Chapter Three; Cabana Daydreamin’

This is the third chapter because it is the third written. It may not actually end up being chapter three – does that make sense?

Whatever.

This is preceded by blog entries; “It Was a Close Day” and “Though the Booking Glass”. If you’re a chronological sort (guilty here), you might look at those.

 

Chapter Three; Cabana Daydreamin’

It looked like a dive.

It wanted to look like a dive.

But what kind of dive featured brunch? With Eggs Nova Scotia and Mimosa’s – good ones?

And there was the jukebox, the old soda shop kind at every table, with tabs on the bottom to flip that displayed the 45’s available for play – hit sides and flip sides.

And the mahogany walls…well…the heavily and redly varnished tongue-and-groove looked like mahogany…if you wanted it to and you squinted a bit. That pressed metal ceiling however, would’ve been expensive to fake.

Maybe it was a dive of sorts, but it was a dive with a lively clientele. On any given night, you might see a local oil-painting legend and his goat, a gentleman from a fine thoroughbred-breeding family in the garb of a drive-thru carhop (fully attired in roller-skates and angel wings), narcotics undercover agents that everyone knew and flirted with, lawyers, dentists, judges, teachers, preachers… and if someone played Artie Shaw’s version of “Begin the Beguine” on the jukebox, it would be a deadly race to see who among this population would be the first to leap (or crawl depending on the age of the contender or the number of drinks consumed) to the top of the bar to prove that America’s got talent years before television took over that function.

It was a real good time.

It was the Cabana Club.

At this moment though, it was a slow time at the Cabana, a sluggish couple of hours between lunch and the dinner/drinking crowd. There was one couple at a table trying to figure out what to say next to each other that would be effective but not too direct. There were a few barflies sagging over their second or third time-killers (depending on how much soul-cipherin’ was required this afternoon). Morey Duke was in the kitchen contemplating dessert while scribbling the evening’s menu specials. Paulie Gasper was holding court.

Paulie was the waiter/bartender/maître d/dishwasher/cook of the Cabana. Essentially, anything the owners (Joe and John) didn’t want to do that day became Paulie’s lookout.

But it was a slow time just now, so Paulie was perched on a bar stool overlooking the room and it seemed to be an excellent time to read the just-delivered afternoon paper……out loud.

Paulie was a local actor – probably the best Concord had to offer. Consistent acting work was scarce in town (paying or non-paying), while the need for an audience was in plentiful supply. Paulie surveyed his domain and determined that bedazzled and befuddled low-rent rendezvous wannabes and blurry midday philosophers would suffice as an audience. Joe and John had fled in the heat of the afternoon so there were no sober, adult voices to stop him.

“Ha!”

Paulie’s “Ha!” could cut through the thickest haze, be it composed of alcohol or hormones.

But just in case…

“Ha!” he re-barked.

“Check out this play review by our local Frank Rich.

‘Of the actors involved in Piecework Theatre’s latest effort; “Belfast or Bust”, the least said the better with the exception of a seductive performance by Stella Nolan. Ms. Nolan purrs her dialect with heat and commands the stage like a jungle princess after a warm rain.’

“What the Christ does that even mean? I wish he would just fuck her and get it over with!”

Paulie held for applause.

It came in the form of slightly belated, ragged laughter.

John Prine describes moments like this accurately; “Well, ya know, she still laughs with me, but she waits just a second too long.”

Paulie thought it might be best to refrain from holding out for an encore. Besides, just as he was delivering his punchline on the review, he’d felt something; a bend in the room, a quiver in the afternoon light, a sussuration on the jukebox (Percy Sledge offering some painful, keening psychoanalysis of “When a Man Loves a Woman”)…something…or nothing.

Morey popped up at the kitchen window. He fluttered his eyes and waved his finger in the air. Paulie went to him.

Morey stuttered; “Did you feel that? I think the boys are back in town!”

(Oh, yes-s-s-s. To be most likely continued.)

Tis the Season for Tuxes

I love wearing a tux.

Androcles 01

And clearly I wear them well (see above).

I’m pretty well convinced that if God had worked on creation one more day, we’d all be born in a tux.

The tie, the cummerbund, the flow of black…it’s all good.

Also, I think I’m at least two inches taller in a tux and I’m real good with being two inches taller.

I move slower in a tux.

I’m more thoughtful.Janie 23 sprig's library photo bomb

My vocabulary increases exactly one syllable per word.

I only use fountain pens.

I constantly feel like I should be wearing gloves.

I get to wear cuff links.

I want to break out in irrational song.

 

Those are the positives.

 

The negatives?

When I’m in a tux, I wish I smoked cigarettes…foreign cigarettes…in a holder…from an engraved case.

No matter what subject is being discussed, I find my contribution to the discussion is all too often; “Bond…James Bond”. It draws strange looks which I interpret as “awe”.

I want to break out in irrational song.

It’s prom season and we will soon be inundated with pictures of young, hGN 02ormonally-driven/confused young people in tuxes of a variety of hues that God never intended. I’m OK and entertained by that, but young gents…if a geezer may suggest; bright colors may attract for the evening (and, as I remember the time, nothing else really matters), but black and white, slow and thoughtful, fountain pens and song…these will see you through life.

I love wearing tuxes.

Lent…Fail

I’m tempted to say I’ve given up for Lent;

  • Interest in with whom and how President Trump attempts to shake hands.
  • Interest in the flavor of the cake he was eating when he related the information to the leader of China, the greatest competitor the US has, that he had just ordered the bombing of Syria.
  • Interest in Ivanka Kushner’s clothing/jewelry line.
  • Interest in Hitler analogies…by anyone.
  • Interest in who gets to attend White House press briefings.
  • Interest in the wall.
  • Interest in the health department inspections of Mar a Whatever.
  • Interest in anything our president utters until it has been filtered through reality (I don’t particularly care if it’s been vetted by Spellchecker).
  • Likewise, interest in anything “Occupy Democrats” and its ilk utters until it has been filtered through reality.

I won’t go on – it’s a long list – you get the idea.

The problem is I never had any interest in those things to give up.

Perhaps I should be interested. Perhaps they indicate and reveal something about the character of our current leaders and their fitness to serve. But I think I have a pretty good fix on those concerns already.

I am interested in;

  • President Trump’s financial entanglements with Russia and Vladimir Putin.
  • The extent and effectiveness of Russia’s attempts to affect our elections – Presidential and Senate and House of Representatives.
  • The evisceration of the State Department, Education, and our Environmental Protections.
  • The current apparent effort to suffocate Planned Parenthood.
  • Keeping our roads and bridges functional.
  • The whereabouts and intentions of OUR warships and tomahawk missiles and who is directing their movements and intentions…whatever flavor the cake is.

…and more.

Unfortunately for my Lenten possibilities, I won’t be giving those interests up. They’re too important.

I will NOT “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

That would be stupid. I may not be brilliant, but I resist being stupid.

Ivanka’s jewelry line……give me a break.

Chocolate cake? Oh yeah…I’ll give that up in a heartbeat.

Chapter Two – Through the Booking Glass

This is Chapter Two – a continuation of an entry entitled; It Was a Close Day. You might want to scroll back and read it first. -RLL

Benjamin Andante wobbled a bit, stabilized himself, and visually assessed the shop; not an easy thing to do just now. The light was strange. Romantics would call it sepia-toned but they’d be selling it short. It was golden. Every spine of every book was a lighter or darker shade of gold. Every drifting mote of dust was golden and there was a blue million of those.

“S’pose that would technically be a gold million. Blue million…wonder where that comes from?” He made a note (for real, not mental) to look it up. He took the note, pulled a piece of Scotch tape, and stuck the note on the shelf nearest the book shelf marked “Economics”.

“Scotch tape”…why “Scotch”? Another note was duly made and attached to the shelf marked “Gaelic”.

He shuffled over to the front window. The outside heat radiated through the letters on the glass;

“pohS .T .I .A .B regooC & etnadnA”

And under that;

skoo-B

dn-A

gniugirtn-I

stibdi-T

He noticed the fluttering of paper across the street. The newspaper flickered in the hands of a more-than-amply-haired young man, on his butt, leaning back on the front of the chili parlor, gaping at the bookstore like he’d just seen…what?

…A light on the road to Damascus?

…A close encounter?

…His mama kissing Santa Claus?

“Well…” Ben thought; “Close, but no cigar.”

Then it hit’im;

“Uh-oh.”

From the back of the shop came a familiar, and always hideous “plonk”, followed by two more; “plonk, plonk”, and a growl; “This bastard’s gonna be a bitch to tune.”

“Sam, you just used ‘bastard’ and ‘bitch’ in the same sentence referring to the same object.”

“Well, I guess that’s just the kinda goddam’ poet I am.” Sam Cooger replied from the depths of the alcove marked “Counter-Culture Studies”. Four pristine copies of “Big Table” literary digest sacrificed their pristine-ness in a suicidal plunge to the floor in protest of the banjo assault.

The banjo chirped obliviously; “plonk-PLONK plonka plonk” in a key unknown to Schoenberg.

“Dammit!”

“Sam, we may have a problem. There’s a kid across the street. I think he may have seen us come home.”

“Do I need to kill the son of a bitch?”

“No…not yet……but he’s comin’ this way.”

 

(perhaps to be, yet again, continued)

The Further Adventures of Ben

Yesterday, I related to you an occurrence in my day…

“I just got a call from ‘Ben’ at ‘Appall sek-yoor-rah-tee’. Ben says my computer is ‘sending a vi-russ ah-lert to the main serrrverrr’. He seemed concerned.
I asked Ben ‘What server – where?’
(pause)
‘Noo-Jerrzee’
‘Is that where you are, Ben?’
(click)

As Jules Feiffer says in his clever play ‘Little Murders’; ‘If they’re that easy to destroy, you have to ask yerself if yer gonna miss’em when they’re gone.’

Waitaminnit!
What if Ben’s tellin’ the truth? Maybe my Dell elected Trump!
……I anticipate a sleepless night……”

 

Well, it was.

So, I got up this morning, blearily called one of geeky friends, and we investigated the Dell. Yes, before you ask, we notified James Comey of the impending investigation.

On the hard drive we discovered;

  • 331 emails from Hilary Clinton – mostly recipes and ambiguous limericks
  • Snatches of Noel Coward lyrics from unpublished songs – not so ambiguous, but quaint
  • A video of Citizen Trump in a Russian hotel room (sign on the door in the background stating room rates and check-out times in Cyrillic) – not even in the same area code as ambiguous
  • An offer to forgive my student loan in exchange for a small deposit – who says this is not a kind world?
  • An interactive map of coffee houses in Raqqa.
  • George Martin’s next installment in The Game of Thrones.
  • The football playbook of Davidson University.
  • The rest of Coleridge’s “Xanadu”
  • Lesson plans from the University of North Carolina (these were blank pages).

I felt pretty good when we had finished. Our discoveries were bizarre and vaguely unsettling but that seems “de rigeur” in today’s world. I couldn’t see anything that suggested my computer moccasins had scuffed the planet any more than others I could name.

Thus encouraged, we explored further; actually opening the box of the pc.

Oh my…

We found;

  • Al Capone’s whiskey bottle
  • A floppy drive (no, my younger friends, this is not something Viagra can fix)
  • Nixon’s missing eighteen-and-a-half minutes
  • 14 pounds of cat and dog hair
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • A chord, previously mislaid
  • Pluto (the former planet, not the pup)

Though it seemed we could go on quite a bit further, we stopped there. As intriguing as our discoveries were, they seemed benign compared to what I could see 24/7/365 on CNN under the heading of “Breaking News”.

Also, I was feeling a bit antsy proceeding in this wonderland without Carl Sagan or Joseph Campbell as a guide…or maybe Robert Langdon.

I did want to call Ben at “Appall sek-yoor-rah-tee” and thank him for opening a hidden world to me.

Is this how the archaeologists of the future will spend their time? If so, perhaps the City of Lexington’s computer dump facility on Versailles Road will be the Egyptian pyramids of the 22nd century.

Cool.

Please file this under “alternative facts”.

Julie et Jim

The title is a total stretch but there’s a “Julie” and a “Jim” in the tale. I couldn’t pass it up. Sorry.

The Southeastern Theater Conference (SETC) was held recently in Lexington and I’ve enjoyed reading articles about it, and my friends’ reports of their activities during the event. I was particularly interested and inordinately proud of my friends Julieanne and Chuck Pogue’s efforts. Chuck conducted two sessions; “Auteurs-NO!  Raconteurs-YES!!” and “Tips for Adapting Plays from Sanskrit and/or Cave Paintings”. Julieanne packed the house with her session; “Concatenations from the Clash of Jung and the Restless in Tennessee Williams’ Mother Plays”. I may not have those titles exactly right, but I was mightily impressed – so impressed, that it triggered a remembrance of my first visit to SETC.

It was spring of 1970 and SETC was being held in Memphis. I had never been to Memphis, I had a ride with other UK theatre folks, I had twenty bucks, and my friend Jim Varney agreed to split the cost of a hotel room with me. Hey, as Christine Kane says; “When courage comes, you never see it comin’.”

The conference was being held in the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. I believe today it’s called the Sheraton Peabody. Jim and I couldn’t afford the Peabody. We went across the street to something called; The Hotel Tennessee. It was five dollars a night, which we split.

There were cockroaches…lots of ‘em…big ones…and bold. One of ‘em sat on the end of Jim’s bed and bummed cigarettes off him. Another one sat on the back of the commode and charged a quarter for access. I went downstairs to the desk to complain and noticed the clerk had six arms and I quailed. I was dubious, but it was cheap and had the asset of proximity.

The proximity paid off the next morning. I awoke to Jim practicing his smile in the mirror (he had just discovered Pearl Drops Tooth Polish and was pretty sure that his new “all-teeth” smile was gonna launch his professional acting ship tout suite). He urged speed with ablutions and let’s get our “petite little small-ass bods” over to the Peabody. We might miss something!

He was right.

The Peabody had a fountain in the middle of its lobby and people gathered around it at nine o’clock AM and five PM for the ducks. That’s right, ducks. At nine AM, the PA system wheezed to life to blare; “Welcome to the Peabody Hotel and the Peabody Marching Ducks!” The elevator doors would then open and a red carpet would roll out to the foot of the fountain. A Sousa march would play on the PA and three white ducks and one brown duck would regally march down the carpet, hop up on the lip of the fountain, and splash into the water to swim the rest of the day until five PM when they would, with similar pomp reverse the process and return to their evening penthouse quarters. The crowd loved it and would applaud. The applause would prompt the brown duck to turn to the crowd from the lip of the fountain, spread his wings, and……well……quack.

Yes, the crowd loved it, but Jim was enthralled. In the brown duck, Jim had found a spiritual brother. He never missed a duck event. He got there early and would sit akimbo next to the carpet and croon in “duck language” to the bird. The duck would pause, turn to Jim, and conduct a quick inventory of available exits in case this madman turned ugly.

It was a great conference and just got better from there.

At that time and perhaps still today, one element of SETC was a mass audition of actors looking for summer work. That year, 43 casting agents representing 43 southern theatres were observing those auditions. There were 568 hopeful auditionees. I was number 438 and Jim was 437. We stood leaning against the hotel hall wall for hours awaiting our chance for the Golden Ticket/Everlasting Gobstopper/Maltese Falcon/Holy Grail/Door #3.

While we waited, we rehearsed and fretted. (I’m convinced that if the proper studies were conducted, scientists would discover the leading cause for cancer is fretting.)

We were promised one minute for our audition – one minute.

I was good with that. I had a killer one minute segment from Tom Stoppard’s “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” that was gonna land me on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” within the week.

Jim agonized. He had two pieces and he couldn’t choose. Should he do Hamlet’s first act monologue (“Tis not alone my inky cloak…”), or Tom Wingfield’s diatribe from “The Glass Menagerie” (“I’m goin’ to opium dens…”)? Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams? Argh-h-h-h. Plus, at the rate this is going, we’re gonna miss the ducks!

Fretting…I’m tellin’ ya, it’s deadly.

Then the SETC officials came out in the hall and announced the audition time would have to be cut to 50 seconds or they couldn’t get everybody in.

50 seconds.

A five hour drive and my twenty bucks for 50 seconds.

Fretting went through the roof. What was I gonna do? Pragmatism was all I had to offer at that point…I was simply gonna have to speak faster.

Jim however, became serene. His quandary was solved. Somehow, 50 seconds made things clear; he would do BOTH monologues.

They took us into the audition room in groups of ten. Thus, Jim and I were in the same group and I got to witness the deed. 43 auditioner heads hovering 2-4 inches over their tables and notes in utter fatigue and defeat. Hope had left the building with Elvis.

Jim’s turn came, right before mine. He loped to the center of the room, announced his number, and began;

“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is; I know not “seems.”
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

The tones were round and pure, the diction crisp, the anger immediate and like a knife to his betraying mother.

And then, without pause or breath, as if from the same son centuries later;

Well you’re right, Mother. I’m going to opium dens. Yes, mother. Opium dens. Dens of vice and criminals’ hangouts, mother, I am a hired assassin, I joined the Hogan gang, I carry a tommy gun in a violin case, and I run a stream of cat houses in the valley, they call me Killer, Killer Wingfield, see I’m leading a double life, really, a simple honest warehouse worker by day, but by night a dynamic czar of the underworld, mother, I just go to gambling casinos, spin away fortunes on the roulette tables, mother, I wear a patch over one eye, and a false moustache and sometimes I put on green whiskers, on those occasions, they call me “El Diablo,” I can tell you many things to make you sleepless, mother, my enemies plan to dynamite this place, they’re gonna blow us sky high! And I will be glad? I will be very happy, and so will you be. You will go up, up, up, over Blue Mountain, on a broomstick with seventeen gentleman callers! You ugly, babbling old witch!

43 sagging heads snapped to attention. In today’s litigious times, there might have been a rash of whiplash claims the next day. Jim finished and one voice intoned; “Thank you, Mr. Varney.” Forget about his number. He was Mr. Varney now.

I followed that.

When the callbacks were posted, Jim had 34. I had 15.

Maybe it was the Pearl Drops.

Theatre sucks.

Part-Time Jobs

Caught by surprise last November, I withdrew into stunned silence; afraid and ashamed and angry.

The anger faded. It will do no me no good. I will resist every unfair, greedy, and unwise effort I can identify, but I have always done that – it’s a reflexive urge taught to me by my Southern Baptist Sunday School childhood – nothing’s changed as far as that’s concerned.

I was afraid of what the results’ results would be.

I was ashamed of my own surprise and fear of my neighbors’ choice.

Why didn’t I know?

What have I missed?

What should I have done?

I must do better.

I must listen harder.

I must seek a better and more useful understanding.

I must act on what I learn.

I must…because I want to be a good neighbor.

But, (isn’t there always a “but”?) …so must others.

I have no answers, but I have glimmers of a suggestion.

If I have lost connection with my neighbors, so have my political representatives…and how could they have not? They must solicit campaign funds 24/7/365. They must run campaigns to retain their offices for six to twenty-four months (President Trump has already declared his re-election campaign’s beginning for 2020). They serve in legislative sessions for months at a time every year. They have homes in Washington and regular living quarters in Frankfort. They are full-time governors and lawmakers elsewhere, away from me, all while they’re supposed to be representing me and Janie on Providence Road.

That was not what was intended by our founding fathers.

George Washington was president, but he also went home to run his farm. He had to listen to and represent his neighbors. The same was essentially true for all elective officials.

I would suggest considering a move back to those conditions.

Rather than point fingers at how little time the Senate and the House of Representatives spend in session in Washington, perhaps we should reduce the length of campaigns and legislative sessions (and the participants’ pay).

Send them home to local concerns.

Perhaps we should rescind the expansion of the Kentucky legislature from bi-yearly sessions to yearly sessions. Have we really been improved by having the legislature meet every year?

Send them home to local concerns.

Make all of them part-time lawmakers and full-time neighbors.

Just a thought…

The Voice of the Turtle

Before there was Opus and Bloom County, Michael Doonesbury and Walden Puddle, Calvin and Hobbes in their spaceship box, and Alice on her manhole cover in Cul-de-Sac, there was a swamp in Georgia inhabited by Pogo Possum and his friends. The swamp was furnished with tree-stump homes with never-locked doors, flat-bottom boats with ever-changing names, fallen log pillows always near at hand, and endless time for big dreams, small-minded schemes, and more than occasional wisdom.

Walt Kelly was the creator of this world. He is a hero to me.

When I feel caught in a maelstrom of conflicting, negative news (all too often in these days of the 24/7/365 news cycle) I find it useful to dig out my old Pogo collections, drift into the lagoons of Okefenokee Swamp and jettison my final consonants. I drop in on Pogo’s home to see what he might have in the larder for lunch; whether he’s home or not – don’ matter – door don’ have a lock an’ he don’ mind.

With any kind of luck at all I’ll avoid crossin’ paths with Wiley Catt, or Mole, Deacon Rat, or Sarcophagus MacAbre the funereal buzzard; who needs that negativity? I’ll delight if I happen to run across Freemount Bug and receive his universal assurance that everything is “Jes fine.”

And then there’s that giddily chirping turtle in his pirate hat; Churchy LaFemme. Churchy’s lament from the 1950’s resonates with my own reactions to the news reports from the last few weeks.

“…I is doin’ my duty as a citizen…night an’ day! Lyin’ awake worryin’ at night – afeared to sleep in case I gits blowed up in my bed an’ never knows! An’ all day – scannin’ the sky – not knowin’ when…wonderin’ whether to wear pajamas that night so’s to be found decent – wonderin’ whether to take a bath…whether to pack a light lunch.”

I know the feelin’.

It’s reassuring to me to know we fretted about the viability of our world 60 years ago – that we didn’t invent the urgency we currently feel – that it all might be solvable and survivable.

That light lunch sounds good too.

Hey! It’s What We Do

fifth-07

I’ve written before about the first time I was directed by Joe Ferrell in That Championship Season on the Laboratory Theatre stage at the University of Kentucky. A couple of years after that show, Joe cast me as Kenny Talley in The Fifth of July on the Guignol Stage at UK. It was a wondrous cast, though at the time they were all new to me as performers except for the actor playing Jed. I had just finished directing him in Whodunit Darling at Studio Players, but I had never worked with Martha, Sheila, Tim, Michael, or Sue. The early rehearsals were filled with delightfully intimidating discoveries as we explored each other’s’ storytelling gifts. I’ve gone on happily to do a lot of theatre with those folks. I count every one of them as an admired friend.

“Jed” and I had the interesting challenge (for the mid-1980’s) of two straight actors playing gay lovers. My character had the further complication of being a double AK amputee veteran of the Vietnam War.

Hey!

I know it’s a stretch.

That’s why we’re here.

It’s what we do.

In the first scene of the play, in the first ten minutes of the play, Jed and Kenny (my character) quarrel about our garden, our house, our guests, and our lives. The argument reaches its peak and a relationship-testing silence ensues. In that silence, Jed kisses Kenny and we all understand in that moment there are things on the planet more important than our garden, our house, and our guests…and maybe our lives. It is our loves that matter. Having established that “minor” understanding, we can now have a play and tell our story.

An explanation is in order here. I love to rehearse.

Strangely enough, I also like to audition. Un-strangely enough, I really like to perform.

But I love to rehearse.

By the time an audience sees the show, they’re only seeing one of about a dozen things we’ve tried in rehearsal. Many of those unseen choices are embarrassing or just plain awful, but in rehearsal it’s OK to try ‘em anyway. It’s where a useful new reality gets invented; the “alternative” reality of an imaginary world. For me, there may not be a more powerful reality. But…it’s not for the real world. Don’t try this at home. And most certainly don’t try this in the White House. Please.

This was our first rehearsal on our feet for The Fifth of July.

The first few rehearsals of a Joe Ferrell-directed play usually take place around a table, reading and discussing.

For this first rehearsal on our feet, we were in a large room and we began at the top of the show. “Jed” and I were on stage and the rest of the cast arranged themselves around the perimeter of the room with their books and knitting and whittling. I’m lyin’ ‘bout the whittling, but remember these were primitive days before laptops, ipads, and smart phones. Hell, this was back when you actually had to know things – you couldn’t just google it – primitive! I like it better now.

Jed and I stumbled through the opening argument and arrived at the kiss.

The rehearsal room became silent. Everyone was still bent over their distractions, but their eyes had shifted to an impossible position on the side of their heads. Avid nonchalance reigned.

Silent…

Like the first time you mentioned a girl to your parents…

Silent…

Like your wisest response to the officer’s query; “Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?”…

Silent…

Like your friends’ reactions when you let slip the fact you actually liked Independence Day: Resurrection.

Silent.

We went on for a few more lines and then Joe stopped us. I vaguely remember we discussed the opening spat and the possible reasons for it. We discussed phlox and verbena in Jed’s garden and what legless Kenny might see every morning in the mirror. Then we did the scene again from the top.

The big moment returned and so did the silence.

We stopped again and discussed how we felt about Aunt Sally’s (Martha’s character) visit, and my feckless friends’ (Sue and Michael) visit, and the heat of a Fourth of July weekend in Missouri. And we did the scene again.

And again.

And again.

By about the tenth time through, the kiss meant nothing except in the flow of the story of these two men. It also meant nothing to the rest of the cast except for their desire for us to get it right so they could finally rehearse their scenes.

Awkwardness had been diffused.

A new reality had been established in about 45 minutes.

Hey!

It’s what we do.

25 years later or so, I was cast by Joe in his production of A Lion in Winter at Woodford Theatre. My character had to kiss his mistress (30+ years younger than me) in front of his wife and his grown children in full knowledge of all involved. Awkward.

We did the scene once, stopped, discussed, and did the scene once more. A new reality was created in 15 minutes.

Hey!

It’s what we do.

It Was a Close Day

It was a close day.

Summer afternoons in Central Kentucky can be that way. They portend delicious summer nights, viscous and promising.

We call a day “close” because it wraps itself around you; a lover that wants more and then more. It closes in on every cranny of you, insisting on your total attention and concentration. It obliterates free will. It obliterates independent thought and movement. It ridicules quickness. It ferrets out any remnant of energy and smilingly, triumphantly commandeers it for its own. And you have no objection. The southern night will soon follow…promising, remember?

This was a close day indeed.

Heat, yes… Humidity, certainly… And an impending doom or salvation in the form of a draft lottery. The air was saturated. All kinds of dew points were high.

The sidewalk was certifiably warm on Cayton’s butt as he squatted under the awning of Streemer’s at the corner of Grove and Proclus. He was waiting for the evening newspaper to be dropped at the stand.

Streemer’s was renown in the county as serving the best chili in town. The Iconic Basketball Coach at the college had pronounced it as such and was believed to consume serious quantities of the stuff every other day. Fans without season tickets, wishing to catch a glimpse of the Iconic Basketball Coach, would patronize the restaurant and dutifully order the chili, or peer into the establishment through the street windows. But today wasn’t “chili” weather and it wasn’t basketball season. It was a slow day at Streemer’s. Cayton had the sidewalk and the newspaper stand to himself.

There were two businesses across Proclos Street, a florist and a shop that apparently sold pianos and cacti. It seemed to be a slow day for them too. 86 degrees, chili, flowers, pianos, and cacti…Cayton couldn’t imagine anyone’s shopping list requiring a visit to this shopping mecca. Strangely enough, his did.

He needed information; detailed information.

The results of college had been……mixed for Cayton. Classwork had been a disaster for two years, but theatre work had been challenging and exhilarating. He suspected the success in one area compromised the other – duh. He didn’t care. He loved the theatre. He loved rehearsing. He loved the emotional exploration. He loved the puzzle of script and character. He loved the audience. He loved to speak loudly. He loved to sing…yes, loudly. And, God help him, he loved to pretend to be someone else. Most people travel geographically to expand their experience – he traveled through characters and stories for same reason. For him, it was a fair trade and reasonable choice; skip Physics 101 – rehearse “Measure for Measure” instead. “Be absolute for death. Either death or life will thereby be the sweeter.” made more sense as a way to spend time than bending a stream of water with a comb.

There was a “rub” in the trade, however.

It wasn’t money. These were days when student debt was a non-factor. A semester’s in-state tuition was in the $120-150 range in the early 70’s. No, it wasn’t money.

It was freedom.

While theatre work made Cayton a bigger, happier, and more valuable person, it did not maintain his deferment from the draft. Because of his sterling academic record, his deferment was about to evaporate.

Not to worry. The draft lottery had been held earlier today. Each date of birth was drawn and given a random number; 1-365. Eligible men would be drafted in that order. Cayton had done the math (he was dedicated to an unusual path of study but he wasn’t stupid) and felt pretty good about his chances. 80-90 numbers is about what would be drafted. Higher numbers were assumed safe forever after that. He needed to know so he could get on with his next show.

The evening newspaper was the easiest and fastest way. Cayton didn’t have a TV and even if he did, the network news didn’t come on till six and they wouldn’t waste their precious half hour giving out all 365 results. Ditto for the AM radio news; five minutes at the top of every hour? How much detail could they provide?

Cayton was sweating. He was out of the direct sun and the odds were in his favor, but it was a close day and the moment was at hand. His head was swirling.

“I got this. It’s OK. I’m supposed to be off book for tonight’s rehearsal. Who the hell buys a cactus from a piano store? Look at the heat waves over the street. Act two tonight – don’t have much to learn. Look at the buildings shimmer. How am I gonna explain this? I won’t have to. The odds are in my favor. No sweat. So what if I’m drafted – I’ll go to Canada. It’s cooler there. I’m sweatin’. I got this.”

The newspaper’s panel truck pulled up. The driver climbed out and opened the back and hauled out a stack of papers. He carried it over to the stand and cut the strings that bound the stack. Cayton shuffled over. The driver looked at him; “You waitin’ for these? Here, it‘s on me.” Cayton took the paper back under the awning and unfolded his future. The story was on the bottom of the front page, but the details were on page three. He flipped the pages and checked the chart for his birthday.

His number was 12.

He sat hard on the cement. The day sat hard on him. The day was no longer close – it had arrived.

He squinted out from under the awning into the glare of summer and truth reflected off the three stores across the street.

Three?

The piano store, the book store, and the florist…

Book store?

(perhaps to be continued…)