Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Well, it could be that Howie and Maddie were warning me about the New York transit strike 162 days early ... they were in an RV (sort of a bus ...) and kept talking about how they were "retiring" (striking...? Retirement age was one of the issues that led to the transit workers' strike... )

So, basically I had the dullest prophetic dream ever. Maybe in the next dream my fourth grade teacher will appear to give me the lowdown on interest rates.

I stayed up until around 1:30 a.m. to hear if the strike was definitely going forward. It wasn't confirmed, but all the New York One reporters seemed sure it would happen. I set the alarm for six.

It seemed I was only asleep for ten minutes when the alarm rang. The strike was on. Oh joy. I took a hot, hot shower to wake up - what possessed me to stay up and watch the news? I could hear activity all over the building. We were all gearing up for an early day.

I dressed in layers, took everything that was unnecessary weight out of my backpack, and got ready to roll. I could have made a better shoe choice - all of my gym-type shoes were back in Baltimore. At 6:45, I headed to work.

"In my day, we walked to work. And it was freezing cold. And we were happy to do it! We didn't need any candy-ass subways to ride on...!"

It was about 25 degrees out, which wasn't so bad until the wind started blowing. Actually, I didn't have it so bad - I only had to walk 80 blocks (about 4 miles), straight down Second Avenue. I saw people crowding at bus stops, hoping to catch a cab. Everyone was much better behaved than you might expect - cabs were stopping to pick up extra people when they could, with no one getting too crazy about it.

Oh yes - there was one crazy person. Somewhere around 18th Street, a man next to me suddenly screamed out, "NO! Look OUT!" Ptoooo! He spit, and then continued, "Jack is in the HOUSE!"


Traffic was really zooming along - with no buses, and about half the normal number of cars, the streets (at least on the East Side) were surprisingly clear.

The walk is not bad - it took me about an hour and a half - I got to the East Village around 8:15, which left me plenty of time to defrost in a diner and have some breakfast. You don't realize how cold you've gotten until your body warms up again.

September 11th was actually on my mind quite a bit as I walked to school. That day, I walked home (when I lived on the Upper West Side). It was a very, very different sort of feeling in the city, obviously ... but there was still that air of "we're all in this together and we're dealing with it" New Yorker-ness on the streets.

This was the last day of the semester at school. Originally the first year graduate students were supposed to have their mid-year faculty evaluations, and present their ten-minute musicals, which they have been madly rehearsing. With half the students and one or two of the faculty unable to make it in, we cancelled the musicals, and just did the evaluations as best we could - patching in students and faculty on speakerphone. Ordinarily the semester ends with a big burst of energy as the students get to see one another's work (they all perform in each other's shows) but now, they just drifted away. It was an odd feeling - a little sad.

After the end of semester faculty meeting, I got ready to hike over to Penn Station to try and catch the next train to Baltimore. As it happened, my department chair's husband was coming to pick her up, and she offered me a ride over there. Once we were in the car, she said, "Actually, do you just want to go to Wilmington?" They were headed to their house in Delaware, and could drop me off at the Amtrak station in Wilmington, which is the stop before Baltimore - about 45 minutes on the train. It was a very quick drive - about two hours. I got to the Wilmington station, and a D.C.-bound train arrived about twenty minutes later. Perfect.

I was at home by 6:45. I got in the bath, wrapped myself in my robe, and was asleep by 9:30. What a day.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Howie and Maddie came to me in a dream

162 days ago I had a very vivid dream. This dream involved the parents of my best friend from college. Let’s call them Howie and Maddie.

They are great people; a few years ago they sold their business and bought an RV, and proceeded to road-trip it around the country. They’ve done things like drive across Alaska with one of their grandsons. They’ve got it together.

I can’t say that they’ve ever been in one of my dreams before. The dream was very clear and sharp, although it was fairly short. I was in the RV with them, and they kept saying, “We retire in 162 days!” They really emphasized the 162 days.

I woke up with the dream so strongly stuck in my mind that I made a note of it. I figured out what day was 162 days from then ... and that would be today, Monday, December 19th. I don’t know what it might mean ... they have been retired for years, so it’s certainly not that. The dream wasn’t creepy in a Mothman sort of way ... but it was a little odd.

So let’s see what happens today.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Picture yourself in a boat on a river

My freshman year of high school, I felt very adult because I woke up to the radio every morning; my stereo, perched on my dresser, was plugged into some sort of timer that made it click on at whatever horrifically early hour I needed to get out of bed in order to make it to school on time. The morning of December 9, 1980, the very first words out of the stereo were “John Lennon: dead.” He had been shot the night before.

Most of my friends in school were juniors and seniors – and we were all Beatles fans. We were the sort of music and drama geeks who would usually end up playing songs on the guitar or the piano at parties; when we had gone through the obligatory “Stairway to Heaven,” we would start in with the Beatles tunes. Either that, or we would play the White Album and act like we were absorbing the deeper meanings from “number nine ... number nine ... number nine...”

My favorite album had to be “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; there was one song in particular that I was obsessed with. This was “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.” I don’t know when or where I first heard it, but I was entranced with it. I would play it over and over, lying on the floor in the dark, with gigantic headphones clapped over my ears. Sometimes I would play the song in my room, again in darkness, with my strobe light (purchased from Spencer Gifts) blinking away. I’m surprised I didn’t give myself an epileptic seizure or perhaps induce some kind of psychotic break. Or, maybe I did and I just didn’t realize it. I definitely provoked a fit of madness in my father, when I played the track over and over on his hi-fi. Even outside working in the yard, he could hear it. When I had played it probably twenty or thirty times, he burst in. “WHY?!! ARE?! YOU!? PLAYING!!! THAT?! SONG!!?!!?!?”

I don’t know.

I played the song on the piano endlessly, repeating the open vamp over and over; the song was mesmerizing to me both musically and lyrically. In fact, I have found musical phrases inspired by that motif in many of my shows. They aren’t literally variations but they definitely sprang from my obsession with that music.

I collected various covers of the song: Elton John did a version on his album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which I liked in some ways better than the Beatles. An R&B/70’s funk-influenced version was on the soundtrack to one of my favorite horrible, horrible movies, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which starred Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. I recently found this movie on DVD for six bucks, so I have been revisiting the bizarre deliciousness of this oddity.

The movie came out in 1978 or 1979, right before the movie musical reached the zenith of excess and badness with “Xanadu” (another film I was obsessed with.) The movie had very little dialogue; Beatles songs were strung together to spin out an acid-trip of a plot. As I recall, Frampton and the Bees Gees played Billy Shears and his friends the Hendersons, who had a band called “Sgt. Pepper’s...” well, you know. They lived in a little Main Street U.S.A type of place named Heartland, which was kept pure by the power of four magical instruments ... which they didn’t actually play, but which were kept in a museum by the mayor, played by George Burns. So, the pure, innocent boys went off to big, bad L.A., where they were led into temptation by record producer Donald Pleasance. The boys were seduced by a trashy Motown-meets-Madonna group, Lucy and the Diamonds. When Billy’s sweet girlfriend, named Strawberry Fields, runs to L.A. to find him, the first thing that meets her eye upon getting off the bus is an enormous billboard of “Lucy and the Diamonds.” The billboard comes to life, with Lucy and her girls singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I suppose that’s a very literal illustration of the song (some screenwriter, locked in a basement: “I know! Her name is Lucy ... and she’s in the sky! With ... I got it! Diamonds!”

The plot only becomes more peculiar, involving Mean Mr. Mustard, a couple of singing electric robots, Alice Cooper running a mind control temple, and Aerosmith as some sort of evil rock band. In the end, a weathervane-statue of Sgt. Pepper comes to life and puts everything right again.

The very best part of the whole movie, though, is the final sequence, in which a completely bizarre assortment of celebrities recreate the cover photo of the “Sgt. Pepper” album, while singing the title song along with some very “Up With People”-esque clapping. Tina Turner sings next to Carol Channing. I think Helen Reddy is there somewhere; and surprisingly, so is Dame Edna. Who in the U.S. even knew who Dame Edna was in 1979? I imagine she was included because the producer was Australian. As the camera pans over the crowd – most of whom even I, a triviahead, have forgotten – one thing is abundantly clear. Personal grooming has come a long way since the late 70s.

The billboard-coming-to-life idea also obsessed me – similar things happened in other craptacular movie musicals of that period, “The Wiz” and “Xanadu.” In “The Wiz”, grafitti outlines of children painted in a playground peel off the wall and become Munchkins, while in “Xanadu” a wall mural of the nine Greek Muses comes alive (to the strains of ELO’s “I’m Alive.” Because they were ... alive.) Although “Xanadu” is too crappy of a movie to stand up to repeated viewings, even for me, I have watched that opening scene over and over on a bad videotape that I bought at a closeout sale for three bucks.

Why the obsession? I don’t know. There was something about the magic of it that captured my imagination – and the not-great special effects only added to it. There was some combination of music, lyric and concept which I found hypnotic – when I was beginning to understand the power that theater and film had over me.

When I was in the first throes of my obsession with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” I read all about the song in various books about the Beatles. There was the usual story that the song title was code for LSD – that the lyrics depicted an acid trip – but I liked John Lennon’s story that the song was inspired by a drawing his son Julian made one day when he was young. The boy showed John the drawing, and said it was a picture of Lucy in the sky with diamonds ... and a song was born.