Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cheese day

I went to a small Catholic high school, which was always seeking ways to raise money.

Naturally, they sold cheese.

Actually, they gave us, the students, the task of selling cheese. A lot of cheese. Cheese to keep the lights on and the doors open. Cheese to buy chalk and cheese to buy chalkboards.

The kind of cheese I'm talking about is of the cheese-food-product variety - extra sharp - sometimes with a pink "port wine" stripe running through it. It came in crocks, encased in plastic-bag wrapper.

I think we also sold stoneware (which cheese could be served in or on) and perhaps some roasted nuts (goes great with cheese!) and god knows they probably sell all sorts of cheese-brand-extension products now - but in my day, we sold the cheese, and sold it hard.

I don't know if anyone actually went door-to-door selling cheese, but some of my classmates racked up some impressive cheese sales. My mother is generally opposed to this kind of nonsense, so she would just buy whatever minimum amount of cheese we were required to unload, and that would be the end of it.

But - there was a prize if one sold one's allotment of cheese. The "cheese day." If you sold your cheese quota, you were given a day off from school. You were responsible for any homework, and you couldn't use your "cheese day" to skip a test, but other than that - you were free and clear.

It may have been that your entire homeroom had to be top cheese-dealers in order to score the "cheese day", in which case I was always fine - Theresa H., who was always in my homeroom, was a cheese pusher extraordinaire. I don't know if her father ran a car dealership and pushed off ten pounds of cheese with every Buick, or what - but she moved a lot of product. Cheese product.

So, someone would be absent, and the conversation would go like this:


ALL OF US: Cheese day.

C.M.I: Oh. All right, turn to page 183 and let's begin.

Don't we all need a cheese day? I mean, what are we all doing, day in and day out, but selling cheese by the barrowful?

Take your cheese day. You've earned it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cooking unit

I believe it was in third grade that we had some kind of basic cooking unit - we had a large class that was presided over by two teachers. One was tall and Lois-Smith-esque, the other was a little wispier and played "House At Pooh Corner" on the guitar (hello, mid-70s.)

I think the unit was all combined with something to do with the "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" stories. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, if you haven't read the books, specialized in finding cures for children with behavioral problems like answering back, interrupting, not wanting to go to bed, bickering, and being a cry-baby. The cures sometimes were as simple as parents bickering the way the children do (so they can see the pointlessness of it), or bizarre - a powder blown on an "interrupter" that makes one become temporarily mute. I need to order up some of that.

Well, in the cooking unit, we made chocolate pudding - I think the goal was to learn how to follow directions. And also to have delicious pudding. After making it, I became briefly obsessed with pudding. And by "briefly" I mean "from then until the present day."

I hadn't quite figured out that not all chocolaty powders were the same - I was convinced that Nestle's Quik would turn into pudding, too. Of course, all I ever managed to make with Nestle's Quik was super-thick chocolate sludge. But that suited my purposes just fine.

I took it upon myself to make prop versions of some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's "cures." I remember I manufactured some sort of dust out of powdered chalk, and created something else out of aluminum foil. I brought the props in and proudly presented them to the teaching-and-guitar-playing duo. They were very nice about it.

I'm sure they expected me to eventually go mad.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nine people's favorite thing

I had a meeting tonight, and my friend had last-minute tickets to a show. I hadn't seen this particular show (sometimes I have to be dragged to the theater) but it's closing soon, so why not. It's about writers writing a show ... one could pick it apart as too self-referential perhaps, or pick it apart for any number of reasons. But it made me cry. I needed to hear what it said, this particular day. And what it said was:

"I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing, than a hundred people's ninth-favorite thing."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Roots and tubers

Today, someone gave me the gift of marzipan.

Marzipan, for the uninitiated, is an almond paste that can be shaped and colored to resemble other things. The person who gave me the marzipan is quite skilled.

There were two collections. One was "Roots and Tubers", made up of the following: Two Carrots, Two Turnips, Two Beets, Two Potatoes.

The other was "Seashore": Two Starfish, Two Whelks, Two Bivalves, Sponges, Two Sanddollars.

We polished off all the Roots and Tubers at lunch. Now I have tiny little almond-flavored Starfish waiting for me.

Life is good, eh?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Voiceless Velma

I mentioned previously how, back in the days when I was a music director in summer rep (not to be confused with summer stock), I made my "hit by a bus" lists - who would step in to any given role if the original actor fell ill, or fell in front of a moving vehicle. Usually this sort of worrying fell to me, because the directors often left once their shows were open - I knew everyone's vocal range, how quickly they learned music, and so on.

One summer, we had just opened a production of Chicago, which was the fourth show in a season that included The Pajama Game, Fiddler on the Roof, and Oliver.

One could tell quite a few stories about that season - how in Fiddler the only Jewish person involved was the drummer; how the ten year old girl playing Oliver was late for an entrance because she was beating the pants off the other cast members in a card game; how the director of Chicago was giving special, in-depth acting coaching to his leading lady. On the dock. After midnight. Resulting in splinters in unlikely places.

But that's not the time for those stories. No, this started when we were partying like mad after the successful opening of Chicago: seven weeks of hard work behind us, a summer of days free ahead of us. Let's drink till we puke! The actress playing Velma (the Chita Rivera/Catherine Zeta-Jones role) came up to me during the cast party. Her voice was disappearing, even as we spoke. Well, even as I spoke, because, all of a sudden, she couldn't. Speak. Much less sing.

Time to get out the "hit by a bus" list.

This season, this particular actress was playing Velma in Chicago; Fruma Sarah, the jealous dead wife in Tevye's dream in Fiddler; one of the factory gals in The Pajama Game - Boopsie, I think; and the kindly housekeeper in Oliver. (I refuse to put the exclamation point after Oliver! even though that's the title. There's another show I hate. Bleagh. It deserves no additional punctuation.)

Mercifully, we had a few days until Chicago played again. And, by an amazing stroke of luck, one of the other girls in the company had just played Velma in a production a few months ago. Thank god! But more pressing was: who would be Fruma Sarah tomorrow night, with her big freaky running-around-screaming aria?

That would be Stephanie.

Stephanie was the lead in Pajama Game; she was completely unflappable, and perhaps one of the best sight-readers and musicians I know. (She is currently in the Broadway company of Beauty and the Beast-- I think as the wardrobe -- and will be making her debut as Mrs. Potts next month. I think she might be the youngest Mrs. Potts ever - she is far, far from Angela Lansburydom.)

I woke her up the next morning with a surprise: she would be spending the day learning the music and choreography for Fruma Sarah's rant. What a lovely way to wake up from a drunken stupor. I don't remember if she was drunk. Let's say she was, it makes the story better. If she wasn't - oops, my bad.

Her debut as the screaming-meemie ghost went off without a hitch. One show down, three to go.

Pajama Game was next: luckily, Boopsie was not a pivotal role. We just gave her few lines away to other characters ("Yeah!" "You tell 'em!" "Me too!" etc.); our voiceless Velma still went on and did all the dancing and whatnot (I wanted her to remain completely silent until her voice healed.) The only thing that was odd was that the actress was very tall and striking, especially in her Boopsie beehive. And she never spoke. So it was as if the heroine's circle of friends included a tall stork-like mute.

Oliver was a similar situation - I believe we just gave her lines away - she did a lot of nodding. We might have stuffed Stephanie into that role too, as I recall there was a reprise of "Where Is Love?" involved. Or we may have cut it. Anyway, it wasn't a difficult fix.

So there we were, rehearsing NewVelma into Chicago. We were lucky in other ways: NewVelma's previous role in the show was the last cellblock girl. If you know the "Cell Block Tango", the "six merry murderesses" are "Pop" "Squish" "Six" "Uh Uh" "Cicero" and "Lipschitz" - the key words of their little stories of bloodshed and mayhem. Velma doesn't come last in the song as you might guess - she is "Cicero" and comes fifth. But luckily, since NewVelma's previous role was #6, we could just leave it out without much trauma - she just sang Velma's part, and we moved on to the big finish.

We found a costume that fit her, and basically told her, "Don't bump into the furniture." That night was really electrifying - all the other actors were on high alert, and performed brilliantly. NewVelma was a smash hit, and brought the house down.

It took a few more weeks before Voiceless Velma was back to singing health. I think she had problems on and off throughout the summer - she had an amazing belt voice as well as a more legit sound ("legit" = classical soprano). She was naturally gifted but she might not have had the training to sustain the low belting that Chicago requires - the role was written for a woman in her 40s with a deep voice - we adjusted what we could, but the part takes a toll on a young voice. That's the other advantage about playing in rep - if you are taking on a demanding role, you're only doing it at most every other day, so you aren't wearing yourself down.

I heard through the grapevine that Voiceless Velma was recently in a Bissell commercial - a puppy pees on her carpet. I'm not surprised that she's in commercials - she was stunning and had great bone structure.

I wonder if she says anything?

Twill be a pun, I fear

I skipped a day on the Content Challenge - do I get flogged for that? Blogflogged? B'flogged?

To make up for it, I'll put up two entries. So there.

First, a short one.

Last night, we went to the "friends and family" pre-opening dinner at the steakhouse that David's brother and sister-in-law are about to open. The food was delicious - I can only indulge in a great big steak every once in a while - but prime rib = yum. And there is a vast potato selection - I will have to go back just to try all the variations.

Anyway, one of our dining companions was the buyer for David's store - she is an amazing artist and a lovely person. She was telling a story from work, how she had misplaced some twill fabric samples, and had been distraught about it.

Me: "So, it was like you'd lost the twill to live."

Now, David hates when I make puns like that. But really, how often is "twill" going to come up in conversation? You have to take your chances when you can.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Great winds from the sky

I've been cranking out songs all day. My cranker is sore.

Now my homework is finally assembling the content for the website for one of my shows -- it has been hovering empty, merely a lonely buoy, a placeholder in the teeming vastness of that series of tubes known as The Internets.

Of course, one would expect a synopsis. I do have a snappy 100-word summary that we've used for various festivals and things, but I thought I'd write a better synopsis for the site. A mere 2,300 words later, voila!

So perhaps it needs to be edited. But a lot happens!

Now I'm writing the pages about the characters -- Amelia Earhart, Agatha Christie, and Aimee Semple McPherson. I'm trying not to go on and on, but there's a reason that each of these women has numerous books written about them -- their stories are fascinating.

And if you come over, just pop down to the bookshelf downstairs. That's where my ever-growing collection of books about these three is currently ensconced.

One thing I'm always moved by, when I go over my notes for the show, was a eulogy for Amelia Earhart written by Walter Lippmann, published July 8, 1937, just six days after she disappeared over the Pacific. She was just three weeks away from turning 40.

He wrote:

I cannot quite remember whether Miss Earhart undertook her flight with some practical purpose in mind, say, to demonstrate something or other about aviation which will make it a little easier for commercial passengers to move more quickly around the world. There are those who seem to think that an enterprise like hers must have some such justification, that without it there was no good reason for taking such grave risks.

But in truth Miss Earhart needs no such justification. The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They help to offset the much larger number who are ready to sacrifice the ease and the security and the very lives of others in order to do what they want done. No end of synthetic heroes strut the stage, great bold men in bulletproof vests surrounded by squads of armed guards, demonstrating their courage by terrorizing the weak and the defenseless. It is somehow reassuring to think that there are also men and women who take the risks themselves, who pit themselves not against their fellow beings but against the immensity and the violence of the natural world, who are brave without cruelty to others and impassioned with an idea that dignifies all who contemplate it.

The best things of mankind are as useless as Amelia Earhart's adventure. They are the things that are undertaken not for some definite, measurable result, but because someone, not counting the costs or calculating the consequences, is moved by curiosity, the love of excellence, a point of honor, the compulsion to invent or to make or to understand. In such persons mankind overcomes the inertia which would keep it earthbound forever in its habitual ways. They have in them the free and useless energy with which alone men surpass themselves.

Such energy cannot be planned and managed and made purposeful, or weighed by the standards of utility or judged by its social consequences. It is wild and it is free. But all the heroes, the saints and the seers, the explorers and the creators partake of it. They do not know what they discover. They do not know where their impulse is taking them. They can give no account in advance of where they are going or explain completely where they have been. They have been possessed for a time with an extraordinary passion which is unintelligible in ordinary terms.

No preconceived theory fits them. No material purpose actuates them. They do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The curse of Steve

Tonight, along with our friends Stephanie and Amy, we saw the latest show at the Everyman Theater. It was a delightful surprise to open the program and see that an old friend of mine was in the cast (and he did an excellent job with a difficult part.)

We had met doing summer theater in Montana back in 1990. That was my first season as music director -- I went back to that same theater for many summers throughout the 90s, and still have many friends from those summers. Karl, my friend from the Everyman show, was a stalwart member of the company - a very facile actor and an excellent musician. He could always be relied upon - a real pillar of the company.

This particular theater did four shows in rep ("stock" means a different show every two weeks, or in particularly hellish theaters, every week. Once you close a show, it's done. Rep is, of course, rotating performances.) We would rehearse two shows for three weeks, open them, rehearse a third show for two weeks and add it to the mix, and then rehearse a fourth. You had no days off for the first seven weeks, but then for the rest of the summer, you had your days free and only performed at night. Sweet, for a non-union job.

One summer, we were doing Man of La Mancha - a show that I must confess I hate. I think the other shows were Where's Charley?, Babes in Arms, and My One and Only. The company was very young - given that the pay was so low, this theater usually wound up hiring people right out of college or who were still in college. The guy playing Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha was 21, I believe - but a glorious full baritone voice. Unfortunately, we soon found out that he was a raging alcoholic.

Now, in summer theater, everyone drinks, especially in the little town we were in. Days are long and stressful - and when I started working there, shots of vodka at the dive bar were a dollar, and beers were 75 cents. But when you're young and resilient, you can get trashed and still be up to begin rehearsal at nine a.m.

This guy wasn't just out getting wasted - he had a fifth of vodka by his bed. We started noticing there was a problem when he would disappear during the day - if you weren't rehearsing a scene, they had you working in the scene shop or the costume shop. And one night, when he was drunker than usual, he sleepwalked and mistook the closet in his room for a bathroom. Ooops.

And during the day, you could smell the alcohol coming off him. He had so much alcohol in his system that it was affecting his voice - he was losing control of his soft palate, which was hanging down like a wet blanket, making him go flat. I started taping him singing so he could hear how off-pitch he was, and spent my lunch hours working with him on his voice.

The producers of the theater were a husband and wife team, and unlike many owners of non-Equity theaters, they really cared about the people they hired. So "D.T.", as he was known, a big bear-ish fatherly sort, had a conversation with the actor. They were concerned. They wanted to help. But they gave him an ultimatum - no more drinking, or you're out.

Now, in the years I had worked there, I had never seen them fire anyone. I had never even heard of them firing anyone in the past. I didn't think it would happen. But, the guy couldn't overcome the urge (of course), and pissed in his room again.

As it happens, the girl playing Aldonza opposite this guy came from the same school as our drunken Don Quixote. She confessed to us privately that she almost didn't take the job when she heard he was in the company - he had been doing this same sort of thing at school. She had kept it to herself because she didn't want to prejudice anyone against him.

We were one day away from opening My One and Only, the fourth show of the season. We weighed the consequences of firing Don Q. - already his fellow cast members were having to cover for his erratic behavior on stage. His part in My One and Only was small, but tricky to cover - he was part of a jazz-singing trio. The big question was, who could learn Don Quixote - we had three days until La Mancha played again. The directors asked Karl if he could do it - Karl, being a smart cookie, had already been taking a look at the role. He knew which way the wind was blowing.

I always used to make "hit by a bus" lists - all twenty of the cast members were in all four shows, but the leads were distributed so that if you were a lead in one show, you'd have chorus roles or mid-size parts in the others. I would make lists of who would replace who, if someone were to be hit by a bus (not that there were buses around, but you know what I mean.) I only had to make use of the list twice, and this was one of those times.

The decision was made. We went looking for the guy - he was nowhere to be found. We finally found him asleep in the costume storage - a quiet, dimly lit place where you could burrow under racks and racks of old costumes and stay hidden.

The rest of the company had thought they were being given the night off - a rare treat, but one that happened occasionally right before the fourth show was about to open. We told them that instead, there would be an emergency company meeting, and they were all to gather at the theater. This did not go over well - everyone had plans to drive over to the closest town, forty minutes away, and see a movie, or just get the hell away from each other for one night.

We wanted them all in one place, because we were going to have the fired actor pack up his stuff and clear out that very night, and we didn't want him to have to do it in front of everyone else. We sat in a room with him, and explained why this decision was being made. We were worried about him. We got his parents on the phone, so they knew he was coming home. The producers took him to Whitefish, a town about an hour away where the Amtrak station was. He would spend the night there, and when the daily train came the next morning, he would head back to the midwest from whence he came.

The company, grumpy at having their night off cancelled, reacted admirably when they heard Don Q had been fired. Their first question was, was he all right? Was someone with him tonight? The next was, what we will do about the shows? We announced who would be stepping into Don Q's roles in all the shows. We started rehearsing the changes for My One and Only - which opened the next night.

The opening went without a hitch; ordinarily the company would have their days free, but of course we had to keep rehearsing, in order to work in the replacements. Karl stepped into Man of La Mancha with ease - he was almost word-perfect at his first rehearsal. Although he is a tenor and thus not naturally suited to the role vocally (which is usually played by a booming baritone), he acted the hell out of it. He has a naturally angular face, which lent itself well to the part. People loved him.

What was interesting is how much the company pulled together once the old Don Q was gone. So much energy had been spent dealing with "the problem" that people couldn't focus on their own work. It taught me that when you have someone causing a problem like this, it's better to fire them if you can. Everyone is so concerned with smoothing it over, or "dealing with it" or minimizing the issue - but you really just need to get rid of the person. There have been times when I wanted to fire someone from a show, but couldn't (if it wasn't within my authority to do so.) And there are times I could fire someone, and did.

And within a week, he was a distant memory. I hope he got help - he was so young to have such a severe drinking problem.

What was funny is that the theater had had bad luck with a few employees in the past with this guy's same first name - let's say "Steve"' [not his real name]. They had noticed it when they cast him - but figured, oh, "The Curse of Steve" can't be an actual thing, can it?

Oh yes, my children. Yes, it can. I don't think they've hired a "Steve" since.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Maybe it's Moobelline

In the early 70s, I was a fan of Wacky Packages - it was a series of stickers put out by Topps - they came in a package with a slab of bubble gum, like baseball cards. They were parodies of popular products - Weakies Cereal (for Wheaties), Moobelline Makeup, Head and Boulders Shampoo, Yubum Coffee, Sludge Brick Mix (instead of Fudge Brownie Mix) from Betty Crooked, and so on.

I remember that my bedroom door was plastered with these - and probably bumper stickers, too, and god knows what else. I pity whoever bought that house - if they didn't have to replace the door, they certainly spent plenty of time scraping the stickers off.

I was surprised to find out that one of the designers of the stickers was Art Spiegelman (who also designed “Garbage Pail Kids”); he is, of course, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the graphic novel Maus.

It's a testament to the power of Wacky Packages that whenever I see Old Spice cologne, I think of Old Spit.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I've been tagged!

I've been not-blogging for so long, it's a honor to be remembered.

The meme is -- five things to do in your city. So, here they are. I'll start with New York - but I will limit myself to the East Village where I work - because as Crash pointed out, you could easily come up with five million things if you included the entire city.

1. Eat in the outdoor garden at the Cloister Cafe, on 9th Street just west of Second Avenue, on the south side of the street. The entrance is a bit hidden - but it's a treasure when you find it. I do all my let's-have-coffee meetings there, because Starbucks is a joke if you're actually trying to have a conversation. In cold weather, you can eat inside, where there are huge glowing stained glass windows for walls - and a potbelly stove with flickering flames within. Cozy.

2. Go to Kim's Video on St. Mark's Place, about midway between Third and Second Ave, where they have an amazing selection of random DVDs you didn't know you had to have until you saw them. Actually, I try to stay out of there for that very reason.

3. Go to Tompkins Square Park, if you are a Boston Terrier with a keen interest in squirrel hunting. The park is always ... lively ... but you won't lack for squirrel company.

4. Go to A Salt and Battery, on Second Ave around 4th Street, if you have a craving for British fish and chips ... or a deep fried Mars bar. If you have one of those, you won't need to eat another for at least a year. It's like a flu shot.

5. Visit Sam's Deli, on Second Avenue between 7th Street and St. Mark's Place, right next to the Belgian fries place, and a few doors down from Love Saves the Day (a mecca of odd collectible toys.) I mention Sam's because that's where I get just about everything when I'm at work, and it's great to have a place where they know that you want tuna salad for lunch ... like you've had for lunch one thousand times before. In the summer, they keep their freezer full of cups of ice. You bring one to the counter if you want iced coffee. The cups are the slightly thin waxed-paper kind that always seem to be about to give way under the onslaught of moisture and cold. Very impermanent - very summery. I love those guys.

Even though I'm still learning about Baltimore, here are five things to do there. The first thing would be to visit bluehouse. We'll talk after you complete that task.


1. Go to Robert E. Lee Memorial Park, which is hidden away in Mt. Washington, near the light rail stop. If you're me, you'll miss the entrance the first time, when you're driving a Boston terrier in search of new squirrel-laden lands to conquer.

2. Go to Drusilla's Books, at 817 N. Howard Street. I love used bookstores, and I love old childrens' books. This store isn't enormous, but they have a well-chosen selection - their wall of series books (like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins and other lesser-known titles) is worth serious browsing.

3. Go to that crepe place on Charles Street, right by the Everyman Theater and the Charles movie theater. It's Sofi's Crepes. Everytime I'm in that area, I think ... mmmm, crepes. They recently expanded, which means: more crepes.

4. Go to the Charles and see a movie. I love being within walking distance of this theater - there's always something interesting - but movies you'd actually want to see. Most recently we saw Little Miss Sunshine there - it lives up to the good reviews.

5. Take a stroll through Bolton Hill, specifically the length of Lanvale Street to Eutaw, and returning down Lafayette from Eutaw to Mt. Royal. This is a walk that can be enjoyed two or three times a day, and includes highlights such as: The Big Oak Tree Where Squirrels Live, the Telephone Pole Where I Saw A Squirrel Once, Plus A Dead One Once, the Alley Where That Dead Rat Is Melding With The Sidewalk, and the Flimsy Tree Where Another Squirrel Was Hiding, But I Knew He Was There (guidebook entries courtesy of Goblin.)

As far as tagging anyone else -- anyone engaging in the content challenge is welcome to take this as a personal tag, from me to you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What's cuter than Muppets ...?

While flipping around the channels the other day - something I hardly ever do anymore, thanks to TiVo - I ran across a horrifying cartoon: A Pup Named Scooby Doo. I only saw the "I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!" denouement, but I got the gist of it: the adventures of the pint-size kid version of Fred, Daphne, Shaggy and Velma (who had bug-eye glasses even as a ... six year old? Eight year old? Bizarre ageless midget ... ?)

I always like to imagine the pitch meeting where someone proposes the "___Babies" version of whatever piece of entertainment product is feeling faded and tired. I believe it all started back in the 80s:

Executive number one: "Sure, Muppets are cute, but they could be cuter."

Executive number two: "You know what's cuter than Muppets? Babies!"

Executive number three: "That's it! Muppet BABIES!"

And a horrifying trend was born.

I think of this whenever I remember a certain trip to Paris with my friend Amy (that story will be next.) At one point we found ourselves in a hotel where the television had three channels, one per language - English, German and French.

The English-speaking channel was C-Span. Ugh.

The German-language channel was showing ten-year-old reruns of General Hospital.

"Sie sind die Liebe der Frau I am meisten in der Welt, Bobbi Spencer. Ich liebe nicht Laura! Warum riecht die Krankenschwesterstation?"

And on the French channel? Bébés De Muppet.

"Kermit, nous a laissés s'échapper de la pépinière et devenir célèbres et nous marier !"

"Mon Dieu, Piggi!"

So, what's next?

Designing Women Babies

Murphy Brown Babies

Ally McBabies

Law & Order & Babies

Grey's AnatoBabies

Survivor: Cook Islands: Babies

Before They Were "Friends" They Were "Baby Friends"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Babies

Alias: Babies

BabyStar GalactiBabies

Monday, September 18, 2006

Of all the gin joints in all the world...

Here's a stumper.

Picture me, in a half-empty train car.

A woman gets on in Philadelphia.

Passing row upon empty row, she chooses the seat directly in front of me.

And reclines.


Sunday, September 17, 2006


Link fixed. I think.

More songs. More computer trauma (although parts of it are slowly getting better.)

Some advances on various fronts. We have an actress to complete the trio - one we are very, very happy about. She sounds happy to be involved. We have the space booked. One step at a time.

I'm having to take a break from reading my usual plateful of political blogs - I want to stay informed, but the stress level interferes with my composing and for the moment I just have to stay in my blissful ignorance bubble to get anything done. In the meantime, this blog has become my new daily read. It's the rehearsal journal of the one of the authors of Mimi LeDuck, a musical which opens Off-Broadway next month.

The show originated at NYU, and was written during the first year that I taught there. I have a special affection for everyone in that class; I wasn't connected with this project other than wishing it well, but I loved it in its madness from the start.

I'm especially thrilled to see it finally come to Off-Broadway - it just demonstrates how long and difficult a road it really is - this show has been making this journey for eight years. Believe it or not, that's about how long it takes. And it takes incredible determination, self-confidence, and guts (let alone talent.)

So check it out. Diana's a great writer, and it's fun reading her posts, even if you're not a theater person at all.

And they managed to acquire an incredible cast, including Eartha Kitt. For that alone, they deserve to be a big honking success.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Six items left

Today I wrote four songs. I'm getting into the full-bore creative push - which is good, because I have miles yet to go.

When I say I wrote four songs, it means that I got the basic text setting done. They still need to be fully arranged, and some need some adjustments lyrically. But it's a step forward.

I was working on a show with one of my collaborators - this was a commission, and she had come on board because my initial collaborator hadn't been able to finish the show in time. We had begun rehearsal, and only had half the score done (there was an incredibly patient artistic director involved here.) To stay sane, we kept on making "To-Do" lists, to have the small satisfaction of crossing things off as we churned out the material. Somehow, no matter how much we accomplished, there were always six things left on the list.

I think this is one of the reasons I'm fascinated by Project Runway - I've been in that position, cranking out the work, having to create things in such a short span of time that there's no point in worrying about anything or waiting for inspiration - you just have to do it. Sometimes you create something really outstanding, and sometimes you miss the mark - but if you don't second-guess yourself, most everything ends up working fine, at least for the moment.

I was lucky, because my collaborator is as much of a workhorse as I am. She would come upstairs to the apartment where I was ensconced (it was furnished in musty dark-wood-cut-crystal "visiting grandma's house" style) at 9:00 am. We would blearily gulp down our coffee, and get to work. She had stacks of reference books (this was a show about the history of aviation, so we didn't even have the luxury of just making crap up - this was research intensive.) I had my portable keyboard - at that time, I had the kind that had all sorts of accompaniment sounds built in (samba! merengue! paso doble! hoedown!), which, although cheesy, gave me genre ideas to fall back on when inspiration ran dry.

We would take a short break for lunch, but generally would work straight through until it was time to leave for rehearsal at 5:30 or so. Mercifully, the show was rehearsing in the evenings - writing through the night for daytime rehearsals is much, much harder. We would pack up the new songs and deliver them to the director and music director, and cross them off the list - only to find six items still remaining.

I took pride in delivering the songs fully scored (this means that there is a full piano part written out); I hate resorting to a lead sheet (a lead sheet is the vocal line only, with chord indications - what you'll see in the "fake books".) Even if I'm just doing a basic repetitive figure, I have to get something down for the piano, or it's just not complete.

There was one day, near the end, when we were both fading. I think I had my head down on the keyboard, noodling away, trying to come up with a setting for a World War I dogfight number (the Red Baron versus a Frenchman whose name I can't recall.) Luckily, given the style of the show, I could just drag out musical cliches and make them work (German music versus French music - go!) but my brain had given out. I took a walk to clear my head - usually I come up with much better music walking around and singing to myself than I ever do sitting at the keyboard. I wandered through the neighborhood where we were staying - our particular apartments were next to a graveyard, but they were next to a well-manicured suburban area. I got a few looks - I keep forgetting that outside of New York, no one really walks anywhere. Well, the fact that I was walking around and singing might have had something to do with it.

The song ended up being very funny, although not really because of the song itself - the guys singing it were rolling around on office chairs with little wings attached, with funny-looking WWI Snoopy-type aviator helmets on. Prop humor - the refuge of the desperate.

Luckily, I'd say just about everything we wrote was at least passable. The show was slightly over time, so we got to cut the number that was the weakest. It was a good idea in concept, but not so much in execution - a flirty number for a barnstormer and a wing-walking gal. The show had a cast of five, so everyone had plenty of songs to sing; the actress who sang in the cut song went on and on and on about how having a number cut was her worst nightmare - she was sorry she couldn't have made it work - and so on, and so on. I figured, if I were an actor in a show and one of the numbers wasn't going so well, I'd be much happier having the number cut that having to try and magically make the song work. I suppose this is why I didn't end up being an actor.

So, tomorrow, it's back to the music factory. When you see somebody tromping around the neighborhood, singing under (or not so under) his breath, possibly with a Boston terrier in tow, you'll know who it is.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Tiger: grrrrr

For the last day or so, my laptop -- ordinarily attached to me like an extra brain or a kidney -- has been acting up. Damn you, Apple! It started out with small, strange blurps ... the "Spotlight" find feature could find nothing ... literally, it said there was nothing on my hard drive. And now I can't open files, either through the program, or through Finder windows. Just when I get to the application or document I want to open, the Finder window blinks away like Jeannie transporting Major Nelson into her bottle... I'm madly searching around on Mac Forums to find a possible answer -- I hear there are some strange quirks with the new iTunes (Thanks a lot). There's never a good time for computer trauma, but especially when I'm not right in the middle of finishing scores to three different shows.

That shrieking sound you hear is me. It's the high pitched whine created as I grind my teeth into dust.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's nebulose

Lately, in the hour in which I'm preparing dinner, David has taken to watching one of the many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes that TiVo lovingly gathers for us. I listen from the kitchen as if it were radio drama.

Now, I am a life-long Star Trek devotee - I convinced my mother to sew me a Captain Kirk costume for Halloween, using the pattern contained in the Star Fleet Cadet's Manual or whatever it's called. However, there are some plots that the Trek gang returned to a few times too many. One of these TNG episodes was on the other day - where the Enterprise encounters a sentient cloud being.

I'll have to narrow that down a bit - the Enterprise (and Voyager) encountered sentient cloud beings quite often. So much so that, whenever they came upon a nebula, you would think that the idea would cross someone's mind ... "Hey, do you think this is a sentient cloud being?" But no, it usually takes two-thirds of the episode before someone says, thunderstruck, "It's ... alive. It's a sentient ... oh, how can I describe it ... cloud being!"

In this particular episode, the sentient cloud being (or some non-corporeal being that was living in a giant space cloud - same thing) somehow got into the Enterprise through the exhaust pipe, and jumped from person to person before finally inhabiting the body of Picard.

So it was a combo of the "sentient cloud being" plot, and the "a member of the crew is taken over by an alien intelligence." They covered both these plots quite fully in the original series - no need to go back there.

Some other plots that drive me nertz:

Wesley figures it all out.

Something goes wrong with the holodeck!

The ship is in a tight spot until someone exclaims, hey, let's reconfigure the deflector dish to emit blahdeblah particles! It's so crazy that it just. might. work. (Half the time, the person who exclaims this is Wesley, in which case, see above.)

Although not rising to the level of full-blown plot, the filler material of Neelix does something exasperating but ultimately charming also made me want to pull my hair out.

Why do the sentient cloud being plots push my buttons so? Partly it's the over-done-ness of them, but probably partly too is that a lot of the time, I'm a sentient cloud being myself. Drifting around ... in a daze ... just all foggy and nebulaic.

Next season, I'd like to see sentient cloud beings represented on Project Runway.

TIM GUNN: All right, designers, your challenge was to make a dress for Lindsay Lohan to wear to rehab, which can convert to a straitjacket. Sentient cloud being, how far along are you?

(SENTIENT CLOUD BEING floats, serene, unchanging and mute, in the voids of space.)

TIM GUNN: Sentient cloud being ... I'm concerned. The clock is ticking. Make it work!

(SENTIENT CLOUD BEING drifts, free of thought or care, through the cold of interstellar emptiness.)

Then, it whips up a combo bubbleskirt/straitjacket out of galactic waste material. Sentient Cloud Being's model, LaVivicaZa, works it and is fierce.

MICHAEL KORS: I don't know. I like the straps. I just feel like it's all ... "Look at me, I'm a gaseous glowing cloud."

NINA GARCIA: It feels old to me. Like endless cosmic eons old.

HEIDI: I vould vear it to rehahb.

GUEST JUDGE LINDSAY LOHAN: (vomits behind chair)

CONFESSIONAL BY CONTESTANT MALAN, BROUGHT BACK FOR SEASON FOUR: My mother was disappointed that I had no interest in growing up to become a sentient cloud being. She threw my watercolors into the bidet, and tossed my sketchpads into the furnace. And she laughed.

Sentient cloud being is such a bitch.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I'm racing against the clock for today's entry, so I will just say: Thank GOD that the Project Runway judges had some sense and finally awarded a win to the inestimable Laura Bennett. She was exhausted and teary-eyed midway through the challenge - I thought perhaps Killer Fatigue would claim her. But no - sometimes you need to be broken down before you can recover greater strength. And she won. We "wooo"'d. Really we did.

And believe me, we were both worried. When they showed Laura's lace cocktail dress midway through construction, it looked like something your Nana would wear to a wedding. With a hat that had a feather.

I found it pointless to bring back Angela and Vincent. Why? And I can see having the limitation of only black and white, but why the "use all your fabric scraps" element to the challenge? Were they being wasteful? Is this like the fashion industry version of "eat all your peas, there are children starving in China? And no, don't stuff your peas in your purse, that's not what it's for."

I do wish that Jeffrey had been booted off, but I am resigned to seeing him in Fashion Week - unless the judges see the light next week, it's likely to be Uli or Laura who goes next.

I'm sorry to see Kayne go, but that dress just wasn't great. Even I, the king of rumpled, knew that - the back looked like the lacing on a mini-trampoline.

Project Runway is a harsh mistress - I hurried home from New York as fast as I could so that David and I could watch it in real time. That's devotion.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Flaming shishkebab

I... uh ... oh, dear.

Ann Miller and a flaming shishkebab. Della Reese singing with Isaac, your bartender. Ethel Merman belting out "What I Did For Love" by the swimming pool. Carol Channing in safety-orange satin pajamas.

Once you look, you can't look away.

Uptown, downtown, and back again

I'm so tired, my hair hurts.

Now that I'm only in New York a few days a week, those days become packed from morning till night. My day today, as a film montage:

Morning, 8:00 am After a night of insomnia, the last thing I wanted to do was wake up this morning. Cue "Nine to Five" and me stumbling to the shower. Alas, there was no cup of ambition in the kitchen, only stale Orangina. So I had to go to Starbucks.

Morning meeting: Picture me pitching a project at a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the boardroom. It's something like master classes for advertising execs, and it has been in the works for six months. It came down to this, selling the program to the Arianna Huffington-esque executive who could greenlight everything. Cue the Working Girl soundtrack. Condition: go!

On the subway: I run into one of my ex-students. We chat as we are jammed into one of the cars of the #6 train. She's lugging the printer she just bought; I'm dragging along my overstuffed satchel, filled with proposals for student projects. Cue the Days and Nights of Molly Dodd music ... if anyone even remembers that show.

At school: I and two of my colleagues meet with student teams. I do my best to be inspirational, in the style of my hero Tim Gunn. Cue a track from Mr. Holland's Opus, climaxing with me crying out something like, "You must write what's in your hearts!"

After school, at the malt shop: Well, Johnny Rocket's. Who knew there was even a Johnny Rocket's in Manhattan? I didn't. I feel the need for onion rings, and I indulge, along with one of the other guys from the faculty. We alternately talk in lofty tones about "art", and then gossip and bitch about everyone we know (not anyone reading this, of course. We love you.) Cue the music from Beverly Hills 90210. Or Grease.

Before hitting the malt shop, we'd gone to Best Buy so my friend could scope out the new release of the original Star Wars trilogy in their as-originally-released versions - in a collectible tin! They had the DVDs, but they were all out of the collectible tins. We stood there debating whether or not the collectible tin was worth searching elsewhere for. I groused about the proliferation of all the different "editions" of movies - how many Lord of the Rings DVD editions are there? Just put out one goddamn version so I don't have to buy it five times (yes, yes, I know it's my duty as an American consumer to buy it five times, but give me a break.) I consider buying the "Severance Package" (seasons one and two of The Office, the U.S. version. We debate the relative merits of the U.K. and U.S. Offices.

Cue the music of ultimate dorkdom. Cue the sound effect of someone shooting us with tranquilizer darts and releasing us into some kind of nerd-geek nature preserve. We moo with delight "Loooook, Staaaar Waaaars."

Oh wait, that was the dream sequence part of the montage.

Back at school: I meet with another friend for whom I'm writing some songs. We work on a few things, and I play him some things I've written. Cue the music from any "Let's put on a show in the barn" movie musical ... or else the scene in Broadcast News where the guys come in and play the news theme they've written on a Casio keyboard, pounding the table for percussion.

Back on the subway: I'm so exhausted by this point - nine at night - that there's no music in the montage. Keep it down.

Posting on the blog: Cue the music from any cyber-thriller, where the protagonist breaks in to some secret database, and in the closeups, you can see all the information on the screen being projected onto his face. Like Sandra Bullock in The Net or The ScaryNet or whatever that crappy "Sandra Bullock is a computer genius, no, really!" movie was.

Crawling into bed: Cue the Harry Connick Jr. version of some standard, from the soundtrack of any Nora Ephron movie starring Meg Ryan. I love you, New York. Thanks for being the amazing whitewater raft ride you are on a daily basis. I'm whipped. Are you happy? Of course you are. See you tomorrow: let's do it all over again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago

A small memory of September 11, 2001. Below is a copy of an e-mail I was able to send when my phone service briefly came back on (the days of dial-up!) I had been traveling to school when the planes struck the World Trade Center; I came up out of the subway to see an enormous cloud of dust. They had fallen.

I sent this to my family and friends in the quick moment that I had:

Here's the latest -- my phone has been dead for most of the day but I managed to get online quickly and am leaving messages and sending emails while I have service.

As you know I don't live anywhere near the WTC -- our building at NYU (where I was) is closer -- you can see the towers -- it now looks like a volcano erupted, you can taste the dust. I was most worried about my friend Kent who works in 7 World Trade and is often at World Trade One in about the spot where the first plane went in. Cell service has been down, I finally got ahold of him at around 5 pm, and by some amazing blessing he had other business to attend to this morning and was not in the office.

I walked home from school, about six miles -- subways and trains were essentially shut down, the streets are mostly empty, there are National Guardsmen around. It is surreal, but people are reacting well -- there are overflow lines at all the hospitals to give blood.

Thanks for thinking about me -- this is an incomprehensible day.

I knew how long the walk was because, by some odd coincidence, that day was the first day I was wearing a pedometer my mother had given me.

I went in a daze to vote in the primary election that had been scheduled for that day, but by then it had been called off. Nothing had really sunk in.

For the next few nights, on the Upper West Side where I lived, the wind carried the smell of an electrical fire -- like burning rubber. We walked in mourning, catching each others' eyes on the street. What had happened to the world?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The library

It seems I am the last to know about Library Thing. It's a site where you can create a library listing of the books you have. It's addictive.

Creating an account is free - you just choose a username and password and you're ready to go. You can search the Library of Congress or Amazon by title, author, ISBN, whatever. Then click, and the book is on your list. If the cover has been scanned in to Amazon, then it's on your list as well, if you want to view your library by covers.

You can apparently connect with other people who have the same books you do, but I haven't figured out how that works yet.

It takes about thirty seconds to enter a book, once you get going. I've always wanted to have a complete listing of all my books (might be helpful when it comes time to cull out the unnecessary ones.) David constantly reminds me that I have too many books - I probably do, but I'm not ready to part with them just yet. I've focused my collection to primarily books about my field. I may not need them every day, but when I need them, I really need them - and some are rare.

If we had any kind of extra space at school, I would donate them and keep them there - unfortunately the department is just as pressed for space as I am at home.

I did have two large bookshelves in my office, each of which is divided into 20 spaces; each of those spaces holds about 12-15 books, depending on the thickness of the books.

(note: the link takes you to the Ikea page for the general style of bookcase, but it defaults to a different bookcase. If you're dying to see my choice in bookcases, you have to choose the "black-brown" color and the "58 and 5/8 x 58 and 5/8" option. So much work!)

So ... 20 spaces times 12-15ish per space ... that's something like 250-300 books per bookshelf.

Aiiieee. Writing it out like that - that's a little unnerving.

Anyway, having both of those bookshelves in my office was really weighing me down, feng-shui-wise. There was so much heaviness in the office that I could barely work in there (one of the shelves blocked a floor air vent, and the piano blocked the other, so it was no wonder the room felt stagnant.) While David was away for a week in New York and I was home alone in Baltimore, I knew it was time to finally tackle making my office somewhat habitable.

I had this fanciful notion that I could somehow just maneuver one of the shelves down the stairs singlehandedly. That was a fool's dream - I unloaded one of the shelves and dragged it out of my office onto the landing, but it was immediately clear that it was too large and too heavy to manage.

So, I found my trusty Ikea hex-key, and proceeded to take the shelf apart, and carry it down three flights of stairs piece by piece (just the way it had originally made its way up to the third floor to begin with.) It took most of a day to transport all the books and all the pieces of the shelf down to the basement level - it was a hot, humid day and even with the airconditioning blasting away, I had to take frequent breaks to keep from dissolving into a sweatpuddle and keeling over.

Reassembling it was just as much of a pain as building it had been originally - in typical Ikea fashion, you somehow have to get all the cross-hatching parts to fall into line simultaneously, all pegs magically fitting into all holes. But with enough swearing, I managed to do it, and voila: the shelf was there on the lowest level of our house, in all its overly massive Swedish glory.

It took another day to put the mountain of books back into the shelves - I took the opportunity to remove a fair number of them, along with various tchotkes that had been hidden among the books.

My office felt breezier (literally, now that the vent was unblocked) and I've been able to work much more productively in there.

Now I just have to find the time to enter the rest of the books into Library Thing, and I'm all set.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

It's such a blah day that this post is untitled

Today was one of those blah Saturdays; I had a lot of writing to do, but I knew it was the kind of day when no inspiration would strike. That was fine, as some of the composing I need to do is really more like arranging (just rearranging musical material that already exists), which can be done on this kind of blah day.

I made a blah dinner - ground turkey in a sauce over baked potatoes - and we watched some blah television - we couldn't manage to find anything that would hold our attention. Not an episode of Eureka, which is a SciFi channel series that combines Picket Fences, The X-Files and Real Genius; not a classic Star Trek episode ("Charlie X" which is early enough in the series that everything looks slightly askew); not a random skimming of live TV which produced In Her Shoes, a chick flick which posits a universe in which Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz are sisters, with Shirley MacLaine for a grandmother.

Certain things are gnawing at me: one is trying to find a third actress for the three-woman musical that we're presenting to producers next month. You wouldn't think it would be so hard to find an outstanding thirtyish to fortyish actress with a strong personality and decent voice - actually it's easy to find them, but the good ones are all snapped up on the dates you want them. We've been through eight so far, and still going.

Another is just the general malaise of trying to exist in a world where Disney is foisting garbage such as their Clinton-hating fantasia (I won't utter the name) on the public, with reckless disregard for the truth.

Another is a letter I have to write to my father, to whom I have not spoken in about three years. It's a long story. I'm not interested in reliving it right now, but the sooner I write the letter, the better. Short version: after a long silence, he e-mailed me. I want to respond, but so many other things are occupying my brain right now that I can't focus on it to the degree the task requires.

And finally, today I suggested to one of my students that she consider leaving the program. Monday. Another long story - suffice to say this has been a long time coming. I think David doubts that I can really stand up for myself in this situation; but I'm too exhausted to be anything but upfront any more. Tiptoeing around people takes such energy. I can't do it.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I spent the last week at school in meetings, from 9 am to 5 pm straight through. In these meetings, teams of graduate students have to defend the proposals they've submitted (each team submits two ideas for projects, which they will spend the year writing.) There were nine faculty members, so it was a bit like we were the Supreme Court (except we didn't install an unelected president - at least, we haven't yet.)

It was interesting to see everyone's particular rhetorical mode; we all respect and love one another, but trapped in a room for hours on end, it's natural that sometimes the tiniest thing can piss someone else off. What sets me off are sidetalkers.

Sidetalkers. You know them. In any meeting, when someone is talking, they start a small whispered side conversation with someone next to them, immediately diluting the focus of the room. One director I had to do some projects at school with used to do that constantly. Even in a meeting with only three people, he could manage to be a Sidetalker.

Then there are the people who wait until time is up, and then say "Oh, One More Thing" and introduce something that takes ten minutes to discuss thoroughly.

Or, the Interrupter who then says, Oh, You Go Ahead. No, Really, Go Ahead. You've got the floor, now take it, dammit!

Or the Repeater who Didn't Listen the First Time.

It was a change of pace for me - usually I am the Soothing Synthesizer of All That Has Been Said; the Reassurer; the Inspirer.

This time, I was the Grinchy Bitch. I usually went first, and set the tone of things by asking some really tough questions (as in, did you know that this idea has already been done, one thousand times?)

I think, over the eight years that I've been teaching, that a lot of the hand-holding niceness in me has simply been burned away.

Or maybe all the Sidetalkers have just pushed me over the edge.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

One more down, two to go

Designers, that is.

The last few weeks I've been in New York on Wednesdays, the night when the new Project Runway episodes air; this means that I have to avert my eyes from all potential internet discussions of what happened until I can get home to David and we can fire up the TiVo.

Although the show may have jumped the shark, or at least might be circling around on waterskis, I'm still addicted. Thank god Vincent was auf'd this week -- he was really grating on my nerves. The challenge the designers faced this episode was creating a couture gown in two days; when Vincent was gluing his together at the end, I was hoping that spelled the end for him. It didn't help my fragile nerves that the elimination was between Vincent and the sharp-tongued, fabulously stylish opinionated Laura, who I want as my new best friend. If they had gotten rid of Laura, I would have had to swear off the rest of the season.

Now they're down to Laura, Kayne the pageant gown designer, Michael the Favorite (who is my pick for the win), Uli the User of Many Colorful Prints, and Jeffrey the Rawker (who won the challenge this week with a couture gown made from a yellow plaid, which looked like it was created using a bedspread into something a Peanuts character would wear to whatever award shows Peanuts characters go to.)

This week at school, we've been evaluating the graduate students' proposals for their thesis projects. I always aspire to be as sage and inspiring as Tim Gunn. This week, I fear, I was channeling Nina "Ugh! I'm rolling my eyes" Garcia and Michael "do I smell poo?" Kors instead.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mashed potatoes on the page

Content challenge, go! I think I'm just sneaking in under the wire.

Lately, I have been on a book-buying spree. The object of my affection is a site called, which is like a consortium of used book sellers all across the country. They have a section of their site called "Book Sleuth" where you can post whatever hazy details you can recall from a book you've forgotten the title of, and the other forum members will chime in if they know the book. There were a few books I'd read in childhood that I was trying to remember, and I had some success posting there. So - I started investigating the site, and found that I could get most of the books I was looking for on the site - for like a dollar. So, I go click click click, and a bunch of my old favorites start turning up in the mail. I usually have them sent to work - it's like getting presents at the end of a hard day.

One of my recent acquisitions was a pair of books that I hadn't forgotten about - I just hadn't read them in years and years: The Gammage Cup and its sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, by Carol Kendall. They are sort of Hobbit-lite, but I've always loved them.

When I was a kid, we had a huge book called The Arbuthnot Anthology of Children's Literature - it had chapters from a wide range of children's books of all kinds. My sister and I would read and re-read the selections in the anthology, and then hunt down the books to get the full story. The Whisper of Glocken was included in the book; it was hard to find, since our local library didn't have a copy. The library did have the first book, The Gammage Cup, which is really much better. It is about the Minnipins, who live in a secluded valley surrounded by unclimbable mountains. (David has mocked me for saying "Minnipins." Little does he know one of the characters makes little candy people called "Mintypins", which is even more mockable.) The Minnipins live in little villages along the Watercress River, and they like their doors painted the same color green as the cloaks they all wear. In one particular village, though, five of the Minnipins find that they don't fit in - one is an artist, one a poet, one an eccentric historian, one a curmudgeon, and one a general muddle. This character, named Muggles (strange to see after reading the Harry Potter books) keeps all her things in heaps and piles around her house. I could identify with this - I keep all my things in heaps and piles around my office, no matter how often I try to shovel it out and stem the growing tide of papers and oddments. The character also had piles of quilts and blankets heaped on her bed, which inspired me to do the same when I first read the book at around age 10 or so. Growing up in Arizona, there really is never any call to have piles of blankets mounded on one's bed - my mother, I'm sure, didn't know why I had every spare blanket rumpled and crumpled on my bed.

Anyway, the five Outcasts end up saving the valley from the invading Mushroom people, who try to sneak into the valley through abandoned mines that tunnel all the way through the mountains. I was obsessed as a child with recreating the valley described in the book - the river pours down a mountain at one end of the valley, and exits the valley through a tunnel in a mountain at the other end. Twelve villages are located along the river - there's a great little map which shows the meandering river and the location of each village, as well as a map of the particular village the story takes place in.

Digging around in the backyard, under the oleander bushes, I would build a little riverway surrounded by mountains. I suppose I was like a ten-year-old version of Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (David would say I'm still like a ten-year-old version of Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and should not be left unattended with mashed potatoes.)

I suppose re-reading the books I loved in childhood gives me the same pleasure that I find in mashed potatoes - yummy comfort. When I've been writing all day (or evaluating my students' writing), I need something uncomplicated, warm and soothing.

Wouldn't you really love to be living in a tiny village nestled along the Watercress River, with mountains on every side - your biggest concern being what color you'll paint the door of your cottage? Me too.