Saturday, October 1, 2016

MMT's Odd Couple Tickles an Older Crowd

"The Odd Couple," playing through Oct. 9 at Mill Mountain Theatre, is exactly what you'd expect from the region's bar-setting professional theater: slick, professional, entertaining and fully realized.

Neil Simon's reputation-making 1966 play is dated, but the older crowd it attracts is in on all the jokes, the ash trays, the references to $30 dinners for four, the dial telephones, the skinny ties and the giggling Pigeon sisters--who dang near steal this production, lock, stock and barrel.

"The Odd Couple," of course, is iconic and not just as a stage play, but as a still-popular movie (Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon) and long-running (still running in many places) television series (Tony Randall and Jack Klugman). It is the story of two men whose marriages have fallen apart and who seek each other's company in an eight-room New York apartment, where they and their friends have a long-standing poker party on Friday nights. They are opposites: Oscar Madison (Todd Guill), a slobby sportswriter, and Felix Unger (Jeffrey McGuillon), a prissy, house-keeping CBS news writer.

The leads are pitch-perfect for this regional production, both possessing solid resumes, including a number of previous MMT productions. You can almost close your eyes and picture Lemmon and Matthau delivering the lines and, even if that is derivative, it can't be done better for this play.

As good as the entire cast is (Benjamin DeCamp Cole, Matt Harris, Scott Watson and Keith Richards as the poker-playing buddies), it is the Pigeon sisters, Jorie Janeway and especially Jennifer Poarch, who rallied a sometimes mute crowd last night. I have a theory that older, mostly white crowds (and this one was about my age--70--on average, I'd say) don't laugh out loud much. Younger crowds seem to me to be less inhibited in public. But the Pigeon sisters' absurd giggling was infectious and turned the geriatrics on their heads.

Credit director Jay Briggs for much of what is successful in this production. He sticks to the basics of a play that would be more difficult to perform badly than well.  And he's successful with it. 


Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Trumping-Limbaughing of a Good Woman

Alicia "Miss Piggy" Machado.
Donald Trump called this woman "Miss Piggy," basically fat-shaming her. Rush Limbaugh called her a "porn star."

As you might expect, both overweight, aging bloviators are lying, distorting, demonizing and trying to shame a woman. This is the former Miss Universe and Miss Argentina. She is not fat and she is not a porn star, though it seems to me that neither would be Trump's or Limbaugh's business even if they were true.

She has posed nude, as do many women who are in the entertainment business (google just about any female star and stick "nude" at the end of her name and see what you get). And, frankly, I don't find the nude human body troubling. 'Course, if Trump or Limbaugh appeared before me nude, I might reconsider.

Snopes, the fact-checking site, says, "Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado made an allegedly risqué appearance on a TV reality show and was pictured topless in Playboy magazine." Limbaugh, who has a disturbing history of trying to paint liberal women as whores, called Miss Machado a "porn star." That's just bullshit.

Snopes explains:

Porn star? No.
"It should come as no surprise that celebrity nude photographs and sex videos drive major traffic on the Internet. But when legitimate photographs or videos are not available, hoaxsters often resort to creating their own. In some cases, this involves PhotoShopping a famous face onto a nude or near-nude body (as was done with Sarah Palin), or changing the title of a sex video if it features a porn actress who bears a resemblance to a celebrity.

"The latter is the case with Alicia Machado. In 2009, a video clip purportedly showing the former Miss Universe winner engaging in anal sex was circulated online, and that is the clip that now most frequently shows up in response to web searches on the phrase "Alicia Machado porn."

However, the woman seen in that video is not Alicia Machado — the clip was taken from the 2004 DVD "Apprentass 4," which features porn actress Angel Dark, and was later re-titled to suggest it showed Alicia Machado."

(Photos: ornellah.com and www.addictedtocelebrities.com)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Room with a View (Zurich)

My son, Evan, who is gallivanting around Europe on business for a couple of weeks (poor baby), shot this from his hotel window a little while ago. Just in case you're wondering, I am now officially green (with envy).

Late Afternoon in Venice

Evan poses with the yellow late-afternoon sun over the Venice canal.
My son is in Zurich today and spent the last two days in Venice, part of his job with an international corporation. It is adventure of the kind that is so appealing, except for one thing. He's on business and his family is about 4,000 miles away enjoying his trip only by Facetime.

That would drive me crazy, but Evan adjusts to whatever is in front of him about as well as anybody I've ever known. Here are some of his photos from Venice.

Little known fact: The French invented pizza.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hey, Shirley: Justin Says Hello!

Ran into my old buddy Justin Fuente today at Kroger where I was shopping and he was involved in his evening job, selling Coke. His day job is coaching Virginia Tech's football team, which is is pretty good at.

Jus said to tell my former sister-in-law Shirley Raines, who hired him at the University of Memphis when she was president, hello. Hi, Shirley.  He seemed in good spirits. Maybe it was the coke. Maybe it was being two dimensional*.

(*Yes, dammit, that is a cardboard cutout, but of whom? Him or me? Oh, and by the way, that's my "I Voted" sticker on my shirt pocket because I voted today. You can, too. Any time between now and November, when people bunch up and wait for hours at a time. I voted in about three minutes.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

On Day 2, Fall Has Fell

Fall in these lovely mountains is a lot of things, but I believe we all agree there is one principal ingredient: color.

Today, the color was evident on Carvin's Cove on the second day of fall. The temperatures were soft and mild, as well, and a cool, football-feeling breeze was a constant. Here is a little of what the Cove had to offer today.




Down Comes the Sycamore Tree

I've been passing this dying--and now dead--sycamore tree in Roanoke's Smith Park for years, never considering much about it except that some day it might well drop a limb on my head. No more worries.

Today, workers for the City of Roanoke were on it, cutting the tree down from the top, a little at a time. Pretty tedious job, but one that needed to be done.

Elliptical Exerciser in Reverse

Usually, exercise goes from the practical to the gym: Bike to stationary bike, for example. The bike above has come at it backwards. It is an elliptical bicycle, based on--I assume--the elliptical machine you'll see at most gyms.

Doesn't strike me as especially practical, but neither do scooters or skateboards. In any case, these two lovely people are getting a nice does of exercise at River's Edge Park in Roanoke.

Tech Researchers Bite Mosquitoes Back

Ever wish you could affect a little ethnic cleansing on the mosquito population? Virginia Tech scientists appear to have found a way to accomplish that, though in a gender-specific manner. According to a press release, Tech researchers "have found a gene that can reduce female mosquitoes over many generations.

"Males are preferred because they do not bite. Female mosquitoes bite to get blood for egg production and are the prime carriers of the pathogens that cause malaria, Zika, and dengue fever."

Researcher Zhijian “Jake” Tu and paper co-author Yumin Qi, along with other colleagues found that placing a particular Y chromosome gene on the autosomes of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes — a species responsible for transmitting malaria — killed off 100 percent of all female embryos that inherited the gene. The extra copy of this gene, which the researchers call Guy1, is passed on to both sexes but only males survive. The male mosquitoes do not appear to have any detectable reproductive disadvantages in the laboratory.

Gene editing looks like the way the extra copy of Guy1 will effectively be transmitted, but that study is on-going. There is no word on the positive benefit of sparing the male mosquitoes.

(Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/William Collins)




Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Roanoker Chance Hall back for Tennessee

Chance Hall: Vol tackle
Northside High grad Chance Hall, a freshman All-American offensive tackle last season at the University of Tennessee, will make his season debut Saturday in Knoxville as the Vols play what may be their most important football game in a decade.

The Roanoker missed the first three games of this season with knee problems. He is bouncing back from arthroscopic surgery and will likely play a great deal--whether or not he starts--against arch-rival Florida, a team UT has not beaten in 12 years. Tennessee has won nine straight games, including six in a row last year after Hall became a starter against Alabama. That streak is one of the longest in the country.

Hall had been counted on this year to anchor an offensive line that has had a great deal of trouble being effective in the first three games. He could be a key element against Florida.

(Knoxville News-Sentinel photo.)

Patriotism: Casting a Real, Meaningful Vote

May I make a small suggestion for those of you who, like me, will not enthusiastically cast a vote for either major party candidate this year? Here's the reality:

If you vote for a minor party nominee in a state where the vote will be close, you will have a negative effect on the presidential race, but likely not the one you want. The best example is Ralph Nader's 1 percent in Florida in 2000, a state where George Bush was declared winner by almost no margin at all and was sent to the White House. We know what he did there.

The Nader vote was a protest vote, one that rejected the two major parties at a crucial time in a vital state.

My suggestion: Examine the polls closely as we head to election day and if your state of residence has a close presidential race going on, choose one of the majors and put your vote there. Back into the booth if necessary. I've done that upon occasion. You can make a difference. If you vote for Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein, you will simply toss your vote into the wind and allow one of the majors to win by default.

Americans desperately need to make a distinct and defining statement in this election and voting for somebody who can't possibly win is passing the buck, kicking the can down the road and all the other cliches you can dream up that say, "I don't want that kind of responsibility." You are an American citizen and, as such, you have a responsibility to the rest of us. That, boys and girls, is the very definition of patriotism.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kinsella's Gone, but Baseball Fiction Remains

W.P. Kinsella, the baseball novelist many of you know if you know anything at all about baseball writing, died yesterday and gave me pause to consider one of my favorite forms of the written word: baseball fiction.

I am not a baseball fan--the affection for baseball fiction might lead you to conclude otherwise--but, ah, baseball fiction ... It can be as wildly variable as Mr. Kinsella's signature novel Shoeless Joe (later "Field of Dreams" as a movie), Mark Harris' Bang the Drum Slowly and Darryl Brock's If I Never Go Back, whose plots are similar in two respects: they center on baseball and they are fantasies.

Baseball is a fantasy sport, and not just fantasy baseball that 20-somethings play in their living rooms. It is slow and given to flights of fancy by those watching, especially during its frequent lulls. Bang the Drum Slowly concerns a dying catcher and the camraderie baseball engenders. Shoeless Joe deals with a baseball field built in a corn field so a man can talk to his long dead father. If I Never Get Back has a college player time-traveling to 1869 and joining the first pro baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. They books are marvelously written.


Consider some from this Good Reads list (all of the following I have read and loved, from this list):

  • Havana Heat, Darryl Brock (my fave)
  • The Natural, Bernard Malamud
  • The Celebrant, Eric Greenberg
  • The Universal Baseball Association, Robert Coover 
  • Castro's Curveball, Tim Wendell
  • The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
  • Sometimes You See It Coming, Kevin Baker
  • Veracruz Blues, Mark Winegardner
  • The Cincinnati Red Stalkings and Hanging Curve, Troy Soos
  • The Boys of Summer, Rober Kahn

And let me throw in a special mention of Kurt Rheinheimer, the Roanoke writer-editor (Leisure Publishing, Roanoker and Blue Ridge Country magazines), whose short fiction has been as good as anybody's in the country for about 30 years or so.

His work has appeared in collections in Press 53 and Elysian Fields, among others, and his book of short stories, Little Criminals, is sprinkled with some of the best, along with some contemporary short fiction. His "Umpire" in the bound collection Bottom of the Ninth is simply excellent.

Kurt writes about the minor leagues, an area that gets little attention, but which contains as much drama as baseball on any level. It's baseball and it's fun, even though the game isn't so much.




Sunday, September 18, 2016

Camera Experiments on a Late Summer Hike

Susan and I discuss where we're going.
Susan selfie: Madonna With Babysitter
Susan and I hiked the Carvins Cove trail up to the point of its intersection with the Hollins Greenway yesterday afternoon and she took some interesting photos. It was her first hike on this trail.

I didn't take a camera (the biggest upset of Saturday, including Louisville creaming Florida State), so it was up to her to record the excursion. And record she did.

Susan loves to experiment with the little Sony CyberShot she's had for about a year (rather than lug along her Canon DSLC, which is bulky) and she creates a great deal of darkroom effects within the camera, something I simply can't do.

Here are some examples of her work on this late summer hike, which I find fascinating.

Vines and colored leaves on the forest floor.
The Path of Righteousness.
Bridge on the Path of Righteousness.
Susan celebrates the wonder of it all (I took this one, as you might have guessed).
Celebrating or holding up trees? Your guess is as good as mine.
... and branches
Watercolor rocks...
Watercolor of moi (and my love handles) looking for a way home.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Only Two Reasons You Need To Vote for Clinton

There are two vital issues that will lead me put aside my preference for others and vote for Hillary Clinton in less than two months. They are basic to who we are and who we want to be as a nation. 

1. Selecting an acceptable Supreme Court justice immediately and as many as two others over the course of the next four years. Trump's appointment would be closer to Scalia and Thomas than Earl Warren, Oliver Wendell Holmes or Louis Brandeis. 

These new justices will determine some divisive issues--guns, abortion, voting rights, money in politics, trade, workers' rights, and a plethora of others--and we would hope their determination would help heal the fractures in our society, not intensify them. They can help return our democracy (which is now an oligarchy) to the people.

2. Having an adult in the position of deciding when and if we go to war and making absolutely certain that the president has maturity, thick skin, cool head and a full understanding that we can't use a nuclear weapon on a country because its president has insulted our president's ego. George Bush once said he attacked Iraq after 9/11 (with which it had no involvement) because Iraqi officials threatened his dad. We don't need that mindset with a finger on the trigger. War is god-awful. Nuclear war--which candidate Trump seems to believe is an option--should not even be a point of discussion.

There is a lot more to all this than these two huge issues, but everything else is secondary. I have no reason to believe that Hillary Clinton will be an exemplary president, but she has the potential to be quite good. The only potential Trump has is to wreck our country and quite possibly our world. That's pretty basic, I'd say.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Murray Run Needs Some Repairs

The tennis courts at Murray Run are overgrown and cracked. These weeds damage the court surface.
Gulleys line the path.
The Murray Run greenway trail in Roanoke needs some attention pretty quickly right now before it falls into serious dis-repair. The trail is generally healthy and--as a matter of fact--quite lovely in most spots, but the tennis court in Fishburn Park has cracked and invited weeds in, while the downhill path has been gutted by rain in several places.

These are easy fixes right now, but could be serious if left untreated. I hope the City of Roanoke will take note because the trail us used a lot.

Here are a few photos I took there yesterday while piling up my 10,000 daily steps.

Kids build creative dams along Murray Run.
Heavy moss on a damp log.
I'm always drawn to this fountain, which must have a great story to tell.
Same fountain, different emphasis.

Daybreak: The Way It Should Be

Susan as the sun came up at Carvin's Cove this morning.

The Cove, bottom to top.
My friend Susan and I broke bad this morning. After meeting for breakfast at 6:30 (she ate the left side of the menu), we scurried over to Carvin's Cove in order to watch the sun come up over Tinker Mountain. And we barely made it.

This is an extraordinarily peaceful, spiritual time of the day where color is bright, even in the black and white of the driftwood.

Susan and I are both photographers, so our cameras are constantly at the ready. Here is a little of what it looked like this morning (from both of us).

Susan's shot of me, the cartoon character. Love this shot.
Susan's leaf shadows on rocks.
Photo Superhero Susan, cartoon character.
My best shot of the day.
Susan shot this of me at sunrise.
Susan paddling with her colorful paddle.
Me on the bottom of the Cove.
Now hold still, Dan!
Susan considering a nap in the gorgeous outdoors.