Friday, March 30, 2012

These Damn Yankees Are for You

Right around the time I turned 30 I was living in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. On a whim, one evening after work, I rode with a coworker to the auditions for a community production of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker (the Broadway hit that was eventually turned into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn.)

I'm not sure why I decided, that night, to swallow my fear and to audition. I suppose it probably had to do with this latent desire to perform on stage, to tap into that long-lost-but-never-forgotton childish of all childish behavior: playing pretend.

 I'd been in one production in my life before then, a small stint in the musical The Music Man staged at my local high school when I was 18. I had no lines and therefore nothing to risk or to lose (except a friend or two who thought theater was for ... those who were confused, let's say).

I never got up the urge to do it again, though. Not until The Rainmaker that is.

Fast forward to St. J some twelve years later, and to the old creaky boards of the Lyndon Town Hall stage. I was hooked that first night of rehearsal and have been in a number of community productions since.

Tonight, Damn Yankees  will open on the same stage where The Music Man and some 18 other community musicals have been played.

I have to say, I'm proud to be a part of this one. There is simply nothing at all like the gathering of local talent to put on a few nights of entertainment. The sacrifice of time is probably the hardest. Students in the cast (the backbone of every community show) have had to sit in the back hall doing homework between scenes; the adults: well, we've had to scurry from work three nights a week, forsaking our families at home. My own sacrifice includes leaving my wife to fend for herself in a house with four small children while I get to go play pretend. I owe her a medal. And a back rub.

But we who do this understand that sacrifice, and so do our families. Otherwise, we wouldn't do it.

To the community, these people are giving a gift. Of time, energy and talent. For the cost of a movie ticket, folks can see homegrown pretend-players; budding stars and aging veterans like myself; musicians; directors and stage hands, all of whom live right next door to you.

Where else but in your local community theater productions can you enjoy this kind of experience? I can't think of one.

For selfish reasons I want my friends there, to feed off your energy. But I want the friends of my cast members and crew there as well, especially those of the high school kids in the show. So that they will be inspired to keep doing this, and not wait until they're 30.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Werewolf Zombie Vampire Love

I'm going to write the next best-selling series that will then be made into the biggest box office series ever.

Here's the premise: teenagers bitten by werewolves become zombies, but only - you guessed it - during a full moon. If they survive and feed on 10 other teenagers, they become vampires who cannot be killed without - you guessed it - a wooden stake to the brain.

The only cure?

You guessed it.

A mother's love.

Or blood sausage.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Educate Me

We have two children graduating from high school this June.



Both are highly ranked in their class, have worked very hard, have diligently attended to their scholarship throughout the last 12 years of their lives. We couldn't be more proud or more profoundly awestruck by their intelligence and their talents.

Both applied to an assortment of colleges and have worked since the beginning of this school year at getting applications filed, forms filled out, essays written, guidance counselors met with, visits conducted. Now, after a flood of acceptances, reality is sinking in fast.

My wife and I did not sleep much last night, burdened by the realization that our children are now facing their first, real, cold, hard test of life: money does indeed make the world go 'round.

Here is the infernal reality that all parents of college-bound students have had to face that we now, ourselves, are facing: despite the straight-As, the extracurricular activities and the participation in year-round sports; despite doing "all the right things" that colleges tell their students they "must" do if they want to be accepted to their school, it really all comes down to who has the money to afford it.

If our daughter, to use an example, were to go to her top school, she would need to come up with about $49,000.

A year.

If she were to work a full-time job while attending - which many, many people have been forced to do - she could make roughly 20 grand. That's a 10-dollar-an-hour job, or roughly the average that college students make. So, that would leave a balance due of $29,000.

So, you might be asking, "Why the hell does she have to go to her top school? Why can't she go to a cheaper school? Maybe her priorities are not in the right place?"

My response?

Why the hell does my child have to settle in the wealthiest fucking country in the world, a country in which upwards of $700 billion is spent on defense but a paltry 3 percent is given to educate its children?

My children have worked as hard as any. They've made the grade. They've proven themselves to be bright and willing to do what it takes to get into the best schools. And they're being told they can't go because, well, they just don't have the green.

Never mind. My countrymen are much more interested in what the Kardashians are wearing for a bra size.

My apologies.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Free-For-All

Gabrielle asked Corrine if Fallon’s baby was born yet. 

“No,” replied Corrine, “She has to stay inside Fallon for a while longer so she can be healthy enough to come outside.”

Gabrielle said, “Why? We got her a hat.”


It’s not uncommon to hear me practicing the solo that I sing as my character in Damn Yankees. I play the Devil and during my song I have to laugh sinisterly.
In the car or walking around the house, I sing it over and over

I see Bonaparte a mean one
If ever I’ve seen one
And Nero fiddling through that lovely blaze
Antoinette, dainty queen, with her quaint, guillotine
Those were the good ole’ days…

From outside the bathroom the other morning I hear Bailey, the Red, whose speech difficulties make him fairly incoherent on the best of days, belting out:

 (A very long incoherent verbal jambalaya )

Griffin, clutching his hand and bending his wrist toward himself, informed his mother and me “When I do this, it hurts my knee.”

Yes, I tried. And he was right.

The governor was at the high school last night conducting a blathering, ignorant bluster of nonsense town meeting at which there were maybe a hundred folks in attendance. Clearly some of them were drunken, toothless backwater sheep partisans, given the sound of applause I heard. 

On his way from the music room to the forum I was standing in the hallway doing nothing, lost in my own reverie of self-importance waiting for rehearsal to start. I had a coffee brandy in one hand, my other hand deep in my pocket use your imagination when, for a split second, he looked like he was going to call me a liberal, pinko, commie bastard shake my hand. Instead, he waddled like the penguin that he is  kept walking.

Now I wanna punch the Marden's commercial lady really hard in the juice pouch.


Before this same incident, I passed a former acquaintance who still, after six years, acts as though I shit in his coffee. 

What I wanna know is: how in the hell did he find out?


My I AM SPARTACUS! Moment of the Week

I pulled up beside a woman stopped at a light in Auburn this week. I was singing Good Ole Days to myself, as I'm apt to do most every day (see above). I turned and noticed that she was looking at me, laughing.

As she accelerated ahead of me at the light change, I spotted  her child in the back seat pulling a used diaper from her diaper bag.
I sang, my head thrown back, eyes rolled back into my head.

You know. Sinisterly.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Lately, I’ve been wrong, I think. About my approach to the Red. Bailey’s “special” nature has given rise to an assortment of challenges for us as parents, and there isn’t a day that goes by that the latest manifestation of his condition doesn’t send us into an emotional free-fall. I’ve never shrugged and scratched my head over a child more than I have with this boy.

At the very heart of my dilemma is a single burning question: do I, as his father, treat him differently because of his background and his diagnoses?

Is it fairer to Bailey that I give him preferential treatment? Or will that lead to a harder life for him once he is grown?

The facts of Bailey’s condition often collide with people’s perceptions of Bailey’s condition. A perfect example is how school administrators took his early diagnosis of mental retardation and ran with it, opting to throw him exclusively into a classroom with children who were clearly MR. In this manner, Bailey started school – his very introduction to learning – by modeling children who were fed, who could not speak at all, and who had to be changed. After we met him for the first time, on the drive home, I turned to Corrine as I drove and said “There’s no way that boy is retarded.”

As it turned out, we were right. We advocated for his inclusion in mainstream classrooms where he could be among children his own age. And the immediate effect was like watching a hatching chrysalis. Everything about Bailey grew: his vocabulary, his confidence, his sociability.
Lately, however, he’s regressed, the absolute reasons for which escape us. We have our suspicions and we’re taking steps to eliminate certain elements from his life that seem to be the cause of distress for him.

But it doesn’t resolve a lingering doubt that I have about my parenting approach to him. I am tough on Bailey. I enforce the same kinds of restrictions on him that I do his younger siblings. I can be harsh at times, even.  Gabrielle and Griffin respond to this. They learn that there are consequences to poor behavior and (for the most part) learn from the experience.

But they also respond to my love, too. As most children will do, they both soon forget a particularly harsh lesson learned, and are climbing up into my lap.
With Bailey, not so much.

He repeats the same offenses again and again, and creates all new kinds of ways to act out. Meanwhile, my overtures of kindness and love waft by him like a kind of ineffectual breeze.
So maybe it’s time that I give in and surrender to the notion that while he is not retarded, he certainly is different. That his type of personality, combined with the mess of jumbled history he has been forced to endure, requires a separate plan for him.

I am not afraid to say I have failed, or that I am wrong. I am afraid of the dark, however. And right now, it’s suffocating me.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I used to write a column for a newspaper I worked for, back along. In it I indulged readers in an obviously exaggerated accounting of my life, much of which had to do with members of my family.

Now, let me just say that I readily admit that I tread along the edge of a knife. While what I wrote certainly caused some in my family to blush, I was always cognizant of feelings and privacy and the such, so I deliberately did two things: I stretched the truth to the limits of its elasticity and I made sure I said nothing that would be hurtful, mean, or degrading.

It was, after all, a column of humor. Please insert quotations around humor if you've read these past columns and now find the use of that word to be a dubious claim.

Here's a quick life lesson. I wrote from a desire to talk about my life, but found that I could not be honest. Not really. Think of those who use humor as a way to deflect. This was a lot like that. There was no way in hell I was going to wrote "seriously" about my life the way I (secretly) wanted. The serious parts stayed buried in the richest literary soil from which healthy stories could be grown.

I danced in that garden wearing a big red nose and a pair of fat shoes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Lately I've been thinking about writing again, for the first time in awhile. Discouragement about the value and quality of my work means that I've excluded myself from continuing. I've given myself the excuse of not soldiering on because __________ and because of _____________ which logically led to _____________...

ad infinitum

There's a way to work through this, I know it. I can't not write. I've established that by the sleeplessness, the constant nagging desire to be writing. So that means I have to write. Which means I have to find a way through this equally persistent nagging self-doubt.

I read projects of mine that are in various stages of completion and I'm encouraged by how strong the writing is. There is a kernel of value there, I just need to pick a project and plunge in.

I feel like the petulant child in constant search for validation.

Lately, I've been involved in a local production of Damn Yankees and I may have stumbled onto the solution to my writing doubts.

If you've ever performed before a live audience you know how harrowing it can be. Before you, from your perspective, is a room filled with critics. People naturally are grading your performance. Current and wannabe actors sitting in rows of theater seating who are looking up and thinking "I would do that differently" or "He's flat" or "He's rushing his lines."

The actor knows this. The solution is to focus on a fixed point at the back of the room and project to it. In this way you acknowledge there is an out-of-focus blob of people there and that's it.

So it must be for the writer, I believe. The potential reader is the envious wannabe, let's say. The potential readers are all those others who you know can turn a better phrase, craft a better story. By focusing on him or her, you're giving credence to your own delusional assumption that they are reading your material and ripping you apart. Instead, I need to focus at the back of the room. A fixed point that blurs the reader, and therefore diminishes their importance while not completely eliminating them from the equation. (Let's face it, we need the audience to feel that edge of fear that propels us on. As it goes with writing.)

I do believe in the quality of my writing. I think it has a place somewhere, that there are readers who take from it something of value. And I acknowledge at the same time that there are people known to me and unknown who are superior writers.

I applaud them here, and then put them out of focus.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Equate This

Of late, I have been doing a lot of math.

My oldest announced recently that she is expecting in July, therefore making me a grandfather for the first time.

There's that. Please add five years to my age.

I turned 44 last Saturday.

There's that, as well. That's another year added (duh).

My oldest son and oldest step-daughter are both graduating high school in two months, each finishing in the top 10 percent of their class, and each headed to college in September.

There's that, too. (Five more years there)

My wife began taking college classes to become a certified midwife, fulfilling a dream she's had since before her first marriage.

Anyone I know who decides to follow a dream takes 5 years off my age. It's a pride thing. It makes the heart feel a little younger.

The girl we've been foster-parenting will more than likely be reunified with her mother in a couple months. I can't express to you here what my heart says about this other than to equate it to how I felt when I watched E.T. die while Elliot sobbed.

I fear there will be no magical bicycle ride to make it all better. For her sake, I hope I'm wrong. With all humility I can say that what we give her is better. There. I said it.

This will age me by ten years, easily.

I'm in my local community musical Damn Yankees, which premieres in three weeks. I play Applegate, a.k.a "The Devil." I love the part. I get to sing a solo with a walking cane and just enough soft shoe choreography to make me not look moronic.  I love being back on stage. I love being Satan. What does that say about me?

Doing what you love for no other reason: that's five years back for me.

My wife and I have decided that our adopted son, Bailey, will no longer be allowed to visit his biological aunt. It seems she's been telling him stories about how we "stole" him from his real mother (whom he's never met). Not to mention the fact that each time he visits her he comes back a behavioral miscreant who needs to be reprogrammed to act human again.

This is a wash. On the one hand, we're closing the door on the last remaining biological family member who ever showed love for the boy. On the other hand, we're closing the door on access to a part of his life that, according to his physician and therapist, causes him more regression and confusion than he can handle.

I went ahead and spent a goodly amount of cash for a home digital recording studio so that I can begin composing music. I haven't done this for nearly 20 years.

Doing something everyone else thinks is irrational: give me back five years.

My oldest son, for his 18th birthday, decided to get a tattoo.

Add five.

The tattoo turned out to be the title of my first (and so far only) published book. He had it done in a graduated blue on his arm. It looks fucking awesome, man.

That's 10 back for me. 

Recently my two youngest, in the span of ten minutes of each other, hugged me and said they loved me, something I hope I never get used to because the surprise of it is like finding a one-hundred-dollar bill in a back pocket just when you need it most.

With everything I perceive to not have, I realize I have in abundance that which I need.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Getting back to things

It's been too long.

Time to reconnect, to get back to the thing I love most, and that's writing.

This is a small step, but a step nonetheless....