Saturday, February 26, 2011

TV Dreams

The three brothers from Bonanza crept into my dreams the other night, and Lorne Greene showed up while we were sitting around the campfire watching the glowing embers and exchanging glances. I don't know what the brothers were thinking, but I was concentrating on the fire and thinking we needed more wood (not that kind, I'm talking about wood for the fire). It was good that Lorne showed up when he did because Hoss had a glint in his eye that was very unsettling. Bonanza is a swell show, but I may have to stop watching it if these dreams continue.

The Bonanza dreams are more disturbing than the Golden Girl dreams that plague me on a regular basis, as I'm pretty sure I could outrun most any one of the Golden Girls. There is a possibility that Rue McClanahan could catch me, but if she did manage a surprising sprint, she'd likely be too winded to try anything untoward. Just to be on the safe side, I keep, at the very least, an arm's reach away from Bea Arthur. Without question, she likely possesses a grip like a gila monster, and once caught, it would be a frightening sentence of unwanted servitude, entailing more than just cleaning the pool.

The boys on Bonanza are an altogether different story. Those Cartwrights are fit as fiddles and I'm certain any one of them could catch me in a heartbeat. Even if I tried to escape on horseback, my feeling is they are skilled horsemen and would chase me down pronto, and worse, might try to lasso me. Then I'd be in real trouble. In future Bonanza dreams, I'm going to stick close to Lorne Greene's side. Rascals as those boys may be, they respect their father enough to stay out of trouble and keep their pants on while he's around.

There's also a recurring dream where the humorless Nancy Grace is at the front of a lynch mob. She has a noose in her hand and is getting the crowd all stirred up by telling them vicious lies about me. This particular dream takes place in a trailer park in the old west and no matter how fast I run among the trailers, she's right behind me hollering mean stuff and acting crazy and getting frothy. In desperation, I try shouting some cheerful knock-knock jokes over my shoulder, but she's all sweaty and worked up from the chase and refuses to listen and she's mad because she wants to take a call, but it's the old west and there are no telephones.

Hopefully, in future adventures, Thelma Lou and her sunny smile will materialize and usher in sweet dreams on the front porches of Mayberry. It would be a pleasant turn of events to be caught by Thelma Lou. I would even call her "Thel," and maybe ask if she'd like to go smoochin' up at Meyer's lake. We could be happy together once she learns that Barney got Juanita Beasley, the waitress at the Junction Cafe, pregnant. Thelma Lou is the girl for me, and after the Cartwright boys see us together, they'll find other ways to occupy their time and look elsewhere for a campfire buddy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mr. Good-Shoes

This whole thing started many years ago when cars were simple and people were helpful in general. It was February and the parking lot outside Phil's Rexall drugstore was full of ice and slush. There was a car with it's hood up, and a beard-wearing beatnik-looking guy, several years older than me, was staring into the engine compartment. I asked if he needed a jump, and he shrugged his shoulders and remarked that he'd always had trouble with red cars. He confessed to being an actor and had an important part that very evening in a play starring none other than Tony Dow, Wally, of "Leave it to Beaver" at The Mill Run Theatre where the stage actually spins around. Theatre-in-the-round they called it.

After taking a look at the luckless red car, it appeared that the starter was bad, but he mentioned that the key goes into the slot just fine. Actors: they can pretend to do stuff pretty well, but when it comes down to actually doing it, without a script, they're lost.

Recalling the pledge, "a scout is helpful," as endorsed by Mr. Wiggums, my long ago scoutmaster who seized every opportunity to wear his Smokey-the-Bear hat, even to the Ice Capades, it seemed only dutiful to help the stranded thespian. Using some tools from my trunk, I crawled underneath the car and removed the starter. It was dark, cold, and my back was immersed in a human-sized snow cone, but youth and a memory of childhood oaths was on my side. Using my car, we drove to the auto parts store, picked up a new starter, and you-know-who crawled back under the car, installed it, and the red car sprang to life. He thanked me over and over and asked what he could do to pay for the assistance, and I said to just give my best to Wally, to which he replied, "I would have helped you more, but I have my good shoes on." While telling this story to friends, I always referred to him as Mr. Good-Shoes.

The second part of the story takes place fifteen years later: I'd returned to college and signed up for an acting class. Being an actor was not my intention; the class was in a convenient time slot and had little homework attached to it, not to mention, the theatre building was close to the parking lot. And who should stroll into the classroom amid a flurry of applause, the infamous Mr. Good-Shoes, who, in fifteen years, had morphed into Professor Good-Shoes. Apparently he was quite distinguished and popular around campus. In his opening remarks, he stated that no one will get an "A" in the class. He went on to say that in his entire career, he'd only given one "A" and that was to an extraordinarily talented actor who has since devoted his life to acting in Shakespearean plays. When Professor Good-Shoes spoke of this man, he lowered his voice to that reverent tone that Ted Baxter often used on the Mary Tyler Moore show. He said the best of us should be happy with a "B."

The class consisted of us pairing up and acting out scenes from plays and films of our choosing. It was intimidating, as there were a considerable number of actors and actresses in the class who were very serious about their craft. My first scene was from a Tarzan movie. I was The King of the Jungle, and the prone-to-fainting Yvette Winston played Jane. I was nervous and figured that everybody would be judging me against the great Johnny Weissmuller, so at the last minute, I decided to make Tarzan gay, with a lisp, a limp wrist; the whole deal. Tarzan had suddenly become The Dandy of the Jungle, a worrier of how his loin cloth draped. My partner, Yvette, was not happy, and after our scene, she yelled out in disgust, "Tarzan was not gay!" The class agreed, and despite my feeble explanations that I was taking the character to a new dimension, a theatrical lynch mob formed. After that, it was not easy to find a partner for my following presentation, "Of Mice and Men," the slapstick version. Judging by Yvette's comment, "Your planet needs you back, soon," it, too, was poorly received.

After my performances, Professor Good-Shoes would scratch his beard and only say, "interesting approach," using that low, reverent, Ted Baxter tone. This made a few of the serious actresses very angry, as they thought I should have been admonished for my unorthodox acting ability. I, on the other hand, was just fine with "interesting approach." Professor Good-Shoes never gave any indication that he recognized me from all those years ago, and when the semester ended, everybody said their good-byes and went their separate ways.

Several weeks after the class, my grade arrived in the mail and it was an "A." I recalled Professor Good-Shoes' speech and was stunned to know I possessed the kind of talent worthy of his praise. This placed me akin to the Shakespeare guy, and I would be referred to in subsequent classes, in a reverent tone, as one of two "A's" the professor has given in his illustrious career. Naturally, plans for my theatrical career began taking shape. I'd begin by doing regional theatre, then move to off-Broadway where talent ambitiously waits to be discovered. I began rehearsing romantic scenes with a signed poster of Sheena Easton.

One evening, the following semester, I ran into Professor Good-Shoes in a campus hallway, and he said he'd like to talk to me. Certain he was going to ask me to perform a cameo in one of his legendary off-campus plays, I waited patiently for the offer. He began by saying that one cold February evening, fifteen years ago, some guy rescued him in a drugstore parking lot, enabling him to get to the theatre in time to keep his badly-needed job. He fumbled with some papers he was carrying and said, "It would be a compliment, indeed, to say your acting skills are limited. That "A" was my way of saying thank you for your help. It meant a great deal to me."

"Yeah," I said, mustering up the best of my acting ability, "I thought that was it. By the way, did you say hi to Wally for me?"
"Yes," he said, in that low, reverent tone, "I told him the whole story."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Swedish Love Cookies

Swedish movies make me feel smart for just watching them. There's subtitles, clogs, and a spoken language tonally reminiscent of two wooden oars clacking together. Even the ever-present naked scenes are tasteful with a cultivated sense of modesty. We watched "The Swedish Heart" the other night where the fair-haired Ingvar, a sensitive fellow who lives out in the Swedish countryside, carves these wooden hearts and puts one on his girlfriend's pillow whenever he wants to get amorous with her. This worked pretty well for him; she always fell for the wooden heart trick, and my wife thought it was sweet and dropped a few hints, like why can't I be more like Ingvar.

Well, for one thing, I reminded her that I can't carve anything. Even a turkey. Every time someone hands me the knife at Thanksgiving, like I'm the grandmaster-carver or the Ginsu-knife guy on TV, they are gravely disappointed when they receive chopped and mangled pieces of bird on their plate. She says it's the thought she was talking about, not the actual act of carving.

So, the next day, I was at this fancy bakery, Klauber's Splendid Pastry, and they had all these heart-shaped cookies ready for Valentines day, and I knew what I had to do: I bought a dozen and stashed them under the bed, thinking these were going to be my tickets for twelve sessions of love (about a year's worth around here). What could be better, an unassuming cookie heart that is not only thoughtful, but yummy as well. I placed one on my wife's pillow and waited.

It was a big cookie, similar to a sugar cookie, about five and a half inches across and hard to miss, but she came to bed and put her head down on top of it and broke it into pieces. Then, in a discourteous tone, questioned me about all the crumbs. I explained that it was a heart, just like Ingvar the Swede's, only edible. She said I had a lot to learn; that Ingvar made his wooden hearts by hand and my bargain-counter cookie was store-bought. I don't know how she could tell this just by the crumbs, but it was partially true, though Klauber's is not cheap; their cakes are forty dollars a piece.

So I'm back to the old system, which is no system at all, and I've got eleven cookies gathering dust under the bed. I've learned one thing: love doesn't come easy unless your name is Ingvar. Perhaps things would have gone smoother if I spoke the clacking-oar language and there were subtitles following me around everywhere, causing those in my proximity to pause and be mindful of the occasion.

I forgot to mention that each cookie has red and white frosting along the edge. They are nice looking cookies when they are whole.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Destination Invitation

Destination invitations are showing up in my mailbox as frequently as Dollar Store flyers. There's destination weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, graduations, and just about any excuse for a destination celebration a person could imagine. I like a good party as much as the next fellow, but when I get one of these invitations, all I can think about is the airfare, hotel, meals, out-of-town beverages, rent-a-car, souvenir pillows, and whatever else goes into the cost of attending the event, not to mention the possibility of bringing home bedbugs in my bandanna. And isn't it a tad presumptive to expect people to travel the globe to an event that could just as easily be celebrated in a rec room?

Most of these destinations are fancy resorts or exclusive tropical paradises where over-paid Hollywood types gather to pat each other on the back for being so talented ("lucky" would be a more accurate term, but they like to think of themselves as having "special gifts"). Here's the paradox: I dread getting these invitations, but also feel grateful for being considered. The whole process, though, leaves me wondering: whatever happened to renting a hometown catering hall like Grazioli's on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. It's reasonable, there's plenty of parking, clean restrooms with fancy seashell-shaped soaps, as well as access to musicians, and Nick Grazioli makes an effort to create an atmosphere worth remembering.

Kerby Torp, the Chicago-based land-locked surf aficionado, had his wedding at Grazioli's, and the way the place was fixed up, you would have thought you were in Hawaii. There were plastic palm trees (botanically accurate reproductions), surf boards, coconuts on the tables, and Clarence Wetzel, the roving accordion player, serenaded the tables with stylized renditions of Jan and Dean songs, something he calls "polka surf." The waitresses wore genuine grass skirts and every party-goer received complimentary Hawaiian leis (some of the splashy folks wore three at a time). The valets greeted each guest with an "Aloha." And upon leaving, said, "Aloha, gracias," if a generous tip was involved. It was a complete luau experience without the airfare and pricey souvenir shops.

The pinnacle of all invitations was the one we received to a destination dog party on Captiva Island in Florida, a place with the reputation as the playground for those attempting to purchase affection by throwing lavish parties. The dog, Borough, who I think of as "Burro," is a fine dog (even though he, like his owners, looks down his nose at me), and would likely be just as happy if the shindig was held in someone's backyard where he could play catch with a soggy tennis ball. But his owners are hell bent on showing the world how much wealth they've accumulated, and so we got an invitation, complete with airline schedules, directions, and a dress code (no bluejeans in the dining room, and no bandannas, please).

My birthday is coming up soon and, in appreciation (or retaliation) for all the destination invitations I've received, this one is going out in the mail:


The party is in Brazil, a wonderful place to go this time of year. You'll appreciate the climate and the good-natured attitude of the local tribes. Brazil airlines offers a round-trip ticket for two for the price of a serviceable used car, but there's a 10% discount if you mention Charro, the much beloved cuchi-cuchi icon.

Upon landing in Rio de Janiero, take a taxi north to the scenic and, depending on the season, dangerous, Rio Piranha. There's plenty of dugout canoes for rent at the bridge; Delgado's Barco Rentar is very reasonable. No motors, please; this is a green event. Ask for Armondo, he's a strong oarsman. Travel upstream for ten miles (keep your fingers out of the water) until you get to Arcuai. It's a small village with plenty of thatch-roofed huts easily seen from the river. Make sure you get a hut that's away from the water. It's more expensive, but worth it; the mosquitoes can be bothersome this time of year. Bug spray is recommended, but make sure it's organic; this is a chemical-free celebration. Each hut has two colorful hand-woven hammocks with an ample supply of freshly-cut wet leaves for traditional bathroom hygiene.

Dinner will be served at sunset on Friday. It's an eco-dinner, prepared by the natives and includes many delightful tropical fruits. The main course is called "catch of the day:" some kind of arboreal primate or fish, steamed in banana leaves. Dancing will follow, along with drumming, far into the night. You will find peace in Arcuai and may find it appealing to trade with the indigenous people. They like anything with the likeness of Marie Osmond on it. You're sure to find something for your scrapbook. But whatever you do, don't mention Joan Rivers. She frightens them. The mere mention of her name sends them running into the jungle to hide.

Remember, the trip home is down-river so you won't have to hire Armondo for that unless you enjoy watching the tropical sun reflecting off his shirtless body. I hope you're as excited about this event as I am. See you there!