Joshua and I arrived home Thursday night. It was just past 9:30 p.m. local time when we turned into my parents’ driveway.
We were exhausted. The previous week had been devoted to Josh’s graduation and its attendant activities and out-of-town guests. The weekend had been devoted to packing and cleaning. Tuesday had been devoted to the movers and a final cleaning of the apartment. Wednesday and Thursday had been devoted to driving across half the country. By the time we got home, we had no energy left.
My mother had a meal waiting for us—she had instructed us to give her a call when we were one hour from the house, and we had done so—and Josh and I sat down as soon as we entered the house and ate chicken breasts baked in a cream/pepper sauce, seasoned rice, green beans and a tomato/cucumber salad. Half an hour after eating, we turned in. We had been too tired even to make much of a fuss over the dog, who had been so excited to see us that he ran and jumped in circles in the back yard for fifteen minutes before Josh and I attempted to go into the house.
It was wise for us to have turned in early on Thursday night, because on Friday morning the dog wanted us to get up at 5:45 a.m.
My father rose at 5:30 a.m. on Friday solely and specifically to get the dog out of our hair, but my father’s noble efforts were not entirely successful—the dog was delighted that my father had risen early, but that only made the dog more insistent that Josh and I rise, too. When my father tried to get the dog to go downstairs with him, the dog started to bark, as if he were alerting my father that my father had somehow forgotten about Josh and me.
To prevent the dog from waking my mother, Josh and I got up, too.
We were not cross. We knew the dog was excited to have us home, and we knew that we had not given him an extended amount of affection the night before. We were, consequently, happy to give him a lengthy early-morning romp in the park, which he enjoyed immensely.
We enjoyed it, too.
When we returned home, we gave the dog his cereal, cleaned up, and joined my father in the kitchen. We drank coffee, and ate grapefruit and cereal, and waited for my mother to come downstairs. Once my mother joined us, we ate strawberries and cream, but we ate nothing more. That was all the breakfast we had wanted on Friday.
In honor of our return, my father had taken Friday off. We had nothing scheduled for Friday except a visit from my sister-in-law and my nephew and niece, who were going to join us for the day. Josh and I had not seen them since Christmas, and we very eager to see them—and they were very eager to see us.
They came over in the middle of the morning. My nephew and niece were all smiles—they knew Josh and I were home for good—and Josh and I played with them all day (as did my father). We spent much of the day in the back yard, where my nephew likes to play kickball (his personal version of soccer, with his own unique rules) and where my niece likes to walk with her grandmother and smell the flowers (and have her dolls smell the flowers).
We had tuna-noodle casserole for lunch, a favorite lunch of my nephew and niece, and peaches and cream.
When the kids were taking their naps, we talked with my sister-in-law, who has decided that she is very happy in Minneapolis.
Late in the afternoon, my brothers joined us. To mark our return, my mother had planned a special dinner at which we were to celebrate Josh’s graduation.
We did not have anything fancy, but it was a big dinner: a garden salad with twelve or fifteen different fresh vegetables; sesame shrimp served with bowtie pasta; and a plain pot roast served with mashed potatoes, lima beans, baby carrots and a pineapple-nut salad. For dessert, my mother had baked a white graduation cake and decorated it with pink and yellow roses and green vines.
My family had intentionally waited until Friday night to give Josh his graduation gifts.
My parents’ gift was probably the best gift: a certificate for hand-crafted law diploma and bar membership frames from one of Minneapolis’s finest art shops. I had received the same gift from my parents upon receiving my Juris Doctor, and it is the perfect gift for a recent law school graduate. Quality hand-crafted frames with top-of-the-line wood and non-glare glass are exorbitantly expensive.
My older brother and my sister-in-law gave Josh a framed reprint of a Daumier drawing depicting a courtroom proceeding.
My middle brother gave Josh a boxed set of Trollope’s six-novel series, “The Pallisers”. There is a complicated (and not particularly interesting) back-story to my middle brother’s gift, and I shall not tell it here.
My nephew and niece gave Josh a DVD set of the 1970s British documentary series, “The World At War”. An unusual graduation gift, “The World At War” is what my nephew wanted to give Josh—my nephew actually had suggested the gift himself. My nephew watches an episode from the series a couple of times a week, most often during the hour before dinner, when he needs distraction while my sister-in-law prepares food. He is fascinated, I believe, by the eerie black-and-white film clips of grim and wanton destruction, by the riveting title and credit music, and by Laurence Olivier’s voice, all of which seize his attention and make him unaccountably cheerful. When my nephew overheard my brother and sister-in-law discussing potential graduation gifts for Josh, he piped in and pointed to what he was watching and said, “Get him this”—and my brother and sister-in-law accepted the recommendation.
My gift to Josh was a watch.
Cake and gift-giving were wrapped up by 8:30 p.m. so that my older brother and my sister-in-law could take the kids home and put them to bed.
My middle brother stayed behind for a couple of hours, and he and Josh and I were able to catch up while we washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.
Josh and I rose at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday in order to take care of the dog. It was no burden, as Josh and I were still operating on East Coast time. We were happy to take the dog to the park so that my parents might sleep in.
After we had returned from the park and cleaned up, Josh and I waited in the kitchen for my parents to come downstairs.
At 7:15 a.m., my middle brother arrived. He knew Josh and I would be up, and he had come over to join us for breakfast.
My father came downstairs just before 8:00 a.m., and my mother came downstairs at 8:30 a.m.—and we decided to have a decent but not major breakfast. We had eggs baked in cream, and bacon, and toast, and orange juice and cranberry juice.
After breakfast, while we were waiting for my older brother and his family to join us for the day, my parents informed my middle brother and Josh and me that we had precisely one week in which to make necessary plans for our August trip to Britain, and that we had to have our plans in place no later than Monday, June 13, in order that bookings be made.
Consequently, this week will be devoted to making travel plans. We have already decided that we may have to lengthen our planned travel period beyond ten or eleven days—we have identified five plays we want to see in London, and we have discovered that the Mariinsky Ballet will be performing at The Royal Opera House while we will be in London—and we shall spend the next few days preparing a genuine (and final) itinerary.
The five plays we want to see in London, all with fine casts, are “Betrayal”, “Butley”, “The Cherry Orchard”, “Pygmalion” and “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead”. My parents will be happy to see those five plays, and my brother will be happy to see those five plays.
The Mariinksy will offer several different programs in London, but I think we will focus on performances of “Swan Lake” and “La Bayadere”—and attempt to get tickets for performances in which the great Diana Vishneva is cast (whom none of us, alas, has ever seen). My brother, whose interest in ballet is limited, will enjoy “Swan Lake”, and he will be able to sit through “La Bayadere”.
The Proms will be under way during our stay in London, but none of the Proms programs for the first half of August is of interest to us—and, further, I think we all got more than our fill of the Proms in 2007, when we had attended four Proms concerts. The Royal Albert Hall is a very poor concert venue, and the acoustics (and ventilation) of The Royal Albert Hall are dismaying. The series known as the Proms provides one of the worst ways on the planet for music-lovers to hear serious music. In my view, the Proms as currently presented should be discontinued.
It was the middle of the morning when my older brother and his family arrived.
The first words out of my nephew’s mouth when he got out of the car: “Are we going to the lake?”
Last Saturday, the start of Memorial Day Weekend, everyone in my family had gone up to the lake for the first time this year—and my nephew somehow had it into his mind that everyone was going to the lake again on Saturday.
“No. We won’t be going up to the lake again until July 4” his mother answered.
“When is July 4?” was my nephew’s next question.
“In another month” was his mother’s response.
“How many weeks is that?” came next.
“Will it be snowing by then?”
“No. There won’t be snow again for a long time.”
“How come it doesn’t snow when we are at the lake?”
“Because we never go in winter. We stay home in winter.”
“I want to go to the lake when it snows.”
“It would be too cold. The lake house does not have central heating.”
“There’s a fireplace.”
“Yes, but the fireplace cannot heat the entire house.”
“We could get two fireplaces.”
“Two fireplaces would not be enough. The house would have to have central heating.”
“Why don’t we get central heating?”
“I don’t think anyone wants to go to the lake in winter.”
“Well . . . I don’t think anyone else is too keen on going to the lake in winter.”
“I could go by myself.”
“No, you couldn’t. Someone would have to go with you.”
“Who wants to go with me?” was my nephew’s next question, directed at everyone.
My father picked up my nephew and swung him around and told him that he couldn’t go to the lake by himself until he was sixteen—and, at age sixteen, that he would not want to go to the lake as long as school was in session.
“Yes, I would” was the answer, at which point my father told him, “When you’re sixteen, you will have a different view, I assure you.”
“No, I won’t” was my nephew’s response. “I’ll want to go to the lake every weekend, even when it snows.”
“We’ll see about that” were my father’s next words, and he swung my nephew again.
My nephew loves spending time at the lake. According to my parents, he fell in love with the lake last July 4, when everyone except Josh and me (trapped in Boston) spent a week at the lake.
My nephew had been at the lake many times before July 4 of last year—my family, whenever possible, spends a full week at the lake coincident with July 4 each year and, in addition, spends a further few weekends at the lake each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day—but last year apparently was the first time my nephew was old enough to begin to appreciate the tranquility and beauty to be found at the lake.
Even though he was unable to return to the lake for a second consecutive weekend, my nephew had a great Saturday.
What with his father and uncle and grandfather and Josh and me to join him, my nephew had lots of games he wanted to play on Saturday. Indeed, I believe we went through much of his current repertory of outdoor games on Saturday.
He still plays ESPN Better Batter Baseball—he is the only one ever to hit and run bases, while everyone else permanently mans the outfield—and he has different versions of kickball depending upon the number of players available. He will play croquet, but he has his own set of rules, a set of rules that enables him always to win. He likes to jump up and down on what resembles a very small and watered-down version of a trampoline, a gizmo created especially for children (and, when he does so, the dog goes nuts).
He likes to play hide-and-seek. When we play hide-and-seek, only he hides. Although the rest of us are supposed to have our eyes closed while he hides, we watch in the reflection of a window to see where he goes. We do this in order to keep an eye on him as well as to prevent ourselves from finding him. During our search, we look everywhere except where he is hiding—and he always finally gives himself away first by giggling and then by coming out from his hiding place and exclaiming, “You couldn’t find me!”
We had a ball.
We had chicken-salad sandwiches and Amish sweet pickles for Saturday’s lunch—another favorite lunch of my nephew and niece—and we had peanut butter cookies my mother had baked.
While the kids were taking their naps, my brothers and I went to the care facility to sit with our grandmother for two hours. She recognized none of us.
For Saturday’s dinner, we had stuffed pork chops—my nephew loves stuffed pork chops—served with cheddar potatoes, peas, parsnips, baked red cabbage and apple salad. For dessert, we ate homemade ice cream and fresh raspberries.
After dinner, my older brother and his family went home. Once again, my middle brother stayed behind for a couple of hours, and he and I had a good talk.
My brother recently dropped the young woman he had been seeing for well over a year—a young woman in Omaha whom my brother had met at a church function and whom he considered his girlfriend—and, for the first time, I asked him about that.
“It was never going to work out” was his short answer.
I never was certain whether he was entirely serious about her—he had never introduced her to anyone in the family, which suggested something significant, not only to me but to everyone else—and he had never talked about her to my parents (although he did talk about her to my older brother and, especially, to my sister-in-law, whose advice, counsel and insight he had sought several times).
I believe that my brother decided, ultimately, that the young woman in Omaha was not the woman with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life—in which case he made a very wise decision to break things off.
My brother has been unlucky in romance. Once engaged to a spoiled princess from Rolling Hills, California, he was wise to break off that engagement. (Four years ago, Josh told the full story of that engagement on his weblog.)
The young woman from Rolling Hills—she has since married and separated—never returned my brother’s engagement ring.
After the passage of several months, my father contacted the princess’s father, a high-powered partner in the Los Angeles office of a national law firm, to let him know that the ring had not been returned.
“She lost or misplaced it” was the answer my father received—at which point my father placed a number of discreet telephone calls to influential corporate attorneys and corporate executives around the country, all persons he had known for years and years and years. The result: the Los Angeles office of that particular national law firm lost over $7 million of annual billings before the month was out, as several major corporate clients switched law firms.
That office’s profitability disappeared virtually overnight—and it affected the ongoing viability not only of the Los Angeles office but the firm itself. The Los Angeles office had to lay off ever-increasing numbers of attorneys and staff members over the following three years, was forced to relocate to cheaper (and much less opulent) office premises, saw its best local talent flee to other firms, and ultimately was forced to engineer a merger with a stronger firm—on very unattractive terms.
Things might have turned out differently had a prominent lawyer and his princess daughter acted in an honorable manner with respect to the return of an engagement ring.
For Josh and me, Sunday got off to an early start—the dog chooses not to sleep in on weekends—as we took the dog to the park for his early-morning romp.
When we returned home, we drank coffee for an hour, and went upstairs to clean up.
Sunday mornings now have a different schedule in my family.
Sunday service no longer begins at 11:00 a.m. The church recently introduced “contemporary” service and “traditional” service—and “traditional” service now begins at 9:30 a.m.
My parents, of course, attend “traditional” service, as my parents have no interest in hearing electric guitars during morning worship.
One of the disadvantages of this change of schedule is that we no longer have the opportunity to prepare and eat a leisurely Sunday breakfast prior to service, a longstanding tradition in my family we all very much cherished.
There was no breakfast on Sunday morning. Josh and I ate nothing, my parents ate nothing. We left the house at 9:00 a.m. without having so much as a bowl of cereal. The only member of the household that got fed Sunday morning was the dog.
I do not care for the early service hour—and I suspect we may all soon become Lutherans, the church in which both of my parents were raised. The Presbyterian Church seems, in recent years, to have adopted a few too many “new age” notions to suit our sensibilities.
My nephew now attends Sunday School, now held twice on Sunday mornings, once during the “traditional” service and a second time during the “contemporary” service. My nephew, of course, attends Sunday School during the “traditional” service, which means that he no longer sits with his parents during service. I don’t think that my nephew minds, but the rest of us rather miss not having him with us during service.
My brother and sister-in-law have decided to enroll my nephew in this summer’s Bible School at our church.
When I was a child, Bible School at our church lasted a full two weeks—but, over the intervening years, Bible School at our church has been severely curtailed. Bible School now lasts just three days. It will be held, half-days, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
Bible School is no longer free. Our church now charges $45.00 per participant. This fee I find troublesome, as our church is one of the wealthiest Presbyterian parishes—perhaps the very wealthiest—in the United States. Under such circumstances, to impose fees for Bible School attendance is, in my view, unforgivable.
My parents have grown increasingly concerned about our church’s undue concentration on financial matters. The church has enough money to operate into perpetuity, and yet the church is in constant asset-gathering mode. In disappointment and aggravation, my father has taken to calling the Presbytery “The Presbyterian Church And Depository Trust, LLC”.
After service, my middle brother took Josh and me home—my parents had a luncheon with my mother’s relatives—so that we might all change our clothes and retrieve the dog and go over to my older brother’s house for the day.
For lunch, we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on my older brother’s back deck.
In the afternoon, we helped my older brother with yard work: mowing, weeding, trimming, hedging, raking, fertilizing.
At 5:00 p.m., my middle brother drove Josh and me home, because Josh and I had evening plans and we needed to get cleaned up.
Our scheduled activity: a 7:00 p.m. performance of “Arsenic And Old Lace” at the Guthrie Theater, which Josh and I were to attend with my parents. Sunday evening’s performance of “Arsenic And Old Lace” was to be the final performance of the Guthrie run, and my parents had obtained four tickets for the occasion.
A few weeks ago, my parents had given their subscription seats for an earlier performance of “Arsenic And Old Lace” to my older brother and my sister-in-law, who had used the tickets, taking my middle brother with them.
My older brother NEVER goes to the theater, but he had gone that night, and he had had a wonderful time, as had my sister-in-law and as had my middle brother.
“Arsenic And Old Lace” is what is called a “durable” comedy—the play has never fallen from favor since its premiere in 1941—and I understand the appeal of the work. Seemingly good-natured, gentle persons are revealed to be monstrous criminals; they view their criminal deeds as genuine and sincere acts of kindness. Nothing is what it seems to be on the surface; everything is topsy-turvy. The tension between the dotty but otherwise unremarkable if not mundane elderly sisters and the horrific nature of their crimes is one of the selling points of the play.
The play does not invite or allow the audience to criticize either crimes or criminals, largely because the perpetrators of the crimes are so charming and guileless and because the victims of the crimes are never allowed to become anything more than stage props.
The play has not a drop of meanness or spite in it. It is all sincerely, even bizarrely, middle-American—and everyone is let off the hook at play’s end by reason of insanity, a too-neat final wrap-up for such depraved moral failings.
I do not respond to “Arsenic And Old Lace”. In fact, I hate the play. I think it is a loathsome, manufactured, not particularly good—and not particularly funny—commercial comedy. I cannot succumb to the play’s supposed whimsy and I cannot succumb to the play’s supposed charm (I do not succumb to the contemporaneous “Harvey”, either).
Yet I enjoyed the Guthrie production, if only because it was a splendid display of stagecraft. Everything about the production was “right”, from the handsome and apt stage design to the meticulous casting, which was entirely admirable. I never expect to encounter a finer production of “Arsenic And Old Lace”.
I question, however, whether a theater supported by public funds should be producing such commercial work. According to the program booklet, the Guthrie Theater last presented “Arsenic And Old Lace” in 1975, which at least signifies that the Guthrie is not producing the play too often. Nonetheless, I do not believe that “Arsenic And Old Lace” belongs on the Guthrie boards at all.
Why is America’s leading theater devoting lavish resources—the production cost a mint—to the presentation of a corrupt, stale vehicle from the 1940s? “Arsenic And Old Lace”, in my view, is best left to the devices of civic theater, where it has enjoyed a prolonged life.
The Guthrie staging was offered on the thrust stage; the production was directed by Joe Dowling, Artistic Director of the Guthrie since 1995. Dowling, who came to Minneapolis from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, certainly knows how to stage a play—but I am surprised that an Irishman found “Arsenic And Old Lace” to be so rewarding an enterprise that he chose to direct the play himself.
On the way home, we discussed why “Arsenic And Old Lace” has managed to continue to attract an audience.
My mother offered that the play must be viewed as divertissement, and nothing more—and that it could be enjoyed as such. In response, I noted that the play’s dialogue needed to be more sparkling in order for the play to succeed as divertissement. My mother’s response: American plays of the 1940s are not based upon sparkling dialogue but instead are based upon intricacies of plot—which is why so few American plays of the 1940s have remained in the repertory.
Josh opined that the mood of the war-clouded 1940s permeates “Arsenic And Old Lace”, and that the play may be accepted as period-piece surrealism, a frothy, one-evening release from the worries of war. Josh invoked the exactly contemporaneous “Blithe Spirit” as a parallel—Coward’s spectral, contrived comedy was unaccountably popular in London during the war years, just as “Arsenic And Old Lace” was conspicuously popular in New York during the same period.
My father said that one should not attempt to subject “Arsenic And Old Lace” to analysis, because doing so will lead to nothing but grief. The play, he said, is a take-it-or-leave-it artifact of its time, and must be enjoyed—or not—on its own terms.
I asked my father whether he liked “Arsenic And Old Lace”.
“Can’t stand the thing” was his response.
“But you seemed to be having a delightful evening” was my rejoinder.
“I did have a delightful evening” he said. “The production was faultless, the acting excellent, the pacing superb.” After a pause, he added, “And I never entered the theater expecting anything more than a couple of hours of slight entertainment—which was delivered.”
“Do you think such a commercial work has a place on the Guthrie stage?” was my next question.
“Something has to pay for the more arcane work” he said. “It is easy to be purist about such things if one is not responsible for finances.”
Of course, I understand such considerations, and I know that my father knows that I understand such considerations—and, still, I do not believe that “Arsenic And Old Lace” has a rightful place in the Guthrie repertory. The company needs to be much more imaginative in selecting its “popular” fare.
“Why don’t we discuss why Joe Dowling avoids modern British plays, preferring modern Irish plays instead?” asked my father. “THERE is a subject for discussion.”
And, for the rest of the drive home, we talked about modern British plays that Guthrie audiences seldom have a chance to encounter. (“I’ve had it up to my ears with Irish plays” was one of my mother’s remarks.)
When we arrived home, we had a late, light dinner, because no one had eaten since lunchtime. We ate scrambled eggs and toast, and called it a day.
This week will be pretty low-key for us.
I will be working on our itinerary for Britain.
Josh will be studying for the Minnesota Bar Exam—and working on our itinerary for Britain whenever he needs a break from the Bar materials.
We have made the dining room Josh’s study center. It is right off the kitchen, so he will not feel isolated, and he may move back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room as his mood prevails.
My mother is helping us plan the itinerary for Britain.
The dog is reading Schiller.
Tomorrow night, in a very rare Tuesday night concert by the Minnesota Orchestra, we will hear Aksnav Omso conduct music of Beethoven and Sibelius, the only two composers Aksnav Omso has programmed in Minneapolis these last several years.
It will be fascinating to hear how the conductor’s 519th Minneapolis traversal of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 will differ from his countless earlier Twin Cities renditions of the work.