Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Woods

Thomas Wolfe was right, you really can't go home again. Nothing is quite the same, but we keep on attempting nonetheless.

But I am luckier than many, the home where I spent my youth from age 3-18 is still standing and still owned and occupied by my family. My old room is still there, full of my sister's junk (as are all the rooms), but still there. Actually lots of things are still there; while cooking this weekend I asked my sister where the hot pads were. "Where they always have been", she replied with an annoyed sneer. Yes, they were, the same ones too. How silly of me to ask.

Thankfully, among all the things laid unchanged, "the woods" is still there too. 14.5 acres of untouched woodland that wrapped around my street, shielding us from the noise of the main road leading to town. Today called officially "Sanders Park", the woods is now maintained by the city park district. But in my day I am not sure who owned it and we really didn't care. All us kids in the neighborhood, boys and girls alike, spent most of our day exploring this uncharted wonderland. To our young minds, it was akin to the jungles of Africa that we read about in Social Studies. Just as scary and full of wild animals and strange plants too.

We even had a Tarzan vine, a huge old vine that hung from a tree conveniently perched on a gentle slope. We would swing on this vine for hours, bigger boys who shed their shirts to emulate the latest Tarzan hero, little boys, girls, an even an occasional adult neighbor. Deep in the woods, a small ditch sometimes flowed with water. Fording it was a challenge and certainly led to much moaning by our mothers as we arrived home covered in mud. We named places, claimed land, looked in awe at the culverts leading under Center Street that led to someplace even more scary and unexplored. I was 12 when I first went under the culvert.... I was disappointed as it only led to the Zientara family's yard and I had been there before.

My friend Gary and I spent a lot of time there. Building forts, exploring, looking for the magic land of the May Apples, strange plants we had never seen before. We'd get lost looking for it every time. While digging around for some reason one fine summer day, we uncovered a scary bright red glowing crinkly thing. Running in fear that we had dug up the devil, we beat a retreat vowing never to return and be good boys. A dog, raccoon or someone less easily frightened later dug the scaly red object up and deposited it near by. It was the red inside tray of a package of cookies.... ah childish imaginations.

But Thomas Wolfe was correct.

This weekend, as I drove by or stood at the window and gazed at the bare, silent trees of the woods, it looked less imposing. The mystery was gone. It was smaller and I could easily rationalize that it was just a few acres not a few miles of land. The Tarzan vine has long been absorbed into the loamy soil. The ditch was full of water from recent rain, but it was just a drainage ditch taking run off from the pavement, not a roaring stream dividing my land from Gary's; I certainly felt no desire to defend it from invaders. The knot of trees that had grown in a circle are still there, although hard to find. I am sure a rare dogtooth violet still pokes its head up now and then but May apples are just common wild plants. I didn't see any evidence of Bobcats or other wild beasts, just the occasional deer.

Part of the woods has been mowed and cleared. An historical marker has been erected in the clearing at the corner of Hunt and Center. Seems the woods has a long history, part of the land first settled by Europeans in the county. Abraham Lincoln's name is on some legal land transfers, our city actually had its beginnings there, although the first buildings were built a few miles to the east. No longer just a scrap of land, but one with history and significance.

As a kid, I had always hoped that the woods would be there forever, protected for kids to always enjoy. Thankfully, the city of Decatur agreed and it was spared the fate of being plowed under for more houses or a convenience store.

So while there is much familiar at home there is much change. I can physically go home, that is not an issue. But in my mind it is so different; maybe I am the one who is different. Yeah that is it, while the land changes slowly and inevitably we plunge into adulthood and then middle age where everything once fresh, new and mysterious becomes the mundane.

I wish the Tarzan vine was still there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey Time

I have a couple days to work here at the palace, then Wednesday sneak off in Dunbar with Her Majesty and head to my sister's. She has our menu planned out for the whole time; I know as she calls me frequently to see if I want rice or potatoes for dinner on Saturday and if I want to take a break and have Mexican as we usually do. Hopefully I will survive the weekend.

Whatever you are doing or going, give thanks this week, be with (or tolerate) family and friends. As the tradition started 386 years ago decrees:

Governor William Bradford's Thanksgiving Proclamation 1623.

"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes and garden vegetables and has made the forests to abound with game the sea with fish and clams; and inasmuch as he has protected us, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now I, do proclaim, that all Pilgrims do gather at the meeting house, on the hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November the 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three, and in the third year since Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock there to listen to the pastor and render thanksgiving for all His blessings."

Happy Thanksgiving From D and P at Puggingham Palace

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Avner Dorman Piano Concerto Premiere

It is not often an orchestra in the US hinterlands gets to play on the world stage and introduce a major new work by a rising star composer and soloist. But that is exactly what is happening this weekend with the Kansas City Symphony. Music director Michael Stern leads the orchestra in the Bartok Hungarian Sketches, conducts the world premiere of Israeli composer Avner Dorman's Piano Concerto, Alon Goldstein as soloist, and concludes with a masterpiece of late romantic symphonic works, the Symphony # 2 of Sibelius.

Bartok's Hungarian Sketches, 5 short dances and portraits of rural life in Hungary were well served by the brisk and appropriately pungent winds. "Evening in the Village" and "Melody" were atmospheric and lyrical. The concluding "Swineherds Dance" brought the short suite to a festive conclusion.

To say that Avner Dorman's new Piano Concerto, is unique among its brethren is what some refer to as an understatement. For example, the twenty minute or so tour de force for piano and large orchestra begins with a seance and ends with an exorcism. In between we have "Twilight", a ghost-fantasy concert recalling the specters of past piano masters; everyone from Art Tatum to J.S. Bach.

Theatre? Yes. The concerto begins with the soloist conspicuously absent from his piano. Among microtonal ghost music from the high strings (think Penderecki's "Threnody") the orchestra evolves into a slowly undulating fog straight from the "Housatonic At Stockbridge" from Ives' "Three Places in New England. The house goes dark and with a commanding crash of keys and sudden light, the soloist is at the piano, summoned as it were to channel the ghosts of Chopin, Messiaen, Bach, Gershwin and a heavenly host of others.

In the aforementioned "Twilight", a softer, reflective slow movement, the orchestra sits back and lets the pianist rhapsodize on all the ghostly influences the seance has conjured. Shimmering, Janissary figures from the orchestra underpin the almost improvisatory piano. Bach skirts by, a bit of Messiaen bird song, music of the future, tonal chords, cadences and soon increasingly frequent impatient rumbles from the huge percussion battery. Ivesian in a way, as the familiar figures (never quotes, but reflections) weave their way through a dense orchestral fabric.

Ok, ENOUGH! The orchestral ghosts reappear and the battle is on. If this is an Ivesian piece, then the final "Exorcism" is the "Comedy" second movement of Ives' 4th, interpreted in the jazz/rock/world music of the 21st century. The ghost hangs on bravely, as does pianist Alon Goldstein, who literally battled the keyboard and the score until he gave up in a ghost-rattle, brittle as bone trill on the highest notes. His reward? To be dispatched in darkness by a percussion blast, where upon the lights reveal an empty bench.

When have you heard a new work greeted with a few pleasant chuckles and then rapturous applause?

This is a major new work, and frankly I can see being appreciated without the theatrics. The orchestral writing is brilliant, colorful but sometimes a bit overwhelming. Huge percussion battery, full complement of brass and winds, celesta, harp and orchestral piano are frequently called upon in full force. It is jazzy-sexy in spots, sweetly tonal in others, full of simple melodies and complex rhythms (I can just see the pages teeming with notes and polyrhythms) and a rhapsodic structure, that despite few recurring themes (outside of the "ghost music") holds together. The audience held on to every note as if they were on the ride of their life. Even the friend who accompanied me, who professed to not like the piece (a traditionalist basically) had to admit he was on the edge of his seat the whole time.

After the visceral and almost exhausting Dorman, the Sibelius was almost an anti-climax. This most passionate and stirring work received a fine performance from the orchestra, with the usual fine work from the winds and some excellent brass. Unfortunately, in the second Andante movement, the orchestra's concentration, intonation and movement flagged, but recovered for a stately and satisfying finale.

But the night belonged to the Dorman Concerto. Pianist Alon Goldstein, composer Avner Dorman and Music Director Stern quite happily took in the prolonged and sincere ovation. As well they should for the piece and the performance was a major achievement.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh God

Recently, some group released the results of a study showing the staggeringly large number of Americans that believe in God. By God, I am assuming the Judeo-Christian God; you know the bearded Man Upstairs with lightning bolts and angels and such. Europe, on the other hand, is comparatively a godless waste land. But when you look closely at our society, I wonder how many of these "Godly" Christians following "The Way" are really better than the heathens of France or The Netherlands?

I get my daily dose of disgust with my fellow citizens by reading the comments people make about news stories in on line papers. Although it raises my blood pressure, it confirms my opinion that the God fearing USA is one seriously fucked up place.

Today I read that Alyssa Bustamante, the 15 year old girl from St Martins, MO who killed her 9 year old neighbor "to see what it felt like", has been sent to a state hospital for psychiatric care. She is severely depressed and anxious, and has been for a long time. She looks sick in the pictures released of her. She is 15, and indicted for murder as an adult. Forget the fact that if she had sex with an older person, she would be the victim, no matter how much she lied or was willing.

Where the God factor comes in is with the comments made on this story. "Fry her", "throw her away", this was my favorite:

"We wonder why there is so much crime when severe penalties are not given. Death penalty for her if found guilty of murder. What about any other persons who may be depressed or suicidal and have never tried to kill anyone? How would the defense counter that? See, I'm eliminating excuses and making people responsible for their actions. If trash is burned it can't come back. No need for taxpayers to pay for any prison or "rehab", as these don't work anyway."

Now I do not know if this person is a church going, God fearing Christian or not. But according to the study I mentioned, it is more likely than not. Is this a Christian attitude? Punish, not forgive. Are the teachings of Jesus Christ forgotten and the barbaric practices of the Old Testament given precedent?

You see, in a godless society, it would be more common that this young kid be given mental health care without question. Of course, in godless Europe and most of the godless world, she likely would have received it long before the mental illness caused her to strike out as she did. But in the Godly USA, our "best healthcare in the world" (fuck that) let her fester and languish in pain, misery, depression and sociopathic fog for her entire life.

I don't know where I am going with this, but as I read this and then went on about a few chores here at the Palace, I just felt compelled to write. You see, I am not that Godly a person, even though I am a regular church goer. The hocus-pocus, the belief in spirits and such are not that strong. But I do feel that Jesus, whoever he might have been, was the most radical and brilliant person ever to walk the earth. I believe his teachings still are relevant and still have much to be revealed. Lucky for us thousands of years later, there were people such as Peter, John, and Paul who had direct and indirect encounters with this remarkable person who may have been inspired or sired divinely, and were compelled to share what they learned and saw. But little old me, more spiritual and philosophical than mired in dogma and religion, I think I am more in line with what Jesus taught than those quoted above.

Alyssa needs help. America needs healthcare for ALL, end to aggressive war, fair justice with a radical reduction in the number of people thrown in prison (remember, we have more in prison than most of the world) and assurances that the weak and poor have dignity and basic needs. Just like I think Jesus was teaching us.

But by saying the above, the "religious" elite of the USA condemn me as a radical, misdirected communist.

Maybe I am. And so was Jesus.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saying Good Bye

I am unashamedly stealing this quote from "Wicked" from my friend Amy, who put it in a Facebook post:

"I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them. And we help them in return. Well, I don't know if I believe that's true, but I know I'm who I am today because I knew you."

One thing I do believe is true is that it is always right and necessary to say "good bye" to someone. In this fluid world, our neighbors, co-workers and friends are all too frequently here today, gone tomorrow. In the tense and depressing world of corporate America, laid off or terminated employees are given their notice and then immediately considered persona non-grata. They can't even get their personal items or, more important to this discussion, say so long to people they saw probably more than their families each day.

But, some counter argue, with all the electronic communication devices and programs such as cell phones, Facebook or email, we can keep in touch a bit easier than ever before. Those modern wonders of communication are fine and I use them to great extent, but they do not come close to actually having the person there; to see, to touch or to call up last minute and meet for a cocktail at the pub.

Last night I got the opportunity to say good bye to someone I had known only briefly and really not all that well. A friend of sorts, someone I did not actually know a lot about, but a person who affected my life positively in the last year. He was cast out from among us for reasons still unknown; there are "official" reasons given but many of us do not believe them. Here one day, gone the next in a blaze of "we regret to inform you".

Yes this was a job related event, and handled like it was a position with a bank or an IT company. But in a church, there is more to relationships than contracts and work rules. We are supposed to be a family of sorts; or that is what they say. We speak of church family and the need to look out for and help one another, to revel in the fellowship of kindred minds, as the old hymn says. Even family members who rape, pillage or murder are allowed to say good bye before they are carted off. When we can't say good bye, there is no closure, no moving on, our mind wonders as to why things happened as they did. Did I say something wrong?

But for some reason, we were denied that. It is as if the family member died, or was marched by the Nazis or the KGB into a gulag. This was an event I will never understand.

Thus I was glad that I spent too much money and drank way too much last night at my friend's impromptu good bye. Instead of fading off into another "contact" in the cyber world, I got to look him in the eye, hug him and basically say what Glinda said so much better in the quote above.

Good bye. God be with you till we meet (or Tweet) again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Snow

It is 5:30 AM, a light snow is falling. It threatened to all day yesterday, but held off until the dark pre-dawn. Reports filtered in of flakes in Kansas, near the airport, rain drops with a bit of ice at their core were felt now and then. Winter was finally coming to my part of the world.

A short 24 hours ago, I had a couple of hibiscus still in the garden; not as spectacularly blooming as they were in summer, but holding on. As the snowy forecast loomed and the temperatures plummeted they, along with the cushions and umbrellas on the lawn furniture, were hastily brought inside for the winter. Dunbar got covered with a car cover, protecting the paint which is worth more than the sum of the parts in most respects. (Note to self, do NOT put the car cover on after having more than 1 vodka, you put the damn thing on backwards...)

The summer to winter transition is always a bit bittersweet. I always mark the day when I bring in all the outdoor accouterments as to me that day is the real beginning of winter. I do enjoy the summer, the sun, the outdoors, walks, flowers and the verdant green. But being Midwest born and bred, I relish the change of seasons, the rhythm, the cycle, the inevitability of it all. Those who gloat and scream about their trips or habitation in sunnier climes soon will bitch when their temps soar.

No climate is perfect. My friends in AZ tell me of the searing heat (yes it is a "dry heat" but so is my oven and I not wish to live in it either), the relentless brown and the sandstorms. Our humidity, winter blasts and chance of tornadoes are not much different from the south's stifling soup and occasional hurricane. Much of the Pacific Northwest is too drizzly and cool.

Get over it people. Snow and cold and winter is a part of life. A good snow makes us hearty, it quiets the world, cleanses the air, and blankets our ugly structures with nature's glory.

Besides, what would Christmas be with out a little snow?

Friday, November 13, 2009


In my post of yesterday, I used the expression "olé" a couple of times. That reminded me of a funny story I heard from a friend several years ago. The story was told to me second hand, and thus I am not able to confirm its veracity 100%. But knowing both men involved, I can assume it has a modicum of truth.

The fellow involved in the story is a United Methodist clergy. As is custom with the Methodist Church, a pastor is moved from church to church in an appointment process. Usually, younger, less experienced pastors are placed in smaller churches, often in smaller towns. Thus this city reared boy found himself pastoring a church in a small town in south central Missouri.

The town boasted a spanking new and shiny Mc Donald's by the interstate exit. It was his routine to go there (about the only place in town that was clean enough to frequent, he moaned) for a morning coffee which he would take to his office. Upon approaching the counter, he was enthusiastically greeted by a "dull eyed, but eager" young lady; the type that feels a job at Mickey D's is the pinnacle of success. Our hero ordered his coffee, but in a moment of feeling superior and a bit devilish, he asked for a "café au lait". The young lady dutifully went to the coffee machine and poured the exact amount into the waiting cup, as she had likely done hundreds of times.

Slapping a lid on it, she turned and handed him the cup. Flashing a big smile and proudly holding the perfectly poured cup of coffee she exclaimed....


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coupl'a Things XXVII

1) I love my series of "Coupl'a Things" of which this is the 27th entry. It allows me to ramble and to write about what is on my mind without a lot of effort. They are just short snippets of things I am thinking about, reflections on what I have seen or heard or am musing about as I go through life.

2) As I posted on this evening on Facebook, when all else fails make tacos, and be sure to have margaritas a-plenty. One of my favorite childhood evenings was taco night at home. Mom would cook ground beef and onion while the "Old El Paso" taco shells (comes complete with taco seasoning packet!) were warming and crisping to perfection in the oven. A bit of chopped lettuce, salsa, tomato and onion and it was a fiesta! So what if the average Mexican would say it was "basura" or worse "mierda", in Central Illinois it was as close to Mexico as we would get circa 1970.

I was supposed to go out to dinner tonight, but my dinner partner begged off. I lied and said I had something to fix at home. I actually did, but I was sick of the chicken and pork chops I bought in quantity on sale. It was too late to find another dinner date and after much deliberation and hand wringing, it was off in trusty Dunbar to the store to see what inspired me.


They called to me from the Mexican/Chinese/Spices isle at my local Gayfresh: "Estoy aqui!" Seduced me is more like it. I made a mental note: have lettuce and tomato at home, need sour cream (a must), ground beef, taco shells and shredded cheese. And as luck would have it, "Old El Paso" still makes a taco dinner kit, complete with shells, seasoning and a package of salsa! Got it.

Gomer's (despite the name, actually an excellent liquor store) had the Salvador's Margaritas at a good price so all was set.

And I just grabbed my margarita glass thinking it was the computer mouse so I know this was a successful taco nite.


3) This is a ship rudder:

I have been thinking of rudders lately. A ship rudder steers the boat in a steady, correct direction and keeps it from tipping over. There are so many organizations that are rudderless lately; my church, the USA, the US Congress, my condo building, my life in many respects.

Where will we find the rudder we need to steer us though the stormy waters?

I have no answer, thus another margarita is in order.... olé!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Life and Health

Some are all gaga over the US House voting to approve a massive overhaul of healthcare. I applaud them and the lone Republican who decided that it was time.

But I am a realist.

I sadly think it will be for naught. The Senate will flounder as the right wings of both parties would rather spend $ on war and death than life and health so they can feel big about themselves.

Would be wonderful, but in this polarized, rudderless nation I don't think much of anything will be accomplished soon.

I would love to be proved wrong.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Britten's Orchestra

OK I admit I was worried over nothing.

The Kansas City Symphony and Music Director Michael Stern have been involved in 3 recordings since Stern's arrival here in 2005. The first ones were for Naxos and compositions by the heretofore unknown (at least in the USA) Taiwanese composer Gordon Chin. The second was a recording of some lesser known Arthur Sullivan and Jan Sibelius music based on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" done for Reference Recordings. Both garnered excellent reviews, but of course had little major competition.

But with the latest recording, Stern, the Orchestra and Reference Recordings plunged head first into the mainstream repertoire with some of the most popular and frequently recorded works by Benjamin Britten. The competition was formidable, including the composer's indispensable recordings, excellent readings by Britten specialist Steuart Bedford and on to Bernstein, Bolt and Handley to name a few. Frankly, I was concerned that maybe, just maybe, the orchestra was not ready for the cutthroat competition of prime time.

Shame on me.

With fabulous sonics (we used to call recordings like this "lease breakers") and impressive and quite competitive performances, this recording is a winner.

The usually excellent winds of the orchestra are captured in all their fleet glory. The strings are full and with fine intonation, the brass snarl and snap, the percussion rock the house (I think my speakers are shot from all the pounding, and this at a low volume!) and thus the ensemble comes together as a satisfying whole. Some of this is due to the incredible Reference Recording engineers who manage to tame the cavernous space of the Community of Christ Auditorium (aka the LDS Auditorium). But much is due to the excellent orchestra Stern has assembled and to his vision and leadership.

The "Variations on a Theme of Purcell" or more famous as "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" featured uniformly outstanding work from the various orchestral groups, the woodwinds of special note. This was not a light, kid friendly reading but a powerful and well formed performance of this marvelous work.

One of my favorite Britten pieces, Sinfonia da Requiem, receives a lyrical, somewhat cool performance that fits the music well. The opening movement's "Lacrymosa" explosive beginning is stunningly captured as are the steady, powerful base drum beats. The crystal clear sonics and Stern's attention to detail allow you to actually hear the subtle sforzandi in each phrase near the end of the movement immediately after the big drum climax.... spectacular! The slowly fading ending of the "Requiem Aeternam" benefits from the sharp, spotlit sonics. The "Dies Irae" movement may not be a pants wetting experience (a reference from my chorus days when a choral director told us we were singing the Day of Wrath, NOT the "Dies Meh" and that he hoped that we would make the audience pee their pants in fear), but is certainly powerful and dramatic.

The 4 Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes are top notch as well. From a misty, nautical tinged "Dawn", a bustling but somewhat unsettling "Sunday Morning", a dark and forbidding "Moonlight", concluding with a powerful "Storm" these "Interludes" give little away to the competition.

Stern, somewhat unusually, interpolates the "Passacaglia" from Peter Grimes between "Moonlight" and "Storm", which in my opinion works quite well.

In this case, I loved being proved wrong. This is an excellent recording and stands proudly along those mentioned above.

Reference Recordings RR120 released November 10th and available from most all the online and local retailers and direct from Reference Recordings.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Coupl'a Things XXVI

1) My friend Presten is reporting that at least 2 Kansas City radio stations have gone to an all Christmas music format as of November 1. There are likely more, but that is all he has reported for now. During my last visit to the hardware store, I noted the workers taking down the garden and patio supplies and putting up Christmas trees and such. Sadly, yours truly has also contributed to this nonsense; a couple of weeks ago I ordered the wreaths and poinsettias for the building. So far I have resisted putting up the Christmas tree.

Ho Ho Ho

2) Since we are planning for Christmas, it will soon be time to get ready for Mardi Gras. They say Halloween is the High Holy Day for gays. I missed that gene and decided Mardi Gras is much more fun. Actually that kind of fits with my penchant for doing things a little different. If everyone goes nuts for Halloween, I just find a more obscure event to celebrate. Makes life a little more interesting.

Mardi Gras is on Feb 16th in 2010, slightly towards the middle of the range of dates which can be from Feb 3 to March 9th. I hope I live 10 more years since Mardi Gras falls on my birthday in 2020. It has never been on my birthday since I was born.

I have my Mardi Gras dinner menu all set up but am still tweaking the guest list (apply here at Puggingham Place, seating is limited), looking for a new feather mask and thinking of getting a better King Cake this year.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

3) There is a little spider crawling on my wall, if he comes any closer.... WHAP! I usually leave insects to themselves or take them out side if I can catch them. Creepy, crawly, biting, ugly monster spiders are an exception.