Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Grinch

     Yesterday, my youngest daughter was glued to the TV watching, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  It is probably my third favorite Christmas show (behind Charlie Brown and whichever one has the Land of Misfit Toys in it, I think that is "Santa Claus is coming to town."  In any event I digress.

     So the Grinch is on and I could not help but the "When I was your age" talk.  In this era of on-demand, digital shows, you can see just about anything, anytime.  Not so in my day.  How many of us born in the Johnson/Nixon administrations recall with pain and sadness realizes that our favorite Christmas show was half-way over when we turned it on.  NNNOOOOO!!!!!!!!    Too bad, next year.  Sometime in the late 80s, there came liberation from the tyranny of the network executives, we could buy the VHS copy of our favorite shows.  Then came the DVD and well, now it's all on line.  I think the Grinch has been on several times in the last 24 hours in our house.

     The Grinch features of course a legend of horror films, Boris Karloff.  Boris was born William Henry Pratt and changed it to Boris Karloff.  (source-  Not a bad career move if you think about it.  The name Pratt does not conjure fear (unless Mr. Pratt is a geometry teacher and it's the final exam) but Boris Karloff, now that gets your attention.

     I did a search (albeit not a detailed one, after all the Packers game is on in an hour) to find out how Karloff got the job.  As nothing came up, I imagine the executives sitting around a conference room in LA, with all the "Man Men" life props of overflowing ashtrays, bottles of rye and bourbon, bleary-eyed and frustrated middle-aged men not particularly pleased at doing some "(expletive-deleted) kiddie show."   Then someone flies into the room.  They reel back from the wall of smoke and cough.  They announce:  "He'll do it."

Some other suit, "Who will do it?"

First guy- "Karloff."

Yet some other suit, "Who?!?"

First guy- "Karloff, you know, Dracula!"

All the other suits in unison- "Perfect, he's (expletive-deleted) perfect!  Now, let's finish these drinks and go to happy hour!"

Ah, how I love a happy ending.

Actually, all kidding aside, Karloff is perfect as the Grinch.  He gives a voice to the green and mean Grinch.  He is, in fact, "...A mean one, Mr. Grinch."  And yet, when he realizes that Christmas is not about presents but the celebration, his heart, "...grew three sizes that day," (or words to that effect.)  Without question, my favorite part is when the Grinch comes riding down the hill, blowing the horn, bringing back the gifts.  The Whos, instead of being angry or initiating court action, welcome him and all is well.  Trite and predictable, sure.  But then again, IT'S A CARTOON!  (As I mentioned, I love a happy ending.)  As I watched the show, I smiled, thinking of old Boris, reciting the lines of the Grinch and narrating the story.  The suits were right, he was perfect for this part.

The Grinch has the "Welcome Christmas" song and here are the lyrics:

"Da hoo dorais fa hoo dores
Welcome Christmas christmas day
da hoo dorai fa hoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome dahoo damus
Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas bring your cheer
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome all Whos far and near."


"Christmas day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp."  So true.

I wish everyone who observes the Christmas holiday a wonderful and most Merry Christmas.  For those of you who are not Christian but will be partaking in a celebration, to enjoy it as well.  For some of us, we'll spend either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in a church.  Not surprising, it will be more full than (ahem) other days.  I recall last year when our Monsignor quipped at the end of Mass;

"Now please be sure to check out our new fellowship hall that just opened.  Or, you can see it next Sunday when you are all here."  (Or words to that effect.)  There was a burst of uncontrolled laughter.  The point was made:  "Glad you're here, see some of you at Easter."  Oh well.

We have all experienced a collective punch in the gut of recent days.  I have no doubt we will all, in our own way, remember those who are grieving this Christmas.  Yes, let us remember and if inclined pray for them.  But let us also be of good cheer.  Revel in our families, laugh at stories told for the umpteeth time that get grander by the year, be awakened at zero-dark-thirty by kids who fly down the stairs, hurdle the dog and set a NFL-combine record to get to the stockings, bulging with gifts from Santa.  Good times.  Of course, there are those that are far from home who will eat a dinner on a plastic tray.  When they finish that meal, they will sling a rifle over their shoulder and head back to a dangerous job serving our nation.  Please keep them in your thoughts.  May they ALL come home safe and soon.

Be well my friends.  I'll close with the words of Tiny Tim from "A Christmas Carol:"

"God bless us, every one!" 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow Day

When I was a kid, snow days were something to cherish.  No school and a mess of snow to play in.  This was back in those days long since past when kids could be out for hours and mom and dad need not worry.  I recall how we would sled down the hill by Trinity Lutheran Church.  Marquette Street ran right smack dab in front of it and part of the "fun" was being able to stop or jump off the sled before you hit the street.  I look back at those days with fond memory and a profound sense of appreciation for my good fortune (or dumb luck) in never finding myself in that street...under a station wagon. 

Even well into middle age, snow days still cause me to smile.  Today instead of being in school, my kids and a friend made cookies.  (They were good.)  Instead of getting on the treadmill like I should have, I was out pushing snow.  My youngest daughter was out three times and she laughed off the cold and wind.  I think she has a future with the ski patrol. 

The fact this was the first snow of the year added to the day.  Last winter was a farce as far as snow was concerned.  Jimmy Buffett has a line in one of his songs, "Been awhile since I seen any snow." (I can't remember the song so if you know it, please remind me, thanks.)  I thought about that today as it came down.  Although I am sure I will be muttering under my breath (or not so softly if it's a bad winter) about future snows, this has a beauty to be appreciated.  The way the snow hangs on the branches, winter cotton if you will, is worth the look.  In our hill in back the snow is a soft blanket of white, a blanket tucking in the hill for the winter.  It is as if nature says, "Worry not about those remaining leaves.  They will wait until spring."  I got three bags of the bargain birdfeed from HyVee and filled up the feeders.  I always like seeing the birds come back.  I figure those who have the fortitude to ride out the winter deserve a snack.  I have no doubt the some ambitious squirrel will attempt to hijack the feeder.  I hope I am there to watch. 

Then there are the deer.  We do not feed them as it would be (to quote my Dad) a disaster if they were regular visitors.  Cars and deers do not mix.  Still, they do wander in, seeking the last of the apples or whatever else they can find.  I recall one time at Fort Dix when I came face to face with a deer.  I stayed down there during the week and one night I was coming back to my barracks room one night in winter.  It was a cold night (duh, winter, I know, but please, just go with me on this) and I was walking alone.  Then over the loudspeaker, taps was played.  If you are inside, you really cannot hear it, but outside, with no other noise, you cannot help but hear it.  Well, hear it is not really the right word.  You do not just "hear" taps, at least I don't.  It is both sad and comforting.  The mournful notes hang in the air, like I suppose snow on a branch.  I don't know the words by heart but then again, you don't have to in order to appreciate the importance of these notes.  It signals the end of a day.  It also reminds you of things past.  The hidden beauty is you, the listener, get to decide what you are reminded of.

If you hear taps, you are supposed to stop.  You do not salute for the flag is already down, but you should pause if outside and I did.  It was then I realized this deer was like ten feet away from me.  We both looked at each other.  It was a thing of beauty.  Here's the funny part:  It was cold and I do not like cold, except here, in this moment I felt just fine.  As the song died away I lingered, staring at the deer.  Then, he turned and walked away, leaving me with the returned cold.  This was a decade ago (thereabouts) and I still remember it.  I hope I always will, if only with the first season's snow.

Snow days are special as is winter.  It starts tomorrow.  I'll make an effort to enjoy it, at least for a short while.  I am also sure I will drive by Trinity Hill and shake my head at the joyful stupidity of my youth. 

Be well my friends,

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Nothing Clever Today

Greetings All:

I have not written for a couple of weeks and was hoping to do a post on something fun or frivolous.  Perhaps talk about the holidays and how we celebrate everything in our house.  Or maybe discuss that for all our mocking of holiday songs, we secretly love them and cannot get enough of them.  Who knows, maybe something else. 

That is not going to happen with this post.  Not only am I not going to write about something fun, I am not even going to attempt to be clever, even by my mediocre standards.  Nope, this is not one of those posts.  Simply put, it is my feeble attempt to get my head around the horrific events of yesterday. 

I learned of it from a news brief on my iPhone, clearly tragic, yet few details.  As the morning gave way to the afternoon, the view came into focus of ugly, terrible clarity.  I woke up this morning and although I do not usually turn on the news (I prefer to start the day with Dwyer & Michaels and only go to the news when they are on commercial) did today.  It is just plain horrible terrible.  I can live to be 100 and will never be convinced that there is an explanation of this act of savagery.  Never.

As for the perpetrator, I reject the term, “shooter.”  That is a tactical term used by those who must respond to a situation in a professional, emotionally detached situation.  (As an aside, profound thanks and gratitude for those who responded to this tragedy.  By all accounts, they were brave, making hard calls and doing all they could to provide protection and comfort.  Their work, unfortunately, is far from over.) 

No, “shooter” is the wrong term for him.  I chose three:  coward, thief, and murderer.  Coward for he chose those victims he was certain could not fight back.  Thief for he stole from these victims’ loved ones their life and the accompanying joy.  As I write this, there are family members writhing in a pain I cannot possibly begin to understand.  Whatever grief we collectively feel and I know it is sincere, it can never come close to the family members of those who fell yesterday.  I will also add that he is a coward for taking his own life and not stand accountable for his crimes.  Finally murderer for what you did by your hand.  You are the very worst of mankind.  I know this is not very Christian of me but I have neither mercy nor pity for you.  Perhaps God found reason to offer him grace yet I hope not.  Instead, I hope that when you, coward/thief/murderer, pulled the trigger for the last time your soul was sent screaming to Hell.  I sincerely hope you will spend eternity being damned along with those who served the Nazi death machine and others of such acts of evil against children. 

I remember a movie from 1990 “The Russia House.”  In it, Sean Connery’s character says in one scene, “All victims are equal.”  I disagree.  These 20 children stand alone.  They had no way to fight back.  They went to school that day, to a place where they had the right to be safe and loved.  For those who were not victims of violence, they are victims of witness to a carnage no one should ever have to see.  Whatever the cost, I do not care.  Raise my taxes to ensure there is adequate counseling and support for these kids.  It is the least we can do.

I have nothing clever to say.  I want to forget the coward/thief/murderer.  I want to honor the memories of the fallen.  I wish there was a way I could carry some of the grief, if only for a little while, of the parents.  Yet even as I write this, I know that is a hollow wish.  Whatever good intentions I may have, they are not realistic.  I will likely never know any of the loved’ ones of the fallen.  I can of course pray for them and I will.  I can also renew my efforts to be a better parent, knowing that I have the most precious of gift.  I will try not to get frustrated with toys left on stairs or clean clothes thrown on the floor.  I get to clean those messes up.  Twenty sets of parents will never get to wash clothes worn by their child again.  My God, it’s hard to breathe when thinking about such a thing.

I want to end on a positive note.  I have been thinking about what that can be that is realistic and meaningful.  I think we are all seeking that now and want to avoid any triviality of this horror.  This is what I have come up with:

As I read the posts of my friends on Facebook I have noticed a sincere sharing of grief.  In addition, I have seen a noble exposure of personal pain of how this has impacted them.  I can see in their words their love for their families and their children.  I am utterly certain that on millions of Facebook walls friends are sharing the same feelings of love, grief, pain and appreciation that their families are safe.  I have seen a validation of our collective humanity.  It’s easier to breathe when I read these posts.

Thank you for reading this and forgive me if some of my comments are angry and small.  Now that I have put them out there, I hope to focus on the good and the positive and pledge to write something positive and soon.  In the meantime, here is a poem that I found I feel is appropriate for this post:

Epitaph on a child
Here, freed from pain, secure from misery, lies
A child, the darling of his parents' eyes:
A gentler lamb n'er sported on the plain,
A fairer flower will never bloom again:
Few were the days allotted to his breath;
Now let him sleep in peace his night of death.

Thomas Gray, poet, classical scholar and Cambridge don (1716 - 1771)

Be well my friends.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Great Local Play

Greetings All:

Last night Dawn and I saw a great local production of a local playwright.  "Altar Call," authored by Melissa McBain, opened at the District Theater in Rock Island.  (The above image used with permission of Ms. McBain.)  It is a super show!  The cast includes Angela Rathman as Maggie Stone, Jerry Wolking as the Rev Silas Elmore and Bobby Duncalf as John Stone.  The rest of the cast is terrific and bring to life a compelling and thought-provoking story. 

Please be advised, this is not a laugh-out-loud comedy for the whole family.  Although there is humor in the show, it is sprinkled throughout, much like Parmesan cheese on an otherwise spicy pasta dish.  It pulls no punches in showing just how complicated life can be and the choices people make.  The story focuses on, as Johnathan Turner summarizes in his review, "Maggie Stone, (Ms. Rathman) a 40-year-old minister's daughter, is trapped between the needs of her gay son, the demands of her Baptist father's church, and the desires of her physician husband."  The review in full is carried by the link below:

I do not get out to see much live theater.  In fact, with my daughter's recent performances at Jr. Theater and last night, I have seen more of it in the past two months than in the last few years.  In fact, probably longer than that.  Until last night, I had forgotten how much fun live theater can be and how good an experience it is for a person.  Of course, that presumes a couple of things:  1.  The actors are serious about their craft; 2. The theater is set up for the experience; and 3. The audience (er, me) is sincere about receiving the performance.  

1. The Actors

Last night, I saw actors who were serious about their craft.  Although I am friends with Jerry (Rev. Stone) I had never seen him perform.  I was impressed with him and the rest of the cast the way they gave themselves to the show.  In film or TV, retakes are expected.  In live theater, it is one go.  There were interactions between the characters that were funny on occasion, difficult in others, and in a few, painful to watch.  This story is the emotional equivalent of a rear-end crash at about 45 MPH without deploying airbags.  It is a great and powerful story but at times hard to watch.  It is the actors who made that happen.  They took the words of Ms. McBain and brought them to life,...and in the face of the audience. 

This is community theater.  It was not perfect from a technical sense.  However, as far as I am concerned, that made it all the more meaningful.  There is something about community theater, of people who have day jobs, and school and families and life and bills and oil to change and all the other "stuff" in life.  While we are home or doing something else, they are rehearsing.  I suspect (but do not know) that many of the props, the costumes, and so on were supplied by the actors.  It is a credit to their craft and an acknowledge of their love for theater.  To paraphrase Mr. Billy S, they did, "Act well their parts."

2.  The Theater

I love The District Theater.  I wish now I would have taken some pictures of it from the inside before the show.  It is an intimate setting (about 65 seats) and utilizes both a main stage (I think that is the right term) and staging up above to the stage left.  (I think I got this right, I just asked my daughter.)  It does not "look" like a theater from the outside which (to me) just adds to the cool effect of walking into it.  I have not seen a lot of big-city theater, but of what I have seen, I would put this place up against anything "The Village" offers.  Here are the links to the theater and to their Facebook page, please check it out if you' like:

The place was transformed from a church to a home with ease, the illusions of scene changes maintained.  There was clever uses of props and set pieces.  (I will not say more, go see for yourself please :)) While the lighting cues were not perfect, it was still an effective use of the "tech" aspects of the show. 

I should also give a word of appreciation to Mr. Bryan Woods, the Director, and Ms. Martha Davenport, the Stage Manager.  Without their work beyond the spotlight the actors in it would not have shown through as they did.

3.  The Audience

From all accounts, this was an appreciative audience.  I know that I tried to be and it was one of the reasons I slammed a cup of coffee before the show to not be groggy.  I heard years ago how Celine Dion was furious at audience members who would fall asleep during her shows in Vegas.  She lamented (and with some reason, I would surmise)

"People come here for four days, they eat too much, drink too many free drinks, they get sick from all that, they are jet-lagged sometimes so they just sit in the seat and sleep."

I saw no one on their smart phones, no sustained whispering, appropriate laughter and hearty applause at the end.  The only confusion was when intermission came as we were not sure it was intermission.  That may have been the idea.  In any event, I think the audience did their part, that is sitting back and enjoying the show.  

For me, the one thing that stuck with me were the set changes.  Obviously, you knew there was a pause in the action.  However, it was as if the audience made a pact with the actors-"We will suspend the show together, yet keep the illusion of the story alive until the lights come up."  To me, it is one of the coolest things about theater.  

This was a great local play, put on locally by local actors and written by a local playwright.  I am glad I got to see it and experience that wonderful experience of seeing art brought to life on a stage.  I am already looking forward to my show.  Who knows, maybe someday I will audition for a role.  What shows or performances have you seen that moved you?  What would you like to see?  How about telling your own story?  Please let me know your thoughts, thanks.

"Altar Call" runs Dec 1, 6-8, (curtain 8:00 p.m.) and Sunday, Dec 9th.  Tickets are $15.00, available at (309) 235-1654 or email,