Friday, December 20, 2013

Jesus' Yeller

Jesus’ yeller was at the bus stop this morning.  Pity.  I hadn't hoped he’d died, but it was kind of nice when I realized I hadn't heard him brow beating us sinners for a long time.  I’d hoped maybe he’d seen the light and converted to Zoroastrianism or Rastafarianism or Satanism or maybe found Truth through the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

And then this morning our usual blasé surroundings echoed with the threats of hell, our relentless giving in to the pleasures of the flesh, and on and on and on.  He sometimes zeros in on someone, particularly someone who’s smoking, and harasses him or her.  He doesn’t much care for young women of fashion, what with the lack of modesty and all.  He doesn't seem to mind young men with their pants held up only by their baskets.

I was told he was hit by lightening when he was young.  When he miraculously survived, he decided to give his life to Jesus and thus found his calling to preach the gospel to the masses.  And where are the masses?  Unfortunately, we’re at the transfer center on Market Square.

Oddly, Christmas and the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ weren't part of his rap.  But I suspect that he doesn't have Christmas in his repertoire.  What he yells are repetitive phrases with minor variations.  He may or may not be aware of the season, but it’s definitely part of his spiel.  Too much love, not enough anger.

He wears earmuffs or a headset or something over his ears.  I've toyed with idea of asking him, should he approach me, if he wears them so he doesn't have to listen to himself.  I don’t think he’d get the joke or appreciate the comment.  I would be mocking him and, by extension, the Lord our God.  I’d get yelled at, and I’m not sure how much of that I could take. 

Yes, I know I’m supposed to give him his space, despite the fact that he intrudes on mine.  Naturally, everyone has to believe what he believes, and we have to hearken unto his every word.  And there are some people who “amen” him and nod in agreement.  It makes me understand where some of the prophets came from. 

Jesus’ yeller returned to the bus stop this morning after a long, welcomed absence.  One wonders where he was.  Was I simply fortunate enough not to be there when he was?  Perhaps he was a guest of the commonwealth in one facility or another.  Every city, every town, every community has its characters.  They are best appreciated from a distance.  There are others who are best appreciated by their absence, Jesus’ yeller among them.

Monday, December 9, 2013

67 or 45 or something

One thing I was not prepared for, aside from retirement, when I reached my alleged Golden Years was not feeling like I'm 67.  I don't know what it's supposed to feel like, but I don't feel like it.  Oh, most assuredly I have aches and pains.  The arthritis isn't going away anytime soon.  Forgetfulness has become infuriating.  I don't like having to walk more slowly or scoring lower points on video games I once scored many thousands more points.  I'm tired of age jokes and age discrimination (no matter what anyone says, it's real and it happens).  After nearly 40 years in broadcasting, it seems the best I can do now is prepare Big Macs and such.  The lack of hair where I used to be furry and the thinning at the top are not among my favorite things.  I'm 67.

The bitch is, I find it difficult to act my age...mostly because I don't know how 67-year-olds are supposed to act.  Finding a role model is difficult enough; finding a role model for a gay 67-year-old man is damn-near impossible.  But the really weird thing is that, despite the aches and pains and balding and forgetfulness, I don't feel like I'm 67.  My brain, when it's not busy forgetting things and registering aches and pains, thinks I'm still in my 40s.

That may not be a bad thing, but it is strange.  I see fellow old people and wonder if they feel the same, if they've accepted that they're now old and this is the way it's done.  I'm kind of afraid to ask.  "Well, yes.  Get over yourself.  You're old."  I see younger people who don't even look at me, let alone know what I think about something.  God forbid they should ask me a question.

In a way, I deserve it.  The way I treated old people when I was young was pretty shameful and not at all unlike the way I feel I'm being regarded now.  Although I'm no longer in their way as far as career advancement goes, I feel like I'm taking up space, breathing too much air, eating food that should go to others.  Of course, I was convinced I'd never see my 30th birthday, so imagine my surprise.  Still, I feel as if I have something to share, that if I were asked a question I could answer and be helpful, and none of us knows how to talk to the other.

I especially think I could be helpful with young gay people, but here any support groups are at night, we don't have shelters for any young people (that don't require confessing your sins), and I don't have any social work degrees.  Professional staff only, thank you very much.  So, I feel kind of a bad way.

No doubt feeling my age will catch up with me.  If I can remember, I'll let you know what it's like.  Until then, I guess I'll just wander around being 67, feeling 45, and looking like shit.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

She Never Rides That Bus

Normally I see her on the afternoon bus, when I see her at all.  She goes to the church where I used to be choral director.  I was essentially fired from the place a few years ago, but she keeps me informed.  I was especially happy to hear the news that the minister who got rid of me had so divided the congregation through the years that he left before he was drummed out.  She always takes an earlier bus in the morning.

Monday morning, she was on the 8:05.  She always takes an earlier bus.  The seat beside her was vacant and she asked me to sit with her.  She'd had an upset stomach and missed the bus she usually rode.  We made the usual small talk, with me being sympathetic about her tummy problem.  She got a strange look on her face, reached into her bag and pulled out a program from a church service a couple of weeks earlier.  She said she'd been keeping it for me.  She opened it and at first I didn't understand what it had to do with me.

I noticed a familiar title for the offertory.  It was a rag I wrote a long time ago, back when I was living the ragtime life.  I noticed at the bottom of the program that the offertory was dedicated to the pianist's grandparents and it was explained that the rag was written by "the much loved former director" of the church choir.

At first, I was startled.  I had assumed I was formally excised from church history, an unmentionable.  Then it hit me later in the morning that a piece I'd written many years before was played (and I knew the pianist, so I knew it had been played well) for people who had no idea who I was.  And it hit me that I actually was a composer and strangers heard my work...certainly not an established composer, but a good pianist took the black dots off the page and turned them into music I'd created and people heard it.  I'm far more prolific as an arranger.  I was used to conducting my arrangements.  Arrangements take imagination; it's difficult for me to come up with an original melody (let alone the 3 or 4 required in a rag).  But there I was, absent but entertaining people for just under 4 minutes.

I sent an email to the person who was my supervisor at the church and is the mother of the pianist.  I told her I was surprised and delighted that her daughter played the rag and happy that I was a footnote in the church's history.  I'd figured my 22 years as choir director had been deleted.  I asked that she forward my thanks to her daughter.  She replied that I was much more than a footnote and that I was dearly loved.

What bothers me is that I can't relate this to my partner.  He was as surprised as I that I'd been told to resign (my resignation was written in pencil on yellow legal paper and said only "I quit" and my signature, which I figured was all they deserved) and almost immediately turned it into him no longer having a place to sing.  He's an only child so everything tends to be about him.  Unfortunately, he was raised in an atmosphere of never forgiving someone who's wronged you and to nurse that grudge 'til the end of time.  Mentioning the church would aggravate him.  To mention the names of either or both of the women who set him into a rage.  I'm tired of that.  I'm also tired that everything centering on him.  I'd much prefer him to be happy for me, but I know that's not possible.

He would not understand the joy of the serendipity of the bus ride.  He wouldn't understand that I was delighted that the pianist picked one of my compositions to play.  He would excuse the audience as members of "that" congregation and all of them are, if not evil incarnate, at least despicable.  He would instead think that he hadn't been asked to sing, that they had taken that from him, and fuck them anyway, they deserved to be deprived of his talent.

Odd that I can put this out there for the world to see but can't tell my partner about how happy I feel.  I hope you understand.  I had to share it.  You chose to read this.  Thank you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Flakes

When I see the first snowflakes of the season, I always get a little excited.  If I looked in the record books, I could find out if snows were heavier in the '50s and '60s.  Of course, in the '50s I was young, ergo short.  I grew up in the country.  It could have been a farm, but we let it go fallow.  The border between our land and the neighbor's land made a natural snow fence, creating drifts that I remember being a million stories high.

Of course, I was short.

But the drifts truly were high.  Several feet anyway.  My siblings back me up on this.  We had our own dogs...they were the family's dogs, but the cocker spaniel was my sister's dog and a large mutt whose mother was a German shepherd and whose father was a golden something or other favored me.  Rusty, the cocker spaniel, would get weighed down in snowballs.  She was close to the ground and had longish fur, fur that snow loved.

George, my mutt, loved snow.  George loved everything, even baths, but he really loved snow.  He'd try to catch snowballs.  If he did, he didn't act as if he were fooled.  No, he was ready for the next.  If you poked a hole in the snow, he'd drive his nose into it and give it a good search before he gave up.

Because the drifts were so tall, we shoveled steps to the top.  Usually the snow was deep enough to hold all of us.  George ran around, perhaps to make sure it was safe for us, perhaps just because he could.  He knew how to play King of the Drift and would try very hard to keep us -- me in particular -- from getting to the top.  Concentrating on one of us made it possible for another of us to sneak up the drift and then he'd try to attack the other kid.  Not attack...just try to keep them from taking his Top Dog.

He also loved to chase after us when we'd sled on our property.  We had a couple of pretty good, long runs.  He'd take off beside us and run alongside.  He loved it when we fell off the sled.  He knew we weren't hurt and would grab hold of a coat sleeve or glove and start shaking his head like crazy.  All we could do was stay on the snow while he was shaking us and try to get up when he'd had enough.

I wonder if we'll ever have winters of snows like that.  Back then, we didn't have built-in snow days, so we'd have to make up time.  One winter we had so much snow we had school on two Saturdays.  Another year we went to mid-June.

We lived just outside Gap, a small town in Lancaster County.  Maybe 600 people lived there.  In the '50s, people weren't as rushed, didn't feel they had to brave storms to get somewhere.  Snow meant the regular world stopped.  When a certain amount of snow fell, we'd get our sleds and take to the streets.  Gap is on a hill.  If there wasn't a lot of snow, parents would be on the look-out for cars, and drivers knew kids would probably be sledding; if there was a lot of snow, nobody was going anywhere anyway, so the streets were ours.  We had three streets to choose from.  One ran from the top of the hill where the lane to our place began and which then ran into town.  A second started at the lumber yard and picked up the same street in town, and that involved making a turn, which added to the fun.  The third was Gap's main drag, and the hill was long and amazingly steep.  And not just because I was short.  I've looked at it as an adult and it's a steep hill.  We'd start at the top, at the hardware store, and zoom downhill for two blocks and then hit the level part, but the built-up speed let us coast for maybe another half block.  Plus there was the added thrill of going over a really small bridge...up the ramp, coast for a microsecond, and then fly for a bit until the sled hit the street again.

Now, the snow plows and salt trucks are out at the sight of the first flake.  The world does not go on hold because of a snow storm. And it's a shame.  Sledding on park hills is fine, but the space is limited.  It's safe, it's fun and it's legal.  (Gap had no government and the only police were state police, and they came in only by complaint.)  And it's wholesome and pasteurized and programmed.  A little daring can be a good thing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Chair Is Sometimes The Answer

He was 22, tops.  Probably not even that.  His dyed-black hair was tied back into a respectably long ponytail.  His thin mustache and wisp of a goatee gave the illusion he was just getting into his twenties.  His solid physique wasn't overdone.  In fact, he didn't speak highly of gyms.  Was he gay?  Maybe.  There was something to the way he carried himself when he walked that put a "maybe" on my gaydar.  If so, he would be a good addition to our side.  It was just that anger thing, the desire to fight.  Almost a need to fight.  He could be our pit bull, I thought.

When we walked the halls in the psychiatric facility, he'd often talk about fighting, how alive he felt punching, jabbing, hitting someone, how he respected the blows that came to him.  I once remarked that it looked like he didn't get hit in the face much; he was rather to quick to correct me.  At least nothing left scars.

We were in several group sessions together.  One featured a woman maybe in her late twenties, maybe in her early thirties, who wasn't particularly good at leading.  Pretty much, she didn't have a clue.  She seemed hopelessly naive in the ways of leading a group.  She reminded me of a few professors I'd had in college, the ones who read their notes in a monotone and expected you to be fascinated by the information presented.  It's one thing in college; it's another thing to drone on and on, reading your notes in a monotone, to a room full of medicated people.  She was there to develop our coping skills.  Most coped by falling asleep or leaving.

After lights out on the night before one session, one of the women went into a rage about being kept in the facility and argued loud and long with one of the staff.  All of us could hear it (and were pretty much in favor of letting her go, although no vote was offered) and she was finally appeased or least it got quiet.  I didn't know at the time, but the fracas took place in front of my young friend's room.  We'd talked a bit about it at breakfast and I could tell he was still very agitated.  He mentioned he had given thought to breaking a chair in his room and clubbing her over the head.  He was tired, however, and opted to wait it out.

That afternoon at our group, the young naif went on and on about coping skills and happy places and thoughts to distract us from doing whatever it was we were there for having done.  She said something that sparked my friend's recollection of the night before.  He spoke about becoming more and more angry and how he'd considered breaking the chair and hitting the woman to the floor.  The group leader's eyes grew rather large as she tried mightily to maintain her placid expression.  She asked, "What would you have done if she got up again?"  "She wouldn't have got up again," he said matter-of-factly.  I'll give her points for staying in the room, but she did have to look away.  The young guy looked at me and it took all I had to keep from laughing.  I knew I was supposed to be horrified, but it just struck me as being very funny.

Later in the session, she read/talked about coming up with something to think about that would keep us from attempting suicide or battering someone to the floor.  I looked at him and suggested, "Maybe your mantra should be 'The chair is not the answer.'"  He laughed good naturedly; the leader nodded her head and agreed in all seriousness.

He was released before I was, and we had a few conversations before then.  We figured out several things we had in common.  I also told him how I hated being picked on when I was young.  He told me that he was the one in his school who dealt with bullies.  I thanked him.  We agreed that maybe an act of violence might be called for sometimes.  He suggested, "The chair is sometimes the answer."  Sometimes maybe.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Back home again...


I have returned from two more-or-less all-expenses-paid weeks in Harrisburg's psychiatric institute.  As close to suicide as I've ever been.  I realize this is all going to sound like a really bad Movie of the Week, but my life frequently feels like a really bad Movie of the Week. 

My meltdown happened on Friday the 13th.  I've been having a really bad time trying to keep up with bills for quite some time.  I've been seeing a therapist about it and we keep coming to dead ends.  On Friday the 13th I received a note from PPL saying they were going to cut off the power unless I paid them what might as well have been $1,000,000.  Jack is unofficially disabled, but the doctor contacted PPL and told them he would be adversely effected by losing electric.  A month's reprieve but still not a real solution.  Jack finally applied for public assistance and medical assistance and was rejected.  (I learned in the hospital that 1st time rejection is now commonplace.  I wish we'd been told before we started counting on it.  He was refused because he didn't fill out a couple of forms...which they didn't send.  But, of course, that's not their fault.)  All the other bills were as overdue as they have been forever.  Nasty-grams are kind of expected. 

My therapist and I talked about maybe borrowing from the life insurance my mother set up long ago.  I called the life insurance company to see if it were possible to borrow against a policy.  I was told it was not.

And that was it.  I saw that as my final possibility and it was shot down.  I went into some kind of state I'd never been in before.  I felt totally useless, hopeless, helpless, enraged at myself.  Jack walked in and managed to talk me down and finally got me to lie down.  He called our doctor who called the pharmacy with a prescription for Xanax.  Because we've been going to the pharmacy forever, they gave Jack the Xanax (I frequently pick up his prescriptions and we're never given a hard time) and I was good for the night.

My head seemed clearer, I was less panicked, but I still had no idea what to do.  One night as I was about to take a Xanax, I poured the contents into the palm of my hand it finally dawned on me:  I may not be able to take care of the bills, but I could certainly take care of the idiot who was responsible for it all.  I looked at the pills and I can't explain the sense of power and relief I felt.  Then I thought of Jack and realized I couldn't lay that on him and, except for one, I put the pills back in the bottle.

I talked to my therapist and we agreed it was time to go into the hospital.  I'd been having suicide fantasies for quite a long time, but they never had that ring of truth to them.  This did. 

I went in on the 18th and emerged from the cocoon this past Wednesday.  I felt so much better in there.  It's not that the rest of the world stopped, but there was nothing I could do about it and I could just concentrate on being me.  I've discovered that's someone I haven't known for a long time.  I still feel kind of fragile, but it's all right.  I'm supposed to start asking banks for a consolidation loan or a credit card.  So far it's encouraging.  The odd thing is that I haven't come back to my music.  The last time I touched it was the night before the breakdown.  All in good time, I suppose, and I've been writing words a lot.  It's just that the music hasn't come back.

I'm OK for the most part.  It's just that I thought I should tell you.

Trust you're doing well and getting the skis polished up for the winter.  I miss you.  Take good care.


Monday, September 16, 2013

On Flipping Out

It's not like it wasn't expected, except I didn't know what to expect.  Nothing has been going well for quite some time.  Some of you are probably tired of me talking about suicide.  "So come on, already.  Put up or shut up."  Understood.

We received notice that the electric could be cut off anytime after 8 that morning.  The letter came from the town cops that my car is now regarded as abandoned, since I haven't been able to pay for registration, inspection and insurance.  Other things have been piling up.  I've been unable to complete forms to ask for a lower rate for my shrink bills, the hospital has started sending nasty grams because I haven't paid my co-pay for the hernia exam.  I paid the phone and cable, but only enough to keep them on for now...they'll want the higher rate again soon.

Naturally, because Pennsylvania cannot bring itself to consider gay people actually, real people, Jack and I cannot marry and therefore cannot qualify for lower electric and heat rates and some other things.  He applied for medical assistance, public assistance (food stamps...or SNAP, as it's now called) and maybe some cash assistance, too.  He's been on his back with horrendous pain for several weeks now; nothing seems to help.  Being turned down for all three requests for help didn't help matters.  Probably like SSI, public assistance turns everybody down the first time.  And if I’ve learned anything, it’s never get your hopes up when Republicans are in charge.

I thought I had some money I could borrow on my life insurance.  I talked with the nice lady at New York Life only to find out that I have nothing left.  I'd hoped there'd be enough to borrow to pay the electric folks what I owe.  Nothing.  And it felt as if it all came crashing down.  Not around me; on me.

As do most counties, Dauphin County has a crisis center.  I called them.  The woman tried to be helpful, but unless you have the pills in front of you or the razor blade hovering over a wrist, there's nothing they can do.  She suggested an agency that's supposed to help people in need, but they're closed on Friday and you have to go through intake first.

I should have called my therapist, but he was going on a fishing trip over the weekend.  Part time, he’d already left.  I wouldn’t want to be bothered by some asshole who can’t keep his life in order.  I didn’t try to get in touch.

Jack was trying to console, to be helpful.  He went to the doctor to get the medical exemption thing that keeps the electric on for a while.  He also told her what I was going through and asked if she could prescribe something.  She said she’d call in a prescription for the generic Xanax.  It was noon; it would take until 5 before the prescription was called in and ready.

Admittedly, I wasn’t taking notes at the time, and I don’t recall everything.  I felt absolutely useless, a complete and utter failure, that everything bad in our household was my fault, that I couldn’t keep our heads above water, that maybe I should just bow out as gracefully as I can.  Jack has Percocet for his back pain as well as some lesser pain reliever.  I wondered if the doctor would refill his prescription if I took what he had.  And yet suicide didn't seem like the thing to do.  I saw no hope.  Have you ever had that time that seems like an eternity when you realize, finally, there’s no hope to be had?  I felt I had nothing…nothing in my life except my compassionate husband beside me, but nothing to solve the problems.  It was the most desolate, hollow, saddening, terrifying, disgusting, solitary, raging, panicked feeling I've ever experienced.  And there was nothing to be done.  I was on the out side of freaking out.

I have been in the wonderful land of Xanax since late Friday afternoon.  I could stay here very easily.  I left a message for my therapist asking if he’d call.  I haven’t heard from him, but I’ll see him Wednesday.  I should be all right until then.  I feel I am now an inconvenience to Jack, that going to the hospital doesn't fit his plans, that it scares him because he doesn't know what to do until I get back.  Neither do I.  I do think I need to get away from everything.  It’s not suicide, but I think psych wards are open to anxiety people, too.  I guess I’ll find out Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Good-bye, Maybe

I haven't quite decided whether to give up this blog idea.  I think I have things I want to share, but I can't do this on my computer (I keep getting this "Error on page" message and then can't get a cursor) and I don't like doing this where I put in time.

It's been fascinating seeing where readers live.  Maybe I'll continue when I can (and if you can tell me how to fix that "Error on page" thing); I don't know that I have much to share, but I like the idea of being able to put something out there for others to read.

We'll see what happens.  Thanks.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Imaginary Revue Grows


I know you've been anxiously waiting for those piano/vocal arrangements I told you about at the June concert.  Sorry.  Things have changed.  It's still all pretend, but my shrink has convinced me to Pretend Big.  So I have.

Originally, I considered putting the public domain music I found and arranged into a vaudeville show with two pianos.  Two pianos were not out of the question as accompaniment in smaller towns on the vaudeville circuit and I've done enough duo piano and duet arrangements that it made sense to score it that way.  But then I started to think that a vaudeville show would be somewhat limited.  To do it right, there'd have to be some comedy routines and a juggler or dog act.  That reduces the music to 6 to 8 people singing and/or dancing for 10 to 15 minutes each.  And while I enjoy arranging for pianos, I decided that I've already done that.

Thus, things changed.  I started grouping songs so there'd be a sequence of ragtime songs and not-ragtime songs, song and dance, inventions (songs about cars, telephones and movies), The Great War, prohibition, music from theater (George Cohan, Jerome Kern, Eubie Blake, and a song by the great female impressionist of his day, Julian Eltinge), blues and such.  For a reason that now escapes me, I borrowed some books on orchestrating.  I found one called "The Sound of Broadway Music," not so much a how to as a book about the legendary orchestrators.  And then, behold, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Arranging and Orchestrating."  Well.  The title said it all.  And it was quite good.  Thorough and I didn't feel I needed a master's to get started.  

And with that, the concept of the evening changed, so that now it's kind of "Ain't Misbehavin'" but bigger.  I want 8 singers (4/4), at least two each to be dancers, but all of them are expected to be able to at least move with music.  Since this is a pretend production, I also want the swings and understudies to be part of the few large production numbers (like they are in the opening audition of "A Chorus Line").  

The orchestra needs 14 (or 15) musicians and a conductor.  The major disappointment is that I've limited myself to 4 violins and a plucked string bass.  String bass occasionally doubles on tuba.  One of  the violinists doubles on viola to give the limited section a little mellowness.  Two trumpets and a trombone.  Alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and flute, with flute also doubling on oboe.  The piano wafts from not being necessary to being an essential part of the number.  (The fights with the producer have been infuriating.  I'd love a larger pit orchestra, with more strings and more brass; additional musicians cost additional bucks, of course, so the producer is dragging his heels.)  (I can't tell the shrink that because he'd want to know who the producer is.  "Oh.  It's the other voice in my head."  He sometimes takes me too seriously as it is.)  We're negotiating over whether to have a drummer and percussionist or just a drummer.  (It's somewhat moot because, after all this time, I still can't figure out how to create the drum set stuff, but I put drum set and percussion lines on the score, just in case it comes to me.)

I really, truly do understand that none of this will see the light of day (or the light of a music stand).  Ain't nobody in Harrisburg who'll put on a show that doesn't already have a New York reputation.  But orchestrating is fascinating.  I've done a few very small ensembles, but this is cool...writing with the same musicians in mind and trying to think of neat things to have them do while not overpowering the singer.  When to use everybody and when to use just the piano.  My shrink assures me I'm not nuts.  I like his attitude, but at times I wonder.  This hasn't become an obsession, but it's been a great way to spend evenings.

Hope summer is going well for you.  Take good care.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dirt Racin'

After my parents got tired of going to Rocky Springs Park every Saturday night (see below), they decided it was time to make one of my father's dreams come true...own and race a stock car.  Every weekend we lugged the car (usually a 1930 or '31 Ford coupe) on the top of a large flatbed and trundled off to Lincoln Speedway (near Hanover, PA) on Friday nights, Lancaster Speedway on Saturday nights, and Mason-Dixon Speedway (near Rising Sun, MD) on Sunday afternoons.  The US may have had NASCAR, but WE had the Penn-Mar Racing Association.  My father, my uncle and two of my father's friends were the mechanics.  We hired drivers.  The first was not aggressive and was replaced by a far better (and much more handsome) driver.  By the 5th year, we had captured #1 in the championship rankings, which apparently was the goal because we never raced again.

Our farm bordered on a cemetery.  The leftover dirt from the graves was piled on our property with my father's permission (he ultimately gave a great deal of land to the cemetery, so the dirt piling was no big deal).  Racing fever pretty much bit a lot of the kids in Gap.  And one day, while mowing the yard, I had The Vision:  we'd convert the dirt piles into a race track for kids.  So we did.  With help, we sort-of leveled the mounds into a reasonable oval, although one turn was higher than the other.  This had its advantage when going downhill in that one didn't have to work to get to the next turn; on the other hand, one huffed and puffed up the hill after a few laps.

And so we raced.  Bikes, tricycles, wagons and scooters.  The aunt of one of the racers made a complete set of flags.  The flag person stood where a dead bush bordering the cemetery had been pulled out.  It was on the downhill straightaway, slightly above the racers.  The gravedigger was a little miffed at first, because he wasn't sure where to put the dirt leftover from the graves (people were still dying...rather inconsiderately, from my point of view).  That problem was soon solved and two summers were spent racing around the track whenever we all felt like it.  Two summers in hot afternoons.  Everyone was then invited to a cooling dip in our farm pond afterward.

In this litigious, child-proofed age, would such a thing still be possible?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dream 7/27/13AM

Upriver:  frequent dream setting
Gap:  town near which I grew up
Gap Transportation Center:  utterly fictitious building that Dream Center constructed a while ago and which has become a fixture

I've been driving around upriver and realize it's time to leave if I'm to make a rehearsal in Philadelphia.  I have a fairly major role and it's the only rehearsal before the opening.  Traffic is heavier than usual.  I sense something is wrong and I look around.  Windows are broken on old buildings that have had parts of their facades ripped away and on newer structures that have been spray painted.  Not tagged in a semi-artistic (if frequently illegible) manner, but simply spray painted in zigs, zags, arcs and other designs that are done clearly just to be mean.  Almost every building has been damaged in some way; invariably, at least a few windows are broken.  I look for the farm whose family I've come to know through the years.  The house is spray painted, the barn is damaged, windows in another building have been broken.  The damage continues to the county line and then abruptly stops.  I want to see if there's anything about it in the paper.  Even though it's a weekly, I think the destructive spree may be old news and there'll be something.  I cross the road to a restaurant.  I find a place to park, but there's a line of old people leading up to the door.  Someone starts to sing "Happy Birthday" and the whole line joins in, much to the honoree's embarrassment.  With the rehearsal looming, I decide I can't spend the time waiting for this line to move.  As I return to the car, I walk by a reporter doing a stand-up.  In a made-for-TV serious voice, he decries the destruction of property and notes that while the windows can be replaced, the damage to the buildings -- repairing the walls of the old buildings and replacing the stone or siding of the homes -- would be incredibly expensive for all of the working poor who live there.  I find that a little condescending and get in the car.  A guard rail lines the parking lot.  It's difficult to get out because other cars enter through the narrow opening allowed for traffic.  The scene shifts to Lancaster County, outside Gap.  Again there's traffic, but this is tourist traffic.  I cut through a corn field and head  for my parents' house.  On the way, I happen to find a copy of the script that was used in a previous production by a sex goddess.  I think it would be a hoot to pull that out in rehearsal and use it for my script.  I'm running late, but I need to find my real script, which is in the house, and tell the parents about the massive destruction upriver.  They aren't home.  I continue toward Gap.  Surprisingly, I'm not stopped by a line of cars waiting to access Route 41.  I turn left and am stopped by a young woman at a picnic table in front of the Barr mansion.  I realize I'm now on foot.  She stops me and mistakes me for her boss.  When it's clear she's not joking, I make a comment and leave.  I head back to the house.  I turn toward my aunt and uncle's house and see no lights.  I go on down the hill and am approached by a road crew mowing the land along the shoulder.  I am surprised to see that they are high school classmates who I thought had gone on to become professionals.  They do not (or pretend not to) recognize me.  Outside the house again, I call the parents.  My father answers.  I ask for Mother.  He stays on and I tell him about the scene upriver.  I compare it to a war zone.  "What do you know about war zones?" he asks.  I know by his tone of voice where this is leading and hang up.  I'm back at the intersection that leads to Route 41 and the Gap Transportation Center.  Now there is a line, but it's more foot traffic than cars.  I'm at an elevator.  I get on and push the down button.  I feel attitude coming from the two other men in the car.  They'd like to remind me that there was a staircase beside the elevator.  The elevator door opens to a dark, exmpty space.  I don't want to act surprised, so I simply get off the elevator and turn, like I do this all the time.  I hear a kid on a skateboard and decide to find and follow him.  If he's on a skateboard, there has to be light.  I find him, there is light, and he tries to jump up a couple of steps.  The steps lead to the sidewalk to the Gap Transportation Center.  I now think taking the train to Philly will be faster than driving.  Before I buy my ticket, I walk to the snack area.  I ask if I can pay the woman behind the counter for my snacks.  She says I have to use the main cashier.  When I get there, Jack is with me.  I ask for train tickets for Philly.  The too-jovial woman behind the counter tells us there are no more trains today.  "What?" I stammer.  "It's only 5:15.  What about all the commuters?"  "Volcano," she replies, as if I should know exactly what she means.  "At 3:17," she adds.  The dream continues briefly in Philadelphia.  I'm deeply worried that I'm late for rehearsal, that the play opens tomorrow and I won't have run through some of it with my castmates.  I tell Jack he can't go with me to rehearsal.  He doesn't like that.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Back in the late early-'70s, several lifetimes ago, I worked at a public TV station.  By that point I'd changed jobs from TV crew to copywriter/announcer.  Whatever distributor that had Warner Bros. and MGM movies made the Program Director a deal he couldn't refuse...really, really cheap prices on black-and-white movies from the 1930s and '40s.  One of the public affairs producers became the host for Movies B.T, which meant "Before Television."  In the early late-'70s the producer moved on to a better offer and, because I was an absolute '30s and '40s movies freak, I was offered the host job...except that I wouldn't be on-camera.  I had to do two-minute intros with slides of stills I found from that particular movie.

I'm not hideous-looking, but I wasn't what the money-raiser considered acceptable to the membership.  I was a stoner and pretty much looked the part.  But damn!  I knew my movies!  So...voice over slides.  That wasn't even high-tech then.

I had to preview the movies before they aired.  The prints were 16mm and frequently were spliced beyond recognition, so we'd have to order another print.  Other stations removed scenes so the movie would fit the time slot and then splice them back in.  Or not...sometimes entire scenes were missing.  I timed the reels so we'd have accurate lengths.  Our film department cleaned the films when I was finished.

Back then, public TV shows were as long (or short) as were necessary.  Content ruled.  That was fine, but it meant the breaks between shows were never the same length.  One might be a minute, the next 15 seconds, the next two minutes and thirty seconds.  That meant that each break had to be prepared individually and the copy, because this was pre-computer and thus pre-copy-and-paste, had to be custom written (or at least re-typed) for every break.  This was time-consuming and it was my job.  It left little time to preview the movies at the station.

After a convincing conversation with Those In Charge, I was allowed to take a 16mm projector home and watch the movies at home.  Not only was this before DVDs, this was before VHS.  This was before even thinking about watching movies at home that weren't on TV.  I was in hog heaven.  I set the projector as far from the white wall as I could.  The projector had a detachable speaker, so I placed the speaker against the wall.  I had my notepad, wine, weed, munchies and stopwatch at my side and -- voila -- instant home theater.

Fortunately, Jack liked old movies too, so I'd save the Bette Davis or Joan Crawford or Busby Berkeley movies for his weekend visits.

Old movies are now movies from my youth.  I now understand how irritating I must have been asking my elders about things that took place "back then" in the '30s and '40s when people ask me about the '50s and '60s.  One of the hardest things to deal with is that Bette and Kathrine and Judy are no longer understood.  It stands to reason...nobody lasts forever.  I was struck speechless a few years ago when I was talking to some young film majors who'd never heard of Busby Berkeley.  Not just that they'd never seen any of his movies or any of his visual extravaganzas, but they'd never heard of him.  And these were film majors.  Maybe it's time for Movies B. T. to stage a come back.  Or at least Movies B. CG.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Dream Perellas

It stands to reason, I suppose, that in my dreams I'm as dyslexic reading music as I am reading English.  I've been having a lot of music score dreams lately, probably because I've been trying to orchestrate old songs I've arranged.  As happens when I'm handed something to read and see a jumble of letters, I can't figure out what I'm supposed to see when I look at a score.  And the dreams go on and on.  Thanks, Dream Center.

I plead, after a major part of the night is spent looking at these scores, to dream of something else.  Last night, Dream Center put me with the Perellas.  The Perellas were twins I went to junior and senior high school with; they were also the guys responsible for getting me to Camp Daddy Allen and who'd instigated The Music Man sing-alongs mentioned in the blog, "Well, Yuh Got Trouble."

We are in Lancaster along with another high school friend.  We're in a national chain video store.  I look for the rental section and can't find's all DVD sales and equipment.  John looks, too, and is equally frustrated.  Tom, the older of the twins, joins us as we look for the manager.  The manager becomes instantly defensive when we complain.  We're obviously not the first to bitch about the lack of rental DVDs.  He tells us to contact the national office because dropping the rentals wasn't his idea.  We agree and leave.  We're joined by the Mrs.s Perellas on the street.  One of them tells me that I'll have to join Tom and John and Bruce to sing at the Fulton.  This doesn't panic me, even though I haven't sung in the act before.  I figure I can harmonize bass, which is pretty easy for me to do.  Former neighbor Linda comes running out of the store proudly carrying a candle glass covering with a painting on it.  We look at each other and try to be happy for Linda, but the painting strikes all of us as a really hackneyed Kincaid knock-off...a bad copy of an uninspired painting.  We look at it.  She asks all of us which is our favorite part.  I see lights in windows and point to two of them.  Proudly, she takes it away.  I ask what time we're supposed to start the show.  At 8...and it's 7:45 now.  I was kind of hoping we'd have time for a sound check, which would give me an idea what we'd be singing.  We're not far from the theater, so we won't be late for curtain, but there won't be time for anything before we start.  We're on Water Street.  We take an aluminum-and-glass stairway up to Prince Street.  People are buying tickets and going into the theater.  Tom and John hail some of the people.  I try to push them along so we can at least be on time.  Inside, a man takes Tom and his wife ahead of us.  I try to follow them but can't.  We're on the backstage extension of the balcony.  They suddenly disappear and I can't see how to get down to the stage level.  John and I look around rather frantically.  I lift a heavy red curtain.  This reveals a balcony  aisle with an exit in the center.  We decide to take worst, we can walk through the house and take the stage stairs onto the stage.

In case you're interested, the first time I remember a dyslexic dream was ages ago when I'd started as an announcer.  I was on-air and was handed a news bulletin to read right now.  I looked at it and all I could see were shapes like the postal bar codes you see under addresses on envelopes.  Eventually, as my illustrious announcing career continued, the shapes became letters and looked like words, but they never made sense.

Perhaps I'll tell you about my exercise in orchestration sometime.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dossie T

While I have no idea what prompted her appearance, I'm delighted that Dream Center brought her in last night.

Miss Talbert was my high school English teacher in my junior year.  I don't remember when, but by some point in my senior year, she became Mrs. Conger.  When we talked about her, she was Dossie T.  A lot of kids didn't care for her...too strict, too smart, expected too much.  To me, she approached goddessness.  While I'd always wanted to be a teacher, she truly inspired me in those two years.  Sad I never got to do that, but I probably wouldn't have been all that good anyway.

Once I complained about the Bs and B+s I received on a string of essays.  I told her I thought they were pretty good and I didn't understand why they weren't A material.  She told me that for most of the kids they would have been A material, but she knew I could do better.  An A from her had to be earned.  She told me that the grade on my report card reflected how well I was doing, so my parents (and my permanent record) could see I knew my stuff; her grades for my writing, however, were between the two of us.  When I got an A, I knew I was doing my best.

The dream starts as I drive toward Coatesville, once one of Pennsylvania's major steel cities.  I drive by a large (non-existant) commercial airport.  Before I get to Coatesville, I turn off the highway and drive through a hilly development with dirt streets like water park tubes, except they aren't covered.  I get out of there and am in a shopping center.  I go into a large store only to find it nearly empty.  What little business it has is a coffee shop, and it's dwarfed by the size of the building.  I'm in some sort of conveyance and drive by her.  I recognize her immediately and I'm delighted she recognizes me.  We want to have coffee, but she aplogizes that she has to give an interview.  I look over to her table and see two men who were my classmates.  One, who was an AV guy with me, bumbles about trying to set up his recording equipment.  The other, who became an attorney, is very smarmy and full of himself.  Dossie T clearly would rather talk with me and reluctantly goes to the table.  The camera guy can't get it together and the interviewer asks insipid questions.  She finally says she can't spare more time and joins me at a different table.  I can't get over how wonderful she looks and that after all these years she remembers me.  She asks if I became a teacher.  I tell her I ddn't, but that I did make part of my living as a writer.  Her face lights up.  "And I'll bet you were good, too," she says with a smile.  A child comes to the table.  Dossie T tells her that she's busy.  Wow.  I have Miss Talbert all to myself.  It doesn't come up, but I have the feeling she remembers grading my writing harder and I hope she understands that I'm grateful for that.

I don't remember anything after that.  I don't know if she'd have been happy to hear how I made out.  Frankly, I don't know that she'd remember me.  Would she still be alive?  I don't remember ever dreaming about her before, which, I suppose, is why this one was so special. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Well, yuh got trouble

Friends invited me to join them as camp counselors the summer between my college sophomore and junior years.  My friends were devoted to this camp and I had no interest in working the family feed mill ever again, so I applied and was accepted.  The camp was an Easter Seals camp, Camp Daddy Allen, named for someone who'd worked valiantly for what were then known as "crippled kids."

Most Easter Seal camps at the time were day camps.  I think there were maybe one or two week-long, sleep-over camps, but Camp Daddy Allen was the one kids aimed for.  They needed to show some ability to look after themselves and be sort of independent and be able to sleep outside.  No counselor was particularly trained in care for kids with cerebral palsy or mental retardation or anything of the sort.  We had a crash course in everything during rest periods from getting the camp in shape.

It was incredibly difficult physically and emotionally.  No counselor was to have more than one wheelchair kid to care for.  I had three.  I put two on a wagon and pulled them while I pushed a wheelchair over the dirt trails.  The kids loved it, of course, and wanted to ride the wagon, which they never did at home, rather than the wheelchair, which was all they knew.  I lost 30 pounds over that summer.

My friends worked at the camp for several summers and had some pull with the administration...enough to get all of us to have the same night off.  There was a bar nearby that served minors.  Now, this was in the mountains, the not-touristy part of the Appalachians.  The five of us loved The Music Man...the play, not the movie.  As far as I know, I was the only gay guy among us.  I could stop them cold in their tracks with any other musical, but all of us knew The Music Man.  Oddly enough, the bartender didn't seem to mind us singing.  Perhaps we were too drunk, but we didn't sense hostility.

We'd somehow worked out parts for the opening patter song.  I had the loudest voice, so I always got to say "But he doesn't know the territory!"  As the summer progressed, another guy entered our circle (he rather quickly became my first straight guy crush), which made it possible for us to do both "Pick-a-little/Good night, ladies" and "Lida Rose/Dream of Now" rather complete.  They were the school board, I was the women in the former and Marian in the latter.  I was also Mama to one of the other guy's Marian in "The Piano Lesson."  (I always laid it on really thick on the reply to "What stranger?"  "With the SOOTcase who may be your very last chance.")  It only seemed natural that I should sing them.

"Iowa Stubborn" was one of the bartender's favorites.  He was good for "You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself" and "Provided you are contrary."  I, of course, was word-perfect on "Trouble," but others felt they were, too, and I was always gracious and let them try.  Invariably they'd screw it up and I'd help them out.  One night, after a sufficient amount of beer and singing, they insisted I do "Trouble."  Even the bartender wanted to hear me do it.  (I guess we tipped well or he was gay.  I could never figure out why he put up with us.)  I got so into it that I got off my bar stool and did my own blocking as I preached to the townsfolk.  They, then, got off their bar stools and responded.  And at the end, the few patrons in the bar, who probably had no idea what the hell was going on, cheered.

The straight guy I fell ass over tea cups for is another story for some other time.  The friends who got me there that summer have all done a production of The Music Man somewhere, whether a high school production or a community theater.  For that matter, it was the first show I ran a soundboard for.  I wonder if any of our fellow drunks remember our besotted sing-alongs.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ummm...No...I'LL Pay The Rent

49 years ago, I had my one bout with a summer theater.  I was between high school college.  The summer before, I attended many of the theater's productions, only that year they did nothing but melodramas.  The Gilded Cage Playhouse.  The building was the Guernsey Barn, just outside Lancaster, and the Gilded Cage producer converted it into a cabaret.  I was enchanted and thought it would be fun to spend a summer being the hero's best friend...or maybe just schlepping scenery around.

I was somewhat disappointed to receive a letter from the producer saying they weren't doing melodramas that summer.  Rather, they were going to do Amish musicals.  Well, Lancaster County, tourists, why not?  But Amish musicals?  I think I understood how stupid the concept was, but it was also my chance at professional Theatre.  Not Equity, but you got paid.

We went through six of them, and then in August put them in repertory.  Amish aren't known for the vastness of their wardrobes, so if we were Amish, whether chorus or character, we had the same costume every show.  Those who weren't Amish, the people who brought conflict into the lives of the lovable and simple and carefree Amish, at least had a change of wardrobe -- if not within the show, then at least from night to night.  Amish?  Not so much.

I once confessed to a couple of my cast friends that it was sometimes hard to remember which show we were doing, that they all seemed pretty much the same.  As it turned out, the Amish hero and the Amish heroine were the hero and heroine of the melodramas the previous summer and they, too, wore the same costumes night after night.  (I should make clear that we had a wardrobe person and she spent many hours washing and pressing our costumes.  They were clean, but they were always the same.)  They, too, did all the melodramas in rep in August, and one night it happened.

They were onstage, in the middle of a scene, and they forgot not only their lines, not only the scene, not only what was to happen next, they forgot which play they were doing.  And they had no way to get back on track.  It was their scene; no other character was waiting for an entrance, so they couldn't pick up a cue that way.  After trading lines, something got them back on track and they finished the scene, ran offstage and laughed hysterically until one of them had to go on again.

Back when Theatre was going to be my life, that was the anxiety dream of anxiety dreams.  What never happened in the anxiety dream was having an actor onstage in the same boat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bye-Bye Daddy

Although much of the crowd are from the Unitarian church I once went to, the dream itself is set in what was my family church.  Not only that, but the pre-remodeled church.  I'm with a group of singers, not the director.  We run through something mundane.  We are told to sit in the congregation, not the choir loft.  I ask if there's a program with the hymn numbers.  The guy in charge replies that there will be no music except for the song we'll be singing.  It dawns on me that this is a Christmas Eve service and that people sitting randomly in will stand up and sing something that has nothing to do with the a Presbyterian church.  Someone asks if we will at least process into the sanctuary.  No, the minister is the only one to do that, but we are expected to stand and line the center aisle for him.  A not-delighted murmur rises among us.  The sanctuary is now full.  Someone tells us to rise; only a few do.  The person reminds them that the minister wants us to stand.  No one joins those already standing.  In fact, some of those standing sit with a disgusted sigh.  The minister enters.  He is the Reverend Mister Howard Dana, once of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  This will be his final service.  Not many people are sad that he's leaving.  He enters and crosses the stage to the pulpit.  He's followed by two kids corked up in black face wearing stereotype wigs and Santa suits.  (I apologize for Dream Center's depiction of this, but it's also interesting that I associate this gross stereotype with the Reverend Mister Howard Dana.)  Seeing this, much of the congregation stands up and leaves, I among them.  The cemetery is filled with snow as I trudge my way home.

I've not been to my hometown in a long time.  I stand beside the turnpike.  In real life, the turnpike is nowhere near Gap.  However, in my dream, it's apparently always been there, but I understand that the traffic is snarled because of a bridge.  I wasn't aware there was a bridge.  Nor could I think why a bridge would be needed.  A tunnel maybe, but not a bridge.  Coming from one of the parked cars is a news report about a murder the previous night.  The newscaster ad libs that he knows who did it and gives the name, then goes back to reporting.  I go to a farmhouse.  The farmer is about to head out to the fields on his tractor.  He waves as the tractor chugs away.  His wife doesn't know me, but we're quite easily friendly with each other.  She tells me of things I might find interesting in the area, then notices that I'm kind of detached.  I ask her about a mall.  She hesitates but then tells me she knows about it.  She then tells me there was a murder there last night.  I tell her I'd heard about that and that I heard on the radio a man named so-and-so killed the man.  She blanches.  She hoped no one knew about that.  The two men had a bad history and the muderer was a minister she thought had left the previous winter.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Penny was a border collie.  She lived at a neighboring (although certainly not next-door-neighboring) farm.

We grew up in a menagerie.  Aside from the usual assortment of cats and dogs, we were also visited by an inordinate number of squirrels, skunks, rabbits and other mammals, not to mention the occasional wounded (or thrown-out-by-its-mother) bird.  Mother was convinced there were signs posted in the nearby woods, written in basic animalese, that informed animals that the Walkers were an easy touch.  And we were.

I don't know how Penny came to know us...perhaps she saw the sign and decided to try us out.  We lived on one side of a valley and Penny's farm was a mile or so to our north, with another farmer's field in between.  She herded her cows across the highway from their meadow to the barn and back again.  Sometimes in the evening, with the cows safely in the meadow, she'd come over to spend the night.

She announced her arrival with a woof and a scratch on the screen door...unless, of course, one of us saw her as she crossed the valley toward our place, in which case she'd be greeted by my sister and me, the welcoming committee.  Her domain, the pasture, was enclosed by an electric fence, I think.  Whatever it was, she got under it and crossed that valley.

As I say, I haven't a clue how this visitation started, but I was ecstatic when she came.  A border collie was my idea of a big dog, certainly larger than either of ours.  All three dogs got along well; ours seemed as happy as we kids were when Penny came to visit.  My parents got up early in the morning in time to let Penny out of the house so she could steer her cows to the barn for the morning milking.

Her visits seemed random, although my father later said he thought she came when a storm threatened.  I don't remember that.  I've always been fairly good at making associations, and I don't associate Penny's visits with storms.  Plus she'd visit any time of year.  The farmer for whom she herded cows knew that if Penny weren't at the farm at night, she was with us and she'd be back in time to herd the cows.  He'd tell us Penny stories when he bought feed at the mill.  I think he was concerned that Penny might be making a pest of herself.  We assured him nothing could be farther from the truth.

She seemed to enjoy us kids.  Lord knows we enjoyed her company.  The farmer had children, too, so it wasn't just to get her kid quotient that she came to see us.  She played the usual dog games...catch, chase the kid, that sort of thing.  Maybe she knew she'd get a good brushing when she spent the night; she was a farm dog, but I think she liked to get spruced up from time to time.

Who knows if an animal is aware it's going to die.  Penny died at our house, though.  She was old, she was arthritic, and until the night she died, she was happy to visit.  The farmer apologized profusely when he came to pick her up.  I, on the other hand, remain convinced that she chose to die at our place.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Honesty Works

1968 generally is not my favorite year.  I still cannot watch anything to do with the Chicago Democratic convention, even though it is 45 years after the fact.  Nothing I believed in was acceptable.  Someone called me in my college dorm and started the conversation with, "Did you hear?  Martin Luther King was shot."  I said, "No," expecting to hear some stupid punchline, which would not have been unlike her.  She liked to make fun of what I believed in.

1968 was the year I graduated from the only college I could attend via parental scholarship.  I could have gone to any school, but my father made it clear he'd pay only if I went to this one particular college.  I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn't be able to work and study, so I spent 4 miserable self-destructively drunk and stoned years in that small christian college for small christians.  When I graduated, I was unable to find work in my chosen field because my college adviser gave me really rotten advice.

I was able to deal with King's assassination because I was studying and was involved in a community theater production.  Although I favored Clean Gene McCarthy, I was destroyed by the news the Robert Kennedy was killed.  It was news I woke up to.  I was jobless, angry and despondent anyway.  Neither of my parents understood why I was so devastated.  They didn't share my political or moral views, so how important could it be?

I did get a job writing commercial and promotional copy at a local radio station.  (If you were a Mary Tyler Moore Show fan, you remember Ted Baxter's bio:  "It all started at a 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California."  In my case, it was in Ephrata, PA.)  The place was run by Republican stalwarts, but some of the staff were a blast to work with.  Then President Johnson sent his greetings from the White House.  I was to be drafted.

When I graduated from college, I decided I didn't want to go on to graduate school.  16 years in a student desk was quite enough, thank you.  In 1968, grad school was still good for a deferment, but I didn't want it.  Although I was anti-war and pro-Civil Rights, I was not religious.  The minister at the family church would not recommend me for conscientious objector status.  The Coast Guard said they weren't interested because once you received your draft notice, you belonged to the Army.  Joy.

The draft center in Lancaster seemed to be a cross between a locker room and what I imagined a new recruit reception center would be like.  We had to strip, but we were allowed to keep our undies and socks on.  Personally, I was OK with that.  I was somewhat afraid that Nature might make me sprout a woody; that didn't happen.

On the long list of medical and psychological questions was "Do you have homosexual tendencies?"  Well, yes.  I wasn't having sex, but I knew what I "tended" toward.  In fact, it wasn't even "tending."  It was yet another way I was an outsider.  I knew I shouldn't lie on the draft form, so I checked the Yes box.  I was taken into a doctor's cubicle and was asked if I understood the question.  Was I (pause for repulsed emphasis) a homosexual?  I told him I was.  He got out his medically-approved flashlight and told me to bend over and spread my ass cheeks.  This is humiliating, I thought.  I also figured he wouldn't take my word for my sexuality.  I didn't like being Greek passive, so I'd have nothing to show for it.  I was sent back to the waiting area.

A few days later I received my draft card, which I still carry in my wallet.  4F.  Unfit for service.  The parents knew I didn't have fallen arches or a bad back.  It pretty much ended my relationship with my father.  He was still in the reserves and was convinced the best years of his life were in combat.  That I would not be drafted would signal to his friends and the rest of the world that I was utterly, totally worthless.  My mother, on the other hand, was tacitly relieved.

I was not asked at the radio station anything about the draft physical.  I simply told the Program Director that I was deferred.  We joked that it was because I was such a good copywriter, that the station would suffer if I were drafted...but I was never made to tell specifically why I was 4F.

I took it as proof that, as my mother tried to teach me, it's best not to tell a lie.  Honesty is the best policy.  That sort of thing.  Later, I'd realize that it's best to tell the truth because it's so much work trying to keep track of what you told to whom.  In this case, however, it made me understand that there may be an advantage to being one of society's outsiders.  Granted, I was white and male with a college degree, but I was also a liberal, an agnostic (at the very least), pro-Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, anti-sending my fellows away to be canon fodder, a professional writer (prove to me writing copy isn't writing), a man interested in music and theater, and now a governmentally-approved homosexual.

1968 generally is not my favorite year.  1968, however, is the year I learned about honesty and I learned a great deal about myself.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dream Center

It's raining relentlessly.  I'm driving on very slick highways.  Some idiot crosses my lane when he can clearly see that I'm approaching and there's little time to react.  He expects me to deal with it; I do.  I'm on my way to a performance of a Stephen Sondheim musical I'm in -- I don't know which, except that it's not Sweeney Todd.  The car isn't mine.  Mine is still undergoing surgery by a mechanic who was sent to the area by the dealership, which is in another city.  He did his best to fix it but had to call it quits for the day when his ride showed up.  Now it's raining and I'm in this other car.  I'm stopped at a traffic light.  The headlights from the vehicles all around me are twice as bright, reflecting off the wet surface.  I turn right.  Suddenly I have two riders, both men, both complaining with heavy-duty Australian accents about someone I like.  I choose not to enter their argument.  I drive by the house of a fellow cast member.  I turn around to offer to pick him up.  I make the U-turn successfully and go into the driveway.  It's a long horseshoe driveway on a hill.  I see real but quite small sheep.  These are of interest to the Australians.  (Dealing in stereotypes, Dream Center?)  I no longer care about them.  I park the car and get out.  The house has been used in a sitcom.  It's a beautiful older brick building with large picture windows on the front which would give a super view of the valley on a nice day, a balcony accessed through French doors, a rounded, tiled roof.  The entrance is along the side.  There is a tasteful sign on a tasteful pole announcing some business; because of my on-going dyslexia in my dreams, I can't tell what the business is.  I go in and the house is very similar to the sitcom set.  Everything is carpeted.  The two large staircases on either side of the great hall lead to a landing and several doors and open rooms.  Several of the people are cast members of Reba...Cheyenne and Kyra, Brock and Barbara Jean.  Reba is not there.  However, a friend from a former life, Jason, is there and he has the red hair.  I offer Jason a ride to the show.  He's happy for the offer and gets ready.  While he's gone, Cheyenne gives me huge boots to try on and asks me the name of the show.  I can't remember, except that I know it's not Sweeney Todd.  She also wants to know if I'm interested in her brother.  Kyra interrupts and tells her to shut up, then looks at me, expecting an answer.  Jason appears.  We are about ready to go when Brock announces that it's time for devotions.  I tell him that we don't have the time, but he insists.  I climb the stairs closest to the door and sit on a carpeted bench at the top, against the outside wall on the landing.  I wonder whether we'll be late.  I know that we're supposed to run through something before the house opens.  Jason appears, looking a little embarrassed.  I tell him it's all right.  The family gathers as we leave and are very nice saying goodbye to us.  It's still raining.  We walk to the car.  The trunk opens and Jason puts something in it.  We climb into the car and start downhill on the other part of the horseshoe driveway.  I see another pair of miniature sheep.  I notice the men are not in the car.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Email to another friend

Thanks for asking.  As the young people say, I got over it.

My shrink says that the obsession I'm currently experiencing with the early 20th century music is all right as long as I don't screw it up by having to live up to self-imposed deadlines.  He thinks I've had enough of them the last 66 years and now that I've found something that's fun, if I start making demands on myself, it will cease to be fun and become a chore with no rewards.  He may be on to something.  Besides, it's not like any of my arrangements will see the light of day.  Harrisburg theaters take chances on nothing.  If a show doesn't have a name and a favorable Broadway (or at least off-Broadway) reputation, no one will produce it.  Thus, no need for deadlines, no need for perfection, no need for collaboration...I can be the quiet egomaniac I've always wanted to be.

During that session, he confessed that he didn't have any idea what an arrangement was and, therefore, what an arranger does.  I told him to think of a ring.  If the melody were the jewel, the arrangement is its setting.  He got it.  Not bad, huh?

Do you remember "Wild Cherries," one of the 4-handers I did?  It was written by Ted Snyder.  I've discovered more of his music, some of which I enjoy.  One of them is called "Dancing Fool," and it struck me as a Fred and Ginger number, except that it's early '20s; at best it would be for Fred and Adele, and I'm not sure when he and his sister started dancing on the vaudeville circuit.  However, last night I mapped out a dance break for it.  I'm just about finished with it and I want to make some additions to the existing accompaniment.  I try to honor the ragtime code:  first time through as written, then go to it.  It's just a matter of simple embellishments so the pianist won't get bored.  So far I'm as pleased with it as I was with "Ain't She Sweet."  Both of them amaze me that I did what I did to them.

On the other hand, this self-taught stuff can be time-consuming.  So much is hit-or-miss...or, since I'm doing it on my PrintMusic program, hunt-and-peck.  There's also something wrong with the computer and we can't make PDFs nor record from the score.  When that gets fixed I'll send it to you.

I've also tried playing with Eubie Blake's "Baltimore Buzz" from his groundbreaking "Shuffle Along."  It's a great number and I had fun playing with it.  I won't say "Buzz" is indestructible, but it held up under my leaden fingers pretty well.  I also found George M. Cohan's "Popularity," a march/rag from "Little Johnny Jones."  Unfortunately, the copy from the Ol' Miss collection doesn't have the last page, which I didn't realize until I got to the bottom of the last available page and there was no double bar to be seen.  So, I played with it and came up with an ending I felt dishonored neither Mr. Cohan nor his tune.  Then I discovered another site and they had the complete score.  I was surprised that (George M. forgive me) I preferred my ending to his.

Finally (for now), I'm trying to figure out a set of songs from The Great War.  I have what I need, but the order hasn't gelled.  Where, for example, does one put "Would You Rather Be A Colonel With An Eagle On Your Shoulder Or A Private With A Chicken On Your Knee?" or "How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm (After They've Seen Paree)?" or "Oh, Frenchy!"?  What I'd like to do is maybe start with "Over There" (typical, huh?) and end it with "Keep The Home Fires Burning," but I want the set to end the first act, so it'll have to be big.  I was considering asking the audience to join the cast and sing along, but does anyone under 40 even know it?

But I'm not thinking about creating a revue, you understand.

Hope you're well.  Enjoy springtime in the Poconos.  Take good care.


Monday, May 20, 2013

A quickie

I figured I would like the town I decided to move to because a store on the town square was Bowser's Furniture Store & Funeral Home.  This piqued my interest.  That was 33 years ago.  More recently, my off-beat sense of humor found it hysterical that the funeral home has a pickup truck.

I'm fascinated that not only have I had page views from people in Russia and Germany, but I recently had 10 page views from Pakistanis.  I'm very grateful.  I just don't understand why.

Friday, May 10, 2013

OK. Here's the thing...

An email to a different friend.

I mean, if I can't tell you, then whom?  I'm in the most depressed depression I've experienced.  Not forthrightly suicidal, but my therapist did alert the hospital staff that I might be calling for help a few weeks ago.  That seems to be going away, but the depression still likes to remind me it's hanging around.

Maybe I told you about a massive collection of sheet music I discovered in the digital library of Ol' Miss.  It's a gift from a Charles Templeton...I have no idea who he was, except that he clearly collected lots of sheet music.  The earliest date I've noticed is 1825 and it runs into the late 1970s.  Since music published prior to 1923 is unarguably in the public domain, and since music from about 1890 to early flapper fits that description and is music I love, I've been doing a lot of copying music and then putting it into my PrintMusic program.

I think I sent you "Ain't She Sweet" a while back, while I was still under the influence of one Fats Waller.  I've worked with a couple of other tunes to add a piano break or dance break or to add to the accompaniment (sheet music can be uninteresting at times).  If I'm not careful, I repeat myself in style and ideas, and the challenge is to figure out something else to try.  I'm still sane enough to understand all of this is going nowhere, but it's incredibly fun.  And while it's one thing to work with a composer or song I hadn't heard of before, it's something else to try to do justice to Eubie Blake.

Perhaps I'm floating away into Fantasy Land.  I've started to give myself deadlines, as if I were working on a show.  I've always been fascinated by must have been incredible both to see and to be in.  I also think about a revue, kind of like "Ain't Misbehavin'" but working with an era rather than a particular artist.  While my therapist knows about the music, he doesn't know that I spend hours a day on it and that I'm going into a pretend world not unlike I enjoyed when I was young.  I don't think it's hurting anyone, but I'm not sure how out-of-touch-with-reality it's making me.  I'm also not sure I'm all that concerned.  After MITM this summer, there's nothing on my dance card and I intend to keep it like that.

I'm struck by the craft shown in much of the music.  Yes, a lot of it is hack work, a large portion of it is in imitation of something that sold well (the titles that practically sound like others are pretty shameless), and even Irving Berlin came up with a clunker now and then.  But there's also some excellent, pristine music and lyrics.  I'd forgotten a line in a song that always made me smile.  It struck as me pretty before I knew anything about the work that went into writing, and once I understood lyrics, it became an example of a beautifully crafted line.  From "Carolina in the Morning":  "Strolling with my girlie when the dew is pearly early in the morning."  Obviously, "girlie" would be frowned upon now, but I don't know what an acceptable substitution might be.  But what an image, and what a wonderful, seemingly simple bit of internal rhyme.  And "Butterflies all flutter up and kiss each little buttercup at dawning" i t shabby, either.

I continue to volunteer in an office 4 days a week, which is an attempt to keep a foothold on reality.  I'm fat because I eat because I'm depressed because I'm morbidly obese, and if that term doesn't do it to you, I don't know what will.  I've always loved music and it seems to be kind of a safe harbor now.

My apologies if it feels like I'm dumping on you.  That's not my intention.  I think I needed to write it down and have a person I truly respect and enjoy and love read it and tell me whether I've gone off the deep end or what.  I'm on my meds and have no intention of killing myself.  It was that bad; it's not that bad now.  Honest.

Take good care.


Friday, May 3, 2013

An email to a friend

How are you?  Srsly.  I realized this morning that I don't even know if you're teaching this semester.  I miss our daily badinage and realize why it's stopped.  Sorry.  I hope life in the country is good.  Springtime in the boonies is so flipping gorgeous.

Here's the thing:  I have become one truly fucked up senior citizen.  I've been seeing a therapist in the giant shrink factory in your former neighborhood.  It had been going well.  I've been very good about exploring issues and trying to follow directions/suggestions/et ceteras and was seeing a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel; I'm back to thinking it's probably an on-coming train and I just can't hear it because I'm kind of hard-of-hearing.  I truly don't feel like going.  Not that I don't need it...I just wonder what's the use.

One of my means of escape has been reading.  I'm keeping Dauphin County Library System on its toes tracking down just about every gay novel they have.  Happily, surprisingly, they have many.  Mostly at the East Shore branch.  I've become reasonably adept at figuring out that I don't have to read something that's boring.  "Boring" doesn't necessarily mean there's no sex.  Some published authors just can't tell a good story.  And I'm kind of apprehensive that I've come to enjoy young adult gay fiction.  Suicide Notes and My Most Excellent Year:  A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park is my favorite of them so far, but they do make me feel like something of a chicken hawk.

I've found a treasure trove of my music.  I was tracking down a ragtime song and Google directed me to the Charles Templeton Collection at Ol' Miss.  There I found a catalogue of more the 12,000 copies of sheet music, dating from the mid-1800s to about 1980.  Since 1922 is the official cutoff date for copyrighted materials (1923 to the present may still be protected, which you don't know until you do a cumbersome search), I've been in hog heaven finding rags, ragtime songs, show tunes and vaudeville numbers.  I've been putting lots of them into the computer.  I've expanded several of them to include my version of dance breaks, writing them with the idea that if I could play, this is how I'd want to do it.  Know of anyone planning a vaudeville show?  I've also thought about a review in the Ain't Misbehavin' mold.  And I understand that all of this is strictly imaginary, but it doesn't matter.  It keeps me off the streets.  Plus, as I said, I am one truly fucked up senior citizen.

I think of you a great deal and with some frequency.  I do hope you're well and that things are good, that you are happily doing whatever makes you happy.  Go get 'em.  Happy day.  Take good care.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Puzzle Wrapped In An Enigma...

In the dream, she looks like a black man who rides on my bus about once a week.  He's a puzzle wrapped in an enigma wearing a fake leopard skin skirt, blouse and hat.  He boards the bus laden with grocery bags.  He tends to wear blue eyeliner and brushes his cheeks with glitter.  He makes no attempt to sound like a woman.  He is who he is, which is clearly a fixture in the community.  I have yet to see anyone roll their eyes when he gets off the bus; in fact, he and the bus driver get along famously and he's good at striking up conversations with riders.  We now say hello, although I favor the back of the bus and he sits up front.

In the dream, his face is on the new preacher at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  Dream Center has made the Unitarian Church into a large-ish, stadium seated, semi-circular auditorium which, if you knew what it actually looks like, you'd appreciate the change (Dream Center has a sense of humor).  Dream Center has retained the glass front and the rood screen in the sanctuary, the halls surrounding it, and the location.  The idea that it has the not-quite-mega-church appearance is wonderfully ludicrous.

Anyway, this guy is the new minister, a black, sassy, heavy-set woman who peppers her conversation with "honey"s and "child"s and "I know that's right"s.  I love her.  She has clearly blossomed.  She's concerned that I no longer go there.  I tell her that the matter is well behind me, as is the minister responsible.  In point of fact, the congregation is overjoyed that he's gone and are tentatively happy with her as the new minister.

She asks me to help with the kids and sends me into a room behind the rood screen.  The former minister is leaving.  He looks at me; I don't know what kind of face to wear, so I nod and walk on.  A bunch of tween boys look at me and line up.  They know what's going on, even if I don't.  They line up and sort-of march out the door and walk across the front of the auditorium without mugging very much, which surprises and delights me.  We're outside and walking on a city sidewalk.  Other groups of shepherded kids approach from the other direction.  One of the adults tells me that it's not there, "it" apparently being what we're walking to see.  I have no idea what she's talking about, but I think that means we might as well return to the church.

I don't know why any of this is important except for the assignment of characters.  Why would the man who always wears the fake leopard skin outfit on the bus become the new minister as a woman at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, which is as white as any church in the burg?  Did Dream Center need a black character and he was available so he appeared?  I tend to think not, but I certainly come in contact with black women that any of them could have been why him?  Did Dream Center want to make a casual comment on UCH?  And why did it even bother to set a dream there?  OK, I still have issues with how I was let go there, and I'm actually rather happy that the current minister has decided to leave.  But I find it interesting that Dream Center has placed the fake leopard skin wearing guy in charge.

Dream Center's been nice to me lately.  I've actually ridden on a roller coaster...usually, I just see them and if I get on, something happens so the train doesn't move, but this was a good ride.  I've been in a play in which I have a role I do well, don't forget my lines, don't show up in the wrong cast...just have fun doing well acting.  I've been able to put Queenie at the broadcasting stations in her place with logic.  That might be the most satisfying recent dream.  (Spell Check wonders if I mean "weenie"?  Interesting.)  Usually there's at least some anxiety in dreams set there, but this one came off just fine.

So a dream set at UCH with a new minister is an interesting way to spend the night.  "A dream is a wish your heart makes/When you're fast asleep."  Disney's Cinderella?  Whatever.  It's rather delightful.  Thank you, Dream Center.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dream Center Presents Carol Burnett

"Dream Center" is what I refer to as that which creates my nocturnal entertainments.  It's not uncommon for Dream Center to conjure up an actor or other celebrity.  If it were in the credits, it would be "Special Guest Star."  If it were written about, it would be "making a special guest appearance."  The most frequent to make a special guest appearance is Carol Burnett.  I don't know why that is, but I certainly don't mind. 

I've admired her since her weekly Saturday night series.  I got a letter from her once...the content was pretty specific, so I don't think it was a form letter.  Of course, it was probably written by one of her many assistants; "Oh, why don't you tell him..." and the signature may or may not have been machine-generated.  In my letter to her, I told her that I worked on the crew at a public television station.  In her letter she said that she always happy to hear from a "colleague."  That she would refer to the stage manager for a public television crew as a colleague impressed me greatly.

As I mentioned earlier, it's easier to write about dreams in the present tense.  Thus:

Ms. Burnett is directing a production I'm involved in.  I'm not sure how I'm involved.  I feel I may be producer or maybe sound designer.  I'd just seen a newspaper article announcing her as a Tony nominee.  The picture had her in a curly blonde wig, a picture from her nominated performance.  She declares a break in the rehearsal and I walk up to her.  We know each other.  We don't see each other for a long time and then we pick up naturally when we're back to work.  She makes some suggestions to a cast member.  I wait until she's finished with everyone who wants to talk to her or she needs to talk to, and then she turns to me and smiles a somewhat weary smile.  I congratulate her on her Tony nomination.  She gives me a blank look.  "What Tony nomination?" she asks.  I know she's not kidding me.  I tell her I saw an above-the-fold-with-color-photo article about it.  She's completely surprised and denies knowing anything about it. 

The dream veers off into another direction.  I'm supposed to go on location of a concert being recorded in a far-removed rural part of the state.  Many of the people are network suits and I treat them gingerly.  My friend and former roommate Jim is also there.  He's rather curt with me, and I realize he's in his New York TV mode.  It's not a problem; I just don't like the change in him, much preferring his less-stressed person.  I walk away to look into something and, on a tree stump converted into a table, see the article about Ms. Burnett and her Tony nomination.  It's exactly what I remember seeing and I wonder if I might steal it and take it back with me to show her.

Thank you, Dream Center.

Of all special guest stars that Dream Center brings in, I'm happiest, I think, with Carol Burnett.  She's not an imposing figure and we always get along just fine.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Am I My Brother's Brother?

As my binge reading continues, I came across a passage in which the main character wonders if maybe he was adopted.

I'd forgotten that I used to think the same thing.  The character saw so few similarities between him and any member of his family.  I, too, felt as if I were plopped into the same situation.  The thought continued until the resemblance between my brother and me became too pronounced.  Then I sought solace in the fact that neither of us particularly resembled anyone else in the family.  On the other hand, he fit into the family completely hand-in-glove.

Later, when I finally understood that I'm gay, the difference made complete sense.  Odd that one aspect of a person should make me feel so utterly unlike anyone else under our roof.  I was not the only left handed person.  Blue eyes were a family trademark.  Most of us were blonds, one way or another.  We were not strangers to the arts, although they weren't our family's strongest suit.  But gay?  How very, very odd.  Queer, even.

That one aspect of me made me determined that I wanted to get out of there.  That conviction changed somewhat through the years, but I don't live where I was raised and now I don't have a reason to return...certainly not to live there.