Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hey, Why The Long Face


I got into one of those dumb Facebook wars yesterday.  Katherine keeps telling me not to engage, but I am just too immature to resist.  The situation in a nutshell:  Katie Hoffman, one of my all time favorite people, posted that some strange man had told her to smile and it pissed her off.  I understand her reaction completely.  I hate to smile, always have.  I'm 70 years old and the years of smoking, drinking coffee and red wine, plus deteriorating 70 year old enamel, have made me ashamed of my smile.  Don't worry.  I'll cope.  Anyway, the strange man was being rather presumptuous to tell some stranger to smile.  Katie should have told  him to fuck off and gone about her business.

Katie's post gave me no problems, but the stream of reactions struck me as being all out of proportion to the actual event Katie described.  It was typical of a culture that systematically hurts women, a bunch of folks said.  It was just another indication that women have to make themselves look pretty for men.  It was a sexual assault.  The anger, outrage, and fury were evident throughout and I thought it was a little silly, so I made a typical, for me, smart ass comment.  I mentioned that strange women and men have asked me to smile from time to time during my seventy years and I never felt condescension; I just assumed they were coming on to me.  I also suggested that a possible solution to the problem would be to look happy while walking down the street.  Finally, I mentioned that Katherine and I used to give bonus F's to kids who didn't smile and look happy in class.

I was mostly trying to reduce the arguments on the stream to the absurdities they were, but all hell broke loose.  A few of the ladies on the stream were more than a little outraged that I gave F's to kids who didn't smile.  Let me explain.  Sophomore Language Arts offered speech and drama credit, so a big part of our curriculum was designed to meet speech objectives set by the county and the state.  It became a discussion class with an equal stress on  participation and active listening.  We would have one forced contribution discussion a week and the kids were given grades both as a group and as individuals.  If everyone in the group participated, added comments, encouraged others, and basically acted like adults having a discussion, everyone in the group got an A.  If even one person did not participate, did not encourage others, did not listen and have the kind of body language that proclaimed his/her eager cooperation, everyone in the group got an F.  We were labeled communists, terrorists, etc., but by the end of the first quarter a visitor could walk into any of our classrooms and see 25 kids sitting in a circle, maintaining eye contact, nodding, smiling, doing all those kinds of things.  Mostly, you could see 25 kids engaged and having fun.  Katherine and I were pragmatic teachers and we did whatever it took.  So sue me.

Of course, most of the outrage was directed at the fact that I was making fun of women for freaking out when someone asked them to smile.  I guess as a man, I'm not entitled to participate in a discussion centering on sexual predation.  I even had the temerity to suggest that some of the participants in the stream did not have a sense of humor.  I learned immediately that telling a woman she doesn't have a sense of  humor is the biggest sexual assault trope of all.

And then it was suggested that I did not have a sense of humor.  No sense of humor?  Moi?  Please!  So I ended my participation in the stream by offering my favorite joke as proof of my highly developed sense of humor.  You  will find it quite germane to the whole discussion:  A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Hey, why the long face?"  You can easily see why my classroom was such a hotbed of jocularity.

My final reaction to all this is a question and I really wish someone would answer it without resorting to calling me names or telling me how disappointed they are in me.  One person on the stream, a former student, even said she was sad to see how sexist I had become.  Don't be sad, Bucko.  The Dems took the House.

My question:  If a man asking a woman he doesn't know to smile is sexual assault, what isn't?  In Willa's first year of preschool, I went to her school to watch her participate in a fun run.  I was standing by the course with my daughter Franny and another mother of one of Willa's classmates.  The mother was furious because on the playground the previous day some of the boys were trying to put rocks in the girls' mouths.  I suppose they were trying to get them to eat dirt.  The mother was planning to complain to the principal that Ms. Barb did not properly discipline the boys.  "It's just another example of rape culture at work," said the mother.  I'm sorry, but I think that reaction is absurd.

Okay, putting rocks in four year old mouths is tantamount to rape.  What else?  I am actually quite polite and always hold the door open for people of both genders.  When I hold the door open for a woman, is that just a way to show male condescension?  If I tell some lady, even some lady I have never seen before, that I love her hair, am I traumatizing her.  People of both genders tell Kathie they love her hair all the time.  Should she be offended by that?  Kathie was having a hard time putting our Kitchen Aid mixer together two days ago and I stepped in and did it for her without even asking.  Is that a particularly egregious example of Mansplaining?  I went with C. Fite to see Kathleen Belew's book talk at the Tattered Cover.  We had drinks and snacks in the little bar next door and I think I might have picked up the tab.  Isn't that the height of male dominance on display?

I suppose there are right ways to tell some stranger to smile.

"It's a beautiful day out there isn't it?  Doesn't it make you want to smile?"

"Smile!  It's another glorious day in Colorado!"

"Hi there.  It's a great day to be alive isn't it?  You just can't keep from smiling."

And there are wrong ways.

"Smile, goddammit.  You're depressing the hell out of everyone on the street."

"Stop being such a grouch and smile why don't you?"

"Hello!  Do you think you could smile a little instead of being such a sourpuss?"

And there are appropriate ways to respond.

"Why it is a beautiful day isn't it?"

"Thank you and let a smile be your umbrella."  (gag)

"Hey, let me show you where you can put your smile."

"Fuck you, asshole."

I'm truly sorry if I offended or disappointed anyone in that Facebook stream yesterday, but I just don't see how it is possible to conflate asking someone to smile with sexual assault.  Maybe the strange man who pissed Katie off was feeling like Dick Van Dyke and was encouraging everyone he met to "Put On A Happy Face."

Monday, October 1, 2018

Oklahoma


I played bass trombone in the pit orchestra for Loveland High School's production of OKLAHOMA.  It was in the spring of my junior year, my first year in Loveland after having grown up in Estes Park, and I was beginning to feel like I belonged.  Jack Barkley had the other trombone part primarily because our first chair trombonist was playing Will Parker.  And Will, as any lover of musicals knows, was clumsily courting Ado Annie, played by Claudia White.

Ah.  Claudia White.  She was a sophomore who was a french horn in band and a member of the NFL (National Forensics League) just like me.  Not only that, but she played Nora in A DOLL'S HOUSE in the fall and was, at least to my eyes, wonderful.  She belted out Annie's numbers and stole the show.

It was an impressive show to steal.  Laurie's soprano just soared over everything and everybody and even though Curly was shorter, his teenaged baritone was perfect for the part.  Jud was menacing.  Aunt Eller was strong and loving at the same time.  Even the dream ballet at the end of Act One was a hit.  The show ran for four nights and in that time I committed Rogers and Hammersteins' first musical to memory.

I've seen the musical a lot since then.  I've seen the movie with Gordon McCray (don't know how to spell that) and Shirley Jones several times.  I even went on a double--more like a quadruple--date with Heather McCray in attendance (She was decidedly not with me.).  I've reviewed dinner theater productions of it.

I've seen two Green Mountain productions of OKLAHOMA.  The first was with Darren Chilton (I'm almost positive) as Curly and Samone Wright as Laurie and, if I'm not mistaken, Steve Cogswell as Will.  All great kids.  Kathie and I saw Darren play FDR recently in a Lakewood Civic production of ANNIE.  I remembered his big voice.

Franny was in the chorus in the other GM production.  I remember Lisa Martin was a wonderfully feisty Ado Annie.  The only other thing I remember is Sara Monson dressing up as a cowboy and sneaking into one of the cowboys only songs.  She was such a little scamp.

Yesterday was my most recent encounter with the show.  We have begun a tradition where instead of buying a present, although we still do that, we take Sammi and Brooklyn to the theater on their birthdays and Christmas.  We've been to Boulder Dinner Theater twice to see ANNIE (different production) and THE LITTLE MERMAID.  Great times both.

It was Brooklyn's 12th birthday this time and we decided to take the girls to brunch at Bistro Vendomme and then to the Sunday matinee of OKLAHOMA.  It was going to be an uptown day with Granny and Gramps.

Over beignets and a pate de la maisson that was exceptional, Kathie and I tried to prepare the girls for what they were about to see.

Brief Interjection:  You need to remember that both of these girls have grown up in, to put it mildly, a theatrical family.  Brooklyn has more than one professional gig under her belt.  Sammi's voice would melt your heart.  So, Kathie and I try to expose them to musical theater whenever we can.  We watch old musicals together when they spend the night.  We go to all of their performances, etc.

We explained to them that this show was really the first musical where the songs were simply part of the story.  Previous musicals tended to slip songs in.  Like we're all going to stop now and sing and dance.  OKLAHOMA wasn't like that.

We let them know that where most musicals opened with a big chorus number, this one starts with one cowboy walking across the stage singing "There's a bright golden haze on the meadow . . ."  We explained that Laurie and Curly were in love and you could tell because they like to tease each other.

Prepping all done, we went back to our brunches.  Sammi and Brooklyn had cheeseburgers; Kathie had an omelet; I had the scallops.  It was a wonderful time where we spent an hour at the table talking about school and family and theater.

Afterwards, we walked to DCTC and entered The Stage.  I remember one of the first times we went to The Stage was to see a production of ANDROCLES AND THE LION when Chris and Nate were in grade school.  It was part of the Monday night educational series they used to put on and after the show finished, every one came back out on stage for a question and answer session.  Chris' hand shot up and he asked them how they managed to create such an amazing set with giant sculptures of lions that must have been thirty feet high.  "Styrofoam."  Chris had plenty more questions to keep them busy that night.  I was, and continue to be, so proud.

Our seats were stage right, three rows up.  We had a nifty view of the conductor and were close enough to see spittle fly out of the mouths of chorus members.

But enough of that.  It has been awhile since I've been to a production at DCTC, but I think this was the best musical production I've ever seen in Denver.

When they started promoting the show, the producers made a big deal of the fact that it was an all black cast.  The territory of Oklahoma did in fact have numbers of black only communities and there was even a chance that the whole state would be a haven for black people.  There are even a series of educational posters lining the halls explaining some of this history.

While interesting, I didn't see how having an all black cast (all except Ali Hakim, who was white) made much difference.  Let's face it.  It is hard to inject soul into "People Will Say We're In Love."

I'll tell you what I did notice.  The cast, black, white, whatever, was maybe the strongest I have ever seen.  Every voice was perfect.  Every dancer pulled his weight.  I was even able to forgive the contrived conflict between Curly and Jud and the stupid gizmo with the knife.  Don't ask me to explain.

The main thing about the show is the music.  I don't think there is another first scene in all of theater that has as many show stopping songs as OKLAHOMA.

The set was sparse and colorless just like the land.  Set changes were smooth and almost instantaneous.  And the entire play, including intermission, took two and a half hours.  In other words, a perfect thing to attend with two young theater buffs.

I kept looking over at Brooklyn and Sammi to see if they were having a good time.  Did they laugh at the right times?  Did they look worried at the appropriate moments?  Were they nodding off?  At the end of the show when Ali Hakim, a defeated man, comes back on stage led by his new wife Gertie, Brooklyn's laugh made my day.

Go to OKLAHOMA.  Take your grandchildren.  If you don't have any, rent some.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Life in a Catholic Boys' College

I was a freshman at Regis College, a Jesuit all boys' school, in 1966.  I suspect it felt a lot like Georgetown Prep where Kavanaugh attended high school.  Since it was college, I suppose our academics were more rigorous, but probably not that much.  I mean very few of my classmates turned down an acceptance at Yale to go to Regis.  On the other hand, there were a lot of privileged young men there.  I was not one of them.  Like at Yale, a goodly number of my classmates went on to become lawyers, doctors, politicians, business moguls, etc.  A few of us went on to be high school English teachers, but hey, I'm not complaining.

I've read a couple of op-eds the last two days suggesting that Kavanaugh's alleged behavior is typical of the all male clubs that comprise many of our elite schools.  The drinking culture.  The good old boy insinuations about females.  The bragging about sexual conquests, real and imagined.  The sitting around dorm rooms drinking beers, lighting farts, sharing information on what certain girls at Colorado Women's College or Loretto Heights would let you get away with, and just generally acting like assholes.  All of that behavior, the op-eds suggested, was typical of the kind of schools that groom our "leaders."  And that, the op-eds again suggested, explains all the problems we are having now with sexual politics.

I admit that kind of behavior went on.  I am not ready to admit that it is as typical as the op-ed writers suggest.

At Regis, there was a guy who lived just down the hall from me.  His only purpose for going to college was to bed as many girls from Loretto Heights and CWC as he could get his hands on and he was quite successful at it.  The guy was a lot like Stradlater (a rather evocative last name) in CATCHER IN THE RYE.  He took a long shower in the morning with the rest of us.  He took another one after his ten o'clock class.  Another one after lunch.  Another one mid-afternoon.  Another one prior to going out on an evening's conquest and another one when he got back to the dorm late in the night.  He was a psych major's dream come true.  Calling Dr. Freud!

Some of the guys on my floor pinned bras onto their bulletin boards as trophies.  I was thinking about borrowing one of my mom's bras so I could fit in, but I thought better of it.

There were plenty of bull sessions in other rooms where we compared notes on "famous" girls from one of the plethora of undergraduate schools in the area.

On weekends, we would all forget about our books and head up into the mountains for a woodsy.  We didn't call them keggers then.  And the goal of all those weekend beer brawls was to get drunk as quickly as possible, throw-up, and eventually pass out.  The guys did it.  The girls did it.  I suspect a lot of the Jesuit priests did it as well only they were using vast quantities of scotch.

When it was too cold for a woodsy, we would have motel parties at the round Holiday Inn by Mile-High Stadium, or the Center Motel on 6th and Federal.  We would stop by at North Denver Liquor on the way to the party and get our booze from George who happily kept the underaged drinkers at Regis supplied.  Most of us left the motel rooms by early morning.  But others spent the night and those that did spend the night probably forgot everything about the experience, either out of convenience or because they were too drunk to remember.

All that illicit behavior was the stuff of legends at Regis.  Those of us who didn't bed anything that moved, or who didn't pass out every Saturday, or who didn't use female undergarments as a bulletin board decoration, looked on the ones who did with a certain amused detachment.  The constant showerer and his cronies were in the minority.  There were only a few of them, but they made a lot of noise and just assumed that all the rest of us who still had trouble getting up the nerve to ask a girl for a date, were wildly jealous.

They were wrong.  We weren't wildly jealous; we were quietly offended.  I know.  I know.  We shouldn't have been quiet about our feelings, but we were just eighteen or so and just assumed that we were fundamentally lacking in social skills.

But you know what.  All my classmates who went on to be lawyers, politicians, and the like, the Tim Harts and Placido Herreras, and Tony Rottinos, were a lot like me.  We didn't prey on girls, even though we might have liked to give predation a try.  We didn't approve the behavior.  And when we got drunk on weekends, we almost always ended up getting sick by ourselves and spending the next day in misery.  We were good kids, but the operative word here is "kids."  I look back on those times and don't really regret any of it.  Well, that's not completely true.  I still wish I had that great Regis sweatshirt that I lost up at tunnel number one.

I don't know what to believe about Kavanaugh.  I tend to believe his accusers simply because they are willing to subject themselves to the recriminations of old Republican males (is there any other kind?).  I do know the kind of atmosphere Kavanaugh lived in when he was an undergraduate.  Temptation and peer pressure coming at him from all sides.  If he withstood all that, if his accusers are not telling the truth, then I can see him being a Supreme even if I don't like his positions on almost everything. On the other hand, if Kavanaugh was anything like the constant shower guy down the hall, the idea of him becoming anything more influential than a homeless person begging for scraps is unacceptable.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Flag Waving


I was on the Color Guard when I was a grade school kid in Estes Park, Colorado.  We had five different teams, one for each day of the week.  When it was my day, I had to wear dark slacks and a white shirt as a sign of respect.  It was okay in the mornings and afternoons before and after school, but wearing the dorky outfit the rest of the day was a constant source of embarrassment.

We Color Guardians had a training session before the school year where we learned to fold an American flag properly.  We were also made to feel terrified at the prospect of letting the flag touch the ground, or not acting promptly enough to bring the flag in out of the rain or snow.  I loved being at one end of the flag, stretching it tight, folding it into that little triangle configuration with the stars on the outside, and tucking it under my arm as I carried it into the main office.

I was also on the Safety Patrol, but standing on the corner with a white shoulder belt on while protecting my classmates from oncoming traffic (there was no oncoming traffic in Estes Park) paled in comparison to handling the flag.

My only regret was that I wasn't allowed to play the anthem on my trombone.  That job was left to Billy Checkas and his silver trumpet.  I will grudgingly admit that Billy, while a complete bust as an altar boy at Our Lady of the Mountains, killed on the trumpet.

Later, in marching band, I got to play the anthem at the beginning of all home football games.  In the pep band, I did the same thing before home basketball games.  Of course, by that time I was a junior and senior in high school and my rendition of the bass trombone part on the anthem was made smoother by the little sips of the vodka I had cleverly poured into my slide oil bottle.  Don't worry, I put the bottle in boiling water first.  The brass section of the pep band always left the games in good spirits, win or lose.

I was a full fledged hippy freak wannabe when I went to college.  There was a flag flying daily over the administration building (The Pink Palace) at Regis.  There were flags hanging on the walls in almost all of the classrooms.  And when civic unrest found its way to our pretty little campus at 50th and Lowell, the flags started finding their way onto clothing.  One guy had a ratty pair of jeans with the flag sewn over his ass.  Others wore flag headbands.  In a rebellious mood, I bought a green tee shirt with a green hued flag emblazoned on my chest.  I wore that shirt the day after the murders at Kent State when I alternated between weeping and shouting with clenched fist.

Later that year I heard the Woodstock recording of Jimi Hendrix' version of "The Star Spangled Banner."  I was thrilled by its irreverance, but more than that, I was inspired by its genius.  I guess my respect for the good old red, white, and blue was all but lost.

To tell you the truth, since my Color Guard days, I have always been skeptical of flag waving patriotism.  For some reason,  I immediately distrust anyone wearing an American flag lapel pin.  I always assume they think putting that little symbol on their lapels excuses all their people hating behavior the rest of the week, their votes against the welfare state, their conspiracy to protect what's theirs, and screw the rest of us.  I know that's an unfair characterization, but that's what I think.

The little lapel pin flag demeans the real flag.  It shrinks what it stands for.  On the other extreme, a giant flag flapping in the wind and rain in front of a mattress store is even more degrading.  It is taking the flag and monetizing it by using it to get around anti-billboard zoning regulations.  Of course, I suppose monetizing the flag is the most American thing of all.  How patriotic.

I have to admit here that I am something of a coward,  I was at the Bronco run Sunday morning hanging out with Bud while Kathie and Janet ran.  When some young lady started singing the anthem, Bud immediately stood, hand on heart.  I stood as well.  It was reflex, but mostly I didn't want to make Bud mad.  At baseball games, I will stand because I don't want to ruin the whole thing. But I always feel like a jerk.  The flag isn't what it once was.

Our flag flies over detention camps where families are systematically ripped apart.  Our flag flies over an Environmental Protection Agency that is systematically removing those protections.  Our flag flaps in the wind on presidential motorcades to tax payer funded campaign events where the President lies with every utterance.  Our flag flies over the killing fields that we call public schools because the elected representatives sitting under that same flag in Congress do nothing but rake in campaign contributions from the NRA, from Winchester, from Smith and Wesson, etc.  Our flag flies over botched wars in all parts of the world.  Our flag flies over the geo-political mess we have left behind in Central America and the Mid-East.

Of course, our flag also makes appearance in less fraught situations.  It flies over school assemblies, games, marching band contests, and the like.  It flies over baseball stadiums, boxing matches, horse races, and yes, football games.  And I see it flying over the Audi dealer across the street from the Y where I work out every morning (most every morning).  

And, once again, when I stand for a flag that does all that, I feel like a coward.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Eponymous Physicians

There is an advertisement on a bus stop bench I see every day on the way back from the Y.  Under the picture of a dentist it says Dr. Don Tooth, a dentist for children.  The sign has bothered me for years. I mean, there are so many questions.

Was this guy born with that surname?  Maybe he was originally named Don Dentifrice and he decided to change his name for professional reasons.

If Tooth is, in fact, his surname, did that compel him to choose a career in dentistry?  Does he come from a long line of dentists?  Do they have a scholarship in their name (The Tooth Scholarship) at some local school of dentistry?

Does the guy dress up as a tooth when he gets a new client in his chair.  I think it would have terrified Franny if Dr. Arendt had dressed up as a bicuspid.  It also would have made me think twice about walking into his office.

There are many things I refuse to do.  Ordering any sandwich called a Yumbo or a Whaler is one.  Going to a dentist named Dr.Tooth is another.

I'm also a little afraid that other physicians will see Dr. Tooth's ad and follow suit.  The possibilities are horrifying.

Dr. Rick Rectum coming from a long line of proctologists is ready to listen to you. He changed his last name from Anus for professional reasons.

Dr. Vance Vulva ready and willing to fill all your gynecological needs.  I can see the bus bench ad now, adorned with a Georgia O'Keefe-like drawing of a thinly disguised flower petal.

I would encourage everyone to avoid eponymously named doctors.  Their waiting rooms are bound to be just too damned cute.



Monday, August 6, 2018

We've Come Full Circle


Going to Regis in Northwest Denver did not put me in ideal position to be a political activist in the late '60s.  I started observing student unrest when I was in high school.  I continued to observe when I was in college.  The closest I got to actually doing something, other than the day I went out and bought a pair of tie-dyed jeans, was being instrumental in putting the first 3.2 bar on a college campus in Colorado.  We called the bar Beliel, after the devil in Paradise Lost in nominal charge of drunkenness, and put it where the pool hall used to be.  It wasn't as cutting edge as the students protesting outside of Sproul Hall, but for Regis it was tres avant garde.

Mostly, I did my observing from the confines of my English and Theology classrooms.  And during that time, I learned that if you want to get people to move nearer to your side of things, you should make your starting position so extreme that they'll have to get closer just to understand you.  Picture Langston Hughes, large, black, caped, imposing, standing on a stage in front of a largely white college audience hissing menacingly the last line of "A Dream Deferred."  "Or does it explode?"  Or Abbie Hoffman indulging in some street theater designed to blow minds.  Or James Baldwin in NOTES OF A NATIVE SON chanting,
"God gave Noah the rainbow sign.
No more water.
Fire next time."

The world did change and all that posturing helped speed up the inevitable.

But there was an underlying premise to all that activism, the idea that those holding different views were open to arguments, thus making it possible for minds and opinions to change.  And the premise seemed to hold true.  Opinions, if not outright changed, at least were modified.  The center held.

I don't see that happening again.  Outlandish positions, instead of forcing compromise, are the norm and are countered with equally outlandish opposing positions.  What is left of the center is quickly disintegrating.  

Here is kind of a nice case in point, nonetheless maddening.  At the gun control rally in downtown Denver yesterday, both sides of the issue were represented, but instead of getting into loud confrontations, everyone was encouraged to seek out someone from the other side and simply talk to one another, trying to find some common ground.  Kind of refreshing huh?  Of course, this rally was organized by high school kids, so it was bound to be more adult than anything organized by aging partisans.  At the end, folks from both sides were surprised at how much they had in common.  One lifelong NRA member actually discovered that the gun control movement was not really intent on taking ALL guns away from everyone.  Others were happy to learn that most NRA members would welcome longer waiting periods, stronger background checks, and keeping guns away from people with mental illness.

The problem is that those partisans holding the extreme-take-no-prisoners-positions are the ones making the most noise (read:  Hannity, Limbaugh, LaPierre, Fox and Friends).  Unless you are willing to do the work necessary to weed out fact from fiction, the extreme positions are the first ones you hear in the  morning and the last ones you hear at night.  

These messengers are not attempting to understand the other side.  Instead, they are attempting to paint the other side's position in the same extreme colors.  For example, since Republicans see no future in running on their tax giveaway to corporations, they have decided to make Nancy Pelosi a focus of their midterm campaigns.  In at least one swing state, their attacks on a young Democrat running for Congress center around a connection to Pelosi, who, the attack states, voted to cut 80 billion dollars from Medicaid/Medicare.  Of course they fail to mention that it is Pelosi's vote for Obamacare they are referencing.  That strikes me as fundamentally dishonest and polarizing, something that drives people away from the middle.  And for at least 45 percent of the population, it seems to work.

In my lifetime, we have gone from little girls in white pinafores and patent leather shoes being led to their classrooms by federal marshals while crowds of screaming, red-faced white racist stereotypes stood by with clenched fists, to a changing of attitudes that led to ground breaking civil rights legislation, to now, crowds of of screaming, red-faced white surpremacists seeking out immigrants to terrorize.  

We've come full circle in less than seventy years.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Moving Finger


The Moving Finger writes and having writ
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

We went to a memorial get together for Gerry Oehm yesterday.  It was at Pinehurst, right across the street from Gerry and Pat's place.  I remember a clambake at Gerry's house twenty some years ago.  Gerry spent many a happy morning and lunchtime in the lounge planning this little party.  I know.  Kathie and I figured into the planning.  The Clambake Company (or something like that) was directly across Pearl Street from the Vogue Theater where Nate was performing with In Vogue (They were really good.).  We let Gerry know about the place and the party evolved from there.

Gerry and Pat (of course) were there.  Ken and Dana Weaver.  Dale and Carol  Bartkus.  Bud and Janet.  Barb and Mike.  Cindy and Jerry.  I even think Larry and Charlene, our nextdoor neighbors, were there.  I'm not sure if that list is complete or accurate, but it sounds about right.

We started with an oyster bar while the clambake folks put lobsters and clams and the works on the grill and we all gathered around a giant table and ate and drank and talked to our hearts' content.  Afterwards, we all moved on to Fiddler's Green where there was some kind of New Orleans festival going on.  Laissez bon temps roulez, or words to that effect.

I've been thinking a lot about good times like that lately.  It's been a big year for deaths in our Green Mountain family.  Ken Weaver died a little over a year ago and we all gathered together at his funeral and caught up on how we were all doing.  Dale Bartkus was next and we all gathered around at his memorial party and caught up on how we were all doing.  Ken Boerner also died quite recently, a fact that caught a lot of us unaware.  And now there's Gerry.  There we all were once again catching up on what we were all doing.

I'm not trying to be maudlin here, but the increasing frequency of these get togethers around a dear friend's death is hard to ignore.  Dale More was there at Pinehurst.  Cindy and Jerry.  Ruth Meyer and Glenda Adams.  Sue McNamee.  Sue and Gary Hurelle. Sara Nesmith.  Faith and Ellie and Fabian and Mick.  Denny Shepherd, who keeps looking thinner and healthier every time I see him.  Orval stood up to the microphone and paid Gerry a lovely tribute. Joe Latino always manages to emerge on these occasions and there he was again acting like an administrator and touching tables.  He even told me that I was a good teacher.  Kathie too.  Hey, thanks Joe.

I think Gerry would have liked the reception.  He loved parties and standing around and talking with a glass of cheap scotch in his hand.  I went over to the bar and ordered their cheapest scotch on the rocks as a kind of tribute.  The cheapest stuff they had was red label, but I ordered a double in honor of Gerry.

We didn't have a lot in common.  I mean he was a math whiz for god's sake; I barely know my times tables, but I could always write better controlling statements than he could.  Since he taught Calculus and I taught AP Literature, we had a lot of the same students.  They came into my classroom after Gerry with dazed looks on their faces.  I did my best to make sure they walked out of my classroom and into his with those same looks.  We put those kids through a heuristic mill and they were the better for it.  So were we.

We had a love of food and wine and drink in common.  We both had a lot of worthless trivia stored in our brains.  We both told good stories.  We became good enough friends that Katherine and I started getting invited to Math Department parties.  We always had a good time; of course, when they pulled out the flash cards and things started getting wild, we beat a fast retreat.

In high school, I discovered, Gerry had a kind of club loosely gathered together because they all loved Omar Khayyam.  Go figure.  It was the same with me.  My mother gave me a copy of The Rubaiyyat and I was hooked.  I didn't have a club of similar enthusiasts.  I guess I wasn't as charismatic as Gerry back in those days.  But Gerry and I could quote Omar back and forth to each other.  How many math and language arts teachers do you know who could do that?

The quatrain at the top of this piece is my second favorite poem in The Rubaiyyat.  It seems appropriate at this time and it is so much more articulate than simply saying "It is what it is."  When I think of all my friends whose funerals and receptions I have attended of late, I think of that poem.

I'm going to end this with my favorite quatrain.  It isn't some false bromide to make us all feel better.  No, it is simply a clever statement that makes you smile in spite of its message.  Gerry would have liked that.

'Tis all a chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.