Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Have Yourself a Very Jersey Christmas...



Badaboom! Hope youze guys have a great holiday, filled with lots of spray-on tanning lotion, hair product, and a freakin' partridge in a pear tree, if you know what I mean.

Hey, it's been an interesting year, to say the least, but we all got through it. Some of us even grew a little wiser, I think. Here's wishing all of my LJ friends a great holiday season, a terrific Christmas (for those who celebrate the birth of the baby Snooky), and the best of times in the year ahead.

My wish for the year ahead: Here's to more stories...most of them happy, I hope...in the next twelve months, and the gift and ability to tell them well. I can't wait to see what happens to everyone in the year ahead!

All the best,
Ted

By the way, for those of you not into this silly wave of reality TV, I tried to keep the New Jersey characters somewhat recognizable: aside from the three central characters (Snooky as Baby Jesus, the Situation as Joseph, and some chick from The Real Housewives of New Jersey as Mary), the rest of da guys are all famous New Jersey folks. The governor Chris Christie, and Danny Devito and Joe Pesci as the resident goombas. Then the three wise men: Jon Bon Jovi, Frankie Valli, and Bruce Springsteen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Singing and ringing.



"Having a great time! Get here soon."

I stared down at my Blackberry and tried to avoid contact with the rush of people moving in the opposite direction in Times Square. "David wants us there right away."

Sarah grinned and tried not to cough. "I know. I just got one, too."

We were navigating our way to our respective hotels against the holiday rush, to drop off our traveling stuff after a round of drinks with a friend. David had started the night with us at a bar, but he booked things tighter than three Biggest Losers crammed in an elevator, and had to pop up to pop out, halfway through our first drink. After politely excusing himself, he asked us to finish things us and then GET TO THE KARAOKE BAR ASAP.

Despite the luggage and the hotel, we made it there in half an hour.

It was a place called Karaoke One 7, located on West 17th between 5th and 6th. We were escorted into a tiny room with pea green walls, the shade of Linda Blair's vomit, with a TV mounted to the wall and little signs posted everywhere, kind of like the ones my father leaves everywhere at his beach house: "Don't leave this light on after you leave the room." "Make sure you turn the oven off. It won't do it itself." "Do not leave URINE DROPS on the toilet seat." (Oh, wait. That last one wasn't from Dad's beach house. That was from a place I used to work, years ago. How did that get in there?)

Back at the karaoke bar. There's David with his friends, singing away to "Viva La Vida" at the top of their lungs.

Now, I have to tell you, it's a strange feeling, meeting folks in a karaoke bar when they've been going at it for a while already. In fact, I think there's an official term for it: karaokus interruptus.

Yes, karaokus interruptus. You know, they've had a few drinks and are all loosened up and singing away, and you're standing there, feeling like Margaret Hamilton on the set of the Wizard of Oz, gazing into Billie Burke's powder pink dressing room. You just feel kind of out of place at first, a little tense, a little behind the eight ball.

Then you start the process of singing along, but at first you don't feel the mojo. You stand there kind of stiffly, your lips pursed, not feeling like Coldplay. You're more Ethel Merman singing her disco version of "There's No Business Like Show Business." It takes time to tape into your inner rock star and really let loose.

But once you do...

Cut to: an hour later, three Queen songs and an equal number of cosmos in my belly. There I am, belting it out, fighting against David to sing louder. Those high notes don't sound quite like they used to, but even so...who cares?

Our waitress opens the door to the room. "It's, um, eight o'clock. Your time is up."

"Already?" I yell out. "Damn, I don't want to stop!"

Eventually, I stumble my way out of the karaoke bar, feeling like it's Christmas morning. Blame it on the drink and the song, but also the fact that I haven't really eaten since the morning. Still, I was pretty certain I was feeling Jerusalem bells a'ringing.

The night flies by after that. A quick trip down a couple of blocks to a diner that serves breakfast, and a chance to solve all the worlds problems over coffee and eggs. A lingering walk through the holiday streets and cold winter air to get back to Broadway. A visit to Rockefeller Center with all the colorful lights on. I like the sparkles the best.

It was a wicked and wild wind that had blown over me, but those are the times in your life when you feel most alive, I think, and it was a nice way to start off my birthday week-end, a few days early.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More than just a question of taste.



Sunday was a nightmare rush. Up at nine for church (and still feeling the alcohol from the night before), then grocery shopping, then time to pick up Ashes, then Theo (who slept at a friend's house), then back home to get ready for the afternoon performance of the show I was in. P.S.: I was already late by the time I arrived at home to take a shower.

As I started to get dressed, however, I could pick up the sounds of an argument in the living room, between Corb and Ashes.

"I don't want to do it!"

"It's all there, and it's easy!"

"It won't be as good."

"How can it not be? It's just two slices of bread and some ham!"

I buttoned up my shirt and headed to the living room. "What's going on?"

Corb was sitting on the couch, looking amused. "Ash won't make herself a ham sandwich for lunch."

Ashes sat next to him, looking less than amused. "It won't taste as good if I make it!"

"You're just being lazy!" said Corb, with equal intensity. "You just don't want to go into the kitchen and make one. Which is ridiculous, because you're seventeen years old."

"No, it won't taste as good. Daddy makes it better than I do."

I grinned, and headed back into the bedroom, to put on my purple tie for the show. And as I was standing there, putting together a Windsor knot, a thought struck me.

I headed back into the living room. "Ash, follow me."

Ashes made a face. "Where?"

I grabbed her sleeve. "Into the kitchen. I'm going to show you how to make the perfect ham and cheese sandwich."

Corb made a face. "You're going to make it for her, you mean."

"No, no, no. Show her!" Ashes looked amused and stood up. We headed into the kitchen, and I grabbed a loaf of bread. "Now, see, this is bread. What I want you to do is reach your hand in and select two really delicious slices. Go ahead, reach right in!"

Ash did as instructed. "Look at those! Wow, they look absolutely delicious. Mmm, I may have to eat them, myself. Now, place them in the toaster...good. Now, let's do the same with our slices of ham."

"All the slices of ham look the same," said Ashes, questioning my sanity.

"But you get to choose! Isn't it great? So, just pick two, okay? Make sure the slices aren't fatty or anything...now, same with the cheese."

We waited a few minutes for the toast to pop up. "Now, this part real is important. You want to take your mustard, turn it upside down, and shake it. Shake it! So, when it comes out, it's right there at the top of the bottle. Now...and this is important, put some on the ham, but also, put a little on one piece of bread. That way, they kind of combine together, like some kind of yummy paste."

"Yummy paste?" Ashes wrinkled her nose. "That sounds plain gross."

"Now! Here's the extra special thing that I do, that makes my ham sandwiches taste extra special, and way better than yours. Cut the sandwich in half and..." I lifted the ham sandwich up to my mouth, and whispered to it. "I hope this sandwich tastes really special today." And then, I handed it over to Ashes.

Ashes looked at me as if I were insane. "You just breathed all over my sandwich." Shaking her head, she took it out of my hands and headed back to the TV.

I was telling my friend Jo-Ann the story, later on, backstage at the performance. "Oh, my daughter does the same exact thing. 'Tastes better when you make it.' Isn't that just a load of crap?"

I explained what I did, and she laughed. "Actually, that kind of does sound better than the way I make it. You're getting me hungry! But Corb's right, she really is just being lazy. I always give in when I'm asked that, though. I mean, my daughter's only going to be in the house another year and will have her whole life to make ham sandwiches without me."

"Exactly!" I said, and everyone backstage looked at me, because I was being too loud. "That's the way I look at it, too. How many more ham sandwiches am I going to have to make for her, really? One more year's worth? It's totally worth it."

That night, when I returned home from the performance, Theo was in the living room, sitting on the couch. He had a pencil in his hand and a notebook in from of him. He looked up from his work, the minute I entered the room.

"Hey Dad, can you do my homework for me?" he asked. "It always gets better grades when you do it!"

I grinned and turned away, hearing Corb's booming laughter in the background. Some beds are just better left unmade.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

True Confessions: My Secret Life as a Rock Star



This Christmas, my mom's receiving a special gift: a blast from her past.

For the past three years, she's been asking me to go through my record collection (yes, I actually still do have a couple of boxes filled with THOSE), in order to return to her a record that I lifted many years ago. Of course, at that time, my parents had tossed their record player and didn't think they'd be able to ever use them. But now, thanks to the wonders of retro-technology, what's old is new again.

What she wanted is a comedy album called "The First Family," which was wildly popular when John F. Kennedy first was elected into office. From what I understand, it sold like crazy during the Camelot years, but then sales understandably plummeted upon JFK's assassination. Vaughn Meader, the man who created the album, suddenly found himself without a career, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a new voice.

Now, I'm a good boy, I am, and I really do want to help mum out. The only problem is, I left all of my record albums at Josie's house, where they've been gathering dust in her basement (well, as much dust as objects sealed up in a plastic container can gather, I guess). One thing I can tell you about separating from someone, even if you still see that person every day...which I pretty much do...it's hard to find time to grab things from their basement, once you're gone. I still have boxes of stuff that haven't been touched in eight years.

Last week-end on Halloween, Josie asked Corb to go downstairs and find a rubber mask for Theo to wear for trick or treating. This was the moment. I followed along, intent on picking up my mum's album, along with maybe a few other choice memories that have been rotting away like fermented grapes in her cellar.

So, the First Family's back in my hands. While I was down in Josie's cellar, I also picked up one of my boxes, too, a small one that had scribbled upon it "IMPORTANT Stuff."

So, I went through that box last night. I have to tell you, I'm not really sure what was so IMPORTANT about it. Mostly, it was some work stuff and an old play that I produced in my twenties. A few letters, one of which was really sad, from a friend who was in pretty dire straights and just wanted to hear from me (note to self: did I ever write back?) An enormous bra, placed in a picture frame, which had been a gift from a friend. Drawings, mostly cartoons, of very busty women. I was a regular Matisse, back then.

Oh, and one other thing. I think this box actually contains further evidence of my own insanity.

Or at least, of a frustrated creative soul.

See, back in my early twenties, after a bad experience in college, I kind of turned my back on writing for a while. It was a foolish decision, and it would have been a better idea to simply suck it up and climb back on to the saddle (and find a better college for grad school), but instead, I sulked, found a day job, and fell in love with Josie. You'd be amazed how working nine-to-five and getting involved with a woman with a small baby can take your mind off of writing.

Even so, I guess there was a part of me that didn't abandon things completely, as what was inside the box demonstrated.

At the time, I was working at this really crummy job in a building that had once been a seventies disco and still had green shag carpeting on its walls. I've mentioned thhis job before: my boss was the guy who broke the first of the Catholic church altar boy sex scandals (I have the People magazine article in the box to prove it). Course, I didn't know that back then. I just knew that it wasn't really a happy place to work, and the office manager liked to make our lives a living hell by placing signs all over the place, things like "Do not leave URINE DROPS on the toilet" in the men's room.

I'd do my job, which basically involved collecting money from insurance companies, and pass the time away by feeding my inner fantasy life. That's what I discovered in my IMPORTANT box.

What I found inside were about fifty little square sheets of paper, all shoved into a folder. These little squares were album covers. Just like the one of The First Family, only, not real.

They told the story of Teddy Two-Tone, my rock star alter ego. Each square was an album that Teddy Two-Tone had either put out or produced, with a drawing of the cover, its highest ranking chart position, the songs on the album, and a few notes about how well it did.

Teddy Two-Tone started his career as part of The Delphonics, a group signed to Grappling Bull Records. He then put out his self-titled debut album, featuring the hit single "Standing on the sidewalk in love with my own reflection" (which I'm absolutely certain would have been a HUGE hit, with that HUGE title). Many, many albums followed, from the trippy "More than Just a White Room" to "Hot-cha," "the most embarrassing Two-Tone album of all time!" Oh, along the way, he recorded a series of duets with Phillie Dixon, a pop singer with a serious drug habit, and produced a disastrous series of albums by an African-American woman named Nana, who broke away from him and released an album proclaiming her newfound independence, called "Free at Last, Free at Last, Lord I'm Free at Last!"



His last album, as an elder rock statesman, was called "The Grey Years," and featured the song "Playful in my Eccentricity."

In addition to creating the album covers, I also found time to make up interviews with various folks who figured prominently in the Teddy Two-Tone universe, such as this excerpt from an interview with Phillie Dixon that allegedly appeared in Rolling Stone:

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember "Breaking Hearts"? (Her last album with Teddie)
PHILLIE: (Wincing) Yes.
INTERVIEWER: What do you remember?
PHILLIE: A hell of a lot of pain. I didn't treat Ted right on that one. He practically handed me my success on a silver platter and I turned around and said 'Fuck you' to him, then 'Fuck you' to my fans, and then 'Fuck you' to myself. And here we are.
INTERVIEWER: You only recorded one track for that album, right?
PHILLIE: Right. "We'll Meet Again."
INTERVIEWER: What happened?
PHILLIE: We were in the middle of our first live tour. Ted started to get angry about my drug habit. I started coming late to performances, then skipping out altogether. He started bitching and I just decided that it was all bullshit, recorded just enough for Breaking Hearts to get the record company off my back, and broke with Ted completely. (Laughs) Not so completely. Thank God he agreed to do "Only You and Me."
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard...to get him to agree?
PHILLIE: What do you think?

Poor, poor Phillie. And poor Teddy Two-Tone. How ungrateful of her.

Phillie did record one song that I actually took the time to create. It still jingles around in my head, some times. It was a song called "It Takes Time," and was kind of a song that Cher would have sung in the eighties, around the time she was producing songs like "Love and Understanding." It went like this: "It takes time/Lots of Time/It Takes Time to See it Through/It Takes Time/So Much Time/So I'll Keep Spending that Time With You."

Good thing I kept my day job, huh?

After I left that job, and moved to a job that challenged me a little more, the album covers abruptly stopped, and Teddy Two-Tone's career in music was over.

I also found my voice, slowly but surely, and found more constructive ways to channel my creativity. I think that helped. Certainly, I haven't created any album covers since that time.

Still, they're kind of fun to look back on, and I can't see myself throwing the covers away any time soon. They may not be as IMPORTANT as they once were (I don't think they ever were, really), but it is nice to look back upon my days as a rock star. Maybe there's a little bit of Teddy Two-Tone inside me, even now. And when you get right down to it, we all need our rock star moments, don't we?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Romancing the Mudge



I think in fourty years or so, I'm going to make a terrific curmudgeon.

Actually, if you can keep a secret, I'm already practicing for it. My kids dread it when I have my little curmudgeonly moments, but I literally cannot help myself. And truth be told, the moments kind of amuse me, even if they appear absolutely horrifying to others.

The other day we were at Borders, and Ashes asked whether she could borrow a few bucks extra for a book she was purchasing. I only had a twenty, but that's okay, because I needed the change.

However, I noticed that the cashier was going for a ten. "Can I please have at least one five?" I asked. "I need it for lunch money tomorrow."

"Sorry, I'm not allowed to make change," she replied, looking down at her register.

"You're not making change," I replied. "You're paying me back for the book we just bought from you. I'm simply asking you to give me a five with what you're giving back to me."

"That's making change," she replied. "And it clearly says in the rulebooks that we cannot make change, because, like, they don't trust us enough to do so, because, like, they're afraid that we'll give away money or something."

"You're arguing semantics," I replied, sternly. "Giving me change would be if I came up and asked you to give me four fives for a twenty. Giving me back the money you owe because I just bought a book is not making change."

"What's arguing semantics?" Ashes asked, as soon as we were in the car...me, without a single five.

"It means she's full of shit," I replied. "She just didn't want to give me any of the fives in her drawer, so she made up some dumb excuse."

"That's awful!" said Theo, appalled. "You told that girl she was full of...crap!"

"No, I said she was arguing semantics," I replied. "That was a nice way of saying she was full of crap."

"But she's going to look it up in the dictionary when she gets home and find out you thought she was full of crap," he said. "And next time we go to Borders, she's going to be mean to us."

"One more place we can't ever go again," muttered Ashes, rolling her eyes.

"Oh please," I said. "She won't remember us next time we can go in. I can promise you that."

Ashes and Theo just looked at each other and shook their heads.

Or take church, for example. These past two weeks, our pastor has been promoting a rummage sale that's taking place. At the end of each mention, she'd conclude by saying, "So why don't you drop on by and pick up some rummage? It's for a good cause!"

I'd sit there in the pew, biting my lip.

As we walk out of the church each week, the pastor always makes it a point to say good-bye to everyone. It's kind of like a wedding procession, and one of my favorite parts of the service. As we were walking out of church yesterday and came up to her, I couldn't help myself. With a curmudgeonly twinkle in my eye, I said, as I was giving her a hug,

"How could you say rummage?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, somewhat taken aback.

"Rummage is not a noun. You rummage through things. That's a verb. You don't pick up rummage. It's impossible."

"But you say rummage sale," she replied.

"Yes, but that's an adjective," I said. "It's like saying you're going to pick up some blue."

The pastor thought about that a bit. "Hmmm. But you know what? I'm still going to call it rummage."

"I know you will!" I laughed, and we parted, with Corb walking behind me, shaking his head, just as the kids had.

"I can't believe you just said that," was all he had to say, in the parking lot.

I tell you, it's going to all be way more adorable, once I'm toothless and full of wrinkles. Once I get to that point, they're going to love every minute of it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Point Oh One Principle



"Daddy, am I your favorite?"

Theo asked me this last night, and not for the first time. It's a familiar question for him, one he playfully tends to ask, every other day or so.

Of course, I provided him with my standard answer, particularly since Ashes was sitting in the back of the car. "You're my favorite son," I replied.

"Am I your favorite daughter?" asked Ashes from the back. That's a more difficult question, seeing as I have two daughters and only one son.

But I'm used to answering that one, too. "I love both of my girls equally, Ashes. You know that."

"But if there are two of them and only one of me, does that mean you love your daughters more than your son?" asked Theo.

Ah, now there was a new question. Still, it wasn't all that hard to answer. "No. I love all of my kids, equally."

"That doesn't make any sense," replied Theo, with a smirk on his face. It was almost as if he were waiting for me to answer, that way.

"Why not?"

"Because three doesn't going into one evenly. Each piece is only .33333, and that goes on forever and ever. So, you HAVE to love one of us just a little bit more...just point oh oh oh oh oh one percent, to make it whole."

I stopped for a minute, taken aback. Dammit! Why DID Theo have to be doing well in math this year?

Later that night, once I was all alone, I called my father up on the phone. "You're lucky you had four kids," I said testily, the minute he picked up.

"Why's that, Teddy?" he asked.

"Four goes into one evenly," I replied. "It's all .25 for each kid."

Still, is it true? Is love spread evenly that easy to achieve? Does it really work that way? Is there a point oh one in every parent/child relationship, spoken but never uttered?

When I was growing up, I secretly thought that my parents kind of loved my sister Kerrie better. I mean, look at the Exhibit One: our nicknames. I was Ed Skunk, Tommy was Tom Turkey, Laurie was Miss Pigpen. Kerrie? She was called the Princess.

That kind of screams point oh one percent, don't you think? I'm a smelly skunk, she's a frickin princess? I tell you, it's enough to justify a session or two of therapy, at the very least.

As I got older, I came to realize there was more to that oh one than met the eye. Kerrie had been quite sickly as a baby. In fact, at one point, she had pneumonia and became so sick she had to be placed in an oxygen tent. She almost died.

Under that lens, I guess it's kind of understandable that she wasn't stuck with a mean nickname. I mean, Breathless would seem kind of cruel, don't you think? Gaspy wouldn't exactly be that nice, either.

When I was a kid, I didn't get any of that. So, I just up and made up my own nickname for her. She once had a wart, so I called her the warthog. There. Nyah.

Josie and Corb are both the youngest in their families. I think that the youngest kids typically get treated with a little point oh one goodness from parents, for the most part. Certainly I think it's the case with both of them.

Still, even though I was not the youngest, but the oldest, and I had the hard act of my sister Kerrie to compare with, I can easily recall times where I felt a little point oh one in my family circle. Nights where I could stay up a little later than the other kids. Or the piece of baked stuffed shrimp that mom and dad would set aside for me, when they'd prepare special dinners for just the two of them, after we kids had gone to sleep.

Maybe that point oh one is a fluctuating decimal. Maybe it doesn't stay on one child all the time, but moves about like the Golden Snitch in a game of Quidditch. Now you have it, now you don't. That would be perfectly reasonable, I think. For parents, it's a perfect way to spread the wealth...and answer the question, "You always loved him best."

I wonder who will get my point oh one today?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love and Corn Chips



My friend recently posted a story about her first kiss, and it got me thinking about my first hits from Cupid's arrow.

Actually, my first kiss happened right after my First Communion. Wait, I have a photo of me from that First Communion, so you can see what a little stud I was.




There you are, ladies. It's kind of washed out, and I apologize for that. But if you can, look at me, all decked out in my little red First Communion suit, clutching the Good Book in my right hand. Pretty sexy number, don't you think? Was it any wonder that the First Communion babes in my graduating class found me totally irresistible?

Well, one girl. Her name was Kelly, and she lived a few miles away from me, in a farmhouse. Even though I can't remember ever hanging out with her before, for some reason, my parents thought it perfectly acceptable that to celebrate my big day, I would want to spend time in the company of someone I barely knew. Someone of the fairer sex. They wanted me to spend time with a...lady friend.

Can you say, "Boom chica wa wa"?

She had red rusty hair and lots of freckles. And I don't remember anyone being at her house that day, just her. We played outside her huge front lawn. At around two, she asked me whether I wanted a bologna sandwich.

I had never eaten a sandwich anywhere besides home before, and the thought filled me with revulsion. "No, that's okay," I said, not really wanting to sample food from another house. What if it had maggots?

"Oh, come on!" she said, like Eve tempting Adam with the apple. Remember, this was right after First Communion, after all. I was chock full of Biblical analogies. "It'll be good."

"I-I-I don't know if I'm going to like it," I stammered.

"Oh, you'll like it," she said, older and wiser than me by six months, and learned in the way of sandwich making. "I'll make it any way you like." Then she paused and licked her lips. "Mayo or mustard?"

"M-m-m-mayo!"

"Be right back."

Five minutes later, she was back, with limp bologna sandwiches on two plates.

I stared down at my plate, at the unappetizing mess before me, and wanted to die. There was only one slice of bologna on the sandwich, along with one slice of cheese. And she had used wheat bread, not white! I lifted up a slice of bread. Oh, egad. She had smeared the entire sandwich with mayonaise. There was practically more mayo than meat.

Bravely, I lifted the sandwich up to my mouth and took a bite. It was more hideous than I ever could have imagined. Why had I been stupid enough to even attempt to eat food anywhere but from my mom or Nana?

I put the sandwich down. Five minutes passed. "You only took one bite," she said, disappointed, after finishing off her plate.

"I'm not hungry."

"Okay. Want to go upstairs and play a game?"

A game? Oh, I liked games. That would make me feel a lot better! "Sure!"

"Follow me." Obediently, I trudged behind her. We entered her shabby rural home, depositing our plates onto a table in the kitchen, then made our way up a long stairway, to her room.

Her place was a mess, of course. Dolls and clothes everywhere. Bureaus with drawers hanging open. Two beds in the room, one stripped of bedsheets. A big poster of David Cassidy (probably from Tiger Beat) hung over the one that actually had sheets.

"What's the game?" I asked.

"You're going to kiss me," she commanded. I tell you, this girl was quite bossy for a ten-year-old, thinking back on it. Probably grew up to be a dominatrix. But she said it with a smile on her face, and the freckles on her nose were cute, in the glow of the sun shining through the windows. But still...

"Kiss you?" I shook my head. "Oh, I don't think so."

"Kiss me. I'm going to open up this closet..." She pointed to a closet by her bed. "We're going to go in it I'm going to close the door you're going to kiss me for five seconds."

"I am?"

"You are!" She grinned, and I could see a slice of bologna sticking out of her teeth. "Why, are you chicken?"

No, but you're bologna. I shook my head, wishing I was anywhere but this room. "No. I'm not chicken." Of course not. Me?

She walked over past her bed and pushed the sliding closet door open. The darkness inside beckoned, dark and uninviting. "Let's go."

Reluctantly, I followed her into the closet. It was cramped and covered with shoes and clothes, both on and off the rack. Toys were everywhere. We could barely find room to stand. She reached past me and closed the closet door behind me, so that we were completely in darkness. I felt her body, moving closer to mine.

Then, her head, moving closer to mine. "Are you ready?" she asked.

"Sure." I lowered my head and took the plunge.

You know how first kisses are supposed to be all hearts and flowers, all eye opening? Tom Sawyer kissing Becky Thatcher? Violins play and the earth stands still? The touch of the lips from the fairer sex wakens within you a sweet flower, one that only grows and eventually blossoms as the years pass?

All I could think of was...Fritos corn chips.

Seriously! The inside of that girl's mouth tasted exactly like Frito's corn chips. And used, chewed Frito's too. It had probably been the last thing she had been eating, although I don't remember seeing any on her plate. She hadn't put any on my plate! So why did her mouth taste like Frito's? This was all I could think about. Did she brush her teeth at all that day? Did she taste like stale Frito's because her breath was just stinky and...

I tell you, those were the longest five seconds of my life. Marie Antoinette facing the guillotine didn't have it so bad. Standing there in that cramped closet, trying not to vomit, as I pressed my lips against those of a girl who reeked of Frito's. I closed my eyes and held my breath, trying bravely to endure the torture, counting down in my head, all the while.

5-4-3-2...

"Okay!" I pushed my way out of the closet, gasping for breath. The sunlight never looked so sweet. "Well, that was fun. Fun. A fun, fun game."

She looked over at me and squinted her eyes. A wicked smile played across her face. "Wanna play one that's even more fun? Now we're gonna go back in the closet and kiss for ten seconds. With our clothes off."

That was it! I was out of there. Forget it. "Oh, no, I don't think so," I said, and started to head out of the room and down the stairs. Kelly followed after me, asking me to come back, to get back in the closet with her, but I had my mind made up. I was out of there.

I don't recall how I got home. I actually may have walked all the way. Even if it was a long walk, it didn't matter, anything was worth getting away from that house of pain. Of dark tiny closets, filled with girls with loose lips that smelled of corn chips.

Anyway, I didn't have another kiss for many years after that. And I don't think I spoke to Kelly, ever again. Can you blame her for being angry with me?

Since then, I have learned the pleasures of kissing, so don't worry, the experience didn't scar me for life or anything. And, I even like corn chips. I still won't kiss anyone after eating some, though, so perhaps it did leave a little scar.

Anyway, there's my story. Adam had been tempted by Eve, but the apple had turned into corn chips, and the Tree of Knowledge had withered right there, right in front of our eyes. I stayed in Eden a few years after that, but Eve had been banished. I lived alone in that garden, or at least, my parents house, embracing a life devoid of kisses from icky girls.

Kind of like my life today. Well, seasons come and seasons go. This just wasn't the season for me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Be a man, burn a Koran! And other political piffles.



My once and future idol, Mark Twain, wrote that "In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand and without examination, from 'authorities' who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing."

This may be, in part, the reason that for over a year now, I've seriously avoided discussing either subject at any great length, either on Facebook or Live Journal. During this time, I've read a great deal of posts and links that I've had serious issues with. Some soared the absolute heights of stupidity, and I would have loved to have taken down the author with a witty insult or two. However, more often than not these days, I find myself looking at the idiotic post or link in question, and considering the end result. And deciding, it's just not worth the hassle to respond.

To wit: my response will generate a response back, possibly from the poster, although just as likely from a friend of the poster, who may be even more ill informed (and most likely, less civil) than the person I was responding to. That response will in turn necessitate a response on my part, and that will entail, in all likelihood, a certain amount of research, at least, online. It will also take some thought on my part, because I simply cannot spew forth opinions as if they were farts in the wind. That response will then generate another response, which will require more research and formulation on my part, etc. etc. etc.

And the things is, those folks who post such things NEVER let you get the last word. Nor will you ever convince them, and more than likely, you'll end up sore and irritated. It's kind of like contracting herpes, except without the fun sexual caressing and massaging that takes place beforehand. In politics and religion, you bypass all that crap and go straight for the disease.

Simply put, I just don't have time any more for that nonsense. I've got a job that keeps me way too busy, kids that keep me jumping, and a strong dislike for wasted effort. What's the use of arguing like that if you're never going to reach a conclusion?

Be that as it may, I have to say that I have been paying some attention to the two Islamic scandals that seem to have occupied everyone's attention for months.

The most recent one, of course, involves a dime store preacher in Florida who looks like Jed Clampett with a handlebar mustache and has a congregation that's roughly the size of a baseball team. He's decided to declare a national day of Koran burning on September 11. Well, that is, a national day, between the hours of 6-9 p.m. (apparently you only need three hours to call it a day...after that, you take a nap. Book burning is tiring stuff, after all).

The other big ruckus involves the supermosque being built at the Twin Towers. Only it's not a supermosque, right? And it's being built a few blocks away from where the Twin Towers, near a porno shop. At least, that's what that notably unreliably pinko commie, Mayor Bloomberg said. But who can trust him, right?

In many ways, the two are tied directly together. One could almost see how the dime store preacher's friendly little "international" day (I'm sure folks in Paris and Brussels are just lining up to stage their own burning!) is a direct reaction to the hue and outcry that's been heard around the mosque. "What, those fellers in New York City aren't going to do something about this dang-gummed sacreelidge? Well, I'm just going to have to take matters into my own hands...I'll show them I'm a dang better New Yorker than an actual New Yorker!"

Both involve civil liberties, of course. The group building the mosque has every right to build a mosque/not mosque wherever the hell they want, as long as they have the appropriate permits and such. And the dimestore preacher has every right to burn whatever the hell he wants (as long as it's not the American flag, of course), even if that pinko commie Commie General Petraeus says that doing so will endanger our troops...ah, but who listens to HIM, anyways? (Well, that is, unless moveon.org has the bad taste to rhyme Petraeus with Betray Us, in which case, you're spitting on a saint...oh, forgot about that one, did you?)

What's at the heart of both is the essential triteness of the discussions themselves. I've heard one rabidly right-wing friend of mine argue that the outcry that some people are making about the preacher and his Koran burning would be better spent decrying female genital mutilation or the way that certain Islamic countries mistreat women, and that's certainly true, of course. Plus, it certainly gives a two-bit crackpot desperate for publicity way more attention than he deserves.

However, the same argument can be made for the supermosque. Instead of whipping up a tempest in a teapot about a one-floor information center in an area that already has a mosque, because it's such a "slap in the face," why not focus one's attention and ire on things that really matter? Why not call attention to the issue of female genital mutilation, for example, or the way that certain Islamic countries mistreat women? Wouldn't that be a better use of one's time?

My point is that both of these front-page stories precisely illustrate what Mark Twain was trying to say, only without half of the wit possessed by the master. Serious issues of substance aren't discussed because they require more than a facile discussion, and people just don't have the time, patience, or temperament to dig any deeper than the surface. That's why supermosques and second-hand preachers become cause celebres, and real issues of substance simply wither at the vine. It was true back in his day, and it's just as true--perhaps even more so--now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rule the School



For my younger kids, today marks the first day of school. For one person in my life, however, for the first time in over sixty years, there will be no such first day of school, this year.

I'm talking about my father.

My dad, you see, has been an elementary school principal for most of my life. First in Rhode Island, then in Massachusetts. Last year, however, he decided to call it quits, after almost fifty years in education. It was retirement time.

This past June, Dad invited our family to his retirement party, and I was actually given the honor of speaking on behalf of the family. For three hours, we heard stories from teachers and other educators who had been influenced and inspired by my dad throughout his career. It was a wonderful opportunity to see a side of my dad that I didn't normally have access to. Since I had been a little kid, I had always wondered what it was like to do what my dad did. Hearing the stories from the folks who knew him in the work world finally gave me some idea.

Anyway, I kind of suspected that Dad wouldn't feel that he was really retired until around August and September. I mean, being a principal and all, he usually has the first few summer months off. So, I figured that the first few months of retirement wouldn't seem any different than the others.

Around August, I started looking for signs that Dad might be starting to miss the day-to-grind. I'd ask in subtle ways whenever I spoke to him, I'd listen in on conversations between him and my mom at family gatherings. However, try as I might, I haven't been able to discover one sign...not one signal sign...that he's not experiencing a less-than-blissful retirement.

Just to continue with my experiment, I called him on the phone, yesterday. "So dad, today is the day before the kids go to school," I said.

"I see."

"And this is around the time that you'd be going back to school, too."

I could hear the smile in his voice. "Yes, son, it would be."

"So, I just have one thing to say to you." And then, I cleared my throat, and began to sing.

"School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days
Reading and writing and rithmatic
All to the tune of the hickory stick"


It was a song that Dad used to sing to us every day, bright and early, on the first day of school. How I hated that damn song!

Even just thinking about the first few lines of the song, sung in my father's strong tenor voice, was enough to make me squirm. Literally, on those first days of school in my youth, I would be begging dad to stop singing. Of course, that would only make him grin and show his dimples even more. He sang it every year, too, even into college. And my sister Kerrie, a teacher, tells me he woulds sing it to her, too, on her first days. It was not a tradition any of us enjoyed.

And there I was, singing it to him.

Dad didn't seem much phased by it. In fact, he put me on speakerphone and had my mom listen, too.

"Do you think he's missing school at all, Mom?" I asked her, later in the conversation. "Does he seemed bored at all?"

"No, not really. Why do you ask?" she said, sounding surprised with the question. "I mean, maybe he will once winter hits, but right now, we're doing too much to be bored."

Well, maybe so. But I still contend that this morning, when the class bell rings and the kids start filing into lines at the playground, my dad, a man who is always up bright and early, will at least feel one small twinge of regret. Perhaps he'll wish, just for a second, that he was the person in front of the entrance, introducing himself to everyone as principal and laying down the rules for the year. Or maybe I'm just a sentimental fool.

What will he actually be doing? Knowing him, he'll probably call up my sister Kerrie to sing "School Days."

She probably won't mind it, either. It's a tradition that perhaps, after all these years, has finally moved beyond annoying and into the realm of charming.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

True Blue.



I have to admit, I've been following with some amusement the saga of the Jet Blue airplane attendant who went postal after a rude customer smashed him in the head with a suitcase.

Let's all agree, it was poor form to berate said customer over the intercom and then make a dramatic exit off the airplane via an inflatable emergency slide. No matter how obnoxious the person was being, by all normal standards, that's a little excessive.

But I have to tell you: even before knowing it for certain, the minute I heard the story, I said to myself, "This has to be the actions of an angry gay man."

I mean, come on. Huge overwrought hissy fit? In front of as large an audience as possible? An exit that reminds you of Batman heading into the batcave by swooping down the batpole? I mean, really. No straight man would even dream of doing something half as over the top as all that. It has all the makings of one big old queen on a tear.

Which begs the question, would I have done something quite so dramatic, if provoked? It's all about me, after all. And don't say it isn't, because if you do, I'll just up and stage a hissy fit, here and now.

Honestly, though, despite the hstrionics, I think anyone who's worked in customer service for any amount of time has probably heard the story and thought to themselves, "Damn. I wish I had done something that."

When I was in college, I worked in a convenience store, and I would have encounters with jerks all the time. Most of the time I'd just bite my tongue, but sometimes...I remember one time I lost it when I was running low on dollar bills and had a big sign out begging people for fives and ones. A snooty lady came in and paid me for a pack of gum with a twenty dollar bill. Even though I begged her, she insisted, and not very nicely, either. That was enough to put me over the edge, that day. I paid her in pennies, slamming each one onto the counter.

She wasn't very happy with me.

A few years after that, I was working for a collection agency. The guy who worked in front of me was trying to collect from a schoolteacher. She chewed him out one day on the phone, and he got angry. "You'd better pay up!" he screamed. "If you don't, I'm sending this to an attorney and we're going to sue your ass off. And I'm going to make damn sure the police serve you with papers at school, in front of ALL your school kids!"

She wasn't very happy with him. Then again, neither was our boss.

Those customers were just being verbally abusive, and look what happened. When Corb was a teen-ager, he worked at a discount clothing store. He had a customer who came in who tried to exchange a pair of Timberland boots, because he said they weren't the right size. Only problem was, they were incredibly old, scuffed up, and smelly. Corb refused to exchange them, so the man got angry and threw the box of shoes at his head. Good thing Corb wasn't that flight attendant! The security guards did grab the guy, however.

I don't think that made him very happy. But Corb didn't mind.

From all accounts the Jet Blue guys really loved his job, and always wanted to be a flight attendant. I think he'll have to rethink that career choice. Now that I think about it, it may be kind of tough for him to get a job for a while, period. What's he going to write down on future applications? "Q: How did you leave your last job? A: By inflatable emergency slide."

When all is said and done, though, this whole experience clearly demonstrates that the age-old struggle between customer servers and the creatures they serve is still alive and kicking. It's existed ever since the first person served a Brontoburger to someone in Bedrock (and they complained it was too cold), and will exist long after we've all gone to the great Customer Service Center in the sky (it will probably take FOREVER to get through the waiting room).

Still, this latest episode is proof that the curse of the working class is reaching ever greater and even more creative heights. For devotees of customerssuck.com, the Jet Blue guy certainly earned his wings.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pieces of Tartan (Part Five)


Me at 23, at a very special men's club in Scotland. Or so I was led to believe...

About three years ago, I started a series of stories devoted to a month I spent in Scotland participating in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, back when I was young and had a full head of hair. I passed the time with a group of actors from Trinity, including future Tony-award winning actress Viola Davis.

The composition book I used as my journal, which is the source for these stories, has been sitting on my desk for the past three years, waiting for me to open it up and tell the next chapter. So, here it is...for you Live Journal users, just click on the keyword "Tartan" for the rest of the story...


Monday, August 14, 1989

"We can't get lost, Doug," I said, as we wandered through the windy and narrow streets of Edinburgh. "I want to see the dancers roll around naked in corn starch!"

One thing you had to give the Fringe Festival, there was no end of interesting theater to be found, in small theaters and auditoriums scattered on each and every block. The night before we had seen "Hanging the President," a powerful Anti-Apartheid piece about two convicts sentenced to die in a South African jail, which featured (and I'm quoting from my journal for this one) "graphic nudity and lots of homosexuality." Egad!

One guy actually shit in a bowl onstage! I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Actually shitting onstage. What guts that must have taken.

As for the nudity, Viola complained that the naked men all had tiny dicks, and the only man she was actually interested in never took anything off. Good to see I wasn't the only size queen in the audience.

Tonight's theater adventure didn't sound as cutting edge, but it did sound entertaining. It's not every night you get to see people rolling around naked in corn starch, after all. The play was called Other Worlds , by a group called Abiogenesis.

By the time we made it through the Edinburgh maze, the show had already started, although we had only missed about five minutes.

Our group was sitting in the front row of the small theater. I moved past Vi to sit next to Missa. She had a really strange look on her face, as if she were about to give birth or something. "Is everything okay?" I asked.

She looked over at me, with large brown eyes that glistened, as if she were on the verge of tears. "Why?" she asked, and she had trouble getting even that out.

"You look like you're about to cry."

"I am."

"Why?"

She pointed to the stage, her chest heaving back and forth, involuntarily. "Watch," she managed to say.

Was the show that intense? I didn't think anything could have surpassed "Hanging the President." Crapping in a steel bowl, after all! How can you top that? I turned my head to the stage. I watched.

The lady on the stage stood alone. She was a small, bird-like creature, dressed in a purple leotard. She spoke in a weird monotone, every syllable over-articulated, as if she was a stroke victim. In the background, unearthly space music played.

"Time," she said, pointing to a large watch on her hand. "Moves on..." She moved one step toward the front of the stage. "As the pop-u-lation..." She moved her hand to her belly, mimicking pregnancy. "Pro-gresses..." Then, one huge step toward the audience. "Through e-vo-loo-tion."

Oh. My. God.

Suddenly I understood why Missa was looking the way she was.

What's the worst piece of theater you've ever seen? Take that and multiply it times two. This was definitely the worst, for me. I mean, it was laugh-out-loud bad, and the worst thing was, we couldn't even laugh, because we were sitting in the front row, with all eyes on us. So we had to keep it all in. By the end of the first act, my eyes were watering, too. I was laughing so hard inside that it had to come out, somehow.

"And also, they're incredibly rude," complained the director of another Edinburgh production, "Is Their Life After High School," during intermission. "My kids had to stand in front of them in the parade yesterday. We spent hours decorating our float! You know what they did? They walked down the street and made weird barking noises at the crowd. Weird barking noises! Can you imagine a worse group to put in a parade?"

I thought about our parade entry, which had been even more half-baked. At least they had a method to their madness. Our banner had been made up of curtains we had taken from the flat we were staying in, wrapped around a broom handle, with the name of our group spelled out in glow-in-the-dark duct tape. Our straggly bunch had included a man in a toga and a lady in a giant ape costume.

"No, I can't possibly think of a worse group," I lied.

"Act Two's about to start," said Missa. "This is the one with the corn starch!"


"I can't wait!" I said, and turned to Vi. "Try to stay awake this time, would you?" Viola had fallen asleep during Act One.

"I can't promise ANYTHING," said Viola.

###

"What a rip-off," I complained at the Scots Club, later that night. "Just a couple of saggy boobs covered in corn starch. Everyone ended up looking like shake and bake."

"The scene after that was the worst," said Missa.

"What was it?" asked Margot, our Shakespearean-trained thespian, who had had, by all accounts, spent a "lovely" evening at the theater.

"It was set in the future," said Missa. "The dancers were supposed to be androids. They used clothes dryer tubes for robot arms."

"Honestly, they looked like the Robot in Lost in Space," said Doug, nursing a Brandy Alexander. "I expected them at any moment to start calling out, 'Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!'"

"How was the audience for your show, tonight?" I politely asked Talullah, our resident prima donna without an ounce of prima in her. She had been performing that night at our theater at the French Institute, as Queenie. Think "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" on anti-depressants.

She pursed her lips. "Small. Appreciative."

Margot raised her hand up, behind Tallulah's back. Held up three fingers.

"Oh, look who's here!" said Missa, pointing to the table next to us. It was Aleister, who was the adorable young assistant of Harold, the festival organizer. 22, blond hair, blue eyes, the gift of gab like you've never seen.

"Rhodeislanders!" Aleister announced, staggering toward us. "Howya all doing tonight?"

"How are you, Al?" asked Margot.

"Do better with another drink in my hand," he said, and lurched toward Tallulah, who sniffed and turned away from him.

"I'll be happy to get you a drink, Aleister," said Margot, standing up to move to the bar and accommodate him.

"Mmm, I bet you would. Wanna go somewhere else?" Aleister asked. "I kin show you around the town."

"Whereabouts?" asked Missa. "What would be fun?"

"Dunno," said Alesiter. "How about Chapp's?"

"Where's Chapp's?" Missa asked.

"Jist round the corner," he said, and winked at me. "A very special kind of men's club."

Missa looked at him shrewdly. "How special?"

Aleister grinned. "It's a nice gay bar. Wouldn't that be fun?"

"Oh no," said Tallulah, turning around to glare at Aleister. "Certainly not that!"

"Why not?" asked Aleister, clearly enjoying offending her. "What else do you want? Well, we could get ourselves into a bit of a gang bang, then, eh?" He asked innocently, before moving his head down to nibble at Talullah's neck.

"Young man!" said Tallulah, pushing Aleister away from her neck. "I'm old enough be your mother!"

"How bout it, mum?" Aleister said seductively, moving to take another nibble at her. Tallulah screamed in horror and started whacking at him with her purse.

"Calm down, boy," said Margot, smoothly placing a beer down in front of him. That got his attention. "Come over here and put your talents to some real use."

Missa and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. This might actually turn out to be a better show than Abiogenesis.

And it was. We all went back to the flat. From what the ladies said later, Aleister was really, really good at back massages.

More to come, eventually...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Clothed Woman Singing


Here I am hanging around in Provincetown with Sirius Broadway channel diva Christine Pedi

Every year Corb and I plan a day trip to Provincetown. In the past, that's meant a lunch at one of the restaurants there, dinner at The Patio, a show or two, and of course, walking up and down the main street for about six hours, watching the people who pass by.

This year, in Credit Crunch times, we decided to scale things back a little bit. No dinner at The Patio, this time around. That gave us more time to walk up and down the main street.

Our conversations down that street are a bit...well, singular. Corb: "Where are we going?" Me: "Down the street." "We've already been down this street." "I know that." "So why are we going down it again?" "Because we can." Rinse, lather, repeat.

I find it to be quite entertaining, because you just never know what--or who--you're going to see. It varies, depending upon the hour and the people the town has attracted on that particular day.

And while I did my best to be frugal, let's face it, it's hard to do that in Provincetown. We did end up eating at a very nice restaurant for lunch, although we did go low class and chose Burger Queen for supper (the fried clams haunted me for days.) And I really did want to see one show.

Choosing a show this year was pretty easy, though. As we were walking down the street for the hundredth time around six, this anxious looking boy came up to us. "We've got a great show at 7:30. Christine Pedi, a wonderful singer who was just on the front page of the Provincetown Entertainment Gazette as Entertainer of the Decade!"

"Oh yes, I know her," I said. "She's on Sirius."

He appeared shocked. "You do? She does great impressions, of people like Liza Minelli..."

"Yeah, I agree, that's right. She sings Liza One Note."

His eyes widened. "Wow, you really DO know about her!"

On our next turn down the street, the anxious looking boy grabbed me. "Christine, this guy knows you from Sirius! He knew Liza One Note!"

And bam! He pushed me toward Christine Pedi, who really was a very nice person. That is, when I could speak with her. My conversation went like this:

Christine: So, where are you from?
Me: Massachusetts.
Her: Oh, so you're not far away at all!
Me: Well, about three hours, but--
Her: Will you be seeing my show tonight?
Me: (Looking at Corb) I think so, yes...
Her: Good! Come see it two or three other times, too! It changes every night, and--

Suddenly, an older man with a bushy grey beard walks up, barges in. "Christine Pedi! Did you know that I've seen 22 shows in Provincetown in the past two days?"
Her: No, really?
Him: Can you believe it? 22 shows!
Her: Have you seen me yet?
Him: Seeing you tonight. That will make it 23 shows! 23 shows in Provincetown in the past two nights!

Then we proceeded to hear him talk about all the shows he's seen, both in Provincetown and on Broadway. I tell you, it was fascinating stuff. That is, if your idea of fascinating is watch shellac dry.

So, after a nice walk on the beach, around 7:15, we purchased our tickets and waited outside the Post Office Cafe for the show to begin. And there, at the top of the stairs, was the Broadway man, still talking about the 22 shows he had seen in Provincetown in the past two days. Corb and I looked at each and smiled.

“Do you think after this show he’ll talk about the 23 shows he’s seen?” I asked. Corb nodded. "Well, at least he's helping out the local economy…”

Finally, 7:25 rolls around and the doors open up. We march up the stairs and into the cramped little theater, which basically consisted of pew-like benches with a small stage in the front. I looked around at the audience, which is what I always do. It was a small group, consisting of only about 30-40 people.

Something became immediately obvious.

"Psst! Psst, psst!” I whispered to Corb.

“Ted, I’m sitting right next to you, I can hear every word you say,” replied Corb.

Oh. “Corb, I just noticed something. This audience consists entirely of middle-aged gay men!"

And yes, before anyone says anything nasty, I am including myself in that mix.

I guess that made sense. Christine Pedi's act consists of spot-on parodies of Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, Carol Channing, Elaine Stritch, Cher. And she's not a drag queen, she an actual LADY. She's really very, very funny, but you can see that such an act would attract...well, let's just say that Ernie from Sesame Street and the narrator from Drowsy Chaperone would have felt right at home.

There was one token young, cute guy, strategically positioned in the second or third row, who I later figured out was an employee of the Cafe. But other than that, the audience consisted of well-dressed, coupled, older gay men, knocking down Sea Breezes and nervously clutching their purses. Corb was in absolute heaven.

On the way out, I looked at the line waiting for the next show at the Post Office Cafe, which was Naked Boys Singing. That line stretched down and around the building. "Infidels!" I whispered to Corb, and we went back to walking up and down the street.

I think Christine Pedi took it in stride, frankly. She clearly had a good time performing for us. Besides, I can think of worse fates than spending two months at the Cape during the summer, singing for a gaggle of gay men, each and every night.

Just wish there had been more variety in the audience. So if you're in town, check it out, won't ya? Tell 'em that Teddy sent you.

Here's a video that they just posted that we saw as a sneak preview at the show...it's hysterical! Thanks to for sending it my way...

http://www.wikio.com/video/telephone-starring-christine-pedi-liza-channing-3653577

Friday, July 2, 2010

Whispers from Stages Past



“...they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.” Tom Sawyer , Mark Twain

Last Saturday night, we had a few special guests in the theater. Whispers from stages past.



Ty, who plays Avrahm the Innkeeper, received the first whisper, as he was getting ready for the show that night. "I was in my study, and all of a sudden, on the other side of the room, I heard a crash, and something fell to the ground. It was a book that Bob Larotta had given me as a gift during the last time we did Fiddler. I honestly hadn't looked at it in a few years." He paused. "I took it to be a sign."

Like any long-lasting theater group, Fiddler on the Roof is a show that the Eldredge Players have done before. Three times before, as a matter of fact. That's what happens when you've been around for 65 years. And, performing on the exact same stage as the previous productions.

It creates opportunities for a lot of whispers to show up. Previous jokes, fond memories. Cast members who were cast as Tzeitel, years ago, now appearing as Golde. Daughters become Mamas, Sons become Papas.

As a result, I guess it was inevitable that Bob Larotta, who was the last actor to play Tevye and was beloved by the group, would make an appearance.

I didn't personally know him, but from all the stories that I've heard, I feel, as if I do. He was a big man, larger than life, full of good humor. A man that had a love of practical jokes and loved nothing more than to crack his fellow actors up onstage.

He passed away about a year after he appeared in Fiddler. Suffered a heart attack while on vacation. I know his widow well...one of my favorite people, as a matter of fact. Every time she speaks his name I can feel the love that she has for him. To this day.

Actors are filled with strange superstitions. Wearing certain clothing a particular way, keeping good luck charms in their pockets during a performance. Not saying certain words, like "Good luck" or Macbeth."

We felt his presence that Saturday night. A shiver across the shoulder blades. A sense of being watched. But instead of scaring the long-timers, it had a different effect. My friend Bobby, who had played a Russian in that production (same as he did in this production), put it best. "I was standing off in the wings, watching everyone sing Anatevka onstage, and all of a sudden, I realized that there were two other people on that stage, too. Bob Larotta and Larry Mish, the other Tevyes that I worked with. And suddenly, I couldn't help it, there were tears in my eyes and I was crying like a baby."

After the show was over, I learned exactly why Bob Larotta had chosen to pay us a visit that night. As I was stood in the lobby, trading small talk and exchanging congratulations on another great performance, I felt a presence by my side.

Turned around. There was my friend Judi Larotta, Bob's wife. Unannounced, she had chosen to come to this performance. She hadn't said anything to anyone, she sat in the back of the theater, unnoticed.

She gave me a quick hug. "Can't talk long," she said, "I didn't realize how much this show was going to affect me. It was wonderful. Thank you."

And with that, she was gone. A brief, five second exchange. Just a shadow in the crowd.

She wasn't alone that night, though.

This will be the last theater story I'll tell, I think, before I close that particular book for a while. Other stories to tell, not enough time to tell them...but this play's only a pleasant memory now, anyway.

Just like the ghosts of our past.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cold Storage



Last week-end, Corb and I cleared out all the stuff we had in our storage unit and drove everything up to Plymouth for safekeeping at my parent's house. It'll save us about eighty bucks a month.

I'm kind of sad about it. Every time I would go visit our creepy unit, I'd feel a delicious chill down my spine.

These places store secrets, after all.

I mean, you really don't know what's actually in the storage unit next to yours. It could be anything: the bones of Amelia Earhart, Al Capone's lost loot...even Cher's original face. Now, I'm sure that the units get checked periodically, but even so...who really knows what lurks in the heart of a storage unit? It could be an actual heart.

I absolutely refused to go to our unit without Corb there by my side. Even though I knew I was perfectly safe, the place seemed so empty. Large. Metal. Concrete. Cold. It felt whispery.

The people that we'd encounter, loading stuff into their units, always made me feel uncomfortable. Like a goose walking on my grave. Their cars looked strange, the looks they'd give me seemed odd. As if they were thinking sinister thoughts. I'm sure they're perfectly fine folk, the same as we are, but even so, going there alone...well, it would have made me uncomfortable. I could have ended up dismembered, or locked inside my unit with no way out.

And to think, people actually live in these places! That fact freaks me out most of all. From what Corb told me, the manager of our facility lives on site, to make sure nothing happens at night.

I can't imagine having a job like that. Our manager has a unit over the office, says Corb, and her living space is quite nice. Still, can you imagine hearing a sound in the middle of the night? Having to go investigate, all alone?

I tell you, I wouldn't last one night.

So, given all that, why does it make me sad to leave our little storage area from hell?

I don't know. I guess there's something fun about locations that give you the creeps. Haunted houses. Liza Minelli's toilet. The inside of John McCain's mouth.

I'm honestly thinking my next book might take place in a storage facility. I've got a few ideas I've been kicking around. Something involving dark magic.

As prep for the book, I had honestly been toying with facing my fear, too. Driving over to the storage unit one day and removing the lock. Rolling up the metal door and pulling out a plastic lawn chair from the pile. Placing it on the cold concrete floor. Sitting down and asking Corb to shut the door and lock it. Handing him my cell phone. Asking him to come back in an hour, just to see whether I could stand it.

There I'd be, trapped like prime rib in a meat locker. Like a sardine in a tin. Like O.J. in a maximum security facility.

What would it feel like? What sounds would I hear? Could I trust Corb enough to hand over my cell phone? What if he decided to forget about me there? Or, got into an accident before he got around to go getting?

What if I had to figure out a way to escape, on my own? What would I do? How long before hunger set in?

What would an hour feel like in there? What if I had to last the night?

How long before hope would fade?

Now I can't do that, and I guess maybe that's for the best. I've got enough hang-ups as it is. Maybe I don't need to add one more to my laundry list. It's long enough.

So I guess I'll wait, at least until I start working on that next book.

When that day comes, anyone have a storage unit I could borrow for an hour or two? I promise not to scream TOO loudly.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fathers and Sons



It's a wise father that knows his own child." William Shakespeare

"My father was so funny on Easter," I said to the Maestro and Traveling Sue on Tuesday night, as we stopped off after rehearsal at our favorite watering hole. "Did I ever tell you how competitive he is?"

"Never did," said Sue, sensing a story coming on. But then, I was in the company of master storytellers.

"After dinner, he challenged me and my sister Kerrie to a game of Scrabble. My mom wanted to play, but he told her that we were actually using words with more than one syllable in them, so she'd be at a disadvantage. That only made her want to play more. She played pretty well, too. Was practically tied with him, most of the game.

"So my dad only had a two tiles left, and next thing you know, he puts them down. Then he looks up and says, 'So I get 50 points, right?' We're like, 'Dad you only get that if you set down all seven tiles,' and he says, 'No, I cleared my board, I get 50 points.' He made us look it up in the rule book to prove that it wasn't actually a rule!"

"He's tough," nodded Sue.

"Then we all went to take off the points left on our boards, and he insisted that he needed to add those points on to his score, too. Now, I had never heard that rule before, but he insisted. Turns out he's right. Can you believe it?

"But then, as we're getting ready to leave about a half an hour later, Kerrie looked down at the floor by his seat. 'What's this?' she asked, and bent down to pick something up off the floor. It was a tile! The guy had deliberately dropped a tile to floor to win the game! But of course, he just stood there, smiling, insisting he didn't do anything. You could just tell, though, because of his dimples."

"Has he always been that competitive?" asked Sue.

"Always. He made me play chess with him, when I was a kid. Wrote down each game, play by play. Recorded the standings. Of course, he was way ahead of me at first, but I studied hard. Started winning games. Finally, one day, I pulled ahead. Put him into checkmate. He grabbed his king, dropped the F-bomb, and never played with me again. Did the same thing to my brother, too."

"Fathers and sons," said Traveling Sue, shaking her head and taking a sip of beer. "That's just the way they are."

"My dad was a really simple guy," said Tony. "Owned a diner in Johnston, you know? Didn't go to college and never really understood why I wanted to be a conductor. Used to ask me all the time, why are you wasting your time with that stuff? Of course, his idea of music was the band he was in when he was in high school, when he used to play the drums. Thought I was just looking to be part of an amateur garage band. He wanted me to get a real career, stop screwing around. So we were always going at each other, you know? Non stop."

"Fathers and sons," said Sue.

"But you know something? When I was around 27, I took a look at what I was doing and I wasn't happy just working in a music store. I didn't see myself getting anywhere the way I was, and so, totally on a whim, I applied at the Hart School. So I went away, for five years or so. And you know what the weird thing was? My dad, the one who I spent half the time fighting with, was the one who seemed to miss me being around most of all. Mom was one of those parents who say they're going to miss their kids when they go off to college, then start celebrating the minute they close the door! But dad...nah, he would call me, twice a week. 'Are you eating?' he'd asked me. Same thing, every week. Just wanted to make sure I was eating." Tony shook his head. "The guy seemed lonely without me around."

"When my son was growing up, he used to fight with Tom all the time," said Sue. "They were at each others throats. Then something happened, somehow. Nowadays I gotta admit, I'm jealous. He calls, talks to me for maybe five minutes, and then spends and hour and a half talking to his dad."

"My dad wasn't a big talker," said Tony. "Sometimes you could go through a whole night and he wouldn't say a word. But every morning when I was living in Bristol, at eight on the dot, he'd call me up, ask me if I was stopping by the diner. Asked me if I was hungry, and then he'd have breakfast waiting for me." Tony paused. "It was all about the food, with Dad."

Fathers and sons. It's a strange balancing act, the connections between the two. And here I am, sitting next to my son as he works away at his homework. I'm typing away, not saying a word. Will he say that I'm quiet and wouldn't talk for hours, when he gets older? Will he say I was all about the food?

Fathers and their sons. How will I be remembered?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ted's Mystery Theater Presents: The Sinister $20 Cheese Coupon


Proof positive that too much cheese consumption will lead Little Sally into a life of serial murder...

"Now, who in the world would want to buy $20 of cheese products?" asked Corb, as we were exiting the South Eldredge version of the local Stop and Grab.

"Someone who wants to be really constipated?" I asked.

"No, seriously," he said, staring down at the slip in his hands. "The cash machine just handed me a coupon for $2 off any $20 purchase of cheese. Who would want to buy $20 worth of cheese?"

Clearly, it was time for me to put on my Sherlock Holmes cap.

"Oh, that's easy," I said, digging in my pocket for the car keys. "Mice."

For some reason, Corb looked at me rather strangely, as if that seemed like an odd thing to say. "And what would mice be doing with coupons for cheese?"

"Corb, mice like bargains, too, you know."

"Don't be ridiculous!" he said. "How would a mouse earn enough money to buy $20 worth of cheese?"

"Duh. By working, of course. What, are you saying mice aren't hard workers?"

"I've never actually seen a mouse work, ever. And who would hire mice to work for them?"

I thought about that for a moment. "Oh. Cats!"

Corb squinted his eyes. I turned my back on him to open up the car. "Ummmmm...so, why would cats hire mice to work for them?"

I shook my head. "Really, Corb. To eat them, of course."

"To eat--"

"Can you believe it? I was a little shocked when I first heard about it, myself. What a wicked, evil scheme! Cats place 'Help wanted: Mice' ads in the papers. The mice read them, and then, when they go to the office to fill out the application, voila! While they're busy filling out paperwork, holding little tiny pens in their hands, the cats pounce. The mice don't expect a thing. It's a ready made and endless supply of food for the enterprising feline. I tell you, it's brilliant!"

Corb scratched his head. "So let me get this straight. Cats are placing help wanted ads in papers to lure unsuspecting mice in for jobs so they can eat them?"

"Exactly. Devious, isn't it?"

"So, where do the $2 coupons off every $20 purchase of cheese products come in?"

Oh. Oh! "That's the best part of all! You see, those coupons are incentives."

"Incentives?"

"For the mice to WANT to work! They want to get the jobs so that they can earn the money to buy the cheese. So, clever cats have placed those coupons all over local supermarkets, hoping the mice will see them and want to start to buy the newspapers looking for the 'Mice Wanted' ads. Then they'll get the job to buy the cheese and go to the office to get the job and get eaten by the cats. There! Another mystery solved. No, no need to thank me. It's all in a day's work."

I turned the stang on and put the car into drive, satisfied. Corb shook his head. "Ted, sometimes you REALLY scare me."