Monthly Archives: March 2014

Face in the Sky

The old man held the yellowed newspaper page in his unsteady hands as tears trickled down his creased cheeks. Each day he stared at the photograph, a public record of his apartment building collapsing in an earthquake twenty years ago. He only saw the face of his son in the sky. Opening the desk drawer, he pulled out an old revolver, one his father had given him after the American troops arrived in Japan in 1945.
“They will kill you,” his father whispered in his ear. “They will violate your sister. Kill her and then yourself. Only way to save the family honor.” His father left them. The son heard one gunshot and his mother’s soft moan. A second shot, followed by an immediate, heavy thud, caused him to shudder.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts, bringing him back to the present He shuddered again.
“Papasan?” a young woman’s voice rang out. “Your meal is prepared, papasan.” After a pause she added, “Is everything all right, papasan? Are you sick?”
“No, I am not sick. I am not hungry. Go away.”
Listening to her feet shuffle away, he recalled his father’s admonition to save the family honor. With bowed his head he spoke the words never articulated before aloud.
“I have not saved the family honor,” the old man whispered his confession to himself. Not at the end of the second world war, not as he smiled and welcomed the conquering American soldiers, not even when he forgot the old ways and entered a new life of the shiny, glittering Japan born from the ashes. He gave permission for his sister to marry an American soldier and move to the United States. He pretended he had found honor in becoming a successful businessman in his new world.
Until the earthquake came.
His wife and daughter were away visiting relatives. He sat in his living room reading the newspaper as his young son slept in his bedroom. The first tremble was hardly noticeable. By the third, he felt the walls sway and the floor beneath his feet buckle. Without a second thought he dashed from his chair, tumbled down the stairs and scrambled up the street. When he crossed the trolley tracks he paused to twist his body around to watch the apartment building begin to collapse. Then he remembered his son slumbering in his bed.
The next day he opened the local newspaper to see himself frozen in the moment of looking back at the collapsing building. The photograph could not see his internal agony as he remembered his son was still inside. In an instant he looked up in the right hand corner of the photo and saw a face in the clouds. It was his son’s face, at the moment of his death looking down on his father.
No one ever blamed the man for his son’s death. He created a credible lie that he thought he had heard his son shout out to him, “I’m going to Sato’s house to play,” a full half hour before the earthquake began. It was only afterwards, he realized the boy had died in the rubble. Everyone, including his wife and daughter, comforted him in his grief. No one would ever know because no one else saw what he saw in the upper right hand corner of that photograph.
And now he lived in a spare bedroom of the comfortable home of his daughter and her husband. Each day, his brittle bones and atrophied muscles announced his impending death. He took the newspaper clipping out to scour the photo again. His son still stared back at him. His father still whispered in his ear, “Only one way to save the family honor.”
Again his daughter knocked at the door. “Papasan, please do us the honor of gracing the head of our table.”
He had no reply other than to put the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and slowly pull the trigger.

Can you find the face?

Can you find the face?

So Proud I Restrained Myself

I always say I love being an old fart. Of course, that does come with one qualification—all those medical tests I have to endure to make sure some nasty disease isn’t trying to sneak up on me.
Recently I went in for my semi-annual blood pressure measurement, thumping on my chest and back, and breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Yes, I was relieved to know I could still breathe. Then the doctor said it was time for another stool test and he started filling out the prescription sheet.
This confused me because I hadn’t had a school test in almost 50 years and I didn’t know why I needed to take one now. Before I could say anything I realized he said stool and not school and it wasn’t the kind of stool I sat on. Well, I could sit on it, but it would be rather uncomfortable, messy and stink.
He told me to go right over to the hospital to the outpatient care desk, hand the clerk the prescription, and the clerk would hand me the packet. I’d take it home, follow the instructions and return it to be analyzed. I am thoroughly versed on this procedure so not only did I hand in the prescription but also my insurance cards and driver’s license.
Of course, a line of other old people were in front of me, ready to get stuck, x-rayed and worse. The receptionist took my prescription and other required documents and told me to sit down and wait to be called. I made myself comfortable and was halfway through checking my Facebook account (I hate missing out on the latest cute kitty photo) when I heard my name being called. Sitting in the cubicle I filled out the paperwork, signing my name and initialing all the necessary boxes.
Up to this point I had dealt with volunteers and clerks trained in expediting paper, and they had all done their jobs amazingly well. Then the clerk handed the paperwork to someone who actually knew something about medicine. That person immediately recognized what procedure was ordered and knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish the test right then and there, on the premises at that exact moment. The clerk had to tear up the paperwork, take the prescription to the lab where a technician would surrender a plastic kit to be brought back to me. At a future undetermined date I would return the kit, a little less for wear, deliver it to the clerk who would then have me fill out the paperwork and afterwards deliver the plastic package to the lab.
I was not surprised. I had played this game before. Unfortunately, the medical staffer must have had a stressful morning up to that point and became a little confused about the situation.
“Does he have the sample with him?”
Several inappropriate and somewhat tasteless responses formed in my brain. I smiled at the clerk and said, “Thank me for not saying what first came to me.”
She smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Actually …

When we moved to Florida about 20 years ago, my family and I exposed ourselves to family dinner conversation dominated by my wife’s Uncle Sydney.
My mother-in-law retired to Florida a couple of years earlier to be near her relatives and suffered a heart attack, which is why we transplanted our children and ourselves here to be closer for the next medical emergency. This meant when we all gathered to sup together, for whatever reason, we had to brace for Uncle Sydney’s “Actually…”
This happened when one of us made a statement, any innocuous statement, and Uncle Sydney would correct us with “Actually, that isn’t so.” And off he went uninterrupted because my mother-in-law thought it was impolite to interrupt her brother’s exercises of enlightenment. At one meal, someone mentioned how much they enjoyed a certain current song.
“Actually,” Uncle Sydney began, “no good music has been written since the 1940s.”
I believed Uncle Sydney was full of gas, but had the good sense not to say so in front of the family. Both my mother-in-law and Uncle Sydney have long since passed on, but recently I learned something from the internet that might actually explain why there hasn’t been any good music since he was a young man.
Several websites have been discussing recently the theory that all musical instruments, as dictated by the British Standards Institute, changed the official tuning pitch of music from 432Hz to 440Hz at the request of the corporate entity of the American Rockefeller family and—grab your hats, folks—Adolph Hitler.
The great classical composers wrote in 432, and Stradivarius developed his violin to resonate at 432. Tones of 432 are beautiful, warm and relaxing. Tones of 440 create anxiety, anger and aggression. One supposes a capitalist institution could more easily convince a disgruntled buying public into adopting new spending patterns. One could also see how Hitler’s inflammatory oratory could incite an already dissatisfied public to support a war against its own citizenry as well as the world in general.
After the war, the British Standards Institute continued its support for 440Hz by voting to keep it, the last vote coming as late as the 1970s. This could explain why the generation which grew up listening to music to the 432Hz frequency found the new rock ‘n’ roll sound attuned to 440Hz to be awful noise. Come to think of it, hasn’t the general public been generally ticked off the last 60 years? Don’t political movements begin because, as the man said in the 1976 movie “Network”, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?”
Granted, all this can sound a bit paranoid, and there are no conclusive scientific studies to confirm the connection between the dissonance of music’s 440Hz and the general malaise that hangs over the world. Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote in his investigation of this phenomenon that the effect of 440Hz goes beyond mere mood but to harming physical and mental health to the point of subduing spirituality and creativity.
To be fair, the British Standards Institute cannot legally dictate what frequency is used to tune musical instruments. If you own a violin or piano, you can tune it to anything you want. You can calibrate your tuning fork anyway you want. But in general the music establishment around the world uses 440Hz.
A good measure of how the general public has reacted to this bit of information can be found in the comments section following the internet article. One person wrote, “These articles are too superficial to be taken seriously.” Another writer wrote than from his own experimentation with 432Hz, he found it to be more soothing and harmonious, urging people to contact radio stations to go back to the original frequency.
Am I personally ready to jump on a 432Hz bandwagon? Do I want to believe there’s an international conspiracy to manipulate our emotions? Am I willing to accept the fact that Uncle Sydney wasn’t just full of gas?
Actually…

This column originally appeared in the Tampa Bay Times Hernando section.

Wheels

Bill could not go to sleep because a silly little song kept buzzing in his head. He had not heard it for several years. He looked at the clock. Two a.m. He covered his head with the pillow to no avail.
The wheels on the bus go round and round….
The last time he was on a bus Bill and his wife went with a bunch of other old farts down to St. Petersburg to the new Salvador Dali Museum.
The wheels on the bus go round and round….
Did he forget to take his damn sleeping pill? A few times the pill slipped through his fingers before it made it to his mouth. He thought very hard. No, he distinctly remembered holding it between his thumb and forefinger before carefully cramming it down his throat.
The wheels on the bus go round and round…
How to make it go away? He imagined he was floating on a fluffy cloud which carried him over a mountain. Up and over all his problems. He looked down on the mountain, and thought it looked so small. He could hardly see the roads going up its sides. Roads that carried cars, trucks and buses.
The wheels on the bus go round and round…
Maybe if he counted his blessings. Bill admitted he had many happy memories with his wife, especially the trips, like the one they took to the Dali Museum with the old farts on the bus.
The wheels on the bus go round and round…
He started counting sheep. Nice cuddly, stupid sheep who never aggravate anyone. They just go baa baa baa. Mama sheep and their little lambs. And the rams. Ram tough trucks, almost as big as buses.
The wheels on the bus go round and round…
What Bill needed was a good fantasy to lull him to sleep. He was too old for the one about a secret weekend rendezvous with Liz Taylor. Poor old Liz was dead now. Maybe he could invent a special time machine that took him back twenty years but took Liz back forty years to an isolated chalet in the Swiss Alps.
Bill became aware that the song had gone. Snuggling down, he pulled the covers up and sighed, anticipating a good night’s sleep.
Then he heard the door open. His wife was coming to bed. He felt her roll in, fluff her pillow and wriggle toward him.
“You missed the best part of that show,” she whispered. “It turned out that after this guy killed his best friend, he married the dead man’s wife and adopted his children.”
“Gracie, the reason I went to bed was because I didn’t want to watch it. I hate shows like that.”
She rolled over in a huff. “You ate ice cream again.”
“I know I ate ice cream.”
“Every time you take your sleeping pill and don’t go to bed right away you eat ice cream, and I can’t stop you. That’s why you’re getting fat.”
The wheels on the bus go round and round…

My Own Best Critic

Just the other day, my friend Jimmy Ferrarro lent me his VHS copy of a 20-year-old production of Pajama Tops which he directed and in which I acted. Mostly I remembered it as a very pleasurable experience because Jimmy is a professional in the show business industry, and it’s always fun to work with someone who knows what he is doing.
As I slipped the tape into my machine I began to have a few jitters when I realized I was about to see what actually happened on the stage as opposed to what I remembered happening. Compare this to picking up something you wrote 20 years ago which you thought was great but in fact was cringe-worthy.
Making allowances for this being a 20-year-old video tape and the poor quality of the sound, I was pleasantly surprised. Jimmy created a fast-paced show with lots of physical comedy. I still waited for my entrance, wondering how my performance would hold up over time.
I should probably stop for a moment to acquaint you with the show Pajama Tops. It was a French sex farce from the early 1950s taking place over a weekend at a country home outside Bayeaux involving two married couples who wanted to cheat on their mates to get even for perceived slights but, surprisingly for the French, were very inept at their attempts. Complicating measures was a buxom maid who aspired someday to be a coquette, a bumbling police inspector and moi, Bernard the poet and flaming gay uninvited house guest. By the third act, Bernard had been transformed into a ladies man because one of the women of the house had slipped into his bed one night and had, how should I phrase it, aroused his manhood. Because it was dark, Bernard didn’t know which one it was but she wore only pajama tops. Once he discovered which one it was, he was going to run away with her and live happily ever after. The complication was that all three women, the two wives and the maid, appeared in pajama tops and each one said she was the one who slipped into my bed and declared I was the love of her life. As I said, this was a farce.
About halfway through the first act I appear in the French doors, my arms in the air, exclaiming “I’m here!”
My first reaction while watching myself on the old tape was, “Damn, I was really young looking!”
I flitted and bounced around that stage like I had Eveready batteries attached. At one point I flew over the arm of the sofa face first, landing on my stomach, bending my legs and crossing and resting my head on the palms of my hands. I had never looked so graceful in my life. It was a ridiculous thing to do, but I did it gracefully. And not once was I out of breath, jumping thither and yon, giggling and screaming all the way.
My wife Janet had always assured me I had stolen the show but I didn’t know whether to believe her since she was the one slipping into my bed every night. She was obligated to say that. Right after the production, I did receive offers from other theaters to play over-the-top gay guys in other comedies but I didn’t want to be type-cast as any particular type of person.
Now I am type-cast as the kindly old story-teller which is the best role I could ask for. Watching the tape, however, I am reminded being Bernard wasn’t bad for a once-in-a-lifetime romp.
I give myself two snaps.

Majority of Two

Wagon loads of folks gathered on a Texas hill a few miles south of the Red River one sunny day in 1848. Murmurs rippled through the crowd of men, women and children and grew to a polite debate about to lose control. They couldn’t decide whether to settle on the broad, treeless expanse of the hilltop or down in the densely wooded valley below between two respectable-sized creeks.
“Why, we got the garden of Eden down there,” Pastor Dooley said loudly, drawing everyone’s attention. “Plenty of trees to build our houses and all the water we’d ever want. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to build down there.”
“You’ll have more than enough water come the rainy season next spring,” Hank Bullard retorted. “I can see those two creeks flooded out and there goes our new homes. I think we should build on the hill, where it’s high and dry.”
“We don’t want our babies to drown!” the pastor’s wife called out.
“Nobody’s gonna drown,” Hank said. “People live next to creeks and rivers all the time and they never drown. ’Course if we build up here we can see the Injuns sneakin’ up for a raid.” He scratched the whiskers on his chin. “Then when they came up the hill at us we could shoot down on them.”
“Who the hell wants to cut and tote all that lumber up the hill to build the houses?” Zeke Hobgood retorted.
“Watch your language!” Pastor Dooley’s eyes filled with indignation. “It’s going to be the Lord’s town no matter where it’s built and there ain’t gonna be no cussin’ in the Lord’s town.”
“I still don’t want to carry all that lumber up the hill,” Zeke mumbled.
“Better carry it up the hill than have it washed down the creek,” Hank said, nodding his head.
By this time all the clouds had drifted away, and the sun was beading down on the settlers. Babies began to cry. Children tugged at their mothers’ aprons, whining that they were thirsty. Men took out their kerchiefs and wiped the sweat from their foreheads. Whisky Pete had been watching the discussion without comment, but he finally got fed up. He pulled out his revolver and shot it in the air. Babies bawled. Women screamed.
“What the hell is goin’ on here!” Zeke bellowed.
“Language!” the pastor scolded.
“This is takin’ this danged democracy thing way too far,” Whisky Pete yelled. “If we’re gonna be a town we all got to be together, be it up on the hill or down in the valley. But I’ll be danged if I’m gonna build a house under this blasted sun.” He reached down and untied his jug from his saddle, lifted it and took a long swig. “Me and my jug of moonshine say we’re living in the valley.”
He gave his horse a giddyup and began riding down the hill. The others looked around and shrugged.
“Well, I guess that’s settled,” Zeke announced.
“It’s the Lord’s will,” the pastor agreed.
Hank spat on the ground and climbed back up into his covered wagon. He shook his reins, starting his horses down the hill after Whisky Pete.
“If that’s what you all want, but don’t come cryin’ to me when the creeks flood.”