Thursday, July 26, 2012

We were in some unfamiliar part of town (it may have been Lakewood) for an event arranged by the wife's workplace. In the next yard, some young girls were setting up an elaborate tea party with tables, tablecloths, hanging flower baskets, it was lovely. My kids were going between the yards, the girl was getting to know the children next door. inevitably she was invited to the party, a birthday party.

Looking at her ... she was dressed in some kind of white, flowing dress, wearing feathery, pasteboard angel wings, and someone had given her a garden hat. What happened to dress-ups, where did that time go? She's already left so much of that behind.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I dream of.

I do not dream about my wife. I have never, in the past, dreamed about whoever it was I were dating, or married to. I do not dream about my children. I do not dream about my family members. I do not dream about my co-workers, nor my fellow artists I see on a regular basis. If you are present, I do not dream of you.

It is not because I do not care about you. It is because you fill my conscious mind. I do not need to worry about you. You are right here (points at own forehead.)

I dream about lovers I never had, and didn't know I wanted. I dream about those important to me, but so far away they are out of reach. Maybe in reality, in space. Maybe in time. I dream about the famous.

I dream about the dead, the unexpected dead. Not grandparents, not historic figures. Those who should be here, but are not. I dream of Peter. He always surprises me. And I dream of those who are dead to me, because they went away. And I don't know which is worse.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The candidate offered to share a beer with me, which was odd, because I thought his faith forbid him from drinking alcohol.

The President was behaving somewhat clownish at the groundbreaking for a community food center. He had a set of enormous, red cafeteria forks wrapped in plastic he was trying to extricate. He used them to "break ground."

Later, my son and a number of his friends were all playing together on a public playground, which looked more like a series of roots and tree stumps, they just kind of clambered to the top and had great fun "falling" back down.

There was also indoor bowling, which was more like grown-ups rolling rubber balls at other rubber balls. I admonished this sulky guy who refused to play well. He had been ashamed of not being able to bowl, but the game was boring him.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bill Watterson on "Little Nemo"

Nemo is reacquainted with 1908 ... and meets 1909.

Winsor McCay's Little Nemo In Slumberland takes place entirely within the subconscious imagination of a small boy during the early 20th century. Only the last panel takes place in what we call the "real" world, or sometimes the first panel -- though sometimes that is hard to tell. Is he asleep yet? Mmmmaybe.

Because it takes place in dreams, Nemo has little control over the bizarre things that happens to him. And bizarre they are. Such a fantastical and graphically exciting landscape of possibilities also make one remember the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, created by Cleveland Heights resident Bill Watterson.

The difference is, Calvin's adventures are the conscious, wide-awake production of his imagination. But the final panels depicted here are another example of an abrupt, disorienting and humorous (for the reader) reintroduction to the "real" world.

A book of Little Nemo reprints from the late 1990s, The Best of Little Nemo, was sorted by theme and each "chapter"given a preface by, well, every single comic artist who has ever touched my soul -- Watterson, Charles Schulz, Maurice Sendak, Chuck Jones and Art Spiegelman.

An Incredible Ride To the End
An appreciation by Bill Watterson (C) 1997.
from "The Best of Little Nemo"
Published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. pg. 195.

"Considering that, in a cartoon, anything can happen that the mind can imagine, the comics have generally depicted pretty mundane worlds. Sure, there have been talking animals, a few spaceships and whatnot, but the comics have rarely shown us anything truly bizarre. Little Nemo's dream imagery, however, is as mind-bending today as ever, and Winsor McCay remains one of the greatest innovators and manipulators of the comic strip medium. Nobody did fantasy like this before, and very few have tried it since.

"To be perfectly honest, however, I admire Little Nemo more than I actually like it. McCay was clearly more interested in his stage than in his actors, and a stage, no matter how grand, can't carry a play. The inventive visual effects notwithstanding, I can't read the strip without thinking how much more enchanting Slumberland would be if the characters, rather than the backdrops and costumes, advanced the story. Regrettably, the characters are cardboard dress-up dolls, devoid of spunk or wit.

"You know something is wrong when a man of McCay's obvious composition and drafting skills draws such pathetic-looking dialog balloons. The balloons themselves often impede the visual flow of the panel, and McCay rarely allowed enough space for the words. Were the words a complete afterthought? At best, the dialog is a series of exclamations and explanations made redundant by the pictures. With the possible exception of Flip, every opportunity to use a character's voice to reveal his personality is squandered, and I think the strip suffers for its unimaginative writing.

"I also find McCay's artwork more impressive in its industry than in its character. McCay's pictures are fancy, but they lack either whimsy or guts. His palaces, cityscapes and boulevards are sterile facades, and his Art Nouveau line keeps everything flat and decorative. Slumberland, like its inhabitants, is more surface than substance.

"That said, the strip is still one incredible ride. Every page is a marvel of design and ornament. The constant invention, the playful distortions, the subtle coloring, the panoramas of architectural splendor...never has another comic strip taken such full advantage of the visual possibilities for surprise. Eighty years after the strip was drawn, it not only continues to delight and awe, but it also provides a long forgotten glimpse of how exciting a comic strip can be."

Huh. "Devoid of spunk or wit ... unimaginative writing ... more surface than substance." In spite of its moments of praise, this is apparently some definition of the word "appreciation" I wasn't previously aware of.

This shirt is pirated.

"Adventures In Slumberland, a holiday play of Little Nemo" is available in paperback and eBook.
A local improv comedian of some renown announced an open, head-to-head competition between area improv companies.

Walking home through the snow, a stylish looking automobile came to a skidding halt dangerously close to me by the curb. The distinguished looking, middle-aged gentleman at the wheel (he had at least three other ladies around his age sitting in the passenger seat, they also look refined) first admonished me for having something as immature as Scholastic novels so obviously visible through the windows of my home. Explaining that I actually have small children who read in my house, the conversation turned to one of recommendations of good children's books. I had to admit that I hadn't actually read most of what my kids read ... but I was pretty sure they were inoffensive books that teach good morals.

Meanwhile, some hipsters were checking unpasteurized eggs they had. They all smelled horrible, but one did contained a live goldfish. They named it "Fish".

Friday, July 20, 2012

In The Night Kitchen (book)

When Dobama Theater Artistic Director Joyce Casey asked me to curate a late-night series of performances for teenage and young adult audiences, it didn't take me very long to choose a name for the project.  

The play I was currently writing, The Vampyres, was set in a goth-themed coffee house called The Night Kitchen. There a couple allusions to children's books in the play, in particular books that went to dark but dreamlike places.

When Dobama's Night Kitchen started I was twenty-seven. I had already put on the trappings of adulthood -- marriage, home-ownership, divorce -- finding each an ill fit. I was in a new relationship with a woman who encouraged me to re-discover the childhood I had always been determined to scorn, deny and suppress. My mission was to create works which respected and celebrated young people, from their point of view.

Joyce kept trying to thrust This Is Our Youth upon me to direct for DNK. I have a lot of respect for Kenneth Lonergan. I really like his movie. But stories about wasted people acting wasted are really boring ... I couldn't get past the stage direction describing as one of the kids "expertly rolls a perfect joint." Really? That must have been an amazing joint. I think it was eventually produced at Beck Center, but anyway.

We had a basement after dark, when the adults had checked out, to be creative. That was dreamlike in itself. And for this guy in his late-twenties it was a race against the clock, I started getting delirious around 12:30.

In The Night Kitchen was published by Maurice Sendak in 1970. Since publication it has remained controversial, and for all the wrong reasons. Well, there's one reason, and it's between Mickey's legs. There's a boy running around naked in it!

Yes, well. There's a boy running around in my house, naked, pretty much every day, but I wouldn't call that pornographic, and I would have some pointed questions for anyone who does. The child doesn't read In The Night Kitchen and think it is sexual, only a sad and ashamed adult does that.

And there was never any nudity in Dobama's Night Kitchen either, unless you count that time Peer's junk fell out of his pee jays during The Realistic World 3, but I wouldn't call that sexual, either.

In The Night Kitchen was inspired by, practically stolen from the classic, early 20th century comic strip Winsor McCay's Little Nemo In Slumberland. That comic featured a boy's dreams where anything could happen, and did, on his fruitless quest to reach Slumberland to take his place as rightful playmate to the Princess. More on that later. 

Remarkably, I received the second volume in a large-format, collectible edition of the strip which includes at least one strip in which Nemo appears naked. Because in dreams, this happens all the time.

The being naked part. Not being eaten by a polar bear. At least, not to me.

Sendak's In The Night Kitchen also does not include any polar bears. But it does include three, gigantic chefs who may look like Oliver Hardy, but that only softens the fact that each sports a "Hitler" mustache and attempt to bake the obviously circumcised Mickey in an oven. Yes, there are far more disturbing things to trouble a person's sleep than a small child's genitalia.

So this theater project was named for an often-timed banned children's book, and for three years it felt like a cozy playhouse, a respite from the adulthood I thought I'd wanted. Leah, who was in her teenage years back then -- in fact didn't even start attending DNK shows until after I'd stepped down as director of the project -- once recounted to me the feeling of excitement she always had walking down those steps into the basement, it was like a vibration, maybe because the music was always played a little too darn loud, not knowing what was going to happen that night.

A surprise farewell to the Night Kitchen, June 1998.
My children, and one of their friends were looking over a book I had only just received in the mail, the oversized 'Little Nemo in Slumberland Vol. 2 (Many More Splendid Sundays)'. They were handling the book properly ... but they were also eating orange slices. The cover was stained with spots of orange juice. I went on a tear, lecturing them sternly about the value of this book -- it cost seventy dollars! I looked my boy in the face, asking "Do you have seventy dollars?" He said that he did not.

Fortunately, as I held the book in my hands and looked at it, the stains began to dry ... and fade.

Monday, July 16, 2012

pathetic. (mix tape)

Last week, my boss sent me this from his cellphone -- they were on the "impulse buy" shelf in Marc's in Berea.

My reaction was $6.29? For real, $6.29??? Those aren't on the "dollar" shelf?

Those are crap tapes, too. 'Normal Bias.' Those are for recording lectures with in a class through which you intend to sleep.

My attic is slowly but surely becoming denuded of cassettes. The problem is not the factory-produced albums on cassette. In spite of the hipster boom-box revolution, I have tried and failed to sell even the rarer items on hand -- unique "Not-For-Resale" radio interviews with Elvis Costello lifted from WXTQ, a hard-cased soundtrack to The Magic Christian, doesn't matter -- no one will spring for them on eBay or anywhere else.

 If I see this graphic one more time I am having everyone born between 1961 and 1981 murdered.

No, throwing all those away are easy. It goes without saying that every Maxell or Memorex with entire albums dumped onto it went first. No, they aren't the problem. It's all the mix tapes.

I am not going to revisit the emotional attachment to mix tapes that Nick Hornby did so successfully in High Fidelity (the book, not the movie, you philistine) suffice to say, yes, they each hold significant memories. They were each made at a significant time in my life, probably a depressing time in my life, because when you are happy you do not have time to cue up vinyl or a CD, start recording at the right point (listen to the previous track, crank the volume until the very last sound fades away, stop, eject, quarter turn back with you pinky, return to deck, hit record a breath before staring the next track) and wait until the song is over, in real time.

Mix discs created on iTunes are easy. No wonder they're all disjointed, thoughtless and awful. But then, you don't have to listen to a disc all the way through the way you have to with a cassette.

Recently I rediscovered the best mix tapes I ever made, ever. Three cassettes on a similar theme -- hating myself, and fucking.

pathetic. (1993)

The first -- pathetic. -- had a purpose. I tried to think of every song that made me feel like biting my pillow. Almost every single one had something to do with a woman from my past, or a man. The fact that I felt the urge to compose the ultimate self-loathing cassette a scant three months after I had just gotten married was probably not a good sign.

really pathetic. (1994)

The followup -- really pathetic. -- was not just more of the same. Many more of these were recent releases, specifically reflecting the state of my marriage. We were each searching for happiness outside the home (did I put that politely enough?) and speaking just for myself, I was in therapy, miserable, and feeling reckless. And yet there is Wham! on this, so I was still kind of a pussy.

pathetic and sad. (1995)

Having made the first, I had not intended to make a second. After the second, I did not imagine the third -- pathetic and sad. -- would be the last, nor that it would sound like this. Marriage over, a startling new relationship begun, these are the songs that made me think, "I'm sorry." But not to my ex-wife, nor any of those other women. I was apologizing to me.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Boy Camp 2012

For three years running, the wife and girl have journeyed to the Land Project Feminist Girls' Camp in western PA to get their empowerment in. Two years ago, when the boy was only five, he was less than pleased with the idea that his sister got special mom-alone time. What was going to happen for an entire weekend without Mom in the house?

I swiftly replied, "Boy Camp."  What is Boy Camp, he asked. I said I was pretty sure it involved bowling.  He was no longer disappointed.

Really, Lassester? Really?

The first year was pretty simple, father-son bowling, burgers and beer (for Dad.) Last year we also walked up the movie theater to watch Cars 2, which is without question the worst thing Pixar has ever produced.

Last month at a bowling birthday party I was sharing the joys of Boy Camp with a fellow father and an invitation was extended to Dr. Dean and Mr. Boy to join us. This was a good move, as my boy has become more interested in racking up tickets-for-crap from the arcade than tossing the ball which he is now finally strong and tall enough to sling properly. Mr. Boy provided a third-way, which was to introduce the extremely welcome art of hip-hop dancing into the mix. As everyone knows, Party Rock Anthem was written for seven year-olds, and they each had the chance to get their groove on.

Can I also mention that during our second game, a had a turkey -- and then a double? Oh, I guess I did.

Boy Camp also means super-late bedtime. He was knocked-out cold by 10.30.

The next morning it was sleeping-in, pancakes and a long-awaited haircut. The boy asked for a buzzcut over three years ago, but his last was last fall he's become quite the moptop since. I have not forgotten how much I enjoy cutting his hair.

Cleveland, 1845

The summer baseball season came to a conclusion with 44-14 blowout (which cannot be independently confirmed) after which we drove to the Lantern Theater at Canal Corners Farm and Market to see Singin' On The Ohio by Eric Schmiedl.  The Lantern is a former dairy barn adjacent to the former Ohio & Erie Canal, and the show is an historical-fiction about an adventurous young woman (Andrea Belser) and a flinty Irish canal boat captain (Mr. Schmiedl) making their way down the canal to Portsmouth. It's fun to watch the eternally cheerful Eric S. play someone aloof and grumpy!

East Bank Images

Yesterday was also my very last chance to catch Henry VIII, this time at the Shaker Colonnade. The boy had already seen the show twice, so I promised him ice cream after if he remained a good audience member. There was some dude in the crowd who was recording the song on his iPhone. If anyone knows who that was, I'd really like to see it -- the song was the most powerful I'd heard it last night. I think having them so close to the audience really helped.

The Maple Bacon will slap your grandmother.

We rounded out the evening -- another late evening -- at Sweetie Fry. If I were a cupcake I would write an entire post on how this one corner ice cream store puts Cleveland on par with any major city in America!!!  (In spite of, you know, everything else.) The boy got Key Lime Pie, I got New York Cheesecake with blueberry compote, and we shared the chicken tender fries ... which I assumed would be chicken tender-seasoned fries or something, but no, it was a basket a fresh fries with three fried chicken strips on top. No complaints!

The boy observed, "This is the kind of food you eat when you are up past your bedtime."

Just evil.

The day before, as promised, we got a copy of Epic Mickey from Redbox. The boy tried it out during various downtimes yesterday, but gave up on it and went back to Pokemon. I uttered those fateful words, "Let me give it a try ..."

Thing is, I don't play video games anymore. They bore the hell out of me. Five minutes, tops, I'm done. Repetition, repetition, repetition, ugh. Since we got the wii my only interaction with it has been to watch Poirot on Netflix.

Before I had realized it, and with the boy's encouragement, I had plunged headlong into this game, completed three levels, two and a half hours had passed, I was sick to my stomach and had a splitting headache, which took the rest of the day to abate.

But seriously, once I had emerged from the world of Epic Mickey, I could not articulate a thought, I could not speak in a complete sentence, for at least a half-hour. I just made lunch, brainlessly, and ate it with my son saying, "huh?" and "what?" and "I'm sorry, would you repeat that?" over and over again.

Suck it down.

This hasn't happened to me since I spent every day of 1999 doing absolutely nothing but playing Duke Nukem. It is my personal belief that the emergence of ADHD in the 1980s, which afflicts a disproportionate number middle-class, white boys, in often the misdiagnosis of symptoms brought about by video games. Or maybe that's just with this middle-class, white boy.

The rest of the day was spent reading epic battles from The Dangerous Book for Boys, watching small children catch very large fish on YouTube, hacking low-hinging limbs from the tree by the sidewalk, and engaging in the manly art of hair dye.

Then the ladies returned, and we were very happy to see them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dazed and Confused (1993)

 Stay-In-Bay Days July 4, 1976 

There's a script festering in the vault of my mind, it takes place during the Bicentennial, and once upon a time this blog was dedicated to Bicentennial research.  I wrote the first act of that piece in 24 hours, and I have yet to complete the second, but it will get there. It's all waiting for me. Yes, for sure it is. But for right now, let's celebrate the Fourth of July in style, hopped up on allergy medication and pain relievers.

My experience of the mid-to-late 1990s, as someone in his mid-to-late 20s, was a treasure-trove of long-lost childhood memories. As Gen-Xers were resigning themselves to prolonged adultescence (okay, I just read that word yesterday in The New Yorker) we as a cohort group jumped into the deep end of our subconscious, digging up nuggets long-thought lost.

The "World Wide Web" barely existed, you could not yet "google" the phrase "Saturday Morning Cartoons" and get a thousand "YouTube" videos of every show you saw when you were five. Instead, there were 'zines circulating celebrating childhood ephemera. I still have my three-issue series of Ben Is Dead (1995) which was an encyclopedia called Retro Hell chronicling pop culture of the 1970s and early 80s. I had no idea I had forgotten so much.

Dazed and Confused (1993) was Richard Linklater's second major release. Taking place on the last day of school in 1976, I had the great fortune to watch it first with my brother Denny, who finished his freshman year in high school at the same moment in history.

"Okay, guys, one more thing, this summer when you're being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating, and that's the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn't want to pay their taxes." - Feminist lady teacher in "Dazed and Confused"

My brother and I also watched The Ice Storm (1997) together. Though enjoyable, he noted several minor, historical inaccuracies which would only be visible to someone who had been living in 1973. He found Dazed and Confused startling it its detail. During the credits, establishing the exterior of, and then moving into, the high school, he leaned over and said, "They only need a Bicentennial mural somewhere and it will be perfect."