ROBIN WILLIAMS

Somehow I knew that I eventually would let this out. My brain has been mulling this over ever since he died. My two favorite lunatics were Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams. Winters died last year and Williams recently. I have been searching my mind to think of anyone else who might be in that frantic comedic category. If there is someone, I have not seen him or her.

 

Williams has always given Jonathan Winters credit for many of the things that he had done. He was also beholden to Peter Sellers caricatures in the Goonies radio program and Dr. Strangelove. Funny, but all of those things are those that I grew up with and loved. Yup, I have heard the Goon show from the U.K. and it is as fast paced as anything that I have heard. There is also a Monty Python quality to many of these British comedies. Robin Williams devoured all of them.

 

However, Robin Williams was of another world entirely. As David Letterman described him when he was on the same nightclub bill with him, he was so far ahead of us, and we knew he would be great. Not only could Williams flip off funny things in riffs, but he could do things that no one else had the capacity or talent that he had.

 

I have known one other person like him in my life. My good friend Hanoch (Fred) McCarty had the same talent. He was as fast as both Winters and Williams, but never as professional or consistent. He was also a comic genius and we would verbally spar for hours. I am not sure that Hanoch knew how talented he was. His crowning glory was an audio tape called, “Sounds of the Human body.” There were many parts to his efforts. I still laugh when I think of it.

 

Improv is truly an art form and both Williams and Winters had it in spades. Although they were friends, they were of a different sort. Winters comedy came from his rural background. Williams schtick was honed by Julliard. Robin could never do Maudie Frickert and Elwood P. Suggins and Jonathan could never do Mork.

 

I have no idea who will come along and have the kind of complete talent that Robin Williams had. He was successful both as an improve and screen star. These days, I wait for a young man that I have known since he was born to mature and grow into a slower version of both Jonathan and Robin. He is the son of friends of ours. His is certainly more droll and less frenetic, but he has the improv gene. He is still in college and is still honing his talent.

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FUNERIAL ARRANGEMENTS-PLANNING FOR DEATH

So many people have told us to get our “shit” together for the end of our lives, that we finally did it. None of the preparations really have anything to do with us because we won’t be there to see the outcomes. It is only for your survivors, your children, grandchildren, friends and relatives. It is nice to think that we are doing all these people a favor by prefunding and preplanning everything.

You know that there is a bit of religion in all of the things that are related to your passing. Our religion does not condone cremation. So, we are being cremated. What does that mean at the very end? In some cases, it means that certain Rabbis will not want to officiate at your final get togethers. Others will, so we will take that chance.

Our meeting with the nice young man, who is the funeral marketing person (that was his major at Lock Haven University), was extremely pleasant. He did not even flinch when I told him that I want, “There Goes my Baby,” by the Drifters played at my memorial service. He was young enough so that he probably knew a bunch of our McKelvey Scholars while he was a Lock Haven.

He said that he did not like to talk to grieving people, but wanted to speak with people, like us, who were doing some serious pre-planning. There a bunches of things that you don’t want people to be left with when your croak. For, the most important thing is to have an obituary that really says what you want it to say. My view of my obit is to have people who know me recognize the descriptions and for those who don’t know me, to have them get some smattering of understanding of what I was about. You will not be able to see what Carol or I wrote until the time comes.

There is always a question about how many death certificates. Why is that important? You would be amazed how things can get screwed up if you don’t have a death certificate. So many things rest on that piece of paper. I can recall when Carol’s dad died and we had only 5 death certificates. We really needed about ten or 12. Everyone wants to make sure that you are dead so that they don’t pay you for things that the dead deserve, or underpay you. It’s all very weird. It’s like they do not trust that you are dead. I guess there are scam artists that do that. Hmm, what a golden business opportunity.

Because we are getting cremated, there has to be a container to hold your ashes and something to put your corpse in before you are terminated. That all seems rather morbid, but it is listed on the piece of paper that we got from the nice young man.

We don’t even make out the check to the Funeral home. We make it out to some insurance company which takes a cut (the interest) and pays the funeral home at the time of Dec easement (is that really a word). We even have a coroner permit to cremate us. Not sure how the coroner gets involved. There are always officials who need to get their name on everything.

According to my brother, cremation is the cheapest way to go, other than to go out into the forest and do away with yourself. This was cheap in comparison to the full funeral fare. Each of us paid about 3,500 bucks for the whole package. So far, I cannot fathom how much work the funeral home does. There will be no burying, no memorial service that they will be responsible for, no real anything. I guess we are paying for their state licensed stamp of approval. Kind of hard to read the Underwriters Lab imprimatur on an urn.

FRIENDS, 50 YEARS LATER

As I recall from the television series, there were six friends who lived across the hall from each other. They had many entertaining events in their young lives. When the stories became unbelievable, the series kind of faded out of view. They are still around in syndication, but have no new things to say. All that they were has been placed on dvds or whatever medium.

So, I am very curious about what happened to them as they matured and got older. I do remember something about some of them getting married, some having children and heading off into adulthood never to be seen, in original form, again. I have tried to imagine what their lives were like. I had no success.

It dawned on me that Friends really does still exist and I am privy to all of their lives from the time they left television till now. Each year, the six of them get together in Ashville, North Carolina in either July or August. One of the couples has a home on top of a mountain. There is plenty of room for all of them to sleep there and enjoy the sights and the wonderful weather. Their children are now in their forties, one in her fifties and they have many grandchildren.

Since the six of them have so much in common, there is no paucity of conversation, catching up on the year’s happenings and the current problems in the world. No moment ever goes silent and when 4:00pm rolls around the wine is brought out, along with delectable snacks. The conversations grow more animated with each passing hour. By the time 7:00 pm rolls around, it is almost time for dinner.

The hosts are marvelous cooks, both of them. The choices of food run from spaghetti and meatballs to a wonderful quiche. Desserts are to die for. Even the one who is gluten free has choices for his meals. There is no end to accommodations. As they grow older, there are discussions that revolve around the activities for the next day.

Since one of the group is almost totally deaf, another with a problem in an unmentionable area, another unable to walk any kind of distance because of back surgery, and the others with various other ailments, some activities are limited. In a whimsical moment, they think about looking for a silent movie to entertain them.

The next day comes with a sparkling light on all of the vegetation in front of the house. Everyone gets up to the sound of dishes clanging and a host of animals looking for their morning meals. The owners of the house have five cats, a one year old Heinz variety dog and an ancient parrot called Pamela Greenbird (who is actually a male).

Breakfast is filled with conversations about well they slept and a discussion about the activity of the day. This time it is a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a craft house. The house is run by the state parks department and is filled with very high end items from metal to wood to glass. Most of the things are priced higher than one might find in an upscale store in New York. Very few purchases are made, even though all six can afford to buy up the place.

Once again the troop drives back to the mountain top home. The ride up the mountain is done in either first or second gear. The Town and Country van screams at the weight of six people. Party time begins as soon as they enter the door. All six wind up on the deck overlooking a beautiful forest. They imbibe once again and solve most of the world’s problems in a few short hours.

The next day sees is a short trek into town to see the Thomas Wolfe house. The film and the tour of the rooming house owned by Wolfe’s mother is a sobering affair. It is a display of the early part of the 1900’s. Wolfe died when he was 38 in 1938, the year that two of the friends were born. An attempt is made to do a little walking in town. It does not pan out.

The final evening together is a review of all that has happened over the past two days. One of the couples, whose experiences with foster children, has been laudatory, tries to help a seventeen year old girl to extricate herself from her discombobulated family. They want to take her in, send her to school, and have her infirmities fixed. The believe that Children Services in their state will help them do that. The other two couples listen in amazement to the things that had to get done to get this young lady some help.

One of couples has a daughter living nearby. The invite her and her daughter to dinner. It does not work out. The other two couples are sad. The culmination of the get together is the memory of the mother of two of the people, like the two on Friends, whose impact on all six people was vast. They all smile when they talk of her and are reminded that her tombstone says, “Power without Control” is nothing.

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS

The streets are cobbled and have been that way since the turn of the last century. They are difficult to walk upon. My ragged shoes clench my toes while the consistent unevenness sends pain shooting down the side of my leg. I look down the street to see the Loew’s Apollo Theater. For just ten cents I am able to immerse myself in every human emotion. I am flogged as Errol Flynn is flogged. I am maddened as Tyrone Power becomes a beast before my very eyes.

I close my eyes to get away from the dark and evil spirits that inhabit the A movies. I wait for the second work of art. Most of the time, it is a detective movie, or a classic western. The humanity that sits with me comes in all shapes and colors. They are both old and young, spare and rotund and mostly those who are trying to escape from the realities of the outside world. For a brief few moments snatched from the river of time, they can immerse themselves in the unrealities displayed on a large white screen.

There is a haze rising from the seats that wafts lazily to the ornate ceiling of the theater. No one has yet to limit cancerous fumes. That will not come till much later in my timeline. Meanwhile, whether permitted or not, people inhale and expel at their own leisure. Sometimes the images are cloudy, as they become part of movie itself. Ken Maynard is caught up in a blind canyon and cannot be seen by the outlaws because he is covered in smoke.

The screen becomes alive with images of selected short subjects, most of which are Three Stooges, Disney and Looney Tunes and the ubiquitous Movietone News. The news is introduced by an important basso profundo over speaking a gaggle of women junping over an imaginary pommel horse. They look so happy in their gym type uniforms. They were the greatest introduction that there could be for the tragedies that would come next.

Elmer Fudd makes his entrance, stuttering and stammering to a chorus of wise guy remarks from Bugs Bunny. I cry for Fudd. His niche in this universe is to play the fool to Bugs and other characters in the imagination of those who scripted the cartoon. He never seemed to understand what he was getting himself into. His inability to express himself properly was the hallmark of the “everyman.” Some bright young cartoonist featured most people to be like Elmer, unable to clearly state their thoughts and being taken advantage of by wise talking characters.

These were all Depression era stories. One could almost place them in newspaper headlines from around the United States and the world. Poor dumb shlep gets his drawers removed while standing on a line waiting for some gruel.

I would not have thought of these things when I was going to the movies. My first reason for going was to get away from my normal life. I was going to school on Henry St. six days a week 7:30 to 5:30. In my mind, I played hooky by going to see these films. Later they were of interest to me because of their morality. Good guys win and bad guys lose. I have since seen that the world doesn’t really work that way.

The rather large matron with the flashlight stands over me as I remove my feet from the empty seat in front of me. Her bulk blots out the film, as well as the sun. I can’t see her face, but I can feel her scowl. She would love to grab me by the scruff of the neck and toss me out on my ear. She is brought to a halt by a load shout of “Fatso.” She removes herself from my presence and lumbers after the malefactor of evil.
At some point she rumbles past me with the light lingering on my hands. I scrunch down as low as I can, watch as she crosses the aisle to the other side of the theater and I yell with all of my might, “Hey Fatso.”

DACTYLIC HEXAMETER, ALLITERATION,AND ONOMATOPOEIA

I have always been a poetry freak. My older sister used to read it to me, and someone gave us a book of poetry when I was very young. I read through all of the funny ones by Ogden Nash, Casey at the Bat, Abdul Abulbul Amir and many others. My sister read some serious ones to me like Robert Frost, and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. However, my love for poetry was enhanced by the English teacher, Mrs. Finnegan in my junior year of high school.

I am not going to tell you that I had a crush on her. I didn’t. She was kind of a tall wisp of a woman somewhere in her early 50’s with grey blond hair kind of set in a bun in the back. She was not a librarian. Her costumery was rather sexy and highlighted her breastworks. She spoke in a kind of Billie Burke voice. If you remember, she was Glenda the good witch in The Wizard of Oz.

She had a habit of sitting on our desks, as she read to us. Her perfume was muted, but one could always kind of smell it as she glided around the room. He skirts were pulled up higher than she should have been for 1954 and I have a feeling that she knew it. I know that I wasn’t the only one who was entranced by her. She had a coterie of oglers in all of her English classes.

For some reason, there was no discussion of Mrs. Finnegan at lunch time or at any other time. As I look back on it, that seems very peculiar. We did look at and admire Gail W’s rear end, a Rubens masterpiece, but nothing about Mrs. Finnegan. I guess we didn’t really think of our teachers as sexual beings. They were kind of cardboard cutouts in front of the room talking their talk.

To me, Mrs. Finnegan’s class was something that I looked forward to every day. She moderated her voice to suit the poems that we were reading. She gave us the idea that poetry was something that we could use in our lives. I can remember her voice, later on in life,when Spiro Agnew talked about, “ The nattering nabobs of negativism” ,” or pusillanimous pussyfooters” Mrs. Finnegan would have been agog at his alliterative style.

Although her class is clear to me now, I do not have any idea of how much it influenced me. I did get that poetry book that my sister read to me from. However, I don’t look at it much except to make sure that “I had but fifty cents,” is still in there. Sometime in the past, in my guitar stage, I put it to music.