Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Green Fairy

"After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world."—Oscar Wilde

Several years ago, Loretta and I—along with our friends John, Roxanne, Ron, and Judie—attended the shipboard wedding of our friend Sarah. After the wedding, the six of us had elected to remain on board with the bridal party for a three day cruise to Ensenada. Because there is not much to do on a cruise ship but drink (and because it was us), we made a point of visiting every bar on the ship. Later, we had commemorative tee-shirts made:

In Ensenada, because, again, there is not much to do but drink (and, again, because it was us), we soon found ourselves a bar—La Taberna—where we were served by a friendly and attentive waiter named Jesus. After a couple of rounds of margaritas, I ordered a glass of absinthe—The Green Fairy. I was curious about it. For years it was banned in many countries, because, as one critic put it, "It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country."

So naturally I had to try it.

Jesus Prepares the Green Fairy

I don't know about ferocious beasts, martyrs, or degenerates, but absinthe tastes terrible. You have to mix it with water and sugar to make it even remotely palatable, and then it still tastes like paint thinner.

Once we were back on board the ship and I had begun to sober up, I realized that something had changed. Since our visit to La Taberna, I was able to see things more clearly without my glasses than with them. In fact, trying to see with my glasses gave me such a headache that I eventually quit wearing them.

I had heard about the supposed hallucinogenic properties of absinthe. Could it also affect eyesight? Or was it simply the quantity of alcohol I had consumed over the course of the weekend? I had heard of drinking yourself blind—was it possible to drink yourself into improved vision?

Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that our waiter was named Jesus.

I wasn't ruling anything out.

It wasn't until we returned to Long Beach that the mystery was solved. When I went to attach the magnetic clip-on sunglasses I had left in the car, I discovered that what I had thought were my glasses were, in fact, not. I immediately realized what had happened. Ron and I had been sitting across from each other at La Taberna. I have since noticed that, when we are eating or drinking, we are both in the habit of taking off our glasses, which are nearly identical in appearance, and laying them on the table. (I'm not sure why, unless we're both afraid of missing our mouths and smearing our glasses with food and drink.)

Obviously, we had picked up the wrong glasses.

"Ron," I asked, "Are you by any chance wearing my glasses?"

"I wondered why I couldn't see anything!" exclaimed Ron (who was driving at the time).

So here's a word of advice if you're thinking of trying absinthe: don't. However, if you insist on sampling the Green Fairy—

Make sure you know where your glasses are.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Big Bloody Broadway Musical

Many years ago, when I was a sophomore in college, a theatre classmate and I dreamed of someday writing a musical together. I would write the book and lyrics; he would compose the music. Obviously, we never realized our dream. Otherwise, I would be telling you about the invitation I just received to this year's Tony Awards.

But watching the last season of the NBC series Smash (before I lost interest and quit watching it) re-awakened the dream. Because if those two guys could realize their dream of their musical about—well, whatever their musical was about; I could never quite figure it out—surely I could realize my dream of my musical about whatever I decide my musical is going to be about.

Right now, I'm thinking Psycho.

"Now, hold on there," I hear the naysayers naysaying. "Making a musical about a murderous, knife-wielding psychopath is a terrible idea." Well, I have just two words for those sayers of nay: "Sweeney Todd."

Tony Awards, here I come.

Frankly, I'm surprised no one has thought of it before. I even googled "psycho musical" to see if someone else did think of it. I discovered that someone is currently developing a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis's novel, American Psycho, but apparently no one else has thought to produce a stage musical based on Alfred Hitchcock's seminal 1960 horror film.

Until now.

So far I have one number—well, one verse and a chorus. It's the song that Norman Bates sings to Marion Crane when he's checking her into the motel. The number really cries out for a big chorus, which is problematic, as there is no one on stage except Norman and Marion. However, I was thinking the chorus could be comprised of the stuffed animals in Norman's taxidermy collection, magically come to life (in Norman's mind, of course—for them to actually come to life would just be silly) to join Norman for the big, show-stopping, tap-dancing finale.

By the way, and on a completely unrelated subject, did you know that the title of a song can't be copyrighted?

Be Our Guest

Welcome to the Bates Motel—
It's great to have you here.
You'll love it; it's a quiet spot.
The beds are soft; the water's hot.
And by the way, I nearly forgot:
Watch out for Mom—
At times she's a bit queer.

Be our guest! Be our guest!
Have a shower! Have a rest!
You'll never find a more inviting bed!
Here are towels! Here's a key!
Have a shower! Have a pee!
You'll sleep so well, you'll think that you are dead!

See you at next year's Tonys!

Marion sings the hauntingly beautiful Shower Lament.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dino Lives!

Remember the pink plastic dinosaur toy somebody stuck in front of a webcam trained on a New Zealand volcano several years ago? In case you'd forgotten, or in the unlikely event that this is the first time you are hearing about it, "Dino" first mysteriously appeared on the White Island Crater webcam in May of 2004. Here's one of the earliest pictures:

Scientists in charge of the webcam claimed they did not know who put it there, but they decided not to remove it. They said the acidic atmosphere near the volcano would destroy it in a matter of months.

Scientists can be wrong.

For a long time, I checked the webcam periodically, to see how Dino was doing. Here's a picture from 2008:

As you can see, four years later he was still there, although his bright pink color had become a bit faded.

After a while I forgot about him, although apparently others didn't. He became a sort of unofficial mascot for New Zealand. He even has his own Facebook page.

I thought of Dino yesterday and decided to take a look at the White Island Crater webcam. I hadn't been there in years. He was still there, although he and the camera had both been moved to a new location. Here's the link, if you want to see for yourself. (Although you won't see much now; while I'm writing this, it's the middle of the night in New Zealand.)

I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned from the stubborn refusal of this little plastic dinosaur to be destroyed by the most corrosive chemicals in nature, but I'm not sure what it is.

Is it a warning about the persistence of plastics in the environment and the importance of recycling?

Or is it a reassuring metaphor for the endurance of the human spirit and sense of humor under even the harshest conditions?

I suppose it's all in the way you look at it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Big Claus and Little Mermaid

I must have been no older than five when my grandfather brought out an old book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and asked me to pick out a bedtime story. I chose one called Little Claus and Big Claus because—silly me—I thought it must have something to do with Christmas. My grandfather obviously was unfamiliar with the story, or he would have insisted that I pick out something more appropriate for children, such as The Tell-Tale Heart.

To this day, I'm not sure why he read it all the way through. He should have stopped when he got to the part where Big Claus brains Little Claus's horse with a hammer. Maybe he wasn't listening to what he was reading, because I distinctly recall that he read it through to the very end before remarking on what a horrible story it was.

Tell me about it. For weeks I had nightmares in which Big Claus was chasing me with his hatchet. It sort of changed the way I felt about Santa, too.

The lesson to be learned here is to never read a child a story you don't already know. Also, never read a child any story—even if you think you know it—that was written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Have you ever actually read The Little Mermaid? It's nothing like the Disney version.

However, if you'd like to see a live performance of The Little Mermaid that is like the Disney version (well, sort of), come see the opening show of the 2013 season of Fairy Tales in the Park, playing in various parks throughout Ventura county this weekend and next.

I guarantee there will be no hatchets.

Cast of The Little Mermaid, including yours truly as Big Claus—I mean, King Triton