Queasy Rider

Rick the Smear was shallow and damned proud of it.

He bragged about it.

He repeated funny stories his friends created to describe his reading habits (Clair Bee baseball stories, Agatha Christie cozies, and the Sunday funnies) and viewing habits (Ed Woods’ DEVIL’S NIGHT ORGY, NBA regular season basketball, and reruns of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND…he was a dedicated Ginger fan……sigh).

He claimed he couldn’t even spell “conspiracy theory.”

He even invented his moniker; “I’m so shallow I’m a smear.”

Nobody was fooled, but it sounded great and you could riff on it forever.

The truth was he was a pretty sharp guy. His acting work was beyond superior and his painting and watercolors were beyond that. Plus, he could sing a little and his juggling was mesmerizing. The man could fling a half-eaten muffin twenty feet in the air, deliver an act-ending Oscar Wilde zinger, and then catch and swallow the soaring pastry in front of a full theatre house. I admit that last might not testify to his profundity…but YOU try it.

But now…

But now…he had bought a Vespa.

Topping out at about six-foot-five and pushing 70 years, he had indulged in a mid-life dream about thirty years late. He was ecstatic, living out the memory of a 22-year-old hippie-type art student zipping along the 1971 perpetually summer (but beautiful) coastal lanes of Santa Barbara, in the guise of a 70-year-old silver-haired mensch on the often stifling (but also beautiful) ocean-less county roads of Central Kentucky.

Yes…a dream.

A dream perhaps tainted just a bit by the heat and humidity, or the jacket-requiring chilliness of Kentucky’s changeable weather. And compromised a just smidge by the prudency of taking a quick inventory of every passing pickup (and there were plenty of those, given the restraints in velocity of what a Vespa can do) to ascertain the presence of a gun rack and a passenger with a free hand. We all know how that flick ends and it’s not with; “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Still…

…there was such glee…such jubilation…

…until…

…there was a beyond-inconvenient flat tire on a hunting-and-gathering foray to the Dixie Café.

Scrapes, bruises, an embarrassed call for rescue and a ride home, and a screwed-up reuben on rye…

<< sigh >>

The Vespa was sold the next week.

As Rick the Smear was fond of saying; “I didn’t say I was stupid…just shallow.”

Montana Joe & Weird Willie

“I am sure, as many as have good beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.”

Rosalind said it prettily and clearly and thus endeth our final run-through before technical and dress rehearsals and then opening night.

I was in the wings, muttering; “I’ll bid you farewell. There won’t be a half-dozen people a night that’ll understand that line.”

It was 2007 and the play was Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

My head-shaking over the prospects of decipherability of this closing line was not a singular bobble. I was doubtful about many such moments in the play. Moments? How ‘bout whole ten-minute segments of brilliant verbiage swirling over, around, and through a 21st century audience like Casper the Friendly Ghost, leaving them feeling like something remarkable had happened, but who knows what it was…and I guess it’s okay…it sounded impressive.

And most of those bewildering lines were mine.

I don’t like As You Like It, but I admire it.

The speech; “All the world’s a stage…” is worth the price of admission by itself.

I have seen the play four times and now performed it once.

‘At’s enuf fer me.

Bitterest Fool

I was playing one of the fools and was well on my way to crafting the bitterest fool in the history of theatre. I was too old to be flopping about in voluminous motley, toting elfin ingénues and scolding the audience in iambic pentameter.

But I did it.

Why?

Well…

…it was Shakespeare…

…it was a fine cast…

…and it was being directed by Montana Joe and he asked me to do it.

As I said, the run-though was now completed, and I could go home, flip though the script, and look for a bit of brightness that I was sure I was neglecting.

But no-o-o-o-o.

Montana Joe assembled the cast for a few notes.

Joe sat in the front row.

The cast sprawled on the apron of the stage.

Rapt and waiting.

Else, why would you show up for the first read-through, except to hear Montana Joe’s musings for the run of the journey?

Joe slouched and stared a hole in the carpet about three feet in front of his feet. He slow-tugged at the end of his not-quite-Fu-Manchu mustache. His eyebrows lifted to allow room for his pupils to beseech the firmament for le mot juste.

“There is a moment…when we are working on a play…probing and exploring…and playing…and stumbling…and discovering.”

Joe sank a little in his chair, his shoulders and arms and head folded in. We leaned in to hear.

Inherently, we are lost and looking. A director is pointing and guessing…we find things. Some finds are rejected. Some finds are clung to.”

Joe sank further in his sucking pit of a seat.

“Then…there is this moment…when the play takes on a life…when that life is taken on by the cast…and no longer belongs to the director.”

Seat A12

At this point, Joe’s seat (seat number A12, I believe) became a full-fledged black hole and began to whisk him away. His chin was curled to his knees and he plunged away butt-first, muttering…growling…crooning;

“What…a…joy!”

After the guffaws from the cast, we called the local fire department. They came promptly and managed to retrieve Montana Joe and we quickly established call times for the remaining tech rehearsals and headed home.

What a spellsinger.

Shakespeare in 5/4 Time?

Movie night!

Wanna hear Othello play the piano?

Wanna hear Desdemona croon the blues?

Wanna see Iago rattlin’ a hot drum solo?

It’s all in All Night Long, Basil Dearden’s 1962 jazz retelling of Shakespeare’s OHELLO.

Set in Richard Attenborough’s swingin’ two story Mayfair apartment, top jazz performers gather to celebrate Rex and Delia’s one-year anniversary with an all-night jam. Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Johnny Dankworth, and Tubby Hayes are playing guests. Even Cleo Laine gets a shout-out as the guests arrive. Patrick McGoohan schemes and plays drums. Henry VIII (Keith Michell) blows weed and sax.

The acting in the film is generally sub-standard. The story is convoluted and implausible. It may be neither iambic nor pentameter, but the music is hot.

The movie is mostly a curiosity, but it looks great and the music makes up for considerable mediocrity.

There’s even bongos!

“Don’t worry man…everything’s co-o-o-o-o-l.”

I Vote Republican

Yes.

Yes, I do, not as often as I vote Democratic, but I do.

And will continue to do so.

I voted for Louis Nunn, Larry Hopkins, Linda Gorton, Ryan Quarles…

Had I the chance, I would have voted for Alice Forgy Kerr a number of times.

I voted for Ernesto Scorsone even though he answered my phone call with; “Rodge, I think the world of you, but you’re on the wrong side of this issue.”

Before I retired, I supported political candidates financially and wish I still could. My pitiful contributions probably ran 60% Dems and 40% Reps. The candidates I supported probably lost more than they won…about my same success at predicting today’s weather.

I support and vote for the best people I can identify, Democratic, Republican, black, white, animal, vegetable, mineral…

I’ve not had an absolute deal-breaker of an issue that has kept me from voting for the best person I could identify…

…until now.

I will never vote for Mr. Trump or anyone who supports him.

Everything instilled in me by my parents, by my Baptist Sunday School upbringing, by my public schools, and by my journey through life argues against it.

I guess I’m brainwashed.

Boar Hunting on the Brazos

That’s how I spent my afternoon.

Neal Stephenson’s new book, TERMINATION SHOCK, arrived today and we’re off to a flying start. Well, maybe not a completely successful flying start. In the first few pages, the private plane’s pilot, who also happens to be the Dutch queen, lands smack on the back of a herd of very large wild boars. This, as you would guess, proves to be a poor flight plan for both the boars and the Boer.

I now find myself looking over the shoulder of a Comanche Ahab on a vengeful prowl for Moby Pig in a drone-equipped pick-up. I’ve already learned what a “dually” is. I kinda want one.

Gimme another few pages and I may become your go-to for information you’ve been craving about the introduction and subsequent loss of control of European wild boars in Waco. Talk about your invasive species! If one must choose between pythons, Japanese beetles, kudzu, and Bradford pear trees…wouldja take wild boars? I’ll let ya know.

About the turn of the millennium, my delightfully bright friend Ave Lawyer mentioned how much she enjoyed a book she had recently read by a writer named Neal Stephenson; CRYPTONOMICON. I read it and was hooked. Ave moved on to twenty more authors as she inevitably does. I was happily stuck and for 20 years I have devoured each of Mr. Stephenson’s books ravenously, and basked in wonder and sometimes befuddlement.

Along the way I have learned so much…

  • I’ve learned techniques for permanently disabling underwater open sewer pipes in Boston Harbor.
  • The orbital dynamics of efficiently hooking up with a captured comet spun me for a loop, but I cheerfully went along for the ride.
  • I have followed the path of Schrodinger’s cat, and thus have a more nuanced understanding of why those witches of Salem may been scorched.
  • The history of cables and cabling I’ve mastered…just as the world goes wireless.
  • I have many interesting facts about coinage history, currency (current and crypto), and gold (Solomonic and Fort Knoxian). I know much about money…without having much.
  • I now know the practical intricacies of insect worship in India and fully understand why it has not caught on.
  • I now feel positively conversational with Norse deities in a way that Wagner never conceived.
  • The history of urban coffee vending is no longer mystery to me…and, I suppose, I now realize that it once was.
  • I have confirmed that Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and Appalachian Jack Tale fame is someone I would be proud to be one day…and simultaneously, be afraid every day to stand too near.

Wow.

I’m sure I’m a better person for all this education.

Next page, please.

The Urge for Going

With apologies and thanks to Joni Mitchell and Michel LeGrand…

“I’d like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so,

But she’s got the urge to going so I guess she’ll have to go…”  –Joni Mitchell.

I walked through our small back yard yesterday and I felt the urge for going. The day lilies are of course long gone. The knock-out roses are finally bowing to the inevitable. My playpen of cleome, bronze fennel, autumn sedum, shiso, and spiderwort has hunkered down, hoping to be overlooked by the random angry gods of Winter.

“…summertime was falling down and Winter was closing in

Now the warriors of Winter…they gave a cold triumphant shout,

And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out.” –Mitchell.

I’ve bitterly raked the leaves from the birches next door. I’ve chopped the spent estival splendors. I’ve shut down the pond’s fountain/birdbath. The bewildered frogs have retreated to the sleepy, frigid depths. The myriad tadpoles are struggling to fathom their first frost and consider the question of mortality for the first time. They’ve got the urge for going, but don’t where to go. I have no assurances to offer them: it’s my first winter with pollywogs myself.

The hummingbirds have fled like the fickle, mesmerizing, gypsy, bouncing dots that they are. They’ve got the urge for going and they’re gone.

The trumpet-vine hedge is embarrassed by its nakedness; bare vines overreaching the sky annexed to become a Casbah-like warren for tiny wintering birds. The arrogant trumpet has got the urge for going but has roots…and responsibilities. Where would those tiny birds find their hygge?

“When the sun turns traitor cold

And all trees are shivering in a naked row,

I get the urge for going, but I never seem to go.” – Mitchell.

Why? I suppose I could.

Michel LeGrand offers an answer;

“Beneath the deepest snows the secret of the rose

Is merely that it knows you must believe in Spring.

So in a world of snow, of things that come and go,

Where what you think you know you can’t be certain of,

You must believe in Spring…

And love.”

Last night, actually this morning, I awoke at 3:45. I crept out to the cold-compromised backyard, by the amphibian-befuddled pond. The sky was brilliant and clear. I shuffled back to bed and awakened Janie. She rolled out of bed and rolled into a blanket. We and our devoted star-gazing pup Chloe stood, huddled in the cold to see the lunar eclipse.

It was fine.

I suspect I will always have the urge to flee the dark and the cold, but I will never go.

I have a standing appointment with Spring…

…and love.

Here Comes the Bride

Sometime after my twenties, it occurred to me that I didn’t have all the answers to everything. It was another ten years before I realized I actually didn’t have the answer to much at all. Still don’t.

However, I did and do retain the notion that those answers are still out there for me to find.

Except…

There are issues and questions I suspect we’ll never answer fully nor resolve to the non-MAGA world’s satisfaction.

Following the guidance of that profound philosopher W. S. Gilbert, I’ve made a little list;

  • What is the exact value of Pi?
  • Ginger or Mary Anne?
  • Pluto – planet or errant rock?
  • To be or not to be?
  • Designated hitter – yea or nay?
  • Elsa Lanchester’s make-up in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – is it more outré as the Bride or as Mary Shelley?

I am an unabashed fan of Ms. Lanchester; especially in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I have previously extolled the screaming talents of Fay Wray in KING KONG and DOCTOR X. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Lanchester’s hissing in THE BRIDE. It’s an audible lightning stroke from her amazing hair-do through her imperious eyes to her voice and snarl that lances the horny monster’s heart. I cannot fathom how Boris Karloff could even continue with the show after that blow.

But Ms. Lanchester was more than a movie monster-ess.

Before her movie career, she was a cabaret performer. I have recordings.

To hear her saucily warble about “Fiji Fanny”, or the potential adventures “At the Drive In,” or to widen your eyes to the double entendres of “My New York Slip” and “I’m Glad to See Your Back” is…shall we say in that Old English way; monsterful.

She gives cheeky invitations; “If You Peek in My Gazebo” and “When a Lady Has a Piazza.” But be aware of her advice; “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin.”

Yes, Ms. Lanchester implies she is imminently osculable, but her Cockney kiss may be followed by her knock-you-to-your-knees hiss.

A Tale of Two Cicadas

Apologies to Charles Dickens.

It was the blessed of climes until that burst of chimes…

…cicadas.

The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are humming!

We heard about it all winter, but faced with the tsunami of plagues filling our 2021 calendars (covid, anti-vaxxers, wildfires, floods, sonic assaults from Havana and Mar-a-Lago, the inexplicable inability of the Reds to hit left-handed pitching, and Hannity), strident sibilation from a bug seemed a low priority on the fret list.

And for the most part it was no big deal. Oh, there were a few stretches of scratchy serenades, wound-tight whiny choirs, and one full-blown hella-to-ya chorus I remember, but mostly the cicadian rhythms became just one more orchestra section for my backyard summer symphony.

Recently I found a solitary simulacrum on the back of our garage. It clung like an abandoned jewel, light brown-gold on the Keeneland-green wall. It reminded me of one of my favorite writers; Lafcadio Hearn. Being retired and free to change my daily agenda to meet just about any passing whim, I moseyed to our library and burrowed into the Hearn pile.

Mr. Hearn lived a meandering life in the second half of the 19th century. He lived and wrote in Greece, France, England, New York, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Martinique, and Japan. He translated French writers for the New Orleans newspaper, reported crime for the Cincinnati paper, wrote travel articles for national periodicals, owned a bar in New Orleans, and lived his final years translating Japanese fairy tales and lecturing English literature in the Imperial University of Tokyo, Japan.

I find his writing to be challenging and pleasant. He writes with such intelligence about places and times of which I am utterly ignorant, but his prose makes him a precious guide.

In his SHADOWINGS (Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1901), Hearn has a section designated “Japanese Studies.” One of the three parts of the section is entitled “Sémi.” Hearn tells us “sémi” is the Japanese word for “cicada.” Much of the article explores various Japanese attitudes towards cicadas as reflected by haiku.

Hearn notes; “Often a sémi may be found in the act of singing beside its cast-off skin.”

Waré to waga

Kara ya tomurð –

Sémi no koë

(Methinks that sémi sits and sings by his former body, — chanting the funeral service over his dead self.)

That’s one opinion. That’s one cicada.

Here’s another view.

Yo no naka yo

Kaëru no hadaka,

Sémi no kinu!

(Naked as frogs and weak we enter this life of trouble; shedding our pomps we pass: so sémi quit their skins.)

Which cicada might each of us be; the one who chants over our dead selves, our past selves, the old days, the glories past? Or the cicada that sings; “Thank you!” to and then leaves behind those past experiences and goes on to fly.

Which cicada might each of us be?

Which cicada might our country be?

I think I’m ready to quit those skins.

Like William Shatner, I think I’d still like to try flying.

That’s worth singing loud about.

Purging Fire Cures All

Movie night!

HORROR CASTLE aka THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG (1963) is tonight’s cinematic delight. It features the ubiquitous Christopher Lee and the constantly-backlit-in-her-negligee Rossana Podesta (even when the only source of light is the candlestick she holds in front of herself – I’m not complaining, you understand – but it defies the laws of physics).

Chris Lee is menacing and ruthless and dubbed in English for some unfathomable reason.

Ms. Podesta is best known for her work in various sword and sandal epics, especially HELEN OF TROY in which she allegedly beat out Elizabeth Taylor for the titular role.

I’m expecting this epic will end in a purging European fire as most of these giallos do. These euro-trash classics seem to feature Prometheus as their go-to deux in virtually every machina.

Sho ’nuff. It all goes up in flames and Mr. Lee bites the dust as usual. However, Ms. Podesta survives, perfectly coiffed, and ready for the next dim staircase.

I loved it.

Feel So Near

Dougie MacLean tells of an island in Scotland; small, barren, isolated to th

e lack-o-mercies of the winds.

<<< You’ll find me sitting at this table with my friend Finn and my friend John…we may take a glass together. The whisky makes it all so clear. I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

Janie and I live in a green bubble, mostly sheltered from crashings and howlings, yet the song resonates.

I farm a lot these days.

That’s a joke that only Janie and I know.

Sorry.

I dead-head and seasonally prune roses. I think it helps.

I whack and wreak violence on the trumpet vine. I think it helps.

I water the petunias, begonias, bougainvillea, impatiens, and coleus. I know that helps.

I kneel and crawl and claw at pyramid-scheme grasses that try to drain the resource bank accounts of Janie’s day-lilies.

I croon encouragement to the robust efforts of the cleome, sedum, shiso, and bronze fennel gifted to me by Becky Johnson. I keenly feel that responsibility.

I harvest and return the errant game balls of various sizes that have evaded the best efforts of the six-year-old that lives behind us. Sometimes I launch a sphere towards the youngster’s goal. Calipari has not yet called.

Yes, I farm, but far from diligently.

What I do diligently is take plentiful breaks. The kitten (a sworn but un-diligent killer of critters that stumble into her maw) and I sit, still and attentive.

Cardinals scold. Frogs croak, bark, and squeak. Sirens wail. Cicadas ratchet. Hummers whir-r-r. Copters whirl.

We feel so near…

<<< The old man looks out to the island. He says this place is endless here. There’s no real distance here to mention… There’s no distance to the spirits of the living – no distance to spirits of the dead.

I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

I feel so near.

Sh-h-h-h-h.