Drinkers of the Wind

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The answering of the phone

One day in the late summer of 1987 the phone rang at Roger and Janie’s house and the wrong person answered.

It was a time of great changes and great busy-ness.

Janie and I had just gotten married and bought a new house.

The liquor stores which were my business career had just unexpectedly become mega party stores (Liquor Barn) and my primary responsibility.

I had just completed an eighteen month performance schedule of directing one play (BULLSHOT CRUMMOND – Actors’ Guild), singing and acting in two (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC – UK, and MAN OF LA MANCHA – UK), acting in three (THE CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS and THE EBONY APE – Actors’ Guild, and DEATHTRAP – UK), and singing in one friend’s doctoral recital.

Whine, whine, whine… too much goodness…too much opportunity… woe is me.

But I truly was stretched thin and worn out at that moment.

And then Dr. James Rodgers called and Janie answered.

In 1987 Janie knew there were two phone calls to which my answer was nearly always “yes”; Jim Rodgers and Joe Ferrell. Well, why waste time? Jim wanted me to do a show. She said; “Of course, Jim, whatever you want.”

“Of course.”

Oh-h-h man!!

Well there’s no lettin’ Jim down once you’ve promised. I was now a member of the cast of DRINKERS OF THE WIND.

Jim wrote DRINKERS. It was a celebration of the horse, a compilation of poetry, songs, stories, and chants by Shakespeare, Shel Silverstein, Saki, Steinbeck, Greek legend…and Doc Rodgers himself. Jim wrote the piece! Another reason why ya don’t let him down. It’s his baby!

Yes, it was a celebration of the horse, but in one scene I had to play a goose. Go cypher on that for a while.

I hated that goose.

At least I wasn’t alone. Jim had recruited a stellar cast; actors that I admired and was challenged by; Billy Breed, Martha Campbell, Trish Clark, Russell Henderson, and Eric Johnson. Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone in the cast was experiencing personal pressures of their own. It led to a grumpy group meeting each night in the face of Doc Rodgers’ sunny instructions. Despite that, progress was made.

BUT…there was the challenge of Helen Hayes looming.

Helen Hayes

UK’s College of Fine Arts wanted to enhance their visibility. To do so, they scheduled a “Gala”. It was held in the Singletary Building and featured performances by various disciplines of the College capped by an appearance by the legendary Helen Hayes. It was a big deal and the night of the Gala the Singletary was packed and the crowd was decked out to the nines and all a’twitter.

Jim had committed our cast to provide a scene for the Gala and not just any scene. The most difficult scene in the show was a retelling of the legend of Bellarion and Pegasus. It was long, it was complex, and it included Billy Breed as Pegasus dancing to the words – words, mind you, not music. Any misplaced or mis-stressed syllable would pretty well leave Billy hangin’ high and dry.

Ah-h-h, no pressure there. It was a week before our opening night and instead of having a useful working rehearsal, we were doing our hardest scene in front of 1000+ people and Helen Hayes.

I remember, before the show that night, looking around the small dressing room in which we were all crowded and thinkin’; “Well, at least we’re rockin’ these tuxes.” You seek solace where you can.

In that dressing room we decided to run the lines for the scene one…more…time. As we did, I noticed Billy over in the corner marking his choreography with tiny moves as we recited. I’m not namin’ names, but one us skipped a line.

Silence ensued.

Soul-crushing silence ensued.

A silence of the damned ensued.

We immediately looked at Billy and he had acquired the hue of Casper the friendly ghost…with a facial expression that was far from friendly.

We were called to the stage.

We were introduced individually. Little Martha Campbell was first. When her name was announced, she marched martially and grimly to her place, fists clenched. She picked up her chair, ate it, and spit the splinters into the lights. She gave the audience a look that said; “I got yer Helen Hayes right here.”

I dunno…

It gave me a kind of perverse courage.

We did the scene.

Billy lived to tell the tale……and later move to Oregon, about as far away from UK as you can go.

Whatever.

We hadn’t embarrassed ourselves in front of Helen Hayes (though I don’t believe she bought season tickets).

Now, we only had to do the show.

Opening night

A week later we opened. After the Gala we worked diligently, confident in the knowledge that our loved ones would still love us (as long as we didn’t press the matter) and that we probably wouldn’t derail the performing career of Billy (as long as we destroyed the evidence). Plus, we were still rockin’ those tuxes.

Then Jim dropped a little bombshell.

It seemed there was something called “The Dean’s Circle”. This was a group of donors to the College of Fine Arts. One of the perks of being in The Dean’s Circle was having a Q&A with the cast after Theatre Department production opening nights. The cast of DRINKERS did not see it as a “perk”.

Whine, whine, whine, whine.

I mean, if anyone from the audience asked me about my motivations while playing that damned goose…well, the College of Fine Arts was probably gonna be lookin’ for a few new donors.

We did the show.

We peeled off our tuxes…slowly.

We trudged upstairs to face Judgement.

It was a love fest.

There were no questions. It was a contest between audience members to extol their favorite scenes from the show. They liked everything and everybody……except for the goose.

The grumpy cast members looked at each other. The shame in each other’s eyes was palpable.

The rest of the run featured an enthusiasm fueled by “make up for”.

It was great.

But (sigh) …it wasn’t over.

The National Tour

Jim reassembled the cast and reconstituted the show that early spring (you cannot say “no” to this man!). He had booked us in colleges and junior colleges in Eastern Kentucky for the week of UK’s spring break.

For three days the cast (sans Jim who had developed a convenient cold/flu-like symptoms/plague/pneumonia/hangnail) loaded our stools, boom box, and tuxes into a van and charged out to the exotics of Cumberland, Betsy Layne, Somerset, Hogwarts, Riverdale, etc. Eric was driving – a poor choice. The redbuds were blooming – an excellent choice.

We arrived at one venue (which will remain nameless) after driving on a mountain trail on which I swear I saw while peering down the rider’s side of the hill, Gandalf crying “Fly, you fools!”, and then through the back of a bedroom closet through Narnia, and then through the rabbit hole, and then down the yellow brick road. I’m sure there was probably a more direct route but, as I said, Eric was driving.

We were scheduled for two performances at this stop. We set our stage (six stools) and our technology (one boom box), donned our tuxes (still and always stylin’) and waited in place to be introduced. I was in the wings stage left and could clearly see Trish in the wings stage right.

A small matronly lady marched to center stage and said; “Y’all settle down now, y’hear?”

And they did.

That’s when I knew I was in the presence of a mensch.

I confess to being impressed and more than little intimidated.

Then she said; “These people have come all the way from Lexington.”

And walked off the stage.

I looked across the stage at Trish and she gave me a wide-eyed shrug that announced; “We’re on our way, Buster!”

And we were.

We had lunch in the cafeteria and pulled ourselves together for our second show. I will admit that there were some unkind aspersions made in respect to Jim Rodgers’ health. Something to the effect of “If he thinks he’s sick now, wait till I get a’hold of him!” But it was all in good fun……right?

I was stage left.

Trish was stage right.

The mensch marched.

And said; “Y’all settle down now, y’hear?”

And they did.

Then she said; “Yer ‘bout to see some real good actin’.”

And left the stage.

I looked across at Trish and she gave me a wider-eyed two-thumbs-up that announced; “We’re stars, Buster!!”

And we were.

I’m proud of that show.

I’m happy for the time I spent with my friends…yes, even Jim.

And that one sentence from the mensch might be the review in my life I’m most proud of.

Be that as it may, I try to answer the phone at home before Janie whenever I can…and I still hate that goose.

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 always worked for me……thus far.

By the way, it also works for emotionally combustible people.

Shriek of the Mutilated Musings

Movie night! Because…Tropical Storm Cindy?

What’s up with that?

SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is tonight’s delicacy. It’s so very bad and so very strange. In the extensive catalogue of “Yeti” movies, has any film been good? This critter seriously needs a better agent.

The best thing about the film is the title.

Which sets me to thinkin’.

I can think of about a dozen or more movies that totally waste intriguing titles on totally less-than-intriguing flicks. Here’s a few;

  • THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN immediately comes to mind (ouch!). This beauty actually had two titles, the other being; MADMEN OF MANDRAGORAS……I jes’ don’t know. Frankly, they coulda given it twenty titles and it wouldn’t have improved things a jot.
  • CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. This is a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wanna-be. Unfortunately, it’s not as interesting as NOTLD, though it does have the advantage of being shot in Miami instead of Pittsburgh.
  • THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE is a brutal giallo that actually is pretty interesting and features a brief but fascinating performance by Valentina Cortese.
  • KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. Clowns, aliens, circus tent rocket ships, demonic ice cream trucks…what’s not to like……or……what’s to like?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting you rush out to see these films, but aren’t those great titles? Besides, you don’t have to watch ‘em. I already have. Ew-w-w-w.

I Got Yer Frogs

Frogs.

I got yer frogs.

I’m sittin’ in our library. The windows in front of me overlook a decorative pool with a quiet fountain and four frogs, one of which is not quiet. He/she/it serenades with a repeated unsweet burp that lies somewhere between a croak and a rasp. It is scarily reminiscent of the prophetic sounds my 1963 Mercury Comet used to make in 1969 on I-64 just before it lapsed into a defeated silence that prompted some serious pavement pounding on my part.

Tonight, my feet flinch with each chirp of the frog.

Still, I like the sound.

It reminds me of other favorite frog moments…

  • The great frog hunt scene, deliciously narrated by John Huston in the film CANNERY ROW.
  • Mr. Toad in Kenneth Graham’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.
  • In the ridiculous film FROGS, Sam Elliott (long before he reassured us at the bowling alley bar that “The Dude abides”) rescuing Joan Van Ark from the thousands of frogs angrily erupting from the muck to run amok and deal out some vague, ill-explained environmental vengeance.
  • And of course…those Budweiser frogs. Ah, Louie.

I think I’ll open the window.

R-r-r-ibbittt.

A Guignol Meditation

I have been connected to the Guignol Theatre and the University of Kentucky Theatre Department in some way since my junior year at Bryan Station High School.

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Guignol Theatre; PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD (1969)

My high school English teacher arranged for our class to have access to discounted tickets to UK’s production of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. Jill Geiger played a major role in that production. Jill went on to perform with and later own The Dorset Playhouse in Vermont. She was a successful person. (Side note; Jill’s bridge-playing was precise but conservative).

The day before we attended the show, my teacher gave us instructions on how we were to behave in “The Guignol”. The quotation marks come from my remembrance of my teacher’s obvious reverence for this Temple of the Arts we were entering.

How quaint.

How helpful for me.

I wore my clip-on tie (my fellow Guignolite and playwright/screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue – a successful person – was not to teach me to tie a proper knot for another five years – how absolutely helpful for me). I applauded at all the proper places, and was mightily impressed by the show. So much so that I attended (on my own this time) UK’s next production in the Guignol of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s THE RIVALS. Bekki Jo Schneider (friend, mentor, and ex-sister-in-law) played a major role in that show. She became the owner/operator/director of Derby Dinner Playhouse in Southern Indiana – a successful person. (Bekki Jo’s bridge-playing was aggressive but distracted).

The next year, my senior year in high school, I attended DARK OF THE MOON in the Guignol and UNDER MILKWOOD in the Laboratory Theater which is now named the Briggs Theater (Wally Briggs spent his adult life teaching theatre to UK students. Yes, he too was a successful person – Wally’s bridge-playing, by the way, was ultra, ultra conservative). DARK OF THE MOON featured Julieanne Pogue. Julieanne has gone on to a strong regional acting career, become an award-winning reader of books for the blind, and an uber-caring psychologist. Julianne is another successful person. Her bridge-playing? It was occasionally brilliant when she bothered.

Both of these shows also featured a freshman in leading roles.

This explains why I attended UK to study theatre. Where else could I possibly want to go? UK offered an immediate opportunity to act…..in major productions…..in real costumes…..on beautiful and exciting sets…..in front of real audiences.

I remember those audiences as being drawn from all of Lexington. John Jacob Niles (another successful person and a legend to me) sat in the middle of the first row every opening night I can remember. Teachers from all the Lexington schools were there. Mary Agnes Barnes reviewed for the Lexington Herald. John Alexander reviewed for the Lexington Leader. Betty Waren wrote a theater page for the Herald every Sunday. The Theatre Department faculty was there…usually multiple nights. One memorable Sunday matinee was attended by Jose Ferrer (he was successful too).

I attended UK for two and half years, performed in seventeen shows, and became an adult; a thinking, listening, caring, evaluating, listening, tax-paying, voting, listening adult.

The arts do that for you.

They make you whole.

They make you reason.

They make you listen.

By all means, teach our children to add and subtract…please. Teach them to write a logical paragraph. Teach them to tell a whimsical story. Teach them their country’s history…all of it. Teach them the scientific method. Teach them to sing. For God’s sake, teach them civics so they know how their government works and are thus less vulnerable to the lies filling the air about them.

Make them whole. Make them successful.

Last year I spent a lot of time with the students at UK as a small part of RAGTIME. I was frankly thrilled and intimidated by the talent and work ethic of the cast and proud to be associated with them.

Last Spring I attended the UK Theatre Department’s production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. This is not my favorite show, but I was again impressed by the talent and cowed by the revelation that the cast’s closing performance was to be followed by a week of finals before graduation.

These millennials have no bridge game at all…they’re workin’…they’re becoming whole.

I’m OK with that.

Annoying “Reflections”

I just watched an annoying movie; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE.

I had such high hopes.

It’s based on a novel by Carson McCullers. Ms. McCullers is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are quite “of the South”, even when she writes of New York City. Her characters are literate in their self-selected, tightly-bordered turfs. They are flawed, usually fatally (if not to them, then the other people in their lives). The lands and times outside their intellectual stomping-ground plumb evade them. Ms. McCullers’ southern tales range from warm to hot in any way you’d like to take that. If you have not read THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE BALLAD OF SAD CAFÉ, or REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, I would suggest you mosey with dispatch (no need to run, we’re in the South here) and do so.

The film is directed by John Huston. Depending on what day you ask me, THE MALTESE FALCON might be my favorite movie. As far as establishing Mr. Huston’s greatness as a director, he could have stopped right there…but I’m glad he didn’t. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, KEY LARGO, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN all bring my channel-surfing to a complete and completely happy halt.

The cast of REFLECTIONS features Julie Harris, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brian Keith.

Holy moly!

So, with all this going for it, what’s annoying?

Well…

Each scene in the film is shot in a golden haze except for one element of color in each scene. Essentially, that makes it a black and white film. I don’t mind black and white, but dark gold and light gold? Annoying.

Every shot seemed stretched beyond its value. At first, I thought the director was going for “languid”. S’okay, we’re in the South and it’s a McCullers tale. But soon the pacing became rhythmic and predictable to no redeeming benefit I could discern.

I had steeled myself for the horse-beating scene, but not adequately. It was more and longer than I was comfortable with (my problem perhaps, not the director’s).

Marlon Brando mumbled and whined incoherently. To be incoherent with words of Carson McCullers is a mighty waste in my world. I found this rivaling Brando’s worst performances and, fan that I am, Lord knows that’s a well-stocked swamp.

The story is set in the 1940’s. Ms. Taylor caught the intent of her character with buxom gusto, but she looked as though she had just stepped over from a TV taping of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” (now there’s a cogent geezer reference).

So…what did I like about the film?

Brian Keith is really interesting and complex. He loudly and drunkenly man-splains to his fellow officers that polo produces better military men than the fields of Eton. He sits his horse well and rides with the wife (Taylor) of his fellow officer and friend (Brando)  each afternoon through the woods to the blackberry bushes where he then is ridden by said wife. He is exasperated by the nervous frailty of his own wife (Harris) and is brought to blue lethargy by her death. It’s a load for an actor to bear and Mr. Keith handles it with aplomb.

Ditto for Julie Harris. Ms. Harris has an advantage here. She was born to speak Carson McCullers’ words. We want to root for her character, but given more visual evidence of the shenanigans of this military community than anyone else, Ms. Harris’ character draws one egregiously wrong conclusion after another and is as much to blame for the final debacle as anyone.

Elizabeth Taylor has a scene in which she describes the food she’s providing for her garden party. She does so with a childish relish Martha Stewart only wishes she could generate. It was delicious.

But I expected so much of the flick and it was overall…not so much.

Annoying.

Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic

I’m reading a script these days that was originally performed to some acclaim as part of the Humana New Play Festival at Actors’ Theatre Louisville. It reminded me of another Humana New Play Festival experience Janie and I had years ago that was, shall we say, “differently acclaimed.”

I subscribed to Actors Theatre of Louisville for about 24 years. I love this theatre and have enjoyed a number of transcendent evenings over the years. Susan Kingsley and Ken Jenkins in “Childe Byron” was magical. Likewise, “Tobacco Road”, “The Three Musketeers”, “The Sea Gull”, were wonderful, and their production of “The Tempest” was the best I’ve ever seen. There were some head-scratchers along the way (“King Lear” in burkas bewildered me), but overwhelmingly most of the shows were inspiring and entertaining.

So…why did we stop subscribing?

I was working almost every Saturday then. The only performance we could count on attending was the nine o’clock curtain on Saturday nights. I would get away from work about five, we would drive to Louisville, have dinner at the Bristol, make the curtain at nine, get out of the theatre about midnight, and drive home.

Ah, there’s the rub.

That late night drive home became increasingly burdensome. Before dogs took control of our lives and clocks, sometimes we would snuggle in after the show at the Seelbach, have a languorous brunch, and get back home sometime Sunday afternoon. Well-l-l-l, you can fergit dat, O Keepers-of-the-Kibbles!

Janie and I began to question how much pleasure we were getting out of our Louisville theatre habit. Impetuous kids that we are, we debated it for a couple of years. Then there were two productions in that last subscription season that finally convinced us to drop the commitment.

The first production was actually quite well done. It was a gospel concert nominally disguised as theatre. Now, I can enjoy gospel music (or bluegrass, or German lieder) for about fifteen minutes just as well as the next guy, but this was two hours and forty-five minutes more gospel music than the Geneva Conventions probably allow. That night’s drive home was glazed in bitterness and that is the gospel truth.

The other show…

(…shudder, squint, tears begin to flow…)

The other show…

The other show was titled “Beyond Infinity”. It was part of the Humana New Play Festival.

The play consisted of three intertwined (sorta) stories set in the same desert at three different times in history.

One story was of an ill-fated wagon train. Beyond sad. I found myself expecting Ward Bond to come out wailing “Bring out your dead!” (100 trivia points for identifying the geezer reference.)

The second story was told in a sporadic monologue in monotone by one of ATL’s regular actors whose name eludes me at the moment. He was a gaunt, Sam-Waterston-Abe-Lincoln-Harry-Dean-Stanton-looking fella. For this show he was dressed like Tonto. I don’t mean he was dressed like a Native American. I mean he was dressed like Jay Silverheels in “The Lone Ranger.” Whenever the show’s innate hilarity moaned towards out-of-control, the lights would come up on Tonto. He would gaze at a spot about ten feet over my head (looking for what?…inspiration?…his light?…his lines?…his agent?) and drone. I caught occasional words (kemo sabe, walla wah walla walla walla wah, bibbity bobbity boo) but we were never EVER in the same time zone as a coherent thought.

The third story…

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

(Imagine that having just been said by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. Go on. Go back and repeat it just that way. You’ll love the way it feels and sounds and you’ll work it into your personal dialogue tomorrow. You’ll owe me.)

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

The third story involved J. Robert Oppenheimer and his merry pranksters in the desert working on the atomic bomb. At one stretch in the second act (second act of twelve, as I recall), Oppenheimer is standing in the desert night, holding a smallish volume of the Bhagavad Gita (you can’t make this up!) and a cigarette. His assistant is standing next to him. For ten minutes Oppenheimer reads aloud, translating on the fly, from his tiny book by the light of his assistant’s Bic lighter…you can’t make this stuff up!!

Wait…someone did, didn’t they?

About this moment, Janie, who had shed her shoes and was curled up in her seat in the fetal position, tugged on my sleeve, leaned near and whispered “there are 87 lights up there.” Why not count the lights? What else was there to do?

It ended…as all things eventually must (except baseball games).

We shook the sand from our shoes and shuffled out of the theatre.

Now, one of the rituals involved with living in Lexington, two glasses of wine at dinner, and attending shows in Louisville is the obligatory pre-drive-home bathroom visit. Well, I’m there, at the urinal, “inflagrante delicto” as it were, when the bathroom door is banged open by a three-piece-suit type who angrily announced to the room; “Well, I have been to the desert on a horse with no name!”

I just about missed the urinal.

Were You in That? – A “Grand Night” Memory

In Lexington, the University of Kentucky’s extraordinary Opera Program has for the last 25 years staged an extraordinary event; “It’s a Grand Night for Singing”. Over a thousand people a night for two weeks assemble to hear remarkable voices sing Broadway/Hollywood/Billboard tunes. It’s supported by an orchestra and choreographed by a team of Broadway-seasoned professionals. It’s a startling evening. You just don’t GN 02expect this level of performance, energy, and talent from a basketball school. It’s a great tribute to Dr. Everett McCorvey who conceived the idea and has nurtured it through two-and-a-half decades and a couple of generations of participants.

I have been fortunate to have been a participant in this event a number of times. In fact, I think I may hold the record for having the most numbers cut from “Grand Night”. Hey, the standard’s high.

My friend, Dr. Tedrin Lindsay, has been a featured performer in this event for 20+ years. His piano-playing is energetic and passionate, yes. But he is also a man of great imagination and this shines forth in his performances. This is what live performance is about.

Last year, Tedrin has posted some of his remembrances of “Grand Night” moments.

May I indulge in one myself?

For the third year of “Grand Night”, Everett asked me to be part of a quartet of singers to sing a medley from “Kismet”; And This is My Beloved/Baubles, Bangles and Beads. I had never met my fellow singers until I arrived at my first rehearsal for the number in Everett’s old studio, the studio that was 80% piano. We crowded in; Everett, Cliff Jackson at the piano, and singers Angelique Clay (soprano), Phumzile Sojola (tenor), and a young bass from Louisville whose name evades my geezer memory.

We rehearsed for about an hour. My fellow singers didn’t sing to me, they sang through me. I had never heard so much sound in my life. You could see the sound in that little room. After the rehearsal, I crossed the street to the Medical Center for an MRI to confirm that all my major organs were intact and in their proper places.

I was in heaven.

I was singing these stunningly beautiful songs with these crazy talented singers in front of an orchestra for a thousand people a night……in a tux.

Just kill me now.

After the show, I asked my wife if she liked the number. She replied; “Were you in that one?”

Everyone’s a critic.

Day for Night Musings

Movie Night!

I watched one of my favorite films, DAY FOR NIGHT, with a small group of folks who are devoted to cinema. I have a special fondness for films about films. CINEMA PARADISO, THE STUNTMAN, SUNSET BOULEVARD, SINGING IN THE RAIN, and their ilk always bring my remote to a delighted halt when I happen upon them.

DAY FOR NIGHT holds other charms for me as well. The film crew in the movie is a tight-knit one. They’ve worked together before and are familiar with and tolerant of their teammates’ peccadillos. Their chosen location for shooting is a sunny and warm one (even when they make it snow). The film has a summer camp feel about it. I’m from the Spin & Marty generation – summer camp usually works for me unless there’s a slasher wandering about.

The film features a tour de force performance by Valentina Cortese and a “tour de WOW” appearance by Jacqueline Bisset.

When the film concluded for tonight’s viewing, one of the group commented; “I can see why people love this film, but it’s not a great work of art.”

After we mopped up the blood and I pleaded justifiable homicide and made bail, I got to thinkin’…

He’s right. It’s not a “great” work of art, but if you generally cherish the films of Francois Truffault (and I do) it is a “great” work of Truffault. Now…what does that mean? This is one of our most-revered directors! How can his films not be great?

Well.

They’re not.

“Greatness” is not the story Truffault cares to tell.

For me, the charm and the wonder of Truffault resides in the tight slice of humanity in which he chooses to tell his stories. His are not the stories of saints or demons. His characters do wicked things and heartbreakingly kind things to each other and are not dependable in their choice between the two. They do good things, but not great, and they do them when it’s convenient, and when it happens to occur to them. Ditto for the not-so-good things they do. Truffault’s characters tell the truth when they know what the truth is or when it’s not inconvenient to do so.

Truffault’s stories tell us about cats that can’t follow instructions, persistent human creativity in the face of American insurance companies, fidelity unless Jacqueline Bisset or Delphine Seyrig or Catherine Deneuve or Jeanne Moreau is involved…and of course, when fidelity is convenient. He tells us of dalliances that turn into life-destroying obsessions or deserted island fantasies or small-scale, but convoluted revenge/murder schemes (that may or may not work) – no great tragedies, merely intriguing human ones.

I find that precious, and usually convenient.

Bicycles & Air-Conditioning

The first house I bought in Lexington was a block away from Castlewood Park in the 1980’s. This neighborhood was home to me. I grew up off Meadow Lane, played Little League baseball and basketball in Castlewood Park. The basketball court then was in the Louden Castle, now home to the Lexington Art League.

In the eighties, I was doing a lot of summer theatre in Woodland Park and with Dr. Jim Rodgers at UK…and I was bicycling to rehearsal many nights. Pedaling through these Northside streets also felt like “home”. Growing up, my friends and I biked everywhere and all the time. There were long summer days when we were up and rolling by 8am and still rolling strong at 10pm. Our parents didn’t worry about it since all the parents on the street kept half an eye on all the kids. Every kid’s house was a refuge from weather, hunger, or the calls of nature.

We were excellently-equipped to face our world. We had baseball cards flapping and snapping on the spokes of our wheels, and when the sun went down we had soft drink cans. We had perfected the technique of stomping on the middle of empty cans in such a way that as the can was crushed, it curled around and clung to the sole of our sneaker. Thus shod, we would mount our bikes, attain the speed of light, and drop the lethal sneaker to the asphalt. The night would come alive with streaks of sparks and screams of burning metal…followed instantly by the wails of the neighbors.

Clearly, the offended neighbors were unaware that America was great then.

So…there I was, twenty years older, back in the neighborhood, biking those streets again.

Now though, I was biking alone at night and no one was watching or listening. They were self-sequestered in their air-conditioned nests with cable TV. The streets were silent. I was invisible. How cool is that?

However, part of my ride to rehearsal each night would take me through what I came to refer to as the “NACZ” – the no air-conditioning zone. The difference was stark. In the NACZ I was not invisible, I was a participant once more. People sitting on their porches would greet me. I could hear their conversations. The windows were open. I could hear their phones ringing and could hear what was on TV. I loved it. On those “dark, warm, narcotic American nights” (thank you forever for that description, Tom Waits) I once again became a ten-year-old Prometheus on a 5-speed with a beverage can clamped to my sneaker ready to leave a trail of sparks and screeches and devastation to the dismay of my parents and neighbors out on their porches.

Of course I didn’t actually do that now.

I was a responsible adult now…

…riding a bike to a place where I would spend the evening pretending to be King Arthur, or Don Quixote, or a murderous barber, or a pleasant man with an invisible bunny for a drinking buddy.

Also, my mom had thrown all my baseball cards away.

Yeah…

…that was it.