Sunday, December 27, 2009
Chris and I went to se Me and Orson Wells yesterday. We went to an early showing, a private showing if you will, because we were the only audience in the hugh theatre. The movie is about the the landmark production of Wells' and John Houseman's 1937 Mercury Theatre (Julius) Caesar. Christian McKay's portrayal of Wells was stupendous-the voice, the mannerisms, and most probably the vulgar, profane language of the creative genius. I don't know why all these great artistic geniuses have to be so vulgar and immoral in their "real" lives. It just makes me more satisfied that I did not pursue the professional acting career I wanted when I was young and went into education and communitiy theatre instead. While the acting and production values of this film were wonderful, especially the interior theatre scenes, I think it went beyond a PG13 rating for language alone, and the sexual content (continually talked about but not shown) was borderline R. We couldn't figure out for what audience the film was made. If non theatre young people don't know who Orson Wells, John Houseman, Joseph Cotton, et al. were, and the artisitic impact these men and the Mercury Theatre ensemble made on stage, radio and film, I don't think they would pay money to see this. Unless you are over sixty and an old movie buff like Chris and I are, you wouldn't have any schema on which to attach this film. I suppose younger audiences might go to see Zac Efron, who was very good, by the way, but I don't think they would catch the Wellsian, ground-breaking theatricality that is swirling around Efron's character. Another question we have is why was this film made in 2008 and only being released at the end of 2009 with little advertising? Anyway, Christian McKay deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of Wells. If you know little or nothing about Orson Wells or would like a little background, you might find this education site on the film interesting. http://www.filmeducation.org/meandorsonwelles/welles_caesar.html
TWO: This is purple prose and political, so you may want to skip it.
Chris would not let me watch any news or be political from December 24 to 26. She did not want me to fume about the clown congress passing horrible legislation in the dead of night. But alas, the great and self-serving Senate of the People's Democratic Republic of America, while throwing the late great United States of America under the Socialist bullit train, strained mightily in the night and with bribes and the persuasion of force brought forth an abomination of desolation which future generations of enslaved Americans shall rise up in their chains and curse. But, hopefully, the quagmire of both wings of the clown congress coming together to blend their abominations into one monstrosity will sink the whole mess and some actually inteligent reform might come forth. NOT
Friday, December 25, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I make hot sausage dip, three batches this year, will probably need four next year; cheese trays, crackers, chips, salsas, fruit and vegetable trays, salad and desserts. This year I added Grenache Marin-cabbage, noodles, and ham cooked in chicken broth. My aide helps with the food and set-up. Several teachers have also brought things to contribute to the buffet table. We ran out of somethings before the second lunch was able to make it into the library. Next year I will have to double up on everything.
I am taking the memoir writing class again this year for the fifth time. The second assignment topics did not thrill me, and after a month of false starts I threw something together the night before on the topic of a toy. Here it is:
The Box of Little Bricks
© Michael Goodman
While digging in a back yard flowerbed, I unearth a weathered piece of milled wood. A little brick shape, a quarter inch thick, two inches long with eight round nibs on one side and eight matching round slots on the other. Holding it in the palm of my hand, I turn it over a few times rubbing off the dried, powdery clay. The once bright red stain, where it hasn’t worn off, is faded to a pale, dusty pink. This relic was part of my “Santa” present in 1959 when I was barely twelve.
Actually, my big Santa present was a deluxe magic set that had some parts missing out of the box. The week after Christmas, my mother took me back to the toy warehouse where Santa had bought it. Unfortunately, there were no other deluxe magic sets in stock, but not being too interested in magic tricks anyway, I wasn’t extremely disappointed. Especially not when my mother said I could buy whatever I wanted from the store, as long as it didn’t cost more than the refunded money.
I ambled up and down the aisles of floor to ceiling shelves carefully investigating and examining box after box of play time fillers that would totally bore an electrified kid of the 21st century. It must have been an expensive magic set because I was able to buy two big toy sets: a huge set of Civil War battle figures complete with soldiers, horses, cannons, caissons, supply wagons and assorted accoutrements molded in blue and gray plastic; and a heavy box of miniature, wooden building bricks.
My sister and I spent hours on end sprawled out on the floor of the den building houses for her paper dolls with the bricks and our old Lincoln Logs. I am sure we exercised our imaginations and had more fun with those building bricks than anything else we ever owned.
In the first couple of years of high school, I had a few friends who enjoyed combining the bricks with the Civil War set to have massive battles with bombed out farm houses and walls. It is impossible to picture high school freshmen and sophomores today doing anything akin to that. We, or the times we lived in, were much simpler then, less sophisticated. We discovered that the bricks were fairly steady when stood on end like dominos, and we pains-takingly created long interweaving lines of “brick-inos” that would start a cascade with the least breath. I later gave away what was left the Civil War set, but I kept the box of bricks.
Mastering the art of standing the bricks on edge, I fashioned structures that resembled Greek and Roman architecture, my classical period. On a base of interlocking bricks, I arranged vertical bricks in rows like columns. On top of the columns, a double row of interlocked bricks solidified the structure and allowed for another level of columns to arise or for a carefully gabled roof to be built. Those miniature temples were amazingly sturdy until a strategic column or two were removed and sections would collapse like a fabled edifice of antiquity. Even in college, when I needed some down time from work and school pressures, I would pull the box of bricks from under the bed, clear a section of my desk, and build a fantastic structure fit for the Olympian gods.
After leaving California to finish college in Utah, and marrying, having children and buying a home, the box of bricks showed up at my door one year in the back of my parent’s truck along with other childhood paraphernalia that my mother miraculously had not thrown away. We stored the tattered, sagging box in the basement until our children grew older; then my wife let them play with the treasure of my early years. They scattered the bricks throughout the house and into the yard, and over time my treasure, which meant nothing to them, was lost to all but memory.
I turn the artifact over in my hand several more times and put it in my pocket. There are days even now when I wish I had my box of little red bricks, the ancestors of the boxes and bags of shiny, multi-colored, sterile, plastic Legos that infest the toy cupboard in the family room.
Monday, December 21, 2009
I finished all my Christmas cards today and mailed them. I am trying not to think of politics and the Liberal Progressives destroying the country I love at this time of the year. That would be easier to do if the Clown Congress were not ramming through corrupt legislation in the middle of the night. Well, I just cannot NOT think about such things it seems. It is so over-poweringly oppressive and depressing. It is as Lincoln said - no foreign power can rise up to destroy the United States, only we ourselves can do that. The next election is too far away to save us.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Well, I watched President Obama smile broadly as he signed the boondoggle stimulus bill that sends us, our children, and grand-children for untold generations into economic slavery. This thing had better work, but I have no faith in it. Of course, Congress has no Constitutional authority to bail out companies or citizens who make stupid mistakes, but, then again, they don't have Constitutional authority to enact most of the social legislation they have enacted for the last eighty years or so. The federal Gummit continues to usurp the powers delegated to the states and denied to the feds by articles nine and ten of the Bill of Rights. But hey, it's hard to know what is in the Constitution when you haven't read it since you were in high school, and we all know how well teenagers pay attention to dry stuff like American history. The members of the great Den of Thieves don't amend the Constitution to get what they want, they just ignore it.
Last Friday, my wife, Chris, and daughter, Rebekah, went to the Ballet West production of Madam Butterfly. It was a wonderful production danced to Puccini's lush music, but I did miss the singing. Madam Butterfly was the first opera I saw live. The first memoir I wrote for my memoir class three years ago was about that experience.
“No, I am here to see the opera.”
“You’re a little early aren’t you? They won’t open the box office for another hour,” he smirks as he pushes dust into the flower bed.
I am a little embarrassed, so I don’t answer. I ignore him and go stand in front of the poster display of coming attractions with my hands in my empty pockets. Empty pockets. That means something, but it doesn’t register. Too excited to think about anything but what is going to happen in a little over an hour, I sit on the cement bench next to the main doors by the box office. The push broom guy glances over at me and smirks again. Yeah, guy, I’m a little early.
OK, so I’m a lot early. I am so early that mine was the first car in the parking lot. After I had sat in the car listening to Beethoven on the radio for half an hour, mine was still the only car in the parking lot. That had made me nervous. I took my ticket out of my shirt pocket a couple of times to make sure I had the right day. Then I turned off the radio and waited there for a few more minutes. The late afternoon sun was heating up the car. I got out of the car, made sure the door had locked when I shut it, and took a walk around the theatre. The Saturday afternoon traffic on Harbor Boulevard a block away was a rhythmic hum punctuated occasionally with steam train whistles and bells from Disneyland on the other side of Harbor Boulevard.
This adventure began last Monday, during morning announcements. The student announcer mentioned that the office had a few student discount tickets for a production of Madame Butterfly staring Licia Albanese. I had just enough money in my wallet to buy a ticket- three dollars. Right after class I maneuvered my way through the crowded halls and across the commons to the office before they could run out of tickets. I was the only senior to buy a ticket. Heck, I was the only student out of 3300 kids to buy a ticket. Silly me for worrying they would run out of tickets before I got there.
Sitting on the bench, anticipation builds. I have seen a lot of plays and musicals in Los Angeles and Orange County, but this is my first live opera, and the principal singers are all Metropolitan Opera stars. I have heard these singers on the radio because I listen to the Saturday Texico Opera broadcast whenever I can. I bought the complete Aida album with Leontine Price a couple of years ago and have almost worn it out. I have excerpt recordings of other operas, and I have seen The Pearl Fishers on television. But this is my first in-the-flesh opera experience.
People finally start arriving. The box office opens. As more people arrive, the chatter grows louder as they stroll around looking at the spring flowers or mingle in casual conversation outside the doors. Everyone is dressed up: suits, ties, evening gowns. I am squirming a bit on the hard bench impatient for the doors to open into the lobby that encircles the theatre. I am ready to move inside to a padded theatre seat.
Finally! The doors open. I slide off the bench and blend into the first group of patrons flowing into the lobby. I maneuver to the left and find “Door B” where my ticket says I am to enter the theatre. The door usher tears the stub off my ticket, and says, “To the aisle on the right, please.” Another usher hands me a program and directs me to row five, section B. I slip into the row and ease into the third seat from the aisle. Melodyland Theatre is in the round, so all the seats have a good view of the stage. I have been here once before, last fall, when the drama club came to see Martha Raye in The Solid Gold Cadillac.
I sit. I wait. I thumb through the four page program and read the half-page insert.
The stage is set like a Japanese garden, and the lighting gives the impression of evening sunlight filtering through trees. It reminds me a bit of the Japanese decorations for the junior/senior prom theme “Sayonara.” I wonder what Karen McNeil, my prom date, is doing tonight as the small orchestra starts tuning up. I wonder if I had had enough money for two tickets if she would have come with me. She likes popular musicals, but she’s not really into classical music.
None of my friends and none of my family like opera, and they can’t understand why I do. It’s hard to explain why it is so enjoyable for me. Once I got hooked on classical music, opera seemed to be the next step for me. I know that there are many people who like classical music but don’t care for opera. To me it is the ultimate theatrical experience: the heightened sense of drama, or melodrama, the characters, the staging, the voices, the extreme emotions intensified by beautiful music. I have always been a sucker for schmaltz, so it doesn’t matter how outlandish or sentimental a production might be, I’ll most always enjoy it; and, unless a production is completely awful, I have a complete suspension of disbelief.
The lights dim. The conductor comes out, and we acknowledge him with polite applause. Everything is silence . . . the music begins. Now there is no reality except for what is happening on the stage, in the music, in the voices. Life is wonderful.
The action in act one is stopped a few times by applause, almost like the audience has control over how the plotted events of the story will proceed. In act two, the emotional tension is building as Cio-Cio San (Albanese) refuses to accept the fact that she has been abandoned by that bounder Pinckerton. She begins to sing softly “Un Bel Dì.”, a melodious whisper murmuring over the tremulous strings of the orchestra. Her voice rises with strength and power until she pulls out all the emotional stops and soars triumphantly into the climax of the aria. Almost before she hits the final note, the audience explodes. I am on my feet with the rest of them cheering and clapping. The man next to me yells, “Brava! Brava!” I hear others calling out the same. I am too self-conscious to yell “Brava” myself, so I clap louder. My hands hurt, but I keep clapping. Albanese is bowing to each section of the auditorium. Several people throw roses onto the stage, and she gracefully picks them up. The conductor tries to proceed, but we drown out the orchestra. From across the auditorium I hear someone call out for an encore. In a moment, I am yelling “Encore! Encore!” and clapping to the rhythm of this powerful chant along with the rest of the audience. The conductor, surrendering to our demands, nods his head to the audience, then, turning, nods to Albanese. He faces the orchestra and holds his baton at the ready, waiting for the audience to settle back into our seats. There is a cough here and there as the rustling fades, and it is silence again. The introduction of the aria begins, and she sings again those hopeful words: “One beautiful day, we shall see a strand of smoke arising over the far horizon on the sea, and then the ship appears …”
The last act is hard to get through. I didn’t bring any Kleenex. I struggle through the last half of the act trying to keep my tear ducks under control. I have done my opera “homework,” darn it! I know the plot; I know the characters; I am familiar with the music. I just want to enjoy the music and the voices and not get emotionally involved. But that darned Puccini music sucks me in, beats me up, and leaves my heart beating painfully in my throat, my face flushed, my eyes rheumy. When the final dissonant cord rattles through me I am emotionally exhausted, but I jump to my feet with everyone else, cheering and clapping.
This spiritual and emotional cleansing, this catharsis, is what opera is all about. Non opera lovers might feel the same at a raw, emotionally charged sporting event where two closely matched teams clash on the brittle edge of exultant victory or humiliating defeat. In an opera, regardless of the interpretation of the production, there is no question about how it will end: it’s in the script; the plot is always the same. But as with sport, it is the glorious struggle to reach that end which is so satisfying.
I relax in my seat watching the rest of the audience flow out of the theatre with happy after-the-show chatter and laughter. My hands are red and throbbing from clapping. Finally, I leave my seat and amble out into the cool May night. It is long after midnight, and there is a moist, early morning chill in the air. The parking lot is quickly clearing out as I saunter to the car savoring mia notte bella, my beautiful night.
Then I remember: empty pockets.
Stunned, I lean against the hood of the car and take a deep breath to clear my mind. The last few cars rumble out of the parking lot abandoning me to the dark beneath the faint glow of the lampposts. I stride anxiously back to the theatre, the joy of the evening trammeled by my stupid carelessness. I take my emergency dime out of my wallet, put it in the pay phone, and dial the number. After a few rings my dad groggily answers the phone.
“Dad, I’m sorry to wake you up, but I locked the keys in the car.”
 Licia Albanese, b. 22 July 1913
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Happy birthday Abe. 200 years old today, and look what a mess has been made of the country you kept together. The Constitution hangs by a thread, and the government of the people, by the people and for the people has been hijacked by a den of thieves, but happy birthday.
I suppose I should wish Chuck a happy 200th birthday too. He turned the world upside down with his theories on the origin of the species. He has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by his devotees and his enemies alike. Look what Social Darwinism has brought to the world: euthanasia, the perverted racial theories of German National Socialism, and Planned Parenthood-originally founded to make poor minorities even more minor.
I watched a little of the President's news conference on Monday. When does telling only half the truth really telling a lie? He said we are in this economic crisis because banks were making loans to people who could never make the payments. That part is true, but why would banks, which are in business to make money, make so many loans which would not make them money. Hmmm. What the President conveniently neglected to say was that the banks were under extreme pressure from powerful liberal Democrats in the Senate lead by the great whiny liberal Barney Frank and his cronies. They threatened and pressured Fannie Mae amd Freddy Mack, Freddy and Fannie passed it on to other lending institutions. So, Mr. President, tell the whole truth or you are telling a lie. But this is how you are making capitalism and individual liberty the villans as you enthrone the new national socialism as the savior of the American collective. Of course, all the idiots who want the Great and Abominable Federal Gummit to take care of them don't care about truth. President O could recite "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and they would fall down before him and call him blessed.
The unfunny comedian, Al Franken, is still trying to worm his way into the Senate, the unfunny den of thieves. I see that he owes between $50,000 to $70,000 in back taxes and penalties. If he does manage to weddle his way into the Senate, he will fit right in with the rest of the thieves. The liberal Democrats love to raise taxes, as long as they don't have to pay them.
Friday, February 6, 2009
February should be red or red, white, and blue, but I look out the window and all I see is gray. I took down the winter decorations of January from the library and put up the red hearts and cupids for Valentines Day and portraits of Abe and George for Presidents' Day. But it is still gray outside with the threat of snow this weekend.
I just read an article by Pat Buchanan about the New York Times editorial page (whose editors relish labeling as racist hate mongers anyone who has a differing opinion or disagrees with their liberal/progressive view of the world) which seems to have been purchased by Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire who gave the Times $250 million to stave off bankruptcy. The last lines of the article say:
Let it be said. There is nothing wrong about Americans fighting to preserve the culture and country they grew up in. That is what patriotic conservatism is all about. And if the Times can understand and support the right of native tribes like the Navajo and Apache to preserve their unique character and culture, why this viral hatred of those of us who wish to preserve the Western and Christian character of America? Why does the Times want to see our America destroyed? From what poisoned well comes this hatred of the America we love?
It was an informative article.
This is a scherenschitte (paper cutting) I did several years ago. I am thinking of using it as a valentine card cover this year. It isn't mounted on red paper, but I think the blue sets off the negative space better. I also used a computer manipulated version of this cutting as an ATC (Artist Trading Card).
Here is another memoir which is basically from the Lordsburg period:
Darktown Strutters’ Ball
It was a source of disquiet when I grew up and discovered that a seemingly innocent song I heard my father sing in my childhood had racial undertones that have, with the passage of time, become what some people call “politically incorrect”.
When I was very young, I would hear my father early in the morning getting ready for work. He would sing or whistle while he was shaving and combing his hair and getting dressed. Our house was small and compact, and the thick, outer adobe walls seemed to amplify the sound of his voice on those cool, dark mornings. Sometimes I would pull myself out of bed and shamble into the bathroom to watch him shave.
“Some of these days,” he’d croon while carefully dragging the razor across his cheek, “you’ll miss your honey. Some of these days, you’ll feel so lonely.” The words would get distorted when he shaved under his chin, and he would just hum while maneuvering around his upper lip and chin. Once in a while he would nick himself, and a thin crimson line would streak the glistening white shaving cream on his neck that vibrated when he warbled a note.
He liked to give a lot of vibrato to certain words like “woman” and “rings” if he were singing “Saint Louis Blues.” I liked that one. It was supposed to be a sad song, but he made it sound happy. “Saint Louis womaaaaan, wid all her dimon’ riiiings, pulls dat man roun’ by her apron striiiings. Da da da daaaaa, da da da store-bought hair …” There was whistling the melody or “da da das” to cover the places where he couldn’t remember the words or chose not to sing them.
The song I liked best was “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” because he sometimes picked me up and danced me around. “I'll be down to get you in a taxi, Honey,you better be ready about half past eight.” We’d jive down the hall, and my mother would tell him to “pipe down” before he woke up my brother and sister. She said he sounded like a sick cow. His singing was wonderful to me, and I wish I could hear it again. “Now, Deary, don’t be late, I want to be there when the band starts playin’.” He’d flop me down on the bed and sashay over to the closet to get his white shirt.
“… Goin' to dance out both my shoes, when they play the ‘Jelly Roll Blues,’tomorrow night, at the Darktown Strutter's Ball.” He’d adjust his tie, slip on his jacket, give himself a last look in the mirror, and he was ready to leave for the high school where he taught history, P.E., and coached football, basketball, baseball, and track.
I asked him what “strutters” were and he said something about “high steppers” or “fancy dancers.” When I asked what “Darktown” was, he said, “Oh, that’s where Negro people live, black people.”
“Is that like Mexican Town?” That was the area of Lordsburg north of the railroad tracks where at that time all the Mexican families lived.
“Yep, like Mexican Town.”
“Do we have a Darktown?”
And that was true. There were no black people living in Lordsburg. In fact, there were no black students in any of the eight schools I attended in New Mexico and Southern California until I went to Long Beach State College in 1965. I was not unaware of people of color, but I had no connection or contact with them growing up. While I believed in equality and civil rights and never heard racial put downs or slurs at home, my early impressions of African-Americans were stereotypical, based on old movies, songs, and television. As my age and experience grew, I recognized attitudes and actions that were offensive and demeaning to African-Americans through most of the 20th century. Although I still love the songs and the performers, I cringe when I hear Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys sing about the “darkies” dancing in the Mississippi mud, or see Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney in black face putting on affected Negro accents.
While “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” isn’t as blatantly racial as many other songs from the period, often written by Black composers but sung by White performers, it now gives me a twinge of mental discomfort and colors my memory. My father knew the racial undercurrent of the song, slight as it might be, but he sang it anyway because he liked it. I can hear his voice in the back of my mind, and I sing along because I like it too. We both know that innocence replaced by knowledge is no fun.
“I'll be down to get you in a taxi, Honey
You better be ready about half past eight
Now, Dearie, don't be late
I want to be there when the band starts playing.
Remember when we get there, Honey
The two-steps, I'm goin' to have 'em all.
Goin' to dance out both my shoes
When they play the "Jelly Roll Blues"
Tomorrow night, at the Darktown Strutter's Ball”
 Brooks, Shelton, “Some of These Days” 1910. Sophie Tucker’s theme song.
 Handy, William Christopher, Father of the Blues, “Saint Louis Blues” 1914 Bessie Smith did possibly the best version of this song in 1929 in a 16 minute sound film, Saint Louis Blues, directed by W. C. Handy himself.
 Brooks, Shelton, “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” 1917
You can hear some versions of this song on Youtube here. (The best one, by the Charioteers, has been removed, darn it!)
Here is Sophie Tucker singing the original 1911 version of "Some of These Days."
Here is the only film recording of Bessie Smith singing "Saint Louis Blues" in a 1929 film directed by W. C. Handy himself.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
What I remember as the “old green chair” wasn’t really much older than I was. It was one of the first pieces of furniture my parents bought after they were married in Clarksville, Indiana. It was a bulky, hardwood and steel wired, over-stuffed living room chair covered in a soft, velvety, “true-green” colored material and had a solidly-built, matching ottoman. My dad said it had a long seat that was just right for his long legs. It was his newspaper-reading, radio-listening, and storytelling chair. I assume my mother curled up in it under a comforter when she was expecting, feeding, and holding me as she later did with my sister and brother. Sitting in that chair, I held my baby sister for the first time. Whenever I was near that chair, I would slowly rub the palm of my hand over the soft material and watch it change to light or dark as I reversed the direction of the fabric nap with my hand.
My folks hauled that chair and the few other pieces of furniture they owned in a makeshift trailer across the country to Clovis and Portales and Lordsburg, New Mexico. In Lordsburg, the chair ruled the living room sitting a foot or two away from the tall, narrow window that overlooked the east side yard of Bermuda grass and bottle brush trees.
Mornings, the warm, sun-bright space between the chair and the window was a delightful place to play. The window sill, wider than the thick adobe wall and only a couple of feet from the floor, held an army of small toys and was completely shielded by the chair. The dust flap at the bottom of the chair back was a perfect hiding place for contraband.
When I was four or five, all the kids used to buy little six packs of candy cigarettes at the ramshackle grocery store around the corner from my house. They were hard, white sticks of candy like peppermints are made from, about a quarter inch thick and four inches long, with one end dyed bright red. We practiced holding the candy between our fingers like we had seen our dads hold the real things and pretended to puff out clouds of smoke. A few practiced holding the “cigs” lazily out of the corner of their mouths like the grizzled old-timers and leather-skinned ranch hands we often saw lounging on the sidewalks down town. I usually just chewed mine.
My father’s real cigarettes were much more fascinating than candy, so one morning I took a couple from his pocket before he left for school and hid them behind the chair. The pungent, earthy odor of the shredded tobacco smelled much better unlit than when my dad was actually smoking. Behind the green barricade, I was pretending to blow smoke rings like my dad when my mother appeared next to the chair.
“So,” she said, “think you want to smoke?”
“Sure,” I said, elated and excited about entering into real adult activities at the age of five.
She plopped me down in the chair, slipped one of the cigarettes between her lips, struck a match and “lit up.” She handed me the cigarette and said, “Puff away.” I managed two, maybe three, drags before I became violently miserable and threw up on the polished, hardwood floor. Without comment, my mother extinguished the cigarette, picked me up and carried me to my bed, cleaned up the mess and never mentioned it to me again. However, from my bed that night, I heard her have a laughingly good time telling my dad all the sickening details. “That’ll be a lesson for him,” she declared, and it was; I never ever had a desire to smoke again.
After she painted the living room orange, my mother decided the green of the chair didn’t harmonize. While recovering the ottoman with a print fabric, she determined that she wasn’t up to a full re-upholstery job on the chair. She told my dad to move it out back for the trash men. So my dad muscled the green monster out of the living room, down the hall, and through the big kitchen, being careful not to gouge or scratch the wood floors or rip a hole in the kitchen linoleum. He had to turn it on its side to angle it top first through the back door and inch it onto the small open porch. Then he dragged it down the steps, across the gravel path, and through the gate to the trash cans outside the back fence.
Some neighbor kids were playing on the old buckboard by the barn, and they immediately ran over to watch. The chair was larger than either of the metal trash cans or the burn barrel, so it had to be broken down to either burn or cart away. My dad figured he could use some of the wood and nails and wire, and he set himself to carefully taking the chair apart. With all us children close up watching his every move, he carefully loosened the chair back-panel with a screwdriver and popped it off the chair.
Everyone jumped back a few feet with a horrified shudder. There, infesting the yellowed padding of the old green chair was a writhing colony of at least a hundred, huge BLACK WIDOW SPIDERS. We strained forward to examine this awful sight. A breathless moment passed before spiders on the perimeter of the undulating mass dropped to the ground and wobbly walked toward us.
Then all was pandemonium. Girls screamed and ran to the buckboard. Boys picked up sticks and rocks to pound the ugly creatures or stomped on them with their boots before they could escape to a dark hideaway. My dad grabbed a gas can from the shed by the back gate, sprayed the wriggly mass with gasoline, and flicked a flaming matchbook on the ground under the spiders. The chair exploded in flames and black, acrid smoke mushroomed into the warm afternoon like the atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll. The cremation of the old green chair and all its poisonous cargo was an exciting end to an old friend.
Friday, January 23, 2009
1) I was watching one of my favorite movies last week, which I haven't seen for a couple of years. A real schmaltzy melodrama from 1936, staring Mickey Rooney, Jackie Cooper, and Freddie Bartholomew: The Devil Is a Sissy. Rooney was 15, Cooper 13, and Freddie 12, but by 1936 they were all experienced, veteran movie stars. The boys end up in trouble with the law, but haven't broken any big ones, and have to meet with a juvenile court judge played by Jonathan Hale, who has a beautiful speaking voice by the way. He tells the boys that the devil is a "weak sister" a sissy because he can't take the heat; he causes trouble and runs away. A real "tough guy" takes his medicine, takes responsibility for his actions, fixes his mistakes. It seems to me that there are an awful lot of sissies in the U.S .of A. today. The slightest bit of rough going and they run away, or if they are big shots with huge screw-ups they run to the Federal Gummit to bail them out. Then there are all the "weak sisters" in the congress who are directly responsible for such things as the housing market collapse because they strong armed lending institutions to make home loans to minorities who had no conceivable way to make the payments. They whine and blather on and run away from their responsibility for the collapse by blaming others who had no hand in the sordid affair.
Anyway, I really like the movie. You can watch the whole film on you-tube starting at:
One small section of the film is missing from the clips, but it doesn't hurt the story line.
Here are Mickey, Freddie, and Jackie from a production still of the film.
2) I watched the coronation of the new messiah on Tuesday. After the inaugural speech, I thought maybe we were all supposed to quit our jobs and let the Great Gummit take care of us. I was disconcerted by the hate and disrespect that was shown to President Bush by the peace, love, tolerance and diversity crowd. Is it not strange how liberal socialist/progressives who preach love, tolerance, and diversity, not to mention environmental "green," spew forth such hate, close-mindedness,and utter contempt for opinions not their own, not to mention leaving the mall looking like a county garbage dump. Yes, I know that there are some conservatives who can be close-minded, hateful, and litter-bugs to boot, but conservatives don't claim, as liberal socialist/progressives do, to being THE party of love, tolerance, diversity, and uber protectors of the environment. So, it is difficult to over look when they are joyfully hateful and intolerant, and act like a bunch of "pigs." Oops! I shouldn't say that; it's not fair to the pigs. And who pushed over the porta-potties anyway?
3) It seems to me that all past Presidents have done some good and some bad things. Some have done more good than bad and vice-verse, they are only human beings, after all. But it really worries me when the majority of the people choose a president who says and does things that are not constant with the founding principles of our country, like capitalism. That to me spells BIG BAD. We have had a few BIG BADS in the past century, and it took years to overcome the damage.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Today is, as everyone seems duty bound to say, an historic day in the history of the United States: the inauguration of the first black President of the United States of America. Only time will show whether it is a great day or a tragic day for the country. I am not against having a black man, or woman (black or white) for that matter, as President: I am just not convinced this is the right one. There are several conservative black men whom I highly respect, and for whom I would have voted without hesitation. They have economic and political knowledge and expertise far beyond the "hope and change" rhetoric of Mr. Obama, but are not politicians, have no political machine, and could never be elected.
I hope that President Obama takes a more moderate road than the one on which he campaigned and that he will eschew the radical, far-left, socialist agenda of some of his biggest monetary supporters. I sincerely hope he will reflect deeply on the oath of his office: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."(Article II, Section 1., paragrph 7); and not try to reinterpret the Constitution by executive order or by further encouraging activist judges. I am hopeful but worried, having read many of his statements about the Constitution.
Here is another memoir. Background: In February, 1967, I left home as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At that time missionaries spent a week in Salt Lake City for general training and instruction before leaving for the mission field. Those who were going to non-English speaking missions were sent to Provo to learn the basics of the languages they would be speaking. There was no Missionary Training Center then: language missionaries were housed in different dormatories on the BYU campus or around Provo. I was to learn Spanish, so I was sent to Knight-Mangum Hall on campus with my companion, Elder Barker.
The Smack Heard ‘Round the World
By Michael L. Goodman
I deliberately throw back the covers, swing my feet out of bed, and slowly sit up. The pain in my chest throbs with each heart beat. The narcotic pain pill isn’t working: I feel like death warmed over, but I know exactly what I am going to do in the next thirty seconds.
I have been at Knight-Mangum Hall, the Spanish language missionary training facility on the BYU campus, for two months. Actually, two and a half weeks of that time I have spent across the street in the campus medical center suffering with a viral heart infection. My companion, Elder Barker, and I had occupied the room on the southeast corner of the fourth floor all by ourselves until the week I had my “heart attack.” That week two new greenies were assigned to our room, and we lost the convenient storage space of the empty bunk beds by the door. I remember Elder Evans’ name only because of what happens this evening.
Elder Barker and the greenies have gone down to the showers at the other end of the hall. I have turned out the lights and eased into bed after taking my pain pill. As I lie here in the soothing dark solitude wishing I were home, a rumble of voices, banging doors, shouts, laughter, and running foot-falls begins to swell in the hall. A shaving cream fight has erupted down by the showers, probably instigated by fun-loving Elder Barker, and is rolling through the hall sucking missionaries out of their rooms to join the melee.
Into the room burst the greenies; on go the lights! They are giggling and jostling and punching each other while rummaging through their things searching for ammunition. They don’t hear me asking them to be quiet or to turn off the lights as they fling themselves back into the battle. The door is open. The lights are on.
Knowing that they are just going to come back anyway, I foolishly pull myself out of bed, shut the door, and turn off the lights. I am tempted to take another pill. Happily, the noise level ebbs somewhat as the action flows back to the far end of the hall and the showers.
A few minutes after I am back in bed, the noise level drops significantly. There is only the thump of running feet and quickly slammed doors and anxious, hushed voices admonishing, “Hurry!” Move!” “Go!” The zone leaders from three floors down must have come up to investigate the commotion, and the combatants are beating a hasty retreat.
The lights flash on as the greenies rush into the room, flushed, giggling, and too doped on adrenaline to be quiet or ready to sleep. They hop into their bunks, chatting and recounting the whole history of the whom and the what and the when and the where of the great shaving cream war.
I ask them again to be quiet. “Please,” I implore, “I am still sick. I’m exhausted, and I need some sleep. Please turn off the light and go to sleep.”
Elder Evans on the top bunk, rises up on his elbow, smirks at me and then says with a simpering tone and sarcastic smile, “Tuck us in and give us a kiss, MOTHER.”
His smirky smile vanishes when he sees me throw off the covers and sit up in bed. He cowers back slightly as I approach. His eyebrows rise as his eyes enlarge. He thinks I am going to hit him. But I am not going to hit him. I deliberately take his head between my hands and plant the biggest, loudest smack of a kiss I am able to pucker upon his hot, flushed cheek.
“Now,” I say through a tooth-clenched smile, enunciating each word, “be-quiet-and-go-to-sleep.”
Without taking my eyes off his horrified face, my hand slaps the light switch by the door, and the room is plunged into dark, terrified silence. Shuffling back to my bed, I clasp my hand over my mouth to stifle a chortle. Didn’t think I’d do that, did you, Elder. Well, now you know. Don’t mess with Goodman.
When Elder Barker finally returns, he is greeted by a stereophonic “Shhhhh” from the greenies’ bunks and an urgently whispered, “Don’t make any noise.”
I smile off to sleep.
Monday, January 19, 2009
In Detroit, when my father was four or five years old, his mother would often send him down the block to the speakeasy to tell his father to come home. My father would kick on the door, and the doorkeeper would look out the peephole. My father would continue to kick the door until the man looked down to see him and let him in. Then he would search through the crowd until he found grandpa. Grandpa would heft dad up onto the bar. The piano player would pound out a popular tune while my father danced along the bar, like a lot of street urchins did in those days to collect a penny or two from passersby. Sometimes he would sing as well, if he knew most of the words. The customers would tell him how cute he was and pinch his cheeks and buy him sodas and candy bars. He said that it sometimes took him a while to remember why grandma had sent him to the speakeasy because he was having so much fun.
Monday, January 12, 2009
For everyone, even we unimportant people, there are hundreds of fascinating stories from and about life that, if well told, are interesting to one's family and friends. I strive to write a letter to my family and friends monthly, and I include a piece of memoir with it. My ninety-year-old mother-in-law is my biggest fan.
I am going to post on this blog some past memoir pieces that I have revised many times, and I hope that they are in their final form. By posting, they will be electronically "out there" in the ether somewhere forever. So here goes the first post.
Michael L. Goodman
It was a physically stressing position, leaning into the polished, black granite wall trying to hold the strip of newsprint with one hand snug against the third name from the bottom of the panel and rubbing the graphite pencil over the incised letters with the other hand. I could feel my face reddening with the strain of holding my body at that awkward angle. My eyes teared with a flood of sorrow, regret, anger, and maybe a twinge of survivor’s guilt as the W-A-R-R-E-N appeared on the paper. The paper shifted slightly as I rubbed the pencil over the G, but I finished the name even though it was crooked.
I took the second strip of paper and smoothed it over the letters, but this time I held the strip on the left side with my knee giving me a free hand to hold the paper straight as I rubbed over the letters again.
When I stood, my legs were a little unstable, my face was flushed, my eyes were wet, and my breathing was shallow. Looking at my reflection in the black, mirror-like stone of the wall, I took a couple of deep breaths and steadied myself. Backing away from the panel, I almost bumped into a man who had been watching me; watching me and the dozens of others along the angling gash in the grassy slope on the north side of Constitution Gardens.
“Oh, excuse me,” I stammered as our eyes met.
“No harm done,” he said with a mild British accent. He was about my height, a few years older, but thinner. He wore a brown plaid shirt, a light tan blazer, blue jeans, and a bemused smile that was very close to a smirk. “Tell me,” he said, glancing leisurely left and right along the 54,000 names. “I don’t quite understand. What does all this mean to Americans?”
Looking at him with my mouth open, I couldn’t even explain what it all meant to me, or what I was feeling at that moment let alone what all this means to millions of other “Americans.” How do you give an answer that covers ten years of friendship with the very first kid you met when you moved to California: or guilt at not having time to talk the last time you saw him when he came by the house to say good bye; or unspeakable grief standing by an ugly, black gash in the cemetery grass on a beautiful hill above San Diego Bay; or the vague thought that your name could be on that wall if an ulcer the size of a small bullet-hole in your gut hadn’t been enough for a jocular corporal to stamp your selective service papers with a 4F? How do you meaningfully answer “What does all this mean?”?
“I can’t say. I don’t know,” I said haltingly, with my pencil in one hand and two WARREN GUTHRIE HARDING rubbings, reverently held in the other, fluttering slightly as the afternoon cooled. “There’s no easy answer.”
“Hmmmm,” he said, frowning at me like a tourist disappointed with his tour guide. Losing interest, he pivoted smartly to the left and ambled down along the wall shaking his head.
Turning to the wall, I had one last, long look at myself reflected among the names; one last, lingering touch of the incised letters; one last, wavering breath and sigh before returning to the top of the slope and my patient wife.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I noticed an article on the front page of the paper this week that our new president, Barack Obama, wants a bailout package without any pork attached. This just proves that he is too inexperienced and naive for the job. His one, unfinished, term as junior senator from Illinois in the great U.S. den of thieves taught him nothing about how our great and abominable federal gummit works.
I really shouldn't complain about the great and abominable Congress of the United States. After all, it is the very best congress that liberal Democrats and special interest money can buy! It is a great tragedy that the American people don't have any lobbyists in Washington to protect their interests.