Monday, October 31, 2005

Rain on the Halloween Parade

This Halloween has progressed with much less drama than last year. (See my Halloween blogs in the 2004 archive).

First of all, it was raining at a steady pace. I got home from work after my wife and daughter had gone out to see friends, and prepared for my vigil in the doorway with my cauldron of candy, waiting on trick-or-treaters to arrive.

After 45 minutes none came. Even the dog was bored. It was quiet and depressing in the house, so I thought I would liven things up by putting in the DVD of the original FRANKENSTEIN to enjoy while I waited to pass out candy.

I put the DVD into the player to warm up, deciding to change out of my work clothes into something more comfortable. I would make some supper and watch the movie after a while, listening for the doorbell. So I left the TV off while engaged with wardrobe change.

What I did not realize was that the stereo receiver had been left on for some reason, and the volume was up pretty loud.

As I stood in the downstairs bathroom in my skivies, the DVD had cued up past the FBI warnings and into the main menu screen, even though the TV was still off in the next room.

The house was deathly quiet; the dog slept fitfully.

An enormous crash of thunder (in Dolby surround, no less) and the groaning of Boris Karloff quaked through the house and quite nearly sent me into cardiac arrest. With only one leg in my jeans, I was so startled and off-balance that the din sent me careening onto the floor with a smart, my head narrowly missing the toilet. And just as began to recover, realizing what it was that had startled me, the doorbell rang, loudly and unexpectedly, sending me flailing again and into yet another panic as I was at the moment both shirtless and pantless and unable to receive children in their Halloween garb begging candy.

I hurriedly dressed, and greeted a 12-year-old witch with an umbrella at the door. I had dumped a few Blow-Pops and Dum-Dums into her bag before I realized my sweatshirt was on inside out.

I turned my shirt around and put on my sneakers, settling in front of the TV to enjoy James Whale's remarkable 1931 film.

I had only one other trick-or-treater: a woman whose age I would estimate at about 25, costumeless, out in the rain gathering candy for her two-year-old who had a cold. She showed me a photograph of her child in a lion costume. He was terribly cute. I gave her a half-dozen Blow-Pops and some Bazooka Joe.

It was only later that I remembered seeing the same photo of the child, in a lion costume, in the October issue of Martha Stewart's Living.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Today's Sunday School Lesson

(as reported by my daughter, age 4)

The people melted down their jewelry and made a statue of a kitten. Then people loved the kitten statue more and they forgot about Jesus, who was angry, and he told Moses. Then Moses went down there, and took a bat with him, and he knocked over the kitten statue and stomped on the pieces so that the people would be sorry.

And that’s all I remember.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Personal Reply: Your Dream

I find your having dreamt of Elton John (as opposed to Sinatra or Manilow) most revealing.

Sir Elton himself does not appear in the dream (his physical presence would have added layers of complexity to your dream that I am not prepared to deal with), nor is his music presented abstractly or as background. You are, in your dream, leading a group of people in the singing of an Elton John song. You are in your pulpit; the song is your sermon. The song is a shared experience among those in the dream, your friends and family gathered round in a restaurant (Ryan’s perhaps?), an image I found both remarkable and profound. Furthermore, it is not just any Elton John song you are singing: it is “Crocodile Rock,” a fascinating tune for your subconscious mind to dig up.

“Crocodile Rock” appeared on the album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and shattered the charts in 1973. You, too, shattered something in 1973: your mother’s large ceramic ash tray. Coincidence? Perhaps.

But here is what I really think:

The song is a recollection of times more carefree, when not only “rock was young” but you were young as well. It represents a longing for the simple, blithe days of one’s past, even as one has moved well beyond it.

In those days you were moving, shaking, leading, singing…it was your show and others are merely along for the ride. But the choice of song… your mind understands that this is “what was,” not “what is.” Again, the song is an "American Pie" of sorts. Ahh, yesteryear!

You then proceed to “another engagement” (again, on the move, about town, taking care of biz) in your Nissan Sentra. (Startling that your mind dredge up this long-wrecked vehicle!) It is yet another relic of the past, another bygone symbol of what was. Part of you clings to that past, perhaps to simpler times – rock and roll, flashy red car, that sort of thing. To a past that was not only devoid of the burden of responsibility but perhaps one that was without a true direction as well.

Then you drift into the present. The woods – a classic dream symbol. A place of the mind, where one gets lost and confused. Darker now, times have changed, more responsibility and real life descends upon you. Yet you are still moving forward, toward the other “engagement.” Perhaps you do not truly know the way.

Then a presence. Interference? Alien hands over your ears. Why not the eyes? Why not keep you from seeing where you are going? An evil or malicious presence could derail your path by covering your eyes. But your eyes are untouched. You are still proceeding as you were. These mysterious hands cover your ears instead.

The presence is not trying to keep you from seeing where it is you need to go, but it is trying to prevent you from hearing what it is you need to hear while you are on your way to “another engagement.” You can see where you are going, but what is so important for you to hear that someone or something might try to prevent it from being heard?

Then you describe a second pair of hands on your shoulders. Are these hands of the same being who covered your ears? Or the hands of another? These are the leading hands. Leading you somewhere you don’t want to go, but, as you point out, somewhere you do not mind going. But they are leading, and you are allowing them to lead.

You are allowing them to lead.

Which begs the question: are the hands on your shoulders large and warm with well-trimmed nails, or cold and clammy and sporting claws?

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Todd wrote in an email, “Speaking of Fish, do you recall the short-lived Abe Vigoda series, ‘Fish,’ based on his Barney Miller character?”

He asks the same thing in a recent blog.

My reply: I certainly do remember the short-lived Vigoda series. Who can forget Detective Phil Fish?

HARRIS: Hey Fish, does it hurt when those stones come out?
FISH: It can't be too bad. The doctor says it's like giving birth.

Abe Vigoda was big in the seventies, doing a lot of TV besides playing Phil Fish on Barney Miller. He did a couple of episodes of The Rockford Files, playing a character named Phil the Dancer in one of them.

But there are some things that can never be forgiven, and some people whose deeds are so dark that they may never re-enter the light of day. Vigoda is one such person, and his deed was poison.

Yes, Abe, I remember.

You see, Vigoda was Tessio in The Godfather, and was trusted for many years by the family. But he became greedy and wanted his own family, and plotted with Barzini to betray and murder Michael.

“It was just business, Michael,” Tessio (Vigoda) said, “You understand. Just business.”

But Michael was too clever, and Vigoda ended up like Luca Brasi, sleeping with the fishes.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Notes from New York: Jaywalking

“Seattle is the only city I’ve been to where you see people standing idly on all four corners of an intersection with not a car in sight, waiting for the signal before they cross the street.”

This was spoken to me with a laugh by one of my company’s executives on a visit to Seattle as we made our way six blocks to a restaurant for lunch. This is how we do it here: we wait for the green crossing light before venturing to cross the street. It’s a civilized practice that defines Seattle despite the chuckle it caused from my East Coast colleague.

The practice – now ingrained habit for me – does not work in New York where I have spent the last week. Stopping on the corner can be treacherous: one can be trampled if one interrupts the pedestrian flow. It took me a few days to get into the swing of crossing streets in Manhattan, but I was still beset with a tinge of guilt each time I jaywalked or crossed against the light. It felt wrong. Out of place. Unnatural. But as the hoards crossed the busy New York streets against the light, I crossed with them, mingling conspiratorially on my way block by block toward my destination.

By the end of the week I found myself oblivious to the crossing signals, darting artfully across intersections, dodging cabs and jaywalking like there was no tomorrow. It was liberating in a way, and a got to where I was going without delay or interruption.

Years ago in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood my wife and I stepped off the curb to cross against the light, thought better of it, and back-stepped onto the sidewalk. A bicycle cop, who just happened to be idling behind us laughed and said, “I’m glad you did that, otherwise I’d have to write you a ticket.”

I am back in Seattle now, and crossing with the light. And I feel better about it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Notes from New York: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Patti LuPone is reprising her role as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd on Broadway. The staging is unique: there is no orchestra, per se. The cast is the orchestra, and they perform the brilliantly complex Sondheim score on stage as they are acting out the play. Cello, violin, piano, bass, clarinet, and even LaPone on the tuba – the entire cast remains on stage during the show playing, acting, singing.

The effect is unique and mesmerizing, I told the bellman at my hotel. He had asked me if the cast’s double-duty as orchestra “got in the way” of telling the story. On the contrary, I found the staging clever and involving, and I admire the cast for the spectacular results they achieved on stage. It is a fine production.

Sweeney Todd is the story of an 18th century barber wrongly convicted and sentenced to prison who returns to London fifteen years later to discover his wife dead and his daughter the ward of the unscrupulous judge who convicted him. Desiring a relationship with the daughter he never knew, he sets up shop above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. But when Judge Turpin decides to wed his teenage ward in order to protect her from the evils of the world, Sweeney Todd descends into a murderous ire, dispatching his enemies with a straight razor.

And what does he do with the bodies? Let’s just say that Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies become famous all over London!

The show is dark and gruesome, yes, but it is also at times blisteringly funny and tender.

Returning home I discovered a flyer in the mail announcing Sweeney Todd was coming to Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater. My wife was envious that I had seen the show in New York, which features two of Stephen Sondheim’s best and most memorable songs: “Pretty Women” and “Not While I’m Around.” My wife likes those two songs very much, and has never seen the show. So it looks like I’ll be seeing it again, and it will be interesting to compare the two.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Notes from New York: Walking in the Rain

I don't carry an umbrella, and haven't carried one as a matter of practice for years. Although it rains a great deal in Seattle, most of the time all we see is a fine mist. The sky "spits," as we say. A raincoat is usually sufficient; an umbrella is usually unnecessary.

When I lived in the city I bought a felt hat to protect me from the rain. It served me well for many years and spared me the inconvenience of carrying a brolly around with me during the winter. I never thought twice about wearing the brown felt hat to work until one morning, upon entering my building, the security guard greeted me with a sarcastic "Good morning, Dr. Jones."

I suppose it does look like the hat Indiana Jones wears, and I was thereafter careful to remove it before I entered the building.

It's been raining in New York. When I arrived at my hotel I discovered that a small umbrella belonging to my wife was packed in my suitcase. I did not want it (since hailing from Seattle I consider myself impervious to rain) but I nonetheless took it with me the following afternoon on my trek from Midtown East to Times Square. I had a few hours to kill until the eight o'clock curtain at the Eugene O'Neill Theater.

Dragging the umbrella around was an inconvenience I am unaccustomed to, but I tolerated its presence, and forgot about it during the show.

When the curtain dropped at ten-thirty, I exited the theater to discover that they sky was not merely spitting at me but raining cats and dogs. East Coast rain, I recalled. Because I was too cheap for a taxi I realized I was going to be soaked after my twelve block walk back to the hotel. But wait...what was that uncomfortable lump in my jacket pocket? My wife's umbrella! Victory!

Bless my wife.

There were a few times while walking through Manhattan in the rain that I left the umbrella unopened, when the sky was spitting as opposed to raining on me. Regardless, many New Yorkers (and tourists, presumably) had their umbrellas open, and it was then that I realized I was in a perilous situation.

Today's compact umbrellas are small enough for a purse or briefcase or coat pocket and have a very short telescoping handle, requiring them to be carried right at head level when opened, and the prongs of these compact bumbershoots are directly at eye level. I became fully aware of this fact on East 52nd and Third when I nearly lost an eye. The woman whose umbrella frame nearly punctured my retina was unaware of the incident. She merely shoved past me, crossing the street against the light. (There was some consolation in the fact that the strong wind traveling down 52nd Street turned her umbrella inside-out, rendering it useless. She no doubt shoved it into a trash bin along with all the other turned-out umbrellas that are disposed of by New Yorkers by the thousands on a rainy day.)

Before I arrived at my hotel a young man with a basket of umbrellas held one out to me as I passed. "Ten bucks," he said. I was damp, but not soaked. I smiled and shook my head.

"It's just a little rain," I said.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Call Again

My wife is in Portland. She is speaking at a conference of educators.

After putting our daughter to bed, I attempt to call her. The idiot at the desk has been drinking, I suspect. He answers the phone with such a rush of air and mangled verbiage that I suspect I have caught him sleeping off his binge.

He sets the phone down and turns on the TV. I can hear the TV. I can hear him blowing his nose. He starts singing an old Gloria Gaynor song. I manage to read over about a dozen emails while I wait. I can hear the TV moaning in the telephone receiver and the occasional honk followed by "I will survive!" in a cracked falsetto.

I am forced to call back. Again and again I call back and am greeted with the rushing air and mangled verbiage. I am connected to random rooms, awaking strangers who are not pleased at my asking, "Um, is my wife there?"

I call again. The desk attendant asks, "Why do you keep calling?"

"You keep connecting me to strangers. They don't like being woken up."

He laughs. "I connected you to room 214 that time, didn't I? That's not the room you want! I apologize."

I listen to an advertisement while I hold.

A groggy man answers the phone. "Who is this? Why do you keep calling?"

I hang up, feeling not the least bit guilty. I am not the one who is disturbing his sleep. It is the desk clerk who has failed us both. My concsience is clear.

I call the hotel again.

I am still hoping to be connected to room 134. My resolve is tested and unshaken. At least until the rush of air fills my ear for the seventh time.


I ask for room 134. I still have faith that I may someday get through to my wife. I will persevere. I endure the hold music for a brief moment before someone in one of the rooms picks up the phone.

I hold my breath.