Friday, July 30, 2010

A Multiple-Choice Smorgasbord for this Blog Entry Title

Six weeks into summer, and as a marvelous (yet unbelievably hot) July comes to a close, it is time to write a blog entry musing about my comings and goings in the United States this summer. While I have not gone anywhere new at all this summer—that was the point—it has been a delightful time visiting family and friends. At different times this month I would stop and say to myself, “Now that would make an interesting blog entry!”

When I sat down today to write this entry, I had more than one title in mind. This was indeed the biggest puzzle of the summer! What should the title be? I had four titles in mind, for just this single entry…hmmm…maybe it is the AP teacher in me that is always thinking how to help students navigate the wretched waters of the AP multiple choice, but I decided to offer my four potential titles as multiple choices, and then you could select the title you like best! Look at this! Interactive blog entries! How fun!

Here are the four choices:

(a) I held a Tony Award!!
(b) The Last Word in Elegance
(c) The Face of God
(d) Willing to be Lucky

How intriguing…I wonder what each means…well, I will write a little about each one, and you can decide which anecdote seems to sum up the month of July, 2010 for me.

(a) I held a Tony Award!!

This title certainly screams out the denouement of my story of going to get a massage one afternoon in New York City. I spent a total of 19 days in and around New York City this July. I was in Manhattan for about 10 days, in Westchester County for a handful of days, and then made trips to south Jersey and then Long Island. But this one hot day in Manhattan I decided it was time for a massage, my best treat to myself to feel luxurious. I went on-line to look for a masseur. That is always a tricky venture looking on-line, but I had had good luck once before with a great massage (that masseur was on vacation this time). When you look on-line, you need to try and see if this is a legitimate massage and not some sketchy guy with a shady business. I made the appointment with Carl, but still kept up my guard about the nature of the business. I guess that kind of added to the intrigue of the whole thing anyway. I arrive at Carl’s apartment building and immediately I am put at ease about Carl. This is a well-appointed building with tight security and an obvious upscale clientele. When I go to the apartment I am dazzled by the view of midtown Manhattan and also by all the theater posters in the apartment. The massage is fine and all the joints are limbered up.

As I make my may out of the apartment I notice a glass case containing two Tony Awards, the highest accolade in the theater world. I ask Carl about his posters and his awards, and I learn that he is a producer in the Broadway biz. (Of course, I wanted to ask, so why are you doing massage on the side???) He shows me the posters of his shows, and I ask about the Tonys. He won them for producing the shows Spring Awakening and the recent revival of Hair. No way! I saw both of those shows! I talk to him about the shows and what a producer does, clearly fascinated at this interesting meeting. Then I sheepishly ask Carl, may I hold one of the Tony awards? He said sure, opening the glass case and taking it out from its little perch. Yep, it was the award I had seen performers clutch on TV. The medallion does have the face of tragedy on one side and of comedy on the other side. Yes, it does spin. You will be pleased to know I did not scream and act as if I had just won the Tony—I simply held it and spun the medallion a little. That will probably be as close as I come to a Tony, but I relished that little moment. Carl gave me his card and suggested I return sometime if I wanted. The massage was routine, really just average, certainly fine, but no other masseur I know had ever been the recipient of a Tony! And I got to hold it!

(b) The Last Word in Elegance
On July 4th, Christy and I enjoyed our second annual tour of Greenwich Village, walking across, and more to the point, eating our way across Greenwich Village. Last year on July 4th, we were in the Village for a play, and decided to walk across Manhattan at that point, and enjoy all the hints and reminders of Americana that we observed in Greenwich Village. Anyway, we thought it was so fun last year that we repeated it again this year. We had our first stop at a burger joint in the East Village, and ended up patronizing a half dozen bakeries in the West Village. Along the way we walked over 10th Street. We had just left the area owned by New York University now and enjoyed this quiet, leafy street. On West 10th Street, at 34-44 there is plaque on the gorgeous home that caught my eye. The plaque reads, “The homes at 34-44, designed in the late Italianate style, when built in 1844, they were the last word in elegance.” I loved that phrase! I don’t know who wrote that plaque, but it certainly spoke well of an age that Henry James, and later Edith Wharton, tried to evoke in their novels about New York City.

The title also fits for my visits after New York as well. Last week at this time I was catching up with Cookie Jackson, the mother of two boys I taught at Gaston Day School in my first teaching job. By the way, those “boys” have grown up: her son Adam turns 40 this November! Cookie was not only the dearest person to me in those days, but certainly the most elegant. And it was not only the beautiful appointment of her home, or her southern hospitality, but her urbane, witty style. Surely Cookie would be regarded as a modern-day equivalent of “the last word in elegance.” As we talked over the years last Friday afternoon, we laughed and mused about where we have been over these last 20 years.

I looked up “elegance” in the dictionary, and here is some of what Webster notes:
refined grace or dignified propriety; urbanity; btasteful richness of design; dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style; polish, a lucidity and wit.

Cookie Jackson is indeed then the last word in elegance.

(c) The Face of God
This week one of the great treasures of Cincinnati, the summer-time CYPT (Cincinnati Young People’s Theater) performed its annual summer musical. I have been going to these shows for many years, and each year I come away awed by the talents of the dozens of teen-age performers, and so grateful to Tim Perrino, the man who has headed this project since the mid-1980s. I am only angry when I selfishly wish Mr. Perrino had started a year or so before he did so I could have participated in these great productions! This summer he had chosen to do Les Miserables, a show that I know very well, and famously exclaimed in the last 1980s that this would be my favorite show FOR MY WHOLE LIFE! Les Miserables ran on Broadway from 1987 until 2003, and over the course of most of those years, I saw it over and over. I have seen the show in New York, London, Charlotte, Cincinnati, and Columbus. I have taken drama students to see the show, and history students to see the show, and one time an English class which had read the whole Hugo novel.

It is fitting that I should see this show this month, since this month I visited with dear friends Chuck, Audra, Catherine and Tony—four of my favorite people who also happen to have shared my love of this show.

The last line of the Hugo novel, and a line that has a beautiful musical rendering in the show, are the words, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” It has been 10 years since I last saw the show, and how exciting to see it again this summer. What made this 19th time to see the show extra special is that I took my niece Emma, my 11 year old niece to see the show. She and I discussed the plot several times before seeing the show (since the 1200 page novel does make for a lumbering narrative and it does help to know who each person is) and it also added a luster to the show’s pedigree to tell her that one of the Jonas brothers (Nick, if you needed to know) is essaying the role of Marius in London right now.

We saw the cast of 80 teen-agers with four of my “boon companions” (a phrase lifted from the jaunty “Master of the House”). Tracey and Doris and Shelley and Sylvia all sat together with Emma and marveled at the 3-hour spectacle of talent. This show has been such a touchstone for me over the last 23 years and remains a beautiful memory of teaching days and theatrical magic.

(d) Willing to be Lucky

I first moved to New York in 1994. Forty-five years before I arrived in New York City, back in 1949, E.B. White wrote, “No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

That is how my month has felt. I enjoyed the city, yes, of course, but visits with friends like Harrison and Anne and Kess and Kate and Fareeda and Jake and other great people, and I realize, yet again, how blessed I am. I am willing to be lucky. I am willing to be blessed. And my July has born it out to be a lucky and blessed month.

I could add a fifth possible title as well: Happy Anniversary! Today is three years exactly since I got on the plane and left the U.S. to go to Jordan and begin the adventure that prompted the birth of this blog. After 250 or so blog entries, it is indeed a happy anniversary of this chapter in my life. And a month from today, I will be on the plane back to Jordan for year four.

Enjoy your summer. Feel lucky and blessed.