Friday, June 14, 2013
God has blessed me with a precise, meticulous nature.
For example, when I pay my rent, I place the check in an envelope then, in my perfect printing, write my name and address in the top left corner the way I would if I were sending it through the United States Postal Service. I also print the name of my landlord in the center. Of course, my rent isn’t being sent via USPS. The envelope containing payment is simply inserted into the slot marked “OFFICE” in the mailbox downstairs.
Whenever I’m preparing the envelope for delivery, the private ear in my memory can hear someone, one of the many intrusive assholes I’ve encountered through the years, offer an unsolicited opinion that such preparation isn’t necessary.
“You don’t have to do all that. You can just slip the check into the slot. That's all you have to do. You don't have to do all that.”
This intrusive asshole would be smiling when he/she shares this advice. After all, he/she is being helpful and that makes him/her feel good. However, I do not take his/her advice. I continue to take these comparatively elaborate steps and will continue to do so. That’s the way I am: careful, precise, detail-oriented, meticulous.
Before slipping the envelope containing the check into the aforementioned slot, I peer into the tiny horizontal opening and see checks from other tenants, not one of which is in an envelope. My fellow dwellers do not share my precise, meticulous nature. They are satisfied to merely write a check, sign it in what I’m sure is horrendously unreadable cursive, stuff it in the slot, and be done with it. I imagine the landlord having to count the checks to determine if all of the tenants paid the rent. Only when the count falls short do I see him attempting to read the handwriting.
Precision and meticulousness are uncommon qualities, as rare as excellent penmanship (which, I humbly admit, is something I also possess). I am uncommon. Intrusive assholes who offer their unsolicited advice are not.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
The grave beckons.
Yesterday’s mail brought the usual items – circulars advertising this week’s specials at local grocery stores – and something different: a package from Resthaven Memorial Gardens trying to interest me in pre-purchasing cemetery space.
An enclosed brochure makes being dead look pleasant, even idyllic. There’s a picture of a beautiful lake surrounded by trees adorned with leaves the brilliant colors of autumn, red, orange, and a little green.
Another photo depicts a family, young and old alike, and they’re all smiling, just as happy as can be. If there was a caption, it might read, “The family that’s buried together stays together.” There’s a memorial that resembles a scaled-down version of the Lincoln Memorial, and a shot of its interior filled with drawers containing the remains of the dead.
It’s nice to know that Resthaven Memorial Gardens is thinking of me, but I threw their offer in the wastebasket which, as final resting places go, is as good as any.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
“Last night wasn’t the best time I ever had,” the brunette at Panera Bread told her blonde dinner companion, “but it was solid.”
These two twenty-something females were seated in a booth in front of mine. The booth blocked my view, but having seen them arrive I could tell they were cute. As I finished my bacon turkey bravo on rye with tomato soup, I had nothing to do but listen to the rambling thoughts in my own head or eavesdrop on them. The thoughts in my head are more interesting, but I’ve thought them before, so I listened in.
They spoke softly enough that all I could hear were snatches of their conversation. The brunette did all the talking. The only thing that interested me was her use of the word “solid” to describe her evening: “Last night wasn’t the best time I ever had, but it was solid.”
“George, do me a solid,” Kramer once said on an episode of Seinfeld. The brunette seemed to use “solid” in the same way, thereby reducing a perfectly respectable word to a cheap slang expression. “Awesome” fell victim more than a decade ago, and has been banished from my vocabulary as a result. “Solid” may survive, but I’ll be careful to use it sparingly.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
When it originated in the South following the Civil War, it was called Decoration Day. Back then, flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. Now it’s called Memorial Day. In modern times, you're more likely to see hot dogs on a grill than flowers on a grave.
On a morning TV show, a chef was interviewed who said Oscar Meyer’s hot dogs taste the best. Apparently mustard and onions are the most popular toppings. The chef was followed by a woman offering tips for your Memorial Day party. This is what Memorial Day has become: a scaled down Fourth of July, a time for parties and picnics.
The only genuine acknowledgment of the day’s purpose is on PBS where they air the National Memorial Day Concert, now hosted by actors Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna who stepped in after Ossie Davis passed away. Sinise and Mantegna lack Davis’ “gravitas,” but they share his sincerity. The viewer gets the impression that they are present because they respect the veterans who sacrificed their youth and, in many cases, their lives, when the country called on them to preserve our freedom.
Of course, some of us know better. Many of those men and women were mere cannon fodder for reasons that had less to do with freedom than the promotion of the New World Order whose full horrors will soon be upon us. No matter. They put their lives on the line firmly believing they were fighting for a worthy cause. That’s enough to make them deserving of every honor they receive. It’s what’s in your heart that counts, not what’s in the blackened hearts of those who exploit the noble motives of others for ignoble purposes.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Twilight Zone specialized in tales of the supernatural, of nightmares that haunt the waking hours, and of time travel. But now that the show is more than 50 years old, watching any episode puts the viewer in the Twilight Zone as the dead are brought to life on film.
“And When the Sky Was Opened,” the episode that Me TV is repeating on May 14, opens in a military hospital where two astronauts are recovering after their experimental spacecraft crash-landed in the desert. One lies in bed, while the other nervously paces the room, insisting to his colleague that there was a third man aboard the ship who has mysteriously vanished. Indeed, he did, and before the show ends the other two will also disappear with no evidence remaining that they ever existed.
The episode features a superb performance from Rod Taylor, a very popular actor in the 1960s (The Time Machine, The Birds) who is still alive, occasionally working (he played Winston Churchill in Inglorious Bastards) and presumably kicking in his 80s. There’s also Charles Aidman as the first of the astronauts to disappear. He passed on in 1993 at age 68, too young, perhaps, to die, but not exactly young either.
But there’s also Jim Hutton, young and unaware, as this viewer in 2013 is not, that his would be a short life. On June 2, 1979, less than twenty years after this episode first aired (on December 11, 1959), Hutton died of liver cancer at age 45. The boyish looking actor’s best role was probably as Ellery Queen which had a one season run on NBC in 1975-76. None of his movies could be considered classics, but he has some notable credits. He was the co-star in Cary Grant’s final film, 1966’s Walk, Don’t Run, and he made two movies back-to-back with John Wayne (1968’s The Green Berets and 1969’s Hellfighters). Ironically, Wayne, 17 years his senior, died at age 72 only 11 days after Hutton. (Hutton's son, Timothy, would win an Oscar almost two years later for his supporting role in Ordinary People.
Then there’s Sue Randall who has a small role as a nurse. She’s more familiar from her recurring role as a young teacher on Leave It to Beaver. Back then who would have guessed that this lovely actress would die of lung cancer at age 49?
Let’s not overlook Rod Serling, our tour guide to the Twilight Zone and the man who created the series and wrote many of its episodes. Serling was only 50 when he died in 1975. I was 18 at the time, and though 50 seemed young to me then, it seems even younger now that I’ve passed it myself. I realize now just how brief was Serling’s time on earth.
There they were, alive and well - and young - on the TV screen. And now, they’re gone, not unlike the astronauts in the Twilight Zone teleplay. As Rod Serling intones in the closing narration:
“They used to exist, but they don’t any longer. Someone – or something – took them somewhere.”
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
It’s what people like to call a “beautiful day.” There are clouds in the sky, but they’re white and fluffy, magic carpets for the souls of the dead. The sun is bright enough to blind anyone bold enough to stare directly at it, but not quite hot enough to make your skin sizzle.
The fact that such a “beautiful” day brightens other people’s mood only makes mine darker. Somehow, I feel more in tune with the world when the clouds are dark and threatening rain. More than anything else, a warm, sunny day like today seems tailor made for a funeral.
It was on a day very much like today, only twice as gorgeous, that a 12-year-old girl, one of my classmates at St. Procop, an elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio, was laid to rest, as they say, in Calvary Cemetery. It was May 1, 1970. Only a few days before her death, she had spent recess outside in the rain, collecting worms in a plastic bag for use in a science project. I can still see her, wearing a blue jacket, showing the worms to the nun who was angry that she had brought these slimy creatures into our seventh grade classroom (“DON’T! YOU! BRING! THOSE! THINGS! IN! HERE!”). That was a Friday, exactly one week before her funeral. Sometime over the weekend, she became ill with pneumonia, probably caught when she was collecting those worms in the rain.
By Monday, when the entire school assembled in the gymnasium/cafeteria for a tribute to our fat (and mean-as-hell) principal, the girl was probably dead, but the news didn’t reach us until Tuesday morning. As always, I was late for the mass that started every school day. A classmate whispered the news to me, and the priest performing the mass confirmed the sad report when offering a prayer for her from the altar. After mass, the girls in the class gathered outside, rallying around the fat (and mean-as-hell, but not this morning) principal who visited our classroom along with the priest to comfort the dead girl’s classmates.
“Safely Home,” the heartbreaking poem written from the perspective of someone who has just arrived in Heaven, was distributed to each of us, and the principal tried to cheer us up, telling us how lucky this girl was because she no longer had to go to school. No mention was made of the fact that she could no longer breathe, eat, see, think, feel, fall in love, and could never do any of those things ever again, but the comment did bring smiles to a few faces.
Even at that age, a person’s character was revealed in the way they reacted to this tragedy. The two bullies in the class snickered at the solemnity of these sad days and expressed indifference. They would also bow their heads in mock respect when passing her family’s home. A bully is a coward at heart, and one of them later admitted that when the class visited the funeral home, he was afraid to look at the corpse. I did look at the corpse and was appalled at what I saw. The girl’s breasts had been padded and were far too prominent for a 12-year-old. Her jaw jutted out in a way it never had in life, and I remember the grim expression on her face that seemed to suggest she did not go peacefully.
The class attended her funeral that first day of May. The sun was ablaze in the sky, the birds were chirping in the trees, and the humidity made my shirt stick to my skin. Here we were, perspiring with the sun at our backs, watching a 12-year-old girl’s lifeless body lowered into the ground. Summer, the season whose arrival we welcomed like no other, was right around the corner, but this girl would spend it and every summer since under six feet of earth.
Such are the thoughts that a “beautiful day” inspires.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Bob Dylan never makes chit-chat on stage and speaks only when introducing his band, but he didn’t even do that at Akron’s E. J. Thomas Hall on Friday night. He brought his hat with him but never wore it. He never cracked a smile the way he did many times last August in Youngstown. Maybe he didn’t feel well or was in a bad mood. It was a good show, but a little flat.
He opened with “Things Have Changed,” an appropriate choice for these troubled times (“If the Bible is right, the world will explode”), then segued into “Love Sick” from 1997’s Time Out of Mind. From the ’80s, there was “Blind Willie McTell” with a bluegrass arrangement that was one of the evening’s highlights, and "What Good Am I?" from 1989's Oh Mercy. The 1970s, the decade of Desire, Street Legal, and Slow Train Coming, were represented only by “Tangled Up in Blue” from Blood on the Tracks. From the ‘60s, he gave us “Visions of Johanna,” with an intro that sounded similar to "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues." The decade with which he will forever be associated was also acknowledged with “All Along the Watchtower,” and the encore, “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
But there was no “Like a Rolling Stone,” nor did we hear “Simple Twist of Fate,” or “Rainy Day Women,” staples of late that were pruned from his set to accommodate several selections from the recent Tempest album. That would be fine if not for the continued inclusion of some less memorable cuts from Modern Times and Together Through Life. The man’s song catalog is equaled only by the Beatles, and it would be great to hear “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Every Grain of Sand,” or something really surprising like “The Mighty Quinn” or “Foot of Pride.”
The stage was always dark, cast in a sleepy blue hue, and Dylan spent most of the time hunkered over an organ in the corner where he seemed to be reading those newer songs from lyric sheets.
I arrived too late to see much of Dawes, the opening act, but I liked what I heard.
It may not have been a great show, but it was a good one. And it was Bob Dylan. That’s enough.
1. Things Have Changed
2. Love Sick
3. High Water (For Charley Patton)
4. Soon After Midnight
5. Early Roman Kings
6. Tangled Up In Blue
7. Pay In Blood
8. Visions Of Johanna
9. Spirit On The Water
10. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
11. Blind Willie McTell
12. What Good Am I?
13. Summer Days
14. Scarlet Town
15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Ballad Of A Thin Man