over a hundred shows (knock on wood).

In all those shows, I have only ever been on stage twice when another actor has blanked out. Both of those events were presaged by the eyes of the suffering actor immediately doubling their size and shedding the ability to blink. Think of deer in the headlights. It’s an obvious tell. It’s a look that screams; “I don’t know who I am, or why I’m here, or why I have this great seat to watch this show, but you Buster, are now on your own.”

It’s a tough moment for all concerned, but I find it kind of exhilarating. I mean, all bets are off at that moment. I can now take this evening any direction I please. It’s like being Billy Taylor on the piano and Chet Baker turning to you and saying; “Take it.”

Oh-h-h-h-h!
My goodness!
Here we go!

Whoa.
Calm down, Rog.

Thankfully there are alternatives to Roger rewriting the evening in bad iambic ramblings on the fly.

There are the Gatton Signals.

I give my friend Joe Gatton full credit for this onstage survival semaphore system because that’s where I learned it. Joe himself attributes (blames?) it on another actor. But I’ve never heard of nor met this legendary critter so the laurels fall to Joe.

The signals are precise.
– If an actor looks pensive and places his finger on the side of his nose, he’s saying; “I don’t know my next line.”
– If an actor looks down and, starting at his forehead, runs his fingers through his hair, it means; “I’ve forgotten what play we’re doing.”
– If an actor raises both arms above his head and pumps them repeatedly, he’s screaming; “I don’t know who I am, or why I’m here, or why I have this great seat to watch this show, but you Buster, are now on your own.”

The third signal is dire and usually followed by the actor in question abruptly exiting the stage, forfeiting his right to ever “lunch” again in this town, and leaving his colleague to sort things out or, in my case, to turn the drama into a personal and bizarre cabaret presentation.

What fun!

It plumb evades me why everyone doesn’t wanna do this.

Game-Stopper!

The word “improvisation” in the theater sends me cowering to the nearest corner.

I leap away from the word, hissing like ol’ Christopher Lee when facing a crucifix.

It’s irrational, I know.

It seems to me that improvisation in the theater usually means one of two things.

I love the first meaning. It is the air I breathe in rehearsal. When I am immersed in the script and the character and the moment; when I am listening and alert and listening and watching and listening; every gesture, every glance, every inflection has the immediate potential to send us spinning into places we’ve never been…maybe places where no one has been. Sometimes when we reach those places, we find the character we’re searching for. Sometimes we find bits of ourselves…which may be the same thing. It is thrilling and addictive.

The second meaning though…
…is theater games.

Theater games are disguised as “fun” and “team-building” and “warm-ups.”
They can involve balls and circles and imaginary boxes.
Notice please, they don’t as a rule involve characters or scripts. I sign on for characters and scripts…not imaginary boxes.

Theater games tend to be just that; games. They usually decay rapidly into competitions won by the clever and the funny. How that furthers our explorations of MacBeth plumb evades me. I’ve yet to hear MacBeth described as clever or funny.

(Insert various grumpy comments here. Any will do. “Get offa my lawn!” is trite but appropriate enough.)

I mostly despair of any good rehearsal time lost to theater games.

Mostly…
There are special moments, however…

Once upon an evening, I was involved in a particularly useless “warm-up” game before a rehearsal. The cast formed a circle with one member in the center. The person in the center had to chant; “I’m (state their name) and (state some fact about themselves).” At that point, every person in the circle for whom the fact stated was also true had to abandon their spot in the circle and assume another spot. The center person would try to poach an abandoned spot and whoever was left out would be relegated to the center and would repeat the process.

Whee!

Most of the chants proceeded along the lines of;

– “I’m Jane Doe and I went to the movies today.” (scurrying and giggles)
– “I’m John Doe and I drive a Chevy.” (scrambling and guffaws)
– “I’m Becky Doober and I like pizza.” (chasing and chortles)

All very helpful when ferreting out the subtext of a Sam Shepard script.
You can only imagine the utter hilarity that filled the room.
Ri-i-i-i-ght.

This jocular exercise continued until a middle-aged fellow (no. not me) found himself in the center and chanted;

“I’m Joe Doober and I’m a convicted felon.”

The silence of the group…
…was of the soul-searching, exit-locating variety.

The stillness of the group…
…was as profound as a sudden wish for invisibility.

The director broke the meditative moment by chirping;

“Well, that’s enough for tonight. Let’s get started. Set up for Act I.”

Resolution, 2019

Resolution, 2019

1. I will not be distracted.

I will sift through the daily barrage of “Hey! Look at this!” and try to keep my eye on what’s important.

I will decide what’s important; not President Trump, not CNN panelists, not Rachel Maddow, not the Fox channel.

I will sift through the daily barrage of “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

I will shine the brightest light I can on the smoke-and-mirrors-enshrouded “man behind the curtain.”

I will not be distracted.

I will decide what’s important.

So…what’s important?

– The man lies…every day. What he says is brazenly not true; consistently and to a malevolent purpose.

– He mocks the afflicted. It’s recorded on video. There’s no spin here

– He cheats…on his spouses, his charities, his contractors, his investors, and his country (bone spurs?).

– He puts children in cages

– He attracted and hired and continues to listen to Stephen Miller.

These are the important things we know.

Russian collusion, being under an unnatural sway to Russia (and perhaps other countries), cheating on his taxes, and leading his campaign manager, personal attorney, and his children into criminal careers may also prove to be important.

Khashoggi, Puerto Rico, Pruitt, Zinke, DeVoss, Flynn, Carson, Mnuchin…

This are enough for me. I want someone else to be president.
I will not be distracted.
I will resist.

I think one resolution this year will have to be enough.