Sunday, November 27, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings

(Also submitted to ABC Wednesday and Magpie 93)
"T" is for "Tape" - Audio Tape
Try to picture this scene. I was young – this was years ago - and I was working at a New York radio station.

At that time, audio tape was very new; it had just come on the scene. For the broadcasting business, audio tape’s ability to reproduce music and speech in high fidelity was a fantastic breakthrough.
And now our radio station had received one of the very first audio tape recorders that was portable. The word “portable” wasn’t exactly accurate; you couldn’t carry the thing. It was huge. It was, in fact, a kind of blunderbuss. But it had wheels so you could lug it around.
(Today, of course, you can record with a device about the size of a pinhead.)

A press agent learned our station had this remarkable portable machine. He phoned one of his clients, famed movie star Ginger Rogers, who was then living at the Waldorf-Astoria, and told her she wouldn’t have to go to radio stations any more to do interviews. She could sit at her leisure at home, or at her hotel, and an interviewer would come and record her, and what she had to say would be on the air the next day in excellent high fidelity.
She thought it was a fine idea and was all for it. Previously she had phoned in interviews to radio stations from time to time but the voice quality of a phone line was very poor.
At the station, I had learned as much as I could about this new tape recorder. I could take it apart and put it together without a problem. So, callow youth though I was, I received this important assignment.

As you may imagine, this was about the biggest thing that happened to me during my time as a beginner in radio. Ginger Rogers! True, she wasn’t the world-famous star she had been a decade or so earlier -- the Fred and Ginger whose marvelous dancing brought joy to millions around the world -- but she was still a major celebrity; she commanded an imperial suite in the Waldorf. It was a fantastic assignment for a young guy.
I showed up, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, right on time, lugging the huge recorder behind me. She greeted me in a friendly way, obviously pleased to be taking part in this marvelous new technological adventure.
(I knew how to behave with celebrities; I didn’t want her to think I was just part of a mob of fans. And I made sure I didn’t commit the faux pas of saying I had been interested in her career since I was a little kid.)
I was a bit surprised that she had chosen, of the various rooms of her suite, the smallest one for our interview. I guess it was because it was where she felt the most relaxed.
The room was full, chock-full, of literally hundreds of knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, gewgaws, curios – evidently just about everything in the form of an award or memento she had ever been given. The items ranged from the obviously expensive to junk that would have been jettisoned except that it was probably kept for sentimental reasons.

This small room was not only jammed full of stuff; there was only one place to sit – on something that used to be known as a settee. This small sofa, very much like the one in the prompt, was evidently also a memento of some kind. It was not new, not in good condition; perhaps the reason she kept it was that it had been part of her youth, a reminder of her home back in Missouri, where she was raised.
At any rate, it was a strange situation. I was sitting with her on this small couch, trying to rig up the equipment for the interview.

No one had told her that the recording machine for her interview was, as far as she could see, as big as a small house. Or that it took quite a while to assemble before it could operate.
So I began the process of setting it up. She sat next to me, still trying to smile pleasantly, though I sensed that she was beginning to wonder if this was such a great idea after all.
Perspiring a bit, I took the whole contraption apart, got out my eleven-inch reels, installed them, threaded the tape in the intricate manner of that time, unpacked the mike, attached it to its stand, found the power supply, made all the connections, did a test or two, etc., etc.
As I say, this went on for quite a while. The smile disappeared from her face.
Anyway, we finally got to the interview. I asked the questions and she answered. She covered the usual celebrity topics: she talked about her film career, her travels, her friends, how in Rome Alfredo had invented a special sauce for her, etc.
I then began the lengthy process of closing the infernal machine up for travel.
After I finished this, finally, I bade her adieu – she didn’t seem all that sorry to see me go – and I headed out the door.
As I mentioned, her room was absolutely stuffed with all these gewgaws and mementos. It was a place where no one should ever enter if you were lugging a large blunderbuss with you. As careful as I was, a portion of the huge tape recorder managed to bump against a couple of the items on display and knock them off.
Disaster. At least two, possibly three, of these bric-a-brac pieces broke into – to use a technical scientific term – smithereens.
I felt terrible. I had no way of knowing if I had busted something of monetary or of sentimental value, or both. I apologized profusely.
You could see she was angry but was trying to hold it in. She didn’t start yelling at me, though I’m sure she felt like it. I got out of the place as fast as I could.
Years later, to show my grandkids their granddad had hobnobbed with the stars in his youth, I told them about my adventure with Ginger Rogers. They were impressed.
“Who’s Ginger Rogers?” they asked.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings

(Also submitted to ABC Wednesday and Magpie 92)
"S" is for "Special"

Me: You’re finally here? I thought you had forgotten all about me and gone off for good.
My Muse: No, no; I’ve just been busy. We had our national muse convention last week. You called about something?
Me: Well, it’s the usual. As you know, Tess K posts a prompt each week and I’m supposed to come up with some brilliant ideas, remarks, observations, bon mots, whatever, in response. So I could use your help.
MM: Ah, yes, the Magpie prompt. I see it’s about love this week. I have the feeling that’s a subject you don’t know much about, not being all that lovable yourself. (Laughs)
Me: Please, forget the jokes. You’re my muse; you should avoid wounding my ego, not to mention my amour propre.
MM: “Amour propre,” eh? If I’m not mistaken, that’s the only kind of amour you’ve been getting any of for the past few years.
Me: You really are annoying. How does one go about asking for a change of muse?
MM: Oh, it’s complicated. Wouldn’t do any good anyway. All the good muses are working for important people -- me, I wind up with someone like you.
Me: I’m warning you; one of these days I’m going to try writing without you.
MM: That’ll be the day. All right, I'll put you out of your misery; I’ll toss you some quotes and you see if you can do something with them.
Me: Fire away.
MM: How about this? “True love is like a ghost; everyone talks of it, few have seen it.”
Me: You made that up?
MM: Well, no. It’s by a buddy of mine, Frank. I call him that but his full name is Francois de la Rochefoucauld.
Me: Yes, but that’s so seventeenth century. You got anything a bit more modern?
MM: How’s this? “Love is an electric blanket with somebody else in control of the switch.”
Me: A bit hollow but I like it. However, this is the 21st century. I don’t mean to be shallow but have you anything with more emphasis on, say, carnality?
MM: You should like this. It’s Woody Allen’s. “The last time I was inside a woman was when I went to the Statue of Liberty.”
Me: Great. Now we’re really cooking.
MM: As usual, I do the cooking and you get the credit. But that’s what it means to be a muse.
Me: Right. If you don’t like it you can always go into some other line of work. Now, how about something special -- a sad quote for instance?
MM: Well, this is by another friend of mine, Anon. “The saddest thing in the world, is loving someone who used to love you.”
Me: That’s really fine. Actually, we seem to be getting along okay. Maybe I’ll vote to keep you as my muse.
MM: I’m overcome with gratitude.
Me: Now something appropriate for a closer?
MM: Well, this is by that ancient philosopher, F Sinatra:
“Who knows where the road will lead us
Only a fool would say,
But if you let me love you
I'm sure to love you…All the Way.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings

(Also for ABC Wednesday and Magpie 91)
"R" is for "Revolutionary"

The prompt this week struck me with force. It’s as though it could easily serve as illustration of a famous event that happened on one hot July day in Russia back in 1918.
The girl stares about her, unable to comprehend the enormity of an incredible catastrophe. The empty chairs represent the members of her family, all slaughtered by revolutionary Bolsheviks. She alone survived.
For me, this provided the impetus to write the following story. Since it was posted almost two years ago, I thought folks might not mind if I submitted it again. Here ‘tis…

: I’ve told you before, I don’t like doing this.
Mike: I know, but this is something special. I really need your help. An expert like you can tell me if this thing is worth real money. If so, well, there’s a big chunk of dough in it for you.
Victor: All right, let me have a look at it.

Mike: There. What do you think? Somethin’, isn’t it? Go ahead, take your time, no hurry. Look it over good.
Victor: I don’t need to look it over. I know exactly what it is.
Mike: You do? You mean it’s famous?
Victor: You could say that. How did you get this?
Mike: There are two young men who sort of work for me. They – er – acquired it.
Victor: You’re a fence, aren’t you, Mike? And the two young men are punks who steal stuff for you, right?
Mike: Now, wait a minute. How they got it or how it got here isn’t the question. All I want to know from you is, what’s it worth?
Victor: What did you pay for it?
Mike: Well, I figured I could always sell it for fifty dollars – a hundred if I’m lucky. So I gave them thirty-five bucks for it.
Victor: Thirty-five bucks. Unbelievable…
Mike: It’s worth more? A lot more?
Victor: To you it’s worth nothing. You wasted your thirty-five bucks.
Mike: What are you trying to pull? It’s gotta be worth something.

Victor: Let me give you a bit of history. Way back in 1918, the Russian royal family, the Romanoffs, may have begun the year thinking they were firmly established as rulers of Russia. But that year they were brutally voted out: the entire family was assassinated by revolutionary Bolshevik secret police. You’ve heard about this?
Mike: Sort of.

Victor: Then maybe you also heard that one of the daughters, Anastasia, managed to live through the assassination attempt and escaped. She later lived in Europe for years under the name of Anna Anderson. The word got around in recent years that she had moved to the States and spent the rest of her life here. Nobody could verify this; instead of seeking vindication, all she wanted was to avoid all publicity.
Mike: And this thing belonged to her?
Victor: You guessed it. She had this magnificent ceremonial Easter egg with her at all times as a kind of solace, and it was the only thing she had been able to save.
Mike: And you’re trying to tell me it isn’t worth anything?

Victor: It isn’t worth anything to you. That girl, just a teenager at the time of the assassination attempt, was a royal princess: the Grand Duchess Anastasia. If you could put this up for auction now I imagine the bidding would begin at around twenty million dollars.
Mike: Holy smoke!
Victor: But if you tried to sell it you’d have cops and FBI and Interpol and God knows who else after you. Your life would be in danger. And the law would learn a lot about your operations you’d just as soon they didn’t know.
Mike: You wouldn’t consider buying it, would you?
Victor: I would not. There’s never going to be anything but headaches with this. Way I see it, the person who owns it – or owned it before it was stolen from him – was keeping it very quiet, and probably for good reason.
Mike: So what am I supposed to do?
Victor: I’ll tell you what you should do. Pay the two hoodlums who stole this to carefully take it back to the home they stole it from. Leave it on the doorstep with a note saying “Easter egg. Happy Easter!”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings

(Also for ABC Wednesday and Magpie 90)
“Q” is for “Quotation”

This week’s Magpie prompt reminded me of a Shakespeare play, one I’m sure you’re familiar with. And of course when I think of Shakespeare I think of quotations.
Before we get to the quotation in question, let me set the scene.

The story really begins with a huge ball, an elegant party Old Man Capulet throws because he’s going to marry off his daughter Juliet to a man he has chosen for her.

But there’s a hitch: Juliet falls in love with another, a chap named Romeo, a Montague who showed up at the party uninvited.
The Capulets hate the Montagues and have for many decades. (No one alive remembers the reason for this feud; it just keeps rolling along under its own power.)
As you might imagine, everyone drank too much at the party, which happens at quite a few parties, I am informed. Old Man Capulet feels that life is good. However, he isn’t aware that his daughter has not only fallen in love with this Romeo fellow but is actually married to him.
Juliet knows her dad is going to insist she marry the other man; she’s despondent, wants to end it all. However, she is given a secret potion that will simulate death but allow her to regain consciousness later, and then she and Romeo can, hopefully, go off and live together.
She musters up the courage to drink the potion. The Capulets are overcome with grief at the news of what they believe is their daughter’s death and she is interred in the family’s burial vault.
A message is sent to Romeo to make sure he understands that the potion Juliet has taken will allow her to recover consciousness later. Unfortunately, tragically, he does not receive the message; he believes that Juliet has died and her body is in her family’s vault.
When he arrives he delivers these powerful lines (and this is the quotation I had in mind):
“Here lies Juliet,
And her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence full of light.
O my love, O my wife,
Death, that has sucked the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.
I will stay with thee,
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings

A few years ago a New York theatre critic wrote: “A snoozy Broadway season has been bolted wide awake by the arrival of a play drenched in juicy timeless issues -- racism, revenge and romance for dollars.”

“Forget that the work is 400 years old. The cause for cheers is the stirring version of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ starring Al Pacino, a supernova you already know, as the moneylender Shylock.”

No matter what you think of Al Pacino playing Shakespeare, “Merchant” is a fascinating play. But what the play means is even more interesting.
After all, the plot is fairly well known. Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who lends dough to a Christian, Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio’s flesh if the loan isn’t repaid on time.

Later Antonio, bankrupt, can’t pay back the loan so Shylock, acting like what we today might call an awful jerk, demands his pound of flesh. At the trial, the beautiful leading lady of the play, Portia, switches gender to play a “doctor of law” who tries to save Antonio’s life, arguing for mercy in a famous speech:
“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Shylock, however, “wins” the case and gets set to collect his pound of flesh. But Portia, at the last minute, punctures his balloon; she points out that the contract only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, and not one drop of blood, so the carnage is avoided. Antonio’s life is saved and the money-lender is defeated.
(By the way, the actual “merchant” of Venice is Antonio, not Shylock.)
As I suggested, what the play “The Merchant of Venice” has meant to audiences throughout the past few centuries is kind of fascinating. Is it an anti-Semitic play? Does it reflect not only the general anti-Semitism of the Elizabethan age but Will Shakespeare’s own anti-Semitism?
Or is it Shakespeare’s plea for tolerance?
The history of the play’s productions is interesting. In some versions Shylock has been presented as a cruel caricature: heartless, hateful, greedy. In others, he is a more sympathetic character.
The Nazis, by the way, loved the play. At the beginning of World War II, “Merchant” was playing in numerous German cities. They changed it a bit: Shylock’s daughter, who was of course Jewish, did not marry a Christian, as Shakespeare had written.

A question that has often been asked is, what did Will Shakespeare feel about the character he created named Shylock? Will lived in a society – 16th-century England – that was, from our twenty-first century standpoint, almost incredibly anti-Semitic. So his Shylock was seemingly greedy and heartless, as his audiences would have expected, but it’s worth noting that the playwright created a character, the money-lender, who also had pride, energy, even a sense of humor. He could be seen as an omen, what happens to a person who is scarred by years of never-ending persecution and discrimination.
Shakespeare wrote some of his best-known lines for Shylock to deliver:
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”
An anti-Semitic play or a plea for tolerance? What’s your opinion?
Blog designed by Blogger Boutique using Christy Skagg's "A Little Bit of That" kit.