Saturday, April 30, 2011

Celia Rivenbark

With all the terrible disaster news coming out of the South, the federal gummint dithering while the price of everything goes North, and Wills and Kate having to postpone their honeymoon, I thought we could all use a shot of laughter. My half-brother on Cape Cod recently forwarded me an article from a North Carolina newspaper about a woman who caused a multi-car accident because she was shaving her, uh, "bikini area"... while driving! It was actually a feature column by a woman named Celia Rivenbark, whom I'd never heard of before, but who I intend to follow from now on. She's very funny, very observant and lets the humor spring from the simple (often mind-boggling) facts of daily life.

Celia Rivenbark
photo courtesy
She has written several books, the titles of which alone are worthy of awards: Bless Your Heart, Tramp; We're Just Like You, Only Prettier; You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl and You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Mornin'. In fact, one of her titles did win an award. Stop Dressing Your Six Year-Old Like a Skank was named Best Book Title by Entertainment Weekly Magazine in 2006.

Celia has a website and I hope whichever of my local bookstores is still in business has at least a couple of her titles.

So as many of you can get a sample of her work as possible, I herewith reprint portions of the column, "Driving and Shaving Just Don't Mix". Everything they say about the absolutely true!

     "By now I'm sure that most of you have heard about the Florida woman who caused a two-vehicle wreck because she was shaving her bikini area while driving.
     "Guess that makes the time you drove with your elbows while eating a Whopper seem downright virtuous, doesn't it?
     "Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the car Megan Barnes was driving crashed into the back of a pickup truck at about 45 mph. Her reaction time was slowed down because she was too busy grooming her hoohah to pay attention to the road. Oh, like that's never happened to you?
     "Ms. Barnes told the investigating officer that she was on her way to a date and 'wanted to be ready for the visit'.
     "Yes, she wanted to look her best. All over. Except, well, we've seen Ms. Barnes' mug shot and she appears to have a face that would stop a clock... To be blunt, I don't think a perfectly groomed love rug could possibly make that much difference.
     "There are so many 'You might be a redneck if' elements to the story of Megan Barnes, but my favorite is that, while performing this extremely personal grooming ritual, she asked her EX-HUSBAND to steer the car so she could concentrate. ('Help me out, Buford, I'm gonna make it look like a LIGHTNING BOLT!')
     "To no one's particular surprise, the Highway Patrol quickly discovered that Ms. Barnes didn't have a valid driver's license. Oh, and the day before, she'd been convicted of DUI and driving with a suspended license. Oh, and her car had been seized and had no insurance or registration. Oh, and she was on probation. Oh, and SHE'S A FLIPPIN' LUNATIC!
     "Albeit an impeccably groomed one."

Bet it made you laugh at least once. Dontcha feel better?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Finding My Calm

Recently several people at work – on the seventh floor of a nondescript building somewhere in a large East coast metropolis – got together to brainstorm. They’re assistants and program coordinators, and what they’re thinking about is bringing all of us together to discuss work strategies, share knowledge, software shortcuts and tips, that kind of thing. We all work for different programs—undergrad, graduate and so on – but the work we do is very similar. In addition some of us haven’t been here as long as others who understand some of the inner workings of the department overall and could shed some light on processes and policies that, to someone still fairly new (like moi) are still a bit opaque.

I was in on the original discussion, sharing experiences, etc. with a couple of the other staff and the subject of work-related stress came up. I mentioned that I’d been reading a book on Zen techniques as they relate to stress and anxiety. On my iPod I also have a short talk by the late abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery near Woodstock NY, John Daido Loori. In it, he discusses the power of concentration, stopping your mind from wandering into the past or the future, taking a deep breath, concentrating on the task at hand in this moment. I was quick to add that I am far from a student of Buddhism, I meditate sporadically and once in a while I take a yoga class. Nevertheless I find some of this helpful in keeping me centered when things get particularly crazy at work.

So the lead organizer put together a preliminary agenda for our first meeting and one of the topics is “Finding Your Calm” with yours truly as discussion leader.

Me. Someone who loses it if the toast burns. I’ve hurt my hand pounding the desk because my computer was acting up. And many mornings I wake up with that free-floating anxiety about the day ahead, generally unfounded, which dissipates as soon as I look around the apartment, take stock of how blessed I’ve been, feed the fish and hear the cuckoo clock strike the half-hour.

But “Finding Your Calm”? Wonders never cease.

Addendum to my previous post: interesting…

At least eight dictators have been invited to the royal wedding. Several represent governments currently oppressing democracy protestors in the Arab world—notably, the crown prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Ahmed al-Hamoud al-Sabah of Kuwait, Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said of Oman, the emir of Qatar, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and, last but not least, Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, according to the Human Rights Foundation.

The British royal family has been harshly criticized by international media for extending invitations to these despots, who continue to play leading roles in dictatorships that commit severe human rights violations against their people.

HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Rights of Mother Nature

                  Breaking news: Van Jones, former Obama administration "green jobs czar," is helping to push for a new, global architecture of environmental law that would give Mother Nature the same rights status as humans.
                  Thank God! Now she’ll be able to get out there and vote. (Is she a Democrat or a Republican? Maybe she’s Independent.) Of course if she’s a lesbian she’ll only be able to get married in a handful of states, but she will be able to worship wherever she chooses. (My guess is she’s a big ole Druid...) And of course, like all the rest of us, she has a “right” to healthcare and a minimum wage.
                  Okay, joking aside... really? When real human rights are in such short supply in so many places around the world?
                  For example, Jones’ new home also shares some of its goals with a few of the more, shall we say, radical elements at the United Nations, particularly Ecuador and Bolivia, both of which have close ties to Hugo Chavez.
                  And speaking of rights, the UN is also the body whose Human Rights Council is likely to include Syria. “Massacring dozens of its own citizens one day – elected to the United Nations’ top human rights group the next? That’s the trajectory Syria is on, meaning that the once-dependably stable but now-bloodied domain of President Bashar al-Assad could join the United States and 45 other countries on the UN Human Rights Council.” (Christian Science Monitor, April 26) “Other countries” like Uganda which, as Wikipedia elegantly puts it, “continues to experience difficulty in advancing respect for human rights in matters concerning torture, child labor and liberties”; and Zambia whose human rights record has suffered, according to the State Department, because of “problems” like “unlawful killing, torture, beatings...and trafficking in persons.” Oh, and of course there are China (a regular human rights supernova) and Cuba, so free and easy that people have died trying to get the hell off the island. On the – say it with me – Human Rights Council!
                  Jones is on the board of something called the Pachamama Alliance, based in San Francisco, natch, which intends to establish enforceable global laws for the Rights of Nature. Global. Worldwide. I don’t know if these people have read a newspaper lately, or watched the news, but it’s hard enough to find three countries that can agree on anything at all. Yet the expectation is that the citizens of all the nations on the globe will agree on this! (Well, maybe not all the citizens of the world: according to the Pachamama website the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is working to build a movement of millions of educated and inspired individuals...” Presumably they know that not-so-educated, less inspired individuals everywhere will see all this for the huge crock o’ shit it is.)
                  Yet I’m sure millions of educated, inspired individuals will take it all very seriously indeed, inspired as it – and so much recent legislation -- seems to be by emotion and a desire to appear caring and sensitive.
                  Of course, anyone who thinks all these Rights of Nature will come cheap have another thing coming. There will be rules and regulations and sanctions and taxes and tariffs and a general, gradual return to the Stone Age; accompanied by what Pachamama and its supporters, I promise you, will undoubtedly hail (with environmentally friendly fireworks, no doubt) as the decline of capitalism.
                   There are children in this world who have had to watch as their mothers were raped and murdered before their eyes. There are women in this world whose genitals are routinely mutilated and who are beaten, abused and even killed if they “dishonor” their husbands and families. There are countries in the world where they will kill you just for looking gay.
                   Like those whose sense of entitlement leads them to believe that whatever they want they have a “right” to, anyone who talks seriously about Mother Nature and her “rights” trivializes the very meaning of the word.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My New Favorite Saying

“A year from now you will wish you had started today.”  
--Karen Lamb

I don't know who she is... I Googled the name and came up with very little. But I still think it's terrific!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The More Things Change

            It’s another holiday season and once again people start asking “You have any plans for Easter?” The short answer is, “No, not really”.
            It happens: families get smaller, spread out, time passes, people die. I watch with a little smile the holiday TV commercials, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially: hordes of happy, apple-cheeked Moms and Dads, Grandpas and Grandmas, cousins, aunts and uncles – all scrubbed up like new potatoes, well-dressed and happy. Most of all happy: happy to see each other, happy to sit down to the groaning board, thrilled above all to be enjoying the Pillsbury Rolls/Butterball Turkey/Hormel Ham/Mrs. Smith’s pie…
            My family did things a bit differently, but in the end it was the same. Christmas Eve was when we opened our gifts, an adoption of the Danish custom. Everyone gathered at our house: children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles… just like the ads. For years we waited until the stroke of midnight to begin the ritual, but over the years the time crept up, earlier and earlier, until by the ‘90’s things were pretty much over with by 7 p.m. People got older, moved away, died.
            At Easter it was a bit different. For over two decades, my parents owned a restaurant and Easter Sunday, along with Mother’s Day, was a big-business day. I was generally the busboy, helping out the crew of waitresses – hard-working women, many of whom had been part of the family since my grandparents had owned the place -- in their pristine uniforms, white aprons, and sporting white hankies with delicate, lacy borders, starched to a fare-thee-well and folded like elaborate fans, which they wore over their breast pockets. I can’t remember how much in tips I raked in on these holidays, maybe all of ten or twenty dollars, but at the time it seemed like a lot of cash.
            Certain traditions carried on through the years, but as the family aged and changed, the shapes and essence of those traditions changed until, for the most part, we seemed to be going through the motions. On many occasions my older sister and her husband would take us all out to dinner to a nearby restaurant – where, according to local legend, someone was once shot at the bar and which, not long ago, was featured on one of those “reality” shows where some expert goes in and revamps a restaurant in 24 hours. Rita would hold court at the head of the table, even though it became increasingly difficult for her to leave the house, arrayed in a snazzy outfit, her sable jacket and a sampling of her very good, very impressive diamonds.
            Then my mother died and not everyone attended all the celebrations. My father was crushed by the loss of his wife of 56 years and never really recovered. So we would gather, but the atmosphere was often one of forced gaiety. Dad’s blazer and slacks hung off his increasingly ravaged frame.
            Much of the reason we still celebrated at all was because of my younger brother, Robert, born with Down Syndrome, who we still more or less considered a child. We convinced ourselves that he would miss the opening of the gifts, the Easter basket, the turkey, the ham. But eventually I realized that Bobby most certainly understands more than we give him credit for. For years I was afraid of the moment when I would have to tell him about the death of our mother, or our father whom he loved dearly. But when the time came, he was accepting and stoic. And when he attended the funerals he was respectful and quiet and bore it all as well as any of us.
            So, now we come to another holiday – having got through another Christmas without my parents. Rita is gone now, too and Easter, having never been a Big Deal for us, is now just another Sunday, at least for me. So I’m not surprised I’m experiencing what John Cheever used to call his “cafard” – a shapeless, headachey sense of sadness and loss, even a little dread about the future. (Well, yes, considering it’s pointless to dread the past…) I actually have to get myself up and out and into the world every day before I realize there’s nothing to be afraid of. If I stay present and do the next indicated thing, the days go – rather too quickly, sometimes, to suit me.
            I’ve heard it said that you’re not really an adult until both your parents are gone. Well, this adult is celebrating the season with a new laptop (from The Easter Bunny, natch), maybe a pair of shoes or slacks. I’m starting to think about vacations – weekend trips over the summer, an extended trip somewhere (Lisbon, Provincetown, Budapest?) come fall. I plan meals, I plan my budget, I plan a great deal. But, come the holidays, I can never plan for that moment when I start to think “I ought to call Mom—“ or “Dad might enjoy—“ No matter how cagey I think I am, things still have a way of sneaking up on me.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Play the Kimmel Center!

Well, all right, the improv group, Tongue & Groove, of which I've been a member since its inception, played Philadelphia's Kimmel Center last night, the first of three shows we're performing as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA), which runs most of the month of April.

The Kimmel is a soaring space on Broad Street (Avenue of the Arts) in Philadelphia and provides a new home for, among others, the Philadelphia Orchestra in addition to the newly renovated Academy of Music a few blocks away. We, of course, were not performing in one of the main venues but upstairs in the Rendell Room, a rehearsal/recital space for which we had to provide our own lights and were at the mercy of the unions who were the ONLY people authorized to move chairs or flick a light switch. I kid you not: when it was suggested that one of us could turn off the overhead lights to start the show, we were told that only the Union guy could do that. (It sounds like one of those off-the-wall stories you hear, but it's true. Proof positive that many of today's unions have little, if anything, to do with worker safety, fair pay or rights, as they were originally intended.)

White tie & tails: a musician's trunk. (Photo by F. Andersen)
But the fact remains: we played the Kimmel Center! From my vantage point it looked like we sold out and the audience was mostly people who had never seen us perform before and had little idea what it is we actually do. People tend to think of improv as that kind of wacky, jokey hit-and-run stuff you see on TV, usually hosted by Drew Carey and his friends. Which is fine, can be very funny, but it's not what we do. We call our form "spontaneous theater" because we do a whole hour based on audience suggestions and the scenes run the gamut from hilarious to touching, even painful sometimes. Audiences are always amazed at the fact that it's all made up as we go.

In any case, it was a kick being there. There were other performances going on at the same time, concerts in at least one of the big halls, and men in white tie and tails and women in long, black gowns were coming and going backstage on their way to or from the stage. (At one point I opened the door to what I thought was a men's room, only to come face-to-face with a very startled pianist practicing at an upright in a small dressing room. He wasn't pleased to see me. I apologized and vanished.)

Of course, regulations forbade us taping the show, unless it was strictly for archival purposes, so our brilliance is lost to the ages, except for the hundred or so people who saw the show, or performed it. Ah, well...

At least I played the Kimmel.

(And if you're in the Philly area, we have two more shows next week, Friday and Saturday! Come see us!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tired Old Queen at the Movies: Auntie Mame

Thanks to my friend Terry Sue out in sunny La La Land. I'm posting this for the Bratprince (who may have already seen it...)

I had thought about a little discourse on the budget battles in Washington and the misrepresentation and outright lies and childishness going on, but... oh, hell, we can all use a smile. Besides I got a clean bill of health on Monday (after the urologist took another Fantastic Voyage) and it looks like the cancer is no more! So, let's celebrate with a woman whose motto was "Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches (or "suckers" for the 50's movie version) and starving to death!"

I was unfamiliar with TOQATM until this evening, but apparently he's done You Tube video essays on many of my favorite films! Indulge! Enjoy!

More Six Word Memoirs

Friends have been good enough to post to my Facebook page:

"creating memories, making progress, living love."

"I love to create beautiful gardens."

"I should have listened to Mom!"

"I'm doing the best he can."

And mine:

"Age notwithstanding: always recovering from something."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Six Word Memoirs

Border's is going out of business. At least in Philadelphia. The big store at the corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets has big signs filling all the windows to the effect that everything must go, everything's on sale, no exceptions, 10, 20...up to 40% off! I couldn't resist.

My initial purchases included the big paperback edition of "Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time" by Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik who are clearly a couple of really big Broadway, shall we say, afficionados. Really big. But the book is terrific, chock-full, as they say, of information, history, background on composers, performers, designers, et al. There are also sections on Broadway flops and the people who starred in them.

My other purchase, in addition to a DVD ("Cross Creek" starring Mary Steenburgen, about which more later), was a little paperback called "It All Changed in an Instant: More Six Word Memoirs". These were collected by the editors of Smith Magazine from people well-known and not so much, all of whom have managed to sum up their lives in exactly six words. Some examples:

"The miserable childhood leads to royalties." --Frank McCourt

"The Fruit Loop among the Cheerios." --Gabrielle Povolotsky

"Changed sexes: same monkeys, different barrel." --Jennifer Boylan

"I fake everything except the orgasms." --Tammy Everts

"Found myself but lost my hair." --David Thorpe

It's amazing to me how full and rich so many of these are. And they're not all funny or cute. Some are genuinely heartbreaking ("Tiny son dying in my arms.")

I haven't come up with mine yet: there's something percolating, but it hasn't gelled. When it does (and God knows there may be a few) I'll let you know. Meanwhile, the closest thing I've seen to what might be mine is "The main thing is I laughed."

Meantime, give it some thought and post yours in the Comments section. I'd love to know how some of you would sum it all up in six words.