Thursday, July 30, 2009

Living legends

In this era of hyperbole run amock where we no longer have mere movie stars, only “superstars,” there is one descriptive term for an elite and rare level of talent and performance that still holds its water: living legend. You just can’t pin that label on every actor, singer, dancer or athlete who ever performed or competed at the highest level of his or her craft. Only a handful of even the greatest performers in any field manage to reach the rarified air of that loftiest of accolades.

Last night I had the pleasure of nearly three hours in the company of a living legend doing his thing.

I saw Topol perform Tevye in his farewell tour of Fiddler on the Roof.

I’ll leave the reviews to the critics, although I can’t imagine anybody having the audacity to suggest that this actor, who has performed this particular role more than 2,500 times in the past forty years, is lacking in any nuance or that he left any fragment of his massive talent or energy in his dressing room.

This is not so much about performance as it is the experience of seeing a globally-beloved entertainer doing the one thing that made his fame greater than his own existence.

I’ve had this experience three or four times before. I saw Sammy Davis Jr. perform in Vegas. He did two hours that kept me spellbound to the point that the time and place of my existence were irrelevant. Sammy held a large room full of people in hypnotic suspension of enraptured animation. You wanted to cry for being so fortunate as to be in his audience.

The same was true when I saw George Burns onstage no more than fifty feet away at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe. That man could milk more laughter out of a slightly raised eyebrow or a turn of a cigar than the greatest of today’s comics. When you saw George in his nineties you knew you were watching one of the greatest performers from an age already-past.

I saw Elvis in Vegas just a handful of years before he died. I was never much of an Elvis fan but living legend status does carry the weight of one’s body of work and the universal adoration he commands. Elvis certainly had that and the air crackled with the magic of his presence.

And, I saw Rex Harrison as Professor ‘enry ‘iggins in My Fair Lady. Show me any other actor who was beloved by millions for mumbling his songs in the essence of fabled British understatement.

This is my very small collection of times trapped in bottles. And now I have added a precious summertime evening in Los Angeles when the world’s best-loved piece of musical theater was given to me in its full orchestral celebrated glory. And for this evening the man who did not invent but became the synonymous face and distinctive voice of Tevye, the milk man, was — as the song goes, the master of his house.

Tupperware: Satan's tool

My friend and blogging partner Anita just posted a loving ode to Tupperware and it has me seriously concerned for her health and sanity.

In thirty-eight years over my two marriages, and in my mother's home before them, I have had a love/hate affair with Tupperware.

Tupperware is a cook's blessing until wild-eyed, greedy dreams of organizational nirvana overtake breathless You.

Now you have too much of this wondrous thing which merely jams beyond stacking in one cabinet closest to the ground.

Fat and feeble, weary from the evening's wine and culinary chores, as you lie on the floor groping into the nether-reaches of darkened cupboard for the the proper size plastic container while praying beyond hope to find its mated lid, the damned pieces begin literally leaping out of the shelf at you, snapping at your eyes and nose like a demented chihuahua, snarling in derision!

You'll never get them back in their places. You know that's true.

For salvation you turn to the Saran-Wrap in the pantry and vow you will never go near the plastic cupboard of the damned again.

Never, at least, until it beckons you with demonic insistence.

Tupperware is the very essence of Biblical temptation. A little of it is a blessing. When you start to get greedy it is a curse that never leaves you in peace.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The swimmer

This morning our phone rang and Carolann answered. When she immediately began chattering like a demented kindergarten teacher on a sugar high I knew she was talking with our youngest grandson. Tyler was calling to ask if we could come to his house and swim with him today. While it's true that the plot was hatched last night between his mother and me a four-year-old issuing such an invitation is a mighty big deal for children of all ages. Carolann practically shrieked our acceptance. All three of us were pretty darned excited, I can tell you.

We arrived a short time later and Tyler whooped as he ran to the door to admit us. But when he couldn't quite solve the considerable mystery of the system of locks on that particular front door, (which stymies every adult I've ever seen fiddle with it,) he did what any level-headed person would do. He stepped back and settled for waving at us through the window. Mom arrived a moment later, swept away the hinged barrier, and the hugs and giggles commenced.

Carolann and I are blessed to have wonderful and loving children and grandsons. And we are doubly blessed to live near them so that we can watch and help them all grow. It is a treat that requires no purchase or qualification.

Grandparents in proper families are quite rightly V.I.P.s.

Most of us feel we somehow weren't qualified to be parents when we were much younger and we're right about that. As Carolann likes to say, those kids didn't come with instruction manuals and when you're barely outside of childhood yourself, perspective and wisdom must be earned through eighteen or twenty years of 24/7 OJT. You screw up. You learn. And generally the progeny grow up in spite of us in remarkably sound condition and showing some promise.

Raising kids is damned hard, wonderful work. And when it's finally finished they leave you with something that feels very much like a hole in your heart. The love remains but the work is gone. You tell yourself what you already know but need to hear: that they'll never be back. Not in the same way.

Here's the epiphany:

When the children we were as new parents finish the job, we can finally continue raising ourselves.

Tyler carefully put his toes on the edge of the pool, brought his little hands together above his head...

"Watch! Grandpa, watch me! Nana, watch! Watch me!"


The air left me like the eye of a cyclone. He had never done this before! He couldn't even swim without his floaty vest!

But that was last week and this is now.

He surfaced in front of me, a river of water pouring into eyes and mouth sputtering to open with excitement.

Tyler is a swimmer. And, a diver! And it had all happened when Carolann and I had our backs momentarily turned as Mommy and Daddy were doing their hard, wonderful work.

A friend of mine told me not too long ago that if he had known how great grandkids would be he'd have had them first.

I'm nursing a bit of a sunburn this evening. My eyes are chlorine sleepy and I'm wearing a silly grin that won't leave my face.

About an hour after we finally left our liquid circus, as I sat in a soft, fat leather chair, my grandson climbed into my lap, got unusually close to my face, looked directly into my eyes and asked with deadly serious amusement:

" was that swimming for you?"

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Hazy sunshine; 60s at the beaches, 70s and 80s inland..."

What's the first thing you think about when you awaken each morning?

It's different every morning? I suppose that's technically true. It is for me if I've been dreaming and can still remember the last few seconds of my ET life in Neverland. But once I've whitewashed my always ridiculous life in slumbering absurdity, check my limbs for flexibility and my brain for purpose; once I decide that consciousness is doable, I'm pretty sure the first lucid thought I've had nearly each morning of my nearly fifty-eight years is the absurdly pedestrian wondering about the day's weather.

You may well disagree. Maybe you don't think about the weather first thing.

Then again, maybe you do but just don't realize it.

The weather is ubiquitous. Except when it threatens your comfort or very existence it is well worth ignoring. I've never understood how TV weather-casters can spend three minutes on "sunny and warm for the rest of the week." Unless you're planning a garden wedding or luau, who cares?

Why am I even prattling about weather?

Because my friend and partner, Anita Garner, has put my mind to something I describe two dozen times each morning on the radio but rarely give a second thought.

You should pause now and go read her delightful and insightful, "Weather-watching obsession..."

I'll wait right here.


Anita has plugged into something most of us have forgotten.

" country born-and-bred father had a set of weather instruments on the back porch and glanced at them several times a day, always remarking out loud on what he saw there. He often disputed what the dials told him, and he was always right. He could feel changes in his bones."

This passage slapped me in the face with a crystal clear memory from a parched, rocky slab of Wyoming hardpan more than fifty years ago.

I barely reached my grandpa's waist, standing there in his unfenced Rock Springs backyard which stretched all the way to Nebraska. The clouds were few and unremarkable. It was barely nine in the morning but already hot and unusually still. Grandpa shaded his eyes and looked first one way and then the other.

A moment later we were back in the house and he told my grandmother she should hang the day's laundry on the line early because it would rain by that evening.

I awoke the next morning to the open-window smell of soggy clay and prairie.

They knew, back then, because they needed to. Somehow that inclination to know still reaches us eventually.

When we're old coots, obsessed by the weather.

Isn't that wonderful?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Starry night

Our four year-old grandson, Tyler, is an aficianado of fine art and classical music.

Seriously. He's been like this for half of his life, since he was a mere child enthralled by the cartoon series Little Einsteins on the Disney Channel.

This painting may be familiar to you but in case you don't know the title and artist, you could just ask Tyler. It's the renowned Starry Night by Dutch impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.
Tyler has it hanging in his bedroom. Oh, not the original, of course. Just a poster. It's there, right next to many others including one his Nana and I considered a startling discovery in the bedroom of a very little boy.

There, among the Thomas the Train tracks and electronic piano is Edvard Munch's alien nightmare, The Scream.

I don't get it. Art, I mean.

Oh, I recognize the craftsmanship involved in combining all those tiny brush or pen strokes to create a picture which is recognizable as an image from life or imagination. Even impressionists leave an impression on me. (Though, don't get me started on the chaos of abstract, or modern, art.)

No, what I don't get is the marvelous functioning of minds that perceive with dazzling clarity worlds I cannot fathom. The ability of genius to sense beyond my senses is a divine gift which challenges the concept of normal and allows me an occasional glimpse into a greater reality.

I find it enormously comforting.

Sometimes a child so young that he struggles to express himself verbally may also be dancing in the heavens while picking out the classic melodies of Mozart and Chopin on a toy keyboard with nothing but a cartoon and an undiscouraged potential to guide him.

The gifted frolic like otters in many realities at once while the vast rest of us cling to "normal."