Saturday, March 10, 2007


On Thursday nights after the workshop we walk through Times Square. We are jostled by the New Jersey crowds pouring out from Mary Poppins, which till recently has been New Jersey crowds pouring out of the Lion King. Dowdy people when seen against some of the people who in my memory used to be there. Limousine drivers now hold up signs with the names of theater-goers. Limousines that are rented, like limousine-company limousines hired for proms, not like limousines owned by some of people who once crowded into Broadway musicals, when musical theater was not for square suburbanites and not for late night TV jokes about gay proclivities. Musical comedies used to be at the heart of the culture, when a new work by Rogers and Hammerstein was awaited with great anticipation not by Disneyed Jerseyites but by people who also awaited Eugene O'Neil and Arthur Miller.

I was a child then and a long way from those old musical theater throngs.All alone I would play these fast spinning music records in a low-ceiling
Connecticut place, the smaller of our two living rooms.A small fireplace, a floor made of big wide boards that did not fit together very well ­ and big heavy antique pictures ­ flowers painted on glass and backed up by what looked like crumpled tinfoil. Tilting lamps on teetering tables. Old golf tees tucked away with highball coasters. Crushed cigarettes with lipstick on them. Dad¹s cheap drug store pipes and his Revelation tobacco. Beside an unhappy sofa stuffed with horse hair. A cabinet on the floor that also served as another table, with doors that you had to be careful opening because the hinges were nearly falling off. On one shelf the very breakable records. The other shelf had the record player.

Except on winter nights no one was in this room much except me. Carefully I lifted out each record and played each one over and over day after day. One was of "The Beer Barrel Polka." Another a song called "Pop Goes the Weasel." A set of records in a box of their own called "Songs of the South African Veldt by José Marais and Miranda." Some Bing Crosby Christmas records and some Barbar the
Elephant records. I played all of these records, except for the childish elephant ones, played them over and over. They represented something to me that
was not there, might never be there, but had to be somewhere.

Then one evening my brother and I are in jackets and neckties close up to a big stage in a theater down in New York City. I feel excitement all around me ­ the expectant chatter ­ the sight and smell of lovely women with bare shoulders who seem nothing like family women, and ruddy-faced confident men in new looking suits that would not hold dirty pipe cleaners.

All seats are taken, right up to the boxes and balconies, which look like happy places though they are not so close to the stage, at which everyone is looking even though nothing has happened yet. And now the lights are going down very gradually. A deep red curtain is going up to reveal another curtain, a pale one,
and spot lights are playing on it. And from down below, in front of us but below the stage, I see the flash of brass. A big man in a long coat struts up, raises a stick in the air, and music Starts ­ the music I had sensed all along was way out there is suddenly here.

I want it to last forever, but the music comes to a climax as the second curtain goes up, and it is summer in some great place of rolling hills and blue
skies and graceful trees with a woman churning butter ­ even better than what was around our New Hampshire summer place ­ even more real than at our own summer place - and a man in a cowboy hat walks out on the stage looking strong and then happy, and the music is sounding like the soft summer day, and then it gets strong and the theater is filled with his singing:

There¹s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
There¹s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant¹s eye,
And it seems to be climbing clear up the sky.

Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I¹ve got a beautiful feeling,
Everything¹s going my way.

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