Monday, May 21, 2012

"Ragtime" For A Lifetime

Most people rarely have events that can be considered seminal, events that are so influential that they spawn a whole new way of looking at things. This is particularly true when you are as old as I am and you believe yourself to have a pretty good handle on life . Not to burst anyone's bubble, especially amongst peers in my age group, but life is an organic thing. Every now and again, if new things aren't planted the old things tend to their own languor. Eventually, they die. Over the last two months, I have progressively engaged in one of those "seminal events" through my involvement in the Near West Theatre production of "Ragtime", the stage adaptation of the novel by E.L. Doctorow. For history geeks, like me, the subject matter for this play runs head first into historical inspection. Fictional characters like Coalhouse Walker, Sarah, Father, Mother, Younger Brother and the Little Boy are interwoven with the compelling historical figures of Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman. Combined, these characters form the plot for an engaging historical quest of America during the emerging years of the 20th Century and a very real look at the racial, ethnic and class divisions that were so apparent in the period. Now, before becoming involved in this production, it had been 28 years since I had been involved in anything theatrical, dating back to my senior year at Bay High School for the spring musical "Guys and Dolls". Back then, my involvement in that production was a crowning achievement in a fun, if not terribly accomplished, four year stint at Bay. Looking back to that and participating in choir in middle school, those were, quite likely, the aged ground work that constituted my performing arts resume up to this point. Sad, but true! But it was always at the encouragement of my dear parents that I stayed involved in theater, if only as a patron. Regularly, I would see productions of many of the classic Broadway musicals and adaptations of dramas like "Death of a Salesman". On my trip to New York City in 1990, I was fortunate enough to see the marvelous comedy "Lettuce and Lovage" with the incomparable Maggie Smith and the stage adaptation of "A Few Good Men" with Bradley Whitford knocking the role of Lt. Daniel Calfee clear out of the park. Still, my theater involvement remained in the stands and not on the stage. The closest I'd come to anything remotely theatrical was the occasional dalliance into drinks at a karaoke bar and being prodded by friends to sing a number or two and my involvement in historic lifestyle reenactment. Karaoke, while fun, pales in comparison to true theater. Reenacting, while assuming a persona and wearing a costume to reflect the historical period, doesn't quite measure up theatrically either though there are obvious similarities. Now, my dear friend Theresa, whom I have known for a few years whilst reenacting, had joined us this year at the St. Patrick's Day celebration of an old friend of mine. While talking with my longtime companion, Karen, they began discussing her newest theatrical involvement. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that I had always intended to get involved again in theater. Over the years, my experiences as a spectator would consistently conjure up those memories of "Guys and Dolls" and the middle school choir. I was sure that I'd become involved again, since my patronage of theater never really waned. Theresa and Karen talked and Theresa was concerned at the lack of male voices in the chorus for her latest project. This was the point in time where Theresa asked Karen: "can he sing?" For what it's worth, that would be an affirmative. As I sat in the house, talking politics or sports or whatever the hell else came to mind with friends, Theresa and Karen had arrived at the point that I needed to be recruited for Theresa's theatrical endeavor. With the sales pitch commencing, I was skeptical, since I was taking a class for a future career as a paralegal and work had been a steady and ongoing hassle for someone running a department largely on his own. I had also been injured in a fall a couple weeks earlier, so there was that complication. Nevertheless, as I listened, it occurred to me that this would be worth a shot since I'd always seen myself returning to the stage and if things with school or work really got out of hand I could opt out. I would be at rehearsal the next evening, doing a quick vocal audition for Jordan the Musical Director. As the evening progressed, I would meet some of the members of the cast. Among them would be Geoff, who was playing Coalhouse Walker, and Hans, who was playing Tateh. It was all quite a blur. But before the end of the evening, I was informed that I had the necessary talent to become a member of the cast and would be welcomed aboard personally by Bob the Artistic Director. Over the coming weeks of rehearsal, I would be shaking off some very apparent rust that had grown on my not-that-well-developed acting gears, as well as participating in team building and role playing exercises necessary to building the framework for a successful theatrical cast. That would build into the rehearsal of scenes and the staging work that the audience sees in the finished production. All the while, I was learning the material and meeting and making new friends in the process. The complication that I had as we neared Opening Night was the reality that my paralegal class was also nearing it's end and that schedule conflict was increasingly becoming unavoidable. Decisions would need to be taken to benefit both endeavors. Fortunately, a friend in class was willing to scan and e-mail her notes and I was able to opt out of the last two, largely useless as it turned out, classes. That left me in the clear for crucial Wednesday evening rehearsals as the opening of the curtain awaited. When Opening Night arrived, I felt good. But the nerves that come with a first non-stop performance were there. On top of that, it was an abysmally humid evening that would take a toll on everyone physically. I would flub my line in the opening number (this would happen a few more times through the course of the play for some inexplicable reason that even I had a problem coming to terms with). But, by and large, the opening night and weekend, consisting of two shows, would go off as well as could be expected. Through the course of our nine show run, we grew stronger and closer as a unit of cast, crew and production team. The camaraderie continued to build. And individual scenes and moments became that much more poignant. The finale, a Sunday matinee, came off of an epic Saturday evening performance. Our voices had yet to sound as good as they did the night before. Before our usual vocal warm-ups, mike checks and other details prior to opening curtain, we were asked to write about what our involvement in this production meant to us. I will share this as I conclude here. But, the Sunday matinee, was an unqualified success and exceeded the Saturday evening performance on several levels. Friends and colleagues, many of which had extensive experience on the stage, were overwhelmed by the sheer quality of the production throughout. A few of those seasoned veterans remarked that this production could have been staged in much larger cities and venues and gotten an even larger response. The reviews described an overall majestic run of musical theater for Near West Theatre's "Ragtime" at a time when the organization is building for a very bright future. As we neared the end of our time together, we did some rudimentary cleanup in the theater, packed up props and staging and returned the facility of the St. Patrick Club Hall to as much of it's found condition as we could. After a communal meal, we gathered to share funny experiences during the production and to share thoughts and gifts with the group. Once we finished, we sought out individual cast members to offer personal thanks for how they made individual experiences in the production that much more meaningful. For me, the farewell process concluded what could probably be described as one of the most meaningful experiences to date. I shared with many in the company how much what they brought to this production meant to me personally. In return, I expressed my remorse for not becoming involved in theater that much sooner. I remembered my Mother, who would have turned 75 this Wednesday and the way she and my Father instilled in their youngest son a love for theater and performing arts. I'm certain they would have been in that audience yesterday if they were still around and they would have been very proud. Most importantly, as I thanked Theresa, I embraced her as hard as I could, sobbing uncontrollably in gratitude for what can only be described as a gift for which I could never adequately repay. As "Ragtime" has ended, it has begun a new chapter in my life. I greeted many of my fellow members of the company with the ardent hope that we would once again have the chance to play again in the future. This, for me, would be an ultimate thrill for which the opportunity cannot come soon enough. Till we reach that day, I await a glorious reunion. Until then, the memories of Near West Theatre's "Ragtime" 2012 sustain me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Democrat Socialist Party? Pardon Me While I ROTFALMAO!!!

Holy smoke!

The Republican Party, while unable to find a solution for double digit unemployment or to find a way to end a war which costs America's federal government billions of tax dollars every month, has found that it isn't merely adequate for the Democratic Party to simply be the Democratic Party anymore.

The Democrats aren't leveling with the American people and, in the spirit of truth in advertising, they really need to change the name of the party to reflect that which they believe in and care about. Be it resolved, the Republicans are prepared to help the Democrats with their "identity problem".

Be it resolved, the Democratic Party will now be called the Democrat Socialist Party. It's clear, concise...and truthful. The party that wants to lead us into a cradle-to-grave governmental utopia now has a name befitting its true mission.

Be it resolved, the Republican Party has helped us all to see the light emerging from the heart of darkness. The Republicans will save us and deliver us from the enemy that is the U.S. Federal Government.

Never mind that the Republicans have yet to be resolute enough to work with the Democrats to find a solution to the myriad problems that arose from their leadership in the years while George W. Bush minded the store at 1600 Pennsylvania Av. NW. The Republicans have no answer to the unemployment problem. Or to the energy problem. Or to a solution to end the war in Iraq.

All the Republicans have done to answer the problems that reached fruition during the Bush years is to go teabagging against the Democrat Socialist Party's alleged lust for tax revenues to build previously mentioned cradle-to-grave socialist government utopia.

Of course, if Americans had jobs where income would be taxed at a reasonable level while they could reinvigorate their livelihoods and contribute to society and to its economy, you might see this magical ability for the government at the federal, state and local levels to be able to provide services that would work so well provided by oneself...simple things like plowing snow-covered streets in the winter or covering potholes or paving streets in the spring, for example.

It's things like that which we rely on government to handle with greater efficiency than that which we could find a solution on our own. If we, as Americans, could do all of the things we depend on government to do on our own, why the hell would we need a government at all? At any level?

Americans that decry "socialism" fail to realize the scope and magnitude of what government provides which actually makes their lives that much easier. Or safer. Or quieter. If not for the progress of government, most Americans would still live in the cities that have been abandoned in favor of building the roads leading them to the bucolic ideal of exurbia.

The root word for "socialism" is "social". As opposed to being "anti-social" which is, the last time I checked, a negative attribute which could potentially lead to behavior which we would need a governmental entity like, say, a court to determine the guilt or innocence of behavior deemed to be "anti-social".

"Social" behavior is the trait which allows for neighborhood. It allows for cooperation between people to find solutions to problems. It is a trait that we could use between Democrats and Republicans to find a solution to the very real problems of this country that are not going to go away any time soon unless we, as Americans, demand that EVERYONE in government cooperate and do the work to improve the American Society.

The Democratic Party is the organization at the moment that is working through the problems we face. It is a duty that is hard to accept, but must be accepted if America is going to work again in any way resembling the way it has worked in its successful past.

The Republican Party feels its duty is to "teabag" against being, allegedly, outrageously taxed and to find new names to call their ideological counterparts.

I'm fine with the Republican Party renaming the opposition party the Democrat Socialist long as they add an apostrophe "T" to the end of "Republican", seeing as though they can't work a solution for America's future...and can't seem to find it in their hearts to drop the bullshit partisanship and work to get America back to work and back to being a proud nation and a great society in which to be a part.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Between Friends: A Discussion on the Economy

A high school classmate of mine whom I have recently reconnected with after many years was telling me of her consternation over the Obama flap on the Leno show. That's perfectly understandable since, as an admitted Obama voter, I was a little put off by his statement, too. It's certainly not an appropriate comment to come flying out of the soup cooler of someone who calls himself President of the United States.

She was also concerned with how our country is quickly moving toward class warfare and how the political system is just making matters worse. Something she said to me spurred the following response, which I will share with you here. I have added italics to denote my portion of the discussion.

It's unhealthy for the Republicans and Democrats to be this fractured. That's especially true when both parties are this ineffective. This country is completely ripe for a polycameral political system much like you see in European democracies or in Canada. Problem is, the voters in this country and the politicians that could all make this happen are too chicken shit to defy the status quo. In that regard, it is almost embarrassing to be a conscientious voter in this country.

Obama is allowing the celebrity aspect of his office to get to him and he really needs to watch what he is saying. He really needs to get a handle on the state of this economy because EVERYBODY is underestimating the magnitude of our economic situation. The situation is going to get a lot worse before it improves. Throwing money at the AIGs and Citis, Banks of America and JP Morgan Chases of the world is going to solve nothing and will probably make matters worse.

There is a culture of entitlement in the corporate world that is every bit as insidious and profound as the welfare state entitlement they've railed against. Both are wrong, but it is the masses in the middle that are going to be the casualties. When that happens, you've got a class war where the rich accuse the poor of their malfeasance while asking their government to bail them out of their own incompetence and the poor continue to require assistance for basic maintenance of a spartan lifestyle. And who gets the bill: that's right, the middle class who gets up daily, goes to work and pays the taxes that government then extends to the welfare state among the poor and the rich.

What that would look like is three kids on the playground. The bully pushes one kid over another who is kneeling behind the kid getting pushed. The bully is the rich. The kneeling kid the poor. And the middle class is the one getting pushed. And in the scenario, the middle class is the only one really getting hurt.

Look, we all work hard in this country. It used to be that we were all in this together. When did that stop being the case? When did the rich become the enemy of the middle class who has invested so much sweat equity into living bucolic suburban lives where children could be raised in the way that reflected parent's middle class values?

We all want to be a success. But does it really require material possessions and bank accounts with several numbers beyond the left of the decimal to be a success?

The feeling is that the perversion of that concept has caused the rift between classes. It's causing a now elite, corporate class that says that what's mine is mine and what you have I can take away if I can't maintain what I have in the manner I have become accustomed. It's a feeling that is wrong on so many levels, but it still exists and it can't be helped. One can only hope that it can be stopped.

Government is empowered by the Constitution "to promote the general welfare". What that means is that we are all Americans and that we will not let other Americans slip away into despair and poverty. It can't be meant to be a handout and once the help is received that the giver is forgotten. We were once a great country because we worked hard and made things. We still work hard, but we have the con artists who will say one thing and their lives reflect a wholly different ideal.

But we are not making the things we need to sustain a middle class economy in this country. Believe me, I will be discussing this in another segment in these pages (stay tuned). Until then, the hallmark of what created the American middle class is slowly going away and it is threatening to strip away an entire class of people if we are not careful and if we do not hold our government accountable to take decisive, non-political and non-partisan action.

Mr. Obama, it's very nice that you are now "POTUS #44". But you now have a big mess to clean up and America (or, at least, this American) expects action. The legacy of your Presidency hinges on this very important issue. Don't blow it in a fog of bowling score discussions!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Finish The Sentence

Thanks to my former colleague and dear friend Molly for this one

1. A moment ago.....I cleaned up from dinner and loaded the dishwasher.

2. I am listening to....Keith Olbermann tell me how America is "Still Bushed".

3. I I have a mouth full of marbles, sometimes.

4. I love......the Ol' Lady and my kitties.

5. My best friend's.... Karen, Wes and Storey.

6. My first real still a pleasant memory...thanx Suzie, wherever u are!

7. Love is......grind.

8. Marriage is........not a bad thing at all.

9. Somewhere, someone is thinking......about sex.

10. I'll always......feel good about being a Steelers fan in Cleveland.

11. The last time I really cried was because......of a memory I had of my mom.

12. My cell my home phone.

13. When I wake up in the morning......I usually have a cat sitting on my chest.

14. Before I go to bed......I brush my teeth.

15. Right now I am thinking about......what I will do this weekend.

16. Babies are.....great, and they're even greater when you can give them back to their parents.

17. I get on Myspace......only when looking at someone elses' profile.

18. Today I......took a three hour nap

19. Tomorrow I will be....working 7 hours and change thanx to the overtime freeze at work.

20. I can't wait to.....see the Indians win a World Series!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I'm Rushing To Judgment!

Rush Limbaugh. Rash Limpjaugh. Same difference!!!

For those who don't really know me, I was formerly a Dittohead! I stress the words “was formerly”. I had Dittohead, as if I had a terminal illness. I got better.

Let's not mince words: Ol' Rash is spreading over the Grand Old Parody like...well, a Terminal Illness! Couldn't happen to a more fraudulent political movement. This loud mouthed pot of piss might just be arrogant enough to be the answer to a future trivia question: Who was the opinion leader who talked his preferred political party into its grave? Putting it the way I choose, Ol' Rash can't tell his asshole from his elbow.

Rash is a three-time divorcee, a proven drug addict and a cheeseburger away from a massive heart attack. If he wasn't also a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, he would be a complete basket case.

This is what happens when you allow the nosy and the busy-body hausfrau element of the Republicant Party to control the social agenda. At the end of the day, government should never dictate social policy. Allowing the free market that the Republicants love so much to dictate the ideal social agenda would probably work far better and yield more acceptable results on the American culture. Rash has been a huge cog in informing this segment of the population, even though his personal missteps run at loggerheads with what most social conservatives would find acceptable.

Rash has been running roughshod over the early days of the present administration, encouraging the failure of his agenda. Rash just needs to admit that his candidate lost the last election and if he can't be anything more than a sore loser he can move to another country where his particular brand of liberty will be embraced...can't think of one off the top of my head...America has been the only country tolerant enough to dig its own grave with unregulated capital markets and a government who over-regulates social mores like abortion, the drinking age and marriage.

What the hell could Rash possibly be bitching about? We just spent the last eight years with a country whose federal government invented new and better ways of maximizing the wealth of the chosen few while making it exponentially more difficult for a middle class to exist.

Rash's bed has been made and he still feels the need to stir the pot...wonderful! He should do us all a favor...if he really wants to affect change in government why doesn't he just simply run for office? I know he's said he can't afford the pay cut (likely story). But is the real reason because he'd have to lay himself bare to voters and subject himself to public scrutiny and ridicule over his less than stellar social history?

Instead, Rash chooses, like many of his ilk, to simply be a mouthpiece and to point fingers of blame and cheer on the ruin of his country when we all need to get things together and create a country that goes to values that encourage looking after one another and being a better society and culture instead of leaving everyone to fend for themselves.

We are Americans, no matter what the political preference...we should be great enough to put differences aside and help each other become great again and not simply look out for #1. That's NOT what made America great.

Of course, this is all lost on the Rash Limpjaugh's of the world. He has his own, so should he really give a damn about his millions of “Dittoheads”? I'm sure we can all answer that question on our own.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Friend Gone Too Young

Many of my friends online, as in real life, are peers...we are the same age and grew up in the same time and are in the prime of life. When a peer dies, at our age, it can be a wake up call. I'm 43. Will Gunther was 47. Between you and me, that is far too young.

I attended Will's wake. We were Jaycees together and the wake was a kind of reunion of sorts among the old Berea Jaycee crowd. We will be meeting soon under much more normal circumstances. It was good to catch up with people that I haven't seen since the chapter dissolved five years ago.

Kim (Will's SO) was holding up very well. Then again, much of her life for nearly the last two years was tied up in helping Will beat the cancer. She appeared relieved. The way she knew things were different...she had to use the keys to get into the house. Her house was locked for the first time in nine months. The last nine months of Will's life he was attended by hospice.

In the end, he was bedridden and unable to speak. If relief was the emotion Kim felt most, I can relate.

I can tell you from personal experience that I was there with my own father. His heart failed him, ultimately. But it didn't last the nearly two years Will's lingering episode did. Nowhere near. But I was relieved when my father passed, if for no other reason that the pain of my mother's death which weighed upon him heavily was finally gone.

Another old Jaycee friend put together a video tribute to Will's life. Will enjoyed himself. He had a great smile. He was always very calm and laid back. I think had most of you met Will, you would have liked him, too.

When people die you can't help but think, even if just for a moment, of your own mortality. But when a person is your own age when death comes, you think of things like justice and how wrong it is that a person in their prime of life won't get to be old.

That won't happen for Will and it sucks that it won't.

But, for the friends he left behind the hope of greater life that is still ahead is what motivates us all to keep going all out everyday.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Plain Dealer, Women and the Future of Print Media

This is a copy of a rebuttal I made to legendary Cleveland journalist Roldo Bartimole on an article he submitted today to The Cleveland Leader website. I believe his analysis in the article is spot-on, even if I am not 100% in agreement with where he is coming from.

To read the balance of his article, along with his replies, please go to this link:

His article isn't so much about the overall dearth of women in journalism as it is about a newspaper whose future is very much in flux from the emergent electronic media and the blogosphere that is growing daily and has all the potential in the world to drown out the opinion of the print media worldwide.

Give this a read:

We may need more women editors in the world. But, in the grand scheme of the shrinking world of print journalism, Susan Goldberg's attitude is out of line.

We don't just need good female editors...we need good editors, period. Playing the sex card doesn't add up to a hill of beans anymore. You can either do the job or you can't. Judging from the product being turned out from East 21st and Superior lately, she has lots of work to do.

The electronic, non-paper media is NOT going away. The Plain Dealer is dying...slowly and surely. So, Ms. Goldberg's offense to Mr. Ettore's statement isn't going to do a shred of good for women in the world of print journalism anytime soon.

Choosing Betsy Sullivan was a good move for the PD editorial page. She has paid her dues on the street and, if she is left to do her job, she should improve the content of the PD op/ed page.

However, if she can't stand up to Brent Larkin he will have every chance to sabotage her aims and goals for the PD op/ed. Brent Larkin knows what he is doing and is just arrogant enough to put a dagger in the heart of those who would question his motives. If Betsy Sullivan can't stand up to him, her standing at the PD will be largely ceremonial.

And that's where the PD is right now. The old guard at the paper has been entrenched for some time, but is now pulling back the reins. The comparative youth movement at the PD is welcome, but needs to be steadfast in putting their own signature on what they believe to be the direction of Cleveland and the surrounding region and need to report without lording over from the old guard.

If the PD is to remain relevant, it will need to focus on directing opinion to a new paradigm: not standing for the way things have been done for generations with the carcasses of business and political failure strewn across the city. If Cleveland is to improve, the powers that be need to be challenged and pushed not wined dined and gushed over like they were holy Roman emperors. We know the results of their "work" and they are hardly worth the adulation.

The blogosphere and the e-media will be competing for the ad dollar fairly soon. And, since the market isn't growing, the competition will be fierce from those who have a realistic and logical business model.

The PD has to change or be left in the dust if they are to remain relevant in the new world of information gathering and dissemination. They have the clout and reputation. But is the PD just as likely to rest on laurels and milk its reputation?

I'm sure the bloggers and the newly emergent e-media are banking on that stance from the PD.