Monday, 30 April 2007

so, which dwarf am I now?

It's allergy season -- but not for me. When I turned thirty a couple years ago I suddenly developed allergies. I would sneeze at the drop of a hat (which always struck me, if I may take a narrative liberty, as an odd phrase. When you think about it they must have been a clumsy group of people, those hat-wearers of yesteryear. At the drop of a hat means any old time, and often, and I guess that's when they dropped their hats. Gadzooks, Sir Bob, how goeth it? says one guy, and then, Oh, drat, my new chapeau hath fallen. He bends down and bumps heads with Sir Bob, who has just dropped his own hat. Up and down the street ladies and gents everywhere are bending and chasing after their errant headgear. And it must have been even worse in the Middle Ages, when they wore helms).

Sorry, got distracted. What I'm saying is that I sneezed a lot. So much so that I went to a doctor who informed me after a series of irritating tests, that I had -- get this -- unspecified allergies. I was allergic to an unspecified something or somethings out there in the environment. Sorry we can't be any clearer than that, said the doc.

But there are so many somethings out there, I said. How will I know which ones I am allergic to?

The doc kept her face straight. You'll know, she said, when you begin to sneeze.

For years I sneezed. There'd be pills I took, and nasal sprays, and they would sort of relieve symptoms. Mostly I sneezed. My kids took to counting them. Twenty-seven! Ed cried a couple of years ago. A new record!

Recently I ran out of my sneezing pills, and forgot to get a new supply. And time passed, and I didn't get to the drug store because I realized ... I wasn't sneezing. I wasn't sneezing. I don't know where the sneezes came from, back when I turned thirty. I don't know where they've gone, now that I am ahem a little older. And I don't miss them a bit. In fact, I am off this minute to inhale as many unspecified somethings as I can. (That makes a good ending to the post, doesn't it? In fact I am off to hand in my income tax -- very specific and not at all enjoyable. What a liar I am. Why, I tell lies at the drop of a hat.)

Saturday, 28 April 2007

comic book of dreams

When I was younger and the world was a place of limitless possibilities, I had a dream of eating all the peanuts there were. Foolish, perhaps, and impractical, but we humans are foolish and this human anyway is very impractical. Of course I never came close to fulfilling my dream. I put it aside along with my idle thoughts of the World Series, a career in piracy on the high seas, and raven-haired Nancy, back in first grade, who kissed me the day I moved away.

Last night at the ball game, by accident, I very nearly succeeded in achieving my youthful goal. Not the World Series one. Inning after inning, shelling, tossing, reaching for the next handful ... I was a machine. I've never been in that zone before, can't imagine ever being there again. I didn't even stop for the seventh-inning stretch. My daughter looked on in awe.

You'd think I'd be triumphant today. Or let down in some vast Alexandrian sense -- no more legumes to conquer. But all I feel is a mild dis-ease, and no desire for breakfast whatsoever. Ho-hum. Sad, really. I wonder if all fulfilled dreams turn ho-hum? If I were to wake up tomorrow in a hammock on the high seas, covered in doubloons and parrot poop, would I ... yawn? Well, maybe, because I just got up. But after putting on my eye patch and earrings and big boots, and rolling my way to the galley for coffee, would I look around the heaving deck full of cutlass-wielding villains, and say, Meh? Oh, dear. Oh dear indeed. I wonder how I'd feel, seeing Nancy across the breakfast table?

Surprised, probably.

I think it was St Theresa who said there are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. Maybe dreams are best unfulfilled.

Interestingly, the kid two rows back from me also had a night to remember. Chatty ten-year-old with dimples and big eyes, pounding his glove, at his first ever major league game. He caught a fly ball, got another ball tossed to him by a Texas outfielder, and won the promotion put on by Fed Ex. He'll probably never have a game like that again in his life. I wonder how he feels this morning?

Thursday, 26 April 2007

vulnerable through our friends

Haven't posted for a couple days, and have a long day ahead, so thought I would jump in quickly now before the caffeine hits. With my copyedit done, and income tax pending, it's school visiting season -- Oakville yesterday and Barrie today. Joys of a southern Ontario kid author.

I don't know what to do about this myspace thing. I have three contacts now, and they mail me things saying we have to be friends, and I'm a friendly guy, so I email them back, and then I sit there waiting like grandma in Miami. Why don't they write back, or call? Are they all right? Do they need help? Poor Helena. I see her with her family (the picture she sent me has her posed by the side of a station wagon, two small kids waving), lost somewhere in the midwest -- for some reason Missouri comes to mind -- eager to find a friend, but suffering from amnesia from the car accident. Oh, dear. Those kids are not going to be eating properly with Mom in the hospital. In this age of instant info, it's astounding we can't make contact. And Tom. What's with him? Is he even alive? He seems so pleasant, a youngish middle-aged guy, looking over his shoulder in his picture. He has just produced an album, he told me. That's great! I wrote back. What kind of music do you play, I asked him. Are you in a band? You know, I play some keyboards myself. I'm no Art Tatum, but I've been around the musical block a few times. Maybe we could get together and jam sometime, I said. But he never got back. I wonder if he's been kidnapped? You hear about things like this happening. He plays some lonely town full of strangers who aren't on myspace, and he's walking back to his hotel, maybe looking backward over his shoulder so he doesn't notice the stranger lurking, and then: Boom! And he's in the back of a van with duct tape around his ankles. It's scary, I tell you. I can't bear to think of this happening to my friends. I feel I should call someone, but I don't know who. Are the police on myspace?

Shoot, running late. Got to go. But I'll keep you all posted. I'm not finished with this. I will not let my friends go gently. Helena, honey, I'm thinking about you. Tom, hang in there!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

journey's over

Well, our show is over. An exciting and charming time out -- like a cruise. You bond deeply and briefly with the cast, and when it's over, it's over. For a while there all the kids in the cast were my kids, all the adults my partners. I must have hugged forty people at the cast party last night. No wonder Hollywood keeps divorcing and re-pairing.

Funny moment a couple of night ago when I took some liberties with my big solo that finishes the first act. The original words are, Journey's over, all is mended, and it's not just for today. I had my mouth open, ready to go, and then someone behind me coughed a real good one, and, not being a particularly focussed individual, I got distracted, and started thinking of other coughs I'd heard, and ... suddenly my mind was filled with a great and powerful blankness. With everyone onstage and a full house looking on, I sang, and I quote: Dub a dub dub, whub a dah dah, and a doo dah doo dah day. Poor Mr Sondheim. What was interesting is the way the cast reacted afterwards. The ones who do a lot of this, professionally and semi-professionally, made a point of complimenting some part of my performance, or telling amusing anecdotes about how similar things had happened to them, or NathanLane, or Bernadette Peters. One of the kids took a different approach. That was awful, Richard, he said, when we were alone in the dressing room. Yeah, sorry, I said. No, really, awful. We all know that song, he said. Anyone in the cast could have done a better version of that song than you did. Yeah, I said. He continued in this vein for a while. The stage crew could have sung it better, he said. The lighting guy, the props lady -- anyone in the theater could have done better with that song than you did. It's ironic, isn't it, Richard, that the person who sings that song is the one person in the whole theater who would have screwed it up. Ironic, I agreed. I had a smile on my face by now. He'd gone on so long that it had become funny. My shame had vanished. We stared at each other for a moment. Want a candy? I said, holding out a bag of jujubes. His face brightened fast and totally, like a tropical sunrise. Hey, thanks, he said.

At the cast party he made a point of lifting me off the ground and spinning me around. Always wanted to do that, he told me. I patted him on the back.

Next time: my space. I mean, where the heck are my friends?

Friday, 20 April 2007

garbage day headache

How do people do it? Function, that is, with a headache. How? I woke up this morning feeling as if my poor thin lopsided skull was being crushed in a gigantic vice in some ogre's basement. I am not shy of drugs -- no homeopath, I -- and so I crawled to the medicine cabinet and took everything that contained the word pain in the symptom description. That was pretty much everything except the shaving cream and I was tempted, I tell you.

That was five ... no, six minutes ago. I am still not better. What is with these pharmaceutical companies? How can they put out shoddy products and expect people to go on using them? The pain is still there. I've read about pain being exquisite -- not mine. Mine is brutal, like being hit in the face with a two by four, over and over.

Maybe I'd be better if I was used to headaches, but, I don't get them often. This particular wrong note in the melody of my life is the first in years. How do people who do get headaches -- and I know people who seem to get them daily -- how do they cope? I'm a wreck. Eight minutes now.

The point of this post was supposed to be the uses of gratitude, but I got sidetracked. Sorry. Garbage day today, and I am listening for the hiss of air brakes that means the garbage truck has turned the corner onto my street. When I hear it, I will run outside to help Mike -- that's the garbage guy's name -- load my bags and boxes into his truck. One Friday last year I happened to be out when he came by, and out of courtesy I helped him throw some of the stuff in. And the look on his face was almost ecstatic: St What's-her-name with the beatific vision. Thanks, he said, stumbling over the word. No problem, I said. And he drove away. And the following week I was up and working, and I heard the truck round the corner and thought, well, why not. He had seemed so grateful. So I went out and helped him again. And that time our conversation stretched to include the weather. Colder, Mike said. Sure is, I replied.

And so it has gone on. My Friday morning ritual includes a trip to the roadside. Mike's and my relationship has not deepened much -- the weather is still a staple of our conversation -- but he gives me a wide yellow smile on arrival, and waves on departure. When I miss a week because I'm travelling, he comments the next week. I suppose I could feel his gratitude like a tyrant's yoke, forcing me to help him with his job, but I am happy to widen my circle of contacts. And it has paid off. When I saw Mike in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago, he directed me to the in-store special (two for one spaghetti sauce) which I might have missed otherwise. Hang on, here he is now....

.... And I'm back. You know, Mike could tell I wasn't feeling well. He asked what was wrong. When I told him I had a splitting headache, he said, Hey, that's too bad. Usually you look pretty happy, he said.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

astounding myself

I can be astoundingly clumsy. Physically, of course, tripping over myself and other obstacles large and small, falling off of things and down things and out of things, and so on. More than once I have looked up blearily from the ground or the rug or the flower bed or the wading pool, and asked myself, How did I get here? How did I do that? I can be socially clumsy too -- forgetting, revealing, misinterpreting, shouting when I should whisper, flirting when I should fly for my life, attempting a Scottish accent, showing up at the wrong house on the wrong day in the wrong kind of costume, carrying the wrong musical instrument.

I'm used to it, by now. It's a cross I carry willingly enough. I can even use my clumsiness to advantage every now and then -- embarrassing my children in the mall, for instance. Innocent fun.

I am much less happy about my rediscovery of professional clumsiness. This happens every time I read a copy-edited manuscript, and realize that not only did I write this drivel, but that I looked over it and approved it. What was I thinking? I ask myself, staring down at ugly prose. Or do I mean drinking? These can not be my words. Someone else has put them together. Bad fairies have crept into my manuscript and inserted astounding sentences while I was asleep. Could my mind be responsible for: Her eyes softened as she thought back through the years to when the world was fresh.

I suppose effortless, seamless wonderful writing might get dull. Like playing tennis with no net. It's only the potential of failure that makes success enjoyable. Death is the mother of beauty, after all. So I suppose it's good to know that the potential for failure -- serious failure -- is there in me. Still, what was I drinking when I wrote that? Whatever it was, I must never ever buy it again.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Maybe it's an MG

Groggy and bleary (2 of the Disney dwarves who didn't make the final cut) and slurping coffee, I am up early because I usually am. My body has more regular habits than I do. I had planned to sleep in after the show last night. That's 2 performances now. I'm sure regular readers are eager to hear how the run is going. I'm tempted to borrow Lawrence of Arabia's modest subtitle for his 7 Pillars of Wisdom -- "A Triumph" -- which may be pushing a bit, and doesn't sound like me. (Old Larry had ego the way the Hindenburg had gas.) So I'll say that the VOS production of Into The Woods is "Better than Okay -- maybe even pretty darn good." The cast is bonding nicely too -- always a fun part of the show. One of them came up to me after my song in the second act last night (a haunting duet between an estranged father and son) and whispered, with a big smile, "That was great. You know, Richard, you should take singing lessons." I didn't know quite how to respond. "Thanks for the comment," I said, finally. "I'll certainly consider it." (Probably just as well I didn't call it A Triumph.)

I am almost finished checking over the copy-edited manuscript of Into The Ravine. This is not my favorite part of the process. Laborious, time consuming, and looking for tiny things that are wrong. If the best parts of writing -- the bits when it's going well -- are like playing ball with your kids, or reading them stories, or taking them out for ice cream, copy editing is like checking them for head lice.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

my space

Quickly today, since my copy-edited manuscript is due back at the publisher's yesterday. My teenaged daughter has set me up with a My Space account and profile -- Old Man Seeking Something -- saying, Dad! (she's enthusiastic) you have to get on My Space! It'll boost your image profile. Really? I asked. Oh, yes! Away she typed (she's much faster than I), and in thirty seconds I was up and walking.

The profile reads like a yearbook questionnaire: TV shows and Heroes and Pet Peeves. I filled in obediently, thinking all the time: who is going to read this? Do people troll through My Space reading other people's profiles? (Trust me, Dad! said my daughter.) And if anyone does stumble on me, are they going to be able to reach into their wallet, pull out a credit card and buy a book?

Heroes made me think. I admire lots of people. Single parents working two jobs and making sure there are soccer cleats and school trip fares, volunteers coming in early with a smile, kids living through hell at home without turning into a bad guys themselves ... I've got more time for any of them than for Bono, say. I suppose I could have listed my fictional heroes: Sergeant Bilko, Daffy Duck, Little Black Sambo. Or my kids (Oh, Dad, that is so lame!) Or the people who buy my books -- now there's real self-sacrifice! (You poor brave souls. God bless you all.)

But get this: I already have a friend! My Space provides me with one. Isn't that great? His name is Tom, and he seems to have quite a nice smile. I can hardly wait to set up a play date.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

I am a contraption

Organization is hard. Not because the smooth answer is hard to arrive at, but because your will must be strong. Some people seem to be able to drive from cradle to grave in large and powerful automobiles. Their wills are highly toned and muscular. My will is a flabby entity, too full of the chocolate and potato chips of other people's lives and wishes. As a result, my life vehicle resembles one of those Rube Goldberg contraptions, a towering maze of wires and struts and gearwheels, designed to boil water play piano hang drywall and spin straw into gold, powered by one little man on a bicycle.

Take yesterday afternoon. A small snapshot of my life. Here's my schedule, as I recall it. 2:20 high school to pick up big kids and drive to their mom's; 2:30 gym so I can fit into the pants they've given me for the play (so tight!); 3:15 grocery store to buy ingredients for meat loaf; 3:20 home from store, greet youngest son who has walked to my place because he has to go to physiotherapy for a broken collarbone; 3:30 asssemble meatloaf in record time, onionsporkbeefeggscrackersmilkelevendifferentherbsandspices, and into the oven; 3:40 drop son at physio, pat on back and off; 3:55 drive 10 k to pick up elder daughter from co-op placement at media outlet; 4:10 she drops me back at physio, takes car to visit boyfriend; 4:30 walk home with younger son, start homework (him) and dinner veggies (me). 4:45 elder daughter home, changes into work clothes; 4:50 drive her to job at gas station, stopping to pick up sandwich on way; 5:00 continue in car to pick up other kids from their mom's; 5:15 dinner prep continues apace; 5:30 dinner, chatting and giggling through Red vs Blue; 5:45 elder son drives me to play rehearsal. He will drive the other kids back to his mom's, leaving the car there for me to pick up after rehearsal, when I will swing by the gas station to pick up elder daughter from her job. And so to scotch.

Not a smooth ride, my friends.

Funny thing is, you don't get what you don't want. In a weird (doctor, it's about my mother) way I must crave chaos. One thing, for sure: I'm never bored. And yet part of me ... I don't like to admit this ... part of me envies the guys and gals sailing by my contraption in their sleek and gleaming lives. I wonder if they envy me? Does the lean toned dancer, nibbling on a lettuce leaf, envy the slob dipping his fries into bearnaise sauce? (I tried this once, by mistake, and let me tell you ... but that's another post.)

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Red vs McDreamy

What's Easter eve: Good Saturday? Holy Saturday? (sounds like something Batman would say. I am such a bad Christian) Anyway, the difference between boys and girls (I have four teens, two of each) on Easter eve is that girls want to watch Grey's Anatomy and boys want to watch Red vs Blue. A friend of my older son's brought over four season's worth of the internet comedy, and we watched until my older daughter got bored with the existential chatty violence. So we tried some of the Grey's Anatomy she'd rented, and my older son got wide-eyed and appalled at the sexy crying doctors. My eldest are twins, but such a girl; and such a boy. I got a kick out of watching everyone watching. (Couldn't help noticing my younger girl giggling at the meaning-of-life box canyon debate in Red vs Blue, and my younger son shaking his head sympathetically when McDreamy -- or is it McSteamy -- lost his patient).

The difference between boys and girls on Easter morning is the way the egg hunt is organized. First we did it my way, with a sequence of written clues in bad rhyming couplets. Then, because they enjoy games, the kids decided to hide the candy again. My older daughter's idea was as organized as she is. Everyone drew a name from a hat, and one of us stayed in the bathroom while the others hid the candy. The hunting was done in order, with everyone offering hot and cold advice. In the end all of us were pleased.

My older son's idea was for us all to take candy at random, and hide it with our eyes closed. Then we were to stumble our way back to the living room and begin the hunt, shouting hot and cold advice whenever anyone got near where we thought we had hidden anything. In the end all of us were hoarse.

Sometimes I worry about the kids. Sometimes I can't help thinking they are by far the best thing in my life.

Friday, 6 April 2007

slime, chocolate, enthusiasm

In keeping with the solemn time of year (Passover Good Friday, taxes, hockey playoffs) I thought I'd talk about junk food. It is, I discovered last night, another universal conversation topic. Certain themes seem to recur at so many different age groups that they are almost never out of fashion. Sex, flatulence, crazy families, dogs and cats ... and jujubes. (If you like alliteration in your lists, how about: petting, pooping, parents, pets, potato chips.)

I remember junk food discussions in university, when we compared the staying power of various flavours of Pringles. One friend built complex structures out of the empty tubes. He said the work focussed his mind on the essay at hand. For some reason people are delighted to let you know about their secret craving for ridiculous and unnecessary products. Last night I stared as a sophisticated and well-dressed woman told me that she would crawl through slime for a Big Mac. No kidding, I said. Slime? She nodded.

I find enthusiasm compelling. I love hearing about things that other people care deeply about -- even if I don't care about them myself. One guy was so into caramel-centered chocolates that he was almost rude to the woman who preferred cream centers. He cared. It was the same with another woman and crullers. Funny and fascinating to watch the passion in her face. It was as though she was talking about a secret lover.

And of course she was. That's the point. We know they're bad for us. But, oh, aren't they wonderful. And saying the name -- just saying it aloud -- is both release and affirmation. It makes us feel good. Toblerone (actually Toblerone doesn't work for me). Salted peanuts. Yes, there we are. And again. Ah, salted peanuts. Yes, yes, yes.

And now I feel like a cigarette.

Quickie: if Chrismukkah is the winter mixed-faith holiday, what's the spring one? Easach? Pester? Just wondering. Passover the chocolate eggs, would you?

Thursday, 5 April 2007

a young girl's record of her thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication ...

I feel like Philip Marlowe -- old and tired and full of no coffee. Coming, Richard, coming.

Several of you have let me know by email how much you enjoy the blog. Great. Thank you. I was getting concerned. I thought I was up here on stage, dancing my heart out, revealing everything about myself, down to the pasties of my soul (the author as stripper) and no one was in the audience clapping (or slipping a small bill into my garter). Now I see you're just shy. That's all right.

Damn you, coffemaker, drip faster. Scary thought! The blogger is really something much more terrible than a striptease artist. This forum is an extremely public version of the much-maligned (by me, anyway) Journal. Why didn't I realize it before? Eek, and now I am blushing. I am a Journaler. This is me Journalling. See me Journal. Oh, dear. Word forms I hoped never to utter. How we have become the thing we hate.

Of course it is not the Journal I hate, or even the Journaller. It is the concomitant aspects of Journalling: the bright eager eye, the healthy footwear, the dedication. I guess I'm not keen on keen. And yet here I am up at 5:30 -- what self-delusion.

It's okay, the coffee is here at last. And now that I have stretched my writing muscle, I am ready from some serious exercise. Back to the zombies.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Oscar shmoscar

Acting is not nearly as complex as they'd have you believe. We were at rehearsal last night (the musical is Sondheim's Into The Woods -- I play the Narrator and the Mysterious Man) getting notes from one of the Princes who is not only handsome and tall and tanned, but a trained professional dancer and actor. I have been using this technique I invented to make myself more dramatic, where I hold my arms out here -- reaching towards the audience, including them in the drama, only sort of twisted around (mysterious, you see?)

Anyway, after the rehearsal the Prince took me aside and said, gently, "Richard, it's about the way you stand on stage. It looks ..."

"Dramatic?" I suggested.

"Painful," he said. "It hurts me to watch you."

"Ah," I said. "So, um, how would you suggest I stand?"

"Maybe more naturally," he said.

I asked if there was anything about my performance that worked for him. "Well," he said, and I could see he was searching hard (he is quite a nice guy), "I did like the way you used the sets. When you leaned on the Baker's oven in Act 2, for instance ...."

"I was just doing that because I was tired," I said.

"Well, keep doing it."

So there's my tip. Good acting is tired acting. I have been leaning on things all morning (counter, stove, wall, desk), working on my technique, but I don't think I have it down yet. I have to be tireder. Fortunately I have a busy day planned. By tonight's rehearsal I'll look very natural. I might even start yawning. I wonder what the Prince will think of that?

Monday, 2 April 2007

cup fever

Regular readers of this space (ha ha, had to say that. I've only been blogging a couple weeks. I feel like a skinny weight-training tyro, talking in the locker room about reps and lats and delts with a couple of V-shaped super chests) will know that I drink coffee. I can drink it out of anything -- styrofoam, cardboard, bone china, earthenware, hell, once I drank it out of my cupped hands -- but there is a moment at the beginning of most days when I open the cupboard and select a pleasing mug. Pictures or designs are all very well, but for me pleasing has to do with the mugs's shape. Coffee tastes better out of mug the feels good in my hand. As a visitor to a lot of schools, I often receive mugs as presents. They tend to have charming pictures (my current fav is a broody Roman centurion) and slogans (The Search For Knowledge Is Neverending, or, more succinctly, Go Dragons!) but, alas, wide mouths and great chunky handles. My ideal coffee mug is tall rather than wide, straight rather than flared, and thin-handled. My kids used to give me mugs as birthday presents, and their choice back about eight years ago was perfect. I'd get a little tingle when I picked it out of the dishwasher. Ahhh. In a busy klutzy household nothing lasts forever (or even very long) and that tall thin mug is now shards under some landfill project. I've hoped for years for another from the same mould, but haven't found it. I'm drinking today out of an almost straight mug with a picture of a panther's head and an almost thin handle. Almost. Is there a sadder word?
Next time I feel like talking coffee: Tim Horton's dark legacy.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Exiled by the tyrant

Tyranny, like charity, begins at home. My teenaged daughter had a party last night and I was not invited. You'd just inhibit us, Dad, she said. Actually, she didn't, she said I'd get in the way. Come on, I said. I'll take a glass of wine and a mystery story and stay upstairs. Please let me stay, I said. She shook her head calmly. She's a twin, only eight minutes older than her brother but with the iron will of the first born, or the tyrant. (Interestingly, her brother has a will like rubber, which means he bends -- and then snaps back painfully. Will-wise, none of my children is a pushover. I, on the other hand, seem to have a will of oatmeal.) All right, all right, I said, and took my Lawrence Block and the car keys. You know the rules, I said over my shoulder. What rules? There are no rules here, she said. Now go! Actually she said, Bye bye, Daddy, which is a much nicer way of making the same point. I sighed and felt like the Weimar Republic -- an okay idea but badly run. Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is no order, order will appear. I had my glass of wine in a bar-restaurant and returned a couple of hours later to a quiet and tidy house. My daughter was filling the sink with water. How was the party? I asked. She looked puzzled. Fine, she said. How else could it be? One of the boys got obnoxious and broke a glass, so I sent him home. The rest of us had a nice time. Do you want to wash or dry?