Tag Archives: Tom Waits

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 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.

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.

A Geezer Remembers 1987…A Critical Response

Imagine, if you will, a show in Lexington with a cast consisting of Trish Clark, Jane Dewey, Eric Johnson, Kevin Hardesty and Paul Thomas. Sweeter than sweet. If you’re the director of that cast your duties are basically to turn on the lights at rehearsal, right?

Now imagine that show being not so hot.

In fact, imagine it being thoroughly shredded by the Herald’s reviewer.

As Tom Waits so elegantly says; “Impossible you say? Beyond the realm of possibility? Nah!”

It can and did happen. I have the scars.

All it takes is a director with little directorial experience, even less experience with improvisational farce, and NO real vision beyond “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” (I’m reminded of Mickey Rooney’s immortal query; “Hey! Why don’t we put on a show!!”)

If you are lookin’ for a director of YOUR production of BULLSHOT CRUMMOND with exactly that resume, I’m your guy.

This was back in the early, early years of Actors Guild when they were performing in the basement of Levas’ Restaurant on Vine Street. The cast worked hard. Kevin played about eight different characters. Eric played two, including one duet scene with himself (a dream come true, I’m sure). Trish was ultra-sultry. Jane was innocent and dizzy. Paul was checking out the locations of the exits. All were trying to figure how to get new agents when they had no agents to begin with.

What can I say? The show seemed funny to me. (BUZZER! Thank you for playing, Mr. Leasor.)

Then came opening night and we played our farce to an audience of seven (7) (VII)…plus the reviewer (Tom Carter).

It was a long night’s journey into sad.

(Fade to…)

The next morning I awoke to the devastating review. Tom summed things up by saying “Leasor has done his friends the disservice of casting them in roles for which they are not suited.”

Ma-a-a-n!

Janie removed the poison/razor/gun from my hand and convinced me that though life was obviously no longer worth living it was still necessary to do so as we still owed a lot of money on the house.

Therefore, my next concern was how to help my cast through this undeserved (on their part) catastrophe.

I called an acquaintance who owned a t-shirt shop, set the wheels of foolishness in motion, and that night each member of the cast found, at their make-up station a bright red t-shirt that read “I am NOT Roger Leasor’s friend, please cast me”.

It seemed to help break the ice.

After that evening’s show, Eric went out for his post-show “snack” to Columbia’s Steakhouse (that Steak-for-Two and a Diego Salad always serves well when it’s time for a little something to take the edge off at midnight) resplendent in his new t-shirt. Guess who was standing at the bar…none other than the reviewer himself. Eric, of course, diplomat that he is, made certain Tom saw the shirt…less than 24 hours after the review was written!

Lexington’s a small town at heart. I saw Tom at lunch the next week at the Saratoga (the “Toga” always served well when a wedge and a chicken-fried steak was needed to take the edge off at noon). He was gracious and impressed with the alacrity of our response (if not our show) and life in our small town went on.

Sometimes you catch a break, deserved or not.