Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"Serenity Now (Minus The Exclamation Point, Which Was Funny On 'Seinfeld' Because True Serenity Goes "Mmmmmmm....')"


When we returned from our trip, Anna asked,

“Dad, do you still like Michiana?”

I replied – nimble of tongue,d as I am –

“The answer is in a word contained in your question.”

“What’s that?”

“‘Still.’”

Okay, opaquely “nimble of tongue.”  But it was dazzling wise at that moment.  Capsulizing our most recent Michiana experience, as a fleeing Will Kane in High Noon saying he has to go back, explained,

“That’s the whole thing.”

Michiana Indiana was incredibly still.

This is not always the case in Michiana.  Sometimes there are thunderous downpours, “range-of-weather”-starved Angelos perched on our screened-in porch, watching the crackling “Sky Show” overhead.  Sometimes, we actually applaud.

This time, however…

You know how still it was?

It’s like an oil painting. 

And I was the only thing that was moving.

Michiana this year was blissful serenity, with trees. 

The branches did not sway.  The leaves did not rustle.  The trunks…

TREE TRUNKS:  “We never do things.”

You’re right, I got carried away.  But that’s how perfectly still it was.  If tree trunks could do things, they wouldn’t have.

Here’s the thing. 

Forget that.

Here’s the real thing.

We do not know how we live till we go someplace else and live differently.  Michiana reveals the contrasting clip of our regular “metronome.”  Suddenly it’s,     

“Wow!  I go faster at home. ” 

Even in laid-back L.A.   (Let alone hurtling Manhattan, where it’s, “Wow!  I am deliberately killing myself.”)

Believing I am sensibly “slowing down” through assiduous meditation, I am, in fact, still “racing along”, thinking I am soothingly serene when I am one level less frantic.

Michiana tells me I have a long to way go before “calm.”

FOREIGN OBSERVER:  “You ought to try India.”

Some places are better.  But you can’t get a burger.

You want tangible proof of the contrast in rhythms?

I read two books in six days in Michiana.  I mean, long ones.  Day after day, I sat, swiping the pages – I read on Kindle – and not moving for hours.  At home, I read five minutes, and I am racing for television. 

There is no television in our cabin.  More importantly, there is no jangling “urgency.”  (“Urgency” in quotes, because things could just feel urgent.)

Michiana is a slow place with a slow pace.

MIDWESTERN OBSERVER:  “You ought to try Iowa.”

We are not competing, okay?

“Fine.  And by the way, calm down.”

Fine!

(TAKING A RESTORATIVE BREATH)

I even think differently in Michiana.

Being a writer, one of my nagging concerns involves how writers of yore scratching away with a feather were able to keep up with their own thoughts.  (When I am unable to, typing.)

While away, it occurred to me that maybe I am pondering that backwards.

Maybe they are not writing too slowly.

Maybe I am thinking too fast.

(Note:  This was a “Holiday Insight.”  Perhaps, like a “great singer” enjoyed on a cruise ship, I will awake to its actual mediocrity upon further reflection.)

I would love to “beat with the ‘still’” of some placid surrounding.  Unfortunately, my natural environment is not that. 

So I come home, “steeped in the feeling.”

Until reality sets in.

And I am picking up speed.


Monday, August 19, 2019

"What Did You Do On Youe Trip?"


A sensitive question when you essentially did nothing.  Although “doing nothing” was our purported intention, it sounds uncomfortably lazy when you say it out loud.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

(GUARDEDLY JUDGMENTAL)  “Oh.”

I shall, however, reveal an alternate perspective next time.

“Didn’t you promise that last time?”

This time I mean it.

“So you lied to us last time?”

Retroactively, yes.  But not when I said it.

“So the ‘truth’ you told last time evolved into a lie you told then this time?”

May we move on?

“Please.  Because that idea made my brain bleed, ‘brain bleed’ being difficult to say. Especially with a hemorrhaging brain.”

Gratefully exiting this sanguinous intrusion…

Prior to our departure, I was informed that if you are 75 and over, you do not have to remove shoes at the airport.  (Till they recruit geriatric terrorists, and then you will.) 

I am currently pushing seventy-four-and-a half.  The question is:  “Do I take off my shoes?  Or do I deceitfully lie my age up?   And, if I opt for the latter, how does a 74 year-old man behave persuasively 75?

Being the congenital “Good Boy”, I dutifully took off my shoes.  And my hat, and my belt, and my windbreaker.

I can’t wait till next year!

Anyway, a lot of the… wait.  First, this. 

As previously mentioned, though we go to Michiana to relax, there is this driving “outside world” impulse – by which I do not mean Mars, I mean beyond Michiana – inexorably forcing us to “do things.”  While retaining our desired mandate to do nothing. 

We do plenty of nothing. 

Just not all the time.

On some visits, it’s easy.  Our chosen vacation spot has, on various occasions, been the exciting venue for a thrilling “Tall Ships” visit (the local paper printed a picture of me chatting with the captain on the top deck), a substantial civil war reenactment (where a bearded man in a “Union” uniform proclaimed “I am Benjamin Harrison!”), a simulated encampment of French courreurs du bois (fur-trading “runners of the woods”), a scheduled book signing by a local mystery writer using the nearby Indiana Dunes as the designated “crime scene”, and an outdoor concert featuring “The Platters”, or whoever replaced the “Platters” who died.  (Which, I believe, is now all of them.)

Over the years, we enjoyed some remarkable events, leaving time to do oodles of nothing.  Although on some trips the available activities subsided and the “oodles of nothing” increased.

This time, though stuff around there was happening, our visiting timing was strategically “off.”

The final performance of the Dunes Summer Theatre’s production of South Pacific occurred the night before our arrival.  The one-man “Mark Twain – In Person” show would appear four days after we left.  And, perhaps saddest of all, as reported in the Michigan City News-Dispatch:

“Michiana Clowns Celebrate International Clown Week.”

Unfortunately, that was the following week.

Can you believe it?

I missed the damn clowns!

Summing up:

“What did you do on your trip?”

“We almost saw South Pacific, ‘Mark Twain – In Person’ (likely a facsimile), and a madcap bevy of celebrating clowns.”

“So you did nothing?”

“We saw a country singer who opened for Clint Black, and another singer who opened for him.”

“And that’s it?”

(DEFENSIVELY) “No.  We went to the Outlet Mall… but we didn’t buy much.  And we visited the Michigan City Zoo… but most of the animals were asleep.”

It is an interesting phenomenon.  You go to a place to relax and feel embarrassed because all you did was relax.  Making it virtually impossible to come clean.

“We didn’t do anything.”

“Wasn’t that the plan?”

“Yeah, but still.”

You just can’t say that.  By prevailing standards, our slothful behavior appears crazy.  We flew two thousand miles for a pair of reduced-price khakis and a dozing giraffe?

Our minds are conditioned to believe that being alive requires constantly doing things.  Flowing organically into tomorrow’s post, whose challenging premise is:

Maybe it doesn’t.

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Change, Change, Change... (Though I Would Prefer It 'For The Better')"


I understand the inevitability of change.  I have numerous pictures of me when I was younger.

‘Nuff said.

But recently – okay, this is going to be grumpy, but stay tuned.  Tomorrow:  The shinier “other side of the coin.”

Why don’t I simply write that?  Because there is also this too.  You don’t want the bubbly upbeat view of the world without its grumbling counterpart, do you?

You do?

Well then you are in the wrong place, because today, folks, it’s this.

(Credit, at least, for giving you a warning.)

Okay.

Over the past thirty-five or more years, there have been three reliable places we visit for tranquility and repose.  One is Hawaii, specifically a certain Hawaiian hotel we have stayed at since Anna was six months old and she is now almost thirty-six-and-a-half.  There is Rancho La Puerta, where in the late seventies, Dr. M told a inordinately freaked-out Early P. “You need ‘The Ranch’, and I went, and kept going because, as old-time rock ‘n roll does for Bob Seger, it invigoratingly soothes my soul.  And there is our tiny – make that cozy – log cabin in Indiana, the restorative “upside” of which, manana.

Now.

In the past less than a year, during our most recent visits to those three locales:

We were robbed in our room in the Hawaiian hotel.

So we are not going back there.

We were accused at the “Ranch” of smoking in our room when we do not smoke anywhere, I was refused access to practicing piano on the once available Steinway, and when we were invited to a “Select Dinner” where veterans of the “Ranch” were asked to suggest ideas for improvement, all our ideas for improvement were summarily dismissed.

Dimming our enthusiasm to return there.

Okay, so that is two former havens of rest we can no longer rely on.  (Without identifiable replacements.)

Now, a second time…

Michiana, Indiana, 

(A song awaiting a chirpy composer.)

The “crepe place”, its Gallic proprietor charming us annually with his Continental hauteur

Gone.

Maxine’s, a faux French restaurant, a local landmark so old they may have built the city around it,

Gone.

And, horror of horrors – the typist’s hands trembling in acute anguish and despair –

Oink’s, serving the best and richest ice cream in the world, has “changed hands” and now doesn’t.

Both the flavor – incomparably creamy delicious – and the available “flavors”, discouraging shadows of their tastier selves.  “French Silk” (Dr. M’s invariable favorite) and “Coconut Almond Fudge” (my own) have both been 1984-like “disappeared.”  As in,

ME:  “I do not see ‘Coconut Almond Fudge.’”

NEW OINK’S EMPLOYEE:  “What’s that?

The nearest alternative, “Eskimo Kisses” – coconut, fudge, but no almonds – tastes like fabricated regret.

So there you have it.  Three area “Standby’s” –

Gone with the wind.  (Although a counterfeit Oink’s shamelessly persists.)

What I am bewailing here, it’s not subjective, as in, “It’s not what happened; it’s you.” 

It’s not me.  Nobody likes being robbed in their room.  Nobody likes being told, “We value your ideas” and having those ideas rudely ignored.  That’s not just “change.”  Those things are definitely worse.  “Look on the bright side”?  What are the “bright sides” of burglary and disdain?

I do see a dichotomous difference in the third example.  (“Dichotomous” I think, possibly, is wrong.  I just like using the word.)

The “Michiana Deletions”?

“Nothing personal.”

That is just “change.”  (Of the sadly “subtracting” variety.)

For which I do not blame the place, and am therefore happily willing to return.

Inexorably drawn to a thing that won’t change, which I shall reveal in writing to you tomorrow.

Or, if I think of something urging immediate attention – or wish to build the suspense –

The next day.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"'Yesterday' - An Improbable Film That Somehow Won't Let You Go"


Which may have already left town because it wasn’t that popular but I am writing about it anyway, possibly identifying with the unpopularity.  Or because it’s a well-meaning movie and don’t we all need one during times like our own.

British screenwriter/director Richard Curtis who specializes in appealing romantic comedies – quintessentially exemplified by Love Actually, which ought to have a comma between “Love” and “Actually” but inexplicably does not – has crafted a warmhearted fantasy that may not rise to the level of “Nice going” but satisfactorily reaches the standard of “Nice trying.”

Here’s the problem I have with science-fiction.

“Wait.  Is ‘Yesterday’ science fiction?”

No. 

“Then, why did you mention…”

I am getting to it, okay?

“First day back from vacation?”

Yes.

“Then we will cut you some slack.  Meander away at your leisure.”

Thank you.

My problem with science-fiction is that it seems annoyingly arbitrary.  An imagined world is created where they now do this when they used to do that.  (A generalization, although generally correct.)   

My brother and another comedy writer were working on a futuristic premise about a planet that was exactly like earth except for one thing.  My brother pitched the distinguishing difference about the virtually identical planet:  “They don’t have Pepsi.”  To which the other comedy writer spontaneously replied:  “They have Pepsi.  But they drink it hot!

To me, that’s science-fiction.  They make crazy stuff up and we’re supposed to go, “Sure.”

So – belatedly, though some people don’t mind – with Yesterday.

(Spoiler Alert:  I am giving everything away.)

A struggling, young singer/songwriter slams into a bus during a brief, worldwide blackout, and when he comes to, no one remembers the Beatles but him.  (They also have no concept of Coca Cola, smoking, cigarettes and in the film’s “Here we go again” fade-out, Harry Potter.)  (But it could be anything, right?)

Pretending he wrote them himself, the young singer/songwriter builds his career performing the entire Beatles songbook, becoming wildly successful on the back of this great, purloined material.

Complications ensue.  Most of them predictable, though not excruciatingly so.

Except, complains the “Inspector Javert” of logical unlikelihood,

How did he remember all of the words to all of those songs?  (There is one joke about his mangling the lyrics to “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite”, but come on!  A guy in his twenties with no displayed interest in the Beatles recalls everything else? 

“Go with the flow, baby.  They drink it hot.”

And he’s the only one who remembers?  (It turns out he isn’t, providing the storyline a surprising “twist.”  I have ruined everything else, but I shall keep that one a secret.  I guess I’m as unreliable as sci-fi.)   

There is also a sweet interlude in which the song-stealing scalawag meets an undead and unfamous – weirdly believable-looking – John Lennon, who offers a North-Star- focusing message of nurturing love and unwavering truthfulness. 

That scene is just shimmering. 

Also a treat are snippets of clever dialogue Curtis is known for, as in when his artless manager opines about the kid’s one self-written song – and I quote, almost verbatim:

“I hate that song.  I’m not exactly sure why.  But I hate it too much to listen to it again to try and figure it out.”

The manager also insists on changing the classic Beatles anthem to “Hey, Dude!”

I believe there are at least three things in the movie I haven’t given away, so I’d say it is still worth seeing.  If only for the gentle good feelings it sends out. 

A flawed film, making you feel somewhat better?

Thank you, Richard Curtis.  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Wait.  I just stole from Simon and Garfunkel.

A propos, I would say.

(As opposed to “glaring easy way out.”)

Oh well.

It is my first day back.

Written on Monday, August 5, 2019.