Monday, January 13, 2014

High Noon at the Bird Feeder

Mack Hall, HSG

High Noon at the Bird Feeder

A little dog, a streak of dachshund red,
Across the grass speeds to a squirrel’s doom
She wants its blood, she wants its flesh, she wants it dead;
Ripped, shredded, and torn, it will need no tomb.

The fat old squirrel, a fluff of forest grey,
Is unimpressed by doggie dementia;
To Liesl’s grief he leaps and climbs away -
Never underestimate the Order Rodentia!

Liesl’s squirrel clings to a low-hanging limb
And chatters abuse at the angry pup
Who spins and barks and spins and barks at him
Laughing among the leaves, and climbing higher up.

So Liesl snorts and sneers, and marks the ground;
She accepts not defeat, nor lingers in sorrow;
For Liesl and squirrel it’s their daily round;
They’ll go it again, same time tomorrow.

Not Toll Bridges, But Troll Bridges

Mack Hall, HSG

Not Toll Bridges, but Troll Bridges

“In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?”

- from Stanza XXIX, Horatius

Many electrons have been sacrificed in the babblesphere regarding whether or not the governor of New Jersey, who is three or four or five times the man you’ll ever be, went all conehead and shut down multiple lanes on the George Washington Bridge in order to punish an uppity Democrat by annoying and even endangering thousands of people.

Better than finding a severed horse-head in one’s bed, though.

Compounding the chaos is the fact that the George Washington Bridge is a toll bridge. The driver’s freedom of movement is not free; one-way passage is $13.

But here is a question no one has asked: why does the George Washington Bridge require a toll? It’s 80 or so years old; isn’t it paid for by now?

And here’s a better question – why are there tolls on bridges and roads at all?

Several government entities in Texas charge drivers for freedom of movement along certain roads and across certain bridges. Up to a point, this practice might enjoy some limited defense – any bridge is a very difficult engineering challenge because it is a structure that must carry traffic across the instability of water or air. Sinking a bridge pier is a matter of finding a stable platform beneath both water and sediment, and once it is in place the pier and its footing must withstand incredible pressures and currents that are constantly shifting. If there is no footing, then a suspension system is required, which is a complex way of requiring a bridge to support itself. It’s all like, you know, physics and stuff, which I didn’t pay attention to in high school. Gordon Gaskin and I dumped a road-kill possum on the physic teacher’s front porch one night, though, and that was fun.

Good Socialist wishes and Disney fairies don’t make a bridge happen; from concept to the last paint stripe, building a bridge requires the work of lots of smart, tough, energetic people. And smart, tough, energetic people who build bridges are worthy of their hire. Thus, charging a toll until the bridge is paid for might be reasonable.

But then, drivers also pay for the bridge through fuel taxes and a specific sub-category on their yearly car registration. A Texas driver crossing a Texas toll bridge pays for the bridge three times over. When one considers the extra levies on commercial vehicles, Texas drivers are paying, through the higher costs of goods, for the toll bridge four times over.

So where does one go to see the budget for a given toll bridge or toll highway?

And then there is the matter of freedom, the freedom to go and come as one chooses. Why should a Texan, who pays any number of taxes to fund a bridge before he (the pronoun is gender-neutral) even gets to it, be stopped by a functionary and, sanctioned by the laws of Texas, be required to pay off that functionary in order to cross that bridge?

The matter of the bribes…um…payoffs…um…tolls is even more subject to questions of, well, questionable behavior when one learns that some of the controlling agencies are private companies.

Cintra (a vague, fuzzy, harmless-sounding name) owns the make-him-an-offer-he-can’t-refuse control over a portion of Interstate 35 in Fort Worth. Cintra is a Spanish company. Thus, not only does a private company demand a payoff for you to drive along a public road you’ve already paid for, this private company is not even an American company.

Even for a slow thinker like y’re ‘umble scrivener, that doesn’t sound right on multiple levels of not sounding right.


Friday, January 10, 2014

The Frogs of January

Mack Hall, HSG

The Frogs of January

Have the frogs of January lost their minds?
This is the season of reptilian sleep,
To leave the winter’s frozen world behind
And keep their dormant lives in storage deep

This balmy dusk is not a time for song;
This temporary warmth is but a cruel tease;
Frogs won’t sing through this winter dusk for long:
The soft winds whisper of a coming freeze.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Floyd Gaffney and James Avery

Mack Hall, HSG

Floyd and James

Okay, I did not address Dr. Gaffney as Floyd; he was the director and a brilliant man, and although others presumed to address him familiarly, I did not. James Avery was equally brilliant but my age, and so he was James.

The play was a middle-1970s mediocrity, leaden in its preachiness, but that was what the committee had given Dr. Floyd Gaffney, a forgettable play and a cast of amateurs. Some were well-intentioned but bumbling, and others were princesses of both sexes whose purposes in donning the buskins and trodding the boards remain a mystery. Tardiness, inattention, and self-indulgence were constants – no wonder Dr. Gaffney looked like a man with a secret sorrow. One of the cast, a former Miss Famous Name Brand Beauty Pageant Something-or-Other™, spent more time rehearsing her Academy Award acceptance speech than her immediate lines. She was insolent, incompetent, and barely literate. Oh, yeah. Another cast member worked diligently on his I’m-an-actor-‘tude and considered taking direction and even showing up for rehearsal beneath his level of creativity.

He may have been the walking, talking cliché’ who stopped a rehearsal to ask “What’s my motivation?”

The exception to this Dysfunction Junction was James Avery, then a young college graduate and Viet-Nam veteran. His purpose – not his dream, his purpose – was to write and act. And he did. James was always in the old theatre for rehearsals before anyone else and remained late. He not only knew his part, he knew everyone’s. If you missed a line or a blocking point, he saved you. Despite his relative youth he was fully as professional as Dr. Gaffney, and less acerbic. He had no patience with folly, but was supportive and an eager teacher.

At this point it is relevant to mention that I was the only white performer in an otherwise all black play, and the only goof in an otherwise serious narrative. My limited function was that of the traditional Shakespearean Clown, the oaf whose comic irrelevance serves to break the tension.

One of my encounters with the lead was to insult him with a crudity. Verbally abusing, even in jest, a man the size and presence of James Avery was quite a challenge, and as supportive as he was in person, his character was intimidating. During a rehearsal or a performance, he never stepped out of character.

Dr. Gaffney and James formed a committee of two to solve the problem.

At this point the convention is to insert a life-changing quotation from them, some glowing words That Will Live Forever. Well, it’s not going to happen. I really don’t remember what James and Dr. Gaffney said to me. Whatever they said was immediately practical and functional. They didn’t give inspirational speeches; they solved the problem in a workmanlike manner, and the rehearsal went on.

Neither Dr. Gaffney nor James Avery babbled about following your dreams. They expected you to do your job, learn your lines, come to rehearsal, and think.

That’s not florid or gaseous, but it’s a pretty good lesson.

Both Floyd Gaffney and James Avery are gone now, but they continued the old, old tradition of theatre given to them by their mentors, enriched the tradition with their own special gifts, and passed it to the young. They left behind bodies of work that are excellent in themselves, and new generations of actors, writers, and directors to help civilization carry on.