Friday, November 27, 2009

Don't give my regards to Broadway

So, we were watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. For a little while, at least. I turned it on, thinking I'd get a brief kid-talk hiatus in which to prepare sweet potatoes in peace. It had worked on me when I was a kid, hadn't it? Lots of floats, huge balloons shaped like cartoon characters, hordes of people, the occasional band marching... at least that was how I recalled it.

Not so these days. We flicked on the television and chose whatever station featured the least vapid and dull-witted commentators. First they blabbed, sharing prepared quips with all the natural flair of a water buffalo passing through a narrow gate. Then, a ridiculously corny cast of Hair performed a song... holy cow, how old is that show? It's still running? I was not amused but it seemed harmless, so I left the costumed fools prancing and crooning their decades-old song and hurried into the kitchen.

Within a few minutes, the kid was calling me into the living room. "What is this, Mom?" I returned. This time, kids were bouncing around the stage alongside a poorly acted dance instructor who rolled her eyes with gusto (part of the performance); the wise, witty commentators informed us that this fine number was from the play Billy Elliott. Huh? That's a play? Movie, yes. Play? News to me.

I scurried back to finish mashing potatoes, but only a few minutes passed before I heard, "Mom, you gotta see this." I peered back in. Where was the parade? I'd seen one Snoopy balloon, and...that's it. One balloon. In all that time. And on the screen now? Why, a bunch of grown people dressed as characters from the movie Shrek. A man decked out as a heavy-haunched donkey was stomping about madly, singing (or pretending to sing) "I'm a Believer." A green-faced fellow—Shrek himself,of course—sang along with his bride. Another guy was dressed as Pinocchio. All of them were shimmying, shaking, twisting and turning, grinning like mad, all while adorned in the most ludicrous costumes.

So, Shrek is now a Broadway play. Say it isn't so! Is nothing sacred? Broadway used to be more serious, didn't it? Wasn't the stage where "real" actors performed? These days, high theatre has fallen to meet the demands of the unschooled. Todd and I watched the costumed animals cavorting to the music and shook our heads. We wondered aloud: Do people who long to perform on stage all start out in such silly works? And if you land the part of Pinnochio, do you say so on your resume? Do you admit to such a role? I'm guessing you would, that any lead would be a step in the right direction. But at what cost to your pride? What is the price when you consider that your own self-image might be at stake?

If these folks are really enjoying what they do, then I guess it's worth it. But on Thanksgiving Day? To be dressed as a fairy tale character that may or may not be a beast? Knowing that you'll be wearing that disguise many, many more times, dancing the same falsely gleeful dance over and over? I don't know if I can buy that it's terribly fulfilling.

I can't remember if the parade was always this sappy and pro-NY culture, but if it was, I have to believe the plays were better when I was a kid. Every time I think the people can't reach a new low, they exceed my expectations. We've passed from the days of Annie into an age when any movie is fair game for stage interpretation—even those that shouldn't be. And the parade itself has all but disappeared, plowed under by dumbed-down commercialization.

Even my 4-year-old declared, "Time to turn it off!" when three sassy, big-haired gals appeared to perform a song from the new stage production of Dreamgirls. Enough is enough. We know when we're being force-fed the stuff of the masses. Give me Arthur Miller, give me August Wilson, give me turkey instead of more stuffing, and for cryin' out loud get some floats and balloons moving through this route, PDQ.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stupid is as stupid does

On Friday, I did something so stupid that I am ashamed to write it.

I bought a $5 greeting card.

That's right, a piece of medium-weight card stock with a small image of flowers on the front and some pretty words inside and out. A card. A friggin' piece of paper. The only thing that made it unique was a small piece of ribbon that was threaded through some little holes at the top of the card. The holes for the ribbon were not gnawed by poverty-stricken children, as far as I know. They were not hand-punched in a foreign village with the disembodied claw of a rare native creature. I don't believe the ribbon itself was created on foot-operated looms in the mountains of Tibet; it appeared to be rather ordinary, a single color, no pattern, no texture other than the expected lined pattern seen in many common ribbons.

I also bought a gift bag (aren't those great?! and reusable!!!) and carefully noted the price of the bag before selecting one. I never even glanced at the price of the card. I hadn't bought one in a long time; it didn't even occur to me to look. When I got to the checkout and the girl told me the total, I nearly fell over. I had to ask—why was it so much? Did I get a more expensive bag than I thought? No, she informed me, it was the card. The card cost $4.99. That's right, twice as much as a good-sized, sturdy, useful bag with handles. TWICE AS MUCH AS THE BAG.

The most ridiculously stupid part of this story is that I didn't immediately return the card for a refund. I didn't return it at all. I was in a hurry, and I was crabby, and I stared at her in disbelief as I paid for the *!?$&$ purchase and left the store. I've made a point of hand-crafting most of my cards for several years now, have stocked up on printed paper and blank cards and stamps and markers and the like, but up until Friday the main reason was that I figured I could say what I wanted to say without the help of sappy, emotive corporations. But now? Now I'll make all my own cards just because I'm a cheapskate.

Except for the very affordable blank notecards that I get at the craft store: 8 for $1. Now that's more like it.

Can you believe? What is this world coming to? And what am I coming to when I pay it, just because I need to get it done and get it home and wrap the present, and there's no time to make a card?

Not my proudest moment, that one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wow, I'm old, but it ain't so bad

This past weekend was full of surprises.

I'd been denying my advancing age for several weeks. I figured, if I don't mention it, no one else will remember it. We're all busy, I'm not the kind of person who demands a big fuss, money's tight, etc.

I was wrong.

I was completely bamboozled over the weekend when I walked into what should have been a music rehearsal and found instead an assortment of family and friends who lay in wait with cake, presents, and shouts of "Surprise!" And Sunday was spent at, of all lovely things, the symphony. Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

So, being an ancient hag has its advantages. I don't recall anyone going to this much trouble when I was 20. Not even 25. You have to hang around much longer than that to earn a big shindig like this.

I wonder, if the Lord's willin' and the creek don't rise, what might happen when I turn 50?! I'm not going to rush to get there, but hey, it does change the way you think about it.

Happy tidings to all, and thanks goes out to those who participated in any way.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bald-faced Mel-isms

This was an unexpectedly busy weekend, with some nice surprises. I'm still sorting it all out, so I'll write about that soon but not yet. Meantime, I'll just drop some bombs from the top of my head.

• I feel more and more certain that at least 65% of the general population of children in the United States could benefit from a sound beating. At least once, daily. Yes, even the smaller kids. If the sampling of the child population is located in a comfortable suburb and filled with kids who have no real needs (other than discipline and a chance to achieve boredom), then that percentage rises to at least 85%.

• I can hardly read the newspaper anymore without becoming livid. (We gave up MSM network television years ago, partly for that same reason.) Why are so many people dancing around the obvious? This Hasan guy in Fort Hood was an extremist working within our own ranks. He was the enemy on the inside. He should have been watched and researched and removed from duty. He spoke up against his own troops, for the bombers, vocalized his support, spoke the language of terrorists. Why is our so-called leader not naming this act as it was? Oh, that's right. He probably funded the jerk. Or received funding from him. Or prayed with him, or bowed with him, or discussed the most efficient means of takeover. Covertly, from a position in which you are snugly nestled amidst the enemy. Sound familiar?

• Why do we hear so much more about extremism in Islam than we do about extremists in other religions? Especially outwardly directed extremism? Every religious group has radicals, but so few of them do as much major damage to unbelievers as the extreme Muslims. I'm certain the media is not ignoring related instances, since they so eagerly embrace anything that helps to whitewash the current crazies. I just figure it must not be happening, or it's kept inside the tribe. Either way, I feel like that's a whole lot better than the subtle and not-so-subtle wars against us that we're witnessing these days.

• On a much happier note, I am honestly amazed nearly every day that my son is mine. He delights me. He is such a special kid that I can't believe I hatched him, nor that we're blessed enough to have him with us.

• I cannot believe how being forced to do something you love starts to make that beloved task feel like work. Cooking, tidying, planning the shopping. All of them fine, even fun—until I must perform them, in a restricted period of time. Then? Work.

• My husband, family, and friends are far sneakier than I ever imagined. And, I'm sad to report, I am far more gullible than suspected.

• I think for the most part that wedding registries are stupid. I believe they are left over from a bygone era when people got married and then moved from their parents' homes into a home together without most household possessions. It just ain't happenin' that way anymore, folks. Not happy to say it, but there it is.

• I have to keep readjusting my definition of old, because I keep on attaining the pre-adjusted definition.

• My husband has this way, when he's asked how he's doing, to reply with the words, "Better than I deserve." And many times, it has kind of irked me for reasons I can't really express. However? Some days, like today? I think I know what he means.

• My church is not perfect. Yet, it's doing a lot of things right. I must be more thankful for that body of believers.

• I am going to try really hard to be more positive and hopeful. And to trust completely that God's got it covered.

Well wishes to yinz,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

She's a grand old flag

I finally made it to a parade in our fair city.

The best parade of all.

Only patriotic songs burst forth from the bands, heroes were abundant, and our lovely flag flew with pride and joy from nearly every available paw and perch. It was honestly inspiring. ROTC kids, men, and women in uniform, plus a bevy of older veterans from every recent war of note marched one after the other. Some of the most frail rode in cars, a trolley, a DUK, and even on buses. We clapped for one and all.

My only question is this: why doesn't this parade draw as many as the sports championships parades?

Those parades are fun too, I'm absolutely certain. Yet, I'm a tad ashamed of our definition of hero sometimes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stripped, someday to be blurred

I go back and forth about subjects for this blog. I have many that I would like to tackle, but end up shelving because I'm either not certain what I want to say, or I fear that the topic will be too depressing to address. Today's post is one that I've been toying with for days. And hey, I'm a reasonably honest person and this is my forum; if you find it disagreeable, no one's holding a gun to your head—at least not about whether you read this mindlessness.

We're in a period of our lives here, in my home, that I suspect will be blurred in my memory. It's simply not a happy period. It's not bad, not painful, not terrible, we're not suffering, we're trying each day to be thankful and look forward while still enjoying many blessings. But I'd be lying if I said this was a comfortable, contented season. It's full of uncertainty, of instability, rife with worries (even though those aren't biblical, I know) and just generally disconcerting. We have enough, even plenty in the eyes of most of the world. We have a home. We have work and money coming in. I'm writing this on a computer which is for the most part a completely unnecessary toy in that home. I have a stomach full of breakfast food. I am sitting in front of a heater that emanates warmth on a chilly morn.

But this is not a season of joy. I'm trying to find the joy, but many days it eludes me. And I know from experience that in the future, I'll look back on this time and a lot of it will be unclear. I'll have let the sharp memories slip away to soften the intensity of the emotions associated with them. It's been shown that we humans store memories alongside accompanying emotions, and that each time we recall that moment or event, we relive the feelings that we felt then. I have many clear, distinct memories of wonderful moments, turning points in my life, dear fragments of existence that changed me for the better. On the flip side, to be frank, a lot of the feelings of this long, current moment are not desirable to me, and therefore will render the memories less than precious. Good things are still occurring during this time, but they're hidden among lots of other garbage that I'll do my best to toss out when given the chance.

It's funny, how instability and uncertainty are always present with us, but unless we are forced to confront them daily, they seem less powerful, easier to set aside. When the illusion of stability is stripped away, we must face what was always there: the reality that we have no idea what the next minute will bring. It's always that way, but job losses, big changes, concerns, illness and fears bring that reality into stark focus in a way that happy, carefree times never will.

I talked with a friend last night who'd attended a burial. She was deeply disturbed by the fact that at said burial, as the casket was lowered into the ground, jutting up against its resting place were several vaults* that had shifted slightly from erosion and the construction of a road nearby. There stood the mourners, looking into that hole, confronted with undeniable evidence that the bodies planted near this spot were, indeed, still hanging out under all that earth, beneath a slab of concrete. Why was it so disturbing? Between us, my friend and I determined it was simply because the illusion of preservation was suddenly gone. There's no denying that a body placed in the ground will eventually turn into something very unlike a body; it's hard to argue with that when you're looking at proof that the holding tanks are still there, years later. Not to be gruesome or morbid—it's just the truth.

So, we've been similarly stripped of illusions here at my place. And I plan to blur this reality as soon as I am able. I'll keep portions of it, because as I said, there are many blessings within the uncertainty. But the rest I will jettison into the surf like the flotsam that it is. And I will pray, and pray, that this is not the new and permanent reality.

* A vault is the concrete "box" that holds and protects a casket. Yes, I'll admit, I am stupid and did not know this until last night's discussion.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nuances of phlegm expulsion

So, it's the sickly season and then some. H1N1 is striking with germy venom, regular run-of-the-mill colds and viruses are leaping onto new hosts with glee, and the air around is generally so contaminated that one is afraid to take a breath. And don't scratch that tickle below your brow, for goodness' sake—the urge to rub your eye will be far too strong. (Although I'm still not certain whether viruses can enter through the eye, I consider it to be an orifice of sorts, albeit plugged with your eyeball, and I'm not taking any chances.)

But the ill surroundings have made me aware of an uncanny ability most of us have by the time we're adults: we can read a cough. Sometimes we can read it superbly. I sat in church today, and a baby coughed behind me. How did I know it was a baby? I don't know, exactly, but I did; I even suspected it to be a female baby. Then I turned later to confirm it, and sure enough, the cough was coming from a tiny child, about 6 or 8 months old. A little girl with pink Mary Janes. What made her small cough different from others? The timbre was too high to be an adult's, and the little noise she made didn't sound as if it had traveled very far on its way out. I don't know how else to describe it, but I think you'll know what I mean.

Church is a good place to test this theory, because it's a rather quiet space and there's a large sampling of humanity from which to draw data. I remember a few years ago that Todd and I both noticed the same insistent, seemingly endless cough that we heard week after week. We both knew it was a woman before we'd located the back of her head, and we both noted that the cough was a rather wet sound, indicative of something chronic. Lo and behold, we met her last year—a lovely, charming miss who happens to have cystic fibrosis.

Think about it: can't you usually guess correctly the approximate age of the cougher? Often, even in children, the sex of the coughing victim? Can you not often predict whether a cough will be accompanied by a nasty, snotty nose or watery eyes? Sometimes you can even tell how many days or weeks the person has been coughing, because those lingering, dry coughs of the late-stage head cold are so easily identified. It's quite amazing, really, the amount of overwhelmingly accurate information you can garner from merely listening to someone as they attempt to clear their lungs or stop a squirrelly bronchial spasm in its tracks.

I really did hear the message today, too—I wasn't just listening to sickies and trying not to breathe. But one can't help noticing.