Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I met R when i was eighteen and she fourteen, in a summer production of THE WIZARD OF OZ. She was bright, and fit in easily with the older crowd. Years later, she said that what drew her to me was how i didn't talk down to her. She developed a passive crush i was vaguely aware of. I didn't see her again until two summers later (she had skipped a summer show to get a nose job, which i gave her a bit of hell for in years to come). Her crush blossomed. At sixteen, she was playing a romantic adult lead in BABES IN ARMS, because her talent justified it. Hell, it was the first time i myself had a lead in this troupe (not opposite her, mercifully). She declared her affections. I tried the stoic route, which she denounced as bullshit. I tried to get her to take the stoic route, which she accepted, sort of. On closing night, the cast sleepover was at my house, with my folks out of town. When it was bedtime, she asked to spend the night with me. I said no. She said she didn't expect anything, but that she wanted just this one night to hold each other, as recompense for my never giving her a straight answer about how i felt. I relented. We came together, our bodies entwining in a slow, caressing rhythm that lasted all night. She wrote a poignant short story about it all, in which i came off as a bit of an evasive jerk. When she began college we resumed our friendship, getting together once a year or so and sharing a bed, remembering the magic of that one night. A more overt sexuality crept into our embraces, and when she wanted clarification, i went from being an evasive jerk to an indecisive one. When she was twenty-two, she told me something she had been fearing to say, afraid it might ruin any chance we had to be together. She told me she'd had an affair with our friend, Charlie (who had been the Wizard in our first play together, and Flemo-Man in our last). I loved her honesty, but she was pretty much right, her being with him changed things. A few years later, she got engaged. I didn't tell her, but a little piece of me mourned.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Arsenic and Old Lace

-fall 1985
I had crossed a threshold, and it was time for a decision. It was easy to make. Before my senior year, i told my band director i was dropping out, to be in the plays and choirs. He tried to talk me out of it, and my longtime bandmates couldn't fathom my decision. I had invested five years, and been a member of the marching band for three. Our band was 240 strong, and that year we would perform in the Rose Bowl parade. But without hesitation, i knew my trumpeting was over. The school announced auditions for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, a 1930's comedy about three dysfunctional brothers, and their sweet aunts who bury poisoned travelers in the basement. In the first non-musical audition of my life, i snagged the role of Jonathan, the long-lost, sadistic, murderous brother who resembled Boris Karloff, due to a botched face job. The director was Mr. Roach, a zany, talented, wonderful guy. I didn't know most of the cast. Junior Doug Schoener played my lackey, Dr. Einstein. We became good friends. Later that year, he gave me a poetic riddle which ended our friendship. I never solved it, because i suspected the answer was that he was attracted to me. Elaine Kalpin, a senior i'd known for a few years, was one of the aunts. Later that year, i eye-openingly found out she might have been interested in me. But for timing, she could have been the first meaningful romance of my life. The romantic female lead was a nice junior with a photographic memory, a recent transfer with serious acting intentions. My other good friend was junior Mark Russell, younger brother of Doug (Beau from MAME), and twin of Cindy (my first kiss). He played a doomed traveler, and had been in the chorus of JOSEPH (my only fellow Youth Clubber in the cast). Likable senior Bill Mulvey played the over-talkative cop/playwright, and assistant directed. The romantic lead brother was played by a nice junior named Bob, who had a hitch in his giddyup. He was passable, but i sometimes wondered what i could have done with his role. The third brother, who believed he was Teddy Roosevelt, was talented senior Lou Markert (get used to that name, it'll be around a while). Lou had been doing theater as long as i'd been doing band, and an antipathy began between us, though i had no idea why. I got on real well with most everyone, and was generally looked up to. Fitting in was never in question, partly because the school was only 11th and 12th grade, and that's not a lot of time to establish a pecking order. I think a lot of the juniors, over half the cast, weren't at all aware i'd never done school theater. Our performance was uneven, but we had our moments. I loved my part. One night, Doug decided to toss his hat twelve feet across stage at the hat rack. The fact that it landed and won him applause didn't deter me from scolding him. When it stuck, he said my staying in character was the only thing that kept him from losing it. And i was witness to perhaps the greatest ad-lib i'll ever see. One night, Lou came on, slamming the cellar door. One of his earlier rants was about how the Japanese needed to be kept in their place. Our set was a bit flimsy, and the doorway proceeded to fall around his ears. Without missing a beat, he screamed at the door, "Made in Japan!!", and calmly continued the scene.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"

The scariest television memory i have as a child was an episode of BUCK ROGERS, in which an android prison guard came back to life more times than i wish to remember. I've been revisiting this wonderful series, and recently watched all 36 episodes. People remember the luminous Erin Gray, later of the cloying SILVER SPOONS. People remember the robot Twiki, voiced by Mel Blanc. Some have called him the most annoying robot ever, but speaking for twelve year-olds everywhere, he was great (and no, we did NOT catch on to his all-too-obvious phallic nature). People remember the campiness. The depth of the plotlines never went so deep as STAR TREK, fifteen years earlier. But the show was visually wonderful, and it had heart. Some say the performances were wooden, particularly star Gil Gerard. Hogwash. The actors were always at least as good as their material (okay, with the possible exceptions of guest stars Gary Coleman and Julie Newmar, who looked like she was having an out-of-body experience). In retrospect, much of the fun of this show is in the guest stars, with great turns by Peter Graves, Jamie Lee Curtis, Roddy McDowall, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Dorothy Stratten, Ray Walston, Jerry Orbach, Richard Moll, Markie Post, and the brilliant Jack Palance (who should have given over-the-top lessons to Ms. Newmar). One of the most enduring characters was arch-villain space princess Ardala, played by Pamela Hensley. The four episodes she did would make an ass-kicker of a marathon. As a child i wasn't keyed into the almost non-existence of her costumes (including a bathing scene), but lordy lord. And in her third episode, there was an actual honest-to-god scene of emotional depth and tenderness, in which she humbles herself and can't understand why Buck still won't love her. The series' only other such moment of depth belonged to the wonderful Tim O'Connor, as Dr. Huer, in his final episode when he sends Buck off to the alternate universe.
Okay, maybe once in a long while Mr. Gerard could be the teensiest bit wooden. But we like him that way, dammit!
However, something very, very terrible happened in the second season, that parallels what happened in the cataclysmic GALACTICA 1980. As both were produced by Glen Larson, cancelled during season two, and occurred in 1980, there is an eeriness to these parallels. Surely there never has been and never could be another season of sci fi as disturbingly bad. Watching Buck, you realize that something is wrong even before the action starts. The opening credits voiceover is no longer the compelling baritone of William Conrad, but rather the nasally fellow who did the voiceovers for POLICE SQUAD! Bad choice, and things are about to get worse. Gone is Dr. Huer, limply replaced by some admiral. Gone is robot Theo, the Felix to Twiki's Oscar. The new robot, Crichton, is the genuine article in that most-annoying-robot-of-all-time discussion. We're now on a deep-space research vessel (the S.S. Ed Asner, if i'm not mistaken), and the new characters include a game Wilfred Hyde-White as Dr. Goodfellow, but there is not and will not be any magic. The most memorable new character is Hawk, a birdman. When the shows aired, Hawk received the lion's share of the "what the bloopety-blooping-bleep is going on" disbelief, but strangely, he's the only replacement character who holds up well. Actor Thom Christopher couldn't have done more with the part, so none of this debacle must be placed at his feet. Twiki is still around, at least until he opens his mouth. Mel Blanc has left the building, and they didn't even try to mimic his voice. Twiki now sounds like Ralph Mouth minus the charm. And the bottom is still nowhere in sight, good spelunkers. As researchers, they do most of their away missions on shuttles. Reasonable, but this nullifies one of Buck's greatest qualities, that of topnotch pilot who teaches future pilots the long-lost skill of dogfighting. They give Hawk a great ship in his first episode, then we almost never see it again. The blasters have switched from rugged, black models to beige, pencil-sized pistols reminiscent of what Nancy Reagan would pull out of her purse. In the first season, Buck wore that cool white spandex uniform. He now wears, and i swear on my unborn child i am not kidding, a Member's Only jacket. And what they've done with Wilma is perhaps the worst of all. She was a no-nonsense military leader in the first season, and now she seems to have been promoted to stewardess. Her uniform has turned into a pastel mini-skirt ensemble. She actually walks around offering passengers refreshments in one episode. I am NOT making that up. In another episode she's flying a fighter, but not even wearing a flight helmet. No, she wasn't in a rush. It just feels so much like that anybody who cared has long since, well, left the building.
There are a couple of curiosities in the midst of this aborted season. One episode has a squad of military midgets, with six white generals and one black private. I don't think that one would quite make the airwaves today. And one episode is so out of left field, as to be simply ridiculous in its unintentional humor. An oft-recurring theme of sci fi shows everywhere, BUCK included, is the tolerance of creatures and cultures that are literally alien. But the episode "Mark of the Saurian" is nothing other than the complete and energetic celebration of the purest xenophobia. A lizard race bent on human annihilation have infiltrated the Searcher, disguised as humans. Buck, with his 500-year old body chemistry, is the only one who sees a green aura around the newcomers. He has a fever though, so everyone thinks he's crazy. When Buck feels pain, for a moment he can see the aliens in their natural state. And his reaction is one of wide-eyed, primordial homicide. Kill!!! Somehow ignorant of the fact that earth has recently been at war with a lizard race, he hurls himself onto the alien nonetheless. It's so fascinating, i can't even tell you...i encourage anyone to watch this episode. You'll never, ever see another sci fi product like it. Ultimately, season two evened out a little...Mel Blanc even came back six episodes in. It wasn't as thoroughly putrid as GALACTICA 1980. But that's about the best you can say.
Here's to 1980, the year that disco died, and sci fi did much, much worse.
ULTIMATE BUCK-A-THON! (all season 1)
-Planet of the Slave Girls
-Unchained Woman
-Ardala Returns

And in the current cinematic climate, in which the only films which get greenlighted are those with a built-in audience (yippee originality!!), i'm sure some soulless junior producer is pitching a BUCK flick as we speak. If go there we must, i've got the casting:
Capt. Rebecca "Bec" Rogers - Thandie Newton
Col. Billy Deering - Jack Black
Dr. Huer - Tim O'Connor
Yes, indeed, Tim is still out there swinging. What better way to thumb our noses at the 80' travesty once and for all? And since Twiki was phallus-shaped, i suppose it's only fair that Bec's ambuquad sidekick have a form that evokes female genitalia. I'll leave it to you, dear readers, to come up with her name.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

barb, rhonda

WOMEN 17-18
She came into my life my sophomore year, the spring semester. She was from Pittsburgh and a year older. She said she knew she wanted to meet me, the day i crossed the quad in a wheelchair (i spent all day in one, to find out what it was like). We quickly started hanging out, and almost as quickly started having sex. She lived in a dorm on the other side of campus. She had a soft, non-athletic body, with a teeny tummy-pot. It was my first experience with condoms. When she told me she had been with a number of men, condoms seemed a good idea (i remember we used multi-colored ones). The sex was pretty straightforward; a little foreplay, then missionary thrusting for a minute or three. She was a bit taller than average, with dark, straight medium-length hair, and slightly crooked teeth. Her nickname was Beaker, for her Muppet impression. She was fun. We had sex five to ten times, over a few weeks. She was seeing someone back in Pittsburgh, and wanted to keep seeing him. I wasn't satisfied with that, so i suggested we break up and stay friends, which we did. I introduced her to my friend Andy. He was a tech/actor, and they hit it off pretty quickly. She became involved in the tech of a number of shows over the next few years. They got engaged my last semester, which thrilled me, for i loved them both. I remember being touched when Barb told me that Andy was a little insecure about me having been her lover. She became Barb Ekey-Green, which is just the funnest name to say.
My dorm neighbor, a rock-hard long distance runner, i gave her regular massages and ran with her once in a while. She was funny and smart, just great to be around. My roommate Tom and i pranked and bedevilled her and her roommate Lori, for two years. She had a high school romance husband-to-be. One night my sophomore year, i was massaging her, belly-up. She was so relaxed and happy, and when my hands rubbed near her groin, her legs moved apart a bit. I worked her groin muscles, and her legs opened a bit more. My fingers drifted inside her panties. I lightly caressed her mons venus for some time, then my fingers were gently inside her. I gave her digital sex until Lori returned. The three of us chatted for a bit. I went back to my room…i HAD to tell Tom right away, and he said, "Damn you, Rimmer, how do you do it?". I wasn’t the Casanova that Tom was…he’d been with many more women, and had a long-standing relationship with Regina, a cool, beautiful girl…but it was nice to have my moments now and then. It was also a moment to realize how wonderfully different high school and college were. In high school, as an attractive jock, Rhonda would probably never have looked at me twice.

Friday, June 26, 2009

JC superstar

-summer 1985
JOSEPH had changed things. Acting was now a part of my life, like nothing else had ever been. Judi asked whether i would like to audition for a community theater production of the Webber/Rice rock opera. Through the million or so times my sister had played the album, i knew it was the most amazing show ever. Would i like to, are you kidding? The group was the Pennington Players, across the river in New Jersey, performing at the Washington Crossing (state park) Open Air Theater. I became the youngest Apostle. Kathy Garafano was Judi's co-director, and the three of us carpooled. Kathy was organizational-minded and funny. They smoked during the drive, and i joked about them being "the twin smokestacks". In our cast of more than thirty adults, teens, and children, the talent level and dedication were a bit higher than what i'd been working with, particularly at the bottom end. Judi and Kathy made a wonderful focal point. Though it never came up in the play, i chose as my character the former tax collector. There were several female Apostles. Chris Arena played Simon. He was fantastic, and became the first gay friend i'd ever known. I'd had a homophobic upbringing, and had always wondered how i'd react when i finally met a gay person. At one time, i had thought i might react negatively, even profoundly so. But when i did find out, it was a complete non-issue. Amazing. John Kling was an Apostle friend, along with his buddy Betty Henninger (the "maid by the fire"). Tony Smith played Jesus, and he was incredible. He had been waiting his whole life for the role. We rehearsed in a sweet old barn in Hopewell. Charlie Krasner played Judas, decently well. One night he filled in for Tony in rehearsal, when Mary is singing to the sleeping Jesus. He lifted the crotch region of his baggy pants inches into the air, and it stayed there suspended while Mary tried to sing. Pete Labriola played Pilate, with great presence. Eric Metz, at 300 pounds, played Herod, and his was a campy, great number. Kathy Guthrie and Tisha Troike became sweet friends. Kathy tried to get me to go out with Tisha, but i had a little crush on Kathy. The next year i went to Tisha's prom, as a friend. Another romantic approach i avoided was with Donna D'Andrea, a dancer who carpooled with us sometimes. She was incredibly sweet and loving, but not my speed. I was excitable myself, but she made me look sedate. I think Kathy and Judi got no small amusement out of the uncertain look on my face, the day Donna lay her head on my shoulder in the back seat of the car. One of the greatest people in the cast was Jim Patton, an Apostle. He was just full-on goofball cool, always making everyone laugh. I would be very saddened two summers later when he told me he was moving to California, in part because of frustration over not getting better parts with Pennington. It would be the first time i would learn that the happiest, best people in the world can have hidden sadnesses. All the Apostles wore purple. I wore a purple vest, with no shirt. So many incredible numbers…the ever-increasingly drunken Apostle harmony on "The Last Supper"…playing a soloist leper...how we Apostles emerged from the fog to sing "Could We Start Again, Please". One night the fog machine kicked into overdrive, and the audience had the unique pleasure of being serenaded by an impenetrable fog bank for an entire number. The stage was in a valley, carved out of a forest. We had a full rock orchestra in the pit. We had been one trombonist short, so i recruited one of my school band mates, Keith Harshaw. He and i did some carpooling. I was able to hook him up with one of my new castmates, Laurie Sell. There was a whole group of teens from Jersey, among them Pam Jerde, a sassy Polynesian-American. The following spring, i went to their Hopewell High musical, and graduation. In a riotous, strobe-lit crowd scene, a buddy named Steve Shire and i engineered some stage combat wherein he punched me out. During a performance, we got the timing off and he connected. I had a crush on a woman in the cast, and in rehearsals fantasized about saving her from falling rafters. There was a huge tree downstage right which was hard to block around, semi-affectionately known as the MF tree. The seating capacity was 1200. There was a full summer season of shows, and ours was the only one to play to a full crowd. We had to sing over the crickets, and we lost a show to rain, but we were so in love we didn't care. After rehearsals and shows we'd go to the Wayside, order pizzas and drinks, and generally carry on. One controversy which Judi had to navigate was what happened to Jesus at the end of the show. Mike Spottiswood, one of the producers, a good guy with Christian leanings, felt that the show should end with Jesus on the cross. Judi had Jesus coming down, and walking off with the other actors. Judi's vision won out, and i was glad, for both her and the show. I became a caretaker of the children. They sort of flocked to me, and i realized for the first time that a lot of adults aren't good with children, even many who want to be. Most adults talk at children, not to them. My closest little buddy was nine year-old Annie Merlino, whom i carried on my shoulders in one scene. The whole experience was wonderful and amazing...the show itself, the ease with which people befriended each other compared to the uptight halls of school i had known. In future years i would learn that community theater is occasionally better than professional, because the passion and love are more pure.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Farrah, i never had a chance.
I was too open and innocent to not be swept away by the tidal wave of your assault on pop culture in 1976. My poor little eyes had never beheld your like. Far too young to even know what "sexy" was, i was forever ensnared. I couldn't have told you why, but you touched something in me that could never again be touched in quite the same way.
First love is like that.
Oh, i'd had a hazy, half-formed response to Daphne on SCOOBY DOO that presaged my reaction to you. What aspect of my primal brain, or macho socialization, made me choose her over the brainier Velma? It makes no sense, Velma even wore glasses, like me.
But if Daphne was a faint breeze, you were a monsoon, indelibly marking your path.
Was it the nipple?
And mind you, i didn't have the poster myself. I was too young to even consider that an option. The first (and come to think of it, only) girlie poster i ever had was Christie Brinkley, wearing a one-piece bathing suit with a section cut out.
But i didn't have to have your poster, for it was everywhere.
Of course, it wasn't the nipple alone. Your beauty radiated from every pore. But without the nipple...
It was like some unseen lightning bolt to my brain. I wasn't even consciously looking at it. But in school a few years later, while looking through a paperback biography of you...there they were again! Both of them!! You were playing tennis in a white outfit, your nipples almost pushing through the fabric. At that age i understood what i was looking at. Wide-eyed, i tore out that photo and kept it, sacred.
Decades later, i discovered that you did CHARLIE'S ANGELS for only one season. That seemed just inconceivable. Your impact was so huge, and i was so young, that time somehow accordioned, so that it seemed almost like you had always been in my life (of course, i may have also been subconsciously remembering that you came back to do guest episodes for two seasons).
And why did i never object to your marriage to Lee? Because i wasn't old enough to manifest our culture's poison of possessiveness? Because i wasn't old enough to "be your man"? Because i cherished you so greatly, that i would defer to whatever happiness you might want? Because i already had a relationship with Lee, our Six Million Dollar Man, and had deemed him trustworthy? Because i perceived that women were sexually and spiritually superior to men, and as such ought have any man or men at any time they wished? Okay, it probably wasn't that last one, i was only eight.
And why, years later, did i never fully trust Ryan O'Neal? Did i sense his instability?
It's funny...we grow up, our perceptions constantly, subtly realigning. Why did i never follow your career more closely as i grew? Looking at your acting credits, i realize i've only seen a handful. Perhaps by the time i was a teen, i was all too aware of the human tendency to idolatry, and had vowed to never succumb to it. Perhaps my adoration of you had been so great, that i subconsciously had no choice but to pull back.
I was quietly proud though, when you won over the critics in the 80s.
There were, of course, a tiny handful of projects you did which i could not resist. And by "tiny handful", i guess i mean the Playboys you did in the nineties (and the accompanying dvd). Holy heartstops...it almost never happens that an event lives up to hype, but great googily you did it. Instantly your chickenshit Playboy appearance in the 70s was forgiven.
Because i never followed you closely, i sadly cannot offer a burn-the-bridges farrahthon, only this one that will be realized by me nibble by nibble in decades to come.
-your S.W.A.T. episode
-HARRY O, your short-lived first series
-your four episodes of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN
-all your CHARLIE'S ANGELS episodes
-your THE FALL GUY episode
Thank you for all you gave, Farrah. Perhaps even surprising to me just the tiniest bit, it seems that there really was genuine human substance behind the poster and angelic beauty that sent the libido of a culture into overdrive. Fame comes with a high price tag...but i hope that your joys outweighed your scars.
Now and always, from that little eight year-old...thank you.

Monday, June 22, 2009


There's a sci fi gem out there called FORBIDDEN PLANET. I saw a few minutes of it many years ago, and dismissed it as primitive, stilted, and tame. I must have been in a strange mood that day, for it is essentially none of those things. Released in 1956, it was the first major sci fi release which didn't feature some iconic hero (a Flash or Buck), but to call it a "missing link" also does it a disservice. It's essentially a ripper, and paved the way for a more humanistic vision of our reaching out into space. It was also the first major sci fi film to have a large budget, around two million dollars. The money was well-spent. The effects and visuals stand up well to shows with exponentially larger budgets and decades more FX development.
The iconic robot, Robby, stands every bit as tall as an icon should. His incorporation of Asimov's first law of robotics makes him a fitting progenitor for Artoo, Twiki, Data, and all the rest. The heroic space captain is played by a young Leslie Nielsen, but rest assured, Lt. Drebin is quickly forgotten, and his steady presence lends a comforting familiarity. And the casting of Warren Stevens as Doc, later a guest star on the excellent "By Any Other Name" episode of STAR TREK, should warm the cockles of trekkies everywhere.
So did the film have an impact on thirty-five year old Los Angeles police sergeant Gene Roddenberry? Just take note of the time their ship sets down on the alien planet.
Exactly 17:01.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

land of the cinematically lost (in space)

-a preview
For those of you who only want my very best, you can click off now. You've read the title, and you need go no further.
Still here?
Fair enough, but i warned you.
Two of this summer's films i've not yet seen are recreations of beloved television shows from my tender youth. One has never been far from me, either in spirit or direct experience. The other i'd not seen since those childhood days of yore, until a few weeks ago when interest in the new film prompted a televised marathon of old episodes. One of the shows has aged well. The other looks almost laughably amateurish, with animation that doesn't stand up well to KING KONG, four decades before.
Nonetheless, i love them both, and am going to grump a little bit here. And YES, it's in poor taste to trash something you haven't seen. Very poor taste. I insist that none of you engage in such suspect behavior, ever.
I, of course, as the AOATGAF*, am allowed.
These days, blasting Hollywood's lack of originality is becoming, well...cliched. Oh irony, we lovest thou so.
And apparently i'm going out on a limb doubting the new TREK, as the reviews from trekkie and non-trekkie alike are glowing, even startlingly so. But a comparison to another childhood treasure, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, comes to mind. I first saw 20,000 as a movie when i was five, and it wowed me. I then experienced it at ten, as a ride at Disneyworld, and in an instant it was my favorite ride ever. Then at fifteen, i read the book.
Does the new Trek have all the glitz and gloss of the first two, without the substance of the last?
I am, of course, open to having my lowered expectations completely, gloriously foiled. Unless they try to pass Chekov off as being in the same academy class as Kirk, then i'm walking right out.
As for LAND OF THE LOST...i was actually excited when i heard about it coming to the big screen. A devoted treatment of a cherished memory? And perhaps Will Ferrell had finally come around to the role he'd been born for: goofy uncle. In my mind, for some reason, he became the new Uncle Jack.
Then i realized he'd most likely be Marshall. Then i saw the poster, and my mind went thud. No no no no no...what had they done? Not only was Will not the goofy uncle, there weren't even any kids to be goofy with. Those are ADULTS in the raft with him! What??
And suddenly it made sense, i could see the meeting of Hollywood producers and sycophants...
WEASEL #1: But sex! We gotta get sex into it!
WEASEL #2: We could have Cha-ka be a hot missing link babe! And one night, she crawls into Will's sleeping bag...
WEASEL #1: No no...how about Holly? Let's make her fifteen, and bursting right out of her tube top...wait, did i say fifteen? I meant eighteen, eighteen! The trip can be a high school graduation present for the kids! And we give HER the scene with Cha-ka! He's watching her bathe! We can make T-shirts, "What Happens in the Land of the Lost, Stays in the Land of the Lost"!!
And from there, it got progressively worse, until the final casting: Ferrell, Artie Lang, and Brooke Burke. They're not even kids anymore, they're just buddies on a rafting trip. It's THE OFFICE meets JURASSIC PARK!! Brilliant. I'll take three tickets. What? The theater's sold out? That's okay, i'll stand, it makes it easier to fuck me in the ass.
Anyway, please allow me the indulgence of this unjustly negative piece. I really only did it because the title hit me, and well...i'm not modest enough to walk away from a $5000 title when it comes along.
Like Hollywood, it seems i have no shame.

*Arbiter Of All Things Goodly And Fine
(postscript: I hate it when i'm right. STAR TREK was painfully bad, and LAND OF THE LOST may have been worse.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

robyn, milsey, michelle

WOMEN 14-16
In the dorm my sophomore year, i got a reputation with my hands. On our co-ed floor, nightly calls of "R-o-o-o-b" came echoing down the halls, from any one of seven girls waiting for a massage (is it time to go back for a Ph.D.?). I guess i was some combination of gentle and non-threatening and good with my hands…it just kind of gradually happened, my post as floor female-rubber. I was by no means a casanova, so the guys just shook their head at me in bemused puzzlement. Robyn, a redhead with fair skin, was one of my favorites. One night i massaged her in the dark while her roommate slept. I worked her back for a long time, then she turned over. My strokes became more caressing. Her pleasure changed from peaceful to aroused, as ever more lightly i focused on her breasts. The quickness and profoundness of her nipples' erect state was just jaw-dropping…but sadly, after another few minutes, her roommate grumpily mumbled "Do you want me to leave?" "Yes!", i said in my mind, but i soon left. In my heart of hearts i knew we weren't deeply compatible. She was essentially nice, but trying too hard to fit in with the sorority set. Nonetheless, being close to her mind-scramblingly soft skin and beyond-beautiful breasts, i didn’t care about any of that. We almost dated, but i was number two on her list, and number one came through.
An identical twin, she was so beautiful. But not too nice, i guess. During a college summer, she saw me a couple of times, kissed me a bit, then stopped answering my calls. I found out she had been using me to make her boyfriend Fred mad. There were an interesting couple of days when i knew he was looking for me, to administer a pounding. I didn’t seek him out, but didn’t hide. He had a temper, a low intellect, and seventy pounds on me, but i had gone for it anyway. Yay me. She used me, i had been so happy, and never saw the express train comin'.
In a summer production of THE WIZARD OF OZ in which i was tree #1, she was an actress. God, so cute. She was part Polynesian, a year younger, and still had a little baby fat. We kissed once or twice. If it's true that we only chase the ones who run away, she had plenty of reason to lose interest.

Friday, June 19, 2009

frampton foursome

The world's biggest rock star of 1976 was Peter Frampton. His album FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE stands as the greatest-selling concert album ever. And justifiably so, Frampton was an amazing guitarist playing fine songs, capturing a rare kind of audience-performer chemistry.
Fame is an interesting beast, though. There is a not-entirely pointless part of the human spirit that seeks to destroy our idols. If you dance with fame, do so at your own peril. In our culture of celebrity, it's easy to find examples of insubstantial products that strike "spicemonkee" gold, whose subsequent fall from grace is often as abrupt as their rise. A little more unfairly, there are also talented flashes-in-the-pan consumed by too-quick fame, punished by the beast of public perception. Hanson today enjoys a well-deserved cult following, and i wish them nothing but the best.
There's no set formula for all this rising and falling. Certain acts, through talent or luck or both, maintain their spot on the mountaintop longer than others. There are also toweringly brilliant acts that we'll never hear of.
Somewhere in all that, Peter Frampton lost the rest of his career. We rewarded his too-great success, with our indifference. Perhaps some of it was earned - i don't know whether the follow-ups to FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE were worthy. I do know this, though. In the often revoltingly bleak popular music landscape, Frampton has gone on to make some shamefully ignored work. 1995's FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE II is note-for-note as great as its predecessor. When he "rocks out", it's a good thing (oft times when a band "rocks out", they just turn up the amp and abandon any pretense of musicality). And 2003's studio album NOW is simply everything a rock album should be. He shreds the occasional solo, and mixes in tender songs with thoughtful lyrics. His mid-tempo numbers might be the best of the bunch. The standout track is a cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". With its rambling pre-song solo, it takes its place as one of the most towering treatments of Harrison's work.
Along with these three i add this fourth disc, to assemble perhaps the very best of Peter, for those with limited funds or space. ANTHOLOGY: THE HISTORY OF PETER FRAMPTON, a collection from 2001, includes music from The Herd and Humble Pie. The collection makes you realize that, unlike most, his concerts aren't just a cranking out of hits. So many of these songs will get inside you to stay, given a few listenings. The most wonderful treasure is hearing "Baby I Love Your Way" as a studio recording for the first time. Most of us know the live version like we know our hands, but hearing this quiet, airtight version is so moving, i can't tell you. It has an intimacy and innocence which the big concert couldn't capture.
So enough yakking. Is Peter still touring?
That'd be nice.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Brooklyn artist frank benson, got an idea from street performers who wear body paint to imitate statues. He wanted to make a statue so realistic that people would think it was a person pretending to be a statue. And the kind of precision he wanted was only achievable with body molds. He needed a body. He chose me. Frank had worked with molds before, but never on this scale, so he hired mark prent (http://www.markprent.com/). Mark is one of the world's foremost body casting experts, probably on the speed dial of several Hollywood effects departments. His Vermont studio, Pink House, is an eerie and magical wonderland. He works there with delightful assistants, most memorably monique and dan. Monique is the sweetest person in the world, and modeled for some of mark's most beautiful work. Dan is a walking verisimilitude of a homo erectus, with bright eyes and less grunting. The molds were created with a rubbery synthetic called ply-o-life, which gets glopped onto your body, then hardens for ninety minutes before they extract you. The precision of the result is stunning. I had to shave my body, the first time i'd ever done so...and one tiny hair i didn't fully cut can be seen on the finished product. The process was done in three stages: upper torso, lower torso, and head, hands, and feet. You need to be in good shape, and even then a lot of the models pass out, particularly if the pose is difficult. Mine was reasonably difficult, and i passed out during the lower torso segment. Enough hardening had been done by then, that they were able to lay me down without compromising the final product. When they peel you out of the lower torso, the ply-o-life has hardened around your twig and berries, and with the size of your head being larger than the shaft, the moment you are popped out of that particular grip, is...um, singular. The most psychologically interesting segment was the head, hands, and feet. They keep nostril holes open, but claustrophobic models need never ever apply. It was during this phase that my mind wandered to silly thoughts. I was essentially naked with big blue blobs on five of my six extremities. I imagined breaking for freedom, and running into the street waving my arms frantically. The effect on any passerby who might have seen me, is too priceless to imagine.
Back in Brooklyn, frank assembled and melded all the pieces, then painted them silver. He put in glass eyes. It is mind-bogglingly bizarre to stand before an almost-perfect copy of yourself. The seams lack complete precision, one of my ears got bent, and there are slight facial variations from the weight of the mold, but overall...it's hard to describe looking at yourself like that, it's almost an out-of-body experience.
By the way, i simply must confirm that i have a ridiculously cute tushy. If i were a girl, i would date me just to play with my tush.
Frank prepared the piece for an opening at a museum/gallery in Miami, and it was as successful as he hoped. He had debated clothing the piece, but decided to go au naturel. One gallery patron stood in front of the statue for fifteen minutes, waiting for "me" to move. Another cheeky customer flicked my willy. Frank received four replica commissions. One of me will stay in Miami, and two others now have homes in New York and Oslo. For the replicas, frank decided to go with natural tones, and brought me in to match my skin colors exactly. If you think facing one copy of yourself might be interesting, try standing in the midst of four of them. Does it say anything about me that i loved it?
And there's now a sixth copy of me in the world! I did another body casting job for a statue for the Fort Benning museum, in Georgia. As this one will be clothed in a hundred year-old uniform, plaster body molds were sufficient. For the head and hands, they used a substance called alginate, the cheap version of ply-o-life.
So if you ever meet me in Miami or Norway, you have my blessing to flick my willy. Or in Georgia, for that matter...but that one might be a not-so-good idea. If you meet me in New York, and aren't sure whether it's me or the statue...please gently blow on my hiney. If i don't react, the reach-around flick is all yours.


-spring 1985
If my two-year attitudinal shift from RIP VAN WINKLE to ROCK N' ROLL had been profound, the four-year shift from ROCK N' ROLL to JOSEPH was even more so. I was in 11th grade. During the first month of Youth Club, we all waited to find out what the play would be. This year, Mrs. Wohlhueter would be directing alone, with several new assistants, including my Mom and Dad helping with the music. I was sorry to see Dave go, but with Valda, we'd be okay. It was going to be a little unhip to have my parents around, but i'd deal. Finally, the announcement. I was almost giddy. A rock opera by JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR's Webber and Rice. Holy cow. I got hold of the soundtrack, and wanted to audition for everything. So that's what i got ready to do. I figured i had a shot at being one of the featured brothers. I prepped the Pharaoah-Elvis part too. I wouldn't get it, but i'd have fun trying. Youth Club had continued growing, and over one hundred auditioned. I was thrilled after callbacks: "i'm gonna be a brother, i'm gonna be a brother…". My parents' comments were very general. A day or two later, Valda called. She asked if i knew why she was calling. I said because she wanted me to be a brother. She said no. She said "Rob, i want you to be my Joseph". I just now realized that those few words rank with the most impactful words of my whole life. I was quiet, until she spoke again. There was such happiness in her voice. After hanging up, i think there was whooping and yelling. That night, maybe still jumping, i hugged Mom and Dad, and asked whether they had known. They said yes. Nepotism hadn't occured to me, but they told me they'd asked to have no say in the final decision. They also said i'd rated higher than anyone as Pharoah, but there had been no one close to me as Joseph. I had a moment of conflict, a feeling that i might have picked Pharoah if given the choice. But the moment passed quickly. The feeling at Youth Club the following Wednesday…i knew i was still the same me, but to walk down those halls, and see everyone smiling, making eye contact with me…i was the lead. I wasn't just a lead, i was the lead. I knew all my songs within a week. Knew everybody's. I was asked my input on how to pair up the narrators. There was my friend Kim Silver, a senior. Red hair, smart, and nice as could be. We had been in the bands together. I had a little crush on her, but not nearly as much as my buddy Robb did. There was Katie Atkinson, my age, stick-thin, and outgoing. There was Courtney Lear, also my age. She was nice enough to me, but definitely a member of the "cooler-than-thou" clique. And finally April Ferguson, a little tiny thing in 7th grade, but when she opened her mouth, this amazing voice came out. April had the strongest voice, but not much presence. Kim had the weakest voice, but great presence, and she was very nurturing. I suggested pairing them for the first act, and Courtney and Katie for the second. It's funny...though i had never expected it, there was never a moment's hesitation about whether i could do the lead, or how to do it. Pharoah was Don Santacroce, a guy my age and part of the "cool" clique, but not nearly so noxious as others. We got along fine. He was tall with dark, curly hair, and his number brought down the house. Potiphar/Jacob was Dean Mix, as narcissistic as ever. I think he had wanted to be Joseph, and it had to gall him that i got it. He threw a very obvious dig my way once, and i heard about another he made in private. But aside from one comedic voice crack (karma, maybe?), he did a nice job in his roles, and he was never openly negative toward me after the first week. Reuben was Ned Sanderson, a talented sophomore and good guy. Napthali was sophomore Karl Slatoff, a great guy with a high voice. Levi was Heidi Stohler, wearing a beard. Benjamin was freshman Dave Paine, a ham and unforgiveable scene-stealer. Cathy was a brother, and Robb and Ken were hairy Ishmaelites, with beards nearly bigger than they. JOSEPH was the first play of my life that had no business being as good as it was. Not that we weren't talented, but the response was just off-the-charts astonishing. The energy was indescribable…we tried to turn people away when the huge auditorium sold out, but they wouldn't have it. We hooked up a television monitor in the lobby, so forty or fifty could stand to watch. That's never happened with any other production i've heard of, at any level. They had one moment of live contact, when i came through the lobby for my final entrance. As i passed them, there was probably some subconscious part of me saying "Are you kidding?" The production values…oh man, those adults were organized. They built a life-sized camel for a four-second cross, and a sphinx that cried. The chorus…bless 'em. JOSEPH was not a chorus show, and we had maybe eighty sitting in the pit. I jumped down with them during one rehearsal. In one number they were out among the audience, but otherwise they just sang a lot of la-ing and ba-ing. Scott Reese had one bird-call solo line. My Dad worked with him on that line more than all my lines combined, but he never did quite get it. I began a wonderful relationship with Judi Lehrhaupt, the new choreographer. I had to sit on a ten-foot platform in one scene, but i was afraid of heights. Judi told me to come in early one morning. She had packed a breakfast, and said we were going to eat on the platform. Which we did. A couple years later, i would be swinging through theater rafters where few dare to go. My parents were well-liked, particularly Dad, who was never short on charm. I don't think i ever let it go to my head, but there were literally bevies of adoring girls surrounding me and singing to me. I knew that i was a better actor than singer. I kicked ass on the up-tempo numbers, but on the ballads, i wished i were better. My Dad said that even if i wasn't the best technically, i was a very strong theatrical singer. Coming down the aisle at the end of the show in the golden chariot (with a Rolls Royce grill), spotlights and every eye on me, was pretty indescribable. The final moment onstage, with the cast around me, my arms raised…the waterfalls of applause that followed…after our closing night curtain call, the cast let out a roar, and started jumping and hugging…i stood there, as several people grabbed me...the curtain suddenly went up, catching us in mid-celebration, my coat all discombobulated…we bowed again, the curtain went down, and everybody roared even louder...tears and hugs that wouldn't end…incredible, incredible, incredible, incredible. Jim Prosser was a senior, and not even in the show, as he'd had too many commitments. But he came before the final performance to play and sing "One Shining Moment", to even more tears than the previous year. The cast party, at my house, was unprecedented as well. At least one hundred kids, with sleeping bags in hand. A sea of bodies throughout the house...under tables, a few even on the stairs. It was so big it alarmed the adults, and actually brought an end to the sleepover tradition. Understandably, i suppose...that night, i touched a breast for the first time in my life. In the morning, Mom made monkey bread. At the talent show a couple weeks later, i narrowly missed living the new sappiest moment of my life. I had been prepped to sing Lionel Richie's "Truly", and dedicate it to my girlfriend Staci (remember ballads, not my strong point?). It is one of the great mercies of life that she dumped me before that could happen. The adults performed an over-the-top version of the Pharoah number in full costume, with my Dad as the King. Remembering how touched i'd been by Janet Nolting's Teddy Bear Award the year before, i started a new tradition. I created an award certificate with teddy bear stickers, and presented it to Dave Paine. He was an overactor, but infectiously undeniable. For the final presentation, Kelly Buss got up. She had played Mrs. Potiphar, who tries to seduce me, stripping away my skirt to reveal technicolor undershorts (my idea). Kelly was my age, a first year Youth Clubber who couldn't project her one line to save her life, but she was a wonderful dancer, and so sexy she took my breath away. She stood at the dais, and presented me a technicolor jockstrap she and my friends had made. It was signed by all, and Kelly wrote that she wished she could take this off me too. My eyes widened. I think i tried to find out from her, weeks later and unsuccessfully, whether she'd been joking. Sigh. Mrs. Wohlhueter was presented the coat of many colors. I had thought it might be coming to me, and was sad for a moment. But i was quickly content, because i could see how much it meant to her, and i knew i never wanted to be accused of "living in past glory" once the show ended. Not having the coat would make that easier.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


It was through Ellen that i gained a small reputation my second semester. My floor mates at Sanderson Hall would continually see me return home at six or so in the morning, and assume i'd been womanizing. Ellen, a junior, was a wonderful and intelligent specimen of humanity. We met through a group i'd been hanging out with, many of whom lived in the honors dorm. Musicians, "brains"…and i was the sole actor. Ellen's room was a regular hangout. Soon, even if she wasn't hanging out with the group on a certain night, i'd show up at her door at 11 or 12, and we'd talk for hours. She was involved with Grange, a statewide honor farming organization. She had a practical major, and much of our talk centered around the difficulties she was having with her boyfriend back home. They'd been together since high school, and had made life plans. I was her sounding board, and we were slowly falling for each other. After a couple months, she broke with him. Long nights talking became long nights talking and holding. One night the holding became a kiss. After many nights of kissing, one night we took our shirts (and bra) off. But her break with Brian was incomplete, and the next day she said she was sorry she'd let it go so far. I said i'd be whatever she needed. Soon she said that she loved both of us, and didn't know what to do. My freshman year ended. I saw her once that summer with the group, where she was house-sitting. After most of the others had left, the two of us came together in a big, dark room looking out on the backyard. We didn't say anything, just put our arms around each other. And i started to do something i've only experienced a handful of times since. I trembled. Uncontrollably. After a couple of minutes we were laughing, because i couldn't stop shaking. When the fall semester began, she had made Brian her choice. We saw each other less and less. A few years later, i ran into her and found out she was happily married to some third party. So it goes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


-spring 1984
In 10th grade, the Youth Club play was MAME. I auditioned in earnest, and got the small part of Uncle Jeff. Hardly any more lines than the year before, but i was a "name" character now. Dave and Valda were the co-directors again, and they were great. I threw myself into rehearsals. Then, in a moment i can feel to this day, i was home one afternoon and the phone rang. It was Dave. He told me that Jim Prosser, a junior who had been cast as Mame's Asian houseboy Ito, was very busy writing the music for his own private school's show. Dave asked whether i'd be willing to switch parts with Jim. I was stunned. I walked around that afternoon with a goofy look on my face, i'm sure. I now had a good number of lines, a song with the leads, with a solo line…no, wait, i was one of the leads. I was one of the leads. Amazing. My mother used dye to darken my hair. I was told it would wash out within a month, but it stayed for half a year. I didn't mind, it was a badge of honor. My group of friends was growing, with Cathy O'Brien joining Robb and Ken. There were several kids who went beyond hip into the realm of cliquey assholes; notable among these was Dean Mix, a guy my age playing the part of older Patrick. Dean went out of his way to put me down in his "i'm-smooth-and-you-ain't" manner. My sister had once dated his buddy Bob Archibald, who told me of some of Dean's weak points. The adult stage manager, a sweet, sweet man who played himself in the show, was Mr. Connelly. Heidi Stohler, a freshman, did a wonderful job playing the frumpy Agnes Gooch. I had a crush on Beth Bunting, a senior. She was so sweet and genuine, a blonde-haired long-legged dancer. There was a romantic song in the film version, called "Loving You". I can't remember, but i may have sung it for Beth one rehearsal, my Mom's tinny cassette recorder providing accompaniment (i had held the recorder up to the TV to record the sound). I don't know whether it happened or whether i just planned it, but either way it was the sappiest moment of my life to date. The best moment came when Doug Russell, the senior playing Beau, missed a rehearsal. I was friendly with Doug, a great guy. When it came time for his number, i was asked to fill in (i'd been hoping). I knew every word and sang his part with joy. At one rehearsal, to the amusement of all, i popped my head out of the fireplace during a song in which Mame looks up the fireplace. At that time, "M*A*S*H" was the first grownup show i had ever fallen in love with. The final episode was set to air the Monday night of tech week. I hadn't missed a single rehearsal, and asked Valda whether i could stay home to watch the show. I innocently expected a yes. Valda gave me a strange half-smile, then said "No! Of course not. We need you here!" The performances were at my school, Charles Boehm Junior High, and this also made the whole affair less churchy. Having the dressing rooms in my school's classrooms, it was so cool. The closing night cast party sleepover was at April Ferguson's, who had played Mame. I suspected there were a bunch of kids drinking somewhere, but i found some friends who weren't. The capper of the year came a couple weeks later, on the final Youth Club Wednesday. It was the yearly talent show, and i had an entry with Jim Prosser. He suggested we write a skit in which we switch back to our original roles, and meet on the plantation to watch the fox hunt. As we handed the binoculars back and forth, we did a running gag on the "fox" not being a fox, but a girl. Not exactly Gloria Steinem, but it was wonderful fun, and the kids loved it. Backstage, before the final show, Jim sang a song he had written, "One Shining Moment", the playing of which would become a closing night tradition. When he was done, many tears were flowing. I was given a special honor by Janet Nolting, a wonderful senior. The high school jazz band had a tradition called the Teddy Bear Award, given to the band member, usually a novice, whose enthusiasm and joy could always be counted on to lift everyone. During show week, she gave me a card with a teddy bear on it, and named me Youth Club's teddy bear.

Monday, June 15, 2009

tracy, tessie, melissa, pam

WOMEN 9-12
A year my junior, and absolutely agog for me when i was the lead in the Youth Club play, at seventeen, but i demurred. A year later, when i was solidly in her "friend" category, i was agog for her. I held her backstage that year (i was Conrad Birdie, she was a dancer), and got an erection which i had to hastily extinguish to go on for a scene. Sigh…
One of Tracy's best friends, i was agog for Tessie when Tracy was agog for me. Tessie was seeing someone, but liked paling around with me. A few years later we re-connected, and she had gained 50 pounds. I never tried to see her again. Ain't honesty a bitch?
When i was in a community production of PETER PAN the summer after high school, Melissa and her friend sent a note backstage saying that they found another dancer and me very cute. The four of us met, drove to the river after the show, paired off, and necked. We stayed in the car, while Dave and his girl walked to the water. Whatever they did, it seemed like they were back in no time. Kissing was all i had in mind, and tried to get more time. I also tried to call her after that, but we never met again. Even though it didn't work out, it was the first time i had ever felt like an "operator", even a tiny bit. It was kind of a nice feeling.
Are you going to believe that i can't remember the last name of my "first"? I can't. But i went off to college, and "lost my virginity" in a matter of weeks (this endorsement paid for by the Association of American Colleges and Universities). I was a freshman, and loving life (high school couldn't have been over soon enough). I was throwing myself into the theater department with joy. Pam was a freshman taking a theater course. Medium height, thin, very small aquiline features, somewhat long dark hair, with an eclectic style of dress...i remember her in a fancy hat. We spent time together when all the theater students were recruited to paint the halls. Days of slapping on tan, blue, and maroon. I'd already been cast in a play, so the upper classmen knew me. Pam and i worked side-by-side. After a few days Cat Hasson, a senior, dramatically exclaimed, "Oh for crying out loud, will the two of you copulate and get it over with?" We gave her a what-are-you-talking-about look. Pam and i had dinner together that night, and within a few days, we kissed. A week or two later, we were making out on my bed one afternoon, and in one of the greater surprises of my life, she asked whether i wanted to have sex. I think i said something like "Are you sure? Okay." (not a tough sell, in retrospect). I mean lordy, of course i wanted to. It sounded like, well, just the best thing. I hadn't minded being a virgin; in fact, i had always been annoyed by people who made a big deal out of virginity. I was of a mind that i would be the same person before and after, a prophecy which fulfilled (or self-fulfilled) nicely. Anyway, a couple fumbling moments later she was guiding me into her. And wow. Then twenty-some seconds later, ohmygod…wow. We did it again in her room a few days later. She said i was her second lover, but the first in high school didn't count, because it had been date rape. After two or three more weeks and doing it maybe one more time, she broke it off. And i mean broke. Didn't talk to me, wouldn't answer my calls. Not long after, the semester ended. I never saw her again, and i don't think she came back to school. It didn't occur to me until years later that she might have become pregnant. To this day, Pam is the only possibility that there is a child of mine out there. Did the nature of her rejection allow my brain to forget her last name within a few years?

Sunday, June 14, 2009


-spring 1983
In 1981, unbeknownst to me, wheels were being set in motion. My sister Jaymie was in 10th grade and had joined Youth Club, a church group for 7th-12th graders. They met every Wednesday at the Morrisville Presbyterian Church, for dinner and a program. It was our family's church, but by fourteen i was ready to gently rebel against religion. Youth Club had grown since it's inception fifteen years before, and had a membership of sixty. What had also been growing was the annual musical, which was beginning to rival the high school's in scale and excitement. In 1981, the show had been BRIGADOON. Jaymie was in it, so i got trundled off to see it. Boring, boring, lordy it was boring. My parents asked me about joining, a suggestion that probably met with a crinkled face. The next year, they suggested it again, with um, more assertiveness. They made me join. I went, didn't have a good time…but thankfully, they couldn't force me to be in the play, CAROUSEL. Again Jaymie had a small part, and again i begrudgingly sat through it. The only thing i liked about Youth Club was the potatoes. Egg-sized and covered in butter, they were incredible. I would scam as many seconds and thirds as i could. The following year, my parents gave another ultimatum. They asked that i do one play. I had just finished my first year in marching band, and had no interest in theater. But they promised that if i did one play and didn't like it, i could quit Youth Club altogether. Grumpily, i agreed. With my skinny, youthful looks i got cast in the chorus as one of the "sons". We started rehearsing…and a funny thing began to happen. Dave Warner, the senior playing Tevye, was just a skinny kid you'd never look at twice, but when he got onstage…i couldn't believe he was the same person. I mean almost literally, i couldn't believe it. I was astonished, in a way i never had been with music. I guess the directors, Valda Wohlhueter and Dave Yantz, noticed something in me, because they started throwing a couple lines my way. I became the extra Jew. I even got a name, Yussel, the hatmaker. I had a tiny scene with Ron Stohler, a senior. The year before, I had thought Ron uncool as he played the starkeeper in CAROUSEL, and here i was acting with him and...liking it. I began to make friends, notably Ken Hartman and Robb Wilson, guys my age. Robb wasn't a church member, and the fact that non-church kids could join was part of the reason i hadn't insisted on quitting. It made the club less "churchy". I also began looking up to some of the upper classmen. I started parting my hair in the middle, because that's what senior Rob Kwortnik did. My Mom said that my hair didn't go that way, but i was determined. Sadly though, in what was my one chance to do a school play with Jaymie, it wasn't to be. She was an attractive, bright senior, and had a singing voice that had taken her to All-Eastern choir (my own senior year, i judged my voice to be not even worthy of district, three levels below All-Eastern). Jaymie had been disappointed by some nepotism in casting the previous year, and she'd just been cast in a lead role in the high school play. She decided to focus her efforts there. Deep down i really didn't mind, because i had been compared with her enough. Perfect grades, perfect voice…in retrospect, i'm sad we didn't do one play together, but at the time it made it easier for it to be "my" experience. And it was wonderful. When it ended, i knew i'd be back.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

michelle, karin, staci

I was 16, she was 15, we were in marching band together. One of two high school girlfriends (and my first Jewish girlfriend), we kissed on her basement couch a few times over the course of a few weeks, then she dumped me. My friend Fred found out i was going to be dumped before i did, and alerted me. Classic high school dopeyness.
I was 17, she was 15, the little sister of a friend. She played clarinet in marching band. We hooked up on a band bus ride back from a football game. It was unexpected, dreamlike, and never to be repeated. I reconnected with her a few summers later, but couldn't recapture the lost moment.
Technically yes, i was breast-fed, however…the first time i touched a breast, i was sixteen. It was early spring, the closing night of the Youth Club musical. I was falling in love with acting, and riding one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. I was Joseph (my first lead ever). The cast party sleepover was at my house. Out of a cast of 100, nearly all were there. People in sleeping bags everywhere, in the halls, under tables… For the past few weeks, Staci had been my girlfriend. She was a sophomore i had known for a couple years. She was medium height with naturally(?) blonde hair, and a dancer in the show. She played field hockey and softball. A year earlier, her best friend Cindy had been my first kiss. I had always been more attracted to Staci, and was eye-openingly delighted when, during rehearsals, she said she would be my girlfriend. Wow. By closing night, we had made out a few times. At around 2:30AM, things started to settle down (though Mom and Dad were still barbershopping with some kids in the kitchen). I went with Staci and our sleeping bags into the piano room. There were five kids there, already in their bags. I guess what followed was my first experience with "star treatment", for after Staci and i settled down, the others wordlessly left. I was amazed. There were people sleeping on the stairs, and we were getting a room to ourselves? We kissed and touched, and at exactly sometime AM, her breast (the left one, i’m guessing) was uncovered and against my hand. A soft, gentle wow. In the darkness, just unbelievably soft and full. After a bit, we fell asleep. I don't know whether she had ever gone that far, or further. I told her it was the first time i ever had. A week later, she had broken up with me and was dating Scott, who had played Reuben (and who years later, was the male piece of the only bisexual dream i can ever recall).

Rock n' Roll

-spring 1981
What a difference two years makes. ROCK N' ROLL feels like the memories of a boy ten years older than the sweet, happy kid who played Rip. But i've done the math; it's just two years. I was now living in the Philadelphia suburbs, in 7th grade and wading into adolescence. I did the play almost as an afterthought. I signed up in response to post-audition announcements of "men needed desperately", or some such. I was in the concert and jazz bands, had no interest in acting, and can't really recall why i joined. At one point, i stopped going to rehearsal for a week or so. I was in the chorus, and didn't have a line. It was a musical about...well, i guess it wanted to be GREASE when it grew up. Unhip as i was, even i could sense how cheesily godawful it was. It was about the adventures of some kid named Corndoggie. The saving grace of the production was the performance of Dawn Mycock. She was an 8th grader too otherworldly for words. She was tall with bright eyes, gorgeous dark wavy hair, and long legs. I was still asexual enough that i didn't lust for her per se...but she was stunning. I remember being awed a year or two later when one of my friends pointed out her house, which was actually only a couple blocks from mine. One of our "suburban legends" was that her middle name was Edith. I can remember assuring friends that this was gospel fact, though i had no such knowledge. I remember her coming out of her house once when i was biking by, and we spoke for a minute or two. I couldn't believe it. I told my friends, and they didn't believe it either. She hadn't remembered me, but she was very friendly. She had one solo number in the show, and it was great. She sat on a table, legs swinging, megawatt smile beaming. Dawn notwithstanding, i was grateful when the show ended. I wasn't even an actor, but nobody likes to be associated with a stinker. And theater didn't really feel like "me". At my parent's prodding, i attended one more audition that year, for the high school musical. They needed younger actors for GYPSY. I sang Kermit's "The Rainbow Connection", perhaps even sounding unintentionally froglike, and i think they wanted me, but i decided i wasn't interested.

Friday, June 12, 2009

wound 2

(follow-up to http://nakedmeadow.blogspot.com/2008/07/wound.html)

"Err on the side of expressing your humanity."
-dr. jane aloyius o'mccorkleschlatt

A friend has told me that i must snap out of my wounded mindframe...a mindframe which has been dwelling in me for three years, with roots far deeper.
So i must talk about sadness, and other emotions.
There is a category of being called drives...chief among these are lust, hunger, being in love, and pain.
There is a second category of being called attitudes.
In between these two, lies emotion.
Drives are the wind which compels us. They are in our blood, and we are not their master.
Attitudes are the willful manifestation of our personality. They are the chosen...superstition, pacifism, racism...whether we choose them, or have them thrust upon us, we must consent to their presence. They are our spirit's rudder and anchor. We may steer our course, but sail we must. If we anchor ourselves, the tension from our drives remains, the anchor chain vibrating in the very fiber of our being.
And emotions...love, sadness, joy, fear, gratitude, anger, loneliness...are formed of the intersection and union of the first two categories. They are defined and created by the first two, yet their nature is unlike either.
If someone tells us we must snap out of a belief, all that is required is for us to become convinced our belief is wrong.
If someone tells us we must snap out of a drive, they speak from delusion.
If someone tells us we must snap out of an emotion...it is entirely possible for us to do so. Most of us fail to grasp how much our emotional states are a product of choice. For those who lack understanding, emotions are often granted the status and force of drives. We use them to justify our behavior.
It is the nature of human social interaction, that we must be able to control our emotions.
But any emotion which is buried or redirected or deferred...the vibrations of these events exist in the core of our being. When we play god with our emotions, the fingerprints remain in our spirit forever.
Of playing god, i know a very great deal. From adolescence to young adulthood, almost a decade, i shaped and squelched my emotions with godlike tenacity and control. I played with happiness and sadness, inflating one and denying the other. The happiness i manifested was real...those vibrations are forever a part of me...yet the manipulations underneath created psychic vibrations no less real. I used my emotions to shape my reality...they were me, but not the entire me.
Having in youth known only control, i set forth on a journey to free my emotions. To learn how to feel them...without shaping or denying or regretting, to simply feel and experience them. This is a road i still travel, ever fighting anew for free and unfettered joy, or sadness.
Most are uncomfortable with sadness, in themselves or in others. In and of itself, this is a loving and necessary and productive response. But too many have a bias against sadness, and treat it as an enemy. Sadness is no enemy. Without sadness, joy will have no meaning. Without emptiness, love will have no focus. When sadness comes to you, treat it as an honored guest (if i've just quoted kahlil, please pardon or thank me).
Having played god to my emotions for so long, a little part of me cries whenever i am forced to do so anew.
Allowing our emotions to be free helps us understand what we are. Were i to banish my sadness, i would lose that which it can teach me. Sadness will leave, when it must. But how could i banish my sadness, when for so many years it has been largely absent in my spirit? Inasmuch as i have a nature, happiness seems to be one of its strongest vibrations...so how could i turn my back on this chance to understand the mass of humanity who are not like myself? Inasmuch as happiness seems to be of my nature, is it not ludicrous to try to impose that state...nothing beyond the next few seconds of life is guaranteed, but if i continue, the odds say that in happiness will i be found.
In the meantime, emptiness spits my heart out on the ground, and commands that i walk on...were i to stay huddled by my heart, protecting it from the cold, it would slowly die, and fear would have one more victory in the world.
But if i continue on, embracing my sadness and emptiness, only then can i find others who might know and hold my heart.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

haywood's girl, cindy, missy

Haywood's girl
My first real job, at $2.75 an hour, a fast food chicken joint. I was fifteen, she was an older girl who backed me into a table and wanted to fondle my berries. Or something about produce. I ran. I mean, i didn't physically run, but oh i ran.
My first kiss, if you don’t count Vonda Kay Creed (which i don’t) on a dare from my older sister and her friends when i was six. Cindy and i kissed on her porch after our only date, a goofy one-time event whose main function was to avoid my being "sweet sixteen and never kissed" (i didn't tell Cindy that part). My sister was waiting in the car with her date (our only double date, to date).
The girl from across the street, a year or two younger. She and her siblings swam in our pool. One day she wore a black bikini, and the image will be burned into my brain forever. I was too dopey to do anything about it, though. Her family moved a year later. A couple years after that, our families went tubing on the Delaware River. I finally floated near her, our hands came together, and stayed together for a long time. She only lived a fifteen-minute drive away, but i was still too dopey to know how to go about it…

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rip Van Winkle

-fall 1978
After my success as Baba Chaghaloo, the stage beckoned again four years later. My teacher picked me for the lead role in RIP VAN WINKLE. It's again a bit of a mystery why i was chosen. I had come out of my shell a bit in the intervening years, and had even had one year, 3rd with Mrs. Shaffelberger, when i was an unequivocal class clown. In 5th though, i was quiet. I don't remember volunteering for the part, but was happy to do it. Especially for Miss Dull. Fresh out of school, she was smiley with sparkly eyes, a thin figure, and light brown feathery hair. I had a crush on her, maybe just like every other boy. It was to be my last year at Jefferson, we moved a month before school ended, and i still have the copy of "Wind in the Willows" she gave me as a going-away gift. Our production was staged in the main auditorium, for the whole school and open to the public. We had costumes, sets, and effects. I had the coolest beard. Our cast was around thirty in all. It's a wonderful tale of a henpecked, gentle soul who stumbles across Henry Hudson and his crew playing ninepins in the mountains, shares a few mugs of ale, and wakes up twenty years later. Talking with my children, both young and fully-grown, the "waking up" scene, calling for my dog Wolf…all so wonderful. Betsy Thatcher was delightfully overbearing as my wife. We used a huge piece of sheet metal as our backstage thunder. The auditorium was filled, with lots of happy laughter. I remember not being nervous. Who could be nervous about something so fun? An audiotape of the performance survives.

kristi & krista

Kristi was the incredibly beautiful early developer about whom hormonal boys invented crass new verses of popular songs. Krista wasn't a can of spam, either. I was still almost too shy to even conceive of kissing a girl. At a summer church retreat when i was thirteen, we walked on the beach, and the two of them held my hands. They marveled at how my hands didn't get sweaty, and said that any other boy's would have. In the real world i was just a non-romantic band friend of Krista's, but for one moment, i had the two beautifullest girls in the world all to myself. Perfection stuck twice when there was a boys-girls volleyball game, and to balance the numbers, i was exiled to the girls' team. In a moment no one believed, our team came from behind and won.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

beautiful bush

Is it possible there's a new fashion in women's jeans, in which the front is cut so low a splash of pubic hair is exposed?
Of course i'm not joking! I saw it today...or rather, i may have seen it. I was eating at a shared table in a Mexican/Chinese restaurant. Across from me and two seats down, a teenage girl was eating. When she stood, a happy helping of midriff came out to play. In a few milliseconds several things registered, but i quickly averted my eyes, a prudent (albeit spiritually retarded) choice when a teenager flashes her assets.
It seemed that her jean front was cut unprecedentedly low, and that there was a centimeter or so of dark, faint stubble.
Is she just a maverick? Or possessed of a preposterously high pubis?
I did the physics in my mind, and as long as the back of the jeans remain at the waist, it's conceivable that they were designed to do what they did. Or rather, that they were designed to reveal far greater areas of abdomen than heretofore shown, a fashion predicated on the scorched-earth shaving which is becoming so depressingly popular (though perhaps i shouldn't judge that which i haven't kissed).
It all begs the question of how exactly pubic hair fits into the legal definition of "indecent exposure" (a contradiction in terms, if ever there were). Perhaps the statutes apply to the flesh of the genitals only...and if so, whole lines of pubis fashion could be coming soon! Pubis grooming may explode, with parts and waves and weaves and of course, coloring. Maybe even corn rows, ribbons, and bells? Sadly most men, being short on hip, will be excluded (though come to think of it, our underwear-exposing youths sure as hell are trying). Having a bubbled butt myself, i may be able to get in on the fashion.
We should probably allow local governments to protect us from this assault on decency, and keep the staties and federalies out of it, yes? Or no, we should just give in, 'coz it FEELS SO GOOD! WHEEEEEEEE!
Did our young heroine simply fall behind on her shaving? Was there something hallucinogenic in my broccoli tofu? What does it all mean? May we stand and clap?
And if this is the way the wind is blowing, in a couple years will it at long last be acceptable to pat someone's pubis as a form of greeting?

sundance & butch

I just watched the special features on the BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID dvd. It's often tremendous fun to discover reasons why a fantastic movie is so. BUTCH was the first movie in which the hero(es) unashamedly ran away, an idea which was completely alien to audiences who only knew John Wayne and Gary Cooper. BUTCH was also the first film to ever show a man being kicked in the balls.
It's fascinating to learn what actors were almost cast. Often with a great film, you can't imagine other actors playing the parts. The magic just falls apart, in your head. Newman was gracious or honest enough to say that the script and director were so fantastic, many actors could have created those roles. The first actor onboard for BUTCH was Steve McQueen. When director George Roy Hill decided that Newman was the better choice for Cassidy, he asked McQueen to play Sundance. McQueen moved on. After that, Jack Lemmon and Warren Beatty were asked to play Sundance, and both turned it down, leaving the relatively unknown Redford (whom the studio had been strenuously resisting). Of all those possible combinations, i'd actually be curious to see what would have come of the pairing of McQueen and Lemmon. It would have been a darker role than what Jack usually played, but the force of McQueen's personality might have made him more alpha, nonetheless. A very different chemistry, but it could have worked.
When the rumors popped up about a Damon/Affleck remake, i was as appalled as anyone. But knowing more about the movie, i'd actually agree to a remake under these conditions:
1 - It be more real. Sundance was a huge drinker, and cold-bloodedly aggressive almost to the point of schizophrenia. Yet the affable Butch and he were true friends; how did that work?
2 - There's an excellent chance Etta was a prostitute, not a teacher, and that she was with both men. She was more aged and solid than Katherine Ross. Perhaps they happily shared her, even at the same time, or separately and not so happily?
3 - The super posse was historically accurate, but there was never a chase. The split for Bolivia happened as soon as they got word of the posse.
4 - Do a different ending, perhaps the one told by Cassidy's sister, who said that Butch survived the Bolivian cavalry attack, and returned to the U.S. to live out his life under an assumed name. Perhaps he and Etta reunited.
5 - Allow Damon and Affleck in only if they can be made to look like they're not movie stars.

"The Space Within US"

I picked up this concert film of paul mccartney's 2005 tour, chiefly because "I've Got a Feeling" is on the set list. I've always been amazed that more people don't mention this track when they talk about their favorite Beatle songs. It's extra special because it's one of the few songs in which john and paul swap off lead vocals. The concert exceeds expectations and "I've Got a Feeling" is stellar, with the lennon vocals capably handled by drummer wix wickens. Each song is sandwiched between interview and documentary clips, a format which usually annoys, but somehow works here. Paul is in wonderful form, and the interviews are sincere and interesting. Thinking about "I've Got a Feeling", i revisited a fantasy, a mccartney/julian lennon tour. I've hesitated to embrace this idea, not wanting to be a necrophiliac, but it could be a singular experience. Ringo could jump on, adding his songs and steady beat. Paul and julian would perform their own songs, and come together on any tunes which feature john/paul lead vocals, plus any that had particularly striking harmonies. It could be called the Hey Jude Tour. I've always felt that julian's work has been neglected. If the lads wanted to extend the family vibe, zak or james or dhani could join the party. In the spirit of healing, we could invite sean to be the opener (though that's perhaps hoping for too much). But paul and jule together...doesn't that sound like a concert you'd always remember?

Monday, June 8, 2009

dear ann

Dear Ann,
I cut down the yard growth over the weekend, and imagined you there. I find a movie you would love, and imagine you there. When i touch myself, i imagine you there, taking what you desired like you did on our last night.
And now we're not even talking...maybe because you couldn't see that my words were about me, not you. I did try to push us toward spiritual, companionate love, trying to prevent this very thing from happening.
Or maybe your anger is a show, to rationalize your need to get away from your emotions.
If so, you have nothing but my understanding and sympathy.
I even imagine showing up at your house, lysine in hand, and professing love and need for you. Being a lonely wreck can be such fun. Most of your insecurities with me centered on possessiveness, so you perhaps imagine i've been womanizing. Not that this means anything, or that i won't find myself in a three-way with the Obamas tonight, but i haven't kissed anyone since you. I remember trying to tell you that based on my history, you'd likely take a new lover before i. I haven't browsed the CL personals, or had any interest in doing so. Of course, the truth is seldom so simple...i've wanted to visit Christina, but have been too busy to do so. Had i, there might have been loving intimacy. Or not...she has possibly spiritually withdrawn from me.
Of course, i haven't browsed CL at all, not for jobs or anything, since the shitstorm of recent months, so it's not thoughts of you alone that keep me from that hunting ground. There's just a whole lot of emptiness here. So it goes.
I took your favorite spider outside, but most of the physical reminders of you are just as they were. I cherish them, and look forward to us having fun again.
Of course, i have toyed with the idea of keeping another woman's panties in the Satan box you gave me, just because a pair has unexpectedly come in to my possession, and it's the perfect place. You might find that hurtful, though.
Are there any things i never told you? In general, no. Oh, there are random specifics. Like for a while when we first met, i wished you were more Ansuree and less Ann. Ah well, as Paul Simon said, "Why won't you love me for who i am, where i am...cause' that's not the way the world is baby, this is how i love you baby..." Still, in all the mess that i was, i knew i had something good and true to offer you, if we could get past our mutual psychological crap.
And for a very nice while, we did.
Three days ago, i got a letter from the credit union saying that they've deleted the fraudulent cards from my record. You were the first person i wanted to call.
I love and miss you.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

santy claus

-winter 1974
My theater debut was in a 1st grade Christmas pageant at Jefferson Elementary in Van Wert, Ohio, in which i had the starring role of Santa Claus. Our musical director, a tall, close-cropped fellow with glasses, picked me for this plum role. As part of a segue, i came onstage and delivered my one line (something like "Ho ho ho, children. And what have we here?"). I then stood back while the six-year olds warbled. What made the experience more fun was that my sister Jaymie, three grades ahead, was a stagehand. What made the whole concept funnier was that they had picked the skinniest kid to play one of the plumper roles in modern mythology (nobody could pull in their stomach to make a human skeleton like me...believe me, i embarrassed all challengers). In retrospect, i wonder why? My chief personality trait at that time was quietness, i recall. Anyway, i stood there in the wings, big pillow under my coat. In retrospect a bit too big, for as i tramped out, my pillow headed south. I had to do the scene one-handed, as my second hand was trying, with marginal success, to contain my "bowlful of jelly". I seem to remember the audience getting a laugh out of it. I said my line on cue, my sister was there to hug me when i went off…what more could anyone want?


I was a quiet, skinny kid in the first year of middle school. Stacy was a girl from the rougher side of town, hipper and savvier. We had a class together, and became buddies. She doted on me, found me cute. It wasn't exactly romantic, but…she was the first female friend i made after reaching adolescence, and a part of me couldn't believe that she had picked me. That summer, she sent me a T-shirt from France. Next fall, she and her family moved away. I was sad, but it was okay. I had always believed in me, and she was the first to teach me that someone really cool might, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

dear amanda

Dear Amanda,
When we talked tonight after i read my memoir to you, i should have warned you more that anything i said was going to be out of focus. When i get in that emotional state where i'm literally trembling, i can laugh at myself, but it takes a while for me to settle into any normalcy. I was thrilled to keep talking though, and share the silly beauty of that moment with you.
One of my recent poems is about "tending your garden". Life is a series of choices, and for me, getting to a place where my choices are about simply tending my spirit's garden...away from the million and three distractions which pull on us...whose approval or love do we seek, what appetites compel us, what guilt or fear cripples us...to try and get to a place where i'm simply tending my garden, is a process that is perhaps never finished.
Those were the thoughts on my mind when i didn't take that teaching job those years ago. All too many of us know the feeling of second-guessing, the "what ifs"...but it wasn't even any kind of choice, that one. I don't know my path before it unfolds, but we've got to sift through all our shit, to feel these things. I was a happy free bird then, and getting tied down in that way wasn't my path. Not that i always know what to do...but when i'm balanced, choices are almost laughably easy.
Know what i did the following year, when i wasn't teaching at CCHS? Spent 70 hours a week running a theater named Orpheus. Not that garden-tending decisions need visible justification...they are right in and of themselves, even when they seem inexplicable to others. Most of us are too stupid or damaged to adequately care for our own gardens, much less someone else's.
I had the thought that my pain and emptiness lately may reflect a subconscious part of me that needs to become more tapped into anger, at capitalism perhaps, for me to create something as yet unknown. Or maybe i need to explore what being a not-so-nice guy really is like, for once in my life. How do women respond to a man who has an element of danger in him? Or what might i attract, as a wounded one? (a box of edible love, perhaps?)
Or maybe these are just silly thoughts floating around the periphery of my battered spirit.
It's funny though, i feel like i'm getting too used to warning women about my battered psyche...putting up the "DON'T FALL IN LOVE" sign. And yet even in that it feels like there's some hidden truth and benefit, inasmuch as our society heaps horrible baggage on the phenomena of attraction and falling in love.
Don't give up on Jeff. Even if he never needs me again, i suspect i'll never give up on him. I think, when writing the CCHS memoir, reading it to you was at the top of my desires, but third or fourth on that list was that Jeff might read it too. What i was trying to tell you, is that it's been a little hard these past couple months to not call you and interrogate you...what exactly did he say, can you give him something, etc....which reveals how out of balance i still am, years later. It's a wound, but a part of me i cherish. Sometimes joy needs to be paid for with an equal amount of sadness.
I love you so much.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


During my Florida years, i was an occasional substitute teacher for the Lee County schools. The first time was on an extended vacation, then again when i returned more permanently in '96 to look after my grandmother, and again a couple years after that. I subbed when theater jobs hit a dry spell.
Jumping into an alien space and filling it up with your personality is the essence of subbing. I worked at more than a dozen schools, eventually covering every grade, even middle school (which wasn't the horror show i half-expected). Generally, i had ample personality and smarts to make my easygoing nature work. There was one class of little ones my first month who were used to getting their way, either with their regular teacher or with previous subs. When it came time for recess, they couldn't make an organized class line, so i sat them back down. After three tries, you could sense the growing agony, as they heard the shouts of fun outside. I refused to keep just the bad apples inside, and told them they would go together, or not at all. After more than half of recess was gone, they finally made it. The principal later told me how word spread that Mr. R was like a Catholic School teacher. I laughed. My first time around, i fell in love with Miss Suarez, a kindergarten teacher. She was engaged, and the one time i met him it seemed like the universe was upside down. I think she felt so too, from the way we looked at each other on our last day together...words came so close to being spoken, that our lips parted...but the road of practicality and stability she was on silenced my foolish, wise tongue. And maybe i was also the teeniest bit afraid to lose something i wanted so very, very much.
My favorite grades were pre-K, 2nd, 5th, and 12th. Pre-K is special because the children still haven't learned the "personal space" boundaries which will be cemented within a year. One day i gave an assignment, and stood at the head of the class. A child stood up and walked to me. Their head was down, so i couldn't be sure what they wanted. They wrapped their arms around my leg, held on, then walked back to their seat, never once looking up. I melted inside, as i realized this child was still in a place where physical contact didn't need to be "defined". He or she needed to hold someone, got it, and went back to work.
Why do we lose that?
5th is great because they're still children, but their minds are beginning to process deeper thoughts. 12th was my favorite of all, because the smart ones can handle just about anything you throw at them. Just as 6th graders have left childhood, there's a subtle but immense difference between seniors and juniors. With 12th graders, you can really sense the adults they'll be.
Usually if you do good work at one school, they book you as much as they can. My first year, my most regular gig was Michigan Elementary. There were closer schools, and this one was on the "wrong" side of the tracks, but i came to love them as much as they loved me. It's so wonderful when kids run up to you in the morning, hoping you'll be covering one of their classes. I became friend and tennis buddy to the assistant principal, Steve Santoro, a wonderful guy.
When i returned to Pennsylvania, i even spent a couple days subbing in a maximum security prison, as part of a last chance program for juvenile inmates. It sounds impressive. But they were just kids.
Far and away, the gem in my subbing career was my final year, at Florida's Cape Coral High. I reported to Sue Mull, who was simply the best. I was there every week, at least three or four days. At one point i even took a long-term gig, going six weeks for an art teacher who was out. I developed some wonderful teacher friendships. The English faculty loved me because i told students i was "well". The principal loved how i biked the twelve miles to school every morning. He told the kids to be like Mr. R, nominated me for district sub of the year, and offered me a full-time job teaching art the following year. Knowing that wasn't the best use of my talents (or Peter Pan magic), i passed.
High school students are still childlike enough that they were just like their elementary counterparts, running up in the morning with shouts of "Mr. R! Mr. R!", to find out where i'd be. My classroom became a magnet for strays and students trying to ditch class. If they had permission to be with me, i'd sometimes let them stay. I had a pack of "passes", and it was comical the lengths some students went, to get one. I began putting a "question of the day" up on the board, offering a prize to any who could answer it. The internet era had begun, so i had to be careful to avoid questions too easily researched on a library computer. Kids who weren't even in my class would show up, already knowing the question. The one i remember most is "complete this John Lennon lyric: woman is the (blank) of the world". The student who found the answer was a bit wide-eyed that i even indirectly used the word "nigger", but that led to a nice discussion on the nature of profanity.
Certain students became favorites. There were two intelligent misfits who asked me to help write a Star Trek script. Another time, i went with some kids to a pool hall after school. When one of my closest students was going through a hard time, we sat in the hall after school and talked, until she cried on my shoulder. When one of our students died, i was the only teacher asked to be part of the student vigil.
Being a male teacher had special challenges. One lass had the temerity to grab my ass. Another, a nineteen year-old senior who made freshmen boys visibly quiver, saw me one morning in the lobby after i'd been holed away in my art class for six weeks, and screamed. She ran to me, hurled herself through the air, and wrapped her legs around me. She was a sassy Brooklyn girl who laughed at everything. She told me how much she had missed me. I smiled, said thank you, and invited her to jump down. Those feelings sometimes went the other way, and pay no mind to anyone who says differently. There will forever be a corner of my spirit profoundly, gently in love with an exchange student named Christina.
Around that time of my life i was learning to feel situations, not just think them as i had done in my youth. Living that way, certain decisions seem ridiculous in retrospect, but they're often the moments that resonate most deeply. I'm going to tell you what i did, though i'm not even sure i believe it myself. One day when i had a free period, i was discovered by three students too bright to really fit in. They were skipping class, but since they were a week or so from graduation, i decided to be their walking "pass". They took me through a secret route they knew to the roof, and after we had talked for a while, they hesitatingly asked if i wanted to share a joint with them. I declined, but allowed them to partake. That they risked that level of trust in me...it just became imperative that i teach them that stepping off a cliff is okay. I caught them, and maybe forever had a tiny impact on their cynicism in this brutal world.
On teacher follies day, the faculty staged WWF-style wrestling matches. My character was "Susan". Students braided my hair into pigtails, and i wore a borrowed bikini. I entered the ring to the blaring of "Man, I Feel Like a Woman". At another assembly, my best teacher buddy Mr. Kulie and i performed the Monty Python "argument" sketch.
A very special group of students, including the girl who had cried on my shoulder, found out when my birthday was, and on that day there was a knock on my classroom door. I looked up to see three or four of them holding a cupcake with a lit candle. Out in the hall, they read me a poem they had written. At the end of the year, i wrote a poem for them, and all the others...
The following summer, my crying buddy and another, Nicole, came to one of my plays and gave me the beautifullest tie dye shirt ever. Another two, James and Athena, remembering the tattered briefcase i brought on days it was too rainy to bike, gave me a new one. As the last days of school had wound down, realizing that nothing would top that year, i'd decided to make it my subbing swan song. After the final day of classes, i pedaled off, smiling...