Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Part One -Bubba and the Death Tiki

The coverage of Hurricane Harvey has me thinking about another climate invasion, the one that destroyed Kona Village on the Big Island.  It was the tsunami that hit Hawaii in March of 2011. Kona Village was originally built in 1965 and there are plans to rebuild and open once more, for the 2019 season.  But:
Before that disaster Kona Village was one of my favorited places to vacation. Everyone got their own hut surrounding either a small shaded lake or one that had a beach front.  There was no television, no radio nor a telephone in any of the huts and only the open windows and a ceiling fan for any sort of air conditioning. All you really needed, outside of just having fun, was taken care of with just a signature and hut number.  If you really needed to contact the outside world for an emergency, there was one land line telephone at the caretaker/receptionists desk at the dining hall.  It was great for the kids, a protected place to rough it old Hawaian style.  
One morning I made my way down to the pool - which has a bar. (It was not totally without creature comforts).  The family was off doing activities so I decided to purposefully pursue my relaxation.  I settled into a nice lounge chair in the shade of a palm tree and ordered a Bloody Mary. The great thing about Hawaii and its climate, if you are just out of the sun in any sort of shade, there is a trade wind breeze that fans you like a celestial concubine.  When the bartender came back with my drink he said, 
"Do you want to just keep that on the tab open, or do you want to close it."
"Tab?" I said.  I just arrived and this was my first time to order anything from this bar.  The bartender said, 
"You have an open tab at the bar."
"I don't think so. It must be the wrong hut number, because I just got here.  This is the first thing I have ordered from this Bar." 
The bartender was very nice and said he would check on it, as I enjoyed the Bloody Mary and the beautiful Hawaian morning.  Another great thing is the perfumed air that is Hawaii.  I am not sure what the scent is, Sandi says Plumeria, I don't know about things like that.  To me it just smells like a wonderful morning on the shores of a Hawaian beach.  It is, as the poets say,  intoxicating. 
A few minutes later the bar-keep brought me one of those receipt forms with the drink orders recorded.  Sure enough, there was a charge for three Pina Coladas at 9 bucks a piece with my hut number at the top.  They were all from earlier that day.
"Gee, I don't know what these charges are. Like I said, I just got here and this is my first order."  
Again the Bartender was very non-invasive and said he would see what happened.  
It gave me time to think about the experience I had the morning before.  Kona Village was built on the edge of an old lava flow.  These ubiquitous rock formations look like gigantic frozen cow patties covering the country side.  But the lava flows just on the edge of the Kona Village property were even more special. Carved  into these lava rocks were petroglyphs from hundreds of years ago.  Ancient graffiti scratched into the surface of the lava by people who sat exactly where I currently sat, centuries before.  There were hundreds of these ancient art projects.   Some of the drawings have worn away to near invisibility, but the idea that I was connected with the art of ancient artists was a religious experience.
Now Hawaii is a Mother Earth experience to me.  I am fascinated by the culture and traditions of the Island people and always appreciate it when I'm there.  I got the idea that I would commune with the spirits of thoses artists from long ago and celebrate sunrise over the petroglyphs.  I was so excited to have this adventure that I woke up in time for sunrise even without an alarm clock.  
It was twighlight and there was just enough light to easily negotiate the lava flows. I found a place to sit in the middle of the petroglyph field.  The sun was not yet up but as the sky became brighter by the second, I could see the markings more clearly.  I sat there in contemplation of this incredible artistic time warp tracing my finger along one of the figures that had been scratched into stone.  That is when the first rays of the sun beamed across the edge of this sea of lava.  Suddenly and for only about a minute or less, the entire lava field lit up with the intense light of the sun's first rays.  All around me and even where I was sitting I suddenly witnessed not hundreds but thousands of petroglyphs.  The sun was casting very low angle shadows so that even the most subtle scratch in a rock became clearly visible.  Petroglyphs which had eroded too far down to actually see in full sun light flashed back alive with new beauty.  I don't know how long it was before the sun moved from this perfect angle, but as quickly as the old drawings appeared they were gone again.  It was a cosmic gift to me for getting up so early on a vacation morning.

Sitting by the pool looking out at the morning ocean waves, I had forgotten about the real world for a moment.  Just in time for my second Bloody Mary the bartender appears in my own personal paradise.  He has with him the signed bar receipts for the Pina Colada's that were on my tab.  Sure enough, my hut number and my signature were prominently inscribed on the tickets....but something was just not right.  I took off my sunglasses to examine the signature more closely.  It wasn't my writing.  It wasn't Sandi's writing, but it was familiar.  It only took a few extra seconds to realize it was the hand writing of my youngest son.  
"Did my son order these?" I said to the bartender.
"The little red haired kid? Yeah that was him." 
"He's eight years old...." I said with a little bit of an edge.
"Oh, they were virgin Pina Coladas... just the mix not the rum."  Naturally the price difference between a high octane Pina and the virgin Pina was only 50 cents so it was just another sale for his shift.  
My young son had figures out that anything he might want was just a "signature" away.  
I said, "Well, in that case put another Bloody Mary on my son's tab."

Then came  the day when a wooden Tiki Statue washed up on shore of Kona Village....  To be continued.... 
Part 2 - Bubba's Death Tiki... tomorrow.  

For now,

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fly American

My friend Harry Anderson came in town over the weekend for the day to attend a funeral.  I picked him up at the airport and was amazed that he was traveling so light even for just a day's visit.  Literally he had come cross country with two small briefcases.  Both bags together were not as big as a single roll aboard and when he arrived on American Airlines he was carrying both the bags in one hand.  In fact they were of a size that both would fit easily under the seat.  But that is only the preamble to the story.
After the funeral service we headed to the airport.  On the way we stopped at Creature Features in Burbank. It is Harry's favorite store and he is arguably their biggest customer.  Of course while we were there we run into a mutual friend who is sharing the store with his friend from England.  It was serendipity, which we celebrated by continuing the conversation at the nearest pub.  Turns out it was only around the block from Creature Features. There was much conversation and since everyone is a magician but me, I heard secrets that I can't reveal lest they throw me off the Magic Castle roster of members.  So instead of commenting on that part of the trip, I will move on. 
I dropped Harry off at the airport in plenty of time to get to the gate.  But before I got home he called me to tell me what happened.  To get one of the best internet travel deals, Harry booked an arrival on American and a departure on United.  At the counter they asked how many bags he wished to check.  He held up the two small breifcases and said, "This is all I have."  That is when "traveling light" became an issue. 
It seems that this particular ticket on United did not allow for any carry-on bags. Yes you have heard that this might happen, well United has instituted this weird class of ticket.  Harry said he would pay the fee but that was not acceptable.  Even paying a checked baggage fee would not indemnify the cheap price. They said, "There is nothing we can do but check your luggage." 
When faced with rules that make no sense I too have been known to attempt use of the celebrity card. For Harry it went something like this:  "I am a magician and in these bags are part of my act.  I purposefully packed them in bags that would carry on easily. The last time I was here in LA I checked a bag and it was lost for two days. I had been inspected by TSA who did not pack it up the way it was and some of my stuff was broken."  When that fell on deaf ears he said, "Did you ever watch Night Court?"  No response, "How about the other show I did called Dave's World?"  Blank look.  "Maybe you saw one of the Saturday Night Live shows I did... maybe when I hosted?"  
The truth is these counter agents for United have not see a video screen that didn't have a reservation code and seat assignments on it in decades.  There was no way the bags would be carry on.  This conversation with these agents was a non starter. Suddenly, Harry's fairy godmother shows up.  She is a supervisor, older, more in the demographic that would have been a fan of Night Court.  Harry took a shot.  "Hi, I wonder if you can help me?"  
"OMG you are Harry Anderson. I've seen you on TV."  Selfie's came next with Harry and the supervisor.  Harry explained his delimna.  The agents countered with this logic: "Well, even if we let you go to the gate with those bags, TSA will not let you through. That ticket doesn't allow you to carry on.  They will make you check the bags and that is a bigger hassle."
Now let me say that in all my miles of traveling by air before and after the installation of the TSA, I have never heard this could happen.  The only thing TSA is looking for on your ticket is the TSA cleared stamp and if the name, day and time of the ticket is all correct. I can't imagine they know every code for every discounted ticket and what that means.  But that is the excuse the gate agents used to tell Harry he had to check his stuff.  
Harry once again explained the events of his last experience with checked baggage and once again held up the tiny carry ons.  
The supervisor looked at Harry, looked at the bags and then the agents who were holding firm on a draconian regulation. Then she said to the agents,
"Don't you guys know medical equipment when you see it" and stamped his ticket with red stamp.  She said, "You have a nice trip Mr. Anderson. " 
And that was that.  
Harry told me he thanked her and asked what would be the best thing to do if this ever comes up again.  She said, "Fly American". 
It was great to see Harry, we are like kids at camp every time we have the chance to get together.  However, I was glad this time he was flying and not me. 
As you were,

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Theatrical Post Mortem

This is a picture from last night.  It was a confusing Marquee to say the least.  It appears that a show called "Jay Johnson- One Night Only" closed a week ago after running since June 30.  It was actually a black box acoustical version of my show "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" entitled "Excess Baggage" and it played for  one night only August 19th.  Evidently they changed the name of the show and not the date/dates. To all my friends who came in spite of a dyslexic marquee, thank you.  I didn't get to visit much with anyone for very long at the post show gala.  But I knew you were there and appreciate your attendance even if I could only give you a quick hug after wards.

The one thing that I know after performing "one night only" at the Group Repertory Theater last night is this: I don't know how I did 8 of those shows a week at the Helen Hayes in New York. If anyone says, "you were younger then" they risk a verbal smack down from some wooden actors.  In those Hayes  days I would come home and write about the experience before I went to bed.  Last night I was too exhausted to sleep, much less to use my fingers for typing. But with the perspective of the "morning after" I have come to some conclusions about my show and performing it.

It's not a big theater and the sound system is mostly used as background sound effects for their productions.  I knew it was going to be a nakedly acoustic show but I also knew I could be heard clearly, even un-amplified. After all,  aren't we actors supposed to be able to do that?   I found the lack of amplification was not an issue when delivering the text of the show,  but performing the delicacies of ventriloquism was a challenge.   Being a ventriloquial purist I was shocked at how much I have become accustomed to amplification.  Not so much for the audience as for me.   More than anything, I missed stage monitors. So as not to get too technical and bore readers who are not ventriloquists here is the easy explanation. 

A distant voice requires the vent to "recreate" a sound as if it is coming from another place.  This is done by manipulating the epiglottis to change the amplitude of the sound. (See the Jay Johnson book on ventriloquism to come out soon).  It is basically a balance between diaphragm pressure and the controlled resistance of the vocal chords.  If you push too much with your diaphragm or do not have the correct tension on your chords the "distant voice" is pushed out of the sweet spot you're going for.  

For years, and certainly every time I have ever done my theatrical show, I have relied on hearing what the audience is hearing to adjust that distant voice sweet spot.  It is like singing off pitch, and if you can't hear the pitch you can't correct it.  I have to hear what the audience is hearing, not the sound  I hear in my head.  In a perfect situation I have stage monitors, second best is performing with a house audio system that allows me to adjust my hearing to the "bounce back" sound.  In this case I had neither.  I found that my training to project my voice to be heard without a mic was in direct conflict to finding that sweet spot of the distance voice.  Since I could not hear what the audience was hearing it was easy to lose the balance.  

I am sure that if I were to have more than one night in a "mic-less" theatre my ears and technique would adjust to find the sweet spot. However,  when opening night is closing night there is no chance to learn those corrections. Maybe that's what I love about performing. It doesn't matter how long you have done something or how good you try to be; there is always more to learn because every audience and every theater is different. 

The audience was wonderful and followed the journey and my story with sublimely supportive energy. They did not seem to know  my ears were continually trying to decipher what they were hearing.  I was glad to help raise some money for the theater. Perhaps an updated sound system can go into the budget.

I was lucky to have one of my co-directors in town for this show.  Murphy Cross is not only a wonderfully creative soul, she knows this show better than I do and always has the perfect perspective.  I was treading water until she stepped in and brought her incredible vision to not only the space but to my performance last night.  Her gentleness and angelic qualities are unique in the ego driven world of show business, and I will always be grateful for the Muse that brought us together.  I probably better stop my effusiveness at this point, in case Sandi is reading my blog.  However, if anyone could think more of my friend and partner Murphy Cross than me and Paul Kreppel,  it would be my wife Sandi.  
The task of repacking the show. 

I didn't make a curtain speech last night but if I had , on top of the list of people to thank would be Sandi and Murphy.  Followed by Stan Mazin, Mr. Kent, Rishie, Steve, Larry and all the people who make the Group Rep Theater function. 

For me it will be a day of trying to repack the show for the next performance. That is of course after I catch up on some rest.
As you were,

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

High Crimes and Stupidism

 This is not a meme, nor is it a photoshopped picture.  I actually saw this sign at a new construction site in Rancho Cugcamonga.  To me it symbolizes the unrest this country is experiencing, we know something is wrong and we know conflict is coming, we just don't know what it yet might be.
The country is in a leadership crisis.  We are like chickens with our heads chopped off, running around with no direction.  The country needs someone who will "stand" for America and unite us like a leader is supposed to do. 
The founders of our country and the creators of the Constitution addressed the possibility that we could accidently elect a crook as President.  Crooks are usually clever enough to pull the wool over the public's eyes to get in office.  They created Impeachment so that we could get rid of the crook before destroying our Government.  
The founding Fathers assumed we might elect a person  we didn't always agree with but at least had the character and integrity to lead America.  That is why the threshold is so high for Impeachment.  We can't just Impeach a person because we don't like them.  We are a country of laws and the President has to break one of those laws for us to use the process to remove him or punish his behavior.  That is supposed to be true for EVERY American citizen.
None of the Constitional framers thought we might some day elect a narcissistic, racist, moron who wanted to be the Emperor rather than public servant. They never thought we would have a President who is so ignorant of what the country is and how it works.  They never imagined we would elect a liar who would threaten, bully and berate the very people he is supposed to be leading.  They never imagined we could elect a person who would praise dictators but scold Gold Star parents.  

Unfortunately, being an asshole is not a crime.  Being a lousy human example and worthless leader with no principles or agenda is also not a crime. Until a duly elected President commits an indictable crime, he stays in office.  Unless the investigation now underway finds some definite law that 45 has broken, we are stuck with him.  In light of this, unless convicted or forced to resign,  he is the de facto leader.  

Without a leader who can lead we are like a study hall class with a bad substitute teacher.  With no one to give us an example of what good behavior is supposed to look like, those students who feel emboldened by a lack of direction will attempt to take over.  They will fill the leadership gap with their own bad acts. With no one to tell them to sit down and shut up, they will continue to disrupt the rest of the class.  
Allowing and, yes, even participating in bad behavior does not clear the bar for High Crimes of a President, but it is just as destructive.  By turning your head, waiting days to condemn bad acts and bad behavior,  you are basically sanctioning it.  If you don't inoculate a virus early, it will spread, grow and destroy its host.  

Doing Corporate shows I learned something that is very true for the country today.  I noticed that if a joke was on the edge of what might be acceptable for that specific group, the crowd would look to the CEO to see if they think the joke is funny before they will laugh.  A captive audience will look to their leader to see if something is acceptable to the group.  They will follow his lead.  The country is looking to the President to see if this current behavior is acceptable. If it doesn't seem to bother the one in charge, it must be okay.

If we do not stand for something we will fall for everything. How can we combat a rogue Nuclear threat when we are not even united on who is an enemy? Ultimately this cancer on Constitution leadership is much more dangerous than North Korean nukes. 

We expect a President to be the highest example of Freedom, Liberty and Tolerance 24 hours a day 7 days a week while occupying the office. We expect them to be their absolute best, much better than they were as an average citizen.  While it is no crime to be the laziest example of the entitled American while holding the office of President, it is just as destructive to our Country.  The country is waiting for this man who occupies our executive office to "man" up and be the person the office requires.  If he will not do that then we can only hope that his behavior sinks to the level of crimes.  I personally think that is too long to wait.  

As you were,