Sunday, April 21, 2019

WHAT IT IS -- week ending 4.21.2019

This past week, I was in New York City.  Not the entire week, but my wife and youngest son and three of our closest friends packed a lot in for three days (much of that being driving, for days one and three, but that's how it goes when you live in Maine).  It was an amazing, and tiring, trip, but incredibly worth it. 

DAY 1: 

Baseball.  Perhaps the greatest sport ever.  Played on a field of green, with boundaries that have stood the test of time and the advancement of athletes' physicality (even today, 150 years after the first professional baseball team was formed, the difference between an infield hit and an out is the thinnest of margins), lacking a time clock, a game of patience, of long, quiet moments, where one must be prepared to react in a split-second with a burst of speed.  It's a game of mental toughness, where one player tries to outthink another, where, if you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate or if your team loses 1/3 of its games, you're a success.  It starts with the words, "Play ball," and the objective is to get home safely.  It's a beautiful game, full of grace and athleticism, and it is wonderful.  And, if you're in New York City, you go to a ballgame.  (In this case, we went to Yankee Stadium, because our Red Sox were playing the hated evil empire) 

The game . . . was a blowout, and not for the good guys.  (Though my son will argue the point, being a Yankess fan . . . and a Blue Jays fan . . . and a Cubs fan . . . why not my beloved Sox????)  Chris Sale was starting -- that puts me at 4-for-4 with attending Red Sox games and having their #1 starter on the mound (3 times in the early 90s I saw Clemens pitch in Fenway; those were good times) -- and while we stood in line to get in, he breezed through the first two innings like a champ.  As we were finally entering, things began to unravel.  2 Yanks scored.  The next inning 2 more scored.  We left men on base, when they got on base.  Pinstripe flyballs went over the fence.  Red Sox flies dropped into the Yankees' gloves.  In the end, we went down 8-0.  The Yanks had 3 dingers.  And it was time to head back on the subway, to where we were staying. 

DAY 2:

This was the big day for us.  The one where we got to spend the whole day in the city.  The one we would end with a Broadway show. 

After getting coffee and bagels at the deli just down from where we were staying in Brooklyn -- some of the best coffee I've ever had from a small shop; it didn't even need sugar, just creamer -- we took the train into the city and stopped at a food truck to grab something to drink, as well as a sweet to top off the impromptu breakfast, for our walk around the city.  First stop was the tram ride to Roosevelt Island.  Only a few minutes, it provided an interesting view of Midtown Manhattan and was a good start to our day.  Then we found a Nike Town for our boy, and he spent his money on a new pair of kicks.  They're definitely cool, since they're nothing I would ever wear.  At that point, he was happy, and the day could progress nicely. 

From there, we headed to the Argosy bookstore (they had some amazing, old maps, but the price tag was far out of range), and then went to the New York Public Library, one of the places we absolutely had to see.  It was magnificent.  The architecture, from the marble railings inside, to the woodwork and paintings in the rotundas, and everything else about the place was just amazing.  Plus, I got a PB&J at the food counter to share with my little man, along with a couple of Boylan Bottling Co. sodas, so that was the bee's knees, yo. 

We continued heading downtown and checked out a couple more book places -- Forbidden Planet for comics and collectibles, and the Strand, for boooooooooks.  (you might be noticing a theme with this trip)  These were great, especially the Strand:  so many books, so many levels, and not enough time in the day or money in the pocket to do it justice.  Forbidden Planet could have been cooler, for me, if there were boxes and boxes of old back issues to dig through, but they, smartly, have transitioned to selling collections and original graphic novels, and their selection was fabulous, including a great manga section and areas organized by creator, so you can go directly to the Alan Moore or Grant Morrison spot and grab some of the best comics ever published. 

After all that walking, it was definitely time to relax.  We found a pub near the Strand and Forbidden Planet, Old Town Bar on 18th Street, where we could sit down, have a drink, eat something, and just let our bodies recuperate a bit.  It was a well-earned rest, and we (the boys) got to partake of the 110-year-old urinals, as advertised outside the men's room, which, when you stood in front of them looked as if you could possibly fall in and never be found -- they were something else.  Once we'd spent enough time there we went in search of dessert, found something that satisfied that craving, and then headed back uptown for . . .


Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, starring Jeff Daniels, directed by Bartlett Sher, at the Shubert Theatre.  

Sorkin manages to rework Harper Lee's masterpiece and give audiences a fresh perspective on "Mockingbird," while highlighting its relevance for the divided America, and divided world, we live in today.  Certainly, Sorkin retains much of the scaffolding and details of Harper Lee's novel, but the changes he incorporates into this adaptation, though often relatively small, are quite significant. 

As the play opens, you know something is different.  Scout's narration begins at the end, rolling over the question of how one could possibly fall on one's own knife, and leads into the initial legal proceedings of Tom Robinson.  This is Sorkin's biggest change, telling the story with a non-linear approach.  He intersperses scenes of the trial with those in Maycomb, giving us the lead-up to Tom Robinson's accusation while revealing the testimony of the witnesses, such as Sheriff Tate, Bob Ewell, and Mayella Ewell.  But within those trial scenes, we also get one between Atticus and his client, Tom, offering audiences a deeper, in relative terms, understanding of Tom Robinson as a person.  It's effective, and poignant, especially when, toward the end of the trial, the advice Atticus offers during their first meeting -- for Tom not to say he helped Mayella Ewell with her chores because he felt sorry for her, a sentiment a black person should never have for a white person, even a poor, white woman -- is ignored by Tom, as the prosecutor badgers him, and he admits to why he helped her, revealing the honorable character of this black man.  It provides for a powerful moment in the play and informs Atticus's closing argument to the jury. 

Another major change is the underlying tension between Calpurnia and Atticus.  During their interactions throughout the play, Atticus continually asks Calpurnia what he's done to make her angry with him.  She denies it, and Atticus notes an article he'd recently read citing passive aggression as a newly understood form of anger.  Calpurnia is steadfast, though, pushing aside the idea of passive-aggressiveness and going about her work in the Finch house.  In the end, we finally discover what it is that has put a bee in her bonnet.  She tells Atticus that she heard him, heard him say, "You're welcome," under his breath when he revealed to Calpurnia that he was going to take on Tom Robinson's defense, as if he, a white man, were doing the black populace of Maycomb a favor.  It's a sentiment not found in the book or the film, and some might argue it goes against the characterization of Atticus Finch, but to my mind, this humanized Atticus in a way that he'd not been before.  Though he is acting honorably, doing the right thing in defending Tom Robinson, he is still a white man in Depression-era Alabama, and despite his high moral aptitude, Atticus Finch is still a human being, with all the flaws concomitant that truth.  And to have a chink revealed in his armor makes Atticus not only more real, but also more relatable.  Though we may try, it is impossible to do the right thing all the time.  This bit of characterization may be new, but it feel true, none the less. 

My biggest takeaway from watching this play, even with the above mentioned changes that, in my opinion, added much to the story, was how funny it was.  Genuinely funny.  So many lines in this play got a laugh, and none of them felt forced.  While discussing it later, my 11-year-old son made a comment about what a dark story "Mockingbird" is, and yet, as I noted, it was really funny.  It's a writing maxim that drama should be laced with humor and vice versa, but I've rarely seen it utilized to such an accomplished level.  The humor came from character -- primarily from the narration of the three children, Scout, Jem, and Dill, all of whom switched from speaking at a point roughly twenty years into the future of the play to that of its present.  Dill, especially, provided a goodly number of laughs, through his commentary and interaction with others.  And again, it never felt forced, everything flowed naturally, and people reacted accordingly.  To have this levity in the midst of an ugly tale certainly helped to keep the audience engaged without overly burdening them with the weight of the primary narrative.  This, more than anything else, is what I will take with me into my own writing.  If I can even approach the level of Sorkin's craft, I'll be doing well. 

This was a phenomenal experience.  The Shubert theatre is a classic building, from 1913, which has staged many notable Broadway productions, and it was beautiful, inside and out.  The writing, as noted above, was exceptional.  The acting, superb.  And the play's relevance makes it an important event, today, right now.  Overall, I could not have hoped for anything better. 


This was our getaway day, but we still had one place we'd not visited that had been on our itinerary.  MoMA.  Since the museum didn't open until 10:30, we slept in a little and took our time getting into the city.  Once we got breakfast at a Greek Diner, Astro Diner, we headed to the MoMA.  It was packed, naturally.  We got tickets rather quickly, but then discovered the major impediment to seeing the artwork, checking our bags.  We were a half hour getting through the line -- duly noted for next time.  Once we got through, though, and knowing we had 8+ hours of driving ahead of us, we went directly to level 5, where the classic artwork is on display. 

Van Gogh's Starry Night.  Monet's Water Lilies.  Picasso.  Jackson Pollock.  Matisse.  And so many more.  It was wonderful.  Even though we were quick, I got to discover a handful of new artists and works I'd never seen before, while also reveling in the works I came to enjoy.  Another great experience, but one that was too short.  Someday, I would love to come and spend an entire day, or at least a few hours, slowly moving through the galleries.  That would be amazing. 


You see the bulk of the writing I did this week, right here.  I knew I wouldn't have the time to put toward a proper revising of the novel, so I set that aside for the week.  The two mornings in New York, I did work on another piece I'm writing for the W27 blog, but it's not coming together the way I'd like (might have something to do with the physical toll I put my aging body through this past week . . . ah, well).  And the last couple of days have been used for recuperating.  But tomorrow I jump back on that horse and start the push to revise the 100,000 words left on the novel.  I'm looking forward to it. 

No comments: