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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Not Alone In The Universe

Everyone likes to feel a little special sometimes.  When the man arriving at the available cab (at the exact same moment,) gestures to you and backs away; that’s nice.  Not just because you’ve had a long day and those shopping bags are not going to carry themselves, but because another person is acknowledging your existence.  We go through our days almost unnoticed, unless we are part of that small cluster of very recognizable people, who in fact go through their day trying not to be noticed.  We are regularly reminded of our Whoville-like stature when navigating customer service automated phone trees, chain pharmacies, education and health-care bureaucracies and banks.  We walk down the street having people barrel into us while they intently type. We are pummeled by double-wide strollers, rolling briefcases and backpacks.  We sit in restaurants shielding our food from the (repetitive) hairstyling of the woman seated at the next table.  We sit through symphonies, theatre, and religious ceremonies with the blue light of mini-screens shining intermittently.

This phenomenon; of craving to be acknowledged in a self-absorbed world, can turn into quite the carousel of fright.  The more we desire to be seen as something more than cellophane, the more we risk turning into them.  By them, of course, I mean the gentleman who sits on a jury after lying about his relationships with law enforcement (“hey, that rule doesn’t apply to me!”)  I certainly mean the schemers of Ponzi and traders of the inside.  Most of us aren’t exactly as bad as all that.  But at the root of that behavior is arrogance and entitlement, no?  Is that particular brand of motivation all that different from the “letting the dog off the leash” “bullying and tantrums on airplanes” “parking in handicapped spots” behavior?  These more minor infractions are probably even worse as they are the most contagious.  At some point taking one’s place in line, while others ignore the queue can make one feel a bit of a schmendrick.  Slowly, even the most civilized will start to experience “what about me?” syndrome.  Before you know it, the victim becomes the perpetrator.

Perhaps we could take a baby step in breaking the cycle, and start with simple semantics.  Let us take back the word “special”  We use it euphemistically and we use it to the point of meaninglessness.  We all want to feel special but none of us is special.  (Unique and special are not the same.) We are all entitled to the same respect and civility, and yes, the rules apply to all of us.  A person is a person no matter how small.  I propose a teeny tiny movement: Instead of talking about someone’s “special day” call it what it really is; It’s Your Birthday!  It’s Your Wedding Day! It’s Your Sentence Commutation Day!  It is not “their day” anymore than it is anyone else’s day.  It’s a bad mindset to indulge, even if it’s only annual.  Let today be the day we don’t confuse how someone should be treated with how someone should behave.  Let us shower the celebrant with good wishes and love because they are who they are, which is the best thing by far, because you-ness is better than being a star.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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New To The Neighborhood

Why is it that time and time again we are ill prepared for entirely predictable events?  We know that giving birth and having an infant in the house will be all consuming and exhausting, but still feel surprised to find it to actually be so.  Freelancers, consultants, contract workers and artists, are serial professional monogamists, yet still experience disorientation at the end of each gig.  It stands to reason that (if we’re lucky) our parents will age.  Yet, with each incremental stage of their decline we feel ourselves breathless and floundering.  It’s in our best interest to be able to feel frightened or sad (lack of affect is a sign of serious trouble!) but why do we also feel “caught off guard?”

Nobody likes surprises (which is why surprise parties are only fun for the people planning them.)  One of Mr. Rogers‘ most insightful and comforting songs was I Like To Be Told.  He understood that children, with no frame of reference, find most of life surprising and unsettling.  But we grown-ups are supposed to be pretty well versed in the vagaries of life.  Of course events which could never be foreseen (both good and bad) occur, but it’s not those that leave us feeling as if we “really should have a better handle on this.”

Could it be that being truly conscious and cognizant of future hurdles and hardships is just not a pleasant way to live?  Would being at full boyscout readiness at all times rob us of the joys of spontaneity and hopefulness in life?  That could be the answer, if in fact cynics and pessimists find themselves in ship shape when things go a bit awry.  Does a gloomy Gus face a parent’s accident, illness or decline with an attitude of “finally! something I’m good at!”  Maybe.

What is really at the heart of the issue is that of mastery.  We feel caught off guard because of the novelty of the event in our own life.  Yes, we know the event is inevitable, but until we’ve tackled it head on and survived, we feel uncertain.  Life tilting events, by their very nature are not extremely repetitive (if you’re lucky) so there is little chance for mastery. With each of these events (illness, job loss, death, etc.) we feel as insecure as we did as children, yet the situation calls for us being our most adult.  The solution to our feelings of helplessness and insecurity is not to wish for more opportunities to develop mastery.  What we can do is remember that we know enough to do the very best we can do.  We’ve experienced bumps in the road before; this is not our first time at the rodeo if you will.  Hurdles are just that; hurdles.  There is quite a distance between each one (otherwise hurdles would be called bridges.)  When the floundering sensation becomes too much, never underestimate the restorative powers of a cup of tea, and a little Mr. Rogers.

It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.
It’s such a happy feeling: You’re growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
‘I think I’ll make a snappy new day.’
It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling,
The feeling you know that we’re friends. (Fred Rogers,1967)

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Pipe Dream – Review

N.Y. City Center Encores! is back to its old self with its production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream (1955.)  Fully choreographed (Kelli Barclay,) with a perfect set (John Lee Beatty) and costumes (Toni-Leslie James) that by all rights should be in my closet, Encores! once again, does not disappoint.

Pipe Dream is based on two John Steinback novels (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) and has a certain grittiness that one may not always associate with Rodgers & Hammerstein.  To be perfectly candid, I often suffer from insulin depletion at declarations of climbing every mountain, or of the corn being as high as an elephant’s eye.  I’ve always been more of a; boy like that, sit down you’re rocking the boat, you’ll never get away from me, kinda gal.  And while Pipe Dreams is by no means a perfect show, it has lured me onto Team R&H.

The theme of the show is that of the world of work, and not the button downed briefcase carrying kind.  Much of the show takes place in both a house of…well, a house of female comfort and a flop house.  There are some simply beautiful songs; Everybody’s Got A Home But Me and Suzy Is A Good Thing (which opening notes are reminiscent of the opening to Bali Hai.)  There are also one or two songs that simply fall flat.  However, with a strong producer (back in 1955) it’s clear that this show could have been work-shopped into something wonderful.

With any show that does not come complete with recognizable tunes or story, or has not come directly from a film or comic book; casting is key.  Marc Bruni (director) hit a trifecta with Leslie Uggams, Tom Wopat and Stephen Wallem.  Mr. Wopat and Ms. Uggams are in great voice and simply devour their characters.  Mr. Wallem is an extremely enjoyable character actor (with a very good singing voice) and captures the character of Hazel perfectly.  The male and female romantic leads; Will Chase and Laura Osnes are not as suited to their roles.  Romantic leads are never that interesting to play, and without a certain spark, or electric magnetism, they are not very interesting to watch.

The real star of any Encores! production is the thirty(!) piece orchestra, directed by Rob Berman.  At a time when paired down orchestras are being divided and sequestered into basement rooms with tiny monitors of the stage (across the street) it is phenomenal to see a full orchestra on the stage.  When the curtain rose to reveal the elevated orchestra I heard a young girl gasp.  If there is anything that is less than positive about Encores! is that the run is always far too brief.  Pipe Dreams plays until April 1st.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Theatre

 

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Ask Me How Do I Feel

Sitting in Avery Fisher Hall, with the N.Y. Philharmonic upon the stage, celebrating Anywhere I Wander: The Frank Loesser Songbook, I felt like a  ringing bell, popping spring and swinging gate all at once.  From the very first note of the “Frank Overture” the packed house knew they were in for an amazing night.  The evening’s program was introduced by Robert Morse, his ovation demonstrating how much audiences believe in him.

The first number; Bushel and a Peck was performed by a male trio (John Bolton, Bernard Dotson, Michael Seelbach) in three part harmony.  I was left wondering why it is not always performed in that manner!  The trio were choreographed (Andrew Palermo) down to the half-note, their standing microphones used as dance partners.  The numbers following were predominately from the stage (The Most Happy Fella, Where’s Charley, etc.) but there were film and pop songs performed as well.  Marc Kudisch’s rendition of Hans Christian Anderson was moving and amusing.

Of particular personal joy was the performing of several numbers from Guys & Dolls.  I had never previously had the privilege of seeing a perfect professional rendition of these songs.  Victoria Clark was positively luminescent in her rendition of If I Were A Bell.  It was somewhat poetic to have Mary Testa performing Adelaide’s Lament, as she and I had both endured the (2009) Guys & Dolls revival.  Ms. Testa, with all her sneezing and wheezing and her sinus that’s really a pip, made the song all her own and it was fabulous!  If there was any disappointment to the evening it was the quality of Robert Morse’s microphone.  What felt like a once in a lifetime experience; seeing Mr. Morse perform I Believe In You, was marred by static and feedback.  I was left wondering how the N.Y. Philharmonic does not have a stage manager adept at killing the body mic and running on stage with a hand-held.

Fortunately that is not what lingers.  What I will always recall is the incredible orchestra, joyfully conducted by Ted Sperling and over 2,700 people singing along to Once In Love With Amy.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Theatre

 

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Nobody On The Road*

Have you noticed that there hasn’t been much of a teenage car culture for quite some time?  When is the last time you saw a teenager tinkering under the hood?  No doubt getting one’s driver’s license is still a rite of passage, but mooning over cars?  Not so much anymore.  The ebbing of the fascination probably began with the shuttering of drive-in movie theatres and laying off of car hops (def: wait staff who delivered food/beverage directly to cars, sometimes on roller skates.)

However, even after the rural/suburban landscape changed, kids still had a fascination with cars.  They saved their babysitting, lawn mowing and summer job money to purchase their first junky car.  For some the radio and cigarette lighter were more intriguing than what was under the hood, but there was still a fascination with having one’s own car.  A car meant freedom.  A car transported us from our parents’ homes filled with their antiquated rules, music and friends.  We stuffed our late model sedans and station wagons with too many noisy friends.  The music was our own, the smoking was incessant and we could go as far as our pooled gas money could take us.  Often it was just to the local hangout (perhaps an abandoned drive-in?) where classmates with equally stuffed cars would gather.  Perhaps there was some pilfered beer, maybe even some smooching, and definitely music.  It was our house party without the house.

Is it any wonder then, that in 2012 teenagers have absolutely no fascination with car ownership?  When you are raised in a home in which; “your music” gets equal play, your friends have 24 hour access to room/board/wi-fi and you may have free household rein during the day, what compelling reason would there be to incur the expense of owning a car?  Add to that, the ability to connect with hundreds of friends anytime and anyplace, and therefore no reason to join a (station) wagon train to an abandoned lot.  Not to mention the adult-ish responsibility of car ownership that is somewhat incompatible with today’s teen.

I can get this, you ca get this, and yet the good people of General Motors have hired a (37 year old) executive of MTV to develop marketing to youth.  Q. Is it me, or does that strike you as somewhat missing the point?

 

*Boys of Summer – Don Henley & Mike Campbell (1984)

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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