Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Theater

Garrison Keillor Made Me Miss Grandpa John

An Ole and Lena joke:

Ole was on his deathbed when he caught a whiff of rhubarb pie. Wanting nothing more than one more bite of his favorite dessert, he pulled himself out of bed and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen, where his wife Lena had left it cooling on the windowsill. Despite his weakness, he got a plate and a knife and carefully moved the pie to the counter to cut himself a piece.

Just as he was preparing to slide the knife into the pastry, Lena appeared and slapped his hand, scolding, “That’s for the funeral!”

My Grandpa John used to tell me Ole jokes all the time. I’m not sure now if he picked them up from listening to Garrison Keillor or if they were simply imprinted on his brain at birth (he being a Minnesota Swede), but he knew a ton of them. He also recited poetry at the drop of a hat. Sitting in the audience at Garrison Keillor’s show last night, I was transported back to a time when I lived with my grandfather and listened to his never-ending monologues. I remember being annoyed back then — I wish I hadn’t been.

Keillor appeared on the stage in a rumpled suit with red sneakers and proceeded to talk non-stop for 90 minutes or so with no apparent goal in mind. He told stories about his youth, lamented that his life had not been tragic enough for him to become a serious poet, joked about the heat of the desert and what it does to the mind, and gave some sound advice. My favorite bit was that we — all of us — should be cheerful. He pointed out that cheerfulness is not connected to happiness. Cheerfulness is a choice that we make each day, whether we are happy or not. I think I’m cheerful most of the time…but I’m going to strive to be more consistent.

One more Ole joke:

Lena decided that she and Ole needed a bit of culture so she bought tickets to the ballet. That evening, after watching the performance for about thirty minutes, Ole leant over to Lena and whispered in her ear,
“I don’t see why they dance on their toes. Why don’t they just get taller dancers?”

What I imagine Ole and Lena look like…


Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

So, a year ago tomorrow I set out to write a blog about…well…as it turns out, being me: a forty-something Arizonan who writes novels. The biggest surprise to me is that I have actually met my goal of writing posts twice a week. In fact, this is the 104th entry. If you’ve been reading me since the beginning, thank you for spending a few minutes each week with me. I appreciate it. Even if you’ve never commented, you are still a valued reader — and I hope you think of me as something almost like a friend.

Unless you really are my friend, in which case you should continue to think of me as an actual, real-life friend.

I spent this ridiculously hot summer day (118 degrees, y’all — that’s sidewalk-skillet heat) in Scottsdale with my lovely friend, Nikki. We went to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Camelview 5 before doing a little shopping at the Scottsdale Fashion Square. By the way, if you have the opportunity to see this little Joss Whedon-directed gem, do so. I have to admit that the modern-day setting did create a bit of dissonance for me, but the talent of the actors and the quality of the film itself more than made up for that. Also, having seen the Branagh film many times as well as a stage performance or two meant that I spent part of the time mentally comparing the Whedon version to the versions that came before. Nikki, who was unfamiliar with the Shakespearean comedy, enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

I’m also pleased to note that my family has recently taken on a new business endeavor. I’ll tell you more about that later. Tonight, take a moment and watch the trailer for the Branagh version. It’s still the best version I’ve ever seen — sorry, Joss.

Chocolate and Him

When I was a child, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. This had a lot to do with my mom. Every year, we would go to the store and buy paper heart-shaped doilies and Valentine’s Day stickers to make homemade valentines. While everyone else was struggling to figure out which one of the preprinted messages would be acceptable to give to the kids they really didn’t like (because back then mothers always made their children give a valentine to every kid in their class), I put together a classroom’s worth of cute, non-committal cards. If I really liked someone, I could always write on the card; otherwise, a paper heart with a sticker was sufficient.

Valentine’s Day isn’t nearly as great once you grow up. I realized a long time ago that if you expect more than a bit of chocolate on Valentine’s Day, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You see, most men don’t really get Valentine’s Day. They don’t understand why there is another holiday so close to Christmas where they are supposed to spend money on gifts and flowers. If it had been up to men, Valentine’s Day would be on June twenty-fifth and the appropriate gifts would be sports-related.

That’s not to say that Dan isn’t surprisingly romantic. He has done some amazing things for me over the years. He has taken me to Disneyland, despite his better judgment. He planned a trip to Italy because I wanted to go, not because he did. The fact that he loved it was just a bonus. And he proposed to me during a Shakespearean play. None of these events were even remotely associated with a holiday.

Therefore, all I want is a single box of See’s chocolates and my husband’s love every day of the year. Nuts and chews, please.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950–1960

Gotta be careful who you give this one to. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Not Quite Romeo and Juliet

Back in January of 2004, a friend of mine insisted that I put an ad on Yahoo! Personals, a now-defunct online dating site. I had been single for a few years at that point, having offloaded my first husband after three mostly unhappy years of marriage. (My friend Emma once asked me how I knew I should get a divorce. The answer: when you would rather spend the rest of your life alone than one more night with your husband, it’s time to end your marriage.) In any case, I decided to give the internet thing a try. After reviewing some of the rambling ads that discussed everything from the importance of astrological compatibility to the necessity of athletic (or even acrobatic) bodies, I wrote my ad. This is, as best I can remember, what it said:

“Tall quirky writer seeks someone who can laugh at himself and the world. Must be at least 6’0” tall. Sorry, no cats – I’m allergic.”

There were probably a few more words, but that was the gist of the thing. Alongside it, I posted a picture of me standing next to my grandparents’ Rottweiler. The dog might have been a deterrent to potential suitors. In any case, over the course of the next four months I received a grand total of three notes from men who were interested in getting to know me. All three of them started with “I’m not quite six foot, but…” I wrote all three polite notes that basically said the height issue was not negotiable.

Then, in April – right after Easter, as a matter of fact – I received a note that read, “I believe I meet your specifications. Please review my profile to confirm.” (Again, I’m paraphrasing, but this is close to right.) I laughed and checked his profile. Six-foot-three! Yes! Funny and tall!

We exchanged two or three emails before I sent him my phone number. He called me for the first time on April 15th. I remember because I was driving my parents’ tax return to the nearest late-night post-office drop off. He was even funnier on the phone than he was in emails. After some discussion, we set our first date – miniature golf and dinner.

Now, to be fair, this was not Dan’s first choice. He would have preferred dinner and a movie, but I think that movie dates are the worst. This is probably because many years before I went on a movie date with a guy who then decided to lay the worst kiss of my life on me – way too much aggressive tongue action. Bleh. I did offer a zoo option for the first date, but Dan later told me that he wasn’t driving that far or spending that much for some girl he didn’t know. Can’t blame him – he’d already been on a few bad dates through his Yahoo! ad.

When we met at Castles’n’Coasters, he seemed like a nice guy. However, as soon as we started playing, he stopped talking, other than to complain irritably about the woman and two teenagers who were crowding in on us from behind. Finally, we let them play through; then he complained about how slow they were. By the time we finished, I was pretty sure this relationship was DOA. I called my mom from the car to let her know I was going to dinner with him (I intended to pay, since he insisted on paying for the mini-golf game), but that I would be home in no more than two hours.

We drove our separate cars over to Mimi’s. As soon as we sat down at the table together, our conversation began to flow more smoothly. Soon, his impressions had me laughing and we discovered a shared fondness for Britcoms and Shakespeare. We talked about our first marriages – he was still a little bitter about his – and our childhoods. Before we knew it, we were the last patrons in the restaurant.

As he walked me to my car – the back of which was plastered with Christian bumper stickers that might have scared a weaker man off – my phone rang.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Are you okay? Are you in the trunk of a vehicle somewhere?”

“I’m fine. Dinner went well.”

“Are you telling the truth? Can he hear you?”

It took me another minute to convince her that everything was okay and that I was getting into my car to drive home right then. I think Dan and I hugged good night.

The very next day, Dan called and asked me to a Shakespearean play. I guess you could say he had me at “Wilt thou…”

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

Our matchmaker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Dinner and a Show

I’m a bit of a culture snob. I may have mentioned this before in passing. I think I may also have mentioned that my beloved family is more of the hunt, fish, and camp variety, which meant I spent a large portion of my childhood asking where my “real” parents were. Of course, as I grew, it became more than apparent – even to me – that my parents were, in fact, raising me. And that they were just as bewildered as I was.

A natural inclination toward the theater could easily have been starved out of me in the Phoenix of the 1970s. There weren’t a lot of live productions in the valley at that time. Luckily, my mom had at least a small interest in seeing musicals. I’m pretty sure the first show I ever saw was South Pacific, and I remember being in awe of the people who were dancing and singing on the stage. For my ninth birthday, she and Dad took me to see The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Windmill Dinner Theatre. Nothing could have made me happier.

I saw several other shows over the years, and even acted in a few eventually. I loved performing and I had natural comic timing. For a while I thought I wanted to be an actress – then I realized that most actors and actresses work other jobs in order to feed their passion. My friend Fernando is an example of this: being great at something isn’t a guarantee of monetary success. He has worked off and on for most of the twenty years or so that I have known him. He is never happier than when he is acting, but he has almost always worked as a translator to support himself. I wasn’t devoted enough to the craft of acting to live my life that way.

Nevertheless, my passion for theater has never burned out. I fell in love with my husband when he called me the day after our first date and invited me out to see a Shakespearean play. At that moment, I knew he was the one for me.

All this to tell you about our date night.

We started our evening at one of my favorite restaurants in the east valley, the Cornish Pasty Co. It’s a small place with more communal tables than private ones, though we make it a point to take a private one. The servers are pierced and tattooed, as are many of the patrons, but everyone seems friendly and the atmosphere is jovial. The music playing in the background leans heavily toward Motown classics.

The food is the real draw, of course. It is totally unique in the valley – the only place that serves a variety of what was originally a miner’s lunch. Pasties (pronounced “past-ees”) are meat-and-potato-filled pastries with a dough “handle” baked into the top. We each enjoyed a cup of their cream of leek, potato, and Stilton soup, which is smooth and rich with a little bitterness provided by the cheese. It comes with a dense white bread that might be house-made. I particularly like to dip the bread into the soup – perfect! When it came to the pasties, Dan ordered The Pilgrim and I had the Rosemary Chicken. Honestly, he made the better choice. Not that mine was bad – his was better. Stuffed with all the makings of a good Thanksgiving meal, it just worked. By comparison, mine seemed a little lackluster. My one complaint was that our soups and our pasties came at the same time – poor planning on the kitchen’s part, I suppose. My previous service experience was much better.

After dinner, we went to see a Southwest Shakespeare Company production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I had never seen this comedy before – a rarity for me, as we have seen a surprising number of Shakespearean comedies multiple times. The director had chosen to set it in 1914, right before the start of World War I. The costuming for this production was extremely well done, and the use of several period-specific songs for the musical interludes really helped to set the stage. The story centers on four young men and their paramours. The four actors also made a fairly good barbershop quartet, which lent a bit of style to the production.

As is the norm for the company, the casting was perfect. The four young men pulled off the physical comedy as adeptly as they did the verbal jousting of Shakespeare’s script. In my opinion though, the standout of the cast was Rick Davis as Costard, the comical groundskeeper.

While I enjoyed the production, I was less taken with the play itself. It turns out there is a reason I’ve never seen it before – it’s not that great. It’s a play that begs for a sequel; unfortunately, the sequel, Love’s Labour’s Won, is known as Shakespeare’s “lost” play. The director’s pre-show notes suggested that Much Ado About Nothing may be a rewrite of the lost play, and, indeed, I can see a parallel between some of the characters of each. Berowne and Rosaline, for instance, could be Benedick and Beatrice. However, the relationship between the two plays is tenuous at best.

My other problem with the play may not bother anyone else at all: the rhyming aspect. Much of the dialogue is written in rhyming couplets which practically beg to be spoken in sing-song. The actors who fall into the trap invariably sound less like they are acting than reciting a poem. Whenever one of the actors fell into the trap, it jarred me out of the theatrical illusion. It didn’t happen too often, but I can’t help but feel that Shakespeare himself would have regretted his persistent rhyming if he had seen actors of lesser talent perform this play.

If you are in the Phoenix Metro area and are so inclined, I recommend taking in a performance of the play, which runs through September 22nd. While not one of my favorites, it is certainly worth seeing at least once, if only for the comparison to Much Ado About Nothing. And this production is certainly well worth the price of a ticket.

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

The worthy bard himself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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