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.