Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Tale of Two Bethesdas

The only subatomic physics joke I ever made up is that charm decay accelerates over time. It's true at the macro level, which we see now almost daily in my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland.

In today's Washington Post is an article "The future ghosts of downtown Bethesda" that focuses on three of the charm particles that are slated to go missing, possibly by the end of this year: the Tastee Diner, the Farm Women's Market, and the Barnes and Noble.

There are a few other old Bethesda places still around, though in the case of our Art Deco landmark Bethesda Theatre now under a different name and business model, the Blues and Jazz Supper Club. On my side of town we still have Strombolis, Vace's, and Pines of Rome to feed my pizza and lasagna urges. We do still have the Montgomery County Thrift Store, which is not only my destination for making donations after spring cleaning, but also where I can pick up classic-styled garments that department stores won't carry (pencil skirts and oxford shirts).

But no doubt if the developers have their way, these hangouts will go missing, too. I moved into my apartment when there was a seafood restaurant on the first floor, when my view was of the parking lots of Wisconsin Avenue businesses, and when there was a railroad track where the Crescent Trail now is. The place that is now (for the moment) Barnes and Noble was a Pfaltzgraff Factory Store. There was a concrete company down the street, Second Story Books, and a place where you could buy a muu-muu.

So Bethesda's transition has been ongoing for decades. The first thing to go since I moved back here after grad school was the McDonald's Raw Bar on Old Georgetown Road. It's where Dad proposed to Mom and where we went for their anniversary dinner for many years.

The biggest sign of the end-times in Bethesda was when nobody in charge had the brains to convert the historic Post Office into a visitors information and cultural center. With gift shop. It is to become instead a yoga studio.

For those of us who are middle income (I do NOT use the expression "middle class"), Bethesda's a tough place to be anymore. The million-dollar condo units have raised rental market rates. I've always accepted paying the premium for the charm and convenience, the energy and liveliness of this exact spot, but the charm decay is indeed accelerating.

With a break in the bad weather today and the prospects of an art festival, I walked up Woodmont Avenue toward the Triangle. As I approached a busy intersection I heard a loud altercation across the way: Pedestrian yelling at bicyclists on the sidewalk, pointing out that there's a bike path on the street that they should be on, and bicyclist pointing out the bike path goes between parked cars and moving cars and is dangerous. I slipped past them as each called the other a fucking idiot, canceling out each others' path to the moral high ground.

It's hard for me to take sides in the Marriott and Tastee Diner hoo-hah. As kids we used to go to Hot Shoppes (the Marriott property) and Tastee, both. Marriott International was the first stock I bought. I eat breakfast at the Diner every Sunday, just about. I just would like to see Marriott and Tastee treat each other well as neighbors.

The pedestrian and the bicyclist today leave me little faith in my neighborhood.

Love, hosaa,
observing charm decay at the neighborhood level

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Eye for Change

Back from Tony Kushner's Caroline, Or Change at the Round House, and just want to quickly note that, as usual, I'm delighted to see familiar faces like John Lescault, Will Garshore, Naomi Jacobson, and Felicia Curry. 

poster art, via Facebook/Round House Theatre 

But I also want to note the RHT newbies, especially Nova Y. Payton in the title role and youngster Elijah J. Mayo in the role of Caroline's older son Jackie. As Caroline, Nova carried the weight of the character's complex sorrows, pride, and fear, and she did so with one of those star-turning "(And I'm Telling You) I'm Not Going" you expect in a musical.

But if you go, pay particular attention to Elijah, who brought a spark of brilliance to the first act finale. He didn't "steal the scene" in the sense of upstaging anyone else, but he had that star quality that captures you. I couldn't take my eyes off him! I hope to see him in more shows around town. I'll keep my eye out. I think I've spotted a future star. It's why I've kept my programs all these years.

love, hosaa
star gazing

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seven Days in January

First off, I see by iMDB there really was a movie of that title, but this has nothing to do with that.

Lately I've been thinking about mutiny. Not mutinying, but the impulse to commit mutiny and the consequences of doing or not doing it.

During this past election cycle, I kept thinking about the speech about the democratic institution in place that Seven Days in May Pres. Lyman (Frederic March in the movie) makes to would-be mutineer Gen. Scott (Burt Lancaster). Narcissistic would-be dictator Scott's beef was that Lyman had just signed an anti-nuclear treaty with the Russians, thereby putting U.S. security at risk. Lyman's beef was that Scott needed to run for president if he had a beef with this policy.

Frederic March as Pres. Lyman (left), Burt Lancaster as Gen. Scott, Seven Days in May
The Lyman speech by March is probably my favorite presidential moment in all of moviedom.

Meanwhile, there's that other mutiny story, this one based on historical records, Mutiny on the Bounty. In this case, it's the guy in charge, Capt. Bligh (Charles Laughton in the good version), whose dictatorial acts of brutality cause a beef with his more humanitarian second-in-command, Fletcher Christian  (Clark Gable).

Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian (left); Charles Laughton as Capt. Bligh, Mutiny on the Bounty
The thing about Seven Days that has my morals in a knot is that I always had been cheering for Lyman, the force for democracy against the tyrant mutineers. But in less than seven days from now, it'll be the tyrant mutineer who will have been democratically elected to this position of power, as Pres. Lyman recommended. What turns that story inside out, however, is the role of that perceived enemy, the Russians, who now appear to have given the U.S. mutineer the power of the press he needed. (You'll recall that Gen. Scott's primary agency of change was the media. Plus ca change.)

Now as that Day in January that will live in infamy is fast approaching, wherein the U.S. has democratically elected a tyrant, there are signs of mutiny. Fearless defenders of democracy, who would normally be on the President's side, be it Lyman or Scott, have declared the future president illegitimate. 

Never mind that I once predicted another U.S. Civil War based on lines similar to those now being drawn, I am not--and cannot be--a proponent of mutiny. Look at the movie record: The only men to survive their respective mutiny narratives with their integrity intact were the deputies of the mutineers who stuck to the laws they swore to uphold: Seven Days' Jiggs (Kirk Douglas) and Bounty's Byam (Franchot Tone).

Burt Lancaster as Gen. Scott (left); Kirk Douglas as Jiggs, Seven Days in May

Franchot Tone as Roger Byam (left), Charles Laughton as Capt. Bligh, Mutiny on the Bounty
Seven Days' Jiggs had a slightly easier decision to make when the mutineer was the would-be tyrant, though Gen. Scott was also his friend (and boss). Bounty's Byam was also a friend and direct report to mutineer Christian and could clearly see Capt. Bligh's blatant psychopathic tendencies. But Byam could not defy the institutional order of the state, his kingdom and country. He chose to follow Bligh, though by bad luck missed the boat.

The bottom line is that mutiny is mutiny. Democracy is still democracy, however it's been gamed by outside players. To keep our integrity, we preserve our institutions as best we can. That doesn't mean we follow false shepherds like sheep. We preserve our humanity by being humane, by being kind to one another. And if we have to occasionally set sail for Pitcairn and build our own villages of happy nice people, let's do it the right way, through the powers of our hands and hearts and imaginations.

love, hosaa
empress of my own mind, VHNP

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Saving Mr. Jordan

Another Clarence the Angel adventure.

It is Christmas Day, but in Heaven, jolly it is not. Not one normally given to seasonal despair, our dear Head Angel, Mr. Jordan, could not help but succumb to a remembrance of remorse past. He sat in his own little corner of the way station, on his own little chair, and placed a pointy white dunce cap upon his own head, forgoing the good old jaunty tilt.

Returning from Belle and Ebenezer's wedding party, Clarence cha-cha'd merrily to his side.

"Ah, darling Mr. Jordan, I am happy to report another resounding success! Woo-hoo!" Baffled by Mr. Jordan's indifference, Clarence repeated, "Woo-hoo, I say! Um, nice hat. A little too pointy for this day and age, though, if you get my drift. If you don't mind my saying so."

Jordan removed the pointy white dunce cap and tossed it testily to the floor. He sighed heavily and turned sullenly to his former student.

"You are quite right, First Angel Clarence, my friend. Quite right. Oh, and congratulations on the Fezziwig correction. Well done."

"Oh, thank you, Sir! But whatever is the matter? You seem out of sorts."

"Again, quite right. Clarence, I've failed. I must confess it. I ... I have left a soul behind."

Clarence gasped audibly. "No! That's not possible!"

A tear dribbled down Mr. Jordan's cheek and splashed into a cloud below, unleashing a Winter Wonderland over an unsuspecting Los Angeles.


Clarence pulled a silk hanky from the bodice of his ruched angel garb and dabbed Mr. Jordan's cheek. "There, there."

In a rush to relieve his burdened heart, Mr. Jordan told Clarence that sad story of Max Corkle, a trainer for the Los Angeles Rams (as they were then). Max was the good and true friend of star athlete Joe Pendleton, whose body was prematurely removed from active duty. While Heaven waited, Joe's soul was placed into the body of another athlete, but his memory of his life as Joe was then erased, along with his friendship with Max.

"I managed to keep the girlfriend for Joe, but how could I have left the friend behind?"

"There, there," Clarence repeated, to little effect. He then gave his masterful angel-wing a whoosh and a swish, activating the high-def big-picture plate. Swishing left and swishing right, swirling all around, Clarence found what he had hoped to see: An alternative universe.

"Ah ha, oh lookie!" Clarence pointed to a minor character in one of his favorite Christmas scenarios, popularly called While You Were Sleeping. "This one must have happened while you were sleeping, Mr. Jordan!"

"You see? The soul of Max was reborn in another role, named Saul, and became a friend to another lonely soul, named Lucy."

"Not that football-stealing sham psychologist 'Lucy'? That's one soul even I'm afraid to tackle."

Clarence reassured his mentor that this Lucy was a good and true friend to the Saul that Max had become. Mr. Jordan's eyes twinkled brightly, but only for a moment.

"My dear sweet Clarence, my heart remains full of woe. For the first time in my career, I feel that The Powers That Be did not use their powers for the best possible good."

Clarence shuffled his feet a bit, not just for the pleasure of watching the wisps of pink-frosted clouds waltzing about his satin slippers.

"You no doubt are referring to the new Scut Farkus administration down on Earth." Clarence scratched his fuzzy chin and waltzed up a few more pink wisps.

Mr. Jordan nodded sadly. Waving his own majestic wing across the plate, he drew up the picture of the meanest bully in town, the yellow-eyed Scut.

"I just don't know how the forces of good could have let this happen. Imagine, a man like Scut in the White House, in charge of the freest part of the free world, with the most free will to do free ill. I am so disappointed."

Clarence furrowed a frown and pushed the sleeves up on his AngelWear gown. He knew this would require his most concerted efforts of imagination and resourcefulness. If only, if only he could imagine an alternative outcome. At what critical moment could the Scut Farkus history be diverted to another course of direction?

Determined to make right what once went wrong, Clarence clashed his wings together in cymbalic fashion and projected himself into a small town in Indiana at a crucial point in the pre-Christmas Story unfolding.

A young boy named Ralphie is being punished by his mother for saying a dirty word. The punishment being a mouthful of Lifebuoy soap, young Ralphie had a little trouble answering his mother's interrogations.

"Where did you hear that word? Tell me! Who said that word to you?" She removed the Lifebuoy so the boy could answer.

Ralphie could not tell his mother the truth, that it was the dear old man himself who'd uttered the word many times while changing tires, fixing fuses, and fighting furnaces. So, instead, he would name one of his friends, the first name that came to his mind,


"Shhhh," Clarence interrupted in the boy's ear. "No, don't rat out a friend for this, me boy. Say, um, yes this should do the trick: Say 'Scut Farkus'!"

"Scuuuuut Farkuuuuuus!"

Mother shrieked in horror, replacing the Lifebuoy in Ralphie's mouth while she went to the phone to call Mrs. Farkus.

Clarence swooshed his wings to fast-forward the slightly revised Story, in which it is now Scut Farkus and not Schwartz who is punished: a far more just outcome, all things considered.

The grown-up Scut would become a model of kindness, not unlike other souls who have been shown the errors of their ways, such as our legendary Marleys and Scrooges. Satisfied that he had saved the world from a Scut Farkus administration in the White House, Clarence fled to Mr. Jordan's side.

"Mr. Jordan, Mr. Jordan, I have good news!" Clarence sang.

Mr. Jordan stood with his arms folded, a glower darkening his brow. "Do you, Clarence? Do you, indeed? Well, I'm afraid to say I have some bad news."

Mr. Jordan swooshed his left wing over the high-def plate to show Clarence the outcome of the events he'd unleashed. Clarence looked in horror at what he had done. He reached for the pointy white dunce cap and dutifully donned it.

"I'm gonna need a bigger Lifebuoy," he said.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Saving Miss Bennet

No, this is not my (becoming) annual Clarence the Angel adventure in redemption. Previously we have saved Mr. Potter (from It's a Wonderful Life), Miss Fezziwig (A Christmas Carol), and Mr. Sawyer (Miracle on 34th Street). This post's title is inspired by the new "rolling world premiere" of some delightful Jane Austen fan fiction now gracing the stage of the Round House Theatre, titled Miss Bennet, Christmas at Pemberley.

To be fair, Jane Austen has inspired a lot of fan fiction (there's even something to do with zombies, I hear), but I will say the Miss Bennet piece, focusing on the Jan Brady of all Bennet sisters, righteous and scholarly Mary, is true to Jane's wit and writing style (more so in the first act than the second). Two years have passed since the marriages of her older sisters, and Mary has had the chance to mature and develop her musical abilities and her scholarly pursuits. Yet she retains a smug superiority and crankiness that keep her relateable as a flawed human, unlike her perfectly perfect older sisters. (The play brings back younger married sister Lydia but omits the penultimate of the five, Kitty, with even less to distinguish herself than Mary.)

The problem with Mary, and perhaps for the actress who plays her in this production, Katie Kleiger, is that she inevitably disappears when her two older, far more interesting sisters are in the same room with her. Maybe that's my problem, since the two older sisters are played by two of my favorite local actresses, Erin Weaver as Elizabeth and Katie deBuys as Jane. (And speaking of favorites, it's always a pleasure to feast on the chiseled features of Danny Gavigan, this production's Mr. Darcy.)

I will credit the authors, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, with a surprising but appropriate love interest for Mary in the form of Darcy's distant cousin Arthur (William Vaughan) and a complication in the form of Anne de Bourgh (Kathryn Tkel), the daughter of the recently expired Lady Catherine. The twist is that sickly Anne has inherited her late mother's imperious self-importance, complicating matters for the protagonists.

I'll also credit the authors for doing something even Jane Austen never quite succumbed to, which was to create happy endings for characters we'd been accustomed to dismissing as unworthy of either attention or affection. This is what I've been trying to do in my own "Saving So-and-So" series here. They just do it better than I do!

So, Mary Bennet having been saved by worthy writers, I'm still obliged to rescue some of my own favorite egregiously left-behind characters. Will give it some more thought. My candidates right now are Susan from the MacMillan Toy Company (Big), who lost the love of her life when Josh (Tom Hanks) went back to being 13, and Heaven Can Wait's Max Corkle, the trainer for the Rams who lost his friend Joe Pendelton once our dear Mr. Jordan found a suitable football player for Joe to reincarnate into. Joe walked off with the girl but left poor Max behind. I always hated that.

Love, hosaa
No character left behind

Saturday, June 18, 2016

(Not the usual) Father's Day Movie List

Probably most people's list of favorite Father's Day movies has some version of Father of the Bride on it. I never even saw the Spencer Tracy/Elizabeth Taylor version until a few months ago, and I'm all like, Whatever, dude. Better Spencer Tracy Father's Day choices, to me, are Boys Town and Captains Courageous.

But the best Father's Day movies simply do a good job of explaining fatherhood to me.

The World According to Garp gives us a memorable, controlled Robin Williams performance as a man who adores being a father. Whenever things go wrong in his marriage, all is made well by going in and looking at the kids in their innocent sleep. Garp, a writer, says he will never create anything as lovely as that.

Little Miss Sunshine offers a good case study of the father first getting it wrong about what fatherhood means. Providing for the family and teaching children how to be successful? Um, not really. Let's start with seeing the kids for who they really are, loving them, and always having their back. Lesson learned for the father played by Greg Kinnear.

That's also what Dustin Hoffman discovers in Kramer vs. Kramer, who learns, among other things, that patience is a big part of the parental skill set.

There are also more heartbreaking Father's Day movies on my list, like Ordinary People, and the movie's end with Donald Sutherland breaking down in tears, embracing his surviving son.

The father's missing embrace is precisely what made Love Story the heartbreaking Father's Day tragedy about which I have written previously. The book version got it right: Barretts old and young finally embrace, literally and figuratively. Somehow Ray Milland and Ryan O'Neal were too macho to make the attempt, damn it. On the other hand, John Marley and Ali MacGraw give a crazy sweet father-daughter turn as Phil and Jenny.

Great moments in movie fatherhood are also found in Roberto Begnini's heartbreaking Life Is Beautiful, with the dad's diversionary tactics to conceal from his young son the horrific reality of their concentration camp imprisonment.

In the opposite way, the greatest-father-of-all-time, To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), reveals harsh reality to his children in the gentlest but most effective way possible: the lessons of empathy.

Okay, for dudes reading this blog, I'll give you Field of Dreams. No one can avoid tears when "he" at last appears at the magical field Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has unknowingly built for his father in the heaven that is Iowa.

More great moments in fatherhood include the revelations of love in Mary Poppins and Sound of Music--those heart-swelling moments when fathers seem to recognize their love for their own flesh and blood for the very first time.

And don't miss Brian Keith's recognition of his new-found twin daughter, Haley Mills as Sharon, in The Parent Trap. (For Mother's Day, you can focus on that same scene played by Maureen O'Hara with Haley's Susan character.)

Then there is the heartbreaking moment when a son realizes his father's pride in him will be more than disappointed, as Ralph Fiennes must confess to Paul Scofield that the Van Doren name will be dragged through the mud on a Quiz Show.

(l-r) Gérard Depardieu, Stéphane Bierry, Pierre Richard, in Les Compères

Those are just a few of my favorite movie moments in fatherhood. But if I only watch one movie for Father's Day, it will be Les Compères, the story of two very different bachelors commissioned to retrieve the runaway teenage son of a woman each had had a fling with in their youth. Thinking he's escaping his own unreasonable father, the boy winds up with two more would-be parents who have no clue what fatherhood is all about. Through their adventures in the underworld of Nice gambling and narcotics rings and police corruption, they all find a way to figure out what the father-son relationship is all about.

There are also probably too many father-figure movies to go into, but I do love Fagin in Oliver! Really, why is that character described as evil? He took in orphans and fed them by whatever means he could. Anyway, Ron Moody begging his young charges to "Be Back Soon" is just one of that musical's many delights.

The list:

Les Compères
To Kill a Mockingbird
The World According to Garp
Kramer vs. Kramer
Little Miss Sunshine
Mary Poppins
Sound of Music
Field of Dreams
Life Is Beautiful
Ordinary People
The Parent Trap
Quiz Show
Love Story (though truthfully I usually watch this at Christmas time. I love the scenes in the snow and where Jenny is leading the boys choir in church).

love, hosaa
missing dad (1920-2007)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Edward Duke, Author

For Edward Duke (1953-1994)

Edward Duke as Bertie Wooster, 'Jeeves Takes Charge'

Thank you for the gift of authoring a very unexpected chapter in my life.

Love, hosaa
remembering joy