Category Archives: Lexington-Today

Quicksand Fever

I fret.

It’s my medium.

I work with fret like potters work with clay.

It’s my gift.

I can fret about anything. If you give me a stack of $100 bills, I will fret about which way the bills are turned. What if they stick together? What if a strong wind blows? How am I gonna get change?

I’ve learned to live with it and laugh at it…and that’s good because I’ve fretted since my childhood. I was a fret savant.

I was raised on 50’s and 60’s TV. I fretted when Spin and Marty went to summer camp. I fretted when skinny Frankie Avalon tried to keep up with all those big surfers when it was clear that Annette coulda taken him two falls outta three. I even fretted about Mr. Peabody’s “Way-Back Machine.” That thing didn’t look safe.

As I grew older, such “objets du angst” proved silly.

Quicksand, for example, has not proven to be near the ubiquitous hazard that TV westerns predicted it would be. It’s good to know Chloe the Pup and I can wander the neighborhood with impunity.

One of the most worrisome fears of my youth was falling into the hands of the Communists. I had read accounts of how the Soviet government snatched their innocent citizens off the streets, held sham investigations and trials, and whisked the hapless victims off to insane asylums or Siberia…or both. My dad and my teachers and Walter Cronkite assured me it was so.

Gulp!

I was also assured by those same people that it couldn’t happen in America. Any nascent wanderlust in me was subdued a bit. But as long as I maintained my citizenship, voted like a banshee, and kept my feet in the Land-Where-We-Do-What’s-Right, there was no need to fret.

Whew!

But wait.

Wait……

…………………………………………………………………..…wait…………

Now we have a president who asks a former Soviet country to investigate American citizens.

I think I’ll be asking my grass-cutting guy to survey the back yard for quicksand next spring.

Steinbeck and Screens

When people I meet learn;

  • That at my mom’s urging, I was reading before I started school;
  • My first job was as a clerk in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library;
  • I’ve collected books since I was fifteen;
  • With Janie’s permission, a loan from a friend, a thoughtful and caring set of plans from another friend, and a year of formidable building skills from yet another friend, I built a library. I built a library…pht-t-t-t. I wrote checks, said “GO,” kept out of the way, and admired the work – that’s what I did;

They get the point that books are uber-important to me.

Often, I will then get the question; “What’s your favorite book?”

Often I will cheat on the answer; “Today, my favorite book is actually two books by John Steinbeck; CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY.” It’s not really cheating. The two books tell one story about Steinbeck’s friend, Doc Ricketts. The books have all the basic food groups; Monterey, homeless men living a mostly gleeful life in abandoned corrugated tubes, a whorehouse, a frog hunt, a seer who inspires sunsets instead of the other way around, a Chinese storekeeper who cheats at chess, beer milk shakes, octopi, and Suzy driving a stick shift.

It also has a classic Steinbeck line that, to me, goes far to explain the current toxicity of our political life.

“Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him…”

I wonder if our current addiction to screens and our hunger and demand for complete access to all things at all times for no sacrifice of effort and treasure, is simply a path to distraction…and perhaps eventual destruction. We distract ourselves constantly to keep from acknowledging our debt to our species and other species for that matter. We substitute knowing things quickly for knowing things well…and then we do the same for the people we meet.

I’m gonna do better…

…and perhaps slower.

I’m certainly gonna vote…

…and I’m gonna vote in a way that pays at least a little of that debt I owe to all species.

Now, if tomorrow I’m asked about my favorite book, my answer might be THE STORY OF DR. DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting.

I can’t explain it.

It’s the way I roll.

An Imperial Visitor

A hawk came to our house today.

We’ve been in our house for 30+ years. We’ve tried to encourage most critters that drift in and we’ve deliberately brought others into our outdoor space. Our dogs and cats have thrived. Our fish and frogs teem and sing respectively. We’ve been briefly visited by raccoons, opossums, owls, and herons. The hedge of trumpet vine under which we live has become a condo for about a dozen tiny chittering birds that are a source of endless entertainment for our cat. Of course we have the usual horde of squirrels who screech their disapproval of every move the dog makes…critics! We have a plethora of rabbits and an occasional terrifying, but non-lethal serpent.

Our little space has become a lively, noisy little jungle. I believe Henri Rousseau would smile upon our efforts.

But today…

…today…

…it was a hawk.

Janie was heading out the door to her yoga session. There was a wo-o-osh of wings. She stopped; “I think we had a hawk in our garden!”

It was gone and so was she. I grabbed another cup of coffee and headed for the library.

The windows in the library overlook a small brick-lined pool with a birdbath fountain. I can stand in those windows and watch the frogs and fish and fountain, all of which are less than ten feet away.

I fired up the desktop and got the music ready for a’shufflin’.

I stepped up to the window with my cuppa and there he was.

“The stuff that dreams are made of…”

More like nightmares…feathered and beaked nightmares.

Squatting in the fountain, wings drooping happily over the edges of the basin, water bubbling up beneath his regal bird butt, his cruel Sam Waterston/Morris Ankrum countenance darting challenges to the world.

He flapped and flung water, enjoying his morning ablutions.

Our garden went silent.

Teeming and singing ceased. The frogs and the fish discreetly and immediately plunged to bottom of the pool. The chittering condo birds chittered not. The squirrels kept their filthy opinions to themselves. Dogs on the street stopped barking. Sirens and cars all instantly became hybrids and made no sounds.

I held my breath.

Death was bathing…

…and like the gods of Lovecraft, nothing good for any living creature would come from attracting attention.

This stricken silence went on for about ten minutes.

It was thrilling.

It was magnificent.

It was kinda scary.

I understood a little better the silence of Republicans in the presence of Trump.

The hawk, in his own time, flew to the garden gate, flapped and flung water to dry. He then cocked his head and flung a dismissive Chuck Pogue sneer to the silent garden.

He flew away, taking the silence with him.

I breathed again.

I looked down at the cat.

She sauntered away, wide-eyed, her tail huge, murmuring; “…goddam neighborhood’s goin’ to hell…”

Pottersville?

I fear we are living in Pottersville.

The aspiring angel Clarence failed and did not get his wings. George Bailey leaped from the snowy bridge to his death.

Messieurs Potter, Trump, McConnell, Bevin, Kushner, Carson, Mnuchin, Ross, Nunes, DeVoss and fellow ravagers with their toolkits of greed, grift, groping, grabbing…and coarseness are reshaping and renaming our country.

Pottersville.
It’s cold.
It’s venal.
It’s violent.
It’s coarse.
It’s wrong.
It’s inevitable……no, wait……I don’t believe that.

But tonight I need some reminders of hope and honest goodness and competence.

I need to hear Greg Turay sing “Anthem” from the musical Chess. I need to hear Michael Preacely sing anything at all. I need to see Dr. Everett McCorvey conduct 22,000 basketball fans singing our national anthem. I need to see the Texas softball player sink to her knees in tears when her soldier brother appears at her Senior Night game after three years of service overseas. I need to read some more Paul Prather. I need to remember my friend Becky Johnson’s noble attempts to learn how many children every cab driver in San Miguel has, in her high school Spanish that seemed to improve with every cab ride.

These reminders have nothing to do with generating a monetary profit exploiting other humans, or driving another species to extinction, or further wounding our planet.
They are the antithesis of Pottersville.

I’ll work on all that.

I’ll also vote, as early and as often as the law allows, to get us out of Pottersville.

But for tonight I’ll have to settle for watching Coach Calipari demonstrate his mastery of molding and motivating young basketball players, and admiring Patricia Belcher’s bellow of “PIE!!!” at Geico’s talking lizard.

They are both better and far more interesting than Pottersville.

The Oddness Continues…

I watched the Kentucky Derby…at least I thought I did.

I saw the horse cross the finish line first and his jockey give the first congratulatory interview. Then I switched to an event of far more importance; a titanic early-season baseball contest between my revered Reds and the despised Giants from San Francisco.

The oddness continued from earlier in the week.

– The Reds are wearing uniforms from 1902. I actually like ‘em, but…odd.
– Cody Reed threw a strike…odd.

Then a banner scrolled across the bottom of the screen essentially quoting the Firesign Theater; “Everything you know is wrong” about the Kentucky Derby. The winner (the betting favorite) was disqualified and the second-place finisher (a 65-1 underdog) was been declared the winner. I flipped back to Derby broadcast to see;

– Our scruffy governor in his gimme hat and his five o’clock shadow booed by the vocal majority of a crowd of 150,000 on national TV…very odd.
– The Derby trophy presented to owners that seemed almost apologetic for winning…certainly odd.
– A quick network breakaway to…a hockey game?

Befuddled, I flipped back to the baseball game where I learned the Reds had won the game and scored a lot of runs and Trump was still president.
Odd, odder and oddest.

I sense a disturbance in the Force (or fourth if you must).

Odd Night

It is an odd night after an odd day in these odd times.

I’m watching a little baseball on the tube; my cherished Reds are playing the Mets in New York on a cold and drizzling night. You can see the players’ breath.

Odd and unsettling.

The Reds are facing a fierce and talented pitcher, hittin’ the ball hard, have just left the bases loaded…and have yet to get a hit.

Odd and unsettling.

Speaking of odd and unsettling…

Earlier today, I saw a bit of Attorney General Barr’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I heard the Committee Chairman use the word “fuck” to open the hearing…a United States senator…on national TV…with the Attorney General of the United States sitting in front of him…in a Senate committee room…a room in the same building as the room where John Dean gave his astounding testimony to the Watergate Committee in June of 1974.

I was working nights in 1974. Thus, I got to watch and listen to some of Dean’s testimony in those pre-cable and pre-internet days.

I was struck by the difference between the hearings. In 1974;

– No one said “fuck.”
– Speeches were mostly absent.
– Questions were prevalent, prepared, and mostly to the point.
– Questions were expected to be answered, not dodged.
– Partisanship was present but not raw.
– No one seemed to regard participation in the proceedings as an opportunity to personally shine.
– Indeed, no one seemed to be happy to participate at all. It was serious bidness.

Today?

Well, aside from Kamala Harris, the senators and the Attorney General seemed clearly lesser lights than I remember from 1974.

Odd and unsettling.

I can’t say I know I want Ms. Harris to be my president yet. It’s too early for that.
But it’s not too early to know I don’t want the other participants in today’s exercise to be my public servants. I’m not stupid enough to not want my elected officials to be smarter than me. Otherwise, why would I need ‘em?

Surely we can do better.

Now, ‘bout that ball game…
It’s nuthin’ to nuthin’ and the beloved Reds have just replaced their 3-hit-shutout-throwin’ pitcher.

Odd.

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…

Funeralville II

I’ve been watching parts of various stages of President Bush’s funeral over the last few days.

I have wept a bit for a man and a family I did not particularly admire.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

Maybe I was moved by the fact that he was my President. He was the President of my United States, duly and fairly elected by my US countrymen. He was not inserted in the White House by gangsters from another country. That’s a good reason, but not a particularly high standard.

Maybe I was moved by his family life and his faithful devotion to the singular partner of his life. That’s another good reason, but not a historically high standard.

Maybe I was moved by President Bush’s volunteering for military duty at the age of eighteen in defiance of his parents’ college plans for him, at a moment in history when the rightness of our country’s military activities seemed clear and the success of those activities were far from clear. It was no time for bone spurs.

Maybe I was moved by President Bush’s advocacy for the rights of, and his lack of mockery of the disabled. I mean, who would do that?

Maybe it was simply the passing of a man more competent, more dutiful, more loyal, and perhaps kinder than I will ever be…
…but then…
I’m not President.

<< snort! >>

Can you imagine?

Electing someone President who’s not more competent, more dutiful, more loyal, and kinder than you are yourself? What would be the point of that?

That would be enough to make you cry…
…or resist.

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 for 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 about the singing…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 find time for that.

I got to walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to briefly return to his former 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.

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. But 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 LGBTQ 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. Matt Bevin has abetted Mr. Trump.

How do we begin to fix this?

In Kentucky, in 2019, we can deprive Mr. Trump of Mr. Bevin’s vote and his permissive silence.

Yes, I’ll be voting on this election day.
Yes, I’ll be voting for Andy Beshear.
And yes, I’ll be voting for Beshear’s replacement in 2023 if he 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 30 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 Election Day.