Posts Tagged ‘Eugene O’Neil’

Near and Far

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

I promise moderation tw

I Promise Moderation painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2016)

“There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.” Eugene O’Neill

We’ve had quite a series of storms this past week and the rain is continuing to fall. Several huge branches came down from the giant redwoods near our house, and we are fortunate none of those branches struck home. We’ve had two power outages, one lasting an hour, another five hours. In the absence of electricity to power our kitchen stove, we cooked an evening meal on our woodstove, and with our computers and lights kaput, I wrote a few letters by candlelight and Marcia practiced her cello.

The day before the storms began to arrive, our local chain saw savant dropped by and cut down two smaller redwood trees and many sky-obscuring branches from the aforementioned giants. Thus I now have several days of work ahead of me making kindling and firewood from the fallen goodies.

The very local water news is good as the storms continue to roll in from the Pacific, our home rain gauge telling six inches in a week, the recent downpours swelling the neighborhood aquifers. The Sierra snowpack, however, is still not exceptional and statewide drought conditions are expected to resume at the end of the rainy season.

Further afield, Bernie Sanders, my choice for President of the United States, is doing remarkably well for someone virtually unknown to the general public a year ago, but maybe not well enough to overcome the long-planned ascendancy of Hillary Clinton to that position of power over the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

I am most sad—but not surprised—about Hillary garnering such enormous support from those population sectors—African Americans, seniors, and women—that she and her husband abused for decades with policies intended to serve rich white males at the expense of those people now voting for in large numbers.

A friend who shares my appreciation for Bernie called to ask me what I thought about the success of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I replied, “I avoid listening to or reading about the debates because accounts of jabbering liars make me furious and depressed. I do read articles detailing which sectors of the population support which candidates, and what policies the majority of Americans support. I deduce from these articles that a sizeable majority of the population should be supporting Bernie Sanders, but do not. There seems to be a bizarre disconnect between what people want and the candidates they vote for. Put another way, we seem to be a nation of the confused.”

“I think in terms of the day’s resolution, not the years’.” Henry Moore

Yesterday I spent two pleasurable hours taking care of ten-month-old Vito while his parents bottled their latest batches of homemade wine and beer. Vito is on the verge of walking and talking, and he finds the various noises I can make with my mouth and lips and tongue hilarious.

Part of what made hanging out with Vito so much fun for me is that he does not care even a little bit about who becomes the next President of the Unites States. Nor does he care about the huge branches that thankfully missed our house. He cares about eating crackers, drinking water, wrecking towers of blocks, attempting to pull apart and eat books and magazines, crawling into areas of the house where he is not supposed to go, throwing things and shouting triumphantly as he throws them, trying to rip my glasses off my face, and watching rain drops pelt the window.

Returning home from my two hours with Vito, I strolled around the yard assessing the various tangles of redwood branches that will occupy me for the near future, and it occurred to me that by the time Vito can vote, Hillary and Bernie will be long gone from the spotlight, I will be eighty-three, should I live so long, and the history books will say little about Ms. Clinton except maybe she was the first woman President of the United States, just as they will say little about Barack Obama other than he was the first African American to hold that office. Their policies will be seen as virtually identical continuations of the greedy and violent agenda of the ruling oligarchy, unless Hillary happens to be in office for the Great Collapse, and then she will be remembered for that, too. Only Bernie has the chance to be mentioned as a latter day Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

This is one of the many strange things about being human in this era of global connectivity, when something of huge import today to hundreds of millions of people is of little or no importance to those same millions tomorrow. History becomes irrelevant in the context of a never-ending media flood.

Things that directly and immediately impact us—the water supply, the plum and apple crop, the almond harvest, Vito trying to break my glasses, whether or not we got a good night’s sleep, a call from a friend, power outages, ocean waves rushing up to tickle our toes—get shuffled into the continuum of flickering images and data bits on our various screens—Hillary lying through her teeth and cackling like a dybbuk, a dog catching a Frisbee, Bernie angrily decrying corporate abuse, bombs exploding in Gaza, a kitten falling off a sofa.

This incessant shuffling makes us schizoid and antsy and neither here nor there; a population of shattered psyches.

“Never make predictions, especially about the future.” Casey Stengel

Predictions for 2016: the statewide drought will continue, but in Mendocino most wells will not run dry, the plum and apple and huckleberry and blackberry crops will be stupendous, the earth will continue to respond to the excesses of our species with climatic catastrophes, the Giants will win the World Series, naps will be scientifically proven to be good for you, Bernie Sanders will pass the baton of his socialist agenda to younger politicians, whales will continue their marvelous migrations, and popcorn will make yet another big comeback.

Crisis & Opportunity

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014


* Sally holding Molly 9-1 - 10-6 & 12-15-2013 email

Sally Holding Molly photo by Bill Fletcher

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2014)

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” John F. Kennedy

According to Chinese philologists, President Kennedy’s famous assertion about the Chinese word for crisis is either untrue, not entirely true, or true under certain linguistic circumstances but not under others. In any case, this now popular idea always reminds me of challenging situations in my life that proved to be opportunities for creative inventiveness.

“I’m trying to use the language of today to express a general existential crisis that I think the world and I are going through.” Sean Lennon

In 1967, when I was a senior in high school and intending to grow up to be a star of stage and screen, I landed one of the leads in the Woodside High production of the not-so-great musical Take Me Along, based on Eugene O’Neil’s play Ah, Wilderness. The musical ran on Broadway from 1959 to 1960 and starred Jackie Gleason and Walter Pidgeon. I got the Walter Pidgeon part and Joe Tiffany got the Jackie Gleason part, though I was far more Jackie Gleasonish than Joe, and Joe was far more Walter Pidgeonish than I. However, this was a high school production wherein teenagers impersonated middle-aged adults suffering midlife crises; thus the entire play was miscast.

You may recall the title song Take Me Along because the tune became an annoying advertising jingle for United Airlines in the 1960’s. Take Me Along was the show’s only remotely memorable song, though I enjoyed singing my big solo number I’m Staying Young, a song in which my character laments everyone else growing old while his character is determined to stay young, speaking of ironic poignant existential hokum sung by a horny seventeen-year-old virgin hoping to seem convincing as a fifty-five-year-old grandfather.

Existential hokum aside, the climax of the entire show was the song Take Me Along performed as a bouncy upbeat duet sung by the Jackie Gleason and Walter Pidgeon characters while they executed a good old smile-provoking tap dance routine. I don’t know about Jackie and Walter, but Joe and I were vomitously bad dancers, and no matter how many hours we put in with the choreographer (the sweet but wholly inept Miss Stewart) we sucked. Or as we liked to say in those innocent days of late adolescence, “We sucked raw turkey eggs.”

The rest of the production was pretty okay, and our singing of Take Me Along was fine, our harmonies solid. But our dancing was beyond awful, so much so that we never once made it through the entire routine without screwing up, and that included our dress rehearsal performance, which was so painfully grotesque that even the two-hundred drama groupies assembled by the director to cheer us on were stunned and horrified by our colossal ineptitude.

“The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” H.G. Wells

So we spent two more hours after that dress rehearsal and two hours just prior to the opening night performance practicing the dance routine, but rather than improve, we got worse. Miss Stewart smiled bravely and declared, “I’m sure it will come together when you do the dance in the context of the play.”

When Miss Stewart was gone, I said to Joe, “It will never come together, and we both know it. So here’s what I propose. We do our best not to fuck up, but when we do, we improvise. Okay?”

“But we almost got it,” said Joe, giving me a terrified look. “Let’s just…try to get it.”

“Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.” Charles de Gaulle

The first act of Take Me Along went off without a hitch. The orchestra sounded plausibly orchestral, no one forgot his or her lines, and the audience seemed mildly appreciative. Yes, the production was deadly dull, but the second act rambled along without disaster until we came to that moment we’d been dreading—our climactic Take Me Along duet and tap routine.

Joe and I moved to the front of the stage, the curtain closed behind us, and we were illumined by spotlights that would follow us around the stage for the duration of the number. Joe winked at the conductor and said, “Maestro, please,” and as the orchestra began to play, two straw boater hats and two white canes were handed up to us from the orchestra pit. We popped those hats on our heads at rakish angles, tucked those canes under our arms, and off we went.

After a few moments of roughly synchronized approximations of tap dancing, and as predicted…we fucked up. Badly. So I launched into a goofy Groucho Marx kind of dance, spinning and sliding and twirling my cane and hamming things up, while Joe doggedly and gracelessly tried to remain faithful to Miss Stewart’s clunky dance routine. And something about what we were doing—perhaps the ridiculous juxtaposition of elements in tension—struck the audience’s funny bone and we brought the house down. Thunderous laughter shook the auditorium, and as we hit the harmonic bull’s eye with the last notes of the song, five hundred people jumped to their feet and applauded for so long we had to come back out for an encore of me sliding and twirling around while Joe relentlessly butchered Miss Stewart’s dance and the orchestra repeated the last few bars of the song.

And though our ridiculous pas de deux unquestionably lifted the show out of the trough of mediocrity into the realm of sublime silliness, Miss Stewart was terribly upset by our failure to adhere to her choreography. Joe apologized profusely to her and promised it (whatever it was) would never happen again. Fortunately, it happened five more times and saved five more shows. Sadly, the one and only time we managed to sort of get through the routine as we were kind of supposed to, the response from the audience was exactly what we’d gotten at the dress rehearsal—embarrassed silence followed by a smattering of disingenuous applause. But every time we fucked up and I improvised and Joe doggedly tried to get the steps right, the audience went insane with laughter and stomped and clapped and cheered until we had no choice but to come out for a curtain call.

 “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” Henry Kissinger

Darwin suggested that evolution is a progression of genetic responses to environmental crises; and most scientists, until quite recently, believed that those genetic responses resulting in new physical traits and new behaviors were chemical and random. But now a growing number of epigenetic researchers posit that some or all of these genetic responses are actually choices made by something (what, where, how?) that directs genetic potentiality in a less than purely random way, even, perhaps, as a conscious response to crisis.

Nonsense, Todd, you magical thinking dimwit. Go wash your mouth out with soap and write five hundred times: The Universe does not think. Everything that happens is the result of random chemical centrifugal fractal accidents guided by unfaltering principles that we narcissistic humans actually think we understand, even though we don’t.

 “There are two principles inherent in the very nature of things—the spirit of change, and the spirit of conservation. There can be nothing real without both.” Alfred North Whitehead

A few years into my eleven-year sojourn in Berkeley, I ran out of work, ran out of money, and found myself the sole support of a woman slowly recovering from a nervous breakdown and her unemployed teenaged daughter and two cats, not to mention moi. As a consequence of this wholly unanticipated crisis, and with three weeks to earn enough to pay the usurious rent while continuing to buy groceries, I spent three days and nights trying to drum up editing work. Failing there, I wracked my brains to think of someone, anyone, I could borrow money from, and when I could think of no deep pocket to implore, I got so panicky I ran out the front door, down the nine steps, and along the sidewalk until I was out of breath and slowed to a walk and asked the unseen powers of Universe, “What am I going to do?”

Then I stopped, turned full circle, took a deep breath and turned full circle again. And as I made that second revolution, I saw not one, not two, but five fruit trees in need of pruning. I had not pruned trees for money in nearly two decades, but as I walked home to get my notebook, I felt overjoyed at the prospect of resuming that line of work. I then slipped handwritten notes under the doors of the three houses attached to those five trees in need of pruning. The notes mentioned the specific trees I felt needed attention, identified me as a neighbor who would expertly prune those trees at a reasonable rate and/or be happy to give advice and free estimates for my services. Universe apparently dug where I was coming from because the phone began to ring and I never lacked for work again.