Storytelling 2

I finally got around to participating in another storytelling open mike night at my local community center. The last one I participated in was held in February, 2020, right before everything went dark.

This open mike night was supposed to be held outside, but an unexpected storm blew up and everyone masked up and went inside to the newly restored, and very beautiful, auditorium, sitting an appropriately socially distanced space apart, removing masks only when onstage. After finishing their story, each “teller” was handed a fresh little “shower cap” kind of thing to cover the microphone so they could remove the one that was on it while they were speaking and replace it with a fresh one for the next “teller.”

Here’s an approximate transcript of the story I told–it is also an adapted version of an episode from my memoir. Read it as if you were speaking it out loud in front of an audience. Hope you like it:

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Vincero

On one of the last days of my father’s life, I pulled up a chair next to his bed, and I sat down and I sang to him. I sang “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” That was one of his favorite songs, because he loved that scene in An American in Paris, where Gene Kelly sang it right before he danced with Leslie Caron on the banks of the Seine. Dad was a WWII vet and, (allegedly, he was quite a storyteller), worked his way across the Atlantic on ships during his law school summers in the early ‘50s, to live in Paris, eating bread and drinking wine, maybe painting a little, and dreaming in French. (That was back when the French actually liked Americans).

A few days after my Dad died, I was sitting in our little library room, crying, and my husband Mike and our daughter were listening to a cable music channel in the front room on the opposite side of the house. Between my sobs and sniffles, I noticed the music channel was playing “Our Love Is Here to Stay”–but it was this happy, peppy, uptempo version I’d never heard before or since. Usually it’s slow and swaying, (singing) “it’s vereeeee clear, our love is here to stay….” but this version was (singing and scatting) “it’s very clear boodley bop zippety zop our love is here to stay biddley diddely diddly dop.” I got up and went into the front room and stared at the TV and said, “Dad?”

On the last day of Mike’s life, I pulled up a chair next to his hospital bed in our front room and I sat down and I sang to him. One of the songs I sang to him was “O Mio Babbino Caro.” You know that one – (sing first phrase) it’s been used in commercials a lot, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. One of the greatest things about Mike to me was that he liked my singing – he complimented me on the high notes and told me I had missed my calling, and he never complained or shushed me, even if I was blasting the high b flats at the end of Musetta’s waltz all over the house. So I knew he would like to hear an aria. I sang it softly, and I was sitting down, but I still think I sang it very well.

A few days after Mike died, I was on the phone with the cemetery people, making arrangements to come and select a burial plot. While I was on the phone, I had WFMT, the Chicago classical music station, on in the background. It was pretty much always on in our house whenever our daughter wasn’t home, out at school or a social event. Just as I ended the conversation with the cemetery guy, I noticed that WFMT was playing “Oh Mio Babbino Caro,”– but it was this lush, over-the-top, schmaltzy, piano-only version I had never heard, before or since. And I ran and stood in front of the radio and said, “Mike? Oh, honey! Oh, thank you, loves!”

Mike knew the “Our Love Is Here To Stay” story, and he saw me come into the front room and ask if Dad was in the TV.  Mike and I made a deal when he entered hospice—we each had our own idea of what the next world would be like, but whatever it turned out to be, I knew it existed, and I told him, “you call me when you get there.”

But it didn’t stop there. Right after Babbino, they played a lush, over-the-top, piano-only version of “Visi D’Arte.”

Now, I can’t sing “Visi D’Arte.” I never tried to learn it. It’s a sort of Mount Everest of soprano arias. But I’m certain that when I was flipping through my binder of songs to sing to Mike , I mumbled out loud, “hmm, Visi D’Arte.  Better not try that one.”

And finally, after “Visi D’Arte,” they played a Placido Domingo version of “Nessun Dorma.”

I’m sure you know that one too. Everyone under the sun has recorded Nessun Dorma, including Aretha Franklin. The most famous part is the last sung phrase, where the tenor musters all the power he’s got, squeezes his glutes as hard as he can and belts out a high B,  “Vin-CEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-ro-oh-oh!!!!” as the orchestra rises to the end of the aria (and the crowd goes wild!)

Nessun Dorma” itself didn’t really have anything to do with Mike and me, although we did go see “Turandot” together ages ago.

No, this “vincero,” I was sure, had to do with the time, just under a year before Mike was diagnosed with cancer, when we went to see a stellar performance of “The Barber of Seville,” in a wonderful and hilarious production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Now, when you buy just two tickets in a six-seat box at Lyric, it’s a crapshoot who’s gonna be in the other four seats. For Barber, we were joined by a profoundly drunk Japanese couple. They both seemed to be under the impression that this was a serious, dramatic, tragic opera, not the light-hearted comic opera it is. Even though everyone in the house was laughing, they became increasingly agitated at my laughing. I wasn’t honking or guffawing or anything, just laughing along with the rest of the audience…I think.

Eventually, the lady began shushing me, even though people right in the next box were also laughing loudly, and then, during the hilarious singing lesson scene, where the singing teacher had a Pinocchio length nose and a ridiculous, nasal twang, the ingénue was singing a snippet of of an aria with the word “vincero” in it, and the lady got into a vehement argument with her husband over the meaning of that word in English. She didn’t like the super-title translation, which must have been something like “victory is mine” or “I will be victorious.” But the Japanese lady kept insisting, loudly, to her husband, “No, no! “Vincero” means, I WIN! “Vincero” means, I WIN!”

Finally, Mike couldn’t take it anymore and asked to leave.  I wanted to stay for the final tenor aria, which isn’t often performed, but I could tell Mike was getting dangerously angry, so we got up to leave. But just before we left, Mike gently laid his program on top of the lady’s head.

Which didn’t sit well with her husband.

He followed us into the pitch dark coat closet, demanding satisfaction from Mike, “why did you put the program on my wife’s head? Why did you put it on my wife’s head?”

All the while Mike is almost yelling at me, “where’s the light switch? I can’t see!” and I’m trying to tell him that all he has to do is open the door to the lobby to turn on the light, but he can’t hear me over the Japanese man’s demand for an explanation, so I finally grope my way over and open the door, which turns on the light, and at that very moment the Japanese lady comes flying through the inner door right at me—really, it seemed she was flying horizontally at me, like Doug Plank of the ’85 Bears, screaming, “You’re white trash! You’re white trash!” and her husband catches her mid-flight just before she blindsides me, and Mike and I make it out the door and close it behind us (leaving the angry couple in the dark).

We explain to the stately old usher out in the lobby that there’s a very drunk and disruptive couple in the box, and we almost got into a fight and he says, slowly, sadly and calmly, “oh, yes, that’s been happening more and more since they started selling the seats individually (rather than back in the day, when rich families bought “their” box at the opera, securing all the seats, and the box stayed empty if they didn’t attend, and when somebody died, families got into fierce fights about who inherited the tickets). You can step into any other box to see the rest of the performance.”

We did, for a few minutes of the final rarely performed tenor aria, and then we left, marveling at how close we came to engaging in “fisticuffs at the opera” and causing an international incident.

And here now, a little over two years later, three days after Mike died, was Placido on the radio, singing “Nessun Dorma,” and blasting out that final “vincero.”

“I will be victorious.”

“Victory is mine.”

“I win.”

Oh, hon, oh, my love, you made it.

Vincero, Mike.

Thanks for calling.

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They do these storytelling open mikes quarterly, and I have a few people I can call on to keep Angelic Daughter company when I go, or if I ever want to try a session downtown. Suffice it to say if felt great to be back onstage again, which is the one place in the world I feel truly at home and comfortable. So I’ll definitely be back for the next round.

Until then, I remain,

Your not-particularly-humble-or-obedient, singing storyteller,

Ridiculouswoman

Featured image by Jorge Guillen from Pixabay

Unmasked: A Guy Walks in to a Grocery Store…

He had to walk by a sign that said that those entering must cover their nose and mouth. You couldn’t miss it: it was right in front of the doors.

Illinois is back under a mask mandate because hospitalizations are rising and the Governor, prudently, is concerned about running out of ICU beds and beds for other sick and injured people, including children.

I put my mask on in the car, walked into the store, grabbed what I needed, found a checkout lane, and started unloading. As I waved my phone over the payment device to pay, the next guy gets in line.

He’s not wearing a mask.

“I have an extra mask if you need one,” I say, fishing one out of my purse.

He raises his eyebrows, and then smiles and says, with intentionally fake sincerity, “I have one in my pocket, thank you. God Bless You.”

And that’s when I didn’t say all the things I should have said.

So, Maskhole, I’ll get those things said now, even though I wish I had said them to your unmasked face. If I was more social media savvy, I would have made a video of an exchange that would have gone something like this:

“Why is the mask in your pocket and not on your face? Do you breathe through your hip? Really? You must be an alien! Cool. But seriously dude, you wouldn’t want to take this virus back to your home planet. I strongly recommend you put your mask on, over whatever orifices you breathe through.

Oh, you’re not an alien? So help me understand: why don’t the rules don’t apply to you? Do you have some kind of exemption? No? You just don’t care that you could infect a child under 12, who can’t get vaccinated yet, when you breathe all over said child with your smug, arrogant, unmasked face?

And when said child becomes gravely ill, maybe even dies?

May God have mercy on your soul.”

It feels good to get that off my chest, but it doesn’t actually do any good. The mask wars are now being played out in schools in states with Republican governors, including Arizona, Texas, and Florida, where politicians would rather let their citizens die than impose mask mandates.

In Arizona, Texas and Florida, governors have actually prohibited local school districts from requiring masks, and have threatened to or actually withheld funds from schools that require them. A Florida court struck down an order prohibiting masks, but in Hillsborough County, Florida, where parents were allowed to opt-out of a mask mandate, thousands of kids have been exposed and are quarantined, leaving school again just when they got back.

The worst part of it? Craven, self-serving politicians are using COVID as a political tool.

“Rather than work with him to vaccinate the country, Biden’s Republican opposition has, with only a few exceptions, done everything in its power to politicize vaccination and make refusal to cooperate a test of partisan loyalty. The party is, for all practical purposes, pro-Covid. If it’s sincere, it is monstrous. And if it’s not, it is an unbelievably cynical and nihilistic strategy. Unfortunately for both Biden and the country, it appears to be working.”

Jamelle Bouie, New York Times Opinion, 8/31/21

At what point will rational people, who are willing to take simple measures like mask wearing to protect their fellow citizens from a deadly virus, rise up en masse and say we’ve had enough of this deadly, science-denying bullshit and require both masks and vaccinations? (follow that vaccination link for a wonderfully obscene rant against the unvaccinated).

Oh, that’s right – in states with Republican legislative majorities that represent a minority of their state got in power due to gerrymandering that reduced the voting power of people of color and pretty much anyone who doesn’t vote their way, legislatures have pushed through restrictive voting laws, also intended to suppress majorities that would vote those bastards out of office in a New York minute if their districts were fairly drawn, their votes counted, and their voices heard.

Those voter suppression laws include features designed to empower Republicans to overrule a legal, fair election: so these “lawmakers” are admitting that they will not accept the result of any election they lose.

I said I’d avoid politics in this blog – but this is less politics than survival: both for fellow citizens, regardless of politics, and for our democracy. I can’t face, or let Angelic Daughter be subjected to, a future where the whole country looks like Texas.

May God have mercy on us all.

Grateful that I live where I do, and hopeful my country can stave off a death spiral into authoritarianism, I remain,

Your anxious, bereaved, befuddled, and mask-wearing,

Ridiculouswoman

Globe mask image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Crowd Noise

The noise hit me as soon as I entered the park. I hadn’t heard that sound since two years before the pandemic, when my widow-brain calmed and I stopped going to concerts and ball games as a way to remember Mike.

The noise stopped me in my tracks. Everyone had been dutifully wearing their masks on the park-n-ride bus, and the staff was amply supplied with masks to give to those who had forgotten to bring one.

But entering the park, I didn’t see any masks on staff or concertgoers, except staff manning concession and drink stands. People were crammed together blanket to blanket, picnic wagon to picnic wagon, folding table to folding table.

And everyone was having a blast.

I went to the “merch” stand (mask still on), knowing Angelic Daughter would expect a t-shirt. I let my mask dangle from one ear, keeping my distance, sipping a beverage.

Then I found a bench to sit on until the pavilion opened, and sat down to read a free magazine, as hordes of people walked by, nearly brushing my knees, in search of an open patch of grass to claim as theirs. There were kids too young to be vaccinated, happily playing and running around and screaming and demanding ice cream, and I think I saw only one of them wearing a mask.

There were older people too–older than I would have expected for these two bands–older than me by a decade or more, some masked and some not.

Starting Monday, people in Illinois will be required to mask up again inside any indoor public space, regardless of vaccination status. Although I’ve been masking up inside ever since the delta variant made its ugly presence and its virulent spread known, I’m doubtful many people who have felt freed of their masks will dutifully don them again.

And, then, God help us, the mask wars will begin again, generating another round of virtual “crowd noise” on social media. And those who resist wearing masks based on some warped notion of “liberty” will continue to get sick and die. Innocent children, too young to be vaccinated yet, are filling up pediatric ICU wards with COVID, even in states with high vaccination rates, and doctors are warning that they’re running out of space to treat other sick and injured kids.

Last week I found an article by Arnold Schwarzenegger, published in The Atlantic, chiding mask-resisters for being selfish and failing to appreciate the historic sacrifices those who have gone before us made to preserve the American way of life. I never in a million years thought I would reference “Ahnold” for anything, much less an article like that one, but he made some good points.

And who could resist a title like “Don’t Be A Schmuck. Put On A Mask.”?

I had chosen a seat on the far aisle with about 12 feet between me and the rail holding back the non-pavilion-ticket-holders. But there was only one seat between me and the next two people in my row. Angelic Daughter had opted for a small gathering of friends instead of the concert with me. I was glad she did–she doesn’t like crowds and picks up on my anxieties immediately with her mysterious internal autistic “vibe” radar.

But in looking around, seeing how happy everyone was, how stoked to see their favorite band (a double bill of Vertical Horizon and Train, with genial partisans on both sides – VH for me) I decided to view the crowd as a resounding vote of confidence in the vaccines. After all, Lollapalooza happened in Chicago, and, probably due to a proof-of-vaccine or negative test requirement, didn’t become a superspreader event, although about 200 of more than 385,000 attendees did get sick.

So I took my mask off and sang along.

Vertical Horizon’s performance was great. Mike introduced us to that band, having discovered them online before they ever had a hit record. Once they did, we used to ride around in the car listening to their CD, Everything You Want.

They did songs from that record, but also one, Forever, I hadn’t heard before, from their next record. Read about (scroll down) and listen to that song, and I think you’ll understand why, after standing and singing along and whooping on the previous song, I found myself sitting down, crying.

I cried because I felt like the song was Mike’s way of joining me at the concert, saying he was glad I decided to go, and reminding me that we do, and will, see each other forever.

Regardless of my skittishness about the crowd, that made the evening more than worth it.

Forever.

Getting a little teary again, I remain,

Your already-ordered-new-cloth-masks-because-I-knew-this-was-coming, resigned, languishing but trying to look out into the world with love,

Ridiculouswoman