Sunday, November 10, 2019

40th High School Reunion

In kindergarten you don't know that your beloved teacher, who cast you as the ferocious lion in the class circus pageant specifically because you were so shy, will one day die of cancer. 

You don't know that the nap time you take for granted during class, where you pull out a beach towel and chill on the floor for 10 minutes, will sound pretty good to you again in your 50s when the afternoon rolls around. 

You don't know that while you spend that kindergarten year watching a bean plant grow in dirt in a clear plastic cup, watch the roots spread down and the sprouts shoot up, more than 3,000 American boys will die in Vietnam, boys who once spread beach towels too.

In kindergarten, where your two forehead cowlicks still defy gravity, giving you the appearance of a great horned owl, you can't know that 52 years later you will attend a 40th-year high school class reunion. Or that several friends from that same kindergarten will be there, armed with pictures of their kids and even grandkids of their own. Reunions are surreal events, like something out of Poe, where the past shimmers in the same physical space as the present. This is not a criticism.

There are people whose names you recognize on their name tags but not their current faces, and people whose faces have barely changed in 40 years but whose names you cannot possibly dredge up. There is that moment where you have to decide whether it's rude to check the name tag, as if somehow after 40 years, after 14,600 days, you should still be required to remember a name you last heard as you sat in your sweltering seat on that graduation lawn.

There by the bar is the one dude in the whole school who could run faster than I could in sixth grade. By the buffet, wait, is that the girl who was the first in our grade to develop breasts that same year? 

There is a guy I remember mostly from P.E. class, taller than I remember, who tells me he spent the last two years caring for his dad at the end of his life. "He was there for me when I needed him, and I promised him I'd be there for him."

I remember the first reunion, 10 years after graduation, having a vibe of "what have you made of yourself?" A kind of posturing. Some of us were still single, some had four kids, some were already divorced. I remember one guy made fun of me for not remembering his name even though we spent years on the same track team. He was a hurdler. Who remembers hurdlers?

At the 40th there is no such vibe. There is only warmth, a feeling like gratitude, of still being around when quite a few of our class are not. By the entrance is a poster board showing dozens of classmates we have lost, posed in their senior portraits, forever young. Now and then a group will cluster around it. "I didn't know that," one will say. "Oh my God, I just ran into him a couple of years ago."

I visit the buffet table and grab some hors d'oeuvres. I talk to my buddy I remember better from junior high, who just lost his wife a few months ago, the pain still clear in his voice. He played high school football and coaches it now, a mentor to boys just like he was, a halfback whisperer. 

California girls. They make you feel sad for all the other states. I'm sorry, but that song nailed it. Some of these ladies have still got it going on. Gone is the sense of vanity, though. They are comfortable in their skin. It's nice to see.

I chat with one old kindergarten friend, who has recently left his career and moved home to care for his elderly mom. The kindness in his eyes has never changed. It is amazing how we may develop crow's feet or lose our hair, but the eyes stay the same. I notice it again and again.

I spend a minute with a woman who was a ravishing girl in school. She is still lovely and now a successful writer-producer in Hollywood. I would never have said a word to her in high school, but now casually ask her, since mutual friends have posted updates about her career online, how the TV business is. She describes another epic series she is working on. Nice, I say, well good luck, and then it's my turn to order at the bar.

Reunions are full of these moments with people you didn't really know, but with whom you went through something together and feel comfortable. I expect Titanic survivor reunions were much the same. 

There is the guy who accepted my friend request on Facebook a few years ago, but I notice we are not currently friends there, and so I guess he was just being polite. There is the person I un-friended because they "liked" a friend's blatantly racist comment about "sending them all back to Africa." Online life makes real life weird, but often only once a decade. 

There's my fellow runner who, like me, became a librarian, still hilarious as ever. And my theater friend, who recounts getting kicked out of a show "for good cause," he admits, because the pain of his parents' divorce often caused him to "just check out." 

Perhaps the most valuable single thing about aging is the perspective you gain on your younger self, something our friends on the remembrance poster never got to do. 

There are other conversations. There are also people I saw from a distance and recognized but didn't approach. Reunions are inherently weird, and maybe doubly so for us introverts. If you are reading this, and I never talked to you, rest assured I was glad to see you. Genuinely. It's not you, it's me.

Back in the '70's, every graduating class had a slogan based on its year of graduation. Ours was "'79 is fine." It had been preceded by "'78 is great," which is inarguably better, but you can't choose when you were born. I always felt sorry for the class of '80. They ended up, I think, with "8-0 is on the go," which is painfully vague, and should have been reason enough for abolishing the practice altogether.

Do they still do it? Is next year's class slogan "'20 is plenty"? Minty? Flinty? Linty?

I did a lot of plays in high school. In one, at age 16, I played an old man looking back on life. A few of his lines touched me, even then, and I have never forgotten them: "How many of us would settle, when we're young, for what we eventually get? All those plans we make. What happens to them? It's only a handful of the lucky ones who can look back and say that they even came close."

The event was held after dark in a local botanical garden, just across the street from our old high school. The party site was quite a ways from the parking lot, so at the end we were shuttled back to our cars in one of those electric golf carts. Those go pretty fast. Whizzing past the foliage in the dark, it felt like a scene from "Jurassic Park," as if a velociraptor might leap out at us at any moment. Or one of our old teachers, beard down to his knees, sprung from his grave by our merry-making, still waving a protractor in the air. 

For the record, I had only been drinking soda.

I drove away down the main street and a memory came to me of a spring night 40 years earlier, when the same street had been completely flooded, filled curb to curb from a rainstorm as I drove my date to a formal dance. Or my dad drove us. I don't remember which date or which dance. But I remember the water, and our car like a ship cutting through it. Apocalyptic. There was a drought then too. One's home town, I guess, is full of visions like that. 

We danced to this thing they had back then called rock music. It's not around any more. Kids at our old high school these days have heard of it, no doubt, but probably regard it the way we used to think of ragtime. Half a century from now, hip-hop will likely elicit an eye-roll from teenagers. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say. So it goes.

1979. Jimmy Carter was president. He's still around, you know. So are we. And the class of '79 is still fine.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A reminder to remember

There are two kinds of people in this world; the kind who check their children's pants pockets before doing laundry, and the kind who don't. (All right, there is a third kind, the kind who don't have children, but you are not reading this, because you are golfing.) 

List of people in the first category:

Mother Teresa
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (I'm guessing)

List of people in the second category:

Pol Pot
Most of my friends (I'm guessing)

I have always wanted to coin a term for the kind of person I am, the kind who is simultaneously fastidious AND sloppy. Attentive AND oblivious. I am sure my more literate friends are right now screaming the term which already exists and which I can't think of, which is probably "Man! The word is 'man!'" 

I check pockets for important documents before doing laundry. I have never found a kid's mash note or an early draft of the Magna Carta, but I'd feel sick if I pulled one out after a load, the paper pulverized into a wet cylinder. I am fastidious. I am also sloppy. I am someone who has found a three year old "to do" list buried in a stack of my papers on a table, a list of things never accomplished but now rendered irrelevant by time, which is SWEET, let me tell you. 

I write myself notes throughout the day, reminders, things I know I will forget if not committed to paper. These notes pile up at home in several locations, and every couple of months I make a pile of them and transfer all the reminders to a yellow note pad, which I then place on the floor propped against the leg of a coffee table to age like whiskey. 

"Why don't you write notes in your phone instead?" my wife asked recently. This was a good idea, but quickly dismissed on spousal grounds. If you start implementing your spouse's advice, it's a slippery slope. Soon you are putting glasses in the dishwasher correctly, and it's all downhill from there. A husband needs to maintain an aura of bemused disinterest in the  household. I think Kant said that. Or Dave Barry. 

I made an end run around my wife's idea, and googled "best to-do-list apps." I downloaded one and transferred all the tasks from my scraps of paper and yellow pad, both. Now everything I need to remember to do is organized and not littering the house. When I finish a task, I click it and—poof—it disappears. Some of the items involve work that the homestead needs and some are more esoteric; admonitions to do more writing, exercise, taco truck field research. 

Having no excuse when you forget something is a daunting new reality for me. Now my reminders can't fall behind the sideboard or get kicked under a chair. We're in 21st Century George territory. I have resolved to check the app once a day to keep up with things. It's foolproof, too, because I've stuck a Post-It note on the fridge to remind me. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Would you Kondo your condo?

Whenever I hear the word "condo," I remember the best use of a condominium reference ever in a movie, in the original "Rocky." Rocky has had success, and a guy is advising him to invest his windfall. "Condominiums," he suggests. Rocky looks left and right, then leans in and, mistaking the word for "condoms," whispers "I never use 'em."

So in recent years when Kondo became a verb I had to smile. By now you have heard of Marie Kondo, home tidying specialist. Her book and TV show on Netflix have been read and watched by millions. To "Kondo" your house is to rid it of junk, and render it organized, user-friendly and joy-inducing. 

Hack! What is that? Oh, a hairball, sorry. 

There has been a predictable backlash by the lazy and the rule-averse, but the truth is, since Kondo-ing I have never had easier access to my underwear. It sits now in a tidy row of little ball shapes like dim sum, next to my little sock balls. These don't take up less room. That would require a shift in physics. But they are easily 80% cuter in there. 

My t-shirts also sit in neat rows on their sides, using the vertical space of the drawer so efficiently I can also fit pants in there now. My previous pants organizing system was to toss them in layers on top of the vinyl-to-digital transfer record player I never used. In the dark, I could find the pants I wanted just by feel. Life was sweet. 

Now my pants are in a drawer, folded tightly. Now I have to remember which drawer. Now I have to see that record transfer thing and feel guilty that it's been sitting unopened on my bedroom floor for five years, next to the unplayed guitar. Worst of all, they say vinyl is coming back, so now can I even get my money back by selling the transfer thing online, or did I miss my window?

Kondo's philosophy is to remove from your dwelling anything which does not "bring you joy." This is a tall order, especially since none of my clothes brought me joy even as I tore the tags off them. I am hoping joy has a slightly different definition in Japanese. Like maybe "the satisfaction which comes from not leaving the house naked." 

I have not gone full Kondo. I have a plastic tub of clothes in the garage, winter clothes at the moment, which in November will be swapped with my Hawaiian shirts and shorts. I am sure I could release some of what's in there to the larger thrift store-frequenting public, but that requires the will to make decisions (see above—lazy and rule-averse.)

Plastic tub manufacturers are enablers, you know that?

The garage itself screams out for Kondo-ing. I expect that small emergency tsunami rafts could be built from all the VHS tapes and forgotten Happy Meal toys alone. As someone who has grown up in a consumer society in the great consumer age, I feel simultaneously the guilt and the paralysis which comes from too much stuff to deal with. I think there should be an app to find other people to come to your garage and brutally, indifferently do what needs doing. And you could go do their garage.

Human nature, of course, suggests that a lot of "Ooh, that's cool, I'm taking that home" would go on, so basically your garage would stay just as full, just with other people's stuff. 

Marie comes off sweetly on TV, and I am sure she means well. I just hope she's not as perfect as she seems. I hope there is one drawer in her house where earth worms could thrive. She has children. I hope every drawer handle in every room is sticky. 

That would bring me joy. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

When a chair is a purse

Over the years in a relationship, you form a shorthand, like since shopping for the perfect purse is arduous and time-consuming, anything else that is also those two things my wife and I now refer to as a purse. We went shopping for a a new arm chair Sunday. An arm chair is a purse. 

A chair is a chair, you say. How hard can it be? Well, let me tell you—some swivel. You are either into that or not. In the furniture store it looks like a normal arm chair. You sit down to test it, and you are now facing a different wall. Into it? No. I like a chair that narrows my options, not one that expands them.

We have an old chair whose upholstery is worn out and shredded by a cat we haven't had for a dozen years. It's nice and wide. "Butt and dog wide," as I say, with room for Skipper and me both to rest. But it looks horrendous. 

We went to IKEA, and their stuff is certainly affordable, but they should really stick to things people have to assemble. IKEA selling things which are ready to use as soon as you get them home is an overstep, on a par with that new Orange-Vanilla Coke. 

My wife suggested we go to the expensive furniture store in our town, and I said the chairs over there are $1000, which is a lot, and she said "Not if you prorate it over the life of your butt."

That quote works on so many levels. 

So we went to the nice furniture store, where we had gotten a large Craftsman style entertainment unit 20 years ago. (I like to keep a store guessing about my loyalty.)

They had gorgeous Stickley chairs, leather, the kind with broad wooden arm rests; arms rests which if sold by themselves would cost more than your best suit. If I had a man cave, and a spare $5000, I could see myself in a chair like that. That's real craftsmanship, the kind you don't see any more because you don't make enough.

We were looking for a plush chair with rounded arms. English arms, they are apparently called, and we found a nice one upstairs in the fancy store. The fabric was a dark boring solid, but they had 15 feet of wall space with long hanging fabric samples, which resembled a massive closet for a guy who only ever wears one pant leg. 

The fabric the floor model had was very soft, and we just could not find a different fabric we liked and thought would work with our wine-colored couch. We asked the saleswoman if we could buy the floor model, which had been marked down because its fabric was discontinued, probably because it was dark and boring. She said sure. 

I asked her if there was a discount since it was a floor model. She actually freaking laughed out loud. I thought since a floor model undergoes the wear and tear of multiple butts, that was worth a break on the price. Years ago I bought a patio table/chair combo floor model at OSH, and the manager agreed to knock 10% off, and I was glad I had the audacity to ask. 

The nice furniture store, in business now for more than 80 years, is not OSH. 

We arranged to have the floor model delivered in a week or so. It will fit me and the dog, and is the last arm chair I ever expect to buy in this lifetime. Let the prorating begin. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019


I've been binge-watching "The Sopranos," which has resulted in the subliminal effect that whenever someone says something I disagree with now, my mind whispers "Fuhgeddaboutit." 

At the risk of eliciting the kind of gapes one gets when confessing they have never seen "Harry Potter," I had never watched "The Sopranos." Didn't have cable. Heard great things. Never caught up with it until streaming, and the HBO Now app. 

I am probably 20 years late to a lot of things. If we went down that list, you would most likely un-friend me just on general pop-cultural grounds. 

Side note: "Un-friend" is the best compound word since Shakespeare's "Un-sex." 

"The Sopranos" is actually very Shakespearean. You have the flawed hero and his lieutenants, his hangers-on, and the women they keep inventing new ways to disappoint. It's like Greek tragedy, even. The hero is pre-destined to destroy himself and all he holds dear. Humans have always loved watching some other schmuck do this. It makes us feel better about ourselves. 

Side-note: If you never saw it, and you didn't, go find, at a library or on streaming, the James Gandolfini/Julia Louis-Dreyfus movie "Enough Said." It's that rare thing, an adult comedy for and about middle-aged adults, warts and all. It will make you want to go put flowers on Gandolfini's grave.

The World Trade Center's twin towers appear in "The Sopranos" opening credits. Bill Clinton was president. There are references to the Lewinski scandal. Computers in the show are the size of dorm refrigerators. You have to pull up the antenna on your cell phone to take a call. 

Corrupt and violent as they are, the mobsters, raised in the Catholic church, live by very defined rules. In one episode they even take a jab against "moral relativism," against the idea that good and bad can be more than just black and white. Mobsters don't like shades of grey. Audiences love them. Ask Aristophanes. Dig him up. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

I love the mob lexicon. You can ice a guy, or burn him, or even clip him, and he's still just as dead. 

Butt-legging is bootlegging untaxed cigarettes. 

To "come heavy" is to pack heat. 

I had long heard of being "on the lam," but I never knew it was a verb, that you could "lam it," most typically to Boca Raton. 

"Spring cleaning" means getting rid of evidence.

A jamook is a loser, an idiot, who may even be

Oobatz: crazy.

I am only one season in, and of course I know about the iconic final moment of the series, since that was so widely discussed at the time it even reached a non-viewer like me. Knowing I have 60 more hours to watch, many weeks or months, is daunting. How many bees will have been killed by pesticides in that time? How many glaciers melted? Couldn't I spend that time more productively for the world? 

Maybe one season is enough. I got the flavor of the thing. Sixty hours is probably oobatz. Besides, it's summertime, and I never did get around to "Outlander." 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Wa Pic - Nothingness

"Try our new Flavorless Menu!"

Sunday, May 26, 2019

To George (verb)

We got new name tags at work recently, and my job title was gone. My last tag said "George Librarian," which allowed my library customers to joke that with a last name like that, what other job could I have possibly ended up in? 

Now, due to the ever-unexplained vagaries of city government, it simply says "George." Now I could be anything. Now I could be in Public Works. Code enforcement. Planning. In a way, it is freeing. 

Maybe I should consider "George" my job title now. My new job description? To George. So I have resolved that I will George the crap out of any task given to me. Georging will be the new goal from here on out.

"What are you doing?" a coworker will ask as I settle new DVDs into the New DVDs rack.

"Georging the crap out of these DVDs," I will say. "What are you doing?"

And because she also went from a titled name tag to a name-only one, she will say something along the lines of "I'm about to Jackie the hell out of these periodicals." 

George meant farmer in the old days, but now it can mean anything! Georging has got to be easier than Bobbing, don't you think? That's got to be tough on the neck. Easier than Kenning too. To Ken you have to know stuff. Georging is easier than Billing for sure. And Georging has to seriously beat the heck out of Harrying. I do not think it is even possible to break a sweat Georging. I'll get back to you.

Imagine if Shakespeare had gone a different way:

"To George or not to George. That...well...that is just puffery. When in doubt, by all means George!"

If George as a name goes in the direction I think it soon will, years from now when they ask schoolboys what they want to be when they grow up, instead of cop or fireman or TV talking-head, they will say "George." And the person asking the question will smile, knowing that all things are possible, and surely a kid should aim high. "Good answer," they will say. "Stay in school."

I have had name tag jobs before, and they never had my job title on them. It was always obvious what my job was because of what I was doing. I was delivering plates of food. I was serving up boxes of popcorn and sodas. 

What customer, upon approaching me and my previous name tag and reading my job title, would smack his forehead and say "Wait, seriously? You're behind a desk on the main floor of a library but you are a LIBRARIAN? I thought maybe you were in custodial. Mind BLOWN."

So titles on name tags are mostly a perk, a bit of an ego thing, like the chevrons on a sergeant's sleeve. Ideally, we shed ego as we age, so this name tag revision is a good reminder. Accepting change is hard, but I tell you this—I am going to George the living daylights out of it. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Charles is dead. Long live the deer-dog.

Years ago I went to a writers conference at which the humor columnist for USA Today, Craig Wilson, spoke. Craig said that he got the most reader mail, by far, after he wrote about his beloved dog dying. Knowing we would all love a ton of reader mail ourselves, he said something I have never forgotten: 

"A dead dog is GOLD." 

It was dark, so dark, and so self-aware, and we all laughed and felt guilty, and then laughed some more. It was a moment of unselfconscious truth-telling. Yes, our laughter said, bring on that sweet, sweet reader deluge, whatever the cost.

Three months later our family got a dog. 

Our daughter had been begging us for a dog for a long time, but we made her wait until she was 10 years old. Ten, we apparently thought, was the age at which a child is responsible enough to properly watch her parents do all the work a dog requires. 

Skipper was a delight from the start, a rat terrier, white with big brown spots and a loving personality. Is a delight. Skipper is fine. He's, like, 14 years old. It's Charles the Chihuahua who took the H train to Poochville this week. 

Charles we only had a year. We inherited him last summer when my wife's Aunt Sue passed away; our adoption a final weight off her mind. I've written about him here before, he of the single canine tooth and the wheezing/hairball-hacking cough. He of the fainting spells right in the street or right off the side of the couch. He was probably 16, with a heart which thought pumping was only a part-time job. Many's the day in the last year that my wife went off to work expecting to find him expired on her return. 

But there he would be, yipping excitedly, then keeling over on the carpet because lying still on the couch for hours before a sudden, full-mom-welcoming-happy-dance was not a good call at his age. He would lie on his side on the carpet for about a minute, equalizing his blood pressure, before getting up again. He keeled like that about once a month. Every time we thought he was dead. 


Sunday, though, I was grocery shopping and my wife was out at an art exhibit, when I got a text from my son. He tried to put it gently. "I'm pretty sure Charles might be dead." 

The use of "pretty sure" nicely softening the blow, leaving open at least a chance, and the "might" also keeping possibilities in play. My son should work for the government. 

I called him from the produce aisle. "Try pinching him," I said. "He'll respond if he's still alive." 

"O.K.," he said, and I could tell that the last thing he wanted to do was pinch a dead dog. I still don't know if he pinched him or not. He reported with fair certainty that Charles was not getting back up this time.

I got home 15 minutes later and picked up Charles first thing. He always freaked at being picked up, went completely rigid, as if he was sure I was about to juggle him. This time, limp as a noodle. I shook him, because that has worked for my wife's cousin's dog, has brought him magically back to life several times. 

Nothing. I checked his neck for a pulse. I guess that's where you check. Nothing.

His tongue was lolling out the side of his mouth, no teeth to keep it in. I fitted it back inside; it was one of those weird unconscious impulses, like Jackie crawling onto the back of the limo for that piece of JFK's head. I wanted the little velvety-furred, deerlike pup to have his dignity. 

I put him in his doggie bed, the one he rarely tolerated. Waited for my wife, his "Mom," to get home. She was his queen, pawing at her hand whenever her petting paused. Growling if Skipper even considered jumping in her lap when Charles already was. 

Knowing an ancient pet will die soon does not make it any easier, especially if that pet was a fellow witness to your aunt's and mother's deaths in the last year, a little bony, seven-pound fellow traveler. He was a link to them both, and for my wife, letting him go is hard. 

Charles's ashes will mingle with Aunt Sue's soon. Perhaps in Valhalla she is already feeding him bananas, his favorite. 

Sorry, Craig. A dead dog is not gold. But our memories of him will be, as soon as enough time has passed that we forget how he peed on every possible surface within reach. 

. . .

My three previous columns about the dear little deer dog are here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday Wa Pic - Smartly?

If I knew how to do it reliably, I could make a fortune on stage.

Thanks to daughter Emily for the pic. lol.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

How "Game of Thrones" will end

Many of my readers watch "Game of Thrones," and many don't, because they hate America. It's fine. It's a free country. You can totally boycott popular culture and look good doing it, because the founders only allowed attractive people in. 

For those of you who DID watch all seven seasons and are only awaiting the final episodes of number eight, this is for you. You have proven you will put up with a LOT of nonsense. Good thing, because I am backing up a truckload of it. I'm going to lay out, based on seven years of subtle clues, how this whole wolf-and-zombie show will end:

Jon Snow, recently un-bastarded and renamed Aegon Targaryen, will hold his hot Aunt Dany in his arms as she dies, having valiantly taken a throwing-star meant for him. She will whisper, and he will lean closer, and we will not hear her, but we will see her lips move, clearly saying to Aegon, "Earn this. Earn it." But having been born several thousand years before "Saving Private Ryan," he will not get the reference. He will rise with a look of confused resolve on his face, just as he has in every single shot of every season.

Thor and Wonder Woman will appear out of the mist, along with Spider-man and Bitchslap, a new character Marvel is hoping to spin off. They will immediately be slain by those giant dragon-killer harpoons. We will hear the ghostly, schadenfreude-tinged laughter of Ned Stark in the distance. Black Panther and Captain America will arrive and begin to fight Tony Soprano and Big Pussy, as clearly a rift in time/space has opened. Paulie and Silvio, inexplicably wearing matching gymnast outfits, will join the fray. At this point, things will begin to get weird. 

Cersei will lock herself in a tower with the Mountain as insurance. If you never watched the show, trust me, that last sentence makes sense. Arya will show her allies secret sewer tunnels into Kings Landing, sewer tunnels she accidentally found in Season Two while deciding whether or not to fire her agent. Jaime Lannister will arrive at the castle and finally, after making us wait for eight seasons, rearrange the freaking letters in his first name so that they're right. 

Fighting inside the ramparts will ensue, with things looking grim for the northmen until Archie Bunker, Hoss Cartwright and Little Joe arrive to show Cersei's paid armies how to "boost the ratings, old school." At this point, the castle will run out of ravens to send, and will resort to renting owls from Hogwarts. This cross-pollination of studios will render everything very hard to see on screen, unless you bought the glasses from either the Warner Bros. or the HBO store online.

The Hound will show up to kill his sadistic brother, only to lose the stomach for it entirely when he spies Hoss making out with Arya, who is evidently going through a seriously experimental phase. An epic level of bloodletting will occur when Sam, Norm and most of the gang from "Cheers" arrives to challenge Gary's Olde Town Tavern to a game of darts, realizing, too late, the whole time rift thing. 

Jamie (see, it's so much nicer) and Tyrion will somehow fight or bribe their way into the chamber outside Cersei's room at the exact same moment. They will argue so loudly over who gets to kill her that she will escape out a window on the Mountain's back, riding him down rooftops and downspouts like something from a very naughty nursery rhyme. They will open a Bed & Breakfast in Dorn. 

With nobody to kill, Tyrion and Jamie and Aegon will rule the Seven Kingdoms together, alternating on the Iron Throne like city councils do. The series will end with a shot from Winterfell, as Bran, in his wheelchair, his face frosted with falling snow, sees a vision of Westeros thousands of years earlier, the very first Long Night, White Walkers wreaking havoc, and above it all, hovering, hard to make out, three letters...H...B...O. Through the blizzard he will see studio executives standing in front of a firehose of money. All will finally become clear. 

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.