Category Archives: Junesboy

The Hazards of a Wine Education

“Yer name Leasor?”

The words came out softly from a warm Bluegrass night accompanied by a blinding police car spotlight in the summer of 1973.

I was pretty sure I was not on the road to Damascus.
I could, regrettably, rule out an epiphany.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind wouldn’t be released for another four years, so it wasn’t a targeted alien abduction. Probing, thank God, was unlikely.

I was in my car parked at the back door of a liquor store at about 2am Sunday morning.
How could anything good come of this?

Wait, wait, wait…
Let’s roll this clock back a bit.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

I have been asked a number of times how I learned about wine.
I read magazines and books of course. In the early 70’s I read a quote from the owner of a California winemaker; “The only way to learn about wine is to open bottles.” That rang true and desirable to me in 1973, and has continued to ring true and desirable through the decades. But in 1973, I couldn’t afford to open that many bottles. Oh sure, it was a time when the most expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon (Paul Masson) was $3.59, Pouilly-Fuissé was $3.79, and Dom Perignon was $15.99. But I was making $1.85 an hour as an assistant manager and riding a bicycle to work whenever weatherly possible.

There were no student loans for opening bottles.

Then a customer ordered two cases of Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett (about $2.99 per bottle). It arrived and the customer did not. We were stuck with $70+ of wine that nobody else in Kentucky had even heard of, nor could they pronounce it if they had. What to do?

It behooved us to sell the cases. To do so, it behooved us to research the wine.

On Saturday nights, the store manager and I would work the store with a cashier. At midnight, we would let the cashier leave and the two of us would finish working until the legally mandated closing time of 1am. It was usually a slo-o-o-w final hour.
One slo-o-o-w final Saturday night hour, the manager chilled down a bottle of the problematical Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. I slipped next door to the grocery store (Randall’s, if you’re geezer enough to remember) and purchased a couple of gourmet cheeses (Colby and Havarti, leftover from their deli sandwiches as I recall – goin’ first class all the way). We pulled out the Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wine, and pulled out the corks, and employed a couple of styrophene cups.

That night I learned a good bit of geography (the importance of those hilly bends in the rivers Rhine and Saar, and their orientation to the sun). I learned of the winemaking prowess of the Prum family. I learned a good bit about my first grape varietal; Riesling. I learned about the agricultural challenge of coaxing maximum ripeness while avoiding potentially crop-destroying early winter. Most importantly, I experienced for the first time sunshine in a bottle. There’s no going back from there.

From humble sips, a sometimes blurry enthusiasm ensued (plus, we sold the two cases).

We continued our Lincoln-esque educational path. Wine sales and reputation grew steadily. In the long run, the manager eventually became the best and most influential wine-buyer in the state and I did OK conducting a ton of wine-tastings over the next 40 years.

But in the short run…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This particular Saturday night, we had tried and studied a couple of real nice wines from the Cote de Nuits and I was definitely feeling the effects of the nuit.

We closed the store and the manager drove me around the shopping center to my parked car, dropped me off, and departed.

I sat in my car for a moment with windows down, my ride in 1973 being sans air-conditioning, GPS, Sirius, FM radio, cruise control, and cup-holders. I blissfully contemplated my next move. I was leaning towards a greasy breakfast at the Euclid Avenue Toddle House with the closing time rejects from the Fireplace Lounge and the Chevy Chase Inn. I was pretty sure that crowd would ignore my shoulder-blade-long locks and spare me the usual jukebox tribute of “I’m Proud to Be an Okie From Muskogee.”
Hash browns…
…hash browns…
…might just be the answer, whatever the question might be.

BAM!

That’s when the police car spotlight hit me.
The car glided alongside and a voice that invited no nonsense inquired; “What are you doing here?”

I explained, eloquently, perkily, and with perfect American diction, my status as an employee of the liquor store, just getting off work and heading for home for a good night’s sleep before I arose to attend church, teach Sunday school, and sing in the choir……and get a haircut.
I don’t think he bought it.

Then he asked; “Yer name Leasor?”

I confessed……abjectly.
Every fault known to man, every yellow light compromised, every RSVP un-responded to, every face turned away from the ugly hour mirror, every oil change postponed, every missed cut-off man…I confessed to it all in the name of Leasor.
“Yes…it is.”

“I saw you in a play. My girlfriend…she loves the theater. She took me to a play and you were in it. I didn’t like the play much, but you were pretty good.”

I was stunned and flattered into silence for a moment. Now remember, it didn’t take much to stun me at that moment…………I’m not proud of that admission.

We chatted for about 15-20 minutes about theater and girlfriends. He asked; “You still doing that?”
By then, my faculties were returning to razor-sharp (well…at least hacksaw-sharp) and I determined he was asking about theater and not girlfriends.
“Oh, yeah. I’m rehearsing a show now. You wanna see it? I’ve got comps.”
“I might. That’d be nice. My girl would be impressed.”
We arranged the logistics and he asked gently;
“Where’ya going now?”

Well, frankly, my belief in the restorative power of slimy hash browns being strong, I was still ciphering on the possible wisdom of a visit to the Toddle House, but his question gave me pause.
“I’m going straight home.”
“Where’s that?”
I responded with my address.
“Why don’t I follow you there, just to be safe?”
I agreed.
He did.

He and his lady attended my show and came backstage afterwards.
I think he scored a lot of points with her.

I merely lived to tell the tale.
I won……

Yes……I won……

But, it might have been because of the kindness and care of a problem-solving police officer. Attitudes about alcohol and driving were different; lenient and far more dangerous in 1973 than they are today. That incident changed my path. I stayed in the wine business, but my educational curriculum steered to a safer course. The slo-o-o-w Saturday night classes were terminated tout suite. C’est bien, n’est-ce pas?

Taco-Fest in San Miguel

san miguel-taco don feliz
Don Feliz, the scene of the Great Taco Massacree

I think I was in my late twenties before I had my tenth taco. I can’t say it was a memorable moment or a memorable taco. It didn’t leave me wanting more. Keep in mind, Lexington at that time only had one Mexican-themed restaurant and it wasn’t even a Taco Bell. Some of my friends, refugees from other cities, spoke dreamily of Taco Bell. I spoke dreamily of White Castle – we didn’t have them either.

But San Miguel de Allende…

I had been in San Miguel for less than 45 minutes and had had three tacos and an epiphany. The shells of these tacos were jicama and the fillings were spicy and light and crunchy and of no meat. I was weary from a day of travel, challenged by trying to keep up conversations with newly-made ex-patriot friends, and feeling the effects of cobblestone streets on an offended knee. These invigorating tacos and invigorating new acquaintances (plus a stunning view of a brilliant sunset over the distant mountains) cured all.

It was an instant revelation that I had grumpily trudged into a blessed place and that “grumpily” would henceforth have to be deleted from my vocabulary.

I replaced it with “tacos.”
I know, I know…”tacos” is not an adverb, but I trust you catch my drift.

Over the next two weeks, we had tacos indoors and outdoors. We had tacos on the first, second, and third floors, AND rooftops of excellent restaurants. The tacos, the sunsets, the company of our traveling companions, and the irresistible enthusiasm of our new friends happily filled our days. The offended knee was mollified by the plenteous and inexpensive taxis.

It was a real good time.

One last evening we were whisked away to Don Feliz (see picture), a restaurant slightly off the beaten cobblestone. It featured gallon-ish margaritas and a seven-taco entrée.

Seven.
Seven different tacos.
Some were beef. Some were chicken. Some were pork. Some were buffalo. Some were unicorn.

Madre de Dias!

Clearly, it was time to go home.

End-of-the-Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day and I hope you had a jolly one…or a merry one…or at least a hopeful one.

Well, that’s over with now. If you need proof of that, check out Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) schedule for tomorrow. I’m thinkin’ it must be End-of-the-Earth Day. It’s one mad scientist after another.

It’s devil bats (floppy puppets), giant shrews (big dogs with fake plastic teeth), human flies, perilous body fluids, disappearing corpses, human panthers, living heads on the wrong bodies, and of course man-made men who tap dance (“Oh, sweet mystery of life…”).

Whatta buffet of planet-threatening buffoonery.

I love it.

And I love TCM.

A few days ago, an affable representative from Metronet called on us to explain their new venture aimed at competing with Spectrum for our cable and internet service.

Janie will make that decision for us. She’s a smart modern gal who watches a wide selection of TV and visits a large number of useful websites and services, all of which make our lives infinitely better. That’s what she said.

I’m a well-oiled geezer who toddles from TCM to CNN to MLB. It’s about the same number of channels I watched when I was ten and three channels were all we had. I’m told we grow and progress, but sometimes the evidence…

As Janie absorbed the pros and cons (and prose and cons – see what I did there?) of the pleasant and earnest sales rep, I perused the list of channels offered by Metronet. It was the usual 5,436 channels.

I skipped through the 400-page document until I had assured myself that TCM, CNN, and my beloved Reds were represented.

My work here is done.

Wait!

If we switch to Metronet, will I still be able to see the Spectrum “monster” commercials? I would truly miss that sandstorm-loving mummy and his murderous puppet friend.

That might be a deal-breaker for me.

And that friends, is why we let Janie make those decisions.

Happy End-of-the-Earth Day!

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.

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…

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.

Foxy’s and the Flaming Embers

I’ve written about how I got into the alcohol business (see “My Last Job Interview” in the blog archives), but I haven’t described that gem of a first retail job.

It was a tiny liquor store on North New Circle Road across the road from the Flaming Embers Inn and next to Foxy’s Diner. It was a choice location…for something…but not for a liquor store. The store had been purchased by the owners of the new chain Shoppers Village Liquors for the liquor license. They were building a large and fancy new wine shop on Reynolds Road and needed a license. At that time this was the accepted procedure for obtaining a liquor license; buying an existing business. Obviously, if an existing business was willing to sell, it probably was not doing much existing business…at least not enough to continue existing.

But there’s the rub. In 1972, you couldn’t just buy the store, close the store, and idle the license until your new location was ready to go. The license had to be in use. Thus, a tiny shop with lousy access to busy highway offered an employment opportunity to a theater hippie who needed a summer job/40+ year career.

My first day on the job consisted of learning how to operate the cash register and the price gun (22 minutes), how to break down a cardboard box (30 seconds), how to lock up and set the alarm (5 minutes), and how to pronounce “Spañada” (a heinous, cheap, and versatile jug wine concoction from Gallo – you could boil it like a toddy, freeze it into ice cubes, spike it with fruit and/or grain alcohol, and pick up thirteen TV channels, three in color). After my grueling 30 minutes of apprenticeship, I was left on my own for that 4pm-12m shift and every other weekday night shift for the next seven months until the store closed in November.

The first night I finished my duties by 5:30 and the customer flow dwindled to practically none after 6:30. I was left with nothing to do until midnight except watch the small TV (three channels, none in color). I didn’t own a TV myself at that time so it was a novelty…for about an hour. At midnight I closed the store and vowed to not spend another night watching TV. It was another two years before I owned a TV of my own.

Instead, I brought books.

Until college, I read two or three books a week for curiosity and entertainment. In college, my reading was hijacked by the required reading. I reverted instantly to my pre-university habits. That summer, I averaged reading a book a night, and still sold my share of Spañada. If I finished my book early, I was left to contemplate the neon sign across the street and meditate on what kind of business plan would lead one to name their hotel “The Flaming Embers Inn.” It smacked of prophesying an insurance claim.

My typical day that summer consisted of an evening of voracious if indiscriminate reading, closing the shop at midnight, slipping next door to Foxy’s for an exquisite Foxy burger, and then home to work on the musical extravaganza Chuck and I were writing until about 3am. It was an immersive routine of consuming and producing art, consuming dubious but affordable food, and paying the rent.

Thanks to that summer, I don’t believe there’s anyone but me that understands and admires the opening scene of “La Boheme” as I do.

But even as I write that, my head tells me only about a million current and past theater hippies have had the same experience. That fact represents the hope of the world.

My heart interrupts my head to shout; “You lie!”

My head and my heart; those two have never gotten along for any length of time, and with any luck they never will. To brutally paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis; they are both made stronger by the tussle.

I’m thinkin’ neither was made stronger by Foxy’s burgers.

Cowboy Bob and Peyton Place

My grandfather, Papaw, moved in with us when I was in junior high. Later, when my dad was transferred to Omaha during my high school years, Papaw went along with the rest of the family. I stayed behind to finish high school.

Papaw was a taciturn man of occasional wit and wisdom…and slightly more than occasional whimsy. One day in Omaha, he returned from his afternoon walk (he could cover miles) with a four-foot high marijuana plant he had recognized growing on a railroad easement. He added it carefully to dad’s tomato patch. He’d heard the controversy about the plant and was curious. When my dad got home that evening, he felt that curiosity was gonna get the whole family tossed in the hoosegow and destroyed the evidence tout suite.

Papaw accumulated 78rpm records whenever he ran across them and would play them on his turntable for hours. His hearing was no longer sharp. Thus, he cranked the turntable to life and cranked the volume up to eleven and leaned in. It was a sight to see. I couldn’t help but think of RCA Victor’s logo and caption; “Listening for his master’s voice.” I can’t truly say that Frankie Carle and his Orchestra writ scratchy and large made me a better man, but my Papaw seemed to find great value in the ensemble.

One day we were at a flea market and he noticed my interest in a cardboard box of about 20 “Tom Swift” books. When we returned to the car, the books were in the back seat, courtesy of Papaw. I can’t say TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-BIKE made me a better man, but I cherished the books then and still have them…he said bookishly (that’s a joke that only Tom Swift cognoscenti will get…and wince at…sorry).

Papaw believed what he saw on TV.

He believed it was real.

He was an uneducated, unsophisticated man, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew movies were stories and not real.
But TV…

Here was a window through which you could see things that were really happening somewhere and not get arrested. You could look in on other people’s doin’s.

Don’t laugh too quickly. The plausibility of Hitchcock’s wonderful Rear Window depends on just that premise.

Remember, this was decades before “reality television.” But Huntley and Brinkley were real, weren’t they? Ed Sullivan was live. Lawrence Welk was live (I’m not quite sure about Myron Florenz, but Bobby and Cissy were certainly a lively and charming young couple). All those game shows were live – maybe crooked, but live. The baseball game of the week was live.

The possibility of confusion was real and live on TV.

Papaw seriously proffered that Dorothy Malone and other members of the cast of Peyton Place had better mend their ways before disaster came a’knockin’ at the door. He would not miss an episode and wondered if Brother Bob from our church should go see those folks.

He believed professional wrestling was real.

Fervently.

I spent the summer of 1968, between school years, in Omaha. The professional wrestling scene in Omaha was thriving. Every Saturday night at the arena, there were hours of “championship” matches, blood matches, barbed wire challenges, and tag team mayhem, all accessorized with glitter, capes, masks, top hats, canes, and keffiyehs. Three or four thousand fans would pile in to scream and throw things.

It was a real good time.

During the week, to promote the Saturday events, portable rings were set at the local malls and the lesser stars of Omaha’s wrestling world would go a few rounds to whet the appetite for Saturday night.

On Wednesday evenings, one of the local TV stations would set up the portable ring in their studio and surround it with 70-80 rickety chairs on rickety-er platforms. For an hour, the stars of Omaha’s grappling firmament would prance, sneer, yell, leap, kick, bite, slug, strut, threaten, and make imaginative use of folding chairs.

The invited audience would scream insults and jeers at the villains (no expletives had to be deleted – the crowd understood it was live TV, and it was a different time) and then line up to get autographs after the bouts.

Wednesday evenings would find my Papaw in the chair closest to the TV. This is not because he was being pushy. The rest of us wanted sit behind him and watch him watching wrestling. It was quite a show. He flinched with every punch. He rose from his chair with every leap from the turnbuckles. He kicked with every drop kick.

We laughed and had a whee of a time pointing out sheer fakery of the presentation. He was oblivious to our questions;

– How can a fighter smack another fighter on the head with a metal folding chair and a) not send him to the hospital, and b) not send the chair swinger to jail?

– How come every bout ended exactly in time for the commercial break?

– How can a fighter hide a mysterious debilitating substance in those skin-tight outfits?

– Why can the masks never be completely removed no matter how comatose the masked scoundrel is?

– Since this is in a TV studio and all the wrestlers are using the same dressing room, wouldn’t they just destroy themselves there?

– Isn’t it convenient that Cowboy Bob, wrestling good guy and horse owner/trainer, would return to Omaha every summer when the local race track opened, defeat Iron Mike for the regional championship, fight and race all summer, and then lose the championship back to Iron Mike a week after the track closed for the year?

Papaw was undeterred in his faith.

One Wednesday night, he got so caught up in the TV action, he flung himself backward, overturned his chair, and dumped himself on the floor.

We didn’t laugh at that.

Dad decided this had gone beyond amusing and into the realm of; “Oh yeah, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt or a perfectly good chair gets busted.” He obtained three tickets to the next Wednesday’s wrestling broadcast.

There we were: three generations; Will Senior, William Junior, and June’s Boy, watching the participants laughing and joking with each other as they assembled the ring and warmed up. And there we were a half an hour later when the bouts began. It was all I had ever imagined; shouts and grunts and growls and screams – 250-pound men in tights leaping from the top ropes of the ring – dead men, face down on the mat – same dead men miraculously resurrected for a jaw-dropping thirty seconds of inexplicable victory – chairs flung, tables smashed, mysterious substances deployed – loud vows of vengeance to be inflicted; “Just wait till Saturday night at the arena! You won’t want miss it!!”

I was pretty sure I wanted to miss it.

We skipped the autograph session and headed home.

Papaw was pretty sure we had witnessed some clear illegalities that evening and that perhaps we should notify the police. His faith in the veracity of wrestling remained unshaken.

My grandfather lived to be 99 years old.

I love him and still miss him. He was a good guy and a real good time.
But I suspect…
…he would fallen hard for reality shows…
…he would have voted for Trump.

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?

Whoop!

Linden House

We had a houseful last night thanks to Janie.

Janie lives for Halloween. She likes me pretty well, and she adores Chloe, her pup, but she lives for Halloween.

The house is filthy with skeletons; human, rats, cats, and avian. Most of the bones twinkle, glow, and/or make noise. Any drawer, door, or toilet seat screams or plays Wagner. The shower is defended by knife-wielding shadows. Books on shelves shuffle…by themselves. Doormats screech – witch’s hats flutter (be careful, they’ll putcher eye out).

It’s a feast of shrimp and sausage and potatoes and onions and eye of toad and hair of newt (whatever a newt is)…and a cornbread to die for (and you may – but hey, it’s Halloween)…and yes, a gluten-free-but-what’s-use-in-living version of cornbread which everyone tells me is wonderful and I believe them…from a distance.

And then there’s the passing of Janie’s Treat Cat Box. You must reach into the razor-toothed mouth of the cat to get your treat – an unforgivable cruelty to inflict upon a guest assembly that has lived through Jaws and Banksy’s “Girl With a Balloon”. But it’s a foolish and brave group who’ve swilled more than a bit ‘o bourbon, and chardonnay, and prosecco, and cabernet; all of which are notorious courage-boosters.

And so the giant punch-balloons, and eyeball-rings, and head-syringes, and bloody saws, are deployed and depleted and, since thankfully no one requires a ride to the Emergency Room, we retire to the living room, de-activate the noise-makers and the stories begin.

Let me be frank about it.
It’s not a group spring chickens.

They’ve done a lot, been through a lot, seen a lot, and thought a lot about what they’ve done, seen, and been through. They’re verbal. They have vocabulary. They’ve had wine. The stories are unhurried and ever-changing.
It’s a great time to live.

Chloe, the pup is in heaven. She thinks everyone came to see her and every story is about her wonderfulness. She drifts from lap to lap.
It’s a great time to live.

I could relate some of the tales…and get sued…or arrested.
Rather, I am struck by how much theater has been collected this evening within these walls.
These non-theater walls.

When and how often I have been enveloped by a concentration of theater experience in a non-theater space. How desperately magical some of those congregations have been.
Then it occurs to me I’ve actually lived in such a place.

I had a college-ghetto room in a house on Linden Walk about 1971. It was an old house divided into rooms for rent – six or seven rooms that couldn’t even spell AC, sharing two bathrooms (tub-no shower, hook-and-eye on the door for imagined privacy – hey, it was hippie days, let the fantasies fly).

I recall my rent being about $1.25 per day. For real.

It was a little over a block away from the Fine Arts Building on the UK campus, around which, in defiance of Copernicus, the universe revolved. Thus, it was unsurprising that, with one exception, every tenant of the house was connected to the Guignol Theater. As far as I was concerned, this was Ground Zero for the future of American theater…whatever Ground Zero meant in 1971.

Besides me, there were two fellow actors living together downstairs. One was gay and later became a monk (for real), one was Pan incarnate (at least to hear him tell it – O the glorious filter of memory!). It was a reality show in the making before we’d ever even heard of reality shows. The assistant costumer for the Theater Department lived down the hall. Two actresses lived across the hall – their credits; Viola in Twelfth Night, Antigone in Anouilh’s Antigone, Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals.
It was a theater-infested house.

Except for one room.

She was demure.
Lower-case letters can’t really serve adequately here.

Work with me…
…she was demure………

She might’ve been attractive. Who could tell?

She would emerge from her room on Monday mornings, head down behind her books, and proceed with mission out of the house until late in the day. There was no “How d’ya do”.

Until Saturday night…

On Saturday nights someone would visit her in her room. I never saw him, or her, or…
But I, along with the rest of the house heard…

It began as a plaintive sigh…

…and proceeded quickly to a; “whoop…whoop…Whoop…Whoop…WHOOP…WHOOP!…WHOOOP!!…WHOOOOPP!!!…WWWHHHOOOOOPPPP!!!!!”

It was stunning.
It was athletic.
It was humbling.

It was far more dramatic than anyone else in the house could produce.

I still don’t know who she was, but when I was 20, she was a God to me.
She still is.