Sunday, August 28, 2011

Postscript: Hurricane Irene

All is calm, though not bright, this afternoon in Spanish Harlem. It's gloomily overcast, breezy, but dry. There's a lovely quiet, as the Metro North trains aren't up and running under my windows. The streets are still empty of cars and people. My hope is that everyone got so caught up in playing Monopoly or gin rummy with their families - or actually holding meaningful conversations (shock, horror!) - that they've forgotten to emerge from their apartment buildings.

I could tell you that I sat up all night, monitoring Hurricane Irene, watching the wind and rain do its best - or worst - to stir up trouble. I won't, though. Truth is, I slept through the whole thing. I went to bed around 1pm and didn't wake up until 9:30. Must've needed the sleep. So no Irene war-stories for you, dear readers. Sorry.

No broken windows. No lost power/water. I don't even see much debris on the streets.

Perhaps it was a Chicken Little response by New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, imposing mandatory evacuations and preparing for the worst. However, the devastation that could have taken place if Irene had hit at the right spot and the right strength would have been catastrophic. It's a gamble either way. That said, the local media was way over the top, even if the event had proved apocalyptic. Alas, it was ever thus.

I like to think it proved that New Yorkers can make rational decisions, prepare for potential chaos in an orderly fashion, and follow directions. These are traits not often attributed to New Yorkers, so a collective pat on the back for your solid reason and lack of panic, fellow citizens.

My favorite Mayor Bloomberg moment was when he was asked if preparations were in place to handle looters. He gave the questioner a sort of puzzled, but cock-sure, look and replied, "New Yorkers don't loot. That's not what we do nowadays." Yes, leave that to the likes of Londoners, Los Angelenos, and New Orleansters. It was then I realized that the main qualification of being mayor of New York is that core cock-sureness in New York City and its citizens. Thank you for having such faith in us, Mr. Mayor. (And I hope we would've lived up to your expectations re: looting.)

Now, back to normal. Goodnight Irene, thank you very much.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Hurricane with a Theme Song

For all you young'uns who don't understand why everyone keeps painting "Goodnight, Irene" on the plywood going up over windows in the hurricane's path, here's the reason.

As we wait for Irene to show us who's boss, we can gather around the old flashlight, grab a guitar and banjo, and sing a few rounds of "Goodnight, Irene," first recorded by Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter in 1932 but made enormously famous by The Weavers in 1950. My daddy used to sing this all the time.

The song has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Tom Waits. But for your listening and learning enjoyment, here are the versions by The Weavers and Lead Belly.

You'll be humming this for days to come. Stay safe and start singin'. Goodnight, Irene.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Gathering Storm

I live on the island of Manhattan, New York City. We get heat waves in the summer, snow storms in the winter. But earthquakes and hurricanes? Pretty darn rare. However, we're ticking off both of those weather boxes this week. Tuesday's earthquake? Meh. The approaching hurricane lovingly named Irene? Mamma mia!

It looks like Miss Irene is heading straight for the World's Biggest Apple. There are mandatory evacuations of hospitals and residents in low-lying areas. The entire public transport system shuts down at noon tomorrow. (So if you're leaving, you'd better get going.) Most Broadway shows have been cancelled Saturday and Sunday. (OK, now things are getting critical.) And if you have the urge to do a little gambling in Atlantic City? Fuggitabahtit. Everything's closed.

My fifth-floor apartment is located just inside Hurricane Zone B. I've never had to gear up for a hurricane, though I've had to get ready for a lot of tornadoes over the years. However, I'm not particularly worried. I'm a mother and a Girl Scout. I've been a PTA president and a television producer. "Prepared" is my middle name (except legally, it's Frances). Anyway.

My biggest fear is losing electrical power and/or water. No. Wait. My biggest fear is loss of life and property. Then my biggest fear is losing power and water. And maybe having the windows blow in on me. But I promise to stay away from those.

But Shorty "Prepared" PJs has plenty of water, non-perishable food stuff (bread, peanut butter, fruit, etc.), flashlight/batteries, candles/matches. I have a land-line phone. (I know! But don't you wish you had one now?) I will keep my BlackBerry, netbook, and iPod plugged in and charging until the power goes, and hope against hope that my little techno-toys maintain power throughout any outage.

My Kindle's clip-on light should allow me to read, whether the power's off or on. (No complaints, there.) Our landlord has asked residents to fill our bathtubs in case we need the extra water for flushing toilets. So I'll do that tomorrow evening. In short, whatever the officials advise me to do, I will do. Plus, anything else I think will keep me safe and comfortable.

This sort of event is where social media shines. Following friends via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs will keep everyone up-to-date minute-by-minute on the emergency and its effects. At the very least it will let friends and family know who's safe or who needs help. Should be an interesting weekend up here.

I can't do a thing about the weather, but I can prepare as best I can. And not be stupid as the wind and rain blow across this island.

Shorty PJs Guide to Audience Etiquette

Follies Performers = +10
Follies Audience = - 492

To Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Elaine Paige, Jayne Houdyshell, Mary Beth Peil, Terri White, and everyone else in this marvelous cast: Let me apologize for the atrocious behavior of the audience at the Friday, August 19th, 8pm performance.

I estimate at least 40 late seatings in orchestra throughout the first act and a fairly steady stream of folks coming and going on bathroom breaks during the entire show. Was this as distracting to you, Dear Cast, as it was for those of us non-late-bathroom-goers who'd come to bask in the glow of your performances? I have never witnessed such disrespectful behavior by an audience ever in my years of theatre-going.

Who are you people who'd plopped down mucho dinero for prime orchestra seats, only to walk in, out, and around like you were in the middle of watching reality TV in the privacy of your fake-paneled dens with barcaloungers? Well, dearies, it seems you need to brush up on your theatre audience etiquette. So, here are the rules:
  1. Never arrive late. Never. The performance time is right there on the ticket. You have plenty of time to get to the theatre, so implement some planning skills. If you arrive late, sit or stand quietly in the back (no chit-chat with the ushers) until intermission. Sorry. If you're late you forfeit your right to a comfy up-close seat for the first act.
  2. If you have a cough, allergies, or a tendency to clear your throat every 15 seconds, come prepared. Bring a bottle of water. Unwrap all your cough lozenges before the show starts.
  3. Do not guzzle gallons of water, iced tea, or martinis at your pre-theatre pre fixe dinner, unless you have the pee-holding characteristics of a camel. Your need to relieve yourself does not take precedence over the rest of us who get views blocked and concentration broken by your traipsing up and down the aisle during a fabulous number or quiet dialogue. Practice your pelvic muscle control and wait until intermission to hit the loo.
  4. If you have incontinence problems, see #3. And get your seats near the back of the theatre, on far left or far right aisles. You'll still be distracting to the rest of us, but I'll cut you a little slack for health/age reasons. However, you get no sympathy from me if you insist on sitting in the middle of rows A-W.
  5. The overture is part of the show. Shut up and listen. Any time the orchestra strikes up, pre-show or intermission, there should be no talking. Conversations must cease. These fine folks have more talent in their little string-plucking finger than you could ever hope to have. Honor those gifts and show due respect.
  6. For goodness sake, people, dress appropriately. I've written about the appalling lack of respect for the orchestra and performers before. Do not turn up wearing cut-offs, tube tops, wife-beaters, and tee shirts. This is Broadway, folks! Broadway! Dress like you care! Dress like you have a date with Bernadette Peters or Daniel Radcliffe after the show. Do your homes, hotel rooms, or flop houses have no mirrors? Hmph.
It's all about respect for your fellow-audience members and the outrageous, unbelievable talents of the performers. Do not interfere with the delicate dance between audience and cast. Those of us who love, love, love theatre expect to be drawn into story, song, emotion - whatever is being offered to us from the stage. Talking, coughing, walking around, and rattling paper all break the magical thread that ties those of us in the seats to the folks treading the boards.

You do not have Shorty PJ's permission to attend another performance of anything (including your daughter's dance recital or your son's 3rd grade play) until you've memorized the rules. Yes, it's that serious.

Now, everyone who caused such an audience ruckus during Follies on August 19th, 8pm performance, please send a hand-written apology to everyone in the cast and orchestra. It's only right.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lord, Lord, Lord, That Woman Is Me.

Friday night, I saw the 40th anniversary production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. I've loved, loved, loved this show's music since I first really got to know it in the late 70's. When I heard the show was hitting New York, it took me about 14 seconds to decide to plop down my hard earned bucks to see this whacking great container of brilliancy and to bask in the glory of the likes of Bernadette Peters torching up the stage.

One of my great theatrical regrets is to have missed seeing with my very own eyes/hearing with my very own ears the original cast of this 1971 gem. It ranks right up there with having missed Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady and Camelot, Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees, and the original Broadway cast of Guys & Dolls. (Damn! Sigh.) I can only imagine what it must've been like to hear the wonderful Dorothy Collins belt out "Losing My Mind," Alexis Smith throw out the sarcastic "Could I Leave You?," or Yvonne de Carlo dredge up her past in "I'm Still Here."

But 40 years later I got to see the whole thing unfold with another superior cast of thousands (or so it seemed), a full blown 28-piece orchestra (rare these days), and an eerie, crumbling theatre set on stage. It's a crazy, sad, tragical show, with lots of humor thrown in. Every song is a jewel. There were very few disappointments. The first act drags a little, in spite of all the fun musical numbers. And Elaine Paige, like most singers, oversells "I'm Still Here," though the rest of her Carlotta was endearing.

Two strong questions threaded their way through this particular Follies for me.

One: which Mary from the past is shadowing me?  In the musical the retired showgirls are shadowed by their former glamour-girl selves. I found myself caught up in the way the young selves studied their future, older selves and began thinking about what young Mary is thinking of aging Mary. And is that younger me 8? 15? 26?

And two:  do you have to be over 60 to finally get this show? Well, having loved it since my late 20's, I can testify that this 60-year-old heard songs like "The Road You Didn't Take," "The Story of Lucy and Jessie," and "Who's That Woman?" with different ears. I think you can understand the regret, the pain, the ego held up to the light in this show at any age, but, boy, the older you are the more you absolutely know what's being put to you in Sondheim's lyrics. Yeah, that woman is me.

OK. I'll shut up now, because this is one show I could talk about for hours. Never fear, I'll spare you that folly.

Who's that woman.
That cheery, weary woman
Who's dressing for yet one more spree?
Each day I see her pass
In my looking-glass--
Lord, Lord, Lord, that woman is me!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Lady Passes

My Aunt Frances was a true Southern lady. One who loved the color blue, sending cards, and living out the Golden Rule.

She died last week. At 88, she'd lived a good long life, so her passing came as no surprise. She was my daddy's little sister, and my middle name is compliments of her. She was not famous - or infamous, but she was a kind soul whose concern for others marked a life of neighborly-ness and service. Aunt Frances took her Christian faith seriously and put it to work everyday.

The first vivid memory I have of her was at a clean-up day at the cemetery next to our family farm in Henrietta, Tennessee. I was perhaps 4 or 5 years old. She gave me little jobs to do and seemed pleased that I stuck to her side. Then there was the time that her family visited us in Chattanooga and came to our elementary school fall carnival. Aunt Frances won a large turkey platter at one of the carnival raffles. She'd always point that platter out to me when we'd visit her home in Bordeaux. My growing up years are filled with summer and Christmas memories of her and being on the receiving end of her kindness.

Frances never missed sending birthday and Christmas cards. We used to talk on the phone frequently, but her hearing failed her over the last few years, making calls frustrating for both of us, I suspect. I resorted to sending her cards. She liked cards.

Her favorite color was blue. I think everyone in our family makes some subconscious connection between Aunt Frances and the color blue, even today. She had three wonderful sons - my cousins Jack, Tommy, and Terry - whom she loved to no end. They lovingly looked after her and my Uncle Horace, who died in 1998, throughout years of declining health.

However, another part of Aunt Frances' mythology is the fact that she always wanted a daughter. I'm not speaking out of school on this, because everyone I talked to at her funeral - family members, neighbors, church friends - mentioned it. Cousin Tommy even talked about it in his eulogy (he was supposed to be Beverly, not Tommy, by the way). My sister and I were the recipients of her mother/daughter attention whenever we visited, ranging from home permanents to hand-made clothes. Fortunately, Aunt Frances had marvelous daughters-in-law and three lovely granddaughters, in addition to two fabulous grandsons, so she ended up with lots of girls.

It was important for me to attend her funeral last week in Nashville. As her namesake-niece and daughter of her big brother, I couldn't imagine not being there. The funeral was a celebratory affair. Tommy did an outstandingly hilarious job of a eulogy that captured my aunt's humanity, humility, and love and made us laugh as well as cry. He also played her favorite hymns (good old Gospel-style).  I loved seeing my Nashville cousins again and getting reacquainted with their families. At the cemetery, I got to see my grandmother and granddaddy's graves, which I hadn't seen in years. All in all, it was a nice homecoming/home-going.

So I honor, with much love, my blue-loving, daughter-envying, card-sending, Christian-living Southern Aunt Frances. Make way as a lady passes.