Ramble With Me.

Behind The Scenes.

I’ll draw the curtain:

My lord’s almost so far transported that

He’ll think anon it lives.

The Winter’s Tale, Act V, sc.3

Every summer the Nashville Shakespeare Festival puts on at least one play in Centennial Park. This summer they’re being especially ambitious with two plays: Antony & Cleopatra and The Winter’s Tale. Really they’re being extremely ambitious by putting on The Winter’s Tale in Nashville in the summer, although part of the play does take place in the summer, but that’s another—no, wait, it is the story. Never mind.

The funny thing to me is I read both of these plays in a college Shakespeare class under the tutelage of a professor who pointed out that they’re two of The Bard’s least-produced plays. Productions of Romeo & Juliet or Twelfth Night are like episodes of M*A*S*H—always on somewhere, and obviously the NSF, which put on its first play in the park in 1988, has decided there are only so many times they can do The Comedy of Errors (3), Much Ado About Nothing (3), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (3), The Taming Of The Shrew (2), or The Merry Wives of Windsor (2).

And they’ve done The Winter’s Tale before, in 2005, which makes me think the the rerun is a little early since the play itself covers a span of sixteen years.

While the plays themselves are always great I also like to go and look behind the scenes. I didn’t interrupt but I did catch some of the cast at work.

Here’s the stage still under construction. Notice that they’re using one stage for both plays, which is one of the interesting things about Shakespeare. The original productions were in a grassy area behind the Centennial Sportsplex with no sets, only a very few props, and almost no costuming. Well, the actors did wear clothes, and for that we should be grateful—Falstaff couldn’t get the wrinkles out of his birthday suit—but originally the dress code for cast and audience alike was come as you are.

And since all the world’s a stage who could resist a look behind the scenes?

My Two Cents.

There were a bunch of pennies on the sidewalk. Why someone left them there is beyond me, and I could have just left them, but instead I picked them all up. Hey, if you see a penny and pick it up all the day you’ll have good luck, right? And even though the day was mostly over and I was headed home I figured maybe it’s a twenty-four hour good luck and maybe it’s cumulative so picking up all those pennies I’d get nine or twelve days of good luck. I couldn’t use the pennies to pay my bus fare, unlike that time several years ago when I poured exact change–all in pennies–into a bus fare collector, but still pennies add up. That’s at least one reason I think the US Treasury keeps producing pennies, unlike our neighbor to the north Canada that abandoned the penny a few years ago. And that’s one of the few things Canada has done that bugs me a little. When I was a kid I was bitten by the numismatic bug, although the doctor gave me a shot and I got better. It was finding Canadian pennies in change that got me interested in coin collecting; it made me feel in touch with the rest of the world. Years later I’d get a job in a mailroom and the foreign stamps that came in turned me into a bit of a Johnny-come-philately, but that’s another story.

Coins even helped teach me some history, like when I first found a 1967 Canadian penny which, unlike the regular maple leaf penny, has a  dove. So it doesn’t bother me that my collection of Canadian pennies, large as it is, is still barely worth a loonie–even less than that, now that the pennies are no longer legal tender. It’s a shame the 2017 Canadian coins, which celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, won’t include a penny.

Still I wish Canada good luck on the sesquicentennial. Hey, here’s a penny.

 

The Next Generation.

Source: Billiards Digest

The future of every sport depends on the kids who play it. The reason soccer has finally gotten major recognition in the U.S., after long obscurity in spite of being the most popular sport in the world, is because the kids who were driven to afternoon and Saturday games by their soccer moms have now grown up. I remember playing soccer as a kid and being asked by my friends, “What’s soccer?” And then when I met people from other countries and told them I played soccer as a kid they’d ask, “What’s soccer?” and I’d have to explain that in the U.S. we have a completely different game that has usurped the moniker “football”. Unlike what Europeans call “the beautiful game” American football players hold the ball. With their hands. But that’s another story.

As a big fan of pool and billiards I’m really excited about the 2017 Atlantic Challenge Cup that’s going on in Klagenfurt, Austria, from July 5th through 8th, that’s sort of a junior version of the Mosconi Cup, with young players representing the United States and Europe facing off against each other. Pool and billiards have been in decline since, well, they’ve had their ups and downs, more downs than ups. The days when someone like someone like self-described “Billiard Bum” Dan McGorty could travel cross-country with no money in his pocket, hustling pool in every small town for just enough money for meals, are long gone. It’s hard to find a pool hall even in a large town now, and even when you do find one it’s likely to only have standard American pocket tables. Forget balkline or other kinds of tables. A woman I used to work with told me her husband, a professional drummer, regularly played snooker.

“Where does he go that’s got a snooker table?” I asked, intrigued because I love the game.

“Oh, he goes to John Prine’s house,” she replied breezily. Only in Nashville.

And I get it. Even a single pool table requires a lot of real estate. Soccer is popular because all it requires is a field and a ball. Or a slightly round object. Or at least something that can be kicked. It’s no accident that most professional pool players are the children of pool players. It’s an expensive hobby, and the shrinking number of pool halls makes it even more expensive, with players having to go as far as, well, Klagenfurt, Austria, for matches.

Sure, I’m rooting for Team U.S. and its members like April Larson, who’s such an exceptionally talented and dedicated player she’s already made the cover of Billiards Digest–and she’s still in high school, where she maintains a 4.0 GPA. But I’m also just glad there’s a new generation keeping what I call the other beautiful game alive.

 

On The Road Again.

The last time I rode a Greyhound bus was in 2000. I recently took one to Cincinnati. It would have been cheaper to fly, but since there are no direct flights from Nashville to Cincinnati the flight would have meant stopovers in Dallas, Honolulu, and Poughkeepsie, and while I didn’t mind that my wife thought it wasn’t such a great idea. I was also looking forward to seeing what had changed.

The first change, of course, was the Greyhound station itself. The old one was dull, gray, and dingy, and filled with an assortment of drifters, grifters, and sifters. The new one, in an entirely different location, is a much brighter shade of gray and seemed to have picked up a higher class of clientele. The old black and white TV sets firmly attached to chairs that cost you a quarter for five minutes of viewing were gone, replaced with plugs for charging whatever devices you happen to be carrying. I couldn’t use any, though, because there was no sitting room. My bus was scheduled to leave at 5:05 am. I got there at 4:15, hoping to beat the crowd, not realizing that the crowd had been there since at least the day before and taken up almost all available space. Maybe recent events in the airline industry have prompted more people to stay grounded.

In the old days there’d be an announcement of departures over a crackly intercom. This time a driver stood at one of the terminal doors and, in a clear voice loud enough to be heard by everyone,  announced, “ALL THOSE DEPARTING FOR MEMPHIS, ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY, AND ON PLEASE LINE UP HERE!”

Needless to say this was not my bus. My bus, it turned out, was leaving from the terminal next to it, the one where the driver walked in, looked around and mumbled something to the people closest to him before leaving again. I had to ask around a bit to confirm that it really was the bus to Cincinnati because the LED sign on the front of the bus said HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

I’m not making that up. It was part of Greyhound’s War on Some Late May Holiday.

In the old days whenever I’d take a Greyhound bus there were usually a lot of seats available. This time when I stepped onto the bus every seat was taken except one. In the very back. Next to the bathroom. A woman sat in the window seat on the far right. Next to her, in the middle seat, was a man holding a baby with his legs spread so far apart his knee was in the aisle.

The only open seat was to the left of him.

I tried to make myself as small as possible and we both might have been more comfortable if he’d put his knees together. Instead he decided to complain bitterly about the bus being too crowded. And I realized that f-bombs, unlike other forms of munition, lose their strength when you drop one every other word, but that’s another story.

The woman leaned across him and smiled at me. “Excuse me sir, could you move to another seat?”

“I would if there were one.”

It was true and also resulted in the man dropping several more f-bombs, none of which, surprisingly, were directed at me. Then we got a lucky break: a bus company representative came on and offered travel vouchers to anyone who’d take a later bus. I might have taken the offer but my diaphragm was compressed by my fellow passenger’s lower thigh. Several people did, though, and I was able to squeeze out and grab a window seat.

The bus finally got underway a little after six and I settled back with approximately two days of podcasts I’d downloaded in preparation for a long trip.

The bus stopped at Louisville en route to Cincinnati. In the old days I only had to get off the bus at my final destination. Disembarkation is now mandatory at every stop, so I got to look around the Louisville station and get yelled at for taking pictures of the cop and his sniffer dog.

The Louisville station, by the way, has been updated like the Nashville one, and, in addition to a bright gray color and lack of dinginess, also boasts a gift shop and game room.

Then it was back on the bus and I was fortunately able to snag another window seat. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful and, possibly because the driver exceeded the speed limit a few times, we arrived in Cincinnati on time.

The Cincinnati Greyhound station has not been updated, and I’m pretty sure they even still had some of those chairs with the TVs. Next time I may opt for the flight with the stopovers, even if it does mean going to Poughkeepsie.

Appropriately Inappropriate.

It’s Uranus Day!

You might be thinking I just pulled that out of my ass but really it was on March 13th, 1781 that Sir William Herschel first observed an undiscovered planet beyond the orbit of Saturn. Finding Uranus was not easy. Herschel had to get up before the crack of dawn and look deeply into the nooks and crannies of the night sky. At first he thought what he’d spotted was a comet because the idea of another planet all the way up there seemed ridiculous. Other astronomers who probed the sky had seen Uranus and assumed it was a star or comet. It took almost two years of analysis and scrutiny before Herschel himself acknowledged that he’d discovered Uranus. The name for the new planet was also not accepted for almost seventy years because astronomers kept laughing every time someone asked if they’d been looking at Uranus, but it’s been the butt of jokes ever since.

And what better way to celebrate this day of Uranus than with a trip to historic Uranus, Missouri? If you want to know how to get to Uranus all you have to do is take the Herschel Highway. If you don’t get that joke find an astronomer or a thirteen-year old boy to explain it to you after they stop laughing.

 

Holy Mackerel.

I used to walk to Centennial Park at least two times a week, sometimes more depending on how work was going. My job isn’t stressful but sometimes I still need to get out and clear my head. This seems to be especially true in winter, but when the shock of cold air hits me my head clears up pretty quickly and I don’t need to go far. For some reason I’ve also found myself drawn in the opposite direction most of the time, toward the city’s urban heart instead of away from it, instead of to this small oasis of nature in the middle of the urban sprawl.

I felt that way today too. I felt like I needed to stick to concrete, to wander between buildings and construction and the destruction of old neighborhoods. So naturally I headed in the exact opposite direction.

I took some bread from my lunchwith me too. Back when I went to Centennial Park regularly I’d sometimes feed the ducks, but only in winter, because in the summer the ducks don’t want old bread when they’ve got other stuff to feed on. And even in the winter they can be finicky which is fine because I’ve learned that bread is bad for ducks. The ducks weren’t out either. They were sticking to their island in the middle of the lake.

Still I tossed the remains of my lunch into the water and enjoyed the frenzy that followed. The ducks may not need any handouts but I assume pickings are slim under the surface at this time of year. And then I turned back to work, my head a lot clearer from a moment of nature bread in tooth and claw.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Source: National Library of Wales

Source: National Library of Wales

Dylan Thomas died on November 9th, 1953, almost sixty-three years ago, in New York after a series of reading tours and the premiere of his play for voices Under Milk Wood. In November 1991, twenty-five years ago, give or take a few days, I made a pilgrimage to Laugharne, Wales, the place he called home in the last years of his life and where he wrote his last poems.

I’ve written about my somewhat ill-fated trip to Dylan’s home before. What I didn’t think about until recently was the similarities between Dylan’s trips across the United States and my trip to and across Britain, what had and hadn’t changed, and what’s changed since then.

Dylan Thomas was a famous poet when he came to the United States to do a series of reading tours. His first trip was an overnight flight where he was too shy to talk to any of his fellow passengers whom he described, according to one source, as a lot of “gnomes, international spies, and Presbyterians”. I was a mere student wedged into a center seat–I always prefer a window seat–between fellow students. Dylan spent several days getting loaded in New York before he went off to other parts. As soon as I arrived in London my fellow students and I were loaded onto a bus and driven off to Grantham which gave us a few hours to get to know each other.

Dylan’s itinerary across America was carefully planned and he read and talked to packed performance halls. When I set out for his home I had no clue where the hell I was going and neither did anyone else. He was mostly driven across America although he also took a few trains. Most of my trip was by train, although I could only get to Laugharne by an old rickety bus–thirty-eight years after Dylan Thomas’s death the little Welsh seaside town he loved was still isolated. None of his biographers, including his wife Caitlin, know why he settled in Laugharne, just that it had always been a stop on his weekend pub crawls. He was a wanderer and I think he just found it by accident and liked the look of the place.

And on my return trip I arrived at Nottingham station so late at night I had to take a taxi from there to Grantham. I was driven by Big Dave who, when he learned where I’d been, told me the Welsh were a lot of gnomes, international spies, and Presbyterians.

The main thing that’s changed in the intervening quarter century is the internet. The Boat House Museum, closed when I arrived at its gate, has its own website. Now I can check train times and bus schedules too. I could plan out the entire trip from this side of the pond. In 1991 it was mainly dumb luck that I found myself accidentally sitting in Dylan’s seat, or in his corner anyway, in the Brown’s Hotel Pub in Laugharne where I drank a pint before I walked a bat-black path up a hill and sat by his grave.

If I made the same trip now there’d be no accidents, no missed connections, no aimless wandering. I’d know in advance what I’d find and that leaves me feeling something has been lost.

 

%d bloggers like this: