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.