Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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……………

Alaska Daydreaming?

Some ponderings on a snow-threatened evening in Lexington…

I recently passed my two-year anniversary of my time with the Canadian-owned Liquor Barn. It has since returned to being a Kentucky-owned business.

The anniversary prompts me to meditate.

My last two years with the very large group that owned Liquor Barn involved a lot of travel. It probably wasn’t that much travel compared to other hardy folks, but to this fixed-foot Lexingtonian, it was too much travel. Boston, Mobile, Tampa, Montana, Chicago, San Antonio, Phoenix, Washington…and Alaska required visits. These are all places that have interest for me, but for a business trip…meh.

I hated the travel. For those who know me you know I use the word “hated” rarely and deliberately. The air travel that was a delight in the 60-70’s has decayed from delight to ordeal. Hotels are amazing…but not my home. They try to substitute free breakfast, daily clean linens, and tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, for my wife, my critters, and my trusty roster of pizza delivery partners. LOUD BUZZER; thank you for playing.

Given that, I generally enjoyed my times in Alaska. There were things that stirred me to think;

  • Alaska’s young. They just recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. We have neighborhoods in Lexington twice that age. There are whole periods of architecture not present in Alaska because of that youth. To quote one of my favorite songwriters; “It feels like something’s bein’ born.” There were no buildings in Anchorage that didn’t scream; “We think this is the way to be, but check with us tomorrow, we may change our mind.”
  • Anchorage is often suffused by an “end-of-the-continent Western light.” I’m paraphrasing Jack Kerouac’s description of a late 1940’s San Francisco. When this happened in Anchorage, I felt like I was walking in a nickel postcard from the 1950’s, a fantasy ideal, again quoting Kerouac; “What will happen! Hey!!”
  • Alaska is young but it lives in the shadow of instant destruction every day. Earthquakes and tsunamis…we don’t let those things affect our days in Kentucky.
  • The color pallet of Alaska seems to only include 12-14 shades of green, not the 1,248 we have in Kentucky. That’s a serious problem for me.
  • High humidity lingers for 15 minutes in Anchorage, not the four generations we occasionally live through in the Bluegrass State.
  • The distances that are part of Alaskans’ lives dwarf ours. No, they double dwarf ours. Their state capitol is a 750-mile flight over water away from their home, not a twenty-minute drive from my house. On clear days, Anchorage citizens can see Mt. Denali. That’s the equivalent of me walking out on my front porch and seeing Indianapolis. Damn!
  • Their mountains are towering, jagged, snow-covered, around the corner, and intimidating as hell. Ours are round, green, womb-like, enveloping, and seductively on the horizon.
  • Their nights are sharp and invigorating, challenging us to plunge ahead into the night’s adventures. Ours are soft, narcotic (thank you, Tom Waits), and contemplative, inviting us to go for a stroll.

All that being said, let me be clear; I enjoyed being in Alaska, not going to Alaska. It was a lo-o-o-ng journey for this geezer.

Ask Permission

“How can men embrace feminism and still be gentlemen?”

The question was posed by a male Facebook friend just now. I understand the consternation.

I like to open doors for women, especially my wife. They don’t need for me to do it. They’re certainly strong enough to open their own doors. In Janie’s case, she’s probably more capable than I am. She’s strong, like bull – and graceful like the dancer she is.

I love to hold Janie’s coat as she slips into it. She doesn’t need for me to do it. She’s far better at dressing herself than I am at dressing myself.

When we’re out, I like to hold her chair as she sits at dinner. She absolutely has no need for me to do so – strong and graceful, remember?

So.

Why do I do it?

For me.

It’s a feeble attempt to atone for all rude and stupid moments from the past. It’s an elementary school level reasoning; “if I’m nice to you today, maybe it makes up for one stupid and rude thing I did yesterday or five years ago.”

Of course it doesn’t, but for a moment, it feels like my world has been made a smidge better and that I was the agent for that improvement. That’s not a bad thing. A selfish thing perhaps, but not a bad thing.

But Janie and the other women in my life don’t need to participate in my atonement. Indeed, they may feel belittled by my “gentlemanly” actions.

So.

I try to ask for permission.

It may be a look. It may be spoken.

If it’s spoken, it’s a request, not an order. It’s “May I?” not “Let me.”

“Let me” implies “You need for me to do this for you.”

“May I” states clearly “I really would like to do this for you and you’d be doing me a personal favor by allowing me to do so.”

Would I want to do these courtly deeds for men as well as women? Yes! But permission from men is seldom given and the request, in any form, is most often resented.

Am I over-thinking this?

Probably.

It’s my gift.

I’ll simplify it.

In every happy and life-enhancing and guilt-free experience I’ve had with the opposite sex, permission was asked. Thus, my two-word answer to the question; “How can men embrace feminism and still be gentlemen?” is;

Ask permission.

Pitino Musings

A “Lex-patriot” friend (temporarily living in the Northwest until he inevitably is drawn back to where he belongs), prompted by recent FBI/NCAA headlines, asked me this week what I thought of Rick Pitino. The quick and easy answer that slipped into my mind was a quote from that source of all wisdom, Facebook;

“It’s complicated”.

But it’s not really.

The Italian restaurant incident, the basketball dorm stripper parties, the big-dollar payments to lure college basketball talent, and a couple of un-admirable experiences related to me by local business friends that occurred during Mr. Pitino’s University of Kentucky career are more than enough evidence to convince me that I would not want a child of mine to grow up to be like him. And isn’t that the bottom line of what a coach ought to be?

… << ahem >> …isn’t that what an adult ought to be?

…… <<double ahem>> ……isn’t that what an adult ought to expect from another coach/adult?

…or even demand?

So.

Why is it complicated?

I believe we are profoundly confused about sports.

Except in some movies and imaginary decadent Rome, sports are not existential. They’re games. They’re amusements. We should not be so serious and somber about players kneeling (or not), whether replay is a good thing or not, whether “one-and-done” is the best strategy in basketball or sketchy restaurants. It’s a GAME, ferchrissakes! Nobody’s gonna die…well, maybe at the sketchy restaurant.

There are, right now, possibly existential things happening the world;

  • North Korea’s belligerence.
  • Russia’s clear-to-anyone-with-half-a-mind current cyber-attack on our country.
  • Climate change.

Sports is not one of them.

Yet sports is what we dwell upon overmuch.

I’m guilty.

I find myself living and dying 15 times a night during UK Wildcat games. My seeming life and death held in the hands of five to six young men who were trying to garner a date to the senior high school prom nine months ago. As passionate as I am, part of me knows it’s just me being foolish…and entertained by my own foolishness.

I may alternately rave or moon about baseball and “my beloved Reds”, but that’s just me being romantic and nostalgic…and perhaps…dare we say…old.

But it’s just a game.

Except…

There was a time in Lexington in 1989 when things were about as depressing as things could be. The UK basketball team had justifiably been spotlighted by Sports Illustrated magazine with a cover story headlined; “Kentucky’s Shame”. A player had been recruited to UK’s team with dollars direct. Maybe not the amounts bandied about today, but it was the existence of the deed, not the amplitude. The coach was removed, the athletics director left as well, the offending assistant was ostracized, and the program laden with appropriate penalties. Players left. Gloom and guilt signed long leases in the community.

At an initial press conference, the new AD at UK, C. M. Newton introduced his choice as the new coach, Rick Pitino.

Pitino’s confidence and his demeanor at that first press conference changed everything in my home town. Belief and will kicked gloom and guilt out of their digs. Mr. Pitino took the remaining Kentucky players (who were almost all FROM Kentucky) and over the next 24 months made them into the best versions of themselves. He took them from “shame” to one shot away the Final Four, and took Lexington along for the ride.

No, I would not want a child of mine to grow up to be like him.

But I will always be grateful for what he did for my home town.

It was unforgettable.

Absolutely!

I’m not much on absolutes – haven’t had much luck with ‘em.

I’m not sayin’ there aren’t any – but there’s certainly not many, and most of the ones I uncover seem to be negative.

There’s death and taxes…and of course, my dancing abilities. I think we can all stipulate to the absolute awfulness of those.

But practically speaking, it’s real hard to find principles that work every time in every situation.

That said, I have one modest, but useful absolute to offer that has never failed…thus far.

ANIHILATION PREVENTION STRATEGY (APS, if you must)

There are four steps;

  1. Identify and locate all things nearby that tend to explode and/or burst into flame.
  2. Don’t stand next to them.
  3. When implementing #1, err on the side of instant assumptions, right or wrong.
  4. When implementing #2, err on the side of alacrity and distance, right or wrong.

I know this sounds like a solid recipe for a dull and unadventurous life, but the key word here is “life”.

This has worked for me…always…thus far.

By the way, the same steps work for emotionally combustible people.

Absolutely.

Kazantzakis and the Nearness of Sin

“He uttered a triumphant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!

And it was though he had said: Everything has begun.”

With those words, Nikos Kazantzakis closes his novel; THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. And with those words, I closed his book and ended my first reading experience with Mr. Kazantzakis. I was 20 years old in 1971. It was a delicious, hot, muggy summer in Lexington, and I was more than a little befuddled by what I had just read.

I liked the book. Kazantzakis’ descriptions of biblical geography were interesting. The characters were many and varied, and moved through that geography with pace and purpose that pulled me through the story. I did find myself wishing I had paid a bit more attention in my Southern Baptist Sunday School class as a child. The place names might have been easier to follow if I had.

What bewildered me were the hallucinatory passages in the novel, especially the extended passage at the end of the novel in which Jesus experiences and rejects the Devil’s final blandishment. My 20-year-old reaction was something on the order of; “Whoa! Where the hell (or heaven) did that come from? And why?”

Meh… Whatever.

I had read it and now I had to return the book to the upperclassman who had lent it to me with the usual unambiguous instruction that almost always accompanies a book lent unasked for; “You’ll enjoy this.” That phrase always sounds so amiable, but when it comes from an older friend whose apparent intellect and experience you aspire to, the phrase carries the weight of stone tablets from the Mount.

Returning the book meant a trip to the Geek House, usually a mind broadening if not mind improving occasion. The Geek House was a small cottage on a two-way street near the University of Kentucky. Like many of these small cottages it was infested (infested… yes, I think that is le mot juste) by students. Years later when I saw the film ANIMAL HOUSE it occurred to me how lucky Lexington was that the Geek House was a small cottage and not a large house. The population of Geek House was capped at four… or five…… or six………or… (it was a liquid situation) because of the limited space available. The rotating roster of the house included two or three theater majors, two brothers from Pike County (one was in pre-law and the other was a convicted felon who was a hell of a mechanic – it sounds like the making of a great team – I wonder where they are now?), and a graduate student from the Philippines. The graduate student had an amazing name that no one could pronounce. He shortened it for our convenience to Pu Pe. Of course that turned out to be an unwise choice of truncation. “Poopy” he became and remained for as long as I knew him. I learned a valuable lesson in diplomacy from Poopy. I knew he was a graduate student and a bright and well-spoken guy. Yet his English seem to desert him when it came to being properly offended by his nickname. He got along just fine with everybody.

One of the more charming traditions of the house was the weekend poker game. It would begin on Friday evening and continue with a variety of participants coming and going until it petered out on late Sunday afternoon as the last bleary participants wandered away.

This was a serious poker game. There were snorts and grunts that indicated calls and raises. Cards were held close to the chest, or dropped to the floor as the weekend wore on and small motor skills decayed. Challenges to manhood were common and personal financial statuses were altered. Sometimes you would even see a dollar bill in the center of the table on top of the quarters, dimes, and nickels.

It too, as you can imagine, was a liquid situation – mostly beer. I think that’s why they tolerated my spectator-only presence at the game. I was ground control. If any authority figure knocked at the door, I was sent to answer. Usually after a brief reassuring conversation the authority figure would go away confident in the knowledge that a sober 20-year-old adult had this situation well in hand. It was an innocent time.

One memorable Sunday afternoon, the game was continuing but grinding down. There was a knock on the door. I answered. It was the parents of one of the theater majors residing in the house. They had driven in from Madisonville to visit relatives and thought it would be nice to drop in on their son, Carson. Well, Carson had been participating in the poker game off and on for most of the weekend and he looked like it. He leapt to his feet, swiftly visited the bathroom, his razor, and his closet (where he found his “cleanest dirty shirt” as Kris Kristopherson so poignantly describes it), while I chattered away with his parents discussing all the people in Madisonville I didn’t know (not having ever set foot in the town) and while the other poker participants discreetly (again, the perfect word) transferred the beer bottles from the tabletop to the floor. Carson’s parents pretended to be oblivious. Carson presented himself as shiny as a newly minted penny (in his dreams). They left. The house was silent for a minute or two. Then Poopy turned to the pre-law brother and said; “Well, I certainly am glad you kept your filthy fucking mouth shut.” There was general agreement with that sentiment and the game ended about 10 minutes later with a prayer for Carson.

Often on Friday evenings before the game degenerated to Neanderthal-ness, the discussions around the table could be coherent and instructive. It was during one of these intellectual oases that my friend, Ray Skewes was expounding on the genius of Nikos Kazantzakis. He had finished reading THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST that week and was dying to discuss it with someone. No one was interested, but since I was the youngest in the room I was chosen to be the other member of his instantly created book club. Ray went to his bedroom and fetched his battered paperback copy of the book, placed it reverently into my hands, and instructed; “You’ll enjoy this”.

Well…I had duly followed my instructions and now needed to return the book to Ray.

That August the house was practically deserted. The denizens had all dispersed to their various summertime activities. A couple of the actors had summer theater jobs, Carson had been ordered home to Madisonville for a period of debriefing and reorientation to the wisdom of making better use of his time, and the brothers had returned to the mountains to do something murky, into which it would be best not to inquire too deeply. Thus, everyone was gone except for Ray.

I drove to the house and bounced up on the porch and knocked on the door. There was no immediate answer until, after subsequent knockings, the blinds on the window next to the door twitched ever so slightly. Then the doorknob turned and the door opened about 6 inches and Ray peered at me. He was looking pretty rough. His hair was long and stringy and did not suggest that it had seen water for a while. His shirt and jeans were wrinkled and sagging and did not suggest that they had seen water for a while. He had about a three day growth of beard and it did not suggest… Now this look was not rare for Ray. Today we might even say that this was Ray’s “brand”. But that afternoon there was a haggard quality that suffused his usual fashion statement.

I explained my reason for being at his doorstep and held out the book. He looked at it for a moment, processing the information. Then his eyes lit up and he threw open the door and invited me in. He closed the door behind me, put on the chain, and adjusted the blinds for perfect opaqueness. That’s when the smell hit me. It was a sharp, dry, and dusty smell, and it was intense. Ray returned to his position on the couch to continue the project he was working on when I banged on the door. There was a garbage bag (filled with marijuana plants) on the floor in front of his feet and there was a grocery bag (almost filled with marijuana leaves) next to it. Next to that a soup kettle (for the stems he explained). Ray described his project.

“I was hiking in the Red River Gorge a while back and we came across this little field filled with marijuana. I made note of our location and went back last week and harvested all I could carry and brought it back here. Carson’s bedroom is filled with bags. I’ve got to get this stuff processed and outta here before the guys come back to school. Plus, I think it’s starting to stink (starting?). And now there’s fleas! I’ll never get all this done. Hey. How’d’ja like the book?”

I’d like to say I was cool.

Cool was what I would’ve liked to have been.

I was not cool. I was stunned.

I was scared to death.

I was appalled by the filth and the smell and the fleas.

Then…

The car stopped.

Cars were coming and going to and from the University all the time on the street, but they normally didn’t stop in front of the house.

Then…

The car door slammed.

Ray froze with his hands in the middle of the dismemberment of a plant, his eyes wide, and a sick, gray crept into his face.

Then…

A team of big men in dark suits and dark glasses and badges burst through the door. They put handcuffs on me and Ray, and proceeded to haul all those bags and us out to their vehicle and un-gently crammed us all in. They took us downtown in a blur and in an even faster blur we were in a jail cell. The trial was quick and decisive. Sentences and fines were meted out. They were paid and served. I emerged from incarceration to a world that did not wish to hire me for anything ever. No female would come near me. I never married. I meandered into a penniless, barren old-age.

Then…

The car door slammed again as the pedestrian being picked up got on board, and the car drove away.

Ray sagged in relief and resumed his activity. He gave a nervous shake to his head, grinned at me, and said “So, how’d’ja like the book?”

I believe my exact response was; “It was great but I can’t stay and talk about it now I gotta go I got something to do I got rehearsal I’m in a show but I can’t stay and talk about it now I’ll get with you later thanks for the book.”

As I recall, that response was delivered in a manner that was eerily reminiscent of a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan. I then moved with great pace and purpose to the door and out of the house. I bounced off the porch and to my car and drove directly home, directly to my bathroom to take three consecutive showers – showers every bit as spiritually cleansing as Janet Leigh’s shower in PSYCHO. No, I was not attacked by the knife wielding mother of Norman Bates, but I felt like I deserved to be.

I never returned to Geek House. I only rarely ever saw Ray again and we never had a chance to discuss his book. I never inquired as to the final disposition of his summer project.

It was a long time before I felt clean again.

I had heard the phrase; “the nearness of sin”, but I don’t think it ever really registered with me until that day.

I understood it fully after that day.

I also had a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of Nikos Kazantzakis. That understanding and appreciation leaves me very comfortable with the possibility that none of this story actually happened and yet all of it is true.

Magical Legends & Legumes

Movie night!

INTO THE WOODS.

I liked it…a lot.

Meryl Streep is impossible to look away from – nothing new in that. I am always amazed at the energy, imagination, and range of Ms. Streep in the projects she chooses. Hell, I think I was the first one standing at the opening night of the film version of MAMMA MIA at the Kentucky Theater. It was a brave choice and I loved her performance.

The songs in this show are engaging and clever – nothing new in that. It’s Stephen Sondheim.

The stories Sondheim mashed up to create the narrative of INTO THE WOODS are some of the most exciting stories ever told…and told and told. Again, nothing new here. Giants, witches, philandering princes, magical legumes, senior-citizen-devouring wolves; this is the stuff of legends. Oh wait, they are legends.

I will watch this film for the rest of my life, perhaps in bits and pieces as I stumble across it while channel-surfing, but I’ll watch it from now on and happily so.

But let’s be honest. There’s nothing new here. Nothing has been added to the luster of Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, or Little Red Riding Hood. It’s simply cultural comfort food.

And I’m OK with that. I watch old films over and over, and indulge in cutting-edge speculations as to what Frank Capra could have done with a Godzilla film. But I also wonder what would happen if Mr. Sondheim wrote something totally new…specifically for film…specifically for Meryl Streep. That, for me, would be wandering into a woods wonderful and unknown and scary and thrilling.

I’d like that…a lot.

The Provocatively Obtuse

They have always been among us – the provocatively obtuse.

I remember in high school, in every class, there were always one or two kids who would answer “five!” (I believe the exclamation point is important here) to the question “What is two plus two”. Everyone in the class (sans the teacher) would be amused, the provocateur would bask in his/her 14.5 seconds of attention and then the class would move on to the real work at hand. As a group, even then, we instinctively understood we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be long distracted from proven and useful truths. There’s real adult work to be done, real progress to be made. The provocatively obtuse are fun, but not to be taken seriously and not to be called upon too often for serious answers.

Until now.

Cable TV and the internet and this election cycle have congealed into a “perfect storm” for the provocatively obtuse. When polled on candidates and issues, they yell “five!” and their answer is duly recorded, tabulated, and reported as if it were something more than an attempt to amuse and attract attention. AND with a voracious 24/7 news cycle, un-fact-checked viral memes, and candidates more than willing to repeat gruesome legends on national TV, the provocatively obtuse are being called upon more and more often for their nonsensical answers. All in the name of being “fair and balanced”.

This can’t be a good business plan.

I would suggest not calling on those children anymore. Thus, the rest of the class could move on.

If you find yourself near someone who avers; “I’m not a scientist”, accept their word for it and don’t look to them for a scientific opinion. Go find a scientist. Listen to them about scientific things. Hey! That’s how we got to the moon!

If you find yourself near someone who says; “Facts lie”, …………just flee.

The provocatively obtuse; whether they’re in your high school geometry class or running for elective office are hungry for attention. Starve them. You have better and more important things to do.