Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mellie's Brellies

A typical day I’d never say
was ever spent to repent
in a room in a box
on a block in the Bronx
with a vision I’d say
Heaven sent.

For once upon a gritty city,
blocky gray, I’d say, but pretty
in a way the witty might perceive.
It took a kid, a tyke, a tot,
a pretty girl or gritty pearl
to see what’s there or not.
Some called her Mellie, I believe.

Up’s where there’s blue,
the witty all knew,
in that Heavenly sky, it’s true,
and rainbows that arc
green trees’ tippy tops,
whereas Down, as they’d say,
was nothing but gray:
streets, sidewalks, and roofs of shops.

But pitty pat and tippy tap
rain pellets draw a different map
on her window: another view.
Now Up is gray, I’m sad to say,
a dreary day, it’s true.
Whereas Down—don’t frown—
you’ll see a town once gray
become something new.

A ticky tock calls 3 o’clock,
and Mellie knew as few would do
what happens when the schools unlock
a rush of kids and their play-fellas.
It’s the rain, I’ll explain, the magical rain!
It blooms gray blocks into gardens
of umbrellas.

Copyright © 2018 Cynthia G. Wagner

Image by rock_rock/Pixabay

Love, hosaa
explaining the raining

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saving "Big" Susan

Another Clarence the Angel Mission



Clarence the “Wonderful Life” angel and his mentor, Mr. “Heaven Can Wait, Here Comes” Jordan, stroll thoughtfully through the heavenly mist, conferring over the latter’s hand-held OmniVista smart-device. (Did we say “smart”? Ha! This is Heaven. It’s omniscient!) They appear to be browsing shopping sites. Clarence, wearing his favorite gown, tenderly strokes the bedazzled ruching across his bodice, his wings inadvertently swiping-right on Jordan’s screen.

Ah, Clarence, I know how fond you are of our prize-winning AngelWear bridal selections, but for this mission we need to catch you up to something more appropriate for a modern business milieu. It is now the year of mercy, Two Thousand and Eighteen, and while gentlemen of distinction do dress distinctly, we shall need you to be more, shall we say, indistinct.

Business? What kind of business this time? Didn’t our dear Mr. Dickens remind us “mankind” is our business?

JORDAN nodding indulgently
Yes, quite right, darling Clarence. Words wisely spoken in the character of dead-as-a-door-nail Jacob Marley, to be precise.

The two shoppers glance across the cloudscape to a tall clerk’s desk, where a ghostly Marley, tugging at the chains at his feet, scratches busily at his ledger.

JORDAN calling out
How’s that list coming along, Marley?

I’m just finishing up the second draft now, Mr. Jordan!

Now, Biff, don’t try and con me!

I mean, I’m ... I’m just getting started on the Naughty list now, sir.

Marley double-taps his smart-device and swipes down through this said list. And swipes and swipes and swipes. He sighs self-pityingly.

It’ll only be a minute. (Sotto voce) Or a millennium.

I didn’t know we called it that, too. I always thought the Naughty and Nice lists were a Santa Claus thing.

Well, this time of year, we put in a little extra work for our friends down at the North Pole. The lists do come in handy later, when the Time comes for each little girl and each boy.

Jordan and Clarence resume their shopping. Then, with a sweep of his grand wing, Jordan swipes the view on his hand-held onto a nearby billboard-sized cloud display. We see a bright, colorful room full of toys. A grandmotherly woman, holding her own smart-device, makes her way to each toy and inspects it carefully.

Now observe this young woman closely, dear Clarence.

“Young”? She looks like somebody’s little ol’ grandma.

In age, perhaps, but no. She never married and is no one’s grandma. Meet Susan, age 60, founder, owner, CEO, and chair of the second-most-successful toy company in the world.

Only second? What is she, like the Clay Aiken of the toy world? And we need to help her get to Number One? (He observes Susan working in her toy shop.) She looks pretty happy where she is. Lovely, too. Why did she never marry? Did she never fall in love?

Well, yes. She did fall in love, in fact. It’s complicated. And a tad inappropriate.

Oh my oh my oh my. Not another one of your dirty stories, Mr. Jordan.

Quickly—and not just for the sake of brevity but to minimize inevitable copyright infringement—Jordan tells Clarence the tale of When Josh Met Susan. It’s a 30-year-old tale of two (seemingly) 30-year-olds meeting at the Macmillan Toy Co. in New York. It was true love, but a love not meant to be, for the boy toy really wasn’t 30 at all, but a 13-year-old whose wish to be Big was temporarily granted by the mysterious and mischievous angel Zoltar.


In the scene Clarence and Jordan watch together, Josh has asked Zoltar to return him from the 30-year-old man’s life he was not prepared to live and back to the 13-year-old life he knew was where he should be. He has invited the 30-year-old “Big” Susan to come with him, back to her own adolescence. Balking at the memory of the hormones and zits and irrational rages and obsessions of her 13-year-old self, Susan declines. Josh assures her he will never forget her.

SUSAN (age 30)
Who knows, maybe in 10 years. … Maybe you should hold onto my number!

She kisses young Josh tenderly on the forehead and says goodbye to the love of her life.



Clarence dabs his moist eyes with the tip of his wing, and Jordan toggles his device back to shopping for men’s wear.

Don’t tell me. Ten years pass, and Josh and Susan don’t meet again.

And another 10 years. And now another. (He double-taps his device.) Ah, this is just the suit for you, darling Clarence. Now you can visit Big Susan and not scare the bejeebers out of her.

Oh, that’s fine. But you haven’t told me my mission. And what happened to the boy Josh?

Ah, yes. Josh. Poor kid.

Oh, no! What did happen?

Jordan swipes his giant wing across the billboard-sized screen, and we see young Josh standing once again before the mysterious and mischievous angel Zoltar. Clarence clutches hand to brow.



The 13-year-old Josh, standing before the Zoltar fortune-telling machine, makes his wish.

Boy, I loved working at that toy company. Oh, Zoltar, this is my wish: When I get big again, I want to be in toys. Final answer.

Josh aims the ramp at Zoltar’s mouth and releases a ball. Zoltar swallows the ball, and his eyes light up. His internal machinery clanks and rattles, and into the slot produces the card with Josh’s new fate. Josh picks up the card and slowly turns it over. The message reads: “Your wish is granted.”


MARLEY (voice over)
What a maroon.

A thunderous cloud burst interrupts all heavenly consultation. A bright burst of lightning changes the scene, and a nattily attired Clarence finds himself in:


The room is bright and colorful, shelves lining all the walls and filled with toys and games for all ages. In the corner of the room is a tall clerk’s desk, topped with stacks of ledgers, behind which Susan examines her own books, not having a Bob Cratchitt of her own. Over her shoulder, on a shelf in a special bullet-proof glass case, is her most prized possession, a toy cowboy named Woody.

Not terribly startled by the sudden appearance of “businessman” Clarence, Susan dreamily looks up from her work.

Good afternoon, Mr. Angelo. Or may I call you Clarence?

You were expecting me, Miss Susan? I’m a little surprised.

Don’t be silly. I know everyone in this business. And I know what you’re here after.

You know of the hereafter?

Yes, of course. You toy men are all the same. As long as I own the Woody license, I will never be without interested visitors.

She turns to her glass-enclosed prize and blows him a kiss.

Ah, but my dear Miss Susan. What if I were to tell you it is not what I want that brings me to see you, but rather what you want.

I can assure you, Mr. Angelo, I want for nothing.

Susan resumes checking her ledger. Clarence wanders around the room admiring the wealth of treasures surrounding the grandmotherly yet youthful woman.

Nothing, it seems, except someone to play with.

The gentleness of Clarence’s voice touches Susan. She puts her pen down and picks up her smart-device, tapping it distractedly.

And is there enough magic in the air, darling Clarence, to fetch me a playmate at my advanced age?

Again, you seem to know me.

I know of you, certainly. Where would this business be without angel investors? (Suspiciously.) And before you ask, the answer is No. You can’t have him.

Susan moves protectively in front of her precious Woody display case.

I don’t know what you mean, my dear. I see you wish not to part with your favorite doll. Handsome little cowboy, isn’t he!

Yes, yes. He’s not just a toy. He reminds me of what it means to be a child. And yet, somehow, he also holds all the virtues of a great man, the man I would love to have found for myself. I thought I had … once.

Once upon a time … 30 years ago perhaps?

Susan moves cautiously toward the businessman with no discernible business agenda, but a deeply personal one.

What do you know of the events of 30 years ago?

Well, there was that matter of the missing-person reports. It must have been a little difficult to explain to the authorities why one Josh Baskin, age 13, was found just as another Josh Baskin, age 30, went missing.

You know about Josh?

CLARENCE (glancing Heavenward)
We know everything.

Then why did Josh—the young one, I mean—why couldn’t I ever find him again?

Clarence moves toward the secured display case behind Susan’s desk.

Let’s just say he was full of magic and make-believe, but not very good at communicating his wishes to those with the power to make them come true.

Susan suddenly realizes why her toy cowboy had been so precious to her all along.

You mean … this is …

MARLEY (off stage)
It ain’t Pinocchio, sister.

Susan opens a secret compartment in her tall desk and retrieves a key to unlock the secure glass case protecting her Woody/Josh. She removes him gently from his stand and cradles him in her arms.

I’ll bet it was that Zoltar machine again. I knew what would happen if he ever got his hands on that license.

“He”? “He” who? I don’t remember another man in the story.

No, no one does. That’s probably why he was always so jealous of Josh. My old boyfriend, Paul. You know, now the number-one most-successful toy company in the world.

Clarence beams with enlightenment and inspiration.

I think I know why I’m here, then, Miss Susan. It seems you have come to a fork in your fate, a choice for how you wish your future to unfold.

I think I’ve always had that choice, pal.

Certainly, my dear, I mean no disrespect. However, given the opportunity to put something right that once went wrong, what might you choose to do?

Susan begins to stroll thoughtfully through her toy showroom, her precious Woody/Josh in her arms. The questions, the many possible answers, the what-ifs, the why-nots, all converging and tumbling through her mind.

Clarence glances Heavenward for a hint of advice.

JORDAN (off stage)
We did pass that free-will amendment awhile back. I wouldn’t interfere, darling Clarence.

Darling Clarence … I mean, Mr. Angelo. Clarence. Darling. If I had said Yes and followed Josh back to childhood, raging hormones and all, then the world would have been deprived of this fine specimen (she holds Woody aloft).

Perhaps not. Perhaps your friend Paul would have snapped up the license. You wouldn’t have been there to fight for it.

Oh please. Paul. You know how he got to be number one?

Uh, no. How?

He licensed the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.


MARLEY (off stage)
Ha! Way to go, brother! Commercializing the symbol of anti-commercialism! Ha! Crafty little humbug!

Susan hugs her beloved Woody/Josh, clicks her heels together three times, turns to the wizardly Clarence, and closes her eyes.

I’m ready to go back now! There’s no place like 13. There’s no place like 13. There’s no place like 13.

Susan squeezes one eye open to implore Clarence with one final request.

I don’t suppose we could both go back to 30, eh? Or at least where we’re the same age. That whole 15 or 20 year age difference was so unsettling and inappropriate.

I think we can manage that. (Beat. He glances Heavenward.) OK, Mr. Jordan. Let ‘er rip!

A clash of Heavenly thunder is heard, accompanied by the usual scene-changing lightning, and we find ourselves on:


Clarence, Mr. Jordan, and even Biff Marley survey the scene, now 20 years into the future. An 80-year-old man and his 80-year-old wife hold hands tenderly as they stroll together down the sidewalk and into the amber twilight.

Somewhere in the distance, Zoltar laughs mischievously.



For more of Clarence's "saving" adventures, the gentle and indulgent reader is invited to peruse:

Saving Mr. Potter (Dec. 22, 2013)
Saving Mr. Sawyer (Dec. 25, 2015)
Saving Mr. Jordan (Dec. 25, 2016)

Love, hosaa
As Clay Aiken (America's No. 1 No. 2) would sing, Don't Save It All For Christmas Day

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Adjacent Universes

A couple of weeks ago, on a mission to hit over 10,000 steps on a normally inert Sunday, I went downtown to explore one of my favorite museums, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). It's one museum past the arguably more popular National Air and Space Museum as you head in the direction of the U.S. Capitol.

I also got to try out the camera on my new phone. Not bad, once imported into editing software.

Anyway, in addition to the dancing in the Potomac Atrium, which is always colorful and fun, my favorite space in NMAI is the Universe gallery, a place to explore the relationship between humanity and our environment in a mystical and emotional way. As you wander under the starlit ceiling, you're invited to stop at video monitors, sit on a quiet bench built for maybe three or four folks, and watch a little animated story about how the elements of the universe came to be. There are jealous sisters who choose between two stars to be their husbands, and there is a raven who stole the sun away from the greedy chief who kept it for himself.

Connection to the stars and the earth must be somewhere in our DNA. We anthropomorphize as we gaze at stars and see hunters, bears, ships, all elements of our human stories. This connection is comforting even in its lack of scientific reason.

I didn't give myself a lot of time on that hot Sunday afternoon, but I had enough energy to go next door to see what Air and Space had to say about the universe, as the gallery is conveniently located on the first floor.

As you enter the gallery, chaotic with crowds gathering around various universe-exploring instruments and tributes to the inventors who invented them, you are encouraged to take out your smartphone and download an app to listen to the audio tour (I didn't; I'm new to smartphoning and don't trust apps - but that's another blog). As an alternative, you could bend down and read very long text captions accompanying the exhibits. No place to sit, and too many people trying to engage at the same time.

I thought as long as I was there I'd look for the astronomer I've lately been obsessed with, thanks to Timeless, the TV series that recently besmirched the good name of David Rittenhouse, but unfortunately he was absent from the exhibit. I visit his portrait whenever I go to the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery.

David Rittenhouse, by Charles Willson Peale

Anyway, I was just struck by how different these experiences were, not just of our conception of the universe but also of our communication of it. Both human-centered, but in different ways. A&S celebrates our intellectual accomplishments in reaching for the stars while distancing us from the experience. Meanwhile, NMAI celebrates our connection to nature and the spirituality of that connection.

Maybe we all are inspired differently We all see something different when we look up. But the point is, as Neil deGrasse Tyson advised, Look up.


love, hosaa
looking up, where there be inspiration

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering Edward

June 17: Happy Birthday to Edward Duke, who would have been 64.

I've not really run out of things to say about him, but my memory is evaporating. I do recall the afternoon I spent in his dressing room at the National Theatre, where he was performing in Private Lives with Joan Collins. He had a long break in Act II when it was all about Joan, so we could visit for a bit.

I sat, and Edward lay flat on the floor to ease his backache. Conversation was awkward from that angle, but he filled a brief shy silence with a question that sounded almost like a litmus test.

"Do you like animals? I do."

Whether any discussion of our respective pets ensued, I don't recall. But I've used that line to fill in awkward gaps ever since.

love, hosaa
cat widow

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