Thursday, December 29, 2011

Untitled New Year's Eve Reflection.....

I get to work on New Year's Eve (well, technically, it'll be New Year's Day when I start, but I'll be sleeping though much of the pre-fab hub-bub that the television will serve up), and as such, my mind serves as host to The Ghost of Parties Past.

First of all, and I believe I've said this before, New Year's Eve is what my brethren refer to as "Amateur Night."  It's a night for people to go out and try to throw as much living into the few hours left in the previous year, so that they can spend the first few hours of the next year throwing up.

I've never bought into the idea that a tuxedo was necessary for a New Year's Eve Soiree, although I have been to several of those kinds of parties.  And still, a few people maintained the idea that they needed to get obnoxiously drunk and hit generally make an ass of themselves.

At this point, I'm reminded of a Dorothy Parker quote:  "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."

I've spent New Year's Eves in Tuxedos, in Grand Ballrooms with live orchestras; and I've spent them with a trash can filled with a toxic type of fruit punch dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.  I've danced waltzes just after the countdown with a woman in a lovely red dress; and I've spent it sitting on a couch watching THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHHAUSEN after the traditional midnight make-out session with a girl in black jeans and a white t-shirt.

I've spent them drunk; and I've spent them sober.  And yes, on one New Year's Day I woke up with the feeling that I just couldn't do it anymore.

This year, I'll sleep through it, and work through it, and eat leftovers and drink a toast from the top of the building, and I'll thank the Universal Truth for the good of the past year, and request even more good for the next.

And you all will be in my thoughts and attached to the blessing for which I ask.

And hopefully, somewhere out there, there might be a few people who think kindly of me, as well.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Random things....

The Detroit Lions made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. That, along with earthquakes in Oklahoma and a Hurricane on the East Coast, means that we are not IN an apocalypse, but you can see one from here.....

Christmas was a delight. The food was delicious, the conversation sparkling, and I received this really cool walking stick with a Raven head. I also was given a Toledo Mud Hens jersey. It was way cool in the prezzie department.

We sent various lovely things to the folks back home, but my particular contribution were some things I picked up when I was over the sea in that far off and well-remembered country; so, each of my family members received the official flag of Cornwall.

My Father was appreciative, but was worried that it would misinterpreted if flown.  I say, fly it proudly, for we are Sons of Cornwall.

Speaking of flags....has anybody else noticed that when you watch A CHRISTMAS STORY on TBS over and over, you notice little things....for example, the American flag up the flagpole at the school has fifty stars....and this takes place in 1940....oh, and the plastic caps on the wagons should be metal.  Oh, and one of the kids is wearing a Davy Crockett hat that didn't come out until like a decade later.....

And then I went to sleep.

And I wish I was still there.

And how was YOUR day?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sometimes, it's the destination, and NOT the journey.

The re-build continues at a less-than-breakneck speed.  The walls were painted yesterday, and in that regard, we can call it an epic fail.  Upstairs in the hallway, the color was correct, but the underlying texture was wrong.  They are correcting that today.  Around the corner in the living room, where I had hoped they wouldn't foray, the color is wrong; it seems the original owner did a strange, three color texture painting which is virtually impossible to copy.  So, that's so wrong, it would have to come up in my estimation just to be simply wrong.  Hopefully, they are fixing that on Monday, and in the meantime, I'll hide the offending repair with furniture.

Downstairs....the main room color is wrong.  And for some reason, they painted the hall with the same color.  They will fix that on Monday.  The office is fine, actually...they managed to match the ceiling texture very well.

There is a carpet guy supposed to come today.  I will not turn blue with the waiting.

I suppose this doesn't bother me all that much; aside from the deductible, my insurance is covering all of this, and any mistake made doesn't cost me a dime.  But the thing is, I'm expecting about sixteen to eighteen people on Christmas Day (have I told the story of the incredible expanding Christmas Dinner?  If I haven't, I will at a later date), and I would prefer not to have the house looking a trifle beaten up.

The presents are wrapped.  And tonight, after the necessary delay, the tree will go up.  We thought about foregoing, but we did that one year early in our marriage, and it was miserable.  Christmas needs a tree.  So, it will go up next to the fireplace on the lower level.  And the presents will be placed underneath.  And all will be well.

I'm looking forward to coming home from work at noon on Christmas Day, cooking some food, eating some food, and going back to bed to be ready for the next shift.

I'll tell you later about how close I came to quitting my job on another day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Tribute

As I think I've said before, during the course of my week, I peruse several newspapers.  One of them is the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

I still have friends out there on the Central Coast, and I follow as best I can the comings and goings.  It takes me back.

When I had just started my tenure out there in Arroyo Grande, I had a series of financial setbacks that caused me to re-arrange my life a little; tighten the belt, and give up some of the those creature comforts that I had come to rely upon in favor of other, cost efficient comforts.

One of them was my car. 

Yeah, to tell the whole truth, it wasn't my idea to give it up.  A couple of strapping fellow came in the dark of the night while I was working and towed it right out of the parking lot.  And I had not the ransom to free it from its prison, so I bid it goodbye.

Now, as some of you know, I'm a walker.  I am not adverse to walking long distances, and often, in my tenure at the Melodrama Theatre in California, I would walk the three or four miles from our home to the theatre...but the loss of my car pre-dates my dating, engagement and marriage.

And I lived further out of town.
About six more miles out of town.
So, I procured a bike.

It was an old ten speed bicycle, with no bells or whistles...and although I didn't know it at the time, it was in need of some maintenance.  A LOT of maintenance.  The gears needed to be looked at, the brakes, and the tires.  The only thing really working on the thing was the seat.

And that's when I met Ira Hughes.  He owned the bike shop in Arroyo Grande.  It was a little cabin-like thing, stuffed full of new bikes in the front, and repairs in the back.  He was a nice fellow with an easy going manner and a disarming smile.  He didn't seem the least put off by my long hair and beard; I think it actually encouraged the warm manner and disarming smile.

I told him what I needed.  I told him I needed a new bike, but I had to make due with the POS I currently had.  He looked at it, told me what I needed and told me to come back two days following.  He asked for my name (but only the first name, strangely), and didn't ask for money, and then, to my surprise, asked me if I needed a loaner.

I looked over at the Penny-Farthing he had sitting out front, and inquired about it.  He told me he only rode that in parades.  And he DID.  With the Straw Boater on his head and a garters on his arms...

Two days later, I showed up; he had cleaned it up, adjusted the brakes, replaced both tires and fixed the gear shifter.  And he charged me fifteen dollars.

It was like he took the thorn out of my paw; we were friends for life.

I eventually got back on financial track (although it was five years before I actually owned a car again), but I saw him frequently about town...he'd occasionally come into the ice cream shop (which was right across the street, more or less), and of course, I'd see him at parades.  When I moved away from the coast to join the land of the Northern State, I gave the bicycle to one of the actors that replaced me at the Melodrama Theatre, and I hope it served him well...and if he needed anything, to go see Ira.

Well, I was reading the Tribune this morning, and Ira got sick about seven months ago; what seemed like the flu was something far worse, and that good guy faded away with family and friends all around at his home last week.

Yes, you could say that I barely knew him; but a good man deserves to be eulogized.  So, thanks for the helping hand when I needed it, Ira. 

I payed it forward.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The smile defies description......

At this time of year, with the snow, falling at infrequent intervals casting a lovely icing upon the Capital City of the Northern State, and the well-placed lights of red and blue are placed upon green trees and wreaths making the evening constitutional a triptych of neighbors' personal stories....and the fragrance of pine and sugar cookies blending into a single aroma that defines the holiday season, my thoughts turn to the idea that Colonel Mustard did with the Wrench in the Library.

Yup.  CLUE.

Not the movie, mind you, although I find the movie a laugh riot; I prefer the THIRD ending, by the way.  But my thoughts always turn to CLUE at this time of the year.

Because it was the only game my Brothers and I could agree on.  And it was a game that everybody would get involved in.  And it was a game even we could win.

Yeah, we played MONOPOLY from time to time, but truly, those games could go for hours, and in some cases, days.  It was always fun to start, but invariably it would lead to acrimony, and on one occasion, near fisticuffs.  But was a game that went as long as it needed to, and there was a decided winner, and almost nobody (except Mr. Boddy) died.

The image that stays forever in my head is sitting on the floor in the living room, the Christmas tree lit behind us, rolling the dice and showing the cards, trying to beat my two brothers to the solution.  The snow was falling; school was out until after the first of the year; and my Uncle from New York was soon to join us, and he always brought a little fun to the holidays.

The family tradition was always that somebody would bring a game, and that would be the thing we did after breakfast and before dinner.  Through the years, there were a ton of them; some of them good (who can forget Trivial Pursuit?  It's a cliche now, but in its infancy it was the game for 'smart people") and some were bad (there was this one game where you had to finish a lyric of a song from a random decade, and I always wound up doing Buddy Holly or Little Richard), but through it all, CLUE always seemed to make an appearance.

Yup.  The cherished books of my younger days have been translated to a small, portable pad; the music has gone from LPs to CDs to ITunes; and the candles are now electric and the tree lights are LED.

But I would give a ton of whatever is valuable these days to travel over the lake, light a candle or two, pour a glass of whatever is desired, and set up the board with my Brothers again.


Maybe next year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The time my head should have exploded, but didn't.

I was recently asked if I would have any interest in doing MAN OF LA MANCHA.

Guess what my answer was?

It started with a Hell and ended with a Yes.  And a little tiny exclamation point at the end.

Now, nothing will ever come of this.  But it was nice to be asked, truly nice to be remembered after all of these years out of the profession, and it would have been nice to clear a blot that's been like a finger in my eye since I first did a production of that play back in 199-something.

I have long since forgotten the director's name.  Short of killing him (and it was a very near thing), that's the best and only thing I could do; ERASE that sad sack of s**t from my memory.  But the scars remain.

Among his sins:

Directing the show from the book of a previous production, i.e, directing actors he wished he had rather than the actors he had.  Directing like a Mother-In-Law drives from the back seat.....allowing for absolutely no creative input.

At one point, I moved a little farther right than he had directed.  A step or two.  Still in the light, but allowing for some space between myself and the primary action.  He stopped the rehearsal and literally spoke to me as if I were a child.  And you all KNOW how I respond to such things.


I did it again a few days later, by instinct rather than malice.  Again, he stopped and this time he screamed at me.  And you all KNOW how I respond to that.

VERY badly.

This was a two week rehearsal period, and quite possibly the worst I've ever been through.  If it was possible for a director to completely separate the cast from the production, he did it.  And it seemed as if he was doing it intentionally.

On the day we were to open, he called a full dress rehearsal for the afternoon.  This is the kind of guy who would probably jack off before heading out to the orgy.  Forgive the visual.

The stage manager talked him out of it, and he said, "okay, I'll just give some notes."  And he did.

He gave notes from 9:00 AM until Noon.  And then we broke for lunch.  And then we came back and he continued until 4:00 PM.  Six hours of notes for a two hour show.  He literally had everybody believing that we would have to bring our A game to merely SUCK.

I, of course, was furious.  And, at 3:55, with the possibility of escaping this odious man's presence minutes away, I moved to the back of the house.

"Don't go anywhere, John." he says for everybody to hear.

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere.....sir."  was my response.

Afterward, a fellow in the cast who currently does those United States Postal Service commercials said to me, "I've never heard anybody say 'sir', and make it sound like, 'ASSHOLE!' before."

So, we opened the show, and it went pretty well.  There were some glitches, but we covered them.  The audience was very appreciative.  And just like that, it was over, it was open, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't have to deal with that idiot again.

Oh, but I was so a show of pure, unadulterated narcissism, he makes an appearance in the dressing room!

His profuse praise to his cast?  "Well, that was okay, all things considered."

Our eyes met in the makeup mirror that I was staring into, in the hopes that I would not leap across the room and throttle the sonofabitch.  Pop his head off like a champagne cork.  Nut-punch the smug bastard.  He could not help but see the look of pure malevolence on my face.

He left town the next morning, and I have not seen him from that day to this.  And I can only hope that he took a job as a butcher, because he had some talent in that regard.  To his only credit, he left me with a great story about the worst director I've ever worked with.

Then again, the world is wide, and life is long, so I probably shouldn't put that trophy away so quickly.

Well.  That was cathartic.

So, to sum up.  I would do MAN OF LA MANCHA again.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Frivolity! Jocularity!

I've been thinking upon the purchase of a truly frivolous item.

Okay, I'll admit it, and if I could get into my office, I would prove it to you; I have several tons of truly frivolous purchases.  I'm the kind of fellow that never grew out of toys and such.

I have a Mr. Potatohead dressed as Darth Vader.  That's right; Darth Tater.
I have bendible Mr. Bill.  And a Gumby.  AND a Popeye.
I have a wind up Bender from Futurama.
I have several autographed photos, procured for various fees:  Monty Python; Abbott And Costello; and Jeremy Brett.
A framed Rolling Stone cover of John Belushi.
A complete collection of THE FAR SIDE, CALVIN AND HOBBES, BLOOM COUNTY, and of course, E.C. Segar's orginal run of POPEYE.
A piece of the Berlin Wall.
A small sandbag from the Mississippi Flood of 1993.

Yup.  Tons of weird stuff.

So, what could possibly be making me itch to possess?  What could possibly top a DARTH TATER?

One share of stock in the Green Bay Packers.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mile posts.

Around this time in the year of some Lord 1985, I was just finishing the first leg of a brutal National tour of three shows in a very small outfit out of Texas.  We drew straws in Cocoa Beach, FL to see who would hump the van back to Corpus Christi, and since I was going that direction anyway, as my CAR was in Corpus Christi, I intentionally drew the short straw.

I set off the following morning, heading north and catching the I-10, and then zipping along on that until I reached the promised land of Houston, and then took a light left hand turn and followed the Gulf coast to paydirt.  I can remember seeing at least one other sunrise.  I also remember sleeping in the back seat for a spell.  But mostly, I can remember the ridiculously cliched country radio stations.  It's a twangy sound that's never left my head.

Did a quick turnaround in Corpus Christi, got the car, gassed her, and headed North toward home. I had two stops to make; one, in Marquette MI, to see some old friends.

I've written about that one before.  You can read about it, if you want.

But before I got there, I needed to stop at a little town in the middle of nowhere, Illinois, called Macomb.

See, before I embarked upon the grueling tour, I had an offer to begin Graduate Studies at Western Illinois University.  They offered about halfway through my last semester of Undergraduate Studies, and I was about as through with classwork as I could possibly be; like the iconic Tom Wingfield, I was tired of the movies and was ready to move.

What a difference a day makes.  Or, to be precise, what a difference 244 days of loading in/loading out, cheap motels and cheaper food, and living out of one suitcase.

So, I made contact and was invited to come up on this day to re-audition, and interview, and all that jazz.  It was almost nightfall when I arrived; but they put me up in a dorm room for the night, gave me tickets to see a production of THE LION IN WINTER, and introduced me to several people that I would eventually work with in the future.

The show was good; the sleep was deep.  And the next day, with a handful of professors in attendance, I went into my song-and-dance (metaphoric) and to make a long story short, they let me in, gave me money to come in, and shook my hand with a hearty, "what took you so long?  we really wanted you last year, and are awfully glad to have you this year!"

There's not much to that particular story, except as aftermath.  I spent two years doing a three year program, fought with and loved dearly the people I came in with, have most if not all of their names on a friends list, and met two instructors that became role models for pretty much everything I did in a classroom for the next fifteen years.

I am in touch with most of them still; some, more than others.  And always, always grateful for the time.

So, in essence, I have always thought that my life turned on the events of later that same December; and yes, that's certainly true.

But the first turn came on a small dimly lit stage in Western Illinois a few weeks before.

Huh.  Go figure.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Between the nightmares of daytime, and the work of the nighttime....

It was the spring of 1980 when I remember thinking it for the first time.

"My generation will make it right."

As you might remember (if you're old enough or if you study all of American History, and not just the part where we came off smellin' like a rose), in November of 1979, our Embassy in a certain Middle Eastern country was overrun by a bunch of people with guns and masks and Anti-American slogans.  They quickly subdued the brave Marines tasked with guarding the place (largely because they were specifically ordered not to fire their weapons) and took 52 Americans hostage on what, technically, was American soil and consequently, an act of war.

Those people with the guns and the masks, one of which looked suspiciously like the current leader of that Middle Eastern country, held those 52 American for well over a year, effectively holding the entire country hostage.  The President, hog-tied by his love of public opinion and one disastrous rescue attempt, was eventually defeated by a former actor and former Governor of California; and shortly after the great man's inauguration, those brave souls were released.

In the midst of it, there were vigils and semi-patriotic gatherings around flag poles, praying for the safety of those brave souls, and hoping that perhaps that semi-patriotic gesture would not look as hollow as it felt.

And in July of 1980, they reinstated the Selective Service System, and my generation quaked at the idea of mandatory service, with the images of Vietnam still fresh in our heads.

It turned out for the best, I suppose; if by 'best' you mean that we have been enemies with that country and fighting a cold war with them since that time.  They are the North Korea of my generation, I suppose....a no-win.  They made us look cowardly and impotent, and even though the former actor and Governor of California took us to the gym and pumped us up during the 80's.....we still have the scar.

So, in the spring of 1980, shortly before my high school graduation and my soon-to-be sodden attempt at college, I stood with a hundred of my peers around a flagpole and raised a flag and prayed fervently that I wouldn't be wearing green and carrying an M-16 by Christmas.  And that aforementioned thought ran through my head:

"My generation will make it right."

And, in some cases, we tried.  Some of those people that stood with me that day became soldiers; some laid down their lives.  One became a minister, and through these years continues to be an inspiration.  A few became Doctors.  Most others became, through the natural order of things, Mothers and Fathers, and I hope they raised their children to listen, think and respond, and not the other way around.

But.  I guess it didn't turn out quite the way we hoped back in the days when we were green.  Every opportunity to unite the world, in triumph or tragedy, was squandered, and rather than evolve, we de-volved into the fourth grade playground we now occupy.

I am so disappointed.

But not dead, yet.

So, as feeble as it may be.....the fire still burns.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Niagra looks nice, but you DON'T want it in your basement.

Let me just catch you up on some things.....

It's snowing again; a lovely, slow falling snow that looks like something out of a Charlie Brown Christmas Special (and yes, even now I'm humming the Vince Guaraldi Trio music).  Everything outside seems chilly and peaceful.....

And inside, it's a freakin' disaster area.

Last Sunday, I was awakened by my Favorite Wife, who gently whispered into my ear at 4 PM (which, as you well know, translates into about 1 AM on my schedule) that there seemed to be something wrong downstairs.  Sometimes, my wife is a little vague on the specifics of the concept of 'something wrong'; it could be that the computer is frozen, or it could be that one of the cats needs a trip to the vet; or it could mean that water seems to be leaking out of the ceiling, walls, and floor.

Yes.  That last one is the big winner of the day.

I shut down the water, called the plumber, cleaned up a little as best we could, and went back to bed, which I will call a major victory on my road to person-hood:  in the past, I would yell and kick and whine and moan and think what an awful tragedy, but instead, I made sure that the library was intact, that no lifeboats were required, that no electronics were injured during the filming of this part of my life, and I went back to bed.

There is a reason, after all, why we have plumbers, and homeowners insurance.

For the last couple of days, there have BEEN plumbers, and insurance people and people who address themselves as 'Disaster Cleanup Services' that have been traipsing around my basement, looking, photographing, writing, and systematically ripping up carpet and drywall and setting up industrial sized blow dryers and asking me about how it all started.

Apparently, inside the wall, a leeeeetle pipe leading to the shower in the Master Bathroom broke, and while it wasn't a problem when running a tub, when the shower was begun, the water pressure was pushing some of the water back into the wall.  Invisible to the human eye. house looks like Swiss Cheese.  There are industrial sized blow dryers humming away in the basement.  My library looks like a scene from OUTBREAK, and people keep knocking on my door.

How's your day going?