Sunday, April 27, 2014

Summer of 2004


Any given year can be packed with exciting events, personal and professional. The right song can send me spiraling into memory of summers where nothing significant happened at all.

However, the summer of 2004 went from strength to strength, each successive event more startling than the last.  

Grandfathers

Late spring, we visited my grandfather Henrik in Florida, for his 100th birthday. A fragile, dribbling old man. He'd made it, though. Mind intact. Counting down, he had previously announced he was five! (when he was 95.) He was two! (when he was 98.) Now he was zero. As the man said, second childishness. But not oblivion. Not yet. Never oblivion. He also had all his teeth.


At around the same time, we lost Toni's grandfather Calvin, our first child's namesake. Diagnosed with cancer, he was gearing up to fight it, but that fight never came. Awaiting chemo, a blood clot lodged in his heart and he was gone.

We had prepared for a long good-bye, and were stunned by no good-bye at all. We were grateful he had the chance to meet the girl, who delighted him. No funeral, not a religious man, a memorial was planned for the end of the summer.

Spencer Tunick in Cleveland

Our daughter was fifteen months old.

This was also the summer experiental artist Spencer Tunick came to Cleveland and encouraged us all to get naked in public. Having tried and failed to find an indoor site for  a January shoot, they bumped the date to late June after securing the assistance of the city of Cleveland to stage what was (at that time) the largest mass-nude photo shoot in North America.

 There was confusion.

The photograph itself is almost beside the point, Tunick was at that time bringing with him a lot of attention, often raising interesting social questions simply by arranging these unusual events. The experience itself was an artistic event, with euphoric highs and irritating lows. Listen to this audio diary my wife and I created with the folks at WCPN, documenting the event for Around Noon, and you will understand what I mean.
Spencer Tunick: The Naked Truth

Around Noon, June 28, 2004

This event fell neatly on our fifth wedding anniversary - June 26th.


Radio K

There are moments in time when I become suddenly very interested in new music. Obsessed, really. This year two things came into play which made it urgent to discover the hot new dance music. 1) This is the year I became a fanatically dedicated runner because of 2) The iPod.

Receiving an iPod for my birthday meant successfully being able to take music with me on runs, without requiring a cassette player, which is like running holding a brick that is tethered to your head.

My brother introduced me to the University of Minnesota’s Radio K back in 1999, but using the “radio” feature on iTunes I was able to play it in my house all the time, and with the music store could spontaneously purchase whatever it was I heard that I never knew I lived without. Music by The Streets, Felix da Housecat, and of course, I Am The World Trade Center.


 
In a good and decent universe, this is the number one pop song of all time.

Example of an awesome 2004 playlist for running.


Mr. Shakespeare

This summer, and for only two seasons, my employer experimented with resuming a summer season (as opposed to fall-through-spring). One effort in raising awareness was imagined by Andrew May, who was impressed by a serendipitous promotional event that occurred when he was a young man in Chicago.


A performer on break from a Shakespeare festival downtown was reading a newspaper on a park bench in his compete, Elizabethan costume. A photographer happened to catch a passerby in the very second of an expressive double-take, and the picture made the front page of the Trib.


This is how I came to be Mr. Shakespeare, and my job was to be seen all summer, at a variety of arts festivals and public events. The Rib Burn-Off, an Indians game, the Cain Park Arts Festival -- I wasn’t handing out advertisements, I wasn’t putting on an act, I was just this guy who claimed to be William Shakespeare.


One day in early summer (and unfortunately before our costume shop had finished tailoring my beautiful, GLT-branded “plum” outfit) Andrew took me around Cleveland for a few preliminary, promotional shots.


The American Revolution

During its final year, Bad Epitaph Theater presented and I directed the Midwestern premiere of Kirk Wood Bromley’s The American Revolution. Written entirely in verse, Mr. B. cast the story of the War for American Independence in the style of a Shakespearean tragedy along the lines of Henry V or Othello.


George Washington, traditionally depicted as an unknowable American god, is here a troubled and sympathetic general, finding his footing as general and becoming the man who would be First President. However, it is Benedict Arnold and his wife Peggy Shippen who provided an intimate dramatic tension, like Macbeth and Lady M., full of jealousy and scheming.

Our production was presented out-of-doors, on Wade Oval in University Circle, with bright costumes taking the place of any kind of set. Challenges included creating interesting stage combat with rifles and bayonets rather than swords, but interesting they were with swirling flags and the dramatic (though not frightening) sound of heavy wooden sticks beat against plastic garbage cans, which sound enough like guns and cannons without alarming the police.


Bromley’s clowns, the Rebel Mess (led by Ray McNiece as Appalachian beatnik Johnny Freeman) sang songs and hid from battle and lost limbs. It was awesome. Unfortunately, it was a very cool June that year which kept crowds low until the end of the run … and our final performance on Independence Day was washed out due to a sudden flash flood minutes after call time.


Highlight of the run was when the playwright and members of Inverse Theatre, who originated the work, made a trip to enjoy the performance. We feted them in grand Cleveland style at Nick’s place in Tremont.


As if we were not busy enough, there was a road trip to Maine.

I Hate This @ FringeNYC

That August was the first time I went solo at the New York International Fringe Festival, performing I Hate This (a play without the baby) in a 40-seat walkdown way out on Eighth Avenue.

Famous playwright in the house. Can you spot her?

While it was thrilling to share this work on a national stage, I learned some hard truths on that journey. I do not know how to handle being alone. Also, that a glowing review in The New York Times won’t do a thing for box office when no one wants to see a show about stillbirth.

BRF

However, it was that review which led a number of health and/or bereavement organizations across the Midwest to contact me and created the opportunity to carry Calvin's story far and wide and eventually across the Atlantic.

We ride the Central Park carousel with a bunch of phonies.

AIDSWALK/RUN

This year I became a runner. I had been an itinerant runner since I was an adolescent. Sometimes I would make a serious effort to maintain some kind of regimen -- ten years earlier, in 1994, I kept it up for several months.

But with one technological advance, I became a committed runner and have never stopped. As previously stated, that device would be The iPod.


For the first time, AIDSWALK included a 5K run, starting at Edgewater Beach. Running a race using the iPod (which I no longer do) gave me some kind of superhuman burst of energy and I broke twenty minutes for the first and possibly last time ever. That included that hill, by the way.

The girl was only a year and half, this was her first race. At first she was excited by all of the runners, starting all at the same time. But when we just kept going, running, running away and not coming back, and me with them, she started crying.


However, in 19 minutes and so many seconds I was back and when she saw me she smiled and shouted, DADDY RUNS FAST!

Summer's End

This epic summer closed with Calvin G.'s memorial, a glorious event where the extended family came together for a beautiful celebration of memory and music - and someone ripped off our diaper bag, and with it two pair prescription sunglasses, my camera and her wallet. Instead of enjoying the celebration, I was choking down anger, on the phone with the Athens Police Department.

Coupled with a different theft in NYC a month earlier, I fell into a prolonged period of anxiety and fear. How can I care for a little girl when I cannot look after myself?

No comments:

Post a Comment