Monday, March 7, 2016

Catapulted Back in Time: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

We went this past weekend to see Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, expecting to see some kind of zany comedy because Tina Fey has the starring role.  It is not a comedy.  It is not what I expected.  And it surprised me in yet another way:  It took me back three and a half years, when I was in Afghanistan, and it stopped my heart, and it made me cry.  I had no idea I had been so profoundly affected by my time there.  But apparently, I had been.

The (supposedly mostly true) story focuses on a journalistic desk jockey, Kim Barker, who takes a chance to travel to Afghanistan to be a war correspondent.  The plot winds through Barker’s culture shock, her navigating her way around, and her eventual understanding that the rush of narrow escapes in war can be highly addictive.  The movie has received mixed reviews, probably because many reviewers may have assumed what I did – it’s a comedy.  Additionally, I’m guessing that most reviewers don’t have a clue that what they’re seeing about Afghan culture is real and, in some cases, stupefying.

The movie was filmed in New Mexico, and it mimics well the landscape of the places I saw in Afghanistan.  Mostly dry desert, Kabul is surrounded by, according to, the Hindu Kush mountain range, the peaks of which are usually dotted with snow; Kabul itself is at 8,000 feet elevation.  The movie also depicts well the dirt “streets” of parts of Kabul, filled with pedestrians, goats, and Toyotas, as well as the houses stacked on the hillside, most of which have spotty, if any, electricity, and no heating system.  Some have running water; some do not.

Kim finds herself living in the city in a dormitory of sorts, where all the journalists live, drink, party, and hook up, where bathrooms are shared and internet connections are intermittent.  She meets her team, consisting of a cameraman, a personal security guard, and an Afghan translator, who is supposed to be her connection to finding stories and meeting people who make the stories.  A typical Afghan man who was a doctor before he began working for the United States, the translator keeps his distance while helping her adjust to life in a truly foreign place.

Some of Kim’s story was totally different from mine.  I lived in a barracks camp completely removed from the city, but not necessarily removed from the violence of the country; while I was there, at least one other barracks camp was bombed.  Not too long before I arrived, another camp was bombed.  In fact, as I was undergoing training – which in no way imaginable prepared me for what I was to see – a security guard took me under his wing, instructing me as to what to do.  “I know you,” he said one day.  “A bomb will go off, and you will see people hurt, and you will try to help.  But what are you supposed to do?  What must you do?” 

“Walk the other way,” I said, looking directly at his face.

“Good girl.  Walk the other way.”

Scenes such as that one flashed through my mind as I took in the things that were happening in front of me on the screen.  One day, I met an appellate judge in his opulent, though garishly furnished, office; we had hot tea in glass mugs, just as Kim did when she met a member of the Afghan government.  I covered my head, just as Kim did, when I went out from the camp.  In Kabul, I went through steel doors when I left the compound, passing security guards holding AK47s at the ready; in Herat, I went through only one steel door, but we had to wind our way through concrete barriers to leave, while several security guards, all holding guns, watched from a high turret.  Kim lived in the city, so her steel door wasn’t quite as massive, and the security guard with a gun was an old man.  But when I saw her going through that door, I went right back to my own steel doors. 

Even though our stories were tinged with similarities, much of what Kim went through was different from my experience; for instance, I had a “wet hooch” – quarters with a private bathroom. Had I landed a job at Bagram Air Force Base, I would have had a “dry hooch,” with a bathroom for all located at least 100 yards away.  Fortunately, I didn’t land a job at Bagram.  Unlike Kim, the most raucous behavior I engaged in was dancing the night away to Frank Sinatra and The Big Bopper with two of my co-workers, one of whom was leaving the next day, the other of whom might have been gay, and both of whom were great dancers.  I know, however, that some of my other co-workers were a little more risqué in their behavior.  One was arrested and jailed when he returned home to Scotland.  It seems that he was more interested in child porn than in saving the Afghan justice system.

My translators in Herat were more progressive than most Afghan men; one even wanted his wife to learn to drive rather than relying on him to get her around the city.  Whereas Kim’s translator would not let her hug him and attempted a human gesture only by allowing their hands to barely touch as he handed her suitcase to her, I breached all sorts of behavior rules by hugging every one of our translators as I left Herat to go to Kabul.  In Kabul, however, I would never have even thought about hugging my co-workers.  They did not invite such forward and intimate gestures, even though we had very good relationships. 

Unlike Kim, thank goodness, I never saw combat or the effects of it.  But I saw a life that seemed to exist not a half a world away from my home, but on another planet, where men and women could not hold hands in public lest people assumed they were preparing to have sex, where men and women could not attend a wedding in the same room, where alcohol is illegal, and where, in some provinces, women cannot appear in public if any portion of their bodies, even face or hands, is exposed.  In that world, children and mothers with their children in tow beg in the dirt streets, cows and goats intermingle with traffic in the city.  In that world, progress is stymied by a group of zealots who believe that blowing up ancient Buddha statues is preferable to seeing idols to another religion, who blow up roads to prevent anyone from mining natural minerals that might bring some form of prosperity to the area, who believe that the way to power is through fear.

The odd thing is that I wrote about all these things while I was there.  I just went about my life every day doing what needed to be done, surviving in a culture that I didn’t understand.  I assumed that I was just experiencing life in a different place, seeing that things are done differently in different places, bringing a different worldview to my family and friends who read about my adventures.

Now, however, three and a half years later, I go to a movie and see that more than my worldview has changed.  My life has changed without my knowing it, and I am unable to ignore it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Little Travelogue - Including the Blackstone Hotel - Chicago

“The Windy City” comes by its name honestly.  By the time Max and I left Chicago on Sunday afternoon, the temperature was about three degrees, but the wind chill was well below that.  Fortunately, I had taken my big coat to keep me warm, and Max had taken his stocking cap; his head was more at risk than mine because he had to walk about a block to get the car in that frigid temperature.  We had parked at that garage because the charge was $30 per day while our hotel’s parking cost was $67 per day.  Regardless of the outrageous parking, that hotel, the Blackstone, was a lovely piece of Chicago history, including a hidey-hole for Al Capone’s Prohibition liquor!

Max and I had gone to Chicago with six of my William Jewell friends to see Terry Teachout’s play, Satchmo at the Waldorf.   Max and I had seen the play in Beverly Hills last summer, but Terry was going to be in Chicago for opening night, and we decided that it would be worth the trip to get to talk to him.

I got the tickets for the group, and then another friend told us that she knows the concierge at the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue.  We got in touch with her, and she arranged for us to all stay on the 19th floor, overlooking, depending on which side of the hotel the room was on, either the City, or Grant Park and Lake Michigan.  Max and I drove, but the rest of the group, one from Springfield, two from Austin, Texas, and three from Kansas City, flew in.  The earliest arrivals scored a tour from Shannon, the concierge, who shared the hotel’s story with them.

Twelve presidents have stayed at that hotel, including John F. Kennedy, who didn’t stay very long; while he was there, he found out about the Cuban missile crisis.  A barber shop on the lowest level has a secret hatch leading to a hidey-hole for Al Capone’s Templeton Rye during Prohibition – and a hidey-hole for Al Capone himself when Chicago’s finest were out looking for him.  Movie stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Lena Horne stayed at the hotel, which opened in 1910; Enrico Caruso was honored at the hotel’s opening gala.  And speaking of movies, several have been filmed at the Blackstone:  The Untouchables, The Color of Money, Only the Lonely, and My Best Friend’s Wedding.   I would have liked to have been around for The Color of Money because Paul Newman was there.  I would have liked to have been anywhere Paul Newman was.

After we all arrived on Friday, we ate dinner at Seven Lions, which is about five blocks from the hotel.  It was fun to sit around and reminisce about the old days – which are, by now, about 40 years old.  How is it possible that we graduated so long ago!?  The food was good, but Max and I had brought munchies and wine, so we all had enjoyed a little cocktail party in our room before our 8:15 dinner reservation, so we were pretty full – of food.  There’s always room for more wine!

We did get to meet up with Terry on Saturday over lunch.  It was so good to see him and to hear how the play came about.  He had first written the book Pops, and someone he didn’t know sent him an e-mail saying that the book was good and that a play dwelled somewhere in the pages.  After a little research, Terry found out that the unknown encourager was a theater producer.  Terry figured that guy knew what he was talking about, and so over a period of four days, the first draft of Satchmo came into being.  From there, things fell into place quite nicely.

It was, while not like old times, lots of fun to eat barbecue (The Pork Chop) and drink Bloody Marys and talk about what’s been happening since 1976. 

Then we saw the final Chiefs game of the season at Jimmy Green’s, a sports bar around the corner from the hotel, and finally, the pièce de résistance, Satchmo at the Waldorf.  It was kind of cool to walk in and know the playwright!  And then, after the play, we met the star of the show, Barry Shebaka Henley; that was pretty cool, as well.  He was sort of nonplussed that we had come to see Terry first and him second.

All in all, our trip to Chicago was a nice little break in the day-to-day living of life.  The next time we take that trip north, however, I hope the temperature is more than three degrees. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Play's The Thing

Max and I don’t get to travel as often as we want to.  That work thing keeps interfering with that life thing.  But when we do get away, we have a great time finding new places to go and new things to do.

This past weekend, we went to Chicago by way of St. Louis to see “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” a play written by my friend Terry Teachout that is running for a couple of weeks at the Court Theater on Chicago’s South side.  The play is based on one chapter of Terry’s book Pops, a biography of the great Louis Armstrong.  We had already seen the play in Beverly Hills this past summer, but I wanted to see it in a different location with a different actor (it’s a one-man show) and a different director. 

While the feel of the Chicago version is similar to the Beverly Hills version, Barry Shabaka Henley inhabits all three of the play’s characters – Louis Armstrong, Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis – in a completely different way from John Douglas Thompson’s portrayals.  The stage is also different in this iteration; in Beverly Hills, the set was a replica of Armstrong’s dressing room at the Waldorf; in Chicago, Armstrong addresses the audience from a mostly bare stage, as he bares his soul to those who are listening.

What is not different is the poignancy with which Armstrong details the struggles he faced as a black man wanting to play music in a segregated society, and then as a black musician who won over white audiences to his cultural detriment; at the end of his life, Armstrong’s audiences were mostly white, as black audiences and other black musicians dismissed him as an old man with old ways who played to white America.  Armstrong merely wanted to play his music, and he tells of his puzzlement at the lack of loyalty from those who followed in his footsteps, those for whom Armstrong opened many doors.

The main conflict, however, exists in Armstrong’s relationship with his white, Jewish manager, Joe Glaser.  This conflict threads through Armstrong’s telling about his impoverished childhood, his very human foibles, his path to fame, and his love of music, until the conflict reaches its sad climax.  The play moves to denouement in very dramatic fashion, but what actually happened is a little less salacious (As Terry has said, this play is a work of fiction; if it isn’t in the book, it didn’t happen).  Regardless, Armstrong never knew exactly what happened between Glaser and him, realizing only that his own life was not spared one of the things that makes a good story:  betrayal.

“Satchmo at the Waldorf” is now playing at the Court Theater in Chicago, as well as at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater in San Francisco.  In May, Terry himself is directing the play in West Palm Beach, Florida.  I think I may try to go to that, as well!  Florida in May sounds much better than Chicago in January.  But it was well worth the weather risk – and we saw first hand Chicago’s reputation:  The Windy City.  And that’s another story.



Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year, New You. Ha.

I’m trying to get organized this year.  Why?  It’s never worked before!

I want to spend the next 365 days (well, 361 by now) focused on making some changes that might let me feel less stressed at the end of next year.  I would also like to practice the piano more than I usually do – which is not at all.  Before I went to Afghanistan in 2012, I played at least weekly as I accompanied the choir.  But after I got back from Afghanistan, I became the choir conductor as opposed to its accompanist.  I now find that I don’t just sit down and play very often.  I think I have to blame that stress component – knowing that I have lots to do makes playing the piano seem very frivolous.

Making lists should be first on the list of change-inducers; however, when I make those “to-do” lists, I get stressed because of the amount of stuff I have to do in any one day.  It makes me crazy.  What’s worse, as I get going on one of the items on my list, I find something else that should be done and get distracted, leaving my list and heading off into another direction. 

Feeling overwhelmed is not a good way to spend any day, and certainly is not a good way to spend every day.  The result of feeling overwhelmed is that very little gets done as I fret over the number of things left to do.

I want to be productive; more than that, I want to have a clean working environment.  Right now, as I write this, I look at piles of paper on my desk that have been there for so long that I can’t remember what is there at all. 

Perhaps I will have a better start tomorrow.  I certainly hope so!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

This is one of my favorite pieces.  I wrote it years ago, before everybody and his brother had web sites -  which is obvious as you read through the piece.  It is too long to publish anywhere except here, but I simply refuse to cut any words.  It's about a vacation, and I've published it here before. But I don't care.  Here goes:


            Although I never knew it, my family was, well, fiscally challenged.  We had a roof, food, an embarrassing car, clothing, a television, a portable dishwasher, a window air conditioner, and the finest cabinet stereo Western Auto sold.  We never, though, had a family vacation.

            As I watched “The Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday evening on the Philco TV, the one that swiveled, I ached when I saw the whirling teacups on the Disneyland commercials.  I wanted to go to Disneyland.  I wanted to see Walt Disney as he ambled among his guests.  I wanted to walk up Main Street and run into Mickey Mouse or Snow White.  But it was not to be.
            My family never stepped foot inside Disneyland’s magical gates.
            Tip #1: Do NOT impose your childhood dreams on your child!

            When our daughter was born, I told my husband that just as important as it was for me to have a box of Kleenex in the bathroom - another luxury missed in childhood - it was also essential that we take a family vacation each year, thereby making sure that Emily lacked none of life’s little extras.
            Tip #2: Make your vacation the size of your child or children.

            When Emily was 3, I found what I thought would be the perfect family vacation - a trip to Sea World.  Kate, our babysitter, had been to San Antonio to Sea World, and had brought back Shamu lore and fantastic Sea World souvenirs.

            “Shamu,” I heard Emily say for weeks.  “Shamu.”
            So I planned.  I wrote to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau for information.  I checked air fare and hotel rates.  I made reservations.

            We were taking Emily to, not Disneyland, but Disneyland-like Sea World in San Antonio.

            We would arrive on Friday, May 1, and leave 6 days later.  I thought we could relax for a couple of days by the pool at the hotel, then go to Sea World on Monday and Tuesday when crowds would be thin.  We could then shop on Wednesday, and head home on Thursday.  Life was good.

            Tip #3: Make a list of everything you will need for your child as you travel - and add things to do for the time you are at your vacation spot!

            Traveling with a 3-year-old was an eye-opening experience.  We took anything that might possibly appeal to Emily for the duration of the flight: her blanket, pillow, stuffed Barney, crayons, coloring book, books, and pencils – but no kitchen sink.  We also took the requisite toddler equipment: car seat, stroller, first aid kit, and bag of snacks.  Max and I crammed our clothing into one suitcase so that we’d have one fewer bag to cart around.
            Southwest Airlines’ “families with young children board first” rule is truly a lifesaver.  We managed to haul most everything on board - except for one suitcase and the stroller - and we found seats at the bulkhead, giving us extra room to spread out.

            We shared the area with a beautiful, aristocratic-looking young Hispanic woman.  Emily had never seen anyone quite so exotic, and so she spent most of the flight ignoring the crayons, books, pencils, and even Barney, in favor of staring at the woman who looked different from everyone else in her little life.

            First I tried to distract Emily, but she would have none of it.  Then I tried ordering her not to stare, but that went the way of most maternal orders.  Finally, I accepted the embarrassment, and explained to the thankfully gracious young woman that our daughter had never seen anyone so exotically glamorous.

            We spent the rest of the flight talking about San Antonio, which was her home town, and all its delights - including the Riverwalk, the zoo, Sea World, the Alamo, and the Mexican square.  I figured we couldn’t get it all done in just 5 days.

            Tip #4: Call or e-visit each destination you will be visiting during your vacation - hotel, theme park, other specific attraction - and let them know you will be coming.  Ask about typical weather for the time you’ll be there, room availability, special provisions for toddlers, including any organized activities that may be at the hotel or available to guests at the hotel, special promotions, any nearby attractions, and public transportation availability (if you do not plan to rent a car).  Make a list.  Be specific and thorough.

            After we landed, and on the way to the hotel, I saw a billboard about Sea World - Opening, it said, for the weekend season on May 1.  My heart started pounding.  Weekend?  Wasn’t Sea World like Disneyland?  Open every day of the year?  May 1 was that very day - meaning we had to go to Sea World on Saturday and Sunday or not at all.  I decided to check at the hotel for more information, including how to get there.  The billboard gave me the idea that Sea World was in the hinterlands, and we were not getting a car.  It wasn’t in the budget.

            We arrived at the hotel nervous and anxious about our plans.  True to its billing, the hotel was classic and gorgeous and big.  We checked in and were shown our room, which had, unfortunately, no real view at all.  Max and I thought that curious since the hotel and its surroundings were simply beautiful.

            We immediately started checking out the premises.  The hotel had all the necessities: a café, a bar, a gift shop, and a direct connection to the Riverwalk.  It also had a beautiful Spanish tile pool, but no one was using it, perhaps because the temperature in San Antonio at midday on May 1 was about 58 degrees.

            Emily didn’t care, though, and started begging to get in the water.  I cheerfully handed that duty to Max, and I checked out the gift shop for a sweatshirt, and then the bar to calm my quickly frazzling nerves.

            While Max and Emily turned blue in the pool, I headed to the front desk to learn everything I needed to know about Sea World.  I found that it indeed was opening that day for the season: weekends only through May, just like Worlds of Fun in Kansas City.  It was miles from the hotel, but the city bus actually ran a regular route there.

            Buoyed by what I saw as a streak of luck, I went to the pool to give Max and Emily the news.  Blue-lipped and teeth chattering, they were less enthusiastic than I.

            We decided to walk to the Mexican square for an authentic Mexican dinner.  Max ordered cabrito (young goat) and Emily ordered a grilled cheese sandwich.  Grilled cheese, however, wasn’t on the menu, and we tried to make do with a cheese quesadilla.  Emily wasn’t happy.  I asked for another margarita.

            After we arrived back at the hotel, Max and I realized that, because Emily was sleeping on a love seat in our room, if she went to sleep at 8, so did we.  I made a mental note: Call every suites-only hotel chain for a list of all their hotels in the country.

            Fortunately, because of our hard travel day, and maybe because of that second margarita, I was exhausted, and sleep came quickly.

            About 2 a.m., though, we were rudely awakened by the noise of squealing tires that seemed to be coming from behind our bed.  That noise was followed by more, then more of the same.  Max decided to check the source, since neither of us relished the thought of a car’s driving through the wall into our bed.  When he returned, white-faced, he let me know about our room’s lack of a view.  Our room, along with a block of other rooms, was nestled snugly next to the parking garage.  The parking attendants, trying efficiently to shuffle cars for space, were driving pretty quickly around the garage, which caused the noise.  Would the surprises never end?

            Tip #5: If you are visiting a special attraction, or will be spending a lot of time far from your hotel room, pack a special bag specifically for that day trip before you leave home.  Be sure to include at least one change of clothing.  Then you will need only pull out that bag for the day rather than go through all your “stuff,” picking and choosing what you might need.

            Next morning, we woke, still tired, and got ready for Sea World.  Because preparing a toddler for anything takes forever, we barely made the bus that took us to Sea World, arriving at the time the gates opened.  I wanted to miss the crowds.

            Well, there weren’t any crowds, because at 10 a.m. on May 2 in San Antonio, it was about 65 degrees and cloudy.  On a bright note, though, it was The Year of the Family at Sea World, and admission was discounted.

            We arrived in time for Shamu’s first show, which, in retrospect, was a big mistake.  People who attend Shamu’s show have a choice of sitting in a “splash” zone.  That means that Shamu jumps and twists and slaps his (her?) tail on the water in a way that absolutely drenches these poor souls.  That’s probably fine in July when it’s sunny and 101 degrees, but it was definitely not appealing in May at 10 a.m. when it was cloudy and 65 degrees.  To Emily, however, getting splashed by Shamu was a necessity regardless of weather, and she loudly let us, and everyone around us, know.

            Once more, I turned water duty over to Max; I sat safely ensconced in a dry seat, while Emily got her thrills from Shamu’s splash, and Max got his thrills presumably from watching our happy child.

            After the show, we dried Emily off (we had brought no extra clothing - who knew?) and I asked her, “Emily, what do you want to do now?”

            “Go home,” she said.

            Max and I looked at each other.  “Don’t you want to go see the dolphins?”

            “No,” she replied.  “I want to go home.”

            I was raised to believe that food solved all problems. So I suggested lunch while we reconnoitered.  Eventually, Emily acquiesced to the dolphins and even some of the other displays, and when we left for the day, we agreed that a good time had been had by all.

            Tip #6: Always have a Plan B.  And a Plan C.  And D.

            My head was spinning, though, because it was Saturday.  We weren’t leaving until Thursday, and another day at Sea World was out of the question.  What, oh what, were we going to do in San Antonio with a toddler who never heard of John Wayne, David Bowie, Santa Ana, or the Alamo, and who wanted to go home?

            The next day, we explored the Riverwalk, Max and I on foot, and Emily on Max’s shoulders.  Before it started to rain, we found a restaurant that would make a grilled cheese sandwich.  And as we walked, we stumbled upon a mall with a movie theatre, and miraculously, it was showing not one, but two G-rated movies.  To this day, I kiss the feet of the producers of “Beethoven” and “Fern Gully.”  We saw “Beethoven” on Sunday and “Fern Gully” on Monday.  And we ate daily at the real restaurant - the one that fixed grilled cheese though it wasn’t on the menu.

            On Tuesday, as we loitered about the hotel lobby because it was raining yet again, I announced to Max, “We’re going home tomorrow.  Let’s call the airlines and change the reservations.”

            “Are you nuts?  That will cost money,” he protested.

            “Actually,” I came back, “we’ll save about $20.  Yes, the airline will charge us to change our reservations.  But we’ll save a day’s hotel and a day of airport parking.  We’ll end up ahead.”

            He wasn’t convinced.

            “Okay,” I spat out.  “What do YOU propose we do for another 48 hours?  It’s still raining.”

            He headed off in the other direction.

            “Where are you going?”  I asked.

            “To pack and call Southwest.”

            We arrived home the next day, tired, $20 or so to the good, quite a bit wiser, and none the worse for the wear.

            Tip #7: “If at first you don’t succeed...” or “Practice makes perfect”.
            Regardless of how stressful that first family vacation sounds, we actually had a good time, and learned a great deal about what not to do when traveling with our adorable, high-maintenance child.

            Since then, we have braved the beaches of Sanibel Island, the San Diego zoo, Williamsburg,Virginia, even New York City with a train ride to Cooperstown thrown in.  And each vacation was better than the one before it, because we knew more about what to do and what NOT to do.

            And we did go to Disneyland.  Mr. Disney was long gone, but the whirling teacups were still there.  So were Main Street, Mickey Mouse and Snow White.  I had the time of my life, and Emily, then 5, was the perfect age for that park.  She held up like a trouper for two short days (rather than one long one!), and was so awed by her surroundings that she never asked us to buy her anything.  Oh, except the Jasmine outfit, which was out of her budget.  I still remember her standing there in the store, saying, loudly, of course.....

            But that’s another story.  And another set of Tips.

Friday, August 15, 2014

            Larry Harman and I first met in 1971 as freshmen at William Jewell College.  He was one of the cool kids, self-assured, immediately well-known, while I was more hesitant, in the background, watching from afar.  As far as I know, we were the only two kids in that class to be at Jewell on music scholarships who were not music majors.  He made a big splash in the Concert Choir; I was afraid to audition.  He was the star of the Fiji musical skit; I watched from the balcony.  But we were friends.

            As our college years passed, Terry Teachout (you’ve heard about him) and Dr. Forbis convinced me that I could sing, so eventually Larry asked me to fill in for the regular soloist in his jazz combo.  He played every Saturday night at the St. Joe Shriner’s Club, and I got my first taste of singing with a band, which I loved.

            Over the years, Larry and I have stayed in touch, because just as we were both the non-major musicians back then, we both ended up as lawyers.  He is now the Presiding Judge in Liberty (Clay County), and Max ends up appearing in front of him quite often.  Who knew?

            Well, Larry and his wife, Debbie, ran into Max and me at a party in Liberty, and he told me about his newest musical achievement – Two and a Half Tenors.  Larry had met Bryan Taylor, also a Jewell grad, but much younger, who is the music director at the Liberty United Methodist Church.  A few years ago, he asked Larry’s daughter to sing a solo.  She then convinced Larry to join the choir.

            A little after he began singing in the choir, he and Bryan did some duets.  Then Larry heard another tenor voice in the choir, that of Steve Waters.  Larry was sure that the three of them would sound good together, and so with his formidable powers of persuasion, he convinced Steve and Bryan to form a group that sings all kinds of music – Broadway show tunes, sacred music, and other classical and popular music.  Thus, Two and a Half Tenors was born!

            Larry’s musical background is pretty spectacular, but when he told me about Bryan Taylor, my eyes widened.  Bryan sings with the Kansas City Chorale, a group that won a Grammy last year and has another under its belt.  He also has sung in Carnegie Hall, currently directs the Liberty Community Chorus, and has started a group called Worship Through the Arts, which is dedicated to bringing the arts – not just music, but also dance and visual arts – to the church.  This program has sponsored contemporary Christian music groups, Kansas City’s legendary jazz singer Ida McBeth and her group, as well as regional artists, such as the Annie Moses Band, and Mark Schultz.  I admit my prior ignorance of these last two artists, but I Googled them and was quite impressed.

            Steve Waters is also a musician who not only sings, but also is a very busy piano technician, tuning pianos in Kansas City area homes, and those in schools and organizations.  Originally from a small Missouri town, he graduated from UCM with a music education degree, and directed a church choir.  He also has taught private brass lessons. 

            Rounding out the group is a most necessary party – the accompanist.  The group’s usual accompanist, Sharon Parker, is not going to be with the Tenors on Sunday, as she had to undergo some kind of surgery on her foot – which I’m sure would affect her pedaling!  Instead, Eryn Bates, yet another Jewell grad, will act as the Tenors’ accompanist.  Eryn is on the teaching staff at William Jewell, and, according to Larry, has great talent.

            The group did its first concert as a benefit for the Corbin Theatre on the Liberty Square, where Larry performs in a jazz group once a month.  For that first concert, held at Belvoir Winery in Liberty, about 100 people were on the waiting list for tickets.  The Tenors did their next concert at a larger venue – the Liberty United Methodist Church – and another 100 people were on the waiting list.  Since that time, Two and a Half Tenors have performed in many different locations, including Farris Hall in Richmond, Missouri – and soon, Sedalia! 

When Larry and I met at the party in Liberty, he played an iPhone recording of the group singing special music on Mother’s Day.  I immediately asked Larry if they would come to Sedalia to perform, and he jumped at the chance.  He says that the group loves performing, taking musical notes that are written on a piece of paper, and then transforming those inanimate objects into beauty that can touch a person’s heart.  “We love doing music,” he told me on Tuesday, as he scoped out Broadway’s sanctuary and sound system.  “Over the past couple of years, we have developed a real affection for each other, kind of like brothers – brothers who quarrel occasionally!” 

I asked him why he began the group – why he still has the desire to perform.  “My Dad was a professional musician for a while,” he said.  “My Mom walked door to door selling Avon so my sister and I could have a piano and drums and lessons. So I sing and hope they are listening. And besides,” he continued, “music happens when your emotions embrace your soul.  That’s magic."   

            I am excited to present this concert for music and arts lovers in Sedalia – and soon-to-be music lovers - and I hope that plenty of people will turn out for a special night.  The program begins at 7 and admission is free.  We will take up a “love offering” to help defray costs, and, we will also provide refreshments after the program. 

Many times, I stand back and look at the connections I have made over my lifetime and am surprised about how they weave into and out of my days.  This is one connection that I am happy to have kept, and after you hear Two and a Half Tenors, I think you will be happy about it, too.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This has been an extraordinary weekend!  Everything began on Friday, when I discovered that I had accumulated 197 of the 214 signatures of registered voters I needed to put me on the ballot for Associate Circuit Judge as a non-partisan candidate.  That means I will be entering the race on Monday, July 28.

After that news, my good friend Kim Schroeder invited me out to dinner with her, her husband, her son, and her son's friend.  We had a great time at Colton's, and I came home to finish up some work.

Saturday morning, I woke up and got a few more signatures just to be sure, and then I actually sat in the black leather chair in our living room and watched Air Force One, one of my favorite movies, starring Harrison Ford as an "ordinary man" President.  I had just begun to watch The Parent Trap, staring Lindsey Lohan before she lost her mind (she was SO cute!), when a couple of clients showed up.  We talked about their situation and I felt lucky to be able to help them.  A little bit later, my friend from William Jewell, Judy Luxton, showed up with her brand new puppy, an English Mastiff named Finn.  Finn is seven weeks old, and he was very cute and reminded me why puppies are simply precious!

Judy was here because I had invited her to sing at Broadway Presbyterian on July 27.  I invited her to come to Sedalia on Saturday and spend the night (slumber party!) so she could sing at worship on Sunday without having to drive two hours before church.  We sat around and visited and talked, had a couple of glasses of wine, went to El Tapatio for dinner, and about 10 p.m., finally decided what she was going to sing about.  We then went to sleep to rest for the next day.

About 8:30 this morning, I got a text from a friend who said that she was coming over to sign my petition.  I hadn't seen her for a while, and so I was excited to talk to her.  I love the part of campaigning that allows me to see people and talk to them about what has been going on in their lives and with their children!  She signed, and we talked some more, and then I got ready for church.

This is where the magic started happening.

Judy and I got to church and started practicing.  The song we had decided on the night before was nothing short of spectacular.  She sang beautifully, and I played well - even though the song has five flats.  The service began, and Pastor Rob was talking directly to both Judy and me in his sermon, telling us that we needed to be "all in" for living our lives the way we were meant to live them.  That, of course, included doing music.  So when it was our turn, Judy sang her heart out, I played my fingers off, and we were stunned at the power of one little song.

I could barely see the music through the mist in my eyes.

Then we went to lunch and talked about being married.  Judy's husband was killed earlier this year, and she is still reeling from the suddenness of that change in her life.  Our discussion was frank and direct, something that I would never have expected even a year ago.  But somehow, through that shared music experience, it seemed natural to share other things in our lives that were just as natural and right as the song we gave to the congregation that morning.

Though we were having a good time, I had to leave, and so I waved good-bye to Judy, knowing that next year, we will do this again.

The reason I had to leave was that I was headed to a 65th anniversary party for the parents of my BFF (really - she and I have been friends since we were babies).  The party was at Highland Springs Country Club outside Springfield - so while Judy was heading back to Springfield, so was I - and I had bought a new dress for the occasion!

My friend Susan had prepared a short movie depicting the decades of her parents' marriage.  I sat and wept hot tears as I saw the pictures of not only the things that changed the world since 1948, but also her mother and father through the years.  It felt as if I were just reliving my entire life!

Another one of my good friends was at the party with her new husband.  Jo Beth's first husband died several years ago, when her daughter was in high school and her son in the fourth grade.  She raised her children alone, and then tragically lost her daughter to leukemia a few years ago.  At the same time, Larry's wife Janice was diagnosed with and succumbed to ALS.  About the time I left for Afghanistan, Larry and Jo Beth began dating, eventually married, and now are nothing short of moon-eyed for each other.  Seeing them together made me really happy.

Part of my emotional reaction at the party had to do with the fact that Hazel and Joe - Sweet Hazie and Papa Joe - spent a great deal of time contributing to my growing up.  Hazel fed me innumerable meals, and Joe gave me one of my first jobs - wrapping Christmas presents at the Five and Dime my freshman year.  I spent many a Friday night at Susan's house, listening to music, giggling, and talking about what was happening at school.  It was as if her family was my family, too.  So I watched the movie that jogged my memory about a white leather chair, a house with a pool, and two little girls who grew up and still like each other.

And now it is 10 p.m., and this magical weekend has come to an end.  I am still smiling - and weeping hot tears. But I am happy.