Thursday, April 29, 2010

Austrians, Fishies, and Bears. (Oh, My!!)

What would you do if you won the lottery today?  My answer always shocks people, but I swear it's the honest truth.  Before the ink had dried on the winning check, I'd hire a driver.  Full time.

Not one with a fancy limo, mind you, my own car would do just fine.  I just want someone to pick me up and take me where I want to go while I sit in the backseat, contentedly reading the paper, sipping coffee, or napping.

I really, really hate to drive.  I'm using the word "hate" here, preceded by the adverb "really."  Really. Hate it.  Actually, I don't mind long road trips.  I love packing up the car, filling the backseat cooler with sodas and snacks, and hitting the dusty trail.  Just don't ask me to drive. (Because I hate it.)

I think one of the reasons for my intense dislike (or hatred) may be that driving, particularly on long trips, makes me very, very sleepy.  I can pound the coffee, take shots of "5 Hour Energy Drink," smack myself in the face several times, and still, my eyelids will grow heavy after only a few minutes.

I'll admit, this happens when I'm a passenger as well.  The first road trip that Alan and I took together, he estimated that we had been on the highway for exactly five miles when he looked over and saw me completely unconscious in the passenger seat!  He was amazed!

I explained to Alan, in my defense, that my highway-related sleepiness is something I come by honestly.  I've been trained.  Here's how:

Throughout my childhood, my Dad worked carpentry and coaching/referee jobs in addition to his teaching gig.  He did this so he could afford to take his wife and five children on vacation every summer.  Each August, we'd drive ten hours up to his fellow teacher-friend's cabin on the Key River, in Ontario, Canada.  There was also an amazing summer when he bought a used Shasta camper (the pull-behind-the-car kind!), and took us (and Grandma Simmons!) on a six-week trek out West, to California and back!  Lots and lots of driving, and my Dad did it ALL.

Dad was a very organized traveler.  He insisted we leave for each trip no later than four o'clock.  In the morning.  Seriously.  He said this was to beat the traffic, but as I've grown older, I know this to be a big, fat lie.  See, these were the days LONG before comfy mini-vans, personal DVD players, and Gameboys.  We kids had books, one toy each, and a couple of travel Bingo cards.  Our vehicle was a station wagon, complete with "hump" inside.  I can tell you, it grew old pretty quick.

Dad insisted we leave at 4:00 am because he knew he'd have four or five hours of blissful QUIET while we all slept.  We'd literally go to bed in our traveling clothes the night before the trip.  Then, in the dark of early morning, Mom and Dad would pack up the wagon (that's a stock photo on the right, but it looked a LOT like this!), start it up, then come wake us to get in the car.  It was seamless, we'd be back asleep before Dad got the Chevy out of "park."

But eventually, we'd awaken, and all bets were off.  Dad would notice us stirring, then slump a little in the driver's seat, knowing what was inevitably about to start:  Girl Scout songs.  Lots of them.  ALL of them.

My three sisters and I were all very involved in the Girl Scout program. Our Mom even served as troop leader for the majority of our involvement.  As a Girl Scout, for one week in July, we attended a residential, sleep-in-tents camp, where we hiked, swam, roasted marshmallows, and learned many, many, many campfire songs.

Weird, stupid songs.  Let's see, there was one about the Austrian who went yodeling on a mountain top, a bear that chased the singer up a tree, a "fishy" that got frozen in the bay, and another that made absolutely no sense whatsoever, called "Doodeley-Doo."  All the songs, of course, had corresponding hand motions. We executed them all to perfection.

So, my poor father was subjected to hour after torturous hour of his four daughters, along with his wife (Mom enjoyed those obnoxious tunes WAY too much!), belting out song after song, along with the appropriate hand and arm choreography.  For years, we thought my brother, Jack, the baby, had ear infections.  He was constantly grabbing his ears and screaming in pain whenever our "car concerts" began (I was just kidding about that last part, but the kid HAD to have been in agony!!).

Recently, in a rare, non-comatose moment on a car trip, I decided to perform several of those old Girl Scout songs for Alan.  I got about half-way through the "Austrian Yodeling" song when he loudly, abruptly joined in and changed the song's lyrics to something about the Austrian happening upon a nuclear bomb.  "BOOM!  And he DIED.  EVERYBODY DIED.  THE END," Alan raged.  I sat in silence for a few minutes with my arms crossed, staring out the front windshield. Finally, I quietly quipped, "That's NOT how it goes."  He told me I looked tired and suggested I take a nap.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my Dad suffered a stroke over Christmas, and is still recovering at a rehab facility.  My sister, Jennifer, and I visited him there recently when he was having a particularly bad day.  He was tired, he didn't feel good, and he was refusing to take his meds.  The nurse stood their holding the paper cup containing the pills, but nothing anyone did could get him to swallow them.

Suddenly, I had an idea.  I sat in a chair at the foot of his bed and declared, "Dad, you either take those pills, or I start singing the 'Fishy' song.  Loudly."  Dad turned to me, terror flashing in his eyes, trying to determine whether or not I was bluffing.  I took a deep breath and opened my mouth, about to let the first strain fly.  At that, my father grabbed those pills and downed them faster than Lindsey Lohan doing shots at a tequila bar, then held up his hands in defeat.

Powerful thing, that Fishy song.  Gives me ideas.  Just think of it -- Today: Dad's meds.  Tomorrow: World Hunger!  But first, a nap.  Where's my driver?

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Carl, Ellie, and Kleenex

Ok, normally I try not to do the video thing twice in a row, and I promise I'm working on a story that should be ready in a little while.  But I've been thinking a lot about Pixar's "Up" today.

Have you seen "Up?"  It was my absolute favorite movie of 2009, possibly EVER!  Picture this:  Alan is out of town, and it's a rainy afternoon.  I decide to catch a movie by myself, so I check the paper and see that "Up" is the next film playing.

I arrive at the theater, where 9,000 children and I take our seats.  The opening montage begins, and within SEVEN minutes, I am WEEPING!  Amazingly, none of the kids around me are affected the same way.  They think the movie is fun.  They look at me with concerned faces.  One little girl contemplates giving me a Kleenex from her Mom's purse.

At the movie's conclusion, I blow my nose in a Kleenex (thanks, little girl!) and try to pull myself together to leave the darkened theater.  When I arrive home, I describe the plot to Alan, which triggers a whole new crying jag.

I can't explain the hold this movie has on me, I can only tell you it is intense!  I think it has something to do with this opening montage, expertly depicting the married life of Carl and Ellie.  It touches that soft spot in me that dreams about happy marriages and growing old together.  Quite simply, I love these two!

Carl meets Ellie when they are both young children and enormous fans of Charles Muntz, an adventure explorer.  They vow to be friends and someday explore the world together, particularly the place made famous by Muntz, Paradise Falls.  That's pretty much all we know at the beginning of the film.

Then, this montage begins, and in a little over four minutes, the shared life of Carl and Ellie is intricately revealed.  Without a single spoken word, you know exactly everything about this couple and the loving relationship they share.  I honestly don't think I've witnessed anything done with more perfection.

I know you've probably already seen this.  But will you watch it once more with me?  I guarantee you you'll be smiling (and, in my case, CRYING!) for the rest of the hour!  Here it is...

Saturday, April 24, 2010


One of my theme park actor friends and I were sitting around backstage one day talking about our past. When he learned that I had a musical theater background, he said to me, "You know, I have a lot of respect for the talent required to perform in musicals, but I have to confess, I don't GET them!"  He proceeded to explain his frustration when the plot would be moving along very nicely, then, BAM, in would pop this musical number that stopped the whole forward movement of the story.

I laughed, told him I understood, then asked him to rent "West Side Story."  I explained that if a musical was done right, the story takes the characters to such an emotional climax, words are no longer adequate to express what they're feeling. They must sing or dance.  I don't think this is displayed any better than in West Side Story.

I've chosen this clip today from a number from WSS called "Cool."  The two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, have just "rumbled," with the result being the deaths of both gangs' leaders, Bernardo and Riff.  This clearly was not the outcome both sides expected, and they all run away when the police sirens start blaring.  They find refuge in this parking garage. They're scared, shocked over the death of their leader, incredibly frustrated, and very, very mad.  The new leader, Iceman, tries to calm everyone down with this song.

There are no stars in this piece, only chorus people.  The choreography may be a bit dated, but I can assure you it's tremendously difficult.  I think Jerome Robbins, the choreographer, did a fantastic job capturing the inner turmoil going on in these characters, and their struggle to keep it under control.

It's really long, but I hope you'll skip around in this number and enjoy the artistry of it.   I think my favorite part may be at the very end, around 4:30, when they all stand completely still for a few full seconds, and Iceman simply says, "Okay.  Let's go."

See what you think...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dear Joan,

This is a picture of me and Robert Goulet.  When I was twenty-four, I performed in the chorus of a traveling tour of South Pacific, in which Mr. Goulet starred. Professionally, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I'll never, ever forget it.

This photo was taken at our Christmas party after a show one night.  I'm still wearing my show make-up, and apparently I'm smiling so big, my eyes look slightly Asian, but I promise you, it's me!

This was a really awesome time in my life.  I had finally landed a part in a professional show and had thereby become part of the actor's union, Actor's Equity Association.  With my new Equity card tucked securely in my wallet, I was positive that I had officially "arrived," and that my temping days were far behind me.  This, however, was not to be the case.

I was twenty-four in the above picture.  I just turned forty-six last Sunday.  So, I wonder if you'll indulge me and let me have a word with that young, innocent girl hugging Robert Goulet.  She needs to be aware of a few things.

Dear Joan,

Hi!  Look at you, all happy and loving life!  It IS pretty sweet right now, isn't it?  Let me first tell you how proud I am of you.  You've worked very, very hard to get to this point, and you're finally reaping the rewards of all those hours of vocal and dance training.  Congratulations!

But Joan, I'm here to tell you it's about to get a little rough.  Really rough, actually.  When the tour ends in a few months, you'll return to NYC and resume auditioning, but the roles will not be forthcoming.  You'll eventually have to resume your temping jobs.  You'll cry as you head to your assignment that first morning back.

Your husband, already an accomplished Broadway performer, will grow bored and want to head back to Syracuse University (the school you both attended) to teach. You will reluctantly follow.  Then, shortly after the move, you'll arrive home and find him sitting in the living room waiting for you.  He's going to tell you that he doesn't love you anymore, and that he doesn't want to be married anymore.  Then he's going to leave.

I know you don't believe me when I tell you this, because right now he seems so happy and blissfully content with you.  He's not.  He's just chosen not to tell you, thereby making it impossible for you to do anything to make it better.  In fact, he's cheating on you as you stand here posing with Robert Goulet.  You are clueless.

I won't lie, this is going to flatten you.  Life it going to get really hard for awhile.  You're going to endure some pretty severe emotional, physical, and financial struggles.  You'll drop a lot of weight, because eating will be impossible.  Your monthly periods will cease.  Listening to the radio will no longer be bearable. You'll contemplate suicide.

But some amazing people, people who are strangers to you right now, are going to enter your life, pick you up off the floor, and help you through it.  And although you'll refuse to believe anyone who tells you that you'd eventually recover, you will.  You'll never be the same again, the sting of rejection from the one who knew you better than anyone will remain forever, but it will lessen.  And you will survive.  Really.

Here's the good news:  Remember that guy you dated in high school? You know, that guy you still, inexplicably, have dreams about now, even though it's been YEARS since you've even spoken? Remember how you secretly confessed to your girlfriend a few years back that he was the best kisser you'd ever known?  Well, guess what?  He's going to re-enter your life.  Really!

It's going to be a wonderful, magical reunion, but also a little tough. Because of your recent past, you'll be untrusting at first, and every time you make a mistake, you'll be convinced he's going to leave you. But because he's twenty times the man your ex-husband is, he'll stay.  He's going to make your life extraordinary.  Really.

Joan, it's going to get tough, but I promise you, you're going to survive.  And after you do, it's going to be a lovely ride.  What's more, you're going to emerge from the experience with a much deeper appreciation of all the tremendous blessings around you.  Stuff you never noticed before.  Right now, at twenty-four, the only things that bring you true joy are executing the perfect double pirouette, seeing a great Broadway show, or nailing a call-back after a well-executed audition.

What if I told you that in just a few decades, the sight of a robin sitting on the nest she's built on the wreath attached to your front door will make you weep with joy?  It will!  What's more, you'll spend hours working in a garden, and consider yourself the luckiest person on earth for having the privilege to do so.  Really.

There's a big change coming, Joan. And I'm here to tell you that you're going to make it.  When you reach the ripe old age of forty-six, you'll still be able to tap that pain deep down that flattened you all those years back.  But you'll realize that surviving all that's happened has made you a better, more thoughtful person. Your friendships will be more sincere, your appreciation of life more intense, your love, deeper.  Quite simply, you're going to be a better person.  Really.

So, enjoy your tour, give Mr. Goulet an extra hug, and get ready for your future.  It's going to be amazing. Really.

Also, don't buy stock in Enron.  Really.


Old Joan

Thanks for Reading!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hold, please...

Experiencing a mild strain of writer's block at the moment.  I greatly value your readership and apologize for the inconvenience.

Hold, please.....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Get Happy!!

Happy Tax Day, fellow Americans!! I don't know about you, but this is the first year in some time that instead of a refund, Alan and I actually OWE Uncle Sam!!  Needless to say, I really need a pick-me-up today!

So, I've chosen this great number from the movie Summer Stock, made in 1950.  This was Judy's last film with MGM, and she stars in it with my man, Gene Kelly.

The plot involves Judy's family farm being overtaken by her sister's boyfriend (Gene Kelly) and his troupe of performers.  They're in the process of putting together a show, and sister insists that the farm will be a perfect place to rehearse the numbers.

Judy, a simple farm girl, agrees to let the theater folk stay in exchange for helping out with the milking, plowing, and egg gathering.  She is soon bitten by the performing bug herself, of course, and she and Gene fall in love at the film's conclusion (once her sister has lost interest in both acting AND Gene, if you can imagine such a thing!).

I'm an enormous fan of Judy Garland.  Like every young girl over the last several decades, I fell in love with her the moment she leaned against that haystack and sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to her dog, Toto. That love carried-over to her cute "Let's Put on a Show" films with Mickey Rooney, then to the glorious technicolor classics like Meet Me in St. Louis and The Harvey Girls.

Here's something I learned a while back that you may not know:  Judy had a photographic memory.  Directors often spoke of how they'd show her the intricate blocking for a scene or dance number, and she follow behind, barely paying attention.  Then, they'd start rolling the cameras, call "Action!"  and Judy would come to life, executing the blocking/choreography perfectly, hitting every mark exactly.  She rarely required an additional take!  Neat, huh?

As you probably know, Judy struggled with her weight her entire career, and this movie was no exception.  This may have been the heaviest she'd ever been in any of her films.  On top of that, she had to appear in a pair of extremely unflattering overalls for a great many of the scenes!  Here's a picture from one of the Summer Stock scenes on the right.

Once the movie wrapped, everyone went their separate ways.  Judy was finally able to get some rest and drop the extra pounds she'd been carrying during filming.  Except that two months later, in post-production, the producers felt that there was still one final show-stopping number missing from the movie.  They called Judy and asked if she'd come back and film this number, "Get Happy."  As you can see, she is much trimmer, rested, and as always, AWESOME!!

I wish the quality of this clip were a little better, but see if you can make out Judy's expression, around 1:01.  I love her facial reactions when the chorus boys throw their hands at her!  I think perhaps her most underrated quality was her delightfully subtle comic timing.

Hope you like it!  And if you're about to step out the door like me and mail your check to Uncle Sam, hope this serves as a gentle reminder:  Forget your troubles, come on, Get Happy!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unspoiled Soup

I visit Robin, my awesome hairdresser, every five weeks for my usual color, cut, and style appointment.  I don't do this because I am an overly-prissy, high-maintenance woman.  I do this because I have enough gray hair on my head to rival that of a ninety year old grandma, and Robin sees to it that no one ever finds this out (except that I just now gave away my secret, didn't I?  DOH!!).

I love my appointments with Robin, not only for the fact that she keeps my hair color age-appropriate, but also because she's warm and friendly, and a terrific listener.  Because my hair is thick and takes FOREVER to color, we have hours to discuss books we're reading, concerts we've attended, and all our big plans to become Hairdressers to the Stars (her) and New York Times Bestselling Authors (me). That's Robin in the picture on the right.  Isn't she pretty?

During my last appointment, we realized that her birthday is just a few days before mine, in April.  "Hey," Robin said, "that means you're an Aries, like ME!"  I laughed and told her I didn't believe in Astrology. This is partly due to the fact that the description for my "sign," Aries, couldn't be further from accurately describing me!

To prove my point, I went to  Here's an excerpt of what was written for Aries:

"Aries subjects are courageous leaders with a genuine concern for those they command...They do not make very good followers because they are too 'take charge.'"

Actually, if you were to ask me to give a description of the exact OPPOSITE of myself,  I would probably repeat this quote to you, word for word!  The truth is, I've NEVER been a good leader.  The few times that I've found myself in a leadership position, I've been extremely uncomfortable, and usually pretty ineffective.

I first noticed my lack of "take-charge" skills when, in my senior year of high school, I scored the highest at drill team try-outs, and therefore was made captain of the squad.  At first I was excited.  That's me in the picture on the right, in the left forefront.  These were our summer uniforms and you can just barely make out the letters spelling "CAPTAIN" on my sailor hat.  I thought the hat and the prestige of being drill team captain were AWESOME, but when it came time to actually run practices and choreograph routines, I quickly learned I was out of my league.

During my last job as a performer at Universal Studios, one of my responsibilities included training new girls into my role.  Fortunately for me, the girls they hired were exceedingly talented and needed very little instruction, because I was an abysmal trainer.  I'd hear myself say things like, "Do you think we should run it again?" or "Do you feel like you've got it now?"  Pathetic.  I was ridiculously uncomfortable and infinitely relieved when the whole process had concluded.

I used to be ashamed of my lack of leadership skills.  Being in charge means you are outgoing, confident, and organized.  Clearly, the only conclusion for me to draw, based on my bossy-deficient manner, was that I possessed none of these admirable traits.

But once, while performing in a production at a local theater (that's NOT me in rehearsal on the left.  It's the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. But I look a LOT like them, so...), I was approached by the choreographer at the opening night cast party.  He told me that I was a joy to have in his cast, and that I was one of the most professional people with which he'd ever worked. He pointed out that I always arrived prepared, having reviewed the dance numbers from the previous day and had them committed to memory for the following rehearsal.

He observed how, on breaks, I'd find a quiet corner and go through the steps he had just demonstrated. He said my questions during the learning process were always well-timed and intelligent, and helped the whole cast.  And then he thanked me for making his job so easy.

That's when it hit me.  I'm a really good follower.  I AM outgoing, confident, and organized, I just don't want to be in charge.  If I'm working for you and you tell me what to do, I will make it happen for you.  I will show up prepared and on time.  I won't call in sick.  Quite frankly, leaders need me!  Without me, they'd have no one to carry-out their plans or work their shifts.  I'm valuable!

Grandma Simmons used to say, "Too many chefs spoil the soup."  Meaning, you need ONE chef to create the recipe, and a whole bunch of COOKS to carry out the plan!  If too many chefs try to take charge, disaster is sure to ensue.

Hang around me for awhile.  I can assure you, your soup will ROCK (And there won't be any gray hairs in it, either!!)!!

What about you? Are you a leader?  A follower?  Either way, join me in embracing your awesomeness!!

Thanks for Reading!!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Carpe Diem

Here's another fun, quick video for your viewing pleasure!

This is a number called "Seize the Day" from the 1992 Disney film, Newsies!  The plot revolves around the New York City newspaper boy strike that occurred in July of 1899.  This is a decade before the likes of the High School Musical frenzy, and the movie wasn't a tremendous hit.  But I think it's sweet, and that these young performers are incredibly talented.

I love this number because of the awesome acapella chorale opening, and the weird, "Thriller"-influenced choreography!  Notice how well Christian Bale manages to hold his own in the dance section!  Also starring in this movie is David Moscow.  You may recognize him from his portrayal of young Josh (Tom Hanks as a boy) in the movie, Big.

Tell me what you think!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Favorite Subject

This is me in the first grade. Don't you just love the plaid jumper and hair curl vaguely resembling Princess Leah's side buns? First grade was actually a very exciting time for me. Not only was it the start of my elementary school journey, but also the same year that the grade school I was attending, Rushwood, first opened. It was still bright and shiny, no vomit or crayon stains on the carpet, and the paint on the walls smelled fresh and new.

I distinctly remember hopping off the bus after my first day and walking home with my two older sisters, Kathy and Laura. As we strolled through our front door, Mom greeted us and specifically approached me to find out how the day had gone.

After hearing about my teacher and the names of all the new friends I'd made, Mom asked, "So, what was your favorite subject?" Without hesitation, I smiled at my Mom, looked her straight in the eye and with complete seriousness, replied, "LUNCH!!"

Now, I must explain that I was not an overweight child, and it certainly wasn't the meal my mother had prepared for me (a grape jelly sandwich on white bread, apple, and three Oreo cookies. Every. Day.), that made me favor this particular "subject."

It was my awesome lunchbox! It was a Dawn lunchbox. Not "beginning-of-a-new-day" dawn, mind you. I'm referring to Dawn, the 6" doll from the late 60's and early 70's. Never heard of her? I'm not surprised! Her popularity was pretty short-lived. Dawn was similar to Barbie, except that she was a bit smaller in stature, had a much less ample, pointy bosom, and looked much more "hippie-ish" than the fashion-conscious Barbie. But I was really into her!

When it cam time to pick out my lunchbox the summer before first grade, I was elated when I found the cool, vinyl, yellow-cupped-thermos-included DAWN lunchbox! It was glorious! The days before school started, I spent HOURS opening and closing it's clasp, taking out the thermos, and pouring imaginary liquid into that gorgeous yellow cup. I couldn't WAIT for the day I would actually be "going live" and consuming real food and drink from it's interior!!

Grandma Simmons stopped by for a visit and I proudly showed her my new treasure. She appropriately "oohed" and "ahhed" at the groovy outer artwork and amazing plastic yellow cup. Then she unscrewed the cap of the thermos and peered inside. "Hmm," she murmured disapprovingly, "this concerns me."

 When I asked what was wrong, Grandma informed me that the inside was made of glass (yes, I'm very old. This was before kid's thermoses were constructed of the infinitely-safer pure plastic!). She said she worried that if I dropped it, the inside would shatter and I'd have dangerous shards of glass stabbing my mouth when I drank the milk inside.  I was mortified! She told me not to worry, just to remember to sip my milk with pursed lips, instead of taking big gulps (I actually PRACTICED this technique!).

Then there was my father's advice. I promise I am NOT making this up when I tell you that he pulled me aside before the first day of school and instructed me not to accept any food from the other children at lunchtime. He said that you never knew, there could be POISON in it!! That's right. My paranoid, insane Dad actually believed that a fellow six year old may somehow devise a plan to lace a Hostess Ding Dong with arsenic and I would die, never to see second grade!

I was concerned by these warnings, obviously, but I wasn't overly worried. Because both of my older sisters would be at school WITH me. In fact, Laura was only one year older than I, and since we were in the same "cluster" together, (grades 1-3), we knew we'd be eating during the same lunch period. Laura would protect me.

The morning of my first day flew by in a whirlwind of bus-riding, name tag-applying, and homeroom teacher-meeting. Soon, it was time to line up to head to the gymnasium/cafeteria for the highly anticipated LUNCHTIME!! I could barely contain my excitement!

Laura, because she was older and wiser (and extremely bossy), instructed me to be the very first in line for my class. She would then take her place at the very BACK of her class line, so that when the two lines merged, we'd be next to each other. This sounded good to me.

Except that I soon learned that EVERYONE wants to be first in line. I was pushed back somewhere to the middle, and before I knew it, we were filing out, and Laura was way up there, several children ahead of me.

Suddenly, thoughts of arsenic-laced fruit cups and glass shard-filled thermoses enveloped my brain. This all seemed surmountable when I knew bossy Laura would be by my side. But now, with her far, far ahead of me, I felt terribly alone. I panicked. I began to bawl. Loudly. Imagine the great first impression I was making on my new classmates!

The teachers, no doubt alarmed by the sudden, intense, high-pitched wail, raced to see who exactly was being murdered back in the line of first graders. They approached, knelt in front of me, and asked what was wrong.

They couldn't quite make out the "I don't want to be poisoned or bleed from my mouth" rantings, but they were, thankfully, able to understand my pleadings for my sister. They retrieved (the now mortified) Laura, who grabbed my hand and led me to her place in line. Just like that, everything was TERRIFIC!

Seated together at the long lunch table with the attached stools, I finally, joyfully opened my precious hippie lunch box and consumed it's jelly-soaked contents. I'm happy to report that we managed to survive without any incident of poisoning or mouth stabbing! Also, my awesome, thoughtful teacher made sure that every lunch period, from that day forward, I had a seat next to my bossy protector. Lunch was, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite subject!

Funny how some things never change as you get older...

Thanks for Reading!!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

One More for the Road

Modern dance has never been one of my great passions.  Like modern art, I appreciate the extreme talent of the artists who create it, but I've just always preferred the more traditional, classical versions.

Then Twyla Tharp, a modern dance choreographer, decided to create several dance pieces accompanied by Frank Sinatra tunes. My interest was peaked. On top of that, she made the brilliant decision to pursue the incomparable ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, to perform several of the numbers in this piece.  I was in!

Younger audiences will remember Baryshnikov best from his appearance as Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovski in Sex in the City's last season.  He's the guy who relentlessly pursued Carrie Bradshaw and brought her to Paris in the final episodes.

But us older folk know Mikhail only for his outstanding dancing ability.  In the ballet world, there is still none greater. From his infamous thirteen-pirouette execution in the movie White Knights, to his countless show-stopping appearances with American Ballet Theater in NYC, the man is a legend.

This performance of "One for My Baby" (inconceivably, only HALF of the dance is available!  Doh!!), is perfect.  Twyla wanted to capture the heartache of a drunk, late at night, mourning the loss of a relationship.  Baryshnikov expertly executes the inebriated, loose choreography with precise, extreme control.  Check out, around 2:07,  how he (seemingly) effortlessly comes out of a quadruple pirouette without even placing his second foot on the ground. That's REALLY hard!!

When I watch this piece, I totally GET modern dance.  If this number had been performed in traditional ballet dress, with traditional ballet moves, it never would've captured the raw emotion that Twyla's choreography displays.  I'd really like to know if you agree with me.  Take a look...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh, Davey!

When I was a kid, my siblings and I spent each Sunday morning, hours before church, watching Popeye cartoons.  We all preferred Looney Toons and the comic stylings of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, but these were the days before cable television, and Bugs and pals were only offered on Saturdays.  Popeye was alright, but that Olive Oyl drove me CRAZY!!  She was constantly shunning poor Popeye for big, ugly Brutus, then squealing for him to save her when Brutus got fresh.  Pathetic.

After the Popeye hour ended, the familiar strains of "A Mighty Fortress is our God" could be heard, signaling the start of the upcoming program, Davey and Goliath.

Davey and Goliath was a Christian program for children featuring old-school, low budget, stop-animation.  It's been a very long time since I've seen this show, so bear with me as I try to re-create it for you.  The title characters included young Davey Hansen and his trusty canine companion, Goliath.  Goliath, who served as Davey's conscience, could actually speak, but only Davey could hear him.  Whenever Davey misbehaved, Goliath would respond in his low, bass voice, "Oh, Da-vey!!"

Davey was constantly learning valuable lessons, often choosing to do the right thing (after a little Goliath prodding) when faced with a tough challenge.  I guess I was five or six when we first started watching this show, and I must tell you, even at that young age, I knew I could never be as good and Christian as Davey.  The kid was AMAZING!!

For instance, there was an episode involving a big festival in the local park, and the first few children to arrive would all receive a free BALLOON!! (Yes, these were simpler times!) Davey was very excited and left his house early in order to claim his precious, helium-filled prize.  But on the way, he happens upon a little girl who has fallen while riding in her wagon and has hurt herself.  Even though he is close enough to the park to hear the other children's delighted squeals (and balloon-receiving festivities), Davey chooses to skip the park and instead spends the afternoon helping the little girl find her way home.

Then there was the Christmas episode when Davey was all excited to have been chosen to portray one of the Wise Men at the church Christmas pageant.  He spends the entire show practicing his "We Three Kings" rendition with his fellow royal performers.  Yet, when he comes across a sad boy that has to spend the evening minding his father's Christmas tree stand, Davey hands over his golden costume, tells the boy that he'll watch the stand and to take his place in the Christmas pageant.

At the conclusion of BOTH of these episodes, Davey proclaims that doing these good deeds felt GREAT!! WAY better than performing in the pageant or receiving a silly balloon.  I admired Davey for doing the obvious "right thing," but my six year old brain had a hard time believing I would give up the chance to receive a free balloon (a frigging BALLOON for crying out loud!), and my already-evolving inner-show biz diva would NEVER have passed on an opportunity to shine at a Christmas pageant!  How, I pondered, did Davey DO it?!

Then there was the Easter episode. I know you'll think I'm joking when I tell you that this episode disturbed me so much, I still carry faint scars from it today, but it's the truth...

The special begins with Davey visiting his grandmother.  It's just a few days before Easter so he helps her bake a cake, and together they decorate it with icing chicks and bunnies.  Davey, of course, wants a piece as soon as they're finished, but Grandma laughs and insists they must wait for Easter Dinner.  "After dinner, I promise I'll cut you the biggest slice," she says.

Then they both traipse up to her attic.  It's filled with wonderful treasures - an old gramophone in which she places a record, winds it up and they giggle and dance along to an old-timey song.  In the corner sits a beat-up rocking horse.  "After Easter," she promises, "we'll bring that old horse downstairs and give him a nice new coat of paint!"  Davey is excited!

But the next day, Davey's father approaches him with some bad news:  Grandma has died.  No real explanation is provided, she's just gone. Heartbroken, Davey goes back to Grandma's empty, quiet house.  The Easter cake is still sitting on the kitchen counter.  "I'll cut you the biggest slice!"  Grandma's voice reverberates in his ear. He walks up to the attic and sees the old gramophone, then immediately hears the old tune and his Grandma's laughter.  He looks over at the rocking horse, "After Easter, we'll bring that old horse downstairs..."

Davey, now weeping, cries, "No we WON'T!! You're GONE!  I'll never see you again, EVER!!"

Now, of course, by the end of the episode, Davey attends an Easter service and learns that he'll be with his precious grandma again someday, in heaven.  He's smiling and happy.  The End.  Except that my little five year old heart didn't get that last, happy part.  It was still stuck back on that cake, sitting on the counter, and the rocking horse that they would never refurbish together.

It was the first time I realized that my precious Grandma Simmons would one day die and leave me.  The mere thought was inconceivable.  I cried and cried that morning, ran up to my room and tore open my dresser drawer.  I dug through my socks and T-shirts until I found it:  Grandma's handkerchief. She'd given it to me a few days before, so I pulled it out, held it up to my face and inhaled deeply.  There it was, Sweetheart soap and Balm Barr hand lotion, pure "Scent of Grandma Simmons!"  I brought me a little comfort, but I must tell you, that stupid Easter special WRECKED me!

Like my Grandma, I'm a pretty fierce holiday decorator.  At Christmastime, there's not a bare space on my walls, mantels or doorways that isn't adorned with boughs of holly and holiday trinkets.  Alan literally had to install a DIMMER SWITCH on our Christmas tree because I had attached too many strings of lights, and our holiday party guests were going blind!  I made a special shamrock dress to wear on St. Patrick's Day.  I decorate heart cookies for Valentine's Day. You get the idea...

But at Easter, I don't decorate.  I don't dye eggs.  No chocolate bunnies.  I'm just not feeling it.  Don't get me wrong, I whole-heartedly celebrate the religious implications of Easter Sunday, and I rejoice and sing my "Hallelujahs" over our risen Savior with the rest of my Christian brethren.  But the bunnies, chicks, and Easter baskets?  Not so much.  I blame that stupid Hansen kid.  Oh, Davey...

Thanks for Reading!!