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Sunday, May 21, 2017

piss and vinegar

I woke up this morning with a strong desire to write. Not my own pet project but this blog post, which is a review of a musical I saw last night for the first and hopefully not the last time.

The musical is called Impresario and I need to own the cast recording that doesn't exist of it yet. It's the true story of a young man from Newfoundland, John Murray Anderson, who dreamed of being a showman when he was running around St. John's without his rubber boots on, even though his mom said not to, and how he made those dreams come true on Broadway, and in Hollywood, back in the first half of the 20th century. You've never heard of him but he knew people like Bette Davis and Lucille Ball. He was kind of a big deal.

I'm not a very good reviewer so what I should say next is unclear to me. One thing I could say is that I judge most music based on whether I want to sing it or not.

I want to sing almost everything I heard last night and I'm not sure if I remember enough of the tunes yet, hence the need for a cast album. I had a similar experience last month after I left the Broadway performance of a new musical called Groundhog Day which has been nominated for a Tony for best musical.

I could add that last night I jumped to my feet and started the standing ovation in my section rather than rising to my feet only after the other people got up and blocked my view.

I am not the only reviewer of Impresario who thought that way.  The Telegram thought so too and, like Mikey, they don't like anything at least when it comes to musicals. The reviewer practically says that out right.

This may be all you really need to know but I can't ever leave well enough alone so here's the long version of what I just said.

Full disclosure, my niece, Erika Squires was in this show. I have been to many shows she has been in through the years and I confess I have often preferred to watch her rather than anyone else on stage. That is why if you want my attention focused on centre stage, it's probably just best to cast her as the lead. Quite a few people already have.

In this show, she was a supporting player and she provided excellent support. She played several different characters and they were in fact different characters and not just Erika wearing a different funny hat (she wore quite a few funny hats). I particularly liked the hat she wore while she was doing a pretty nifty accent (sorry, Erika, I forget who you were even though I won't forget the performance).

As tempting as it was to just watch Erika, I must admit that I kept getting distracted by all the other people wearing funny hats and beards and shower caps and plumage, too.

I kind of know most of the people who were wearing all this outlandish gear because I have had the privilege to work with them. I have been in the chorus of several shows where they have been the leads or filled the character roles so I knew going in they were talented. I recommend being in the chorus of a musical if ever you can manage it because you get to watch the show over and over again without paying a dime. You also get to see how the sausage gets made and it is worth every minute of your "real" life that you give up to be at all those rehearsals where you have to "wait" until it's your turn to sing. I am not a big fan of waiting and I hardly ever feel like I am waiting for anything when I am watching these people perform.

For this particular show, I could tell you about Jeff Simms who found his inner parrot as well as his hilarious old Newfoundland codger, while also finding time to dance and sing as a dog.

I could tell you about Emily Follett who became Hermione Gingold as she sang about testicles - I actually remember who Hermione Gingold is so I was pretty sure I was looking at her in that moment.

I could tell you about Dan Lasby who played Flatulent Frederick, The Felicitous Philatelist, a character and a song that are just as funny as they sound.

I could tell you about Andrew Preston who was a hopeful young man dreaming of being a showman and also an annoying paperboy, a hilarious thorn in a tetchy Florenz Ziegfeld's side. Philip Goodridge's Ziegfeld and his John Anderson Sr. are also worth mentioning in greater detail than I am giving him.

I could tell you about Kiersten Noel whose long hobble dragging a chair across stage was never not funny. She also made me cry real tears as Genevieve Lyon, a woman who died too soon, for her husband and the rest of us as well.

I absolutely should tell you about John Williams who played John Murray Anderson, the Impresario himself, who made me watch him despite all the amazingly talented people beside and behind him, who made me listen to him when there was so much else I could have been listening and looking at.

I could go on and on about everyone in the show but my husband thinks I should get to the point more often.

None of this would have been possible without the guys who wrote and staged the play, director/dramaturg Tim Matson and music director/orchestrator Kyle McDavid. Kyle is also given credit for graphic and set design as well as playing the impresario's brother and playing piano in the band, who performed onstage and were often an active part of the set.  I guess that made him the conductor too. I am tempted to add chief cook and bottle washer to Kyle's credits.

It would be pointless to single either of them out so I guess I will just have to mention that the staging was inventive and fun, the story moved along and was moving, the music was hilarious and sad and memorable.

I particularly want to mention Piss & Vinegar, In Colorado, If I Don't Get a Drink in the Next Five Minutes, and Anderson's Time.  I am tempted just to list all the songs.

I should also give a shout out to the choreography and the costuming and maybe even to my sister, Jane, who loaded the prop crates back into her truck at the end of the evening.

There are no small roles only small actors and small reviewers who can't take the time to thank all the people who are responsible for the success of a show.

All of the people I mentioned above, and all of those I didn't, are deserving of my thanks for giving me and everyone else in the audience a really good time on a Saturday night.

Monday, May 15, 2017

it only happens when i dance with you

Last Thursday, I was having a tough day at work for reasons. I was frustrated and needed a day off because as I near retirement, I have finally realized that I have a new job waiting for me as soon as I can get to it.  I am so impatient for it, I have already started to do the work, fitting it in whenever I have a spare moment.

I chose today because it meant I could manage to get through Thursday and Friday without pulling all my hair out.

I was supposed to be getting a whole day off to myself to do nothing except what I wanted, all by myself.

But before I could get to this wonderful day off all to myself, I did not realize that I had to jump through a few extra hoops that I had forgotten about:
  1. I had to take my car to get the snow tires off, the oil changed, and see about a thing that may need to hammered back into place.
  2. I had to take my husband to work because otherwise I wouldn't have a car while the above was being removed, replaced, changed, and hammered
  3. I had to take my daughter to her job shadowing thing because she has a PD day and she didn't need to go to school and may in fact be back before I am ready for her to be back.
  4. I had to do two loads of laundry for her because I am mindful of the fact that her life gets overwhelming from time to time and when she gets overwhelmed, I get overwhelmed and I need to help her learn to be mindful enough to not let her laundry get out of hand. She helped me put on the first load.
  5. I had to do the laundry today because it is a beautiful day for drying laundry outside and she has a lot of stuff that needs to be hung to dry.
  6. I had to pick up a lot of dog shit in and around the laundry rack in the backyard because it was a minefield out there and I wouldn't have been able to safely hang out the laundry otherwise. Judge me if you must but two dogs make a whole shit ton of crap and it's hard to find the time to get out there and clean it up.
  7. I had to rescue the small plastic patio table from the shed and dump out the water that had gathered in it because it had been stored upside down under a lot of crap but there is no door on the shed.
  8. I had to put the laundry basket on the small plastic table because my back isn't what it used to be and I hate to bend.
  9. I had to figure out how to fit two loads of laundry onto one drying rack that is really only big enough for 1.5 loads.
  10. I had to throw all the socks and underwear and everything else that wouldn't fit on the drying rack into the dryer and then remember to set the dryer going.
  11. I had to scrub something with soap because stains don't come out in the wash if you don't scrub them.
  12. I had to scrub some mystery substance off the deck because I was afraid if I walked past it one more time I was going to a) step in it and then I'd have to clean my shoe, or b) scream if I had to look at it one more time.
  13. Then, I had to write this all down on my blog because writing is my new job, but writing this blog is only the beginning.
Thank God I have Fred Astaire on my iPhone to help me get through it.

I have been up for 5 hours and now I am finally ready to begin my day. *

*Still have to pick up the husband, the car, and the kid.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

the owl roost

When I was a kid I always had trouble buying gifts for my dad.  Like most adults, if he needed or wanted anything he just bought it whenever he needed or wanted it.

My mom and he often disagreed on the definition of "need."

I didn't realize it at the time but everyone has trouble buying gifts for adults for the exact same reason. I think we have all fallen into the trap of latching on to the one or two things we know someone likes and beating that gift idea into the ground. It helps if the adult in question has started a collection or has had one foisted upon them.

My dad collected owls - how vigorously he would have pursued this interest if there hadn't been so many birthdays and Christmases and Father's Days to be shopped for is unclear.

My own frog obsession was started when my schoolfriend, Paula Lockyer, purchased an adorable stuffed frog (probably at a drug store) and gave her to me for my birthday sometime during junior high (probably at a sleepover in the Simmons family playroom).

The frog was most definitely a girl because her red lipstick was (and still is) fierce. Her name is Freddy Frig Frog and she decided to come with me on my first solo plane trip when I was 16. Afterwards she went on all my trips as a good luck charm.

She has since been retired as a travel companion because her bow was getting frayed and I didn't want her to lose those fantastic lips.

My father took this singular frog love to mean I needed more of them and he started bringing back frogs to me from every trip my parents took.

A frog collection was born.

I gave into the pressure and started buying my own, eventually becoming a bit of a snob, not giving as much love to the frog I received as a present if it was the same frog I already had wearing a different hat.

Buying a frog or an owl or a cat for a collector is usually a pretty safe bet because if you think it's cute, it probably is. And there are so many owl and frog and cat variations out there that you probably won't give an exact duplicate (except for when you do). The collector will most likely love it right up until she realizes she has run out of places to put it and by then the collection is a pain in the butt to dust. She will probably still secretly love it long after she has blown past that stage and has started to reduce the inventory.

So a long time ago, every April, June, and December, I dutifully went out looking for a gift for my dad. I tried to be original but too many times all I could find was the cutest owl I could find.

One time I was dismayed and delighted to find my dad had bought himself the exact same mirror shaped like the exact same white owl.

Both mirrors made their way down to our cabin, The Owl Roost, famous in ornithological circles for the hundreds of owl species that live there. There was even a popular contest to guess the number in residence. There was no real answer because no one could agree on a final tally or whether you should count the playing cards hidden in the drawer individually.

Everybody loved the owls so anyone who cared enough about my dad to buy him a gift eventually fell into the owl trap.  It was irresistible. It was inevitable.

I have even gotten owls as presents from friends who got my collecting obsession confused with my dad's.  I still have my favourites.

After my dad died far too young at 53, the owl collection at the Owl Roost ceased to grow at its previous pace.  Eventually, it started to contract as the dust and mildew of too many winters took their toll. It was often too much trouble to climb up and clean the high shelf encircling the main room of the cabin, a shelf built especially for owl display.

But the best and brightest remain, occasionally joined by the odd new owl someone couldn't resist.

It's still impossible to figure out how many owls live in the Owl Roost - still too many to get an accurate count.

Whenever someone on Facebook posts a memory of their dad who has passed away, I always feel a little pang for my own dad and little guilty too because I don't do something like that very often. I sometimes would rather forget a lot of dates: April 30th, Father's Day, February 8th.

And most especially February 3rd.  I really hate February 3rd.

I don't really forget them but sometimes it's just easier to remember that they're coming up or realize they are just past.

I woke up this morning (not really this morning - last month to tell the truth) and I was idly thinking that if there had been an internet when I was a kid, I would have been able to search the world for the perfect gift for my dad.

Then I thought, wouldn't it be nice if on my dad's birthday I made a short post in which I revealed that I went shopping online for my dad and found the perfect gift, no expense spared.  The gifting possibilities were endless.

Then I realized I already had the perfect gift.  I had actually gotten it a few years ago, back when I was in England.  A photograph I got my husband to take for me.

So here you go, Dad. I got you an owl.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

what i did for love

A couple of months ago, we got a call from a friend about a good deal on tickets to New York and did we want to go there with her and her daughter, SWDNO's best friend.

Of course a seat sale to NYC is just an invitation to blow all the money you save on airfare on that city's wonders and delights. After convincing ourselves this was such a good deal we couldn't pass it up and pretending we had no idea how poor we would be afterwards, we agreed pretty readily.

The first time I went to New York, I was 18. In order to get there, I stuffed myself into a VW camper van with five other people, the majority of my family; my older sister had to be in Moncton. Our ultimate destination was Florida so we had only one day to spend in the Big Apple.

My brother was the only one brave (or foolhardy) enough to drive us into the heart of the beast. To a crowd of Newfoundlanders who hadn't even mastered the art of merging, the traffic in and around New York was like something out of Grand Theft Auto (a simile we wouldn't have used because it didn't exist back then).

It was a beautiful spring day which my brother and two younger sisters decided would be best spent navigating the NY subway system so they could visit a friend who worked at the Waldorf Astoria (!) but who lived in Brooklyn.

I was a weird teenager who actually liked hanging out with her parents, or at least would tolerate their presence because they wanted to see actual NYC - or more particularly Manhattan, and more specifically everything in walking distance of Times Square.

I remember walking around feeling like I had been there before, knowing the street names, having seen it all so many times in the movies and on TV. We went to the top of the Empire State Building. I bought a T-shirt declaring my undying love for NY.

Mostly, we just had time to wander around, jaws dropping, clutching our purses against the muggers.

I couldn't wait to get back.

It took me 32 years - I had to make Her Father take me there as a 50th birthday present because he was only interested in sunshine and beaches in the deep, dark winter of a Newfoundland spring. Technically, we went in the fall that time, but fall and spring are equally the best times to go to New York.

We saw Central Park, we went to the top of 30 Rock. We saw The Book of Mormon at highway robbery prices because of travel delays and poor planning, and because my husband didn't want to disappoint me.

Our next trip we took at Easter. We got to stroll on the Avenue, Fifth Avenue, with people in their Easter bonnets.

It was a blast. We saw Central Park, we went to the top of the Empire State, we saw Wicked and Beautiful. They were still pricey tickets but we didn't spend quite so much because we booked in advance.

For our most recent trip we were even smarter. I wanted to see everything so it didn't matter which show I went to, mostly. I was ready to take my chances at the half-price ticket booth in Times Square.

But after seeing a video of Jake Gyllenhaal sing "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George, I convinced Her Father that we absolutely needed to see it (it was a limited run). He gave me the tickets for my birthday.

We prudently booked it for the second night so there was no danger of Air Canada or United screwing us over (United and AC screwed us over the first time).

Sunday in the Park with George and Jake Gyllenhaal is about making art, putting it together. I am attempting to do that with this blog so it is really relevant to my life right now.  The production was first rate, the snacks were expensive.

The reason the snacks were so expensive is because they were all about art too.

I kept the Coke bottle/tin because I spent so much money on it I didn't feel I could buy any of the other cool art/souvenir t-shirts on sale (items in the background were not purchased at the theatre).

The sign over the bar was a quote from the play, the importance of balance between life and work.

George couldn't find room in his life for anyone unless they helped him with his art. He had room for a bare minimum of non-art (the sign says: More red, more blue, more beer). There is apparently always room for beer.

Art isn't easy but going to this play was because we pre-purchased the tickets.

I had to struggle to see art the first day we arrived, however. The day was cold and a bit damp; we were all exhausted and everyone wanted to have a nap. Our luggage had not arrived. I needed to figure out how to get discount tickets to whichever show was the best deal.

I finally decided that the only show I was willing to stay awake for was Groundhog Day. I loved the movie and I loved Tim Minchin, the man who wrote the music and lyrics.

Because my windbreaker/rain jacket was also refusing to come to America, I had to wrap myself up in my Tardis hoodie and brave the cold. It wasn't too bad while I was walking to Times Square but it was pretty bitter once I had to wait on line.  I got reasonably good seats at a good price, in a back row of the Orchestra section.

I also bought our friends tickets to see Cats; by some miracle, it was playing in the theatre right across the street from Groundhog Day so we made arrangements to meet on the street right before the shows.  Then I dragged my cold bones back for a two hour nap - had to set an alarm so we wouldn't sleep in.

We somehow managed to drag ourselves back out into the cold despite not having had enough sleep, an hour before showtime. Fortunately, I didn't have space in our checked bag for the thick cozy sweater I had packed in my carry-on so SWDNO had a warmer sweater than what she had worn on the plane.  Normally, I would not wear a Tardis to a Broadway show but I had no other options.

We arrived on 52nd street with 10 minutes to spare, gave our friends their tickets, and rushed to join the line filtering into the August Wilson Theatre across the way. I was just opening my purse to show I had no concealed fruit on my person when I noticed an impossible thing.

The tickets I held in my fist, the ones I had checked as per instruction before leaving the TKTS booth earlier that afternoon, were for Groundhog Day but not for April 7. They were for April 8!

This was impossible - first of all, the TKTS booth can only sell tickets for the day of the performance so they couldn't have sold me tickets for the following night. Secondly, I had tickets to see Jake in the Park on Saturday Night and I couldn't see Groundhog Day at the same time.

Panicking, I rushed to the ticket booth and gibbered at the guy behind the glass. He couldn't understand how it happened either so he went off to talk to the manager. When he finally came back, I waved my receipt at him to show further proof I wasn't scamming him.

He assured me that he would never distrust anyone in a Tardis so he took a big red Sharpie and wrote J105 and J106 on our tickets in big friendly letters.  When we got to our seats and saw that we were only 10 rows from the stage and right smack dab in the middle with two empty seats in front of us, we were in our glee.

At first I found it hard to pay attention we were so wound up in our good fortune at getting such good seats to such a good show. But the show was worth all the drama. It was clever, funny, musically interesting, full of creative staging, lightning fast costume changes, and delightful sleight of hand.

There was even a song all about me, Playing Nancy.

We laughed, we cried, it became a part of us.

Afterwards, we bought all the souvenirs we could afford. We will be twins in matching rodent shirts.

Later I tweeted the greatest compliment I could think of which was that I wanted to steal the ideas I was getting while watching the show.

Then a Broadway miracle occurred. Tim Minchin liked me. Twice.

I was verklempt.

After the reality of all this ticket and souvenir purchasing began to sink in, I started thinking about ways to economise. Plus my options for Sunday and Monday night Broadway shows were not as wide-ranging as I had hoped. None of the other shows I had high on my list were even on offer. Aladdin was too dear and practically sold out to boot.

So on Sunday, we rested. On Monday, Her Father decided to check out the musical rodent while SWDNO and I checked out a fantastic movie theatre showing Beauty and the Beast. I loved that musical as an animated film and enjoyed the live action almost as much. The theatre was worth the extra we paid for it too, with it's comfy reclining seats complete with foot rests, all adjusted with the touch of buttons; you wouldn't even know there was anyone in the seats in front of you because the tops of the seats in front were on level with the low wall at our feet.

At the end, I stood up to find my head was projected on the screen. We made hand puppets over the closing credits.

Afterwards, we went back to 52nd Street to hang out at the Groundhog Day stage door. My Cousin Debbie has a friend in the cast who had added us to the guest list or so we thought. But there was a miscommunication and the door guy didn't know who we were. He said he'd check but everyone else on the list were being let in and it looked like we weren't.

Someone else appeared who was there for Tari Kelly, our friend of a cousin friend. She came out to meet them and when someone called her by name, I grabbed my chance.

"I'm Cousin Debbie's cousin!" I cried. "We're not on the list."

She quickly sorted that out and we were in, standing on a Broadway stage looking out at the primo seats we had sat in only three nights before. Tari graciously took time away from her actual friends to show us around.

I have been in a few local productions at the Arts and Culture Centre so it was partly what I was expecting, but the compactness of it all was astounding. They have to get a lot of stuff into a very little space, a multitude of props and set pieces, on shelves, stuck in corners, hanging from the ceiling.

In my last show, I had trouble getting a couple of chairs on stage and a bar piece I had to maneuver was tricky to get locked on its mark. They have to wrangle so many moving pieces in that show and do it with such professionalism and grace I was in awe.

I couldn't have asked for a more fitting end to our stay in New York.

Although my bills have yet to come home to roost and I am wondering whether I will pay them with buttons or beach rocks, I don't think I have ever felt so satisfied with a trip in my life.

Art isn't easy and it sure ain't cheap, but it's worth it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

what if i had a pointed stick?

The no plot family has just returned from a 5-day jaunt in the wilds of New York City, Big Apple, and boy, did we have some big city adventures.

Our story began in an unusual way for us in that Her Father was away on business and was going to meet us there.  SWDNO and I have only travelled together by plane without Her Father one time before and that involved a journey home from Halifax and a minor panic attack when I couldn't find her ID which it turned out I didn't actually need because it wasn't required of someone under the age of 16.

I have travelled many times on my own but I had forgotten about the extra steps for checking in to an international flight and I didn't have everything I needed handy. Her Father would normally handle those details; I am usually in a minor/major panic over all the things I have to do the day before a flight so I let him. After struggling with the bureaucracy and the snotty, impatient foot tapping of the Air Canada check-in website, I came to the realization that I needed to give my husband a raise.

Then we had to get up at the buttcrack of dawn to catch our flight. I managed to handle that much better than usual with nary a panicky twinge, even grabbing some breakfast snacks for later since my stomach refuses to wake up until it sees a decent amount of light in the sky.  I even ate said snacks, or most of them, as we flew from St. John's to Halifax to Montreal. SWDNO has a sleepier stomach than mine, being a teenage stomach and all, otherwise I swear I would have shared with her.

Montreal was the launching point for our migration south to the Land of the Free; we were certainly bringing the weary, if not the poverty - we would become a lot poorer the longer we stayed near the Statue of Liberty, in fact.  Still, I was pretty chipper for someone who had had only a few hours sleep.

When we had to pass from the lackluster Canadian-secured departure area for the hyper-secure-bordering-on-paranoid American-secured departure area, I found it amusing when my carry on bag took a slight detour so that it could be searched. I couldn't think what had raised the alarm because I usually hide my illegal goods quite cleverly.

It turned out, I had a fully loaded banana guard in my bag that the security agent retrieved with a grin and waved in the air to show his comrade on the x-ray machine. They let us pass through even though we were clearly a security risk. Good thing I hadn't come at them with a handful of raspberries.*

My banana was not destined to escape additional scrutiny, however.

Instead of proceeding to the never ending, hardly moving line to the next available customs agent, SWDNO and I were then directed to a electronic kiosk where we were given the 3rd degree by a jumped-up ATM which tried to trip us up with questions like were we dangerous criminals carrying any guns, explosives, or surfboards? As an experienced traveller, I know you just say "no" to everything without reading the questions.

SWDNO had never been asked these questions directly before so she insisted that we had to answer one question "yes". We were in fact trying to import one single, solitary banana into the country and therefore had to pay once again for our sin.

The ATM printed out a couple of disapproving chits into our waiting hands. It's disapproval was made plain by the large "x" slashed across each one.

We were then shuttled into another incredibly short line - we were the entire line in fact. I guess it was the troublemakers line and no one else dared to make any trouble in the glare of the American Homeland Security spotlights.  We waited for someone to release the hounds.

We were finally waved over to an actual human customs officer** who seemed to not even notice the badges of shame that our chits were wearing.  He repeated most of the same questions as the ATM but in a slightly different way, hoping no doubt to trip us up.

He nearly got me too. He asked if we had any food and I was in the middle of saying no when it occurred to me that bananas are also a type of food in addition to being military ordnance. I hastily admitted to the banana as casually as I could.

I pointed an accusing finger at my own daughter and claimed she was to blame for all this unpleasantness having insisted on my answering the question truthfully.

The customs officer laughed and said at least she was honest. Then he waved us through.

Imagine our glee as we stood on the other side of the sliding doors, essentially already on American soil with our nutritious snack/WMD still in hand.

In a few short hours we were loose on the streets of New York, armed for bear.

Sadly, our sole checked suitcase lost its nerve at the last minute. She organized a small rebellion of 5 or 6 other items of luggage and refused to cross the border. We learned this upon our arrival at La Guardia when the luggage carousel refused to provide any more items for a small group of us to choose from.

Air Canada managed to round up the recalcitrant baggage and dragged them into Trumpland later that same day, kicking and screaming I imagine. Our bag waited until the dead of night to slip unseen into the city, under cover of darkness.

The rest of the story you can hear about on Fox News.

*Thanks, Jennifer. :-)
One of our travelling companions suggested that security hadn't really thought it was a weapon but that they were hoping it was something naughty. She is clearly not a Monty Python fan.
**could have been a terminator

Friday, March 17, 2017

an open letter to irish/newfoundland traditional songwriters


This morning as my clock radio clicked on, I was delighted to hear that Mr. Fergus O'Byrne was about to give a live performance over the airwaves in honour of St. Patrick's Day. Imagine my dismay, however, when his first song was one that has been the bane of my existence lo these many years. It got my Irish up, let me tell you. First of all, gentlemen, let me assure you that I am not an alcoholic beverage. Even if I were, it isn't me who has been pouring it down your gob all this time. If you can't pass a whiskey sour without a pang, that's on you. Secondly, I never made you any promises. I did not deceive you, jilt you, or make any marital decisions solely based upon the amount of gold in your pockets. And finally, Jack, I have heard the wife's haunting monologue, a companion piece to Mr. Jim Payne's Wave Over Wave, and if you think I'd marry a sailor for less than 20,000 GBP per annum, free healthcare, and the provision of affordable childcare assistance, you're an idiot.



P.S. I'm wearing the green today but my sneakers are orange in protest

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

beware the ides of march

Last month, my mother and I were looking at some old photos and we came across a couple of black and white shots that I didn't remember seeing before, or if I had seen them before I hadn't realized what I was looking at. Two English degrees have made me something of an expert on the significance of togas and raised daggers so I am now able to make a definite identification of the subject matter. 

Apparently, my father had been in a student production of Julius Caesar at Prince of Wales Collegiate and I had never known about it.

I can't get over these photographs. I love them so much I just have to share them with the world.
Ray Simmons (3rd from right) in a PWC production of Julius Caesar. Daily News photo, c. 1946
The first Shakespeare I ever read was Julius Caesar and I believe my love for this long-dead English guy began in Act 1, scene 1, when this Roman guy said, "You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!"

"That Shakespeare really knew how to throw shade," I thought to myself, or words to that effect. I was 13 or 14 at the time so I'm sure I knew all the current slang.

The photos had the copyright owner on the back - The Daily News - but since I have also learned a thing or two about copyright, I knew they had to be public domain since the production could be no later than 1946 which is when my dad graduated (I think, still waiting for confirmation of that but my math skills tell me that it's earlier than 1948 so I'm safe).

But there was no indication of what role my father was playing. Was he a block or a stone? A lowly messenger doomed to read his missives and exit, stage left?  I formed a great hope that he was Mark Antony because Antony has a really cool speech; my dad was really cool too but I could find no proof in the picture.

The crime scene photographs showed he was at the Senate during the assassination but offered no other clues about his part in the plot.

My first thought was to ask my Aunt Ruth since he was her big brother and she might remember. So I sent a message to my Cousin Debbie to ask her to ask her mother if this rang any bells.

Cousin Debbie, who is a professional actress, replied that she had no need to ask her mother because my father's theatrical exploits were legendary in her household already. My aunt so loved the production that she still owned the very sandals that my father wore.

And if that wasn't astounding enough, my aunt, a retired elementary school teacher in Milwaukee, had put on a Grade 6 production of the play every year in my dad's honour.
Ray Simmons crouching on the far left, waiting for his chance to strike. Daily News photo, c. 1946.
And he wasn't a block or a stone or an Antony, he played the lead role of Brutus!

He played the guy who struck the final blow upon his best friend. His victim's dying words are still quoted to this day even though they're in a dead language and many people don't know who they are quoting.

My dad was "Et tu, Bruté?".

Sadly I didn't think to check for the reviews in the local media until this morning. If I find such a thing I will share it here.

If the Doctor ever shows up and offers me a ride in his Tardis to anywhere in time or space, I now know where I would want to go.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

ain't nobody got no time for that

Once upon a time there were three pieces of furniture in the no plot family dining room who were very, very sad. They longed to be the kind of dining room that received visitors on occasion but they had fallen in with a bad crowd (the no plot family) and hadn't had any callers in quite some time.

Because the no plots were constantly being inundated with the detritus of life, e.g. bills, flyers, miscellaneous tools, report cards, mystery crap that no one could identify, school photos, a multitude of artworks created by a child prodigy whose genius defied her age, and many other implements of tree destruction, the no plot dining room often fell into long periods of disuse other than as a repository for the items listed above.

I forgot to take a before picture but I found a picture on the interweb which will give you an idea:

Last Stop: The Scrapyard

How this guy got into my house I'll never know.

One day, the no plots decided to host a family dinner but had just returned from a trip and had little time or energy for the agonizingly slow process of clearing off the dining room table and finding homes for all the displaced refugees residing there. (The sideboard was sometimes cleared for company but the side table was always shit out of luck.)

Then I had an idea. A wonderful, awful idea.

What if I just crammed all this crap into a cardboard box, hid the box, and figured out where the crap should go later?!?!

So that's what I did, with some exceptions (why would anyone leave Liquid Wrench on an eating surface?).

The boxes (plural) were spirited away and the dining room became a (mostly) guilt free zone; the dining table went back to serving dinner and the top of the sideboard went back to displaying whimsical tchotchkes as God intended. The side table was still shit out of luck but was eventually shown some love at a later date.

Now view the amazing transformation:

Here are the boxes which I can assure you are now almost absolutely sorted:

Not pictured is the dining room table which had a bit of a relapse.

Pictures Not Yet Available
By Mkey (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, the dining room has reluctantly agreed to have its shame paraded on the web for your amusement:

This final picture added to emphasize that beauty can often be found amongst the clutter of life:

And the dining room furniture and the no plots lived happily ever after.

(Also not pictured is the computer room which is the new mail room and is a work in progress).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

expletive deleted

A friend of mine expressed some concern yesterday that I have been secretly judging her and the other member of our Stitch and Bitch group for the past 30 years because their language has always been a little more nautically inclined than my own.

This morning I went back and updated my previous post to ensure that future generations don't make the same mistake.  So you don't have to go back and read the whole damn thing again, my definition of constant swearing is basically every other word. If you can find 3 or 4 good ones to fit in between the bad, I will withhold judgment (I'm not a complete dick).

If any of you are fellow fans of Deadwood, you would have realized that that is not a hard and fast rule. If you took all the profanity out of that show all you'd have left is some definite and indefinite articles and a few action verbs.

One of the stories I had considered including in yesterday's piece concerned a lady who had a cabin next to my S&B friend, 30-odd years ago.  This lady's husband had been a commander in the army or reserves (something military anyway). I don't recall how the topic came up, but I remember her complaining about how all the contemporary movies about the military were completely inaccurate because of all the blue language flying about.  We couldn't convince her that no military man would ever swear in front of the commander's wife upon fear of court martial or flogging or death or something.

She apparently had never read Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead which is famous for revealing the sordid truth that combat soldiers swear all the time and infamous for insisting that the only bad word they use is "fug." Publishing codes at the time would not allow the revelation of the naked truth.

The divine Tallulah Bankhead is said to have approached Mailer at a party and commented, "So you're the man who can't spell 'fuck'."

I can't say I blame the commander's wife for not reading that book though. Once you stop being amused by the fuggery, it's a tough read for anyone who thinks human beings have at least some redeeming characteristics.

A more cheery read is For Whom the Bell Tolls (and by cheery I mean not everyone is a complete asshole). In that book I learned that Spanish is full of delightful swear words that I will never know because Hemingway decided to replace all the obscene words with the word "obscenity." Until I take Spanish lessons (or Google it) I will be forced to wonder what the hell anyone meant by "I obscenity in the milk."

If you would care to do further research into what type of swearing I find acceptable, check out the following resources: Bull Durham (also contains some steamy sex if you are so inclined); Slap Shot (I don't know if it has aged well but I include it here for historical accuracy, full disclosure, and the Paul Newman reference); and the eminently quotable but not in front of your mom Pulp Fiction.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

there are no bad words only bad spelling

It will no doubt come as a surprise to people who know me in real life and not just as a cloud of disembodied electrons that I used to be a smoker.

It is perhaps equally astonishing that I started smoking at the tender age of 11 when I was invited to join my Almost-Twin Sister and Jenny from Up the Street behind the Jones's house one summer's evening when the Jones family must have been away.

Jenny from Up the Street was a couple of years older than me and I didn't really know her well other than as a tough girl who'd been around the block. Since our block was in quiet suburban West End St. John's in the middle of what used to be a farmer's field, this did not really mean much. At the time, I considered her exotic, cool, and a little bit dangerous which was probably only because she was from a slightly lower socio-economic class* and didn't go to my school because she was Catholic.

Plus her tendency to lure younger children behind dark houses to introduce them to the demon weed.

What I saw that night behind the Jones's house was quite shocking, let me tell you. There was my 9-almost-10-year-old Almost-Twin Sister smoking like a tilt and, to add to my abhorrence, cursing like a sailor (this was not her first trip behind the Jones's house apparently). Filthy words were spewing from her mouth joining the noxious cloud of smoke in a whirling dance about our heads. I didn't even know what a lot of those words meant but I instinctively knew they were bad.

It was then I formed the deeply held conviction that smoking caused swearing.

Despite (or perhaps because of) my horror at this scene, I decided to continue with my own descent into juvenile delinquency and tried to light a cigarette.  I put it in my mouth, Jenny lit the end; I inhaled deeply and promptly began to choke and gag and struggle for air.

I dropped the cigarette and refused to try it again. But I did stick around while they continued to smoke, me lighting matches for the rest of the evening like a total badass.

Thus ended my career as a smoker and I became an insufferably self-righteous prig about it forever after like most reformed smokers.

What didn't end at that moment was my fascination with the demon word.

While a lot of kids associated smoking with adulthood, I became more interested in profanity as the true sign of maturity (the irony of that only just occurring to me). I was practically bursting with pride and adulthood when my parents took me to see The Sting, my first grown-up movie, when I was about 12. When Paul Newman told Robert Shaw he (RS) played poker with his head up his ass, I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard. I fell in love with Paul Newman and his filthy mouth after that movie - I still can't bring myself to throw out his poster which is currently rolled up and stored with the Christmas wrap.

I also fell in love with seeing movies in the theatre where my beloved swear words could be heard in all their glory and the jokes were never ruined by the poorly dubbed non-sequiturs you heard on TV. Growing up in the '70s during the golden age of Serious Movies that had finally broken the dirty language barrier, I thought it was stupid to censor those words because if the movie was good, they had an artistic purpose, and if the movie was lazy, the bad words made it more entertaining. Connoisseurs of the ridiculous might enjoy the extreme lengths TV censors had to go through to cover the ears of the easily outraged but I just wanted to hear the gosh-darn, melon-farming cuss words.

But despite my advanced internal maturity and appreciation of the art form, I was still very self-conscious about actually swearing myself.  As my mother has said on at least one occasion, I wouldn't say shit if my mouth was full of it.

I don't remember hearing my parents swearing very much but when they did it was pretty low level stuff.  I never heard either of them say the f-word. The worst thing I ever remember my mother saying was the s-word which I think shows remarkable forbearance for a woman who had five children in seven years and had to change diapers full of the s-word for 10 years straight.

When I was in grade six, my best friend's two-year-old baby brother was a prodigiously entertaining cusser thanks to his nine-year old boy cousin but other than that, I don't think many of my friends swore either.

Peer pressure finally broke my own personal Hays Code in a rather backwards way when my Almost-Twin Sister and I started hanging out with our older brother's friends in the graveyard behind the houses across the street from us.

The language was pretty R-rated among those teenage boys (feel free to clutch your pearls now) and it was pretty contagious. My Almost-Twin fit in right away. But when I finally dropped my first tentative f-bombs they were met with such amusement that I swore I would outdo all those fuckers. My conversation became so chockablock with bad words, I could hardly contain them when my parents were around.

This phase was probably so short-lived that I'm not sure anyone other than me remembers it.  I eventually realized that constant cursing lost it's appeal since the shock value wore off if you did it too much and often it just revealed a lack of vocabularial imagination. (By constant cursing I mean every other word. If you can find 3 or 4 good ones to stick in between the bad, you're doing fine.)

I went back to being a G-rated conversationalist while reserving the right to say anything I darn well please as appropriate.  I am a big fan of inappropriate words being used appropriately.

After all, when you stub your toe on the coffee table, there is no more appropriate word choice than FUCK!  Or maybe fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck! It feels a hell of lot better too if you keep that word and its derivatives in reserve for just such an occasion.

Which finally brings me around to my point (and I do have one). My last blog post probably surprised a lot of people since I am not known for my salty language.**  But I've been hanging around on the internet with loose companions and I watched the first season of Deadwood, a filthy masterpiece of profanity used in epic proportions, so my self-censor has gone all to shit.

That post was about depression as well as dishwashing and those topics deserve to be described in the filthiest terms possible because they both suck dead sheep sideways.

I have also stuck my name on this formerly anonymous blog because I am really trying to write something worthwhile here and I'm trying to find my way back to being a writer like my dad who used to regale complete strangers with (mostly) true tales of our family's adventures disguised as an outdoors column published for the whole freaking world to see in The Daily News.

Depression robbed me of my words 20 years ago. Since then, while I still took the time to write entertaining emails and a few blog posts when I started this thing a few years ago, it is only lately that I have been feeling a really strong urge to write again.

So now that the floodgates of language seem to have been opened in my brain in more ways than one, I hope you won't mind if I continue writing this little blog using whatever words I fucking like.

*I don't actually know if this was a fact. It was just my impression at the time and I'm pretty sure I was a teeny tiny bit snobbish about it back then without having a clue why. If Jenny from Up the Street ever reads this, I hope she won't mind a bit of tweaking about a stupid thing she did when she was a kid.
**I also have trouble with rude hand gestures. One time I got so mad at a driver who cut me off I really wanted to give him the finger but my inner-Canadian made me feel so guilty about the impulse that it turned into a thumbs up.