Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bow to Dr. Seuss, And Other Preliminary Matters

When I decided what to call this blog, I did not know–or perhaps just had forgotten–that in 1986 the late Theodor Geisel published You're Only Old Once!, a send-up of the medical profession for excessively poking and prodding and pilling and billing those who had reached the Elysian Fields of Medicare.  He subtitled this volume, A Book for Obsolete Children, a lampoon if ever there was one, coming as it did from an 82-year-old whose inner stripling was still in excellent working order. 

Dr. Seuss and The Cat in the Hat
in front of the Geisel Library on the campus of UC San Diego.
Sculpture by Lark Grey Diamond-Cates. Photo by Thom Watson.
I first encountered Dr. Seuss when he wrote about a boy in a hat, a peasant lad in the Kingdom of Didd who, try as he might, could not doff his modest red cap before King Derwin–that is, until . . . but there'll be no spoiler here. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1938) was the first book I remember my mother reading to me, and I have been a fan of the good doctor ever since. In the seventies, I read several of his books to my daughter, Amanda, who was equally charmed by them and is now reading them to her kids, Rex, 6, and Agnes, 4–at least when they are not pixelated by their videos, Leapsters and other 21st century distractions. Dr. Seuss emerges from his considerable oeuvre as a kind, liberal and generous man, which emboldens me to think that he would not have looked too sternly on my innocent parallelism. I thank and salute him as I embark on this open-ended journey, which, who knows, may well pass through the Kingdom of Didd.  

I also thank Ludwig van Beethoven, who perhaps more than anyone else is responsible for this adventure. In the early 19th century, he wrote 33 variations on a minor waltz by one Anton Diabelli, a Vienna music publisher; these "Diabelli Variations" would eventually take their place among the greatest and more difficult works in the solo piano literature. Almost 200 years after their composition, Beethoven's obsession with the work so fascinated the stage director Mois├ęs Kaufman that he wrote 33 Variations, a play that explores the dramatic process of the piece's creation, in part through the story of a fatally ill modern-day musicologist. The variations themselves are played throughout the performance, and for that Kaufman needed a pianist who had the score well in hands. The above-mentioned Intrepid Wife, more widely known as Diane Walsh, did, and after auditioning for Kaufman on an out-of-tune upright she got the job. That was in 2004, after which she appeared in the play at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, the La Jolla (CA) Playhouse and in New York, with Jane Fonda, returning to Broadway after almost five decades, as the dying musicologist.

Jane and Diane at the closing night party for 33 Variations on Broadway.
On January 7, rehearsals begin for a Los Angeles production of 33 Variations, with Jane and most of the rest of the Broadway cast, Diane again at the keyboard. When I insisted on reprising my dual role as roadie and groupie during the two-month limited run, she said:

Why stop there? Let's run away from home. The play may go to London after L.A., and even if it doesn't we can go there anyway, and to France for bicycling again, and to Vienna to see my sister, and to Vietnam to visit Tom and Heather, and to Singapore to see Jeremy and Tina, and . . . 

Whoa! Just how long do you propose being away.

I don't know. A year?

A  year! In all those different beds? Away from my doctors? You're mad. Besides, how do you propose we pay for this trip?

We'll sublet our apartment.

You mean to strangers?

Why not? They can't possibly break more wine glasses than we do.

And Stretto and Musette?

I love them, but they're cats. They're siblings, they have one another, we'll find them a good home. Stop anthropomorphizing.

Shhh. They'll hear you. 

Very funny.

Okay, what about Amanda and the gang? This query gave even Diane, better known to her grandchildren as Nana, pause. Amanda, Rex, Aggie and Gustav, son-in-law extraordinaire, live in Brooklyn, and we often pick the kids up at school and then have merrily chaotic family dinners afterwards. Dad, said Amanda at one of these free-for-alls, of course you should go. It's a great opportunity, I envy you. We'll be fine. We'll miss you, but you'll have a wonderful time. And, no, you're not too old! 

A week before Christmas, we rented a car and drove three-and-a-half hours north of the city, Stretto and Musette in their carrying cases, their silence leading me to hope they were more stoic than I was about our impending separation. We delivered them, and a trunkful of Feline Science Diet, litter and one well-clawed scratching post, to the country home of Carolyn Paine, a retired teacher who lives alone and whom we were meeting for the first time. Her cat had recently died, and when mutual friends told her of our dilemma she said she would welcome the new company. Her house, set off a dirt road, was cozy and warm, a wood-burning stove radiating in the living room. Musette began exploring this new precinct immediately, curling around the legs of chairs, sniffing behind the stove, and marking Carolyn's feet. Stretto retreated behind the toilet, where he remained while our host served cider and blueberry cake and told us, to our happy surprise, that we could have the cats back when we returned from our wanderings. We departed after about an hour, Musette now cautiously settling in, Stretto still cowering in the bathroom. Don't worry, he'll come out in time, Carolyn assured us, adding: Won't you, Stretto? She was talking to him already, which I took as a positive sign, having myself conversed for several decades with dogs, cats and the occasional zoo animal. 

Musette, left, and Stretto, before their rude awakening.
Over the Christmas holiday we packed, as I envied the brave and resourceful boys who, in other books of my youth, left home with only a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich wrapped in a red bandana tied to a stick. To make space for our subtenants (yet to materialize), we cleared closets, dressers, desks, medicine cabinets, and shelves, jamming the accumulation into some two dozen cardboard cartons and other receptacles. These we transported to a nearby storage space, where some months hence we will retrieve the trove and undoubtedly discover that it rivals the abundance of a block-square flea market.

Two more boxes went west by UPS, filled with clothes for Southern California and the other benign climes we hope to visit. Buried in the garments was a bicycle helmet, under which I hope to navigate Los Angeles on two wheels rather than four, as the natives famously prefer to. Some to whom I have revealed this intention find it at worst hare-brained and at best merely risible. I suppose the same could be said for starting a blog, but, then, you're only old once. Watch for the next post soon, meanwhile . . . . 

                                                                       Happy New Year!