Sunday, April 21, 2019

Singing and (wheeze) dancing over 50

I wrote recently about rehearsing a play, something I recommend for any man over 50 who feels his opportunities to wear makeup have waned since The Cure stopped touring. Applying full base, rouge and powder feels funny after a year off the stage. In high school and college doing shows constantly I got used to it. Now it feels like I'm a geisha but in a double-breasted suit.

The show went very well. I did not have a panic attack. I did not forget lines or trip over furniture, although I did find one chair briefly uncooperative. Not that anybody noticed. "Auntie Mame" is a fairly light, fluffy show, unlike the one I did last year, "Gatsby," which ends as bloodily as "Hamlet." My characters in that, which included a waiter and a cop, made it through unscathed, and a society dude I played had a beautiful suit. In middle age, a great suit, even one you only get to wear for five nights, is a pleasure.

Before Auntie was even done, I began rehearsing the musical "Big Fish," as a member of the ensemble. Ensemble is French for "take an Ibuprofin before trying to dance, you coot." It occurred to me only after saying yes that I had not sung and danced on stage in 40 years. The singing is O.K., I have a good ear and no solos, but dancing?

Friends, if I could show you a video of Day One, you would laugh so hard you would need to see a specialist for the gut you busted. The choreographer, after teaching us the roughly one-minute routine, a combo of fast knee-slapping, chest-thumping, heel-whacking and soft shoe, gently guided me to the back row of the ensemble, where I have remained. She is a humanitarian. 

It is disheartening to be bad at something. People my age do not generally go looking for new tasks, new challenges, new ways to fail. It's a shame. Getting better at something is a real pleasure. Notice I did not say getting good at something. See previous: back row. But I have mastered that dance, the one whose fast moves and transitions made me feel initially like offstage might have been more merciful than back row.

I can dance it now, practically without thinking. Add in the singing, though, and yeah. Not pretty. I just watched those Korean boy band heartthrobs BTS on TV going through their paces, and my first thought was "How can they breathe?" It was like serious calisthenics, too, fast stuff, and not one of them was wheezing. That was me, I thought to myself, back in 1978. 

Thankfully, most of this show if I'm singing I only just have to sway slightly, raise an arm, do a simple kick-ball-change, stuff I can sing through. There is just that one wacky dance. My head mic will be live to catch the singing, but I'd prefer it not catch the gasping. I need to review the song and find the moments when I can breathe. You take breathing for granted until you are slapping your thighs at high speed and doing elbows-high spins. Trust me on this.

There is no "I" in ensemble. But there is me in the back row. Look closely. I'm the one smiling and hiding behind my taller castmates to mask my panting. 

. . .


Here is a sample of another theater's rehearsal of the fast dance. Ours is different, each choreographer puts her own spin on it, but it has some similar moves. That first day I just could not remember what part came when. It took me repeated viewings of the recording of our own rehearsal to finally get all of it down.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Libraries have gone to the dogs

I like dogs, but not in my salad. More and more you see dogs in restaurants these days and nobody says anything. In libraries. In coffee shops. It is as if the hippie era has come back, and traditional societal boundaries are being blatantly challenged, but only at shin height. 

In the library where I work, dog-bringers fall into two categories. They either try to pass their dog off as a service animal or they hide the dog somewhere. One lady almost got away with a covered baby stroller full of dogs, but made the fatal mistake of trying to check out books. Her baby's yapping sounded suspiciously canine. 

Another lady tried to hide a chihuahua in her cleavage. Yes, you read that right. The cleavage was ample, and the dog tiny, but still. Dogs, like people, are rarely quiet in a library. When discovered, she didn't even seem that embarrassed, as if bra dogs are just another 21st Century advance society can finally relish.

Often people will bring a dog into the library on a leash, with no trace of a service harness or vest. They use the same technique which we are taught will deter muggers—walking with confidence. Enter as if your dog is the head of the library board of trustees, come to oversee his dominion. 

Because of the Americans With Disabilities Act, service animals are allowed a lot of latitude. For example, legally I am only allowed to ask a lady with a dog in her bra two questions:

  1. Is this a service animal which is necessary because of a disability?
  2. What service was this animal specifically trained to help you with? 

I do not want Mrs. Bra Pup to answer that second one.

If the answer to #1 is yes, whether true or not, there is apparently no wrong answer for #2. I am not allowed to ask about the person's disability. So here are some possible answers to #2 which do not result in getting ejected from the library:

"Possum detection."

"His nose always points toward nonfiction."

"I can't pronounce it, but it is vital."

"She can carry two Nicholas Sparks or one Stephen King in her mouth without damaging them."

The law does not give a checklist of acceptable answers, so basically all answers are valid if you can deliver them with a straight face. I am not allowed to say "Ma'am, no disrespect, but that's not a service animal. That's a pet. An evidently incontinent one."

You can be fined $1000 if convicted of trying to pass off a pet as a service animal. You can spend six months in jail. 

"What are you in for?"

"Capital murder. You?"

"Trying to pass Fluffy off as one of my breasts."

I can't imagine a case ever being brought. Libraries and restaurants and coffee shops want to be welcoming, not alienating, to their customers. People know this, so a person who brings an animal in is basically daring you.

I generally ignore them. The ice caps are melting. Dogs in libraries are not really a big problem in comparison, more of a symbolic one. Another standard of society, lowered. 

People my age and older sometimes complain about the noise in libraries these days, and people snacking and drinking. One lady was loudly talking to another on the main floor the other day, and an old guy sitting at a table just held out his arm, silently pointing her out to me. 


I predict in 20 years the big problem will not be dogs, but people bringing in their robots. How are you supposed to shush something that can bore holes in you with its laser eyes? Thankfully, I will be retired. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another opening, another show

I have acted in plays since I was 15, when I was too shy to interact with most people, or at least girls. Scripted words were a godsend. Sometimes it even said, right in the script, I had to kiss them. So I kissed them. I mean, it said so right there. "They kiss," was one memorable stage direction. My first kiss, in fact, was not romantic but in service to a musical. I paused. I looked out at the director for confirmation. "Kiss her," he said. So I did. 

I'm rehearsing a play now. Although I do not live in my hometown, the play's there and our rehearsals too. This has caused past and present to sort of shimmer for me, blend together, fade in and out of each other.

We rehearse in a hall where, 41 years ago, I slow-danced in the dark with my junior year sweetheart at the Girls League Formal. It was a girl-ask-guy dance they apparently don't even have any more. 

I practice our scenes now mere feet away from where Michelle and I swayed all those years ago in the humid, teen-scented dark...can it be?...almost 15,000 days ago. I remember the spot, because I kissed her while we danced, something I had never done before in public, a bold move, even in the dark. 

Sometimes at rehearsal my eye lingers there under the bright fluorescent lights. In daylight, there is no magic to the place. The ancient window curtains have collected the dust of decades and the wooden stage on the far end has some spongy boards. But, like any place out of memory, it retains a certain romance.

I think she broke up with me later that night. I can't remember. If not, it was pretty soon after. I couldn't tell you why. She probably still could. 

Near a '60's looking sculpture in the foyer I eye a wall where I remember tossing my cream-colored tuxedo jacket and salmon bow tie onto a pile of the same. A hundred teens dancing in one room can generate a lot of heat. I did the rest of my dancing in my ruffle-fronted shirt, sleeves rolled up. Was there a disco ball or does memory play tricks? 

Today in the spot of the tux pile is a clothes rack hung with all our show costumes. My tux is black this time, the tie, grey.

Every time I pull into the parking lot outside I remember the same lot, 40 years ago. I disembarked from a public school bus one final time, the bleary morning after Grad Night. Our parents drove us to the party alone, but a bus brought all us graduates home together. 

Grad Night sucked. It was not at Disneyland, as is customary now, but in a ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel across the street. I guess they figured if it had the name Disneyland in it, we would be placated. It was lame. 

I had to wear a suit and tie. There was a hypnotist at about 2 a.m. who made my classmates cluck like chickens or become stiff as a board. There was dancing. I don't remember getting on the bus, but I remember getting off in this very parking lot, the sun too bright after an all-nighter. Parents waiting in their cars to take us home, like kindergartners. 

I pull up to rehearsal and the bus shimmers in the morning sun 40 years ago. 

This is roughly show #30 or so for me, lifetime. There have been many other tuxes, and suits, prayer shawls, jockey silks, tights. I am not as shy as that teen, but I still appreciate someone providing me the words. So often the right ones are nowhere to be found. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

To some, we are dead ringers

I work at a public library desk and I have a coworker who patrons constantly think is me. He looks nothing like me, but he IS the other middle-aged balding, graying white guy. 

So when we have a shift change at the top of the hour, often a patron he helped earlier will come back by the desk and thank me. I usually just smile and nod. "You're welcome." Often a patron will walk in the front doors and say "Remember me from last week? You were right. I went home and tried rebooting and it worked!" I have never seen them before. 

It's O.K. We all look alike. 

We have a young Latina who also works the desk, and a middle aged lady. They don't get mistaken for each other by the public, understandably. But for Gaetano and me, it happens constantly, almost daily. 

His name is Gaetano, so even our names look similar at a glance on our nametags. He is Italian-American. One time a woman walked up to me, clearly having had a previous conversation with him, and she opened with "So are you FLUENT in Italian or just speak a little?" I said I was George and the only Italian I know is fuhgeddaboutit. 

People are generally embarrassed to get us wrong. If I'm being honest, it's kind of entertaining.

Recently when I relieved Gaetano from desk duty, within five minutes of each other, an old guy thanked me for giving him extra computer time and a woman happily held up a book and said "I found it. The title was just a little different than I thought." 

I never saw them before.

It happens to him after I leave the desk just as often. Even our fellow staff, if they have just come on shift and only see one of us out of the corner of their eye, will call us by the other's name. They are apologetic, always, since they know it's a "thing." They even have a nickname for us. 

They call us "Georgetano." 

Turns out we both went to the same high school, although a dozen years apart. We're both dads. We both deliver a wry punch line quietly, with a straight face. We often wear the same library logo polo shirts. How can we blame the public? Some people couldn't tell Redford and Newman apart.

That is why it occurred to me that I could totally commit the perfect crime, as long as it occurred in the library. A whole string of witnesses would swear they saw Gaetano do it. I have to figure out the details still. We have worked together for 14 years, all of them leading up to this moment. The doppelgänger denouement! It is destiny. 

Or, to borrow a library phrase, it is way overdue.

Except I just wrote about it. Crap. Or did Gaetano just write about it? Ha! That would really show premeditation on his part. Oh, he is totally going down. 



Sunday, March 3, 2019

Patreon supporter week - The History of Sleep

My column this week goes out exclusively to my Patreon supporters. For a buck a month you can access the full column, "The History of Sleep," the first paragraph of which goes like this:

"We spend a third of our lives asleep, and that does not even count the time during the Masters Tournament. How we sleep has undergone drastic changes over the millennia. Evolution suggests that first, like The Godfather's Luca Brasi, we slept with the fishes. Then as we developed limbs, we probably slept under a bush, because predators would never think of looking there. Then in trees. It wasn't until some brainiac discovered that caves keep rain off that our sleep customs advanced..."

From there it goes into the history of early mattresses, which I will just say involved small animals.

Do you have a buck this month? And next? Then join the fun here.

George