Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Congressman and the Crooner

I don’t often veer into the overtly political in this blog, despite my confirmed status as a political junkie. But two stories that I happened to catch this evening compel me to comment, briefly.

According to the Huffington Post, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az.) asserted that president Obama “has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity.” Has no place in any station of government? – he was elected president by a healthy majority. Is an enemy of humanity? Excuse me???

In an article linked directly below the one quoting Rep. Franks, we learn that Andy Williams (remember him? Of Moon River crooning fame?) asserts that Obama “wants the country to fail.” Right. Of course he does. Why wouldn’t he?

What are these people drinking? (Clearly they are not thinking!)

Disagree with the man, fine! But, to suggest that he wants the country to fail or that he is an enemy of humanity is beyond the pale. When are we going to stop this nonsense once and for all?

No one on the left asserted that Bush wanted the country to fail. They asserted that he made some bad decisions, led us into a war of choice (in Iraq) rather than a war of necessity, but even then, none of them said it was because he wanted the country to fail or that he was an enemy of humanity.

Jimmy Carter was roundly vilified for suggesting that racism might have something to do with some of the harshest (read: stupidest) criticisms of Obama. I don’t know whether he was right or not, but, please – when is the last time you can remember such outlandish charges being leveled against a president? Enemy of humanity? Wants the country to fail?

Get a grip, folks. Fight for the policies in which you believe with respect and decency and decorum. Maybe you’ll win.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Mutability of Memory

Earlier today I was writing about my experience taking piano lessons from one Edmond Gordinier, of Buffalo, NY, when I was eleven years old. I felt as if I was in the room again, smelling it, seeing it, experiencing all of the visual stimuli – a floor-to-ceiling bookcase on one wall, a bay window on the opposite wall, which framed a seven foot Steinway grand piano that was almost always covered with sheet music and assorted books. In this memory, the floor was adorned with overlapping Oriental carpets, and I think that they, in fact, were there.

But what if they weren’t? What if the floor was covered, rather, with a short pile dirty brown rug? Or what if they were oaken hardwood floors buffed to a high sheen? (I assure you they were NOT that!)

My memory is that there were Oriental rugs in that room, and I suppose I think that says something important about my memory of the feeling, the essence of that room. Whether there literally were or were not Oriental rugs is of less importance than that in my memory it seems to me that there were. Do you follow?

I spent ten or eleven months, once a week, in this room some thirty-five years ago. My precise memory of exactly what it looked like is, therefore, somewhat suspect, at least in my own mind. But I do not doubt or suspect my memory of what it felt like to be in that room or what it smelled like or what the overall experience of being in that room entailed.

The piano held a place of prominence. The bay windows in front looked out onto majestic American Elm trees, trees that are likely no longer there given the infestation of Dutch Elm disease that plagued Buffalo in the 1970s. The books were there, the sheet music piled high on every conceivable surface was there, and, most importantly, Edmond Gordinier was there. His discipline, his demeanor, his praise when warranted, his taking to task when necessary – all of those things were there.

And so I ask myself, late on a Thursday evening as I’m eager for sleep but dealing with a brain that is racing, what does it matter what the rug looked like? What matters is what I remember it looking like, for that memory captures the essence of the milieu, whether factually true or not. Perhaps his was such an outsized personality that he was able to make a short pile dirty brown rug appear (in my rearview memory) to have been Oriental carpets. Perhaps. I doubt it, though. And, more to the point, I don’t think it matters.

The passage of time causes each of us to highlight certain memories and diminish or even dismiss others. We recall what we wish to, what we need to, and what we can’t help but recall, even if we wish we could blot it out forever. Some memories go the way of the unmatched sock from the dryer, never to be seen or heard from again. Others tug on us with a constancy that can be maddening, and sometimes is. Either way, they are memories, and as such, they are to be both trusted and viewed with a degree of skepticism. I think what we trust about them is how they make us feel, or how they made us feel back then. What I think we need to be skeptical about is their veracity – memories are easily distorted, diminished or magnified, either way, it’s a distortion.

I say, fine. As long as we are open and honest about the whole affair. Remember what you do, what it felt like, why it mattered, and, if you get a detail wrong here or there, what’s the harm? At the same time, one must always (I think) take care to not let our memories get the best of us. Dickens famously wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Such it is with memory. We can inflate or conflate or bloviate about our memories such that we make a perfectly fine time horrific or the reverse.

Above all, if we are being honest with ourselves, I think we owe it to ourselves to respect and listen to our memories. They may be telling us something, at times, that may well open our eyes, provide a new look at things, and teach us something.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Will We?

Will we finally, in the richest country the world has ever known, pass meaningful health care reform?

Given what came out of the finance committee of the US Senate, I’m not feeling very confident about the prospects. The not-quite-yet-a-bill does not include any so-called public option. It contains mandates (unfunded) that might be very detrimental to many small businesses. It increases Medicare (which States pay at least half of the cost for) without adding additional funding for the States that would have to find a way to provide this increased care. And, it pleases pharmaceutical and insurance companies. What’s wrong with this picture?

Why are we being so timid? Why are we not insisting upon a public option? In my view, all Americans should have access to the same insurance coverage that our Representatives and Senators enjoy. Wasn’t the election last November a choice for fundamental change?

The dust-up over South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting “You lie” to Barack Obama at last week’s joint session of Congress address is a lot of sound and fury signifying little. He was a jerk to do it; he apologized, and Obama accepted the apology. The real issue is far more important. Are we going to cover folks? Are we going to make sure that people aren’t needlessly dying because of horrendous realities like insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or dropping individuals because they get sick?

It seems to me that the time has come for those of us who believe that health insurance is a right and a necessity for ALL Americans to start speaking up and acting up, if necessary. We have lots of these right-wing wackos staging “tea parties” and what-not, and they are getting all the attention. I think we might need to take to the street, my mild-mannered, liberal minded, equality-valuing friends. Let’s face it: If someone gets sick enough or injured seriously enough, they go to the Emergency Room where they are treated whether they have health insurance or not. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone were covered and could go to see a doctor earlier? Wouldn’t it be better if Emergency Rooms were not avenues of last resort for sick, uninsured folks and could rather focus – as they were designed to do – on real emergencies?

The United States of America spends more on health care than any other country on the planet and yet I’ve read numerous reports that indicate we are 37th on a scale of the healthiest countries in the world. Something is seriously wrong here! When are we going to wake up?

Maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll just spend more time, money, and energy shouting at one another and portraying our political enemies as the new Hitler or Stalin or Marx. That seems to be what the right-wing Republicans are most interested in these days. What ever happened to the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln? I’ve always wondered: If Lincoln had not been assassinated, might Reconstruction have worked? Had Lincoln lived, might the so-called “Redeemers” have been foiled in their successful efforts at rewriting history and creating Jim Crow, which amounted to a Second Slavery?

We must all be strong. We must all let our Representatives and Senators know what we want them to fashion in the arena of health insurance. It is our responsibility to make our voices heard. We may not get precisely what we want, but if we don’t express what we want, then we have no right to complain about what transpires.


Friday, September 11, 2009

RIP Apple Tree Theatre

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. After 26 years of producing the very highest quality plays and musicals on the North Shore, Apple Tree Theatre’s Board of Directors will reportedly announce tomorrow that they are closing, shutting their doors forever.

Eileen Boevers, the founder of Apple Tree Theatre, passed away last year at the young age of 68, but she was the theater’s life blood.

I miss her and I will miss the theater.

I am blessed to have worked for many years with Apple Tree with some of the finest actors and designers and technicians and directors in the business. My first project there was music directing “The Spitfire Grill,” directed by Eileen and featuring the terrific Susie McMonagle and Marianne Thebus. (I’d directed Marianne previously, but this was her first musical and she was very nervous – she did great!)

Then I was the music supervisor (with music direction by the brilliant Doug Peck) for Susie’s star turn as Mae West in… the name is escaping me now. Something silver?

Following these shows were the great gifts of directing “My Old Lady,” “Three Tall Women,” “The Winning Streak,” and, “The Gin Game,” featuring such brilliant actors as Ann Whitney, Barbara Robertson, Gene Weygandt, Jenny McKnight, Matthew Brumlow, Tony Mockus, Bob Breuler, and others. These experiences were sublime. These productions were supported, and encouraged, and nurtured, and loved by the Apple Tree Theatre.

Times were hard, sometimes. Money was sometimes an issue, a challenge. But there was always a will to make the show as good as it possibly could be. There was always a commitment to what we were there to do: to tell a great story in a compelling way that might, just might, lead an audience member to have a new understanding, a new insight into what it means to be a human being.

I am honored to have been part of Apple Tree Theatre’s history and I wish it a fond, and very heartsick, farewell.

And Tim and Robby and Lynn and Kurt and Scott and Rita and Julia and Bill and Mark, thank you so much!


The Character of Our Country

What does it say about the character of our country that popular talk show radio hosts are comparing Barack Obama, the duly elected President of the United States, to Hitler and Stalin, who – leave us not forget – were mortal enemies and radically different, albeit both tyrannical, leaders? What does it say about the character of our country that high-profile politicians are saying that Mr. Obama will soon be “taking all of our guns away,” when there is no evidence whatsoever that he has any interest in doing so, and he has said he supports the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States? What does it say about that character of our country that some of these same folks are even suggesting that Mr. Obama is getting ready to set FEMA loose in order to lock up right-wing opposition figures in concentration camps?

This rhetoric is shocking and disturbing, to say the least.

When President Obama delivered his address to a joint session of Congress last night, a republican representative, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted, “You lie!” when Mr. Obama said that his health insurance reform proposals would not cover illegal immigrants. This was an amazing and disappointing turn of events. To Wilson’s credit, he quickly issued an apology. To Obama’s credit, he accepted the apology without hesitation. But, please… what in Sam Hill is going on when we have stooped to this level of discourse???

Did anyone yell, “You lie” when President Bush talked about the yellow cake uranium that Iraq had supposedly acquired from Niger? (A charge that was, ironically, completely rebuffed by another man named Joseph Wilson.) No, they didn’t. Even though it was an absolute falsehood.

And what about when former Vice President Dick Cheney bent over backwards to connect Sadam Hussein to the 9-11 attacks?

Radical right-wingers are pulling conspiracy theories out of their posteriors that are dumbfounding in their inanity. “Obama is creating a Shadow Government through the appointment of Czars.” See above for the rest. It’s scary. And it’s just plain nuts.

So, what is this all about? Hard to say; hard to discern. Sore losers? Perhaps. Racism? Perhaps.

I am pained to imagine that I live in a country where there exists any percentage of the population who believe that President Obama could rightly be compared to Hitler or Stalin.

You don’t have to love President Obama or fully support his policy prescriptions, but for crying out loud, comparing him to Hitler and Stalin? This is not worthy of our country. This is not worthy of all that our founders fought for in securing our independence. Health care is a prickly and difficult issue, to be sure, but can we not discuss it with a modicum of decency and mutual respect?


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Red President

Earlier today, our president had the unmitigated gall to address the school children of our great nation and suggest that they should work and study hard, pay attention to their teachers, and take some modicum of responsibility for their own lives and their own education.

What an outrage!

He said that those who have succeeded have done so (largely) because they had failed earlier, but not given up and kept on trying. He cited Michael Jordan, and J.K. Rowling, among others as examples of folks who had failed before achieving great success. Well, don’t be fooled. He might has well have cited Adolf Hitler and Albert Spear because he’s a Commie through and through. He was attempting to indoctrinate our poor, sweet, innocent children to the virtues of Socialism by discussing personal responsibility and setting goals and doing your homework even when you don’t particularly like it. Oh my. What are we to do?

That presidents Reagan and Bush 41 made very similar speeches to American children in their terms is conveniently forgotten. Reagan valued education so much that he slashed student loan funds in half and attempted to abolish the Department of Education. Bush tried to get rid of the department as well; thankfully, both of them failed in that particular endeavor.

Obama told the school children of our country today that they should: work hard, not look for shortcuts, respect your parents and teachers, and recognize that failure is a step on the road to success. Yeah, that sounds pretty communistic to me. Socialism through and through.

Newt Gingrich thought it was a great speech that all American children (and parents) should hear. Laura Bush thought it was a great speech that all should hear.

Take a moment. Listen to it. If you disagree with a word he said, please, get back to me!!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Life Well Lived

Six years ago the doctors told her she would be lucky to live for another year. Four years ago, she sent an email to her friends and family with the subject line: “Don’t Cry For Me.” In that email she told us that the doctors had told her that she would be alive for a matter of a couple of months, or perhaps only a few weeks. She died last night. Five years later – at least – than the doctors repeatedly predicted.

Judy Jaycox Wilmoth Payton passed from this earth on September 1, 2009 at approximately 10:45 p.m. She turned sixty-five on August 3rd this year. Her dear friend and sister-in-law Lainey Morrison (another Aunt of mine) had a birthday the following day. Judy’s wedding anniversary with her beloved husband, Bert, was August 20. She told Lainey many times over the last several weeks that she wouldn’t die in August, because she didn’t want to ruin the month. She waited until September first.

Judy was a pistol, as my brother Scott referred to her during an early morning conversation today. And it’s a good descriptor. She was a fighter and a lover and a tireless advocate for causes in which she believed. She would send out emails excoriating thin-skinned Americans who took “offense” at the least controversial issue or idea. She was also a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, an FDR democrat. What some might today call “socialist.” And she wouldn’t give a damn if you did call her that!

She thought that a just society should care for those less fortunate than us. She thought that equality should be equality and that it should be real – gay, straight, male, female, black, white, brown, yellow, red, abled, disabled – ALL should be afforded the same basic human rights. I couldn’t agree with her more.

On May 19, 2005, I received an email from Judy. It was late at night. The tone of the email was somewhat frantic. She was desperately trying to find the Brian Russell that was the son of Robert Jaycox, her brother who had died the night before. She found me. I called her that night and we talked for at least an hour. We spoke more the following day. She was the person who told me my natural father had died. She was the one who made sure that my brother Scott and I knew that our father had died.

I only met Judy once in person. It was in 1979 or 1980, in Maryland where my natural father Bob Jaycox then lived. She was lovely. She was vibrant. She was opinionated and, yes, sometimes loud. I loved her then, I loved her when she and I talked in 2005. And I love her now as she is settling into her rest.