Monday, January 31, 2005

Like Father, Unlike Son

Saturday morning Bev and I drove Joel down to Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights for his interview with Brown University, his first college interview. We left the house at around 7:30 AM for the 8:50 AM meeting since we didn't know exactly what kind of traffic and road conditions we might encounter along the way. Both were quite favorable, as it turned out. We had plenty of time to spare so we repaired to the Starbucks at the corner and had coffee and biscotti.

Bev and I sat on a bench in a corridor of the Packer Collegiate Institute while Joel was interviewed, Bev doing a crossword puzzle while I played Scrabble on my Handspring. Joel emerged at 9:25 AM and told us that he thought the interview had gone well.

We made it back home by 10:15.

The whole trip, between driving time and Starbucks time, gave us a more extended opportunity to talk to Joel than we ordinarily enjoy these days. Some of the time we talked, of course, about the interview. Other topics were covered, however.

At one point I told Joel that when we bought him a laptop I would like to get him a notebook webcam, so that we could conduct video Internet Messaging sessions every week or so. Joel didn't say no but he didn't seem entirely comfortable with a once-a-week schedule so I revised the request to "every so often".

In the car on the way home Joel said that he thought he would have gotten into computers more if I hadn't been a techie. Likewise, he thought he might have watched more classice movies and listened to more jazz had these not been enthusiasms of mine.

He wasn't expressing hostility to me, he said. I believe him. It is more a matter, I think, of Joel having to clearly define himself within our family constellation.

I've noticed, as I've watched him grow up, many similarities between the raw materials Joel and I had to work with at the outset of our childhoods. What has been fascinating has been to see how differently from me Joel has made use of those raw materials.

For example, I seem to have been born with very little athletic instinct. I used to joke, starting in my teenage years, that I was planning to open an embassy in my body . I have never engaged in sports, have never exercised much, have never been in shape. I don't even swim or dance. Joel does not seem to have been born with much athletic instinct either but he exercises regularly and has mastered some elaborate choreography for his stage productions. He may have, in some sense, started where I started but he has taken it in a completely different direction.

I believe I have had an influence on Joel's development but I don't believe that my influence has been at all straightforward. I have, after a long delay, begun reading Judith Rich Harris' book, The Nurture Assumption, and I've been thinking about these matters a lot, lately.

Friday, January 28, 2005


This is one of the photos I posted to the "Pictures With Stories" group at today. I originally posted it without comments but that didn't really comply with the rules of the group. I needed to add a comment, to make the picture into more of a story. The story I added was about how this particular comment had made me think of my childhood.

" I thought that this comment was funny...and apt. We did, all of us, have to find some way to cheer up.

When I was a boy, attending Jewish religious schools, I was taught by a number of survivors of the Holocaust.

Some of them barely showed signs of the horrors they had withstood; only in a wince here, a comment there, did they reveal those experiences.

Others were ghosts, zombies. They seemed to be dragged down by too many bad memories to be able to function fully in the present. They were never happy.

As a youngster, barely understanding the source of all this pain, I thought that they needed to cheer up."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Buzz on Julie Halston has published a long interview with my friend from college, Julie Halston, ranging over her very early days as a performer to her present role in 'Hairspray'.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Picture of Ruth

I've just discovered this picture of Ruth in Pied Piper's Interns and Apprentices Showcase this summer. It was taken by Fred Murphy. Ruth is the one on the left.

A Series From the BBC World Service - The State of the Union

In a four-part radio series from the BBC World Service, 'The State of the Union' reporter Owen Bennett-Jones travels the American Heartland talking to ordinary people. attempting "to get a better understanding of what preoccupies and motivates ordinary Americans, now the dust has settled after the election."

In the course of the series he visits Minnesota, Arizona, Texas and Ohio. Two of the episodes have already been posted to the Web, with the others to follow in the next week.

We Went to See Hairspray Friday Night

Hairspray Autographs for Ruth
Originally uploaded by baslow.
The whole family went to see Hairspray last Friday night. The kids had seen it, albeit standing at the back of the theater, once before. It was the first time for Bev and me.

My friend Julie Halston (whom I've known since my college days at Hofstra University) has stepped into the roles previously played by Jackie Hoffman, Prudy Pingleton, Gym Teacher and Prison Matron. Sabrina Reitman, with whom the kids had participated in some Pied Piper Children't Theater productions, had stepped into the role of Little Inez. They both did remarkable jobs, as did the whole cast.

The show is a high-energy singing, dancing, comedy experience from the opening to the very last note. The night was quite a cold one; New York was getting ready for the blizzard to come. You wouldn't have been able to tell in the Neil Simon Theater, however. Everyone turned in hot, high-voltage performances.

Shannon Durig substituted for Carly Jibson as Tracy Turnblad. She made the most of the opportunity throughout her performance, singing and dancing her heart out. Bruce Vilanch, as Edna Turnblad was simply hilarious. Mary Bond Davis, as Motormouth Maybelle, riveted the audience several times in the course of the evening. Chester Gregory II, as Seaweed Stubbs, was terrific. Todd Sussman, as Wilbur Turnblad, had a genial, loopy, slightly off-kilter delivery that very effectively led into his number with Edna, "Timeless to Me" and provided and effective counterbalance to the antics going on all around him. Tracy Miller, as Penny Pingleton, was a hoot and a half, all awkard gestures and dim-bulb delivery that make it all the more satisfying (and funny) when her light begins to shine.

Julie was marvelous. She was prudish (and discreetly racist) as Prudy, butch as the gym teacher, and no-nonsense tough-cookie as the prison matron. She was very, very funny as all three.

Sabrina Reitman was a wonder. She is (or will soon be ) eleven years old but she has the delivery (and the pipes!) of a twenty-one year old. She danced and sang up a storm, holding her own with the older performers and taking her turn in the spotlight like a star.

We got to talk to Julie and Sabrina backstage after the show although I was in a state of near-speehlessness, still coming down from the high of the performance. We talked about Hairspray all the way home.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Movies Viewed

Forever Amber -- is not a great movie. It is not terrible, however. There is a certain amount of spectacle. Some of the supporting cast -- most notably George Sanders as Charles II -- are marvelous. There is a scene set at a performance of "Romeo and Juliet" which is fascinating. This was an early Technicolor film and the print that I saw seems not to have aged well.

The Clearing -- is a thriller, but not really. The movie is really interested in illuminating its characters through the unfolding of its events. It is not interested in providing little shocks along the way, in "thrilling" you. Nor is it interested in tying up anybody's life in a nice, manageable package. Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe all seem to appreciate the opportunity afforded them by this film; they turn in admirably subtle performances.

The Postman Always Rings Twice -- I'm going to have to watch this movie again. It is almost universally acclaimed as a top-notch noir but, after my first viewing, I merely liked it. It didn't grab me the way I felt it should have. John Garfield does a very good job and Lana Turner does as good a job as I've seen Lana Turner do. Hume Cronyn and Leon Ames are standouts. Cecil Kellaway does a number of interesting things which, however, don't quite add up to a coherent character for me. The motorcycle cop (I cannot identify the actor) was a small role that bugged the hell out of me. He seemed to be too dumb by half. The movie as a whole seemed softer, glossier than I wanted it to be. Some intriguing ideas seemed to get buried and some (perhaps inevitable) implausibilities seemed too much at the fore. I much preferred Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, and about fifteen other noirs I can think of. Still, James M. Cain himself seems to have liked the movie and I've read some glowing reviews. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. Like I said, I'll have to give it another chance...

Boogie Nights -- Paul Thomas Anderson reminds me of the Robert Altman of M.A.S.H. and Nashville or the Spike Lee of Do the Right Thing. He likes to gather a bunch of people together around some activity and show us all the interactions. This film is about a group of pornographers in the late 70's and early 80's, just as videotape began to rise to prominence as the preferred medium. Interestingly, although it is a very different movie (and a very different sort of movie), Paul Schrader's Auto Focus is also concerned with the impact of videotape on the production of pornography -- in particular, amateur pornography. Anderson is very sympathetic to these people, whose talents are modest but whose ambitions propel them forward. Unfortunately, in just about every case, they have had to ignore some aspect of the situations they are in. In the course of the movie they will have to come up, hard, against realities for which they are poorly prepared. There is surprisingly little nudity and virtually no salaciousness in this film. I wouldn't have thought that I'd ever call a movie about the demimonde of pornography a sweet film but, well, this one is...