Quill1

Puzzle Time!

Hello and welcome to Chuck Greenia’s Special Crossword Puzzle for Shut-Ins, 2020 Edition!

NOTE: You can print this out from here if you want, but if you’d like me to email you a version in Microsoft Word that you can either print or fill in on your computer screen, let me know your email address and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

I suspect that this one will be a tad harder to solve than most of the puzzles I’ve sent out in recent years — but then again, many of us have a little more free time these days, so I hope you’ll give it a fair shot. The solution will be posted in this journal on June 1st. If you simply must have it before then, let me know and I can send it to you. I hope you’re all doing well and that solving this puzzle is the most pressing issue on your plate at the moment. But even if there are more serious matters demanding your attention these days, I hope this puzzle will represent a welcome diversion!



ACROSS
1. Greek restaurant cry
4. Actor George
9. Spanish motorcycle co.
13. Pale
14. Bring out
15. Phaser setting
16. Sole
17. Isolation
19. Animation unit
20. French sweet
21. Brain test (abbr.)
22. Three (pref.)
23. Starring role
24. Perry the singer
26. Dutch chocolate co.
28. Fitting
30. In great suspense, as with breath
31. Declared
34. Possible result of crop failure
37. You & me, for example
38. Typical pencil end
39. Hite of The Hite Report
41. First word in a Falco song title
42. Most healthy
44. Rights org.
47. Slang insult term
48. Cheer
51. Boat implement
52. Actor Seth
53. Word with Iron or Bronze
54. Breathing aid
57. Slightly open
58. Leave out
59. Pertaining to sheep
60. Former Panther Newton
61. Proboscis
62. Dealt
63. Direction from Chicago to Toronto

DOWN
1. Reinsdorf or McCaskey, for example
2. Synonym for 13 Across
3. ___ Given Sunday
4. Hide away
5. Instruct
6. On alert
7. Land unit
8. Actor/singer Salonga
9. Bone prefix
10. Appearance of Jesus’ wounds
11. Nearest star
12. Chemical suffix
16. Tenth mo.
18. Japanese tech co.
20. Tennis player Stephens
25. Store sign
27. Baseball stats
29. Football stats
31. Protected
32. Soup dish
33. Home of ISU
34. Gave food
35. Vicinity
36. Inventor Guglielmo & family
39. “___ Out” (2010 hit, 2 wds.)
40. ___ on (get drunk, 2 wds.)
43. Roman emperor known for his column
45. Starbucks order
46. Magician Geller
49. First 2 words of a George R. R. Martin title
50. Phoenix film
52. Lively party
54. Erich ___ Däniken
55. Comic Philips
56. Actor Herbert
57. Frehly of Kiss
Quill8

Ya Got Trouble My Friends

Last night, we saw the Goodman Theatre’s much anticipated production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. If you’re not familiar with the piece… well, I don’t know what to tell you, because you’re clearly some feral child who’s been denied the benefits of human culture… which makes me wonder how you’re even able to read this. But I digress.

The first time I ever set foot on a stage, it was in the role of Mayor Shinn in a high school production of Music Man and a few years after that, I was part of the barber shop quartet in a community theater production. I’ve also attended various other productions, as well as countless viewings of the 1962 movie version, so I guess I qualify as an insufferable expert on the show.

The most important thing to know about the Goodman’s version is that it was directed by Mary Zimmerman. Zimmerman has built quite a reputation over the years as an innovative director. She appears to have a made a career out of radically reimagining established works, which makes her an intriguing choice to direct such a well-worn chestnut as Music Man. She has won fistfuls of awards in the Chicago area and has also extended her talents to directing operas in both Chicago and New York. So Mary Zimmerman qualifies as a heavy hitter in the theater world; someone who has carved out a unique identity on the theatrical landscape.

On to last night’s festivities — I’ll start with what went well, and I’ll move on to my complaints later. The show was handsome to look at from a design standpoint. The architecture had a stripped-down simplicity to it, as if it were inspired by Edward Hopper landscapes, but it was a good, clean look. The chorus was strong and filled with life and character. The choreography was well executed if a tad simple, though this actually became a kind of strength, because it served to reinforce the turn-of-the-century, plain-spoken Iowan character of the townspeople. The chorus should really have been half again larger, as some of the “crowd” scenes weren’t quite crowded enough. Whether this shortage of bodies could be attributed to either budgetary constraints or a directorial choice, I couldn’t say.

The romantic leads in the show are flim-flam man Harold Hill and town librarian Marian Paroo. Much of a production’s success comes down to the abilities of these two as performers and the chemistry between them. Here, the results were mixed (since the performers were all unknown to me, I will speak of them only by their character’s names). To pull off Harold Hill successfully, one must present a silver-tongued con man and – here’s the hard part – manage the transition to falling in love with Marian and giving it all up. So in the earlier scenes, we have to like Harold even as we see him robbing the townspeople blind. We have to see a genuine charisma and a latent humanity in him that finally bursts out at the end. I didn’t see it last night. Oh, he was a slick enough con man, but I never saw much reason to like him. The scenes in which he seemed to dote on Marian’s troubled brother Winthrop came across as either false or incongruous. I’ll grant you that Meredith Willson has constructed a narrow opening through which Harold has to fit his conversion, coming as it does only a few pages before the end of the show, but I expect a production at this level to pull it off, so when it doesn’t work, I’m a little disappointed.

As for Marian, her performance was everything you’d want your Marian to be — she was believable as the most well-read person in River City; her relationships with her mother and brother were sincere and lucid; and she nailed every note that the score asked of her. She made it clear – clearer than most Marians I’ve seen – that her affection for Harold was rooted in seeing how Harold’s presence had helped her emotionally troubled brother. While her actual happy ending romance with Harold didn’t quite add up, I don’t think she gets any of the blame.

Now we get to director Zimmerman. It seems, on the evidence given, that The Music Man may not have been a good fit for her theatrical philosophies. At so many points in the show, big and small, she seems to be straining at the seams to find ways to reinvent how moments work. I’m not dogmatic about this – I don’t insist that things have to be done the way they were in the movie – but there are too many moments when Zimmerman seems to be doing things differently just to be different, and in so doing, she ignores Willson’s text and makes it something less than it was originally. A big example: The romantic scene between Harold and Marian in Act II was not set at the foot bridge in this production; it was set by the town’s water tower. What we see on the stage are two huge metal legs of the tower on a stage that is otherwise bare except for the suggestion of a distant cornfield. As the legs are flown in during the scene change, it seems as if we’ve just switched over to a stage adaptation of The Day the Earth Stood Still. There is nothing at all romantic about the setting. It looks stark and industrial. If Zimmerman was trying to make a comment about the ongoing industrialization of America at that time, it came out as a clanking note from a different score.

There are also many small moments in the show where direct textual cues and clues are missed or mangled out of a seeming intention to find new ways to do them. The “Pick-a-little-talk-a-little” ladies in particular were robbed of what should have been good comedic and character moments. Look, I’m all for experimentation; that’s what rehearsals are for. And during those rehearsals, when we try something and it doesn’t work, we keep trying until we find something that does work. We don’t hang onto a wrong choice solely because it’s new; we look for something that’s both new and successful. And if the new way just won’t work, maybe we go back to an old idea and realize that it was done that way for a good reason. This is where the director’s desire to be innovative needs to be balanced by a consideration for the final product.

But after all of that, I come to praise The Music Man, not to bury it. This production often comes off as a really, really good summer stock production rather than as a cutting-edge professional reimagining, and that’s not a bad thing. Meredith Willson’s story and score – and a fine band playing in the pit – ultimately prevail. I may have my issues with it, but the many folks standing and cheering during curtain call clearly did not share my reservations. I told you at the outset that my history with the show makes me an insufferable expert on it, and I think I’ve lived up to the “insufferable” part. On the balance, River City, Iowa, circa 1912 was a pretty good place to be last night.
  • Current Music
    Iowa Stubborn
Blue

25 Years

[Reposted from Facebook]

Twenty-five years ago this week(!), I moved from Detroit to Chicago. To be specific, I moved from an upper flat in Livonia, Michigan, where I'd been living for all of three months, to the North Kenmore Street living room of my kind friend Karianne, who'd agreed to put me up until I found an apartment. In less than two weeks, I'd found a place walking distance from Karianne's and had ferried most of my belongings over to the new digs. I hadn't moved to Chicago blind – a job awaited me, one that paid far more than the temp work I'd been doing in Detroit. I stayed at that job for over 16 years, until my position was eliminated from the department's org chart. But here I remain today – still collecting a paycheck in the Loop, still doing graphics and related work (and whatever else needs doing) for a consulting firm.

But that's just my day job, so I wanted to get that part of the story out of the way first. I've also managed to do some theater here and there, including a five-year run in Tony n' Tina's Wedding, but I'm not here to focus on theater today. The overview of my life at this point has a curious dichotomy to it, having spent half of my life in one city and half of it in another. Each city has its own set of friends, family, loves, hates, triumphs, tragedies, and lessons. Even if my life is at times filled with uncertainty and dismay, my overriding feeling most days is that I am one lucky S.O.B. I've got a bunch of remarkable people around the country that I get to call my friends. I've gotten to go to some amazing places and do some amazing things. For some of it, I can take a little credit, and for some of it, I've been a fortunate bystander.

This isn't the essay where I bemoan the state of the world. This isn't the essay where I issue a call to action on behalf of common sense or humanity. This is just the essay where I thank every one of you for helping me along on this voyage of discovery. Along the way, I've caught glimpses of the past and present, and maybe even a few clues about the future. Along with them have come moments of pride and humility; moments of ugliness and beauty; and moments when a new perspective has transformed the world into something I'd never before considered. And I've gotten to create things – things that are of me and by me, yet which exist outside of me and become part of the world. Gandhi once said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." I don't claim to live my life that way on a consistent basis, but I've found that it's a fine star by which to steer. Long may our ship sail. Thank you to all my friends, near and far. If we don't connect, let's check in with each other 25 years hence and compare notes.
  • Current Music
    Friday I'm In Love - The Cure
Quill4

SO Clever!

My main email account is on AOL. This shameful fact probably brands me as an official old-timer, but… well, so be it. I’ve had the account for over twenty years. I well remember buying my first modem, plugging my home phone line into it, hooking it up to my computer, then connecting to AOL for the first time. I’d installed AOL off of a floppy disk that had come in the mail, which was how they did it back then.

Up to that point, everything had been pretty simple. I just had to follow the step-by-step instructions that came with my modem, then the step-by-step instructions that came with AOL. But now it was time to get creative – it was time for me to select my screen name. My very first email screen name!

Well now, I’ve got a reputation to uphold here. I’d devoted considerable thought to the matter, and I’d come up with a devilishly clever, triple-entendre sort of screen name, which I do not now recall. I typed it in, and AOL immediately informed me that my clever, one-of-a-kind screen name was already in use.

Well phooey! Okay fine, there are other clever people in the world. I pondered the situation for a while and came up with another dazzlingly inventive screen name. I typed it in, and AOL once again informed me that it was already in use.

This scenario proceeded to play out several more times, always ending in the same result. The cream of my linguistic talents turned out to be a step behind the times on every occasion. And each time, AOL would suggest that I might want to use a screen name that consisted of my first initial and last name. Oh please! ME, settle for one of THOSE screen names? Those poor, dumb AOL computers clearly did not know with whom they were dealing.

Let the record show that my AOL screen name for the last twenty plus years continues to be cgreenia. If nothing else, this was a lesson in humility.
  • Current Music
    I Got A Name - Jim Croce
  • Tags
Poople

Freak Show

We didn’t go to the state fair every year, but we went a lot of years. Being from Detroit, and with a dad who worked for Chrysler, we always had to stop at the pavilions of the various auto companies and collect brochures. On several occasions, we were there because my sister and/or brother were playing the guitar at one of the performing venues. On occasion, we got to go on rides, though my one experience riding the Wild Mouse put me off rollercoasters for some years thereafter. And let’s not forget the livestock competitions. Being raised in the east side neighborhood of a big city, our interaction with livestock was essentially nonexistent, so seeing the various sheep, cattle, pigs, et al on display was a thrilling, albeit smelly, experience.

But I’m here today to talk about the Freak Show. Yes, I know that’s a coarse, unfeeling way of referring to some of my fellow humans, and it was certainly not a term that appeared on any signs at the fair, but their term for that area (I believe they called it “The Sideshow”) was too vague and coyly euphemistic for my taste, so I’m going to call it what it was.

The first thing you noticed was the posters. They were huge and colorful, painted in a detailed, fantastical style that was old-fashioned even when I was a kid. They depicted a gallery of bizarrely misshapen, conjoined, scantily clad, and/or inappropriately hairy individuals who looked as if they’d been plucked from the shadowy corner of some netherworld, or perhaps from the pages of some twisted work of fiction that you would not feel good about having read. All in all, the place seemed to be filled with a promise of both titillation and the expanding of one’s mind. I lingered as long as I could whenever I saw those posters, staring at them and letting my imagination run wild.

Another factor that created a great deal of atmosphere was the barker on his loudspeaker. His voice was a low, loud, well-articulated monotone, saying things like, “See the Monkey Boy. Found in the jungles of South America, unable to utter a word of any human language. He’s real, folks. He’s alive…” The slight distortion of the barker’s voice as it came through the speakers only served to heighten the excitement; to seal the promise of a look into a forbidden world.

There was, I should mention, zero chance that I was going to be allowed to go in there and behold these wonders in the flesh. My dad made it crystal clear that he was not going to waste his money on that nonsense. What little else he said about it consisted mostly of assurances that what one might see in those tents bore little resemblance to the posters, and that it was nothing more than a way of cheating suckers out of their money. In retrospect, he spoke as if he’d been victimized by the sideshow somewhere in the dim past, but it never occurred to me at the time to press him on the matter.

There was something else about the atmosphere in that area that set it apart from the rest of the fairgrounds. It was the people as they went in and came out. Even as a child, I noticed that the clientele skewed male compared with the general fairgoer demographic. We can debate the reasons for that another day, though several potential explanations come to mind.

The other thing I looked for was the expression on people’s faces as they exited the tents. Generally, the look on their faces was blank and inscrutable, whereas the look on those entering was more eager and anticipatory. I tried to reason it out. Maybe they looked that way because their senses had been overwhelmed by the sights they’d just seen. Maybe they were still processing these unimaginable wonders. Or maybe my father was right about the whole thing being a scam, and these people weren’t willing to betray the fact that they’d been victimized by their own shameful curiosity. All in all, it made me suspicious because, in my mind, the idea of entering those tents and beholding those sights seemed to hold the promise of a life-transforming event.

I made myself a promise back then. I promised myself that when I was old enough to attend the fair on my own, I would lay down my money and take in the freak show once and for all. My father needn’t ever know, nor need he fret about the money I’d spent or the wisdom I might have gained from the experience. It’s a promise I have not kept.

As it turns out, I’ve never attended the state fair since I was a teenager, nor any other carnival that advertised such attractions. At this point, I’ve released myself from that long-ago promise. By now, I’ve seen plenty in books and on television about birth defects, their causes, their treatments, and the unhappiness some of those defects may cause. I’ve also read and seen plenty about the history of freak shows, so the bloom is off the rose with regard to my interest in seeing such shows in person. Heck, I’ve even seen the 1932 film Freaks. I would recommend a screening of the film to anyone with a taste for the bizarre – or a taste for old movies. Much of the original footage was edited out in the 1930s and is presumably lost forever, but what remains is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Many of the deformities and conditions on display in these shows are treatable and correctable nowadays, so the freak shows of yesteryear only take place on a minuscule scale now. And besides, we now have CGI movies that can easily create wonders and monstrosities far beyond anything you’d ever have found at a humble carnival. But remember: People haven’t changed all that much. They still want to have their minds expanded. They still want to be titillated. And they’re still suckers. Take a spin through your favorite web sites and social media sites and you’ll still find plenty of folks offering links to amazing, fantastical visuals and forbidden knowledge. And they’re real, folks. They’re alive…
  • Current Music
    Super Freak - Rick James
Quill8

My Commencement Address

Over the years, I’ve read and heard various college commencement speeches. Some of them have been magnificent. Some speakers possess a golden tongue, a dazzling talent for rhetoric, an instinctive knowledge of how to engage an audience. Some of them are able to articulate deep insights into human nature. Some have startlingly original perceptions on the human condition that leave one pondering their words long afterwards. Some are natural-born storytellers on whose knee you could sit for hours, listening to their word paintings.

I won’t name any examples of these fine speakers; it isn’t my point here to dwell upon the particulars of their speeches, but merely to say that this is the high bar to which any commencement speaker must aspire.

This leads me to a most fanciful thought, a wild “what-if” scenario that has an approximately zero percent chance of actually occurring: What if I were asked to speak at a college commencement? What could I conceivably say to a few thousand people, mostly in their twenties, who’ve been grinding away for years in various fields of study, all with the goal of receiving their diplomas and moving on to The Next Thing?

When I think of it that way, part of me has an even greater respect for anyone who undertakes the writing and performing of such a speech. But then another part of me rises up and becomes indignant; wondering how anyone has the gall to tell a diverse bunch of adult strangers how to think about their lives. I replay some of these sage speeches in my head and I think, “Where do you get the nerve to talk that way? How friggin’ big is your ego?”

But then I take a step back and realize that there’s another way to look at this. After all, I believe in organized education. I believe in higher education. Like most things worth doing, it is worth doing well. It can be one of our most powerful tools for fostering growth and protecting against society descending into chaos and mayhem (and yes, now and then people come away from college seemingly determined to cause chaos and mayhem rather than prevent it, but I’m painting with a broad brush here; the general outcome is far, far more positive than negative). On an individual level, education is a powerful tool that can empower us to take fuller control of our fates and expand our potentials. Therefore, I’d like to do everything I can to empower and inspire anyone who has chosen a path of higher education, so maybe this idea of commencement speeches is a worthy one after all.

So we circle back to that persistent question: What would I tell those cap-and-gown-clad folks if it fell to me to make the big speech?

The first issue I would have to deal with is the aforementioned issue of Ego. Ego isn’t a bad thing, you know. There are many fields of endeavor that would be impossible to execute without a healthy dose of it, but ego is a beast and a naughty little boy that must be managed and focused in order to become truly useful. So the most essential step in preparing the speech would be this: Accept and embrace that I have the right to speak my mind to you. I will do such research as becomes necessary, but the words and ideas presented must belong entirely to me. I must speak not as a deity on Mount Olympus but as a fellow traveler; otherwise, my speech is at risk of being nothing more than highbrow entertainment rather than possessing actual significance.

Upon further reflection, I realize that the single most bothersome element that crops up in almost every commencement speech is the notion, either explicitly or implicitly stated, that you new alumni, now armed with your degrees, are about to embark upon your public lives, as if you’ve suddenly become ordained and will now begin your public ministry. Yes, there it is. This is my message to the graduating class:

You have not been shut away from the world all this time. You have not been disconnected from a world that you will now begin to inherit. No. This world has been yours for some time now. You’ve already begun your adult lives. Whether you wish to embrace it or not, you are already creating yourself and remaking the world in your image. Every. Single. Day.

Your life is not something that occurs in the future. You haven’t been living your lives provisionally until now, even if you’d like to think so. That is to say, your college life isn’t something you’ve been doing until your real life begins. This college has not been a hiding place. You’re already in the world. You’re already changing it. You change it every day.

And so do I. I, who am so much older than you, I change the world every day I am in it, even if some believe I have already ceded the world to a younger generation. This is our shared identity as living humans on planet Earth, regardless of our respective ages and socio-economic positions.

The implications of our ownership of the world are considerable. It means that if I have been living my life only for my day-to-day amusement, then those actions (or inactions) are my indelible stamp upon the world. If the main thrust of my life is to work nine to five, collapse on the couch at night, and spend my weekends drunk and smiling – or drunk and frowning – then that is my sculptural tweak to the clay of the Earth. Am I telling you to live the life of a monk? To devote yourself to the betterment of mankind? No, I could not presume to say anything of the sort, nor do I embody that ideal myself. I do not seek or crave your appraisal of my life. What’s more, I don’t think you’re fit to judge me in such matters. I extend the same courtesy to you. I am neither fit to judge you nor fit to prescribe a course of action. My life is in my hands; your life is in yours.

All that I have to offer is a small reminder; an awakening of consciousness to anyone who wishes to hear it, and a question that only you can answer: What do you think of your life? No, don’t tell me the answer; it wouldn’t mean much to me. Answer only to yourself. Maybe you’ll like what you tell yourself. Maybe, very quietly, you won’t like what you hear and you’ll pretend you didn’t hear it, or you’ll have a list of reasons why you must be excused for not meeting your own standards. Those answers are all fine, but I believe you must ask the question, and ask it often, if you have any wish of finding your footing in life. Socrates said it long ago: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates was more to the point, more downright harsh, than I’ve been. I agree with his general sentiment but it is more in my nature to avoid such absolutes. Nevertheless, old Socrates made a pretty fine point. So my notion is not a new one, but it’s a notion that bears repeating to every new generation that comes along.

In closing, my fellow travelers, I urge you all to tip well unless your service has been truly loathsome, to keep your bullshit detectors finely tuned at all times, and to revel in any small true thing you may find along the way. As you exit, I’ll be selling autographs in the lobby.
  • Current Music
    My Old School - Steely Dan