Lyrical Laughs

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Four people, two cats and are we there yet?

Parents do some crazy things for their kids. Take last weekend, for example. Spouse and I helped First Born and The Groom relocate from Philadelphia to Atlanta, Georgia. Little did we know that our simple plan would become such a fiasco.

We flew to Philly last Thursday. The plan was to help the couple pack up that afternoon, stay in a hotel close by while their two cats spent their last night in the apartment, and be on the road bright and early Friday morning with a loaded mini-van. Estimating the trip to be 13 to 15 hours, we figured we would get to Atlanta before midnight on Friday.

The first complication was that arrangements couldn’t be made to access the alley behind the apartment building, which meant lugging everything to the rented vehicle in a garage - two blocks away. I’m sure this sounded like a piece of cake for a couple of 20-somethings, but not so much for the mid-lifers trudging down Philly sidewalks with carts of boxes and miscellaneous gear.

Because The Love Couple lived in a one-room apartment and had already driven a load of their things to Atlanta, they estimated the amount of stuff to be moved as one-vehicle worthy. Let’s just say they were a little off. By Friday morning the mini-van was completely filled and at least half of their belongings remained in the apartment. The only solution was to rent a second vehicle. The size of the Chevy Impala I ordered online was laughable. Well, as close to laughable as things had gotten by that point. We switched it with a Nissan Pathfinder, confident this would resolve the issue.

Oh yes, we were delusional.

After jamming both vehicles to their threshold, we ran into one more little glitch that Friday afternoon. The Groom locked the keys in the mini-van.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

While we waited for roadside assistance it was time for a little pow-wow about our plans. We agreed that the Love Couple’s two cats would stay one more night in the nearly empty apartment and we would all stay at the hotel again. The vision was to hit the road Saturday morning bright and early, maybe even by six, my son-in-law and I mused.

The reality was that we said goodbye to Philadelphia around 11 a.m. and arrived at our final destination 2:30 Sunday morning - almost a day and a half later than originally planned.

During our road trip Spouse and I were reminded that we’re not young anymore. Since the plan to have four drivers in one car was thwarted by needing a second vehicle, we each had to drive for some long stretches. We resembled wet dishrags by the end of the trip.

We also learned that our daughter and son-in-law are a great team. It was interesting to watch them work together to resolve issues. I was proud of both of them, knowing that first year of marriage is often when a couple is most tempted to throw each other off the island.

We also discovered that the Waffle House is decent and dirt cheap, truck drivers love to take over the highways later at night, and rest stop vending machines aren’t the worst source of late night snacks.
First Born and The Groom will be taking over his parents’ home while his dad’s job takes them to Costa Rica. After a little sleep, Spouse and I had a chance to enjoy their lovely home and the wonderful hospitality of The Groom’s mom who will soon be joining his dad. I spent a considerable amount of time on the wonderfully airy porch with my mug of hot coffee.

We flew back to Portland Monday afternoon, leaving Atlanta’s 75-degree weather and coming home to a forecast of snow the next morning.  Really, Maine?

The whole weekend became an insane undertaking, but it was still valuable time with family. I wouldn’t change a thing… except the part about renting a U-haul from the beginning. And maybe setting up use of the apartment building alley for easy access. Oh, and getting to Atlanta a day earlier.

You’re right. I’d change a few things.

Simba not making moving easy

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Can great minds who think alike survive collaboration?

I recently heard comedy writer Alan Zweibel describe how the theme song to “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was conceived. Zweibel, whose audience at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop was eager to soak up the actor’s comedic aura, recounted the elevator ride where he and Shandling started and finished the iconic ditty.

In a recent tribute to his writing partner published in Variety, Zweibel wrote about their introduction through his manager when he was recruited as a consultant for Shandling’s Showtime special. The meeting and subsequent joint project sealed the deal for future collaboration.

At the beginning of his writing career in the 1970s, Zweibel earned seven dollars for every joke he handed over to comedians seeking fame in the Catskill Mountains summer resorts famous for doling out promising new acts at that time. Eventually he approached producer Lorne Michaels armed with a compilation of over 1,100 jokes he had written. Michaels hired him as one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live. On his first day at SNL, the shy and anxious Zweibel hid behind a plant in the writers’ room - until Gilda Radner spotted him. In spite of their odd introduction, the pair formed an exceptional collaboration that developed into an enduring friendship.
Zweibel’s message to workshop attendees was that even the most adept writers can hone their craft to a sharper point with collaboration. His comedic mergings forged a path into television, film, theater and publishing.  Zweibel emphasized that working with a writer who can complement your style might mean the difference between finding the right audience and missing the boat, especially now when writing teams are heavily endorsed.

But the story we didn’t hear that April morning in a University of Dayton classroom was one of contention between Zweibel and Shandling that resulted in a battered friendship and long periods of zero communication. For two such comically brilliant minds, wading through the process of coagulating each other’s ideas had to be both exhilarating and exhausting. Who said it funnier? Who was more willing to shelve their idea for the sake of the show? Where was the shift from an invincible partnership to a heated parting of the ways?

As a writer with a miniscule portion of experience compared to these two veterans, my exposure to collaboration has been limited. As an amateur songwriter, by my late twenties I had accumulated years of lyrics but had little sense of original melody. There was an awkward attempt to join up with another songwriter who had answered a classified ad, declaring that my weakness was his strength and vice versa. On our first meeting he wanted me to sit quietly next to my upright piano while he plunked out every tune he had ever penned in the course of an afternoon. At our second session I worked some lyrics into a couple of his tunes, but he was averse to any melodic changes. He left that day with a few strings of my words and I never heard from him again. I neglected to keep a record of what I wrote and to this day have no idea if my lyrics contributed to the final rendition of a decent song or to a recycling bin.

I often battle my lone wolf tendencies when it comes to surrendering an idea, but Zweibel makes a good case with his advice for writers to get out of their comfort zone in order to progress in the business. For a collaborative effort to work you must be willing to let your guard down and trust that your cohort wants to make both of you look good. Zweibel and Shandling did it well. Ironically, the same marriage of like minds that had propelled a half hour sitcom into television fame would eventually lead to resentment and acute damage to their personal relationship. It was fortunate that, following years of silence, the two had resurrected their friendship and were able to share in the glory days of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” at the San Francisco Comedy Festival in 2011.

A few days after my return home from the writers’ workshop I looked up – of all things – the show’s theme, which had been repeatedly circling like a vulture in my head at three in the morning. I came across the article spelling out Zweibel’s regret over time lost with Shandling, and I plainly recalled the writer’s worn expression of sadness when he spoke a week earlier. It struck me that Alan Zweibel wasn’t mourning the loss of writing with his friend. He was mourning the loss of simply being with his friend.

Despite the creative tug of war a writing partnership may have to endure initially, when it’s right the personal and professional rewards can be far greater than going it alone. As far as successful collaborations go, the combined writing genius of Zweibel and Shandling was the reason I found myself awake at three in the morning cursing the theme song stuck in my head and giving its creators the last laugh.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

“Don’t wash the dishes – I haven’t brushed my teeth yet”

“Attention, please,” my updated social media status read, “The toilet is out of the bathtub and functioning properly.”

Anyone who really knows us will tell they knew this was not a joke.

It was Day Three of my return home from a weeklong trip visiting family in Kansas and attending a writers’ workshop in Ohio. Before I left on my Saturday morning flight Spouse had already begun preparations for replacing the floor in our bathroom. To the surprise of nobody, the project that was supposed to take just a few days managed to morph into a major hassle and there wasn’t enough time to complete it before my return.

That Sunday, after dealing with a cancelled flight, rerouting to Boston and taking a bus back to Portland while my luggage found its way onto another Portland bound plane, let’s just say that coming home to the sight of a white porcelain bowl jutting out from our tub had me on the edge of using some potty language of my own.

Ever wonder how a simple floor replacement becomes a full renovation? It’s easier than you would think. It started with a pipe that had to be replaced under the toilet, followed by rotted subflooring, which meant another replacement. From there we began talking about just how bad our cruddy old vanity and medicine cabinet would look with a new floor. The next thing I knew, Spouse was using the “s” word every other sentence. That’s right, folks. Sheetrock.

I’m sure you and I can agree that no spouse ever said, “I just adore when my partner tears up the house with a renovation project, endangering our lives with tools, nails and 2x4s scattered throughout every room in the place.”

When I refer to our bathroom, I am referring to our one bathroom in the whole house. We managed to deal with one bathroom as a family of four, but no bathroom is a little ridiculous, even when it’s down to just the two of us. If it hadn’t been for the fact that we have access to our wintering neighbors’ home, the next step would have been a port-a-potty in the yard – always a lovely addition to the landscaping.

Sleeping across the street and running back home in the morning to have breakfast, feed the cats and gather our belongings for work was less adventurous than it sounds – and really, what part of that even sounds adventurous? Things came to a head Tuesday evening when I hit my point after not sleeping in my own bed for nine nights. At that point Spouse and I were ready to throw each other off the island, but I couldn’t carry through with that threat. I still needed him to finish putting the bathroom together.

By Tuesday the toilet was back in place and usable, prompting my social media announcement. We are still in the throes of our renovation. Our new vanity sits in the garage awaiting its place against the new sheetrock… which is also in the garage. In the meantime, washing hands in the tub and brushing teeth in the kitchen sink (thank goodness it's a double sink) have become the norm. It could be worse.

We could have a port-a-potty in our backyard.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The sisterly ties that bind

When I was around seven years old my teenage sister and her best friend allowed me to join in on their personal photo shoot. Not one to miss an opportunity, I bolted to my room and whipped on my favorite paisley dress that my grandmother had sewn for me.

As cars sped down the main road where we lived, unaware of this important mission, my idols at the time took turns posing on a grassy hill in the park by our house. With crossed arms, serious stares and Cher hair that had been ironed straight, they struck a barefoot pose, snapping angled pictures of each other the way they imagined real photographers would stage their models.

When it was my turn I was directed to keep a serious expression, turn to the side, clasp my hands behind my back, and cross one foot over the other. I would have done somersaults if they had said so – anything to stay in the company of the big girls.

I still have a Polaroid from my photo shoot, reminding me that even though we're nine years apart, the smallest of ties can still bind us.

We’ve come a long way since the days of my sister bossing me around and my telling mom when she went over her time limit on the phone. Like most siblings, we can both recall some sweet memories of our childhood together even with the nine-year age difference. There are also a few less savory ones, like the time I bit her on her stomach. Hey, she was gripping my shoulders and shaking me for some alleged infraction and she was wearing a halter top. It was sanctioned.

We were also occasional accidental comrades growing up. Both of us had long since left the nest when we came clean about the living room cartwheels that resulted in the Panasonic nameplate dangling precariously on the front of the family stereo. It wasn’t my cartwheel but I knew I wouldn’t be cleared of all charges, since I only witnessed this infraction by sitting at the top of the steps way past my bedtime, watching my sister and her friends goofing around.

You would think everyone could have a good laugh about it all these years later, right? A few years ago my sister and I reminisced about that incident, giggling head to head… that is, until our mom’s steely gaze hit us. The Panasonic stereo may have been ancient history but apparently the demise of its sturdy nameplate remained clear in her mind.

Last week I hopped a plane to Kansas to visit the city where my sister, her husband and my mom moved to last summer. My cousin who is very close to my age joined us from North Carolina for some fun family time. It went by much too quickly but we fit a lot into those few days.

My sibling is a vegan and she did the majority of the cooking for our dinners. This may sound like a challenge when carnivores come to call, but she did a great job of filling our tummies while making adjustments for her own palate. When we had chicken she had… not chicken. It has a more technical name but that’s what I’m going with for now.

We spent our time chomping on the best barbecue, driving by historic sites and strolling through a shopping center with colorful rooftops and an abundance of unusual water fountains. A photo of the four of us girls with windblown hair and carefree smiles by the Kansas City World War I Memorial holds my favorite memory of our visit.

That day long ago when my sister let me be a part of the picture, she brought us a little closer when our age difference was still a big deal. These days we have more in common and we approach some things in a similar manner. For instance, I believe if we had to do it all over again, we’d both agree to keep the cartwheel story to ourselves.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Perfecting my piling - I mean filing system

Spouse and I were sitting in church a few Sundays when I found myself glancing around at the congregation. I spotted a few shirts in the pinkish-red-rose hue similar to mine. Like whiplash, a moment of déjà vu smacked me upside the head. I squirmed in my seat as I recalled a conversation in this very place about that same color hue on a few others… two weeks earlier.

Out of the corner of my left eye a whitish glow surfaced on my shoulder - the remnants of spittle from our minister’s grandchild when I held her the last time I wore that top. Oh, no. No-no-no-no-no. I only see most of these folks once a week unless otherwise planned (or unless I am not showered, sans makeup and making a quick dash to the grocery store). How did I manage to grab the one top that hadn’t been immediately thrown into the hamper when I got home?

It has a lot to do with my filing system.

I may have mentioned that we have a very small house. It is ours (technically it’s the bank’s, but let’s not nitpick) and I am proud to call it home. But its size, or lack of, means closet space is minimal. Some of my clothes are in the spare room - First Born’s vacant room, which we chose not to turn into a shrine in her honor because – well, small house. Wash baskets don’t get emptied right away because I have to be creative in conjuring up closet space. What would you call something smaller than a closet? A mini-closet? A closette? Wait, I’ve got it. A box.

Early in the morning I need to easily access my options, so I devised a system of placing clothing around the bedroom. Some people call it piling, but I prefer the term filing. I file based on season, color and amount of usage. Oh, and by whether it fits me that week.

Normally it’s a very efficient system at 6:30 in the morning. There is the Wore to Work This Week file, the Did I Run Into Anyone I Know file, the Clean But it Obviously Shrank in the Wash file, and the Can’t Camouflage That Stain file - also known as the hamper.

Every so often an item gets misfiled and grabbed as a last resort when it’s too dark to see that the last time I wore it I dropped half a meatball on the front. This could be uncomfortable, and not just because it’s crusty from the sauce.

One solution would be to carry a scarf or a spare neutral-colored top with me for just such a predicament. That would entail A) knowing how to fashionably wear scarves and B) assuming I had a spare top. In desperation I could resort to throwing everything into the wash after I’ve worn it once. But I don’t. There, I’ve said it. I am a shirt recycler. My sister is, at this moment, assuming the fetal position and weeping for me.

The real mystery is how I even have enough clothing to not fit into my closet. It seems like I wear the same four things all the time. I don’t really… it’s more like seven. But when the temperature is the same 20 degrees all week I run out of decent sweaters that aren’t pilled to the point of resembling cloud formations.

Second Born’s room would make a great walk-in closet slash office, but she still graces us with her presence during the summer. Once she graduates from college and decides she wants to live more than a day’s drive away I will surely need the distraction of a hobby, like knitting or tearing walls down.

For now I think my filing system may need some review. I’ve made so many files that there may actually be room in the closet.