Friday, February 25, 2011

Another Country

I should have known there was something off when I fell asleep at the beginning of the second act.   Granted I’d been up at six getting kids to school and walking dogs and yes, one of my problems with the theatre these days is it’s pretty much past my bed time and yes, I’d had a second Stone IPA with dinner.  Still.  Falling asleep on a couch, in the light booth, during the second act of a play is bad form.   Especially when it’s only the third preview.  Especially when your snoring disturbs the stage manager.  Especially when it’s your play.

Yes.  I’ve written a play.

Theatre has always been more fun to make than it is to attend.   For someone with ADD anyway.  When I go to a play, I’m forced to sit still for two hours and I’m usually fidgeting at the ten minute mark, squirming at twenty and praying for the intermission at thirty so I can leave.    Usually.

But when you make theatre, it’s like one of the old Andy Hardy movies where Andy (Mickey Rooney), at the penultimate moment, when the sh*t is hitting the fan and there's no way out of the mess he’s gotten them into, would suddenly exclaim to Judy Garland – “I know!  We’ll put on a show!”.   And the next thing you know they’ve transformed the family barn into a Broadway theatre and they’re singing and tap dancing like dervishes to a full orchestra. 

Mickey Rooney?  The young Judy Garland?   Granted I was a little kid at the time but still, I'm dating myself.

My experience wasn’t quite Andy Hardy's.  It was more like – “okay, we’re out of college, we're misfits, we haven’t found anything we especially like to do except this.  We’re in New York, no one will hire us, so you, when you’re not waiting tables, will write something and someone will find a basement or storefront to do it in and Jim, when he’s not tending bar, will direct it and Dave and and Doug and Dan and when they’re not moving furniture, will act in it and Larry, you hold the flashlight and there’ll be no props and we’ll wear our own clothes for costumes and we’ll live on the free mini-cocktail franks they put out at the Ascot Hotel’s lounge on 39th street between 4:30 and 5 and maybe if we’re lucky, our friends will come and we’ll charge them, I don’t know, five bucks maybe and after we pay the guy who owns the basement, we’ll take what's left over and we’ll all go out and drink beer and talk about what we’ve done and what we will do when someone is smart enough to give us the chance to “really work at this”.  And by the way, next time write something with women in it so we have someone to try and sleep with after the show.

I’ve made a living as a "dramatic" writer for the last thirty years now and much to my surprise, I wonder if that time and those experiences weren’t the highlight of my career.

And perhaps that’s what I’m trying to recreate by writing a play again.   An innocent time.  A time when we didn't know any better.  A time of enthusiasm and idealism and no fear of failure.  

Fun.   Rocket club for show-offs, misfits and emotional nerds.

There is a country called theatre and once you’ve lived there, your citizenship can’t be revoked.

Even if you fall asleep.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

more from people who write better than I do


The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance " warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level. --

Saturday, February 19, 2011

the horrible but relatively commonplace manifestation of human nature

Every now and then, as a writer, you find something that makes you ask yourself - "why didn't I write this?" - and then  you have to answer - "because I wouldn't have written it nearly as well".

From The Onion. 

As more details emerged of Friday's horrible but relatively commonplace manifestation of human nature in Brandon, SD, citizens nationwide somehow managed to enter a state of shock, apparently struggling to comprehend an act that, throughout history, has happened thousands upon thousands of times.
In the wake of the tragedy, Americans have expressed a deep sense of bewilderment, though it is unclear why, given that events just like the one Friday have taken place frequently throughout their lifetimes.
"I still can't believe what happened," said 48-year-old Linda Durland of Atlanta, who for some reason has been unable to extrapolate from literally millions of previous examples the fact that such acts inevitably repeat themselves. "It's just unthinkable."
Despite there being nothing unusual about the incident in Brandon, the media has descended upon the small town in droves, somehow finding a way to portray the event as if it were a novel phenomenon or some sort of aberration within human society, an assertion that even a cursory glimpse at the species' violent past would immediately disprove.
"You never expect something like this to happen," said 29-year-old Brandon resident Janine Ackerman, though she would be justified in expecting something like this to happen, and then happen again and again and again, and so on, ad infinitum. "It just came out of nowhere."
At hundreds of vigils held throughout the country Saturday night, Americans came together to mourn the victims of the incident. According to reports, many collectively vowed to ensure that an episode like this never happens again, a pledge that people must rationally have no intention of keeping, as it would entail the impossible task of forever altering basic human nature.
In Brandon, the mood reportedly remained one of stunned disbelief this weekend, as residents grappled with how their community had become the scene of such tragedy, all of them presumably under the impression that their town is something other than a collection of human beings, which is all that appears to be required for such an act to occur.
"This is the last place you'd expect something like this to happen," said local grocery store owner Howard Conyers, 54, seeming to repress all knowledge that close-knit communities such as Brandon, being inhabited by people, are among the types of places where these incidents have always happened.
Added Conyers: "It just makes no sense. Brandon is such a close-knit community."
As investigators have pieced together the exact sequence of extremely familiar events, news outlets and citizens alike have been quick to categorize the act as "inhuman," though in reality the behavior is universal to all human cultures and civilizations.
"I can't imagine what goes on in the mind of that kind of person," 31-year-old Linda Starks of Natchez, MS said. "Who could possibly do something like this?"
According to law enforcement statistics, 15,000 Americans do something like this each year, and nearly all people will at least briefly think about doing it at some point during their lives.
As the initial wave of grief began to subside Sunday, many throughout the country started openly questioning why this incident happened, putting forth a host of explanations that ranged from lack of government regulation to negligent parenting to declining church attendance, but never once mentioning that it likely would have occurred anyway.
"If it's possible for something positive to come out of this terrible turn of events, perhaps it will make people stop for a moment and realize how short and precious life is," said Daniel Romero, 45, of El Paso, TX, who, until this event, seemed to have somehow ignored the most omnipresent characteristic of his species: its mortality. "You have to recognize that each day you have is a gift and always remember to cherish your loved ones."
At press time, Romero remained unaware that he, like everyone else in America, will completely forget the incident within a week and then abandon his own sensible advice.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Slightly Crazy

I have a neighbor who’s slightly crazy.  He lives alone in a large house near the beach.  His children live with his first wife on the east coast and he rarely sees them.  His second wife left him for her personal trainer.  He “made a bundle in the market” and he no longer works.   He’s an avid big wave surfer and travels all over the world.   He likes to tell you that the waves are his comrades; the bigger the wave, the better the relationship.  He says the waves, his comrades, have almost killed him twice.  He says surfing is a spiritual thing.  He says that surfers who ride small waves are pu**ies.   

He says he has a black belt in karate, that his hands are registered as lethal weapons and that he enjoys going to conferences where he gets to break cinderblocks with his elbows.  He says he avoids bars because if he got into a fight he would be arrested.   He says Bruce Lee was the real thing.

He says he’s been to dinner at the White House.   He says everyone was an asshole.

He says he doesn’t need people.

He told me all this in the first five minutes, the very first time I ran into him walking the dogs.   I was, thank God, able to break away in the sixth minute.

And yet now when I run into him, and I do, I worry about him.

He never quite looks at you and when he does, he has a wild look in his eye.  You realize he’s talking out of desperation, telling you the same thing over and over again.   Maybe some of it’s even true. 

I don’t even know his name.

But he makes me count my blessings that I have work I like to do.  That I have a wife and children to annoy me and bother me and wish to do things with me.  That I have idiot dogs that jump on the bed and lick my face and wake me up in the middle of the night.   That I have a brother who I talk to on a weekly basis and we give each other major shit and then laugh.  That I have friends who go back both six weeks and thirty-five years.

That even though I don’t know what I did to deserve it, I am loved.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Things I Don’t Do

At an age slightly beyond middle age, I've decided there are a number of things I will no longer do.   Very high on the list is camping.   I don’t like sleeping bags, I don’t like carrying sleeping bags to the places you need sleeping bags.    It used to be that I developed sudden ear aches to avoid camping.  Now I just say no. 

I will no longer wash dishes.  I will fill dish washers, I will empty dishwashers.  If emotionally blackmailed  I will dry dishes but with a such chip on my shoulder, that the blackmailer will think twice about ever asking me again. 

I will hold babies for no longer than I wish to - I don’t care how cute they are,.   Under no circumstances will I change diapers.   Been there, done that.    (The one exception might be if and when I ever have grandchildren.   Hold, yes.  Diapers, still no.)

I bring all this up because we had guests this weekend.   Many guests.  Guests with babies and all the paraphernalia that babies demand.   Toys and Muppets.  Little blocks with sharp corners.  Exceedingly cute babies who had no interest in their toys and blocks and Muppets but instead wanted to be held.  And cooed over.  And walked.   And fed.  And changed. 

By me.  Like dogs, babies seem attracted to those who would rather ignore them.

We had more guests than beds in the house and so my sweet daughter gave up hers to sleep with my wife.  Everyone now had a bed.   Except me.   I was banished to my office to sleep on the floor.

In a sleeping bag.

One guest arrived not feeling well and immediately took to his bed – mine – and with the help of Nyquil and my best red wine, slept for 48 hours straight.

One of the mothers of babies woke Saturday morning with a sore throat and fever.  “Never fear!”, said my wife and she immediately went into baby-care mode.  

On Saturday night after a dinner for14 people – roast chicken, thank you – one of our guests, “trying to help”,  decided it would be a good idea to stuff a pound of left over Caesar salad down the garbage disposal.   Needless to say he backed up the pipes causing the kitchen sink and the dishwasher to overflow onto the floor.  Vinegar and baking soda and a plumber’s drain snake did nothing and so I spent the rest of the evening carting pots, pans and dishes over to a helpful, dishwasherless, neighbor, washing them by hand and then carting them back.  Through all this, my wife, Grandma Bear, was happily nurturing sick guests and joyfully tending to their respective babies. 

The only thing to do was drink heavily and press on.   "Press on!",  I said to myself.  "This too shall pass!  A sleeping bag awaits!  On the office floor!".

It is Monday now.  The guests have departed.  The drain is cleared.  The house is picked up.  

“Look at me”, I sternly said to my wife.

“What”, she said.

“Listen to me”, I said.  “I have something to say and I’m only going to say it once.”

What”, she said.

“Happy Valentines Day”,  I said. 

She looked at me a moment.  She smiled.

“That’s all?”.

She kisssed me.  Unfair.

At an age slightly beyond middle age, I've decided there are a number of things I will no longer do.    And yet, somehow, I still do them, everyone.

Men live lives of quiet desperation.


A friend responds to my missive about taking refuge in the bathroom.

My wife, who considers subtlety a cover for cowardice, if not the semi-polite version of lying, loves to walk by the bathroom and comment in what I could have eaten last night that is so fouling our small nest.

"OMG," she'll shout, "have you sprayed?"

Desperate straits indeed.

Monday, February 7, 2011


In my house, my place of escape, refuge, privacy, contemplation and uninterrupted reading is on the toilet.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going and I go to the bathroom.   

Excuse me, I’ll say!  I have to go sit for awhile!  

How can anyone object?    

I keep piles of books, periodicals and extra pairs of reading glasses in the bathroom.   Better not to be caught unprepared and have to go back out.   I like magazine articles and short stories.  Both time out well.  Novels are too long and so would increase the risk of hemorrhoids.   Poems aren’t nearly long enough and besides, I’d rather not fall asleep with my pants around my ankles.

Cell phones are barred.   To make phone calls to other people from the toilet seems oddly disrespectful – unless they’re movie agents – and not having a cell phone allows you to not answer any phone, at any time,  anywhere else in the house.    Which is important as I work at home.

“I was calling you all morning”, my wife will say.  

“I was on the toilet”, I’ll say.  “I couldn’t get up”.

I think a lot when I’m on the throne.   I think a lot of men do.    Rodin’s The Thinker is obviously a man contemplating his lost youth while taking a quiet crap.    Take a look some time.

I think about what I’m working on.  I think about all the mistakes I’m making with my life and I’ll vow to correct them.   I think about what I’m reading. 

Unless the dogs find me, it’s a pleasant time.

It goes without saying I despise any bathroom that is not my own; especially those that demand you put down a protective paper shield on the seat.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream is obviously based on a man stuck in an airport who’s bowels have begun rumbling.  He races to the men’s room, pushes past other travelers, desperately pulls open a stall door and finds himself face to face with a urine stained floor, strewn toilet paper and a bowl of unflushed grumpies.   Don’t believe me?  Take a look.

I could be mistaken.  It could be a gas station.   Or a baseball stadium.  Regardless, it’s not a place one wants to linger, let alone read.

“When I married you”, my wife will say, “I didn’t realize I was marrying a man who goes to the bathroom six times a day”.    

To which I will not reply – (I’m not entirely stupid) – I didn’t go to the bathroom six times a day until I was married.  Before marriage and parenthood,  I did my reading, thinking and contemplating in a comfortable chair out in the open.  No one bothered me.  Or needed help with their homework.  No one wanted to have a conversation about their feelings.   Or needed me to run to the store for doggie chow.   But now, like a poor hunted animal, I must stick to the shadows!  I must retreat to the glens of the deep forest!

My non-replies are always quite melodramatic.

Don’t fall in, my wife will say!  Sarcasm does not become her.

I won’t.   I’ve had a lot of practice.

Men live lives of quiet desperation.