Sweet Miss Giving’s Cookie

I disagree with comments flashing around Facebook that 1% of Monsters consume 99% of cookies.

Grandma Peggy and I planned a beautiful evening out. We have theater subscriptions for Steppenwolf and had to reschedule our date from Wednesday to Thursday a week later. We did that because our theater date coincided with the funeral of a dear friend. Needless to say, the weather a week earlier was heavenly, warm and dry. The friends we usually go with reported the play was excellent and that we shouldn’t miss it.

The plan was to leave the house at four-thirty for the seven-thirty performance. We would valet park, dine at Gianni’s, and saunter across Halstead Street to Steppenwolf. We did leave at four-thirty. That was it for the plan. From that point on things went awry.

At forty-first street all traffic on the Dan Ryan stopped. Normally, we do not hit heavy traffic until the entrance to the last express lanes at twenty-second street. Traffic delays from twenty-second are more normal than the one we sat in Thursday.  It rained this time, and the line of semi-trucks looked like a railroad train from fortieth to the Loop.

The electronic sign at thirty-ninth said it would be twenty-seven minutes to Circle. (Chicago Circle Campus of the University of Illinois). Circle is at Roosevelt Road (twelfth street from thirty-ninth is twenty-seven blocks or roughly three and a half miles). Thirty minutes later, at twenty-second street, another electronic sign flashed “thirty minutes to Circle.” That didn’t sound so good.

Peggy and I had a wonderful conversation along the way as I watched the mpg indicator on the Death Star drop from 24.5 mpg to 22.5 mpg. We moved very slowly, so slowly that the speedometer needle never left the peg. I thought this jam would be the ideal scenario for the all-electric car. When you don’t move, it doesn’t matter if the electric can only travel forty miles on a charge. Although two and a half hours with head lights on would drain the battery too.

We finally, passed Madison Street, the geographic bisector of town. Traffic began to move north out of the loop at a light warping speed of ten miles per hour.

We pulled into the Steppenwolf parking lot a seven o’clock. Both of us made a mad dash to the rest room for relief. Once the pressure was off our mind the stomach growls kicked in.  We headed for the snack bar, where I spotted the cookies. Not just any cookie, these were Sweet Miss Giving’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I took two off the rack and waited in line to pay. “That’ll be six dollars please.”

Whoa, six bucks for two cookies! It didn’t matter I became the monster and Peggy was the monsterette.

I have to blog about this cookie, I told myself. I stuffed the empty package in my pocket.

The play was as great as our friends told us. I’ll write about it later. We left feeling pretty good about ourselves for having stayed awake for the entire performance, and we actually understood what was going on. Steppenwolf does, at times, present some weird stuff.

Our drive home took a sweet forty-eight minutes.

The following morning I read the label on the cookie package. No wonder these things were so good, one cookie is two servings for a total of five-hundred calories, but Sweet Miss Giving’s cookie made up for missing dinner at Trattoria Gianni’s, and the ridiculous two and a half hour drive.

Spring Variety Show-1955

Homer's Barbershop Quartet

Image via Wikipedia


During Junior year at Mendel the announcement came about a special activity.  I signed up to be in a variety show.  Mendel Men and the girls from neighboring schools were the performers.  I really didn’t know what I was signing up for but I thought it would be fun.  Mister Schulp recruited students to come for try outs.  He organized a chorale group.  A bunch of boys showed up.  He asked each of us to sing a line to test our voices. For some strange reason, he chose me as one of the singers.

This activity created another reason for me to stay at school longer. On days when we rehearsed, and I had to work too, I rarely got home before nine p.m.  On singing only days, I made it home by seven to do homework.

We rehearsed singing in harmony. Until that time, I didn’t know harmony existed, nor could I read music.  I learned to like singing, but it was hard to stay on a line of notes when the guys next to me sang something different into my ear.

Mr. Schulp was patient, but kept pushing and training.  Eventually, we started to sound better. About a month before the performance, the show went into rehearsal at an auditorium west of Mendel down 111th Street.  The stage rehearsals were in the evening, and Dad let me drive the Green Hornet, to the rehearsals.

The chorale did several numbers, the last one being  a barbershop quartet.  That was my first experience with barber shop harmony. The chorale members wore suits with a white shirt and tie.  The barbershop quartet had to change into a red and white striped jacket and a straw hat for their number. My part in the show was short, but I stayed till the end of rehearsal to see all the performers.

Mom and Dad came to the show and enjoyed themselves.  The event was a big hit and a lot of fun.  I never sang in a group again after that experience.

Still In Shock

The latest offering of my Steppenwolf Theater subscription is a play titled “Sex With Strangers.” I am still in shock over this play. First of all, it is very current. The characters and the content of the play is now. I thought I was hip, but after viewing this story I am not sure.

Sex With Strangers has two characters: Ethan and Olivia. He is twenty four, she is thirty something. Ethan is a Blogger who writes about his sexual conquests. He has writen a book about the one hundred or more sexual different encounters he has within a single  year. While he is writing, he blogs about his encounters. Olivia is a serious novelist who has no knowledge of the internet and of Blogging for fame.

I had serious problems with the story within the first act. The play opens with Olivia reading a book while sitting in a modestly outfitted home. There is a knock on the door. She ignores it. The knock turns into a pounding and shouting. A man’s voice is shouting let me in. This is where  I have a problem. She goes to the door and lets the guy, a complete stranger, in.

They talk to each other like they know each other, but in fact, are complete strangers. The place turns out to be in Michigan during the winter. Olivia is there to write. Ethan went there to do the same. He is totally disappointed however, because there is no internet service. He is suddenly lost. No phone, no computer connection, he is stuck with Olivia and the old fashioned method of communicating via conversation.

Within the first act and only after a short time of getting to know each other two complete strangers have sex. The only thing they have in common is that they write. The sex scene is portrayed by the set going dark. In the first half of the play before before the intermission, the lights go dark four times.

Although I was totally shocked by the content and the culture portrayed by these characters, this play was totally enjoyable, and understandable.

Stephen Louis Grush who played Ethan only had one flaw. He was tattooed over much of his body. The ‘toos, although current and contemporary, left me wondering about the guys sexuality. He also resembled a man I knew on my job. I kept seeing Chris not Ethan.

Olivia played by Sally Murphy was totally hot.  I only hope she has mopre sense in real life than her character had.

Both actors gave very convincing performances. All in all, this story was among the very best I have seen at Steppenwolf.

Five stars * * * * *

Enchanting Racism

Cover of "The Rodgers & Hammerstein Colle...

Cover via Amazon

A week ago, I was cleaning my office and found a bare DVD disk of the movie ‘South Pacific.’ The backside was all scratched up. Should I find a jacket for it, or toss it? In order to make a good decision, I watched the movie.

WOW! What a fantastic story. I had forgotten the plot, but recalled of it from a reading of James Michener‘s book ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ I love James Michener books. The first one I read was ‘Poland.’ A Polish friend loaned it to me. My wife Barbara was Polish and I wanted to learn all about her heritage. As are most of Michener’s books, this one was over a thousand pages. I was riveted to the narrative for three days, finishing five hundred pages before getting tired. I set the book down on the end table to keep it handy. The book lie there for a solid year before I picked it up again on a summer weekend that was too hot and humid to go outside.  I read the remaining five hundred pages.

I fell in love with Michener’s style and the historical perspective he gave to his writing. The jacket cover on Poland mentioned him as a Pulitzer Prize winning author. I searched for the book that got him the prize, it was ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ This story was one of his earliest. Contrary to later works, his early books were only three hundred pages. When I finished ‘Tales of the South Pacific,’ I had a clear understanding of the conditions our service people lived through in the Pacific during WWII.

Not all sailors were involved on carriers and cruisers fighting the Japanese. A large number were stationed on remote islands that were thousands of miles from home. They served as maintenance, supply, and hospital stations for those who engaged in battle. Needless to say, when there was no ship to service, these men and women let their own creativity fend the boredom of remote island living. Michener’s narrative of their exploits are both hilarious, and sad, but always factual and entertaining.

The movie, ‘South Pacific,’ is Michener’s story. Rogers and Hammerstein adapted the characters and derived the plot directly from ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ I was amazed at how closely they followed Michener’s work. He included a racial theme in the story, and it was probably one of the first times we got a dose of reality on the racism that existed in our country during the nineteen fifties, and how the distance from home allowed some service people to break barriers.

Roger’s and Hammerstein wrote it as a musical play, and staged it on Broadway where it stayed for many years, finally  making it into the movie.  It became one of the best-loved films of all time. If you watch this movie, and don’t leave it humming, or singing Some Enchanted Evening, you are not alive.

I found a jacket for the DVD and placed in the library with all of  my classics.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Chicago River @ night

Image via Wikipedia

Last night was make up night for our theater subscription. Normally, we go to Steppenwolf with  friends, but when Grandma Peggy and I got the flu we had to reschedule. So, it was solo date night for the old folks.  We bundled up and drove the thirty-five miles to North Halstead Street in Chicago to the Steppenwolf theater. We left early because sometimes we get into a traffic jam that takes thirty to forty minutes to get through. This evening we sailed without any jams and made it from our door to the theater in forty-eight minutes flat.

I pulled up in front of Trattoria Gianni’s and valet parked the Death Star. Gianni’s is across the street and four houses down from the theater. We enjoyed a four-star meal. I would have given it five stars except for the ambiance. The place was cold, and a bus load of women came in for dinner. They made the place so noisy that I had to shut my “state of the art” electronic ears off.

The play was “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” I had never seen it before, but Peggy  saw the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This production of Edward Albee’s work starred Steppenwolf’s ensemble members. Directed by Amy Morton who also starred as Martha. Her husband, Tracy Letts played the part of George.

The story is a riot at times, but also filled with dialogue reminiscent of a marital fencing match. It is obvious that this wife is totally disappointed in her husband’s ambition, and he in turn feels she is a nag. They drink copiously to numb their brains from the ho-hum of their lives.

The characters became real, and I couldn’t picture the actors as anybody but George and Martha. They left me wondering if they were as screwed up in real life as they portrayed on stage. This is a very long play and we almost left when the second intermission arrived. I thought the last scene was rather a strange ending. It turned out that there was another act.

I took the opportunity to run out and retrieve my car from the valet. The valet service ends at eleven, and I had visions of my car being towed by some aggressive towing company for being in a place it didn’t belong with me wondering where the hell it was and how was I going to get home. The valet was right there. My car was parked on the street immediately across from the theater doors. I paid him, got my keys, and made it back to my seat before anyone knew I was gone.

The final act started out being just as conflicted as the first two. The plot had us believing that George and Martha had a son. At the very end George plays one of his games and reveals to Martha that the son is dead. She keeps screaming “why did you have to make it end this way?” That got me to wondering if the son was real or did they just create him to make their lives more fulfilled, or was he a character in one of George’s novels. I left wondering if the couple was nuts, or were they in deep grief over the loss of their only son. Now, I have to do some reading to determine if the son was real. Maybe someone will tell me.

Grandma Peggy and I gave the performance five stars, but next time we will wear long underwear so we can give Gianni’s the fifth star.

Grand Elf One Stars

Grumpa Joe is bursting with pride. He has witnessed four of his Grand Elves in concert over the last two weeks. Each performance has been outstanding. Last night I listened to an amazing bunch of kids with truly God-given talents. The Lincoln-Way  High School is loaded with over the top students. The teachers are motivated to bring out the best in their students, and it shows. Nothing short of excellence is expected. The entire District has the same expectations from the superintendent on down. The performance is called Kaleidoscope. The orchestration is smooth and the kids pull it off flawlessly.

The stage is filled with musical groups from singing chorales (mixed, women’s and men’s), a symphonic band, a sting orchestras, a jazz band, and various smaller groups. The performance begins with a  chorale singing carols then morphs seamlessly to the orchestra, and eventually into  a group of  percussion instruments. The performance  is not  interrupted until the intermission. The second half is equally loaded with marvelous student performers. The evening is genuinely professional in execution.  Each time the scene changes to a new musical group, it is spotlighted. Meanwhile, a new group is quietly assembling on stage in the dark. The background lighting  changes to enhance the performers and the sound.

Two weeks earlier, I enjoyed the performance of two Lincoln-Way non-varsity  bands. One of them featured Grand Elf Two.  Two nights ago, I watched class performances that featured Grand Elves Three and Five, and a wonderfully reverent re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s trip to Nazareth, the birth of Jesus, the arrival of angels and shepherds, and the presentation of gifts by the three kings.

A lack of communication prevented me from going to the Christmas concert in which Grand Elf Five played the trumpet. It would have been the first time I heard him play the instrument.

Meanwhile Grand Elves Six and Seven are celebrating school activities in a city  far from Frankfort. Grumpa Joe hopes to be able to see them next year.

The three oldest Grand Elves are busy living the life of “Thirty Somethings.”  Grandma Peggy and I are praying they find engagement rings in their stockings this Christmas.

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Like My Drunken Uncle Mike

 

     This will sound like I am trying to make my friends and readers feel bad, but yesterday it was cloudy, and cool (fifty-nine degrees) in the desert. The skies threatened rain, blocked the warmth of the sun, and promoted depression. To offset the mood, Peggy and I went to the show. Why waste a cloudy day? There are seven movies on our “to see,” list. We have seen three of them already. It was my turn to pick, and I chose to see Crazy Heart, with Jeff Bridges. I was not disappointed. The drama was there. The actors were the characters. The story, although fiction, was so real it seemed to be a true story.

     I would have liked more country music but it would have detracted. The film left me thirsting for more.  I heard undertones of Waylon Jennings in some places, and Willie Nelson in others.  Jeff Bridges actually sang some of the songs and did a credible job. He sounded like a broken down fifty-seven year old country western singer. It was exactly his part in the film.

     The main character Bad Blake is an alcoholic. Bridges plays the part so well, that it evoked the memory of my alcoholic Uncle Mike; except that my Uncle was a stupid drunk. He became a complete ass when drunk out of his mind. Bridges’ character was semi-functional, and only partly stupid. Jeff Bridges was very accurate in his portrayal. We drove home with me telling Peggy stories about Uncle Mike’s toots.

     White haired seniors filled Arrowhead 18-Theater to capacity for the 2:20 p.m. showing.  At the end, everyone remained. The movie ended, but we wanted to see more. We wanted the story to continue. Bad Blake is a character that deserves another chapter, and the writer Scott Cooper could easily write a sequel that would be just as compelling as the first.

     Jeff Bridges, co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the song The Weary Kind  have been nominated for Academy Awards.  All of them have my vote; they are that good.

Lyrics to The Weary Kind by Ryan Bingham

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

You called all your shots
Shooting 8 ball at the corner truck stop
Somehow this don’t feel like home anymore

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind
And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your body aches
Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate
The days and the nights all feel the same

Whiskey has been a thorn in your side
and it doesn’t forget
the highway that calls for your heart inside

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind
And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your lovers won’t kiss
It’s too damn far from your fingertips
You are the man that ruined her world

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

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