Fireworks on the Fourth

It was like the big bang, the birth of the universe. Booming, flashing and bright as the sun. That’s what it was like, watching the Fourth of July fireworks at Nordhoff High School.

It had been a long day, starting with the parade down Ojai Avenue. A taste of small town Americana that forces the corners of your mouth to perpetually curve upward and your hands to wave at every passing antique car, sleek coated stallion and smiling participant. I was continually reminded of our family camping trips to small towns where the county fair was the highlight of our adventure. Dusty, disorganized and unprofessional. But loveable, kind and welcoming.

I hadn’t been to the Ojai parade in many years. I’d been lodging a silent protest ever since the fourth had fallen on a Sunday and the parade organizers had shifted the parade to July 5th to accommodate church-goers. Unfair, I had thought then. But time erases all wounds, and my childish pouting had long ago ceased to be important.

Jackie had, in her can-do fashion, latched onto lawn chairs in the shade, along with free food and drink. Right up front and personal, where we might as well have been in the parade. Periodic breaks to greet passing friends made it seem even homier.

The parade ended around noon and we had time to visit the local Asian massage parlor. Little English is spoken there, and business is transacted with electronic devices, accompanied by a fair amount of hand waving and pointing. Not the best massage in town, but probably the cheapest. It’s mildly unwelcoming on the outside. Inside it’s surprisingly large, dimly lit, quiet and mysterious. Sort of like an opium den that’s had a Martha Stewart makeover.

Jackie’s friend, Susan, was visiting from San Francisco and staying at a motel near the high school. Because of the expected not-so-Ojai traffic jams, we decided to park at the motel and walk the quarter-mile to the fireworks. We picked up Susan and got a five second tour of her room where the three of us filled the available space. The jacuzzi tub next to the bed seemed particularly threatening . But the nightly room charge was cheap, unless you based it on the cost per square foot.

We walked to the high school, showed our tickets and donned a wrist band whose purpose was never revealed. We entered the stadium infield, found an unoccupied spot of grass, spread our blanket, and jockeyed for position. I was dubbed the Cream of the Oreo and was accordingly allocated the enviable position between the two women.

Having completed these logistics, we arose and searched for the source of the hypnotic odors wafting through the air, promising us assuredly unhealthy food. Drawn like moths to a flame, we tracked down two food trucks that had been nearly cleansed of all greasy deposits. Reading the menu and fearing for our lives, we retreated to our blanket and settled in for the nearly two-hour wait while the sun set and darkness became pervasive.

Lying on the grass, I had the distinct feeling that I was about to be trampled by small children. I wondered if I blended in too well and wished I had four bright orange Caltrans pylons to set about me. Even a small Ethiopian flag on a pole would be better than risking the maiming of irreplaceable body parts. Amazingly, I escaped major injury even though children (and quite a few inebriated adults) seemed blissfully unaware of the aging body spread before them.

It was getting darker but not yet inky-dark. Susan, complaining of stiff joints, went off to sit on the stadium bleacher benches. Alone, but for two or three similarly incapacitated persons, she remained there for the balance of the evening. This was an unexpected gift for Jackie and me, since we could now wrap ourselves in the blanket to supplement the inadequate cold weather gear that Jackie had insisted we did not need. Keeping warm against the descending night was brightened by the prospect of cuddling. With that special bonus, I was no longer concerned about the time spent waiting for the show to begin.

A ten-minute warning burst from a loud-speaker so close to my head that I thought I was wearing Bose headphones attached to my iPhone and set to max volume. Then another announcement blast erupted with five minutes to showtime. Just time enough to figure out the mechanics of the glow sticks I had purchased earlier. Mechanics that a four-year-old could have handled faster than me. Sticks aglow, we wrapped them around our necks and clipped the ends together. It was eerie, as we appeared to have our heads disconnected from our bodies. Much like Charles Laughton in the Canterville Ghost 1944 movie where he terrorized unwelcome visitors, including Robert Young, by carrying his seemingly cut off head in a silver tray held in front of his chest.

The show began. Slowly at first, then growing in intensity. Laying on the blanket, head looking straight up into the sky, I felt like I was in the show, not watching it. Bodies were involuntarily inert, barely getting “Oh my, look at that” out of our mouths before the next volley. Periodic booms that I usually complain about, were a welcome companion to the flashing and bursting of the fireworks. Kids who would normally display extreme attention deficit disorder were stark still, as though mesmerized. Aging adults, who thought they had seen it before, were enthralled. We were all viewing a cosmic birthing from within the birth canal.

And just when the show needed an extra lift, the finale arrived as if from another planet. Multiple rockets and bursting bombs filled the sky producing gigantic, multi-limbed alien life forms. Sonic booms again assaulted my ears and isolated my brain from the rest of my body. My only connection with reality was Jackie’s warm body touching mine. I felt like a kid again.

Then it ended silently, like the spinning down of a treadmill in cool-down mode.  It gave me time enough to absorb the grandeur without feeling like I’d overeaten. We lay silently on the blanket, not ready to end the night. People around us began to rise slowly from the chilled, damp ground. There was no sense of urgency to leave the site of the spectacle. No rush to our cars. Taking time to re-enter life. Strangers spoke to other strangers, wasn’t that something!

Yes, it was. And there could be no encore, for this had been perfection.

They must have known me…

Last night as I channel surfed, I stumbled onto the last hour of the movie, Jersey Boys. I’ve seen the movie before and the live play twice. You’d think I had enough.

True to the original story, the movie chronicles the rise of the singing group The Four Seasons, from the hard-bitten streets of New Jersey to million record sellers of songs that made hearts sing. It gives ample coverage to the lives of the four men who rode the whirlwind and became household heroes, adored by young and old alike.

Originally just The Four Seasons, it morphed into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Then through a series of misadventures, largely attributed to the bad boy of the foursome, Tommy Devito, their ascendancy ended with simply, Frankie Valli. With a fingernail-on-the-blackboard falsetto, Valli dominated the sound that made you want more.

I find it easy to get smiley and teary-eyed when I hear Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It’s as though each of the songs speaks personally to me of my own feelings. I’m sure they were thinking of me when Bob Gaudio wrote the lyrics.

My favorite, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, reads my mind, takes off my mask, and sums up my feelings for the woman in my life.

You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off of you
You’d be like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you

But how did we get here? The Four Seasons chronicles that path in song. It starts with Oh, What A Night taking me back to the first time I spoke with her at a dinner that she cleverly invited herself to. A temptress who quietly stole a piece of my heart,  and then another until she had it all.

Oh, what a night
Late December, back in ’63
What a very special time for me
As I remember, what a night
Oh, what a night
You know, I didn’t even know her name
But I was never gonna be the same
What a lady, what a night

Some of those nights, when I’m lonely, I tend to pout. I want more. Yes, she has a life to live but I’m selfish. So I feel sorry for myself and I pledge to Walk Like a Man

Oh, how you tried to cut me down to size
Tellin’ dirty lies to my friends
But my own father said “Give her up, don’t bother
The world isn’t comin’ to an end”

Walk like a man, talk like a man
Walk like a man my son
No woman’s worth crawlin’ on the earth
So walk like a man, my son

Easy for him to say.  Because with one smile, one text, or one kiss, I’m over it. Yet I continue to look over my shoulder and wonder where the rain clouds went and when they will return. And so I ask, Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your soul so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
Will you love me tomorrow

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure
Can I believe the magic of your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow

Tonight with words unspoken
You said that I’m the only one, the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning star

Love is wonderful. Full of delight and unhappiness. Without one, the other would be lonely. Without both, we would never know what it means to really love someone. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are my muses. My confidants. My friends. They must have known me.

Trifecta

Saturday Night

A narrow, off-white dining room, with an arched opening to a carpeted hallway. Another smaller swinging door that empties from the larger room into a sparse kitchen just big enough to seat four.

Smelling the acrid cigarettes and the cigar smoke steeped in its own brown juice, I lay my ten-year-old head on the thinning pillow of my day bed. A bed so close to the long dining room table that I can both hear and feel the card players. They laugh and make the most of a nickel and dime poker game played on a spotless white table-cloth covering the marred wood surface infused with fading memories.

Check? You can check in the bank, jokes my father as he raises the ante. Uncle Max, needing to get up at 4:30 for his job in the scrap metal yard, struggles to keep up with the banter. My mother, smoking but not inhaling one of her rare cigarettes, pops up and down from the table. Pouring glasses of cold seltzer water and filling up the nut bowls, she is in her element. Caring for others before herself.

It’s Saturday night.

 

Relatives Found

We take a Baltic cruise during which we stop in St. Petersburg. Within shouting distance of my immigrant parents’ long-ago shtetl, the old city’s historical features are dingy and marred by years of neglect and a lack of funds that might help it recover. Cracked walls, unkempt streets, and art objects that tilt offensively mar the scene.

That evening, our tour attends the ballet in the Mariinsky Theater. Built in 1860, it offers a glimpse of Russian art history before it crashes in the wake of Communism. We queue up to the ticket booth and I look at the ticket taker, feeling like I am staring into my own face. The lobby usher reminds me of my uncle Al.  And I want to hug the old lady who, reminding me of my maternal grandmother, shows us to our aging velour seats. I am no longer 6,000 miles from home.

I cry happily during Swan Lake.

 

 

Skin

I feel her skin. The small, sea-salty strip that runs from the heel of her left hand up along her petite forearm. Small, bird-like, smoother than velvet, that small piece of skin offers me a sensuous insight into her womanhood.

I find myself softly stroking it as we lie there. I tell her how it feels. How it makes me want to never leave the bed. We need not go further to experience delight, ecstasy and deep satisfaction. It’s as though that precious, well-hidden area has remained unchanged since her beginning and will stay that way until I am no longer capable of feeling. Until then I will touch and love.

 

Ojai Music Festival…the aftermath

My sweet neighbor June is busily washing towels and sheets. They were used by her friends who I graciously allowed in my guesthouse this past weekend. Friends who came from as far away as the East Coast to revel in the glories of the Ojai Music Festival.

June is not only in the laundry business, she cooks for her friends, edits the Festival program and attends nearly every minute of the five days of the Festival. During all that time I never heard a complaint emanate from her lips. Nor did she ever appear tired. A major accomplishment when compared to my napping during much of the Festival’s sturm und drang.

Thursday night started innocently enough when Patricia Kopatchinskaja, this year’s music director, made her way through the throng of concert goers gathered near the entrance to the Bowl. Much like a stalking lion, she moved stealthily from station to station, stopping only long enough to call forth indecipherable shrieks from her violin. Like lemmings, her ardent followers tracked her, were mesmerized by her, and undoubtedly felt that this was something to write home about. I, on the other hand, worried about things that were yet to come.

I entered the Bowl and found my seat about halfway down the aisle. I have learned the importance of sight lines. Without going into nauseating detail, a “theater with good sight lines” means that most, if not all of the viewers, can actually see what’s going on in front of them. Unfortunately, my sight line was partially blocked by a tall, middle-aged gentleman who also had the unfortunate habit of moving laterally left to right causing me to continually re-adjust my fanny and head position. He was like a camera shutter, opening for one hundredth of a second while staying closed most of the time.

Mindful of others, I found my seat movements constrained by the good neighbor policy. I visualized those behind me, those behind them, etc. moving like a wave in unison to my shifts. I therefore sheepishly limited my movements to very teensy ones. This permitted periodic glimpses, like treats, of the on-stage action. Most of the time I might as well have been listening to the radio.

Toward the end of the Friday concert, I weighed the pros and cons of asking the gentleman to be more mindful of the minions behind him (I thought it might help if I told him it wasn’t just me who might as well have been blindfolded.)  I tapped him on the shoulder, explained my plight and asked for special dispensation. He grudgingly obliged, but not before he launched into a scathing evaluation of the construction of the bowl, the placement of the seats, and the Bowl management’s reluctance to make major structural changes proposed by him. I later discovered that this gentleman was Mark Swed, classical music critic for the Los Angeles Times. He is what he is.

Friday night brought us the world premiere of Michael Hersch’s elegy, I Hope We Get to Visit Soon. As Mark Swed described it in his LA Times review, a relentlessly grim musical immersion in a cancer ward, was the weekend’s major world premiere. After enduring the 77-minute performance for two solo singers and instrumental ensemble, without a trace of grace one woman stood on the lawn repeatedly shouting, “I hated that so much I want to fight with someone”, as we funereally filed out of the Libbey Bowl.

The elegy is based on Michael Hersch’s experience with a friend who endured what could be described as a plague of attempted cancer cures. The onstage dialog of false hope and failures was artfully accompanied by some twenty musicians who produced intermittent, painful screeching. The performance took me from a state of disbelief (why would someone put this to music) to sadness, then to despair and finally numbness of all my limbs. When it ended, what seemed like an eon of silence gave way to a mild smattering of quiet hand clapping. Fearful that the composer might do away with himself, I joined in the merriment and was comforted by the bravos and bravas that finally issued forth from those who had regained the use of some of their bodily functions.

Jackie’s turn arrived on Saturday. A first-time Festival goer, she was treated to, as she put it, a unique, one-time experience. Not wishing to burden herself with the mid-day emanations from the Bowl stage, she immersed herself in her own world through clever use of her iPhone X. Getting with the program, I too searched for other ways of occupying my own time.

The Bowl is partially covered with shade cloth that tends to mercifully diminish the sun’s onslaught. The shade consists of three long pieces of fabric that are hooked together. When we took our seats at 1pm, we were covered and protected by this marvel of man. However, as any schoolboy knows, the earth rotates. Continuing my alternative exploration, I noted a six-inch gap between each of the long shade strips. I also noted the sun’s relentless approach to the gap. My sextant and compass predicted that the sun’s rays would be on me before the end of the afternoon concert. And they were. First my big toe, then my foot, then my ankle. I felt like a vampire who, when fully exposed to the sun, would explode and shower Mark Swed with my innards. Fortunately, the concert ended at my thigh.

Saturday afternoon began with Kafka Fragments. A series of forty-one snippets artfully performed by a high-pitched soprano and a manic violinist. Have you ever done the Countdown Experience? This requires the musical knowledge to know when a movement, or in this case a snippet, ends. Then you maintain your sanity by counting the number of snippets yet to be played before the whole thing ends and you can go home…or the nearest bar. Forty, thirty-nine, thirty-eight…

The Saturday evening finale applied a heavy-handed touch to exploring the chaos and misfortune of the world. Incorporating the best of drought, famine, state collapse and mass migration, we were treated to a cleverly staged presentation of all the worst of life. The highlight performer was a woman who reminded me of a character from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Though slight of arm, she wielded massive hammers on a coffin, while pictures of death and desolation populated the surrounding Bowl walls. The crowd went wild with appreciation. The sounds of applause, whooping and bravos echoed through my ears all the way to the parking lot. I placed Jackie’s limp body in the passenger seat and we went home.

I can’t wait to buy tickets for next year.

Ojai Music Festival

Avant-garde can be both a noun and an adjective. As the latter, it means favoring or introducing experimental or unusual ideas. As any one of these ideas is untried, a certain percent of them will fall flat, fail to succeed, or in contemporary usage, be just plain ca-ca.

The Ojai Music Festival wends its way into town this weekend. It brings with it several truckloads of what can be termed avant-garde or contemporary music. A thousand people, mostly from other than Ojai, will squeeze into Libbey Bowl and sit enraptured while artists do their best to be unique and engaging. Local businesses will also be ecstatic as the town swells with well-heeled patrons of the arts.

Before the new Libbey Bowl was constructed a few years ago with its high impact, relatively uncomfortable plastic seats, concert goers sat on high impact, very uncomfortable wooden benches. A once homey feel, the old benches were fraught with the possibility of slivers in your fanny.

Before its recent facelift, you also had the option of bringing lawn chairs, sitting on the grass at the back of the Bowl and, if you were lucky, got a reasonable, though pixie-like, view of what was happening on the stage. The Bowl renovation left things as they were, minus the view.

When Ila and I arrived in Ojai eighteen years ago, we had never heard of the Festival. Our sources of information about the Festival were limited. But always ready to try something new, we bought bench seat tickets, dressed warmly and attended a Saturday night concert. Not sure where our seats began or ended, we simply allowed ourselves to be shouldered at will by our bench mates. We took it in stride, sat back and anticipated classical music. We expected Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. Shostakovich was perhaps as far out as it would get.

What we did get can best be described by my recollection of the first performer. A man, neatly dressed, entered stage left and sat at what appeared to be an expensive Steinway piano. So far so good. But not for long. He began to play…with his elbows. Or so it seemed. I’ve told this story so many times that I don’t really know if he was actually using his elbows. Perhaps he was just clever enough to finger the keys in a way that sounded like he was using his elbows.

Taking a well deserve break at half-time, we mingled with the crowd and tried to look erudite. Our friend Ralph, fresh from yelling Bravo! blocked our way and said “Wasn’t that wonderful? Wasn’t it inspiring?” Never having been mistaken for someone who could be an Ambassador to the Vatican, I said “No it wasn’t.” Ralph waved me off as someone who definitely was ill-suited to premium bench seats.

We were not to be dissuaded. Still searching for the Holy Grail, Ila and I continued to attend the Festival each June. We confessed to our low-level erudition and had demoted ourselves to the lawn area. We didn’t see much, but then no one seemed to mind if I closed my eyes and feigned being erudite; as long as I didn’t snore.

A number of years ago, one of my riders on the Help of Ojai bus was a man in his nineties. During one of our  trips together, Mike and I talked about music and I asked him if he had ever been to the Music Festival. “I haven’t been there yet but I do regularly attend concerts in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Maybe it’s time I tried the one at Bowl.”

About ten minutes before the opening afternoon of the 2010 performance, here came my ninety-ish bus-mate Mike. He had spotted me and carefully picked his way to us through the mass of other less erudite concert goers. He unfolded his chair, a bit of a task given his age and the built-in complexity of those medieval instruments of torture, and plunked himself down next to me. We listened to the first half of the performance without identifying a piece that would offer lasting memories. At its conclusion, Mike got up, folded his chair and said “I’ve heard quite enough.” He wandered out of the Bowl, never to be seen again.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of breakfasting with Bill Kraft. Bill was, and still is, an elderly gentleman who in his earlier days had been the lead tympanist for the Los Angeles Symphony. After sharing our mutual genealogies, I took the opportunity to tell him about my difficulty with the Festival’s avant garde music. “Bill, I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Try as I might, I cannot fathom the music, much less appreciate and like it.” Bill unhesitatingly drew himself up to his full five-foot-four height and said “You don’t have to like it. It’s okay to dislike it. You are not a lesser human being for not liking it. And studiously avoid anyone who tells you that you must develop a liking for it.”

I still buy Festival tickets every year.

A Look Inside

My annual physical is usually uneventful. A little high blood pressure partnered with an aging prostate have been my only close, chronic companions for many years. But this year a new friend came calling.

If you’re old enough, you’ve probably done that little test that involves the toilet, a flip card with three distinct slots and some wooden sticks like the ones that remain after you down a cherry popsicle. It’s a routine exercise that looks for suspicious characters who can wreak havoc in your colon.

A call from Barbara in Dr. Halverson’s office began the adventure. “Hello Fred, it’s Barbara. We found some microscopic blood in your stool and Dr. Halverson wants you to have a colonoscopy.” Barbara makes the calls that you’d rather not receive. She does it so well that at first you think she’s inviting you to a birthday party. And then it dawns on you. This is no party. This is serious business. Oh crap, I said without thinking of the possible pun. Images and scary thoughts floated through my head at lightning speed. All were X-Rated.

I called Dr. Covington’s office. The doctor and my colon have been close friends for about twenty years. He’s peered inside of it twice during routine colonoscopies without discovering anything of concern. But this was different. You need a preliminary office visit after which we can schedule the procedure. The impersonal voice on the phone wasn’t concerned about my colon and booked me for a visit two weeks hence. I thought Two weeks. Too much time to think. Too many scenarios to ponder.

But, like time will do, two weeks passed and I presented myself to Natasha, Dr. Covington’s physician assistant who took my blood pressure and scrolled through my medical history. “Yes, you should have a colonoscopy”, Natasha announced. It was comforting to know that the medical establishment was of a common mind. The procedure was etched into Dr. Covington’s schedule and I continued to consider possible outcomes, the most probable of which would not be found in a Dr. Seuss book.

The night before the procedure is laughingly called prep time. The Medicine Shop had kindly provided all of the essentials. Two six-ounce bottles of ghastly liquid, a sixteen-ounce plastic mixing container and a set of instructions and no-no’s that I dutifully read several times. Some years ago, before cooler heads prevailed, I had the pleasure of downing a silo full of liquid intended to wash out the colon. That grueling experience would have been adopted as an Olympic event had it not been replaced by the more innocuous six-ounce bottles. On this occasion, the current, less onerous procedure proved quite effective.

In the morning, my good friend and neighbor Yoram drove me to the colonoscopy center. The parking lot was full, populated by cars whose owners had empty, squeaky clean colons. The waiting area, behind a fortified door fit for a bank, was packed with apprehensive patients and their keepers.

Looking at the rows of glum faces, I spotted my friend Alan and his wife, Margo. “They’re running about a half-hour behind schedule.” Settling in for the long haul, I made idle chit-chat with Margo while Alan waited for his call to duty. His turn came and he walked the green mile through the double doors and into the preparation area.

My turn came about thirty minutes later. Lifting myself from the chair, I followed Nurse Ratched into the prep area where I removed my clothes, dutifully slipped beneath the sheet and waited. My personal assistant, a lovely RN, arrived and poked my arm with a probe seeking the fountain of youth. Or, save that, a working vein. Failing to do that, she then focused on my hand and deftly slipped the needle into the most sensitive part of my arm and announced, like Ponce de Leon, Eureka, I have found it.

My friend Alan, having completed the expedition into his colon, lay next to me. We spoke of the grand and glorious things that had been revealed by his colonoscopy, the current state of politics in this country, and the benefits of old age…which did not take very long.

We were one hour behind schedule when I was wheeled into a room that looked like it needed redecorating. Two lovely assistants made sure I knew who I was and told me that this would be over quickly. They donned outfits complete with face masks that reminded me of the costumes worn by the nuclear reactor bad guys in the James Bond movie Doctor No. I felt a little apprehensive, as all I had on was a K-Mart bed sheet.

Dr. Covington appeared and introduced himself for the third time in twenty years. I excused his lapse of memory for faces, since he normally focuses on the opposite end of his guest’s body. He said “Here come the meds.” And the next thing I knew I was standing by my gurney putting on my shoes.

It was all over but the shouting. Friend Yoram relayed the news from Dr. Covington. No bleeding, one small polyp removed. Nothing to worry about…except the seven days’ wait for the biopsy results. I sent some text messages. All is well and the usual stuff you add to relieve the stress. We had a hazy lunch at a restaurant that I will never be able to find again.

That evening I went to bed early. Awaking around 3am, I tried to reconstruct the last fifteen hours. I vaguely recalled Yoram’s prognosis but I questioned the accuracy of my memory. Had I really heard the findings as I now recalled them or was I hallucinating? I remembered the text messages and got out of bed to check my phone. There they were…including one that reminded me of the seven days of waiting for the biopsy results. Like opening an old scab.

Is life at my age a series of medical events, each one with the potential to seriously alter hopes and dreams? Does one live life fullest between annual physicals? Does time pass too quickly, with a cloud hovering over us like Al Capps’ Joe Btfsplk?

Seven days passed and I was able to push the biopsy to the furthermost corner of my mind. Not completely forgotten, but not preeminent.

Tuesday the phone rang and I missed the call. A message had been left by an 805 number I did not recognize. I listened to the call.  Hello, this is Doctor Covington’s office… Time stopped and I reviewed the possible second sentence scenarios at warp speed. I thought the rest of the message would never find its way to my ear. But it did. The polyp was benign. See you in five years.

The clouds lifted. It was time for a song. One that celebrates life and makes us live it while we can.

Bravo!

Saturday I went to the Art Center. On Montgomery just south of Ojai Avenue, the Center has been around many years. The “Art” in Art Center is all-encompassing. Paintings decorate the walls whenever there is a special exhibit. Photographs have their place in the sun once or twice a year. Music fills the vacant space when featured artists ply their wares to those of us who can manage the folding chairs that so often cause my fanny to wish the show was over.

The Art Center also hosts legitimate theater. Musicals, comedies and dramas are staged by volunteers who take their roles seriously, without pay, both behind the scenes and as performers.

It was with some trepidation that I pondered Sheila’s invitation to accompany her and Sid to Bakersfield Mist, the current offering at the Center. While the cast works hard for all plays, some performances are occasionally shaky and leave me with memories that make it harder to give the next offering a fair shake. I go anyway, hoping to find my concerns unwarranted.

Evening performances are challenging…for me, not the performers. A glass of wine with dinner tests my ability to remain upright in my seat. I begin to lose my focus, my lids feel like they weigh five pounds each, and my head slowly begins a downward spiral that culminates in the loss of all my senses. Except for occasional sensory interruptions, I could remain comatose through an entire first act. I dread repeating the event that occurred some years ago when I sat in the front row, fell asleep and then awoke to find the leading man staring directly at me with laser-like precision. I remained rigidly awake and unblinking for the balance of the performance.

So, bursting with low expectations, I went to the Center. And I was rewarded with a delightful, sorrowful play that was one-act, ninety minutes long, without intermission. Periodically testing my bladder content did not ruin the performance. The cast had only two actors, both perfectly suited to their roles.

Ninety minutes shot by. The audience erupted and stood up as one, without the customary survey of the crowd to determine whether a standing ovation was warranted. I admit that I normally feel pushed into the obligatory standing mode without really meaning it. On this occasion, I did not need any prodding. Bravo.

Acting and reacting is not limited to the legitimate theater. The Gables is a retirement facility on the other end of Montgomery in mid-town Ojai. A complex of buildings from the 1950’s, it is walking distance to the Art Center, but miles away in the people it serves and the activities offered to them.

On Friday, the Music Festival brought the Bravo Program to the Gables. Bravo caters to school aged children. In large part, the program fosters an appreciation for music to kids as young as five or six. I have regularly been asked to take photos of these educational activities, which usually occur in Ojai Valley public school classrooms.

On this occasion, the Gables had invited third grade children from two local schools to entertain the seniors in residence. I and my camera arrived in the Gables community meeting room just as the senior participants were taking their chairs. Most were in their 70’s and 80’s, and all were women. Some were in wheelchairs. Others had personal assistants.

About twenty kids were accompanied by two young, inordinately lovely teachers. Bounding into the room with all the energy of eight-year-olds, they took up positions in the space made by the admiring seniors. Laura, the Bravo leader, engaged the children in a few warm-up musical exercises that included songs and a bit of dancing.

Prompted by Laura, the kids then made their way to the seated seniors. Selecting a senior of their choice, each child offered a hand, introduced themselves and engaged the seniors in conversation. A bit cautious at first, the children and the seniors warmed to the occasion. An explosion of smiles filled the room and the sound of both young and old voices merged into a playful crescendo.

Seniors who were able, rose from their seats and assumed what could best be described as a conga line. Along with the children, they began a twisty-turny parade that brought delight to the faces of the marchers as well as to the less able sitters.

I found myself taking photos with abandon. Happiness shone from elderly faces that perhaps have had too few similar opportunities. I hardly knew where to point my camera as the choices were unlimited. Children of that age are unbridled and have sweet faces that demand to be captured in a photo. On this day, these lucky seniors shared those characteristics and the beauty of the moment.

Frowns and any reluctance to participate were not in attendance. Seniors became enthusiastic children willing to learn, while children became aware of their ability to brighten lives that perhaps needed it.

Toward the end of the morning, Laura asked the children if anyone wanted to say something about their trip to the Gables. Half of the eight-year-olds met expectations by freely speaking their mind with uncensored abandon. I liked meeting old people. I think they’re just like us. It was really nice performing for real people. I’m really happy they’re still alive.

The next day I began the usually tedious job of selecting and editing the most promising photos. However, on this occasion I was disappointed when my work ended. Through the marvel of Photoshop I had relived those precious moments when young and old had come together to brighten the other.

Lives had been enriched…mine included.  Bravo.


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