Wicked

I have to admit I was enchanted by the Los Angeles production of Wicked at the Pantages Theater. It is a visual masterpiece and the songs are so catchy, so good–it’s a really interesting, fun and delightful show. I’m no theater critic and though I’ve “trod the boards” in community productions (and one professional Shakespeare theater production), I am no theater rat. We had a great time, all five of us and we’d gladly go again.

But you know I cannot leave well enough alone by now, don’t you? So, allow me to pick nits and talk about the play’s content. Wicked is the prequel and then sequel to L. Frank Baum’s timeless masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. It’s the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba and her college roommate, Galinda (Glinda), the Good Witch and Elphaba’s sister, Nessa Rose, who later becomes the Wicked Witch of the East. It’s a backstory, if you will and you’re left feeling sorry for Elphaba and realizing why she was called wicked in the first place.

The play revolves around a simple plot twist and that is that Elphaba is an animal rights activist. No, I’m not kidding–that’s the plot. It seems that the magical land of Oz was home to a wide and diverse group of beings from Winkie’s to Munchkins and even talking goats and monkey’s. According to the Wizard, who is speaking to Elphaba, “that’s what people want…” In other words, people are all dolts and the way to live in harmony is to give the dolts what they want. Oh, he never says that the people of Oz are dolts out loud. But the implication is, the mass of people are idiots and what you do is give them what they want. So, the Wizard started locking up the “animals,” one of whom is Elphaba’s college professor, and takes away their ability to talk any more.

So, here’s the thing: When Elphaba is outraged at the Wizard’s corrupt government, she lashes out at him and so he, along with Madame Morrible (played by Carol Kane rather nicely, I thought), condemn Elphaba to the citizenry as “evil” and “dangerous.” Throughout the beginning of Act II, then, Glinda is forced to fight Elphaba, but she cannot really bring herself to do it, even though the man she loves is actually in love with Elphaba instead. Glinda the Good is corrupted at first by the Wizard, but as the play comes full circle, she has her eyes opened to see that the corruption is bad and she sides with Elphaba, but only in private. We’re given to believe (and Glinda believes, too because “she can never know..”) that Elphaba didn’t actually die when the water was thrown on her. She actually sank into a trap door and when that scene from the film is tastefully done in shadow-play behind a curtain, Dorothy leaves and Elphaba is “resurrected” to be with her beau, who is actually the scarecrow.

Evil is good. Good is evil. What you thought was evil, wasn’t. It was just animal rights activism gone awry. Elphaba wasn’t really bad. And besides…as the wizard says, “Truth is just what people agree upon.” Earlier in the play, lies are laughingly referred to as “history.”

So, yes–one could argue that there were some good lessons in Wicked. One shouldn’t judge books by their covers, etc. And yes, it’s fair to say that the Good Witch, whom you really sort of loathe at the beginning because of her syrupy-sweetness, comes to a hard-won maturity in the end. But there is also a powerful lot of Post-Modernism in the story that tweaks L. Frank Baum’s original to the point of unbelief. We are left assuming that the story of The Wizard of Oz is actually the story of an adulterous wizard who is really Elphaba’s father (he was having an affair with Elphaba’s married mother) and the man who raised Elphaba thought her hideous anyway. He favored Nessa Rose and after her ascendancy to her father’s place as Governor, she is still unable to get the man she loves to love her and so in a fit of anger, she shrinks his heart and turns him into a Tin Man. The “tragically beautiful” Nessa Rose is quite evil indeed, but the evil is the result of unrequited love. After all, in the post-modern world, everything has a reasonable explanation.

Post Modern ideas are not new, of course. But they are frustratingly ubiquitous. My own problem with post-modernism is prima-facia, I don’t think Truth is relative. I know that people have perceptions and that many people see things differently, but that doesn’t mean there is no objective Truth. What it means is that we are flawed and broken people who frequently cannot discern the absolute Truth and so rather than try, we say that it’s all relative. Saying it, however, doesn’t make it so.

So, yes–the play is fun and whimsical, even, with a great score and some absolutely mesmerizing singing. But the story haunts me not because it is so good, so relevant, so powerful or so convincing. Rather, it haunts me because it leaves me thinking that I’ve been duped all along and that if I don’t believe that, then all that is real–love, friendship, genuine kindness, cannot be mine. And if that’s true, then that is Wicked indeed.

Ahhh….Friday

I told you I couldn’t wait to get here….to Friday night posting duty. And I couldn’t. But I did–now I’m glad I did. It’s been a long and arduous week capped off by the aforementioned tragedy that I cannot really discuss here. Suffice to say it is loss, compounded with tragic circumstances and that’s all I will allow.

Sleepiness, dreariness, drabness, all of those rather identify this strange and un-wonderful week. It’s good to have it over and this weekend should be its antithesis.

I purchased tickets for the family to go see Wicked at the Pantages theater down in L.A. It was a Mother’s day gift for Sue, one of several, actually, but I thought it might be fun for all of us to go. Last week, we warmed Peanut up with The Wizard of Oz for which Wicked is a kind of prequel and sequel. So, tomorrow, we’re off to see the matinee showing and then over to Anna’s restaurant on the West Side. The restaurant belongs to a relative of our friend Karen, she of Brian-fame and he is my wine-making partner. They say they’ll join us there for dinner.

Sunday, though, is the very big day. Sunday is Peanut’s First Communion in our church and it’s a real milestone. I’ll write more about that after it happens as I honestly don’t know what to say before the event. Suffice to say that we are grateful to God for Peanut and she seems grateful to be here with us. That’s a lot.

Say, right now on Food Network, Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives is covering a restaurant in suburban Chicago called Hackney’s. I used to live near there and went there as a kid a lot. My dad would take us there on weekends and we’d eat the burgers and fries. Oh, man–does that bring back memories of a different time! Wow! We lived in this house:

And we walked to school…this school:

–without parents. I remember walking home from kindergarten by myself. It’s hard to even fathom something like that now. They used the brown bread for the Hackney Burger and you get an onion loaf, which is nothing more than a gaggle of deep fried onion rings piled onto a plate. Delicious. God help me, the food and the memory is nearly overpowering at the moment.

10 days of school left and the time is flying. Nine days for Peanut and I know she cannot wait. She’s both excited and repelled, though, because the end of school means Sofie leaves within a few days and Peanut doesn’t want her to go. That will be hard on her, I know–but we’ll get her through it.

I won’t keep going. Had a couple of deadlines yesterday and I met them, but I have a couple more pieces to sink my teeth into. The money’s good, so I’ll get on those and bid you all a fond goodnight.

Random Notes

Castoro Cellars has about as delightful a Central Coast Pinot Noir as I’ve tasted. I bought a six-er of the Reserve Pinot from Bien Nacido vineyard. It’s mellow, smooth and jammy, but with just some of that nice mineral around the edges that doesn’t allow it to become a California fruit bomb. I’m excited about it, actually. But that’s not unusual for me. I get excited about wine quite a lot.

I’m typing on top of the Cheshire Cat. No, really, I am. I left my comfy lap pillow on which I normally tap away out on the patio. I spent 10 minutes out there tonight, basking in the cool breeze whip through an utterly blue pale sky. It was grand. Then, I came in to have dinner and rush right off to Peanut’s open house at her school. That too was rather fun.

We met 2nd grade teachers, saw the work she is doing in her classroom, said hello to friends and had a grand time. I love being a part of that and this time of year, this absolutely magical time of year, it holds more sway, more power. It’s late spring and the world is full of promise.

But anyway, Peanut left her stuffed Cheshire Cat down here, an animal with whom she has a love-hate relationship, and so I’m typing on top of him. I can tell, too–because it seems to me his eyes are bugging out a bit more than usual. Peanut first saw him at Disneyland and then she watched Alice in Wonderland. He scared her a bit and she always backed off when he came on screen, but I watched as she slowly warmed to him, too.

It seems that her fear of him was matched or even over-matched by her appreciation for his strangeness, his weirdness, and so she keeps him around, albeit at an arm’s distance most of the time.

Friday is coming and with it a busy weekend. I’ll write at length on Sunday about Peanut’s First Communion which will be this Sunday. She is excited about it in many ways. She asks questions and she has been saying more meaningful prayers, too. It’s a pleasure to watch.

We’re also going to go see the play, Wicked, for which I bought tickets for Sue and for the family, for Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, it’s the same day as a send-off for our dear friend and our pastor who is going on sabbatical for a few months. Oy….everything changes. Well, we shall move along, I suppose.

I need sleep, of course. But what else is new? I always need sleep. Can’t wait till I sit down to do this tomorrow evening.

Beginnings and Endings

Nevermind the wine. The end of school is coming in quickly and none of us can wait. Sofie’s ready to head back home, her year in America coming to an end. It is fundamentally hard to believe that Sofie will be leaving us and we think it has hit Peanut hardest.

Right now, Peanut’s world is going topsy-turvy on her with her good friend Karina moving to the Bay area, Sofie headed back to Belgium, first grade drawing to an end, second grade looming-unknown and unclear. She has taken, as I’ve written, to bouts of separation anxiety in the mornings before school. She’ll fuss and cry and act out and do so for a while until mom finally walks away. When she does, Peanut calms down and goes through her day, says her teacher. She seems fine. It’s hard for us to take. It has not gotten worse and in fact, has gotten a small bit better. Wednesdays, though are hardest. Mom goes to work that day and Peanut knows it. She knows mom’s not home. All this is so different for her.

Sofie has had a great time here in America and, even with a few bumps in the road, she has hit a stride and comfort with us in this house. She is keenly in tune with Peanut’s moods lately and she has paid extra attention to her, playing games with her and talking to her. Peanut talks to Sofie about things that she doesn’t necessarily bring up with us. Sofie dutifully informs us of them and it’s been quite useful.

Lately, here at the end of the year, there has been a tragedy with one of her friends at school. I am not permitted to write about it here, suffice to say it hit her hard and she has been in contact with her friend, offering solace and comfort as best she can. It’s touching–and sad all at once.

She’s a daughter to us, now and having her leave will be hard on all of us. We’ll all be sad and so, I think, will she. There are so many memories we’ve created starting as soon as she got here with local trips around the area showing off her California Coastal home and getting her used to her school as well as giving her the opportunity to explore for herself.

She wanted to obtain a driver’s license but it looks like that may not happen. She waited, perhaps, a bit too long, to get the proper paperwork and though she attempted the test after some driving lessons and driver’s education, she didn’t pass her first time around. That’s OK. I didn’t either, actually. Neither did my sister-in-law. It happens.

She is a master at English, though she will say otherwise of course. But she really speaks English better than many of my own students who are native speakers. She has gained a passion, though I suspect she already had it somewhere inside, for art, for creativity and for projects. She’s very gifted as an artist. She’s made gifts for Sue and Laurie and Peanut. She helps Peanut create all kinds of things and teaches her how to paint. She seems pleased to do it, too. It helps her focus.

And we’ve made a new family member–a friend for life. We’ll go and visit her one day in Belgium and meet her family there. We’ll wait until Peanut’s a little older, though as traveling to Europe with a squirmy 7 year old who gets bored on the flight over to Phoenix would be a bit taxing just now.

A busy, busy day. Wrote a piece, did an interview, did the city council meeting and have to write another piece about that, too. All this while teaching, distributing yearbooks and putting together the last Stinger-student newspaper issue.

Sigh. I could use some sleep.

What's really Happening

I’m late in writing tonight because I’ve been busy…writing. Well, sort of. I’m researching and then writing in the morning. Got a wine feature to do for the magazine and I know a lot about the place, but was certain I’d written a piece on them previously from which I wanted to draw. Cannot find it to save my simple little life. So, I’m just….writing. And researching.

And I don’t know whether to tell you that I agree with Hugh Hewitt, and have thought now for some time that Barack Obama is dangerously naive. I’m telling you–I never thought I’d be rooting for a Clinton, but as a McCain guy I never felt the need. If Obama is the Dem nominee, it’s going to become painfully apparent that the guy is simply not ready for prime time. From his amazingly bad gaffe’s, to his absurd policy recommendations (4k a year for every student who goes to college? What?! I’m not paying for that!), Senator Obama is a neophyte attempting to get the job that will put him face to face with the Islamists who killed so many innocent people on September 11th. Which brings me to Mr. Wright–not Mr. Right, Mr. Wright. His brilliant book, The Looming Tower, is a must read. I just finished it. It’s incredible. He has a new piece–a long piece–in the recent New Yorker. It’s a 14 pager, but it’s no snoozer, and you should read it.

Why?

Because in it, he details the very real scenario (regardless of the wishful thinking of Democrats and other lefties) that Al-qaeda is on the run, is losing membership and has a very serious split in its philosophy. Why so? Because essentially, they’re having the tar whopped out of them. Yes…we’re winning the war. It’s a hard war, just as WWII was a hard war. But we’re winning–winning strong and killing, capturing or destroying the enemy and his will to keep fighting. I know, I know, you never thought–and probably still don’t think, we could get there. But again, wishful thinking doesn’t make it so.

I could write about wine and food, too-but I will do so tomorrow.

TTFN.

Honoring the Fallen

Michael Diraimondo was a student in my 8th grade English class when I taught at Valley View Junior High School in Simi Valley. He was aboard a Blackhawk helicopter as part of the elite 571st Air Evac. unit and his bird was shot down with an RPG in January of 2004. He was 22 years old.

I’ve written of Michael before and I will not recap it all here. It’s Memorial day and it is the day to remember the price that we pay for freedom. If you’ve not yet done so, read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. Read America Alone by Mark Steyn. And most of all, read Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose and 1776 by David McCullough. The freedoms we enjoy are here because so many have given their lives for it. And today is their day. God bless all who have fought and died for our country. God Bless Michael Diraimondo and God Bless the USA.

Beverages and less…

Well, the hops shortage is finally making the mainstream news. Those of us who are around this stuff have known it’s been coming for sometime. There’s little to worry about, though the price of beer will indeed go up. It’s just one more trouble spot on a map full of things like a falling dollar, inflation, oil prices, etc. However, it will be interesting to see if beer sales fall. I’m betting they won’t, just as wine sales didn’t fall when the grape glut ended. Prices of alcoholic beverages always fluctuate, but very rarely do sales drop that far. Let’s find out what happens.

Back here, our wines are coming along wonderfully. The Tempranillo is beautiful and the Barbera is too. The Barbera is now at eight months in the barrel and the last tasting we did, a week ago, was solid. The wine has the signature “sour-ness” on the finish and that’s why we leave it in the barrel a bit longer. It will gain a bit more mellow oakiness and some more focused fruit flavors as well.

Last evening was a nice adults’ night out for dinner at our friends the Martin’s. They go to our church and live up off of Mulholland in the Malibu hills. Their home is beautiful and Robin’s cooking was masterful. He made a bolognese sauce with pasta as well as a homemade Caesar salad that were amazing. The sauce he cooks for 24 hours and it was filled with all the requisite stuff, olives and peppers, bacon and veal, all kinds of goodness. It matched beautifully with our Tempranillo and the result was a delightful evening with new friends and a break from the norm.

Still cloudy and windy here, spits of rain coming in and out. Strange for late May, but not unheard of. It’s better than last week’s hundred degree temperatures.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day and it will be so posted here. Enjoy your three-day weekend.

Feckless

It’s a tired, cold and a bit rainy, Friday. A long week ended with enough ambivalence in the events of the week to find me glad it’s over. It’s been emotionally exhausting, physically demanding, overly frustrating and with a whole lot of drama. I’ll not go into all as I’ve written about the worst of it, Peanut’s behavior, below. We’ve gotten a grip on that a bit.

The yearbook was delivered this week, but on oversight, we lack an administrator’s page–nothing with the administrator’s on it–and that was a big mistake. But, I got dressed down for it and that’s always an unhappy thing. I worked fairly hard on that project this year and I’m exhausted from it. The kids produce the book, it’s their baby–but I should have mentioned something to them. I didn’t and now, I got in trouble.

The school did the Every 15 Minutes Program, which is a re-enactment and staging of a drunk driving accident that kills two kids at the school. At the same time, during class, a CHP officer comes around to classrooms and pulls out several students, reads their obituaries in class, and a grim reaper guy comes in, picks up the kid, and takes them out of the classroom for two days. Their obits are posted on the classroom doors and then, the finale, is a video presentation made by our very own video production class, along with a mock funeral complete with casket, bagpiper and mourners. Then, the parents of the “living dead” read letters they wrote their children upon learning of their deaths and the children read letters to their parents. It’s an emotionally evocative tool and for the kids who are involved in it, it has a powerful impact.

As for the rest of the student body, I’m not sure it had the full effect. Some kids said they were impacted by it, but most of my students indicated they felt it was over-dramatized, over done and in a way, made them a little mad. Some of the kids who’d lost friends in drunken or drug related accidents, felt it cheapened their experiences. I asked them why–and they were quite specific: “We’re a little too old to have a mock experience,” they said. “We know the coffin’s empty, we know the emotional pull of the parents and all that, but the reality is even harder.”

Did it stop them from drunk driving? Who knows? How do you measure prevention? I’m tired from it.

Tired from Peanut’s silliness, tired from being yelled at after all the work I put in, tired from working two jobs, tired from worrying constantly about when the other shoe is going to drop, tired from apathy of teenagers, tired from the long hike I took with Scoop and subsequent pain in my right hip, tired from not accomplishing what I want to accomplish, tired from being with too many people and tired from being alone.

I’m glad it’s the weekend. I wish it were June 13th. I could use some perspective and some distance.

Dogs, deadlines and domains pt. II

The week improves. The Yearbook got delivered today and though I’ve only done it three years, I am so very pleased that each year has gotten better. This year’s is by far the best one yet and I’m so very pleased with it. The kids even won an award from the publisher for Excellence in Cover Design. Katie, my editor in chief, is really quite happy and she should be. More than anyone, this book is her baby. She cried more, worked harder, slept less, wrote more, created more and literally willed this book into being. I’m very proud of her.

Peanut is taking baby steps toward resolving her “issues” regarding having to be in school and away from mom all day. Mind you, she’d already resolved those issues months ago–but they came haunting back about two weeks ago. They hit with a vengeance this week and we’ve worked on it since. She’s doing better. Much better, if not 100 percent.

I’ve written quite a few pieces this week for the newspaper and am enjoying the work immensely. As much as I love writing about food and wine, the newspaper is where I’m learning the craft of journalism at a much more rapid pace and I’m relearning how to write articles which is such a treat. I love it. I think I may well be a journalism junkie and it’s like finding a whole new career at 42 years old. It’s rekindling a joy in me I haven’t felt for some time about work and I feel blessed.

The weekend is nearly here and it’s a three day-er and that makes it even more heavenly, especially since the temperatures have gone back down to marine layer comfortable with fog in the mornings and cool breezes in the afternoon. Heck, the clouds gathered at about 4:00 P.M. today and it rained for about half an hour. It was grand.

Scoop just came downstairs for the second night in a row. It’s unusual behavior for him and I’m not sure why he’s doing it. I do leave the window open in the bedroom now for a little while before bed and he might be responding to the noises outside. We live with the back of our house facing a relatively busy street and when the window is closed, you cannot hear it that much. However, when it’s open, it’s like the cars are coming right on through to the bedroom. I don’t think he likes it. Last night I brought him upstairs with me after he was asleep on the couch in the playroom. He wasn’t happy, but allow me to explain.

Scoop is a hound dog, a barker extraordinaire, and he doesn’t discriminate. If it moves–and it it in his sphere of vision, he shall commence with the vocalization. It’s not a random “woof” or even a gruff growl and warning across the proverbial bow. It’s a full-throated Bird-dog howl and bark, the kind that makes you curl your toes when you hear it. He’s still got his lungs at the age of 9, I’ll tell you.

He does get more tired these days and I’ve noticed that he is slowing down on our walks of late, protesting less when I don’t take him on specific days, but he still likes going. In any event, when he was a younger hound, he used to get the run of the house–until that fateful night when something moved across our patio at our previous home. The something was probably a rat (a common annoyance on the Oxnard plain) and it caught Scoop’s waking eye. At one in the morning, he let out a long, loud, punctuated series of barks that awakened me straight-away and found me thinking I was in the middle of a fox hunt. At the time, Peanut was a baby and how she stayed asleep during that is beyond me–but she did. I, of course, and the wife of my youth (yes, I’ve started using another writer’s terms) got no such luck and we were up, out of bed and freaked out by the dog.

Well, after that, he was “corralled” in either our room or the guest room so that he wouldn’t do that anymore. Now, he goes to bed before us and has an old futon covered with dog blankets across the room for our bed. It’s his own little sleep-space, but it sits right beneath the window and if that window is open, well–there’s the story. As I write this, he sort of sat up from his spot by the sofa across from where I’m sitting and raised his head as if to say, “I didn’t tell you to write about me. Leave me alone…” He grunted, rolled over and put his head back down.

I’m not far behind him, it’s a good evening for sleep. Met the guys for a pint and some chicken curry this evening, which was a lot of fun. Met the fam back over at Aunt Laurie’s place and then Peanut and I came home in my car listening to loud music from the band “Live” and generally rocking out.

It’s a good, drowsy day.

Back to Square 1

Which is actually a good thing. Making progress–and it has to do with what I originally posted about Peanut’s issues. Yes, the end of the school year, yes a little fear about 2nd grade, a little fear about Sofie leaving, Karina leaving and uncertainty about her future.

Talked with a few people, among them a child development specialist who goes to our church. Got some seriously good reassurance and a new toolbox with which to help Peanut get through this. Tried some of it tonight and you know what? It worked….

Tired of writing about it, though–and would like to move on.

Climate news: You have to be daft not to know this stuff now. It’s interesting, though, that the news pages aren’t picking it up. It’s in the commentary pages–but the reason it is is because scientists, the ones who actually practice science, that is, are becoming more and more aware that the climate models which said we’re in serious trouble of global warming–were wrong. In fact, data–the real kind, not modeled by a computer–indicates that warming has not occurred for the past 10 years. It appears that it is not likely to occur for even more than that–and this in a time when carbon emissions are at their peak.

Now, I’m no scientist. I cannot and will not say, “told you so.” I merely did what so many on the left say they do every day–but apparently don’t. I read, researched and found out for myself. The vocal IPCC community had everyone hyped and so did Al Gore–and he was and is really good at getting people to listen to him. But it turns out, he’s wrong. And he’s not just a little wrong, or wrong in the margins–he is amazingly, truly, gut-bustingly wrong.

Let’s add some icing to the cake, shall we? In the rush to get “green” what have we gotten? We’ve gotten the Prius, a car which literally rapes the earth in order to not burn so much fossil fuel. It avoids all that oil in favor of strip-mining for nickel and has a battery so toxic, that there really is no good place for it once it is used up, a process that takes less than 10 years in most cases.

What else have we gotten? We’ve gotten admonishments to trade in our incandescent bulbs for florescent ones. So many people have done this (though I have steadfastly refused–not on principle, but on the grounds that I loathe florescent light) and now what are we finding? The “green” florescent bulbs are laced with so much mercury that they’re toxic, dangerous and in some cases could be deadly, particularly to children. Of course, what most eco-whacko’s won’t tell you is that ultimately, they believe we should stop having children anyway. They believe there are too many. The hubris of these people is astounding.

What else do we get? We get even the Bush administration listing the polar bear as threatened. Nevermind that there are more polar bears alive and kicking today than there were 30 years ago. Nevermind that their habitat is not threatened by global warming because in order for that to happen, there has to be global warming. And there isn’t.

No, it’s not really news to me, nor to most of us who never got on the green bandwagon. The fact remains that the zealots will keep preaching the word of Gore until they’re green in the face–and everywhere else. “Never mind the facts,” they seem to say, “we’re saving the planet.”

But, facts are indeed stubborn things, as John Adams said. Without them, you get a green movement based on noise, symbolism and holier than thouness–instead of a true stewardship that seeks to live in balance, understand the use of resources, obtain them where and when possible and allow humanity, and not the resources, the benefit of the doubt.