Sunday, October 30, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Family



I remember. After my accident. A few months. Going out to visit my kids. My daughter and her husband, Seeth, in Oregon.

They had spent a great deal of time by my side when I was in the hospital. A great deal. And when I came home, put back together piecemeal by the competent people at UMass Memorial Hospital. Kristin stayed with me for a few weeks. To keep a check on me. To look after. To make sure I was OK. To-Well, to be a daughter.

So. She went home and a couple of months later I followed her. They wanted me to come out and visit as soon as I was able to travel, so I did for a few weeks or so.

I slept on a couch in the living room. We watched movies together. I cooked dinners. And went to a park nearby and wrote my memoirs. Chronicles of an old guy with a motorcycle. A stupid old guy.

Once we went to the beach. We got cheese and crackers from Tillamook dairy and went to the shore. We ate cheese crusted with sand and ran in the beach. I laid down for a nap on a blanket on the sand. I gently stroked the sand through my fingers as I lay.

"Are you OK, Dad?" Kristin asked, noticing my agitation. "I'm fine. I'm just sifting sand through my fingers." She worries. I don't want her too. I'm glad, anyway.

After my accident I had few memories. I remember being in the ambulance. Talking to the EMT's. Seeing my brother, Dan. And then nothing until I woke up in the ICU in UMass. Drugs and shock. No sex or rock and roll. Though there were hallucinations. Not quite the same. And recovery in the rehab hospital. I was intent on getting out as fast as I could. I made a grilled cheese sandwich for a couple of the cute rehab technicians and charmed them with my balancing skills. I wanted OUT. Kristin picked me up and brought me home.

Then hell began.

But this story is about what came next.

I recovered.
I grew.
I got better.
I still was in need.
I needed help.
And I got it.
It meant the world to me.

I took my laptop out to the park next to the apartment and wrote about my experiences.

And came back.
And tried to make friends with the cat, who never loved me. Stupid cat.
And pet the dog, who loved everybody. Nice dog.
And prepared dinner, which everybody loved. Nice people.
And was grateful for those who loved me. Good family.

And I still am.

I love my family.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Dating



We are attracted to people because they are attracted to us. Circular reasoning, eh? It's visceral, OK? It's sex. Male. Female. Hormones. Pheromones. What else? We want a mate. We want a partner. Someone we can play around with and feel satisfied by and hang onto with kisses and passion and whatever tools evolution gave us to hang onto a mate. What's wrong with that? Not a thing.

But, guess what? After the sex we have the choice. To stick around with the person we just had sex with and let our non-sex lives coexist with theirs or go away. Or, in the old days, the female bit the head off the male and used his protein for egg production. It was a very efficient system. In many ways superior to our own.

So now. Since I'm no longer in college and am too old for the matchmaker, I go on dating sites. Match.com. Pof.com. Get_me_a_bang.com. You_mean_your_not_having_sex.com. There are tons of them. And sometimes I  date people. Though not often anymore. Not a lot of prospects. Not a lot of winners. Though I'm one to talk. I have no idea what they want. Or what I want. I'm too old for this.

So what do I want? A girl. An amazing sex partner, sure. Why not? A friend. Of course. Someone to go to bed with me at night with lust in her body and wake up in the morning with druel on her chin. And race me to the bathroom. Better make it two. Don't want to trip. And gurgle over coffee and stumble over the day's plans. And gladly greet the day in our own ways. And then come back at night. Lovers and fastest buds. A pragmatist. A comedian. A buddy. A friend. Did I mention the sex part?

So. What am I looking for, exactly. A perfect girl? One that's sexy in the evening, pleasant in the morning, and intellegent all day round? Great. Order one up right now, why don't you? Get real. No such creature exists. I'm certainly not anything like that. I don't expect more.

I am attracted to women and fancy that one or two of them might be attracted to me. So there. I'm human. I want to date someone who might want to date me back. By date, I mean go somewhere together; a park, a restaurant, a city by the bay, a street in the suburb with a remarkable restaurant, and maybe a walk, hand in hand, in the central park. By the river. Two people who are out sharing a moment. Not expecting anything more. But wondering if they might want to share something more. And not certain. Not sure. But wish and hope they could. And that's grand. And that's exciting. And that's...

I want you! Oh, I wish to want you! Though mostly we don't.. I think. Do you wish to want me? We're both thinking it... Isn't it grand? Maybe? Don't pretend. When you date, you're thinking about sex, too. We all are. So what do you think?

No sex required. Well, not at first. Let's face it. We date because we want a partner to have sex with. There's no shame in that. It's quite natural. It's quite nice, actually. It's quite. Well, human. Sure. We want someone we can play with who is not a jerk. That's secondary. A close second. But you wouldn't go on a trip to Aruba with someone who you thought wasn't a good lay.

An expectation. A hope. The all in all. The want of body for body. The joining of two bodies in play and fun and acrobatics that equals joy. The touch of love. That which can be most inclusive or brutally one sided. The first one we call love. The last one we call rape. Why do we have rape? It's because sex is so intimate, so familiar. The violation of it is so monstrous. It's not just a body rape. It's a soul rape. And that is a rape of the whole community. A violation of everyone.

Of course, in all relationships there is that hint of the most intimate of encounters. When I ask a woman out on a date, I'm not just saying, Let's go exploring! I'm saying, Let's go have some fun together and explore each other, a little bit. Maybe, while we have dinner or walk a canyon or get ice cream, we can each look at a little bit of each other's psyche. Our souls. And see the undergrowth! Check the verge. Glean the parts. Well, the parts we're willing to expose. Which aren't usually very many. It's hard to open up when you're so insecure.  When you're trying to be on your best side! And trying to find out as much as you can about your partner. Your date. And wishing. Wishing. Wishing it works out. Wishing you could ask for a second date. Wondering, Is this OK? Is there a future? And you give a little bit of you. And she gives a little bit of her. And you probe each other. And you learn. And you want more.

Such is dating.

Every flirt carries a hint of love. And a hint of rape. And a hint of mutual consent. And a hint of wanting what we can't have. And a hint of regret. And, sadly, a hint of wanting to do it again. For this time we will be conquerors. This time we will succeed. Though mostly we don't.

And Sadness. Or hope?


Friday, October 28, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - High School Work



A long time ago when I was in High School I had a job in a factory in Taftville. Artistic Wire was its name. It was in a building that was part of a much larger complex. It ran along the Shetucket River and at one time had been Ponema Mills. It was easily a mile long.

A textile mill. One of many on the numerous waterways of New England. My dad worked there after the war. The textile industry crashed in the 50's. The Tennessee Valley Authority made for cheap electricity in the south. Cheaper than water power in the north. And labor was cheaper, too. So the industry went south.

Artistic wire was a remnant of the textile industry.

But I got a job there, anyway. The factory floor was full of machines. Huge machines. Floor to ceiling machines that did odd things. I would sit at a machine. I'd put special gloves on my hands with steel cables attached to them. The cables were loose.

I'd take some wires or tubes or rods from a bin to my left and arrange them on a frame in the machine. There was a little opening, like a small fireplace within the machine, with places to put the rods and such. Above was a huge block of cast iron. Within, the machine whirred and spun.

When I was done arranging the metal pieces in the template I reached up and pushed two buttons. It had to be two. Otherwise the machine wouldn't work.

When it did, the huge block of iron came down. At the same time the two cables pulled my hands away from the machine.

Ka-Plouie!

The rods and tubes and whatever were bent into shape and welded together. A garment rack. A record holder. A grate. Was born.

I worked a summer shift. Night shift. I filled in on machines where the operator was on vacation. I got to move around. Every night was different.

Some nights I'd work the rod machine. There was a hugh roll of steel wire on a spool. This was hooked up to a machine. The wire would be pulled into the machine, straightened, then cut to a certain length. A rod. It was no longer flexible. It came off a wire spool and dropped into a bin as a solid rod.

I mentioned the monster machines. The ones that could bend, shape, and weld rods and tubes into useful items. Those were scary. They all came with a sign attached. How many pieces you should be able to do per hour. How Industrial Revolutionary! Gilded Age, indeed!

But it was a job. I remember seeing the full time employees at the lunch room. Men, women. They didn't look happy. I didn't like my first view of the Industrial Revolution.

Another time they had me bring stuff to the platers. The platers were a series of vats of horrid caustic boiling chemicals that gave the garment racks their chrome finish. Electricity was also involved to electroplate the steel record racks or toaster bodies with chrome.

But before I could do that I had to take a basket of finished goods and preprocess it. The basket was made of wire and it sat on a detachable dolly. The finished goods were covered with a thin film of grease. To keep them from rusting. That had to go.

So I brought them to the degreaser. The coffin.

In the middle of the factory was a box that opened up into the basement. There was a chain fall on a rail above it. I would roll up the basket of coat hangers or whatever and hook it up to the chain fall. Then lift it up and lower it into the coffin. Below, very caustic chemicals were splashing, evaporating into steam, and condensing and dripping back down again. I had a sprayer and a nozzle so I could spray the contents of the basket with the degreasing compound.

It was hideous.

The reason that the dolly was detachable was that we didn't want to dissolve the grease out of the wheels. It was that potent.

From there the goods went finally to the plaiter. Copper hooks were used to hold the items to be plated. I stood at one station. The machine would lower a chain to my reaching. I'd take a garment rack, or whatever, and hang it on a hook. Then another. Then the machine would lift the chain up. It would advance to the next station and drop down again. The next station might be an acid bath, or an electroplating, or a rinse.

One by one the machine dipped the items into some bath, then retrieved them, then advanced, then dipped again. At the very end workers removed chrome plated items from the electric soup.

After, I worked picking up the finished pieces and packaging them. I also worked in the shipping department. I learned to drive a fork lift. And to pick up pallets of goods and load them into a tractor trailer. Once I came around a corner too fast and an entire pallet of stuff fell off and crashed to the ground. I had to load the truck and couldn't stop to reload the pallet so I went and got another pallet full, this time more carefully.

Factory work taught me something. That I don't want to work in a factory. Yes. But also that there is an order to things. And a horror.

I went to college that fall. I was going to go back to Artistic Wire to work over the winter break, but the factory burned down over Thanksgiving. Chemical fire in the basement. Probably near the coffin. Investigations revealed that it had been done by the owners for the insurance money.

Fuck the employees.

That taught me something, too.

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Camaraderie






As we approach this holy time of Samhain and prepare our sacrifices of pumpkins and dignity to the alter of Trick or Treat, we are reminded to not be bad boys or bad girls. Once again we're told what offensive costumes we can't wear. No sexy Pocahontas. No black face. No whatever is un-PC today.

Politically Correct is not new. It's just George Orwell's Newspeak gussied up for a new gullible crowd. And like Newspeak, PC is not about what you can say. You can say anything in Newspeak! It's all about what you can't say. And you can't say, or do, or wear, costumes of ideologically incorrect stuff. That's Thoughtcrime!

Ok. Fine. I don't want to insult anybody. But, if we can't say something, how can we have a dialog about it? How can we talk about it if talking is verboten? There's even a word we can't use about women. The C-word. Pretty bad. So, what's the word no woman can use about men? There must be a corresponding insult too heinous for her to pronounce! No? Hmm.

The issue is not words. The issue is the reality the words represent. I worked for a defense contractor in the seventies. I was in a big room with a bunch of men and women, all at our industrial grey steel desks. You could shoot a rubber band, one of those little ones they use to contain rolled up plans, at anybody in the room. And we did. Many of the people there were WWII vets. Fascinating people. Chet Goddet. Little French guy next to me. He was at Pearl Harbour when the bombs fell. Malone Jones, submariner in the Pacific theater. Nice guy. John Webster. English. Don't remember his back story. He was a machinist like my father. And a wise guy.

He told me a story about when he worked in an unairconditioned building. All the windows were open and a dragon fly flew in. He caught it. He took a strip of onion paper and wrote, "Eat at Joe's" on it and used correction fluid to glue it to the fly's abdomen and let it go. It buzzed around the room advertising lunch.

And others. From other services and other nationalities. And they ragged on each other. Chet would swear like a sailor. "What's that little Frenchman grousing about now?" we'd say. Or, "Hey! Polack! Get your ass over here!" The young people, like me, were Flounders. We used to call John Webster, 'Fossil.' He'd roll his eyes and say something clever.

Chet had a daughter named Irene. She had Down's Syndrome. They called it Mongoloid Syndrome back then. Not PC, I know. He and his wife could have put her in a home, a horror house masquerading as a hospital. But they choose to keep her at home. I met her. She was as lucid and outgoing as you could hope for, and obviously happy. Doctors said she was as functional as she was precisely because Chet and his wife kept her in their family.

Everyone knew this. Everyone knew that Chet was a descent loving man. Fucking little Frenchman!

But we didn't treat blacks this way.

I got the hang of it. Later on I was transferred to another department. Up on 'The Hill.' Engineering. I was no longer in 'Yard Support.' I liked yard support. Occasionally I got to go down onto one of the boats. Or to the pipe shop. Or the foundry. Or the warehouse to inventory surplus supplies. I had a pipe fitting on my desk as a paper weight. It couldn't be put back into inventory because it was 'Level 1' and the paperwork certification for it was missing. I almost got a chance to go out on a sea trial for a boat. They talked about having a material specialist on board. They decided against it. I was disappointed.

I felt more in touch with things down there. It's traumatic being thrown into a new group of people... Unfamiliar... Don't know the rules... The pecking order... The bureaucracy... Where the coffee pot is...

A guy about my age who sat behind me took to hazing me. Once I was wearing a somewhat scuzzy shirt. Hardly Versace, I admit. He made fun of my shirt. Every chance he got. He said he hated that he had to look at that shirt. So I said, rather loudly, "Well, it could be worse." "How so?" "Our desks could be turned around and I could have to look at your face!" The old timer next to me piped up and said, "I think the guy from dept. 460 is going to make it!"

Years later, when I was doing my Masters work in Anthropology, I brought up this group dynamic. As a topic of discussion. I was glared at in horror by my professor, as though I had brought up Jim Crow, Torquemada, the siege of Leningrad, and Tom and Jerry, all as nominees for the Nobel Prize. No Thoughtcrime here, if you please. This is a University!

So. Getting past the fact that I used to work in a seething caldron of blue collar racism, why is it exactly that you can say or not say certain things? The Polacks and Frenchman and Italians and English in the stuffy, Military Industrial Complex hovel in Groton, were basically equal. Socio-economically. There was no distinction. They lived in suburban homes. Partied together. Their kids dated. Enjoyed the same rights when they went out from their front doors and entered the world. So their banter was without malice. It was funny. It was bonding. To outsiders, it was incomprehensible. Better yet. Outsiders belong outside. I was thrilled to be accepted inside. That's not easy to do.

Except for they who weren't. Blacks, like I said. I worked with several. Some good. Some assholes. Some I came to admire. Some friends. But I always knew it was different for them. They didn't get the same treatment at the bank. Or town hall. Or from their employer. Or the traffic cop. The issue never was about banning bad thoughts or words. How about banning bad practices?

I mentioned WWII. These men learned to trust each other. They learned each other's worth in a place where nothing else mattered. They developed bonds. Secret codes. Shared horror. I wonder. If blacks had been fully integrated into the armed forces in WWII, instead of segregated into their own companies, would they and whites have also bonded? Also realized the enemy is not the other? The enemy is the one who wants to divide? It's not that we call each other ethnic slurs, but that we are in all things unequal. I noticed that about Vietnam vets. They were a lot less racist than others I knew. They served side by side and looked past the superficiality of labels. War made them equals.

And so we distract each other. With nomenclature. With dictionaries of our desires and ledgers of our defeats. And say, "No! You can't say that. It's forbidden. It's forsaken. It's banished from thought itself. It's a non-thought. An un-speak. A pariah of voice!" So 'No' it is.

We just forbid topics we can't deal with.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Compassion


They say there's a change that happens to you, once you've been in a hospital. Once you've been in a life threatening situation. And survived. And then gone through a grueling ascent, Odysseus like, clawing your way up from Hades.

An accident is hard. The ER is harder. Recovery is hardest.

I felt different once I recovered. More... Less... I don't know. Something different. I know that I had a lot of people visit me in the hospital. Some I don't remember. I was unconscious for much of the time. And then I remembered.

People. Family. Friends. Loved ones. Nursing staff. Doctors. Janitors. All of them loved. All of them welcome.

When I came out of the hospital I felt... different. My brother says there is something called the ICU syndrome. Not sure what that is. But I felt different. I felt a need to visit my friends in similar circumstances.

My friend, Bob, had surgery. He's a friend from the theatre. I visited him in Hartford Hospital.

I got there when he was first getting up. It was the first time they got him up and walking after his surgery. I was behind him with a wheelchair. The nurse was by his side, supporting him. His son, Andrew, was in front piloting the medicine tree.

We helped him walk, for the first time, after his surgery.

He'd take a few steps. And slowly pitch forward, his whole body leaning over. "Now, stand up straight, Bob," the nurse said. So he'd stand up straight and take a few more steps. Then he'd slowly pitch forward again. Again, the nurse would tell him he had to stand up straight. And he'd do so.

And then he'd pitch forward again.

After the third time I said "Bob, she's given you that note three times already." Good theatre humor.

Another time I visited friends in Hartford Children's Hospital. They had a daughter who had a urinary track problem that required surgery. But the problem was that she couldn't get it until she was older. When she was two she had her surgery.

I came to visit. Mom was in bed with the baby and dad was sitting near by. The surgery went well. She was doing fine. Harper, the little girl, had a bag of Cheerios that she could pick at. Mostly, she would take out a Cheerio, look at it, and throw it on the floor.

My kind of girl.

I thought later. I should have asked her for a Cheerio. Then if she gave me one, I could throw it on the floor myself! It looked like fun. Ah, well. A lost opportunity.

I visited other people. Recovering. Healing. In need. I made it a point to bring some honey. I'm a bee keeper and always have some honey about somewhere. When Bob was in rehab I brought him some Baklava.

People need people. You don't know how important it is. Until you're there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Computers



I'm tired of this. For the past year I've been futzing around with my local computer network. I had it working well. I did most of my work on my Lenovo laptop. I balanced my checkbook. Monitored my budget. Wrote essays. Sent emails. And surfed the web. It did what I needed it to do. Like a good machine!

Each night, at 1:00 O'clock AM, my laptop would run a job that connected to my old tower computer in my office and back up all of my 'My Documents' files. I also have a two terabyte external drive that I periodically use to image copy my laptop. Standard IT procedure. I don't have an offsite backup strategy but, hey, if my house burns down my last years tax returns will be the last of my worries.

Last year I upgraded my tower to Satan-I mean, Windows 10. Things worked OK, so I did the same with my laptop. I didn't like it. I don't use my tower regularly, so I didn't really get a feel for the demon. My laptop, though. I use that all the time and want it to be clear, consistent, and reliable. Not a toy. To me a computer is an appliance. I don't want my toaster getting cutesy with me. And I don't need Windows' human interface, Satana, talking to me all the time, thank you.

I rolled back the laptop to Windows 7.

Since then I've had nothing but trouble with my network connections. I used to take for granted that my laptop could copy files over the network. I have an android tablet that could connect to my tower so I could look at documents from it. It was convenient. It worked fine. It did what I wanted it to do. Leave it at that, please.

Now, I get a new error every day! The laptop reports that the network drive is unavailable. Or not connected. Or already connected so it can't connect again and it won't let me use it, so there! Sometimes I will just go into my office, hit enter on the tower, and then rerun the nightly backup job. It then works. So the wakeup packet doesn't work. Except when it does. Because sometimes the nightly backup works fine. Hunkey dory! And now if I try to connect from my tablet I can hear the tower wind up in the next room. So the wakeup function is working! Then I keep getting logon screens that reject my logon credentials. I used to connect as an anonymous guest on a dedicated network. Are you getting suspicious in your old age, Turing?

So I Googled. And kevetched. And tried different things. And downloaded 'shareware' products guaranteed to fix the problem. And despaired.

Every time I got the issue resolved (kinda) a few days later it blew up again. Now, I can see the server on my laptop and open files just fine. But if I try to map it to a drive letter so I can copy files to it through a batch file running on a schedule, it screams bloody hell. I just can't win.

I was an IT professional back in the old days of mainframe computing. I won't pretend that they were halcyon days. We had our issues. But we had integrity. And standards. When an IBM mainframe had a brain fart, they wanted a dump of the system. They wanted to know what went wrong and how they could fix it. Our director was on the phone with IBM demanding to know what they were going to do about it. And they resolved issues. And waited for the next one.

When we converted to Unix I felt that the barbarians were at the gates. I took some classes in Unix, to learn about the new technology. We all sat at our workstations as the teacher told us of the wonders of Unix. I was told, The network is the computer. Ha, OK. Funny. No, really. Where is the computer? The network is the computer. Honestly. You mean to say that my workstation, computer, whatever, networked with all of these other devices is doing important work? Exactly. The work is spread out over the network. If your computer is busy, some of your work can be shunted off to another computer at another person's desk. The network is the computer.

How incredibly stupid is that!

The whole thrust of my latter career was to make our Unix servers behave like the reliable mainframe systems they were junking. Things I took for granted; error checking, logging, security; were absent or quite frankly a joke. And don't get me started on databases. I spent more time implementing data processing 101 shit than working on our customers' needs. I can say with satisfaction that toward the end of my seriously disgruntled career they were 'inventing' new large scale Unix and Windows servers. Metaframes, they called them. Or blade servers. Nobody has ever thought of this before. Behold Colossus! The mind of silicon! And weap at your inadequacy!

Not mainframes. No. Of course not. Never!

The only way I can keep any vestiges of sanity is to consider modern computers as toys. Not even appliances. I don't expect my toaster to start suddenly polishing my shoes. Or setting them on fire. But that's what I can expect from the silicon revolution. Upload my consciousness to the Singularity? Are you kidding? Just shoot me now. And use a real gun with a real lead bullet. I'm not taking any chances with virtual reality.

But at least I can be assured that todays computers are never going to take over the world. Not that they don't have a stupidly to match our own...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Thespian



I was divorced in 1993. I had a twelve year old daughter I was taking care of and working two jobs to make ends get into waving distance of each other. We ate a lot of Ramen noodles and hot dogs. Refried beans, too. In tacos. We were so poor we had to refry our beans. I had a can of Spam I put on the refrigerator. I said to Kristin, If we ever run out of food, we'll at least have the emergency Spam. Which means we still won't have any food.

After a few years I paid off a car loan, which was approximately equal to what I was making as an adjunct faculty member at the community college in Hartford where I worked nights. I had a choice. I could continue teaching as a junk facility member and use the money somewhere else, or give up the job and still break even. I decided that time was, in this case, worth more than money. My family had been helping me with Kristin, who was a latchkey kid. My brother, Dan, took Kristin out to dinner one night a week while I worked and she spent the night with a friend from school on my late night when I didn't get home until after 10:00.

I wanted to spend more time with my daughter. I also wanted to have us do something as a family and not just come home and watch TV all night. Might as well just give our brains to Madison Avenue. And our wallets to Wall Street. Someone suggested community theater. She said there was one in Putnam and anyone could join. It sounded promising. Kristin was always an outgoing girl. She had been in school plays and Church productions. She was a natural. Why not?

So we found this community theater in Putnam, The Bradley Playhouse, and gave it a whirl. We had actually been there before and seen a show or two, so I at least knew where it was. I don't know exactly how we got involved, but I know some people there reached out to us and followed up on our inquiry. I said we don't know much about theater, or 'theatre' as they spell it. He said we could come up and help with set construction or usher a show. We did both.

The first day we were there Kristin stayed glued to my side. I think she was terrified. We met people and made first impressions, good ones, I hope. Then a girl named Sarah spotted Kristin and asked her if she'd like to see back stage. Soon I noticed that my glue girl was gone. What, hey? Where's Kristin? She was gone. The theatre had taken another. And another.

They asked us to audition for the next show, 'A Christmas Carol.' Audition? You mean like, on stage and everything? OK. You know I'm not Richard Harris and she's not Shirley Temple, right? We both got cast. I played a couple of minor roles but Kristin got Scrooge's sister, Fan, in the Ghost of Christmas Past sequence. We were hooked.

Curse you, Thalia and Melpomeni, muses of comedy and tragedy. You snared another two!

Of course, we didn't automatically get cast in every show we auditioned for. In one show I was cast but Kristin wasn't. I declined the role but said it was because I wanted to be able to do this with my daughter. We'd gladly do something else connected with the show. The director was understanding and asked us to run spot lights. Cool. It was then that I learned the gleeful ecstasy of being a techie: Making fun of actors while on headsets!

On another show I was cast for a very good part. The show was 'The Butler Did It' which was a spoof of dime novel mysteries. I played a character called Louie Fan, obviously a take off of Charlie Chan. I actually had people come up to me after the show and say, You mean you're not actually Chinese? There were no roles for children in that show but Kristin was able to work back stage as a stage hand. All in the family.

So bit by bit we learned stage craft from the trenches, as it were. Set construction. Props. The light board up in the booth. It was primitive. You had two sets of sliders. One was currently active and one was not. You would program in the next que on the inactive set and then, on que, switch between the two. Then you had to do the same thing on the now inactive set for the next que. Sometimes you had very little time between ques and you had to play the board like a Bach cantata. Today you just program all the ques in advance and hit 'Go' to get the next que. It's hardly sporting.

Same thing with the sound board. You had two cassette tape decks and a box of cassettes. Each tape had one sound effect. A blaring horn. A screeching breaks. Doorbells. Whatever. Before you could use a tape you had to put a pencil erasure in the drive gear and turn it until the magnetic tape rolled around to the read head. Then you'd put the tape in and hit 'Play' at the right moment in the script. Now it's all done from a laptop. Just click for the next que. Pathetic.

Gradually we learned. Oh, I never considered myself a real theatre person. Still don't. There were people there with tremendous theatre experience. I was happy to learn as much as I could. Still am. I learned stage managing. That's fun. I like stage managing. The stage manager is basically the line supervisor of the show. He runs the show after the director is finished with it. If the director is still futzing with cues and giving notes by opening night then something is wrong. By opening night the director should have no responsibilities. She should stay in the auditorium and schmooze with the audience, and then come back stage before the show starts and schmooze with the cast and crew. And maybe come out on stage and welcome the audience.

I was asked to assistant direct a show. And then I was asked to direct a show. 'Deathtrap.' I asked for some time, a week to think about it. I read the script and called a few people and asked them to be on my crew. We all appeared before the artistic committee the following week to make a presentation. They were impressed. I got the gig.

I've directed other plays since then. Kristin worked on some of them with me. She was going through high school and getting ready for college and enduring normal teenage angst. Me, too. I was still trying to make sure we had a life together. She had a network of theatre friends, plus the theatre group at NFA where she attended high school. She and I acted in 'A Midsummer Nights Dream.' She was one of the fairies and I was one of the rude mechanicals, Snug the Joiner. We called her and her fairy friends 'The teenage mafia.' It fit.

We were in Macbeth, oops, The Scottish Play, together. She was Hekate, queen of the witches, and I was some scrappy Scotsman. I got to channel my inner brogue. She got to channel her inner witch. Type casting!

Kristin moved on. Through college. On her own adventures in Boston and New York. Changed jobs as often as she changed boyfriends. I didn't like it. Not the boyfriend part. The not being around part. She had a job that required her to travel a lot. Once, I got a phone call from her. Hey, Dad! Guess where I am? Where? New Jersey! Oh, I'm sorry. I'll be free tomorrow. Wanna meet in New York and see a play?

She wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe in 'How to Succeed in Business' but it was sold out. Instead I got tickets to 'The Addams Family' with Brooke Shields as Morticia. It was great. I was very pleased that she wanted to do something with me and thought of me when she was close by. And that it was theatre related.

I'm still at The Bradley. It's my second family. I'm on the board of directors. Work in the house during shows, run box office, sell popcorn, empty the garbage. Flirt with the business manager and make sure the patrons feel welcome. And flirt with them, too. It's all part of the package. I'm currently cast in this year's Christmas show. Once again, 'A Christmas Carol.' I'm playing Old Joe, the scruffy rag picker that fences Scrooges stolen goods. More type casting.

And I get all the popcorn I can eat!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Night Shift



When I was in college, a billion years ago, I worked several odd jobs, to make a few bucks. Most were in the kitchen, washing dishes. Typical grunt work. I made a buck. I spent a buck. Once my roommate needed a new clutch disk in his Barracuda. Maybe it was a Firebird. I don't remember. We spent the day lying on our backs in a parking lot replacing it. And the evening in the gym shower room cleaning up. I wasn't going to bring that grime into my room!

Then I got some other jobs outside. One was for a paper mill in Providence, RI. I was a security guard. Me and another third shift guard would sit in the guard shack, talk about crap, and go on patrol every hour on the hour. I remember talking to him about the Constitution. He thought the protesters at Kent State deserved what they got. I was appauled. We still worked together. That's how it goes.

I'd walk through several stations. The stations consisted of key boxes in various locations around the plant. I had to visit each key location, take the key out of its box, on a chain, and place it into a clock that I carried with me, and make an impression. The key would register that I was at that place at that time. It left a mark on a ribbon of paper inside the clock.

Nobody ever looked at the paper.

That's how they did security back then.

There were numerous buildings. One was a silo of recycled paper. It looked like the New York Times threw up. Sometimes the recycled paper contained pornography. That made for some interesting posters at the key stations.

The paper was shreaded and mixed with natural wood pulp and boiled and extruded into a paste. The paste was then wrapped around huge hot rollers that wound the paper up and around many other rollers in one huge building. I always felt overwhelmed when I went to the key station of that building. Imagine looking up and seeing several hundred rolling pins, each thicker than you are tall, all winding sheets of steaming paper in one continuous sheet. At the end coiling and slitting it off into huge spools.

So I punched the clock. And went to the next station. Another post.

One night, just before dawn, I saw a sight while I was going off to a distant shack. The moon was a clear crescent. There was a bright light, maybe Venus, in its embrace. Providence was quiet. The sky iridescent. The air expectant. It was a night to embrace the sky. A night for Van Gogh.

I knew a man. He lived in a one room appartment in downtown Providence. He was pretty poor, on his own, alone, but managed on his social security check of 65 dollars a month. He got by. That was during the wretched inflation years of the Seventies where so many saw their livelyhoods go up in smoke. I don't know how he survived. I never forgot. I'm still afraid of poverty.

Hospitals were good gigs. I'd patrol the parking lot during visiting hours. I thought of it as being a scare crow. I was there to be visible and to make the visitors feel secure and make sure nobody snapped off any antennas while they were visiting their injured loved ones. Then I could sneak off and do homework or steal food.

I had a friend. A janitor at the hospital. After hours he and I would let ourselves into the kitchen and steal cakes and desserts. He had a master key, of course, and these were the spoils of war. Well, the spoils of Pinkerton. One of my duties was to open the morgue when the undertakers came. "Mr. Blue," came the intercom. "Code 10." I don't remember the code number exactly, but I was Mr. Blue and the code meant to get downstairs to the morgue and unlock the stiff.

Undertakers were a sorry lot. Dead people even sorrier. I had a friend going to college in Boston at the time. I visited him one weekend. I hate driving in Boston. The roads are too revolutionary. We had a nice time. His roommate was studying to be an undertaker. I took a peak at some of his textbooks. They were all about how to reconstruct faces. Gruesome. I prefer the living, thank you.

Once I was in the phone room flirting with the telephone opperators. There was a security box on the wall and I was leaning up against it, looking cool, of course. I accidentally clicked a toggle switch off, then frantically back on again. It took less than a second. All of the emergency doors in the hospital swung noiselessly closed! No sirens, thank God. We had to bring them back to their electromagnetic state of equilibrium and assure the staff that the end of the world had not happened. My security buddy was not happy with me that night. I did still get cake, though.

Another hospital. Another janitor friend. I made friends with the off shift staff, of course. We used to get together and eat dinner, or whatever you call it on second shift. We'd talk about current events or something. One evening the papers were full of a home robbery and assault. Someone invaded a house and assaulted the occupants. He was outraged.

"What would you do?" he said. "If someone came into your home and threatened your family?" "I don't know," I said. "What do you mean? You'd defend your loved ones!" "I hope so, but I don't know what I'd actually do. I know what I'd like to think I'd do, but I can't say what I'd actually do in any situation until I have been there."

I still don't know what I'd do.

You think about those things on the night shift.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Lies of War



I am very concerned about the increasing demonizing of Russian president Vladimir Putin in the western world. That's what governments do when they are working people up to a war fever. The first casualty of war is the truth. Well, the second casualty is the reputation of your enemy. They're demons, not people like us! It's OK to kill them. Time for the two minutes of hate!

We were allies with Stalin in WWII, a known butcher. The Red Army was responsible for 80% of the destruction of the Wehrmacht. They lost over twenty million people, one million alone starved to death in the siege of Leningrad. Kennedy worked with Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crises to a peaceful resolution. Remember Khrushchev? The guy sitting at the table at the UN, banging his shoe and shouting, "We will bury you?" Ya, that guy. We even negotiated with him.

Every president from JFK to Reagan negotiated with the Kremlin. Both sides were afraid of MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. Both sides cooperated to maintain the balance of power and to significantly reduce the threat. Nuclear stockpiles were reduced by over 90% from their all-time high during that time. Reagan worked with Gorbachev to end the Cold War. They built a new Russia. Obama has worked with Putin on several occasions on Iran, Ukraine, Syria, and another nuclear treaty, which Russia recently pulled out of as nuclear tensions have started escalating.

Before wars break there is a blitzkrieg of lies. Saddam Hussein's WMD. They lied to Colin Powell to get him to testify to the UN about nonexistent WMD's. And Bush 2 later admitted that Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Syria didn't use Sarin gas on protestors. Libya. Gee, they didn't even tell lies about Libya. They just went in and destroyed the country. The Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. Are we getting programmed for another regime change and scorched earth, this time in Russia? We may find the experience unlike those before. Russia was invaded in living memory. They may take our saber rattling seriously. All this for the people Bush 1 referred to as "the crazies in the basement?"

Trump wants to negotiate with the Kremlin. Works for me.

Unfortunately, mad is no longer an acronym. It is a description of the mood in Washington.

Vladimir Putin is the democratically elected president of the modern democracy of Russia, which is only 26 years old. He enjoys an 80+% approval rating from its citizens. He is not a dictator. He does not want to bring back the Stalinist USSR. He wants to integrate Russia with Europe, not conquer it. He is no threat to the Baltics. He did not invade the Ukraine-even Kissinger admitted this in an interview with der Spiegel. He only invaded Georgia after the Georgian military had besieged the Russian population of South Ossetia.  And once the threat was neutralized, he brought the army home when he could have annexed the whole country had he been serious about resurrecting the USSR. He personally oversaw the security of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He didn't want a repeat of the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist attack. Instead, he wanted to show the world that Russia was capable of hosting a modern Olympic games and could be relied on as a partner. Instead, he got a coup d'etat in Kiev.

He was formally asked to assist the Syrians fighting terrorists by the democratically elected president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, who also is popular with his people. Since Russia's intervention last year, the Islamic State terrorists have been significantly weakened and the civil war nearer a conclusion. But all we hear of is alleged war crimes? CNN reporters shedding crocodile tears over children in hospitals?  Has anyone looked at what US backed Saudis are doing in Yemen? And the Saudis are not big on Democracy, either. And do you remember Madeline Albright's, "500,000 dead Iraqi children are worth it?" Worth what!?

Is Putin perfect? Of course not. He's the president of the second most powerful country on earth which means he's not Mister Rogers. But he can be negotiated with just like all of those we negotiated with in the past. He's better than most, even. He may not be George Washington, but he certainly is not Joseph Stalin, either. He is above all a pragmatist.