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TIME WARP

Posted by Don Stitt on March 25, 2017 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This essay is for the fans of the Broadway musical, and specifically, for the fans of Stephen Sondheim.

I have just viewed Lonny Price’s Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, abeautiful documentary of the Broadway premiere of Merrily We Roll Along, and it cut very close to the bone for me. Not just because I was at the first preview of it, six months prior to making my own Broadway debut in the same theatre. (My show was a flop, too.) And not just because I have a number of friends and acquaintances who were in it, including one of the three stars, Ann Morrison. Not even because I show up in a still photograph in the last 35 minutes of it.

What this film achieved for me was the deconstruction of the great myth of Broadway. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen those MGM musicals. How a kid gets a break in a Broadway show, leading him or her to a life of bright lights, glamorous finery, and luxury.

It’s a documentary that shows the gritty reality of a show that failed. It shows that life goes on after the curtain comes down, and that the people involved must find a way to go on.

But it is also a story of redemption.

 I will always maintain that Merrily We Roll Along is my favorite Sondheim score, because the songs sound like the pop-inflected Broadway music that people of my generation grew up with. Like Company, with which it shares a director and librettist, the score is snappy. And funny. And touching. But unlike Company, at least for me, it also sizzles. I met Annie Morrison when she auditioned for a production of Godspell that I had been hired to choreograph at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in 1979. She immediately became a dear friend, someone that I felt strangely close to immediately.

Sitting in the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) that afternoon in the fall of 1981, I was charged with the electricity in the room. My friend had gotten a starring role in the new Sondheim show. My friend had arrived.

But not even Sondheim and Prince were immune to the caprices of Broadway, and the show closed shortly after the opening. Still, over the years, it has been presented all over the world, and the cast album remains one of my favorites.

The star of the show that afternoon was James Weisenbach, but he was summarily replaced by Jim Walton. (Weep not for the former J.W., as he has a successful career in Hollywood as an agent.) The film-maker of the documentary, Lonny Price, was the third star. But Jason Alexander made quite an impression as a Broadway producer.

Lonny’s film relies heavily on interview footage with Sondheim and Prince. (Sadly, librettist George Furth did not live long enough to contribute. I’m sure he would have loved this.)

But unlike similarly-themed documentaries, this one shows us what life was like for the young people who experienced the elation of a new Broadway show, and the disappointment of what life is like when it’s over.

 I have seen much of Lonny Price’s directorial work, and have a great deal of admiration for him. (He is currently represented on Broadway with the revival of Sunset Boulevard.) But this was even better than I had hoped for.

If you love Broadway, if you love Sondheim, or even if you have had to reconstruct your own life after a major upheaval and move forward, I think you will find much to appreciate in Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened. It features the effervescent of youthful dreams, the wisdom that comes with the passing of the years, and a generous dollop of humanity.

(And, of course, those snappy Sondheim tunes.)

A Day I'd Like to Forget

Posted by Don Stitt on September 11, 2016 at 3:10 AM Comments comments (0)

DON STITT

A DAY I'D LIKE TO FORGET

(On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I'd like to repost some words I wrote about That Day some years back)

 I remember the cloudless sky, the low humidity and the comfortable temperature. 

I had already read the paper and taken my morning bath. 

 I had voted when the polls opened at 6. 

 I had just made a second pot of coffee, and I was sitting down to play the piano. I don’t play the piano before 8:45 AM because I don’t want my piano practice to be a nuisance to my neighbors. But I had just looked at the LED on the VCR, and it said 8:45, and I figured pretty much everybody would be up, so I sat down to play, anticipating my dog’s interference. 

 I had taught my dog to “sing;” I had trained him to respond with a sympathetic whining howl to “Hello, Dolly” in the key of F, and now Russ would never let me play the piano unless he got to do his song first. He’d invariably trot up to the piano, put his paws on the bench, and wait to be picked up for his “big number.” 

 But something was different this morning. Almost at the exact moment he put his paws on the piano bench, a weird look came over his face, as if he had heard something in the distance. He immediately scurried around to the other side of the bench, curled up in a fetal position, and began to tremble. Even though the “trembling fetal position” thing was familiar, he only responded like this to two phenomena; fireworks and thunder. Fourth of July had left the poor dog scared witless some weeks before, and he would occasionally respond this way to thunder that was so far off in the distance as to be barely audible to us human-folk. 

 But this morning, the dog was responding to something I didn’t hear, and what’s more, it was a cloudless summer morning with a temperature in the 70’s and very low humidity. Couldn’t be fireworks or thunder. How strange, I thought. 

 I played for about 35 or 40 minutes. When I was done, I decided to go for a bagel at the butcher shop three doors down. As I passed through the courtyard, I saw Henry, the young guy who assisted the superintendant of our complex. He was watering the flowerbed. “Man, it was weird to see those planes flying into that building, huh?” 

 I smiled and nodded and kept walking, (which is my usual modus operandi when I don’t know what the hell somebody’s talking about.) 

 Immediately to the right of the entrance to my courtyard there was a TV repair shop. In the two years I had lived there, I had never seen a television on in the TV repair shop. But as I walked past this time, I couldn’t help noticing that the owner had all the televisions on. I walked in and gave him a “What gives?” shrug. The proprietor pointed to the TV in front of him. 

 I watched them replay the footage of the second plane hitting the second tower over and over, because it had just happened, and none of the newsanchors knew what to say or do. There was no footage yet of the first plane hitting the first tower. 

 A helicopter picked up some distant shots of terrified people standing in crashed out windows, engulfed in flames, and leaping to their deaths. These shots would never be shown again, and I’m sure I only saw them because live television can’t be edited. 

 Then, in a flash, the studios reverted to a live feed of the towers, and I watched the second tower collapse into a cloud of black smoke. 

 I thought back to an interview I had seen on 60 Minutes a few weeks before, and I gasped the words, “Osama bin Laden.” He had made a prediction of a major event that would take Americans by surprise. 

 And now I knew what it was that Russ had heard and been frightened by at 8:46 that morning. He had heard the first plane hit the first tower.

The next several hours are a blur. 

 I remember hearing on the radio that they were closing the polls, and the votes (like mine) that had already been cast that day would be discounted. A new election would be scheduled for the following month. 

 When I looked in on my dog, Russ, he was shakin’ like a Nash Rambler. I tried to hold him to calm him, but he didn’t wish to be held or calmed. He just wanted to vibrate. And so he did. 

 My wife called me from Western Connecticut State University, where she had begun a professorship the week before. 

 Looking back on it, I can say that I was in shock when I spoke to her, and later, to my sister. “Oh, calm down. It’s no big deal. Nothing to worry about,” I said, over and over. I was in deep denial about the horror I had seen on live television. 

 My wife informed me that she would have to stay at WestConn for a couple of nights, because they weren’t letting any cars come onto the island of Manhattan. 

 “Don’t worry about me,” I assured her, “there’s no problem here.” 

I remember Rudy Giuliani, who only days before was looking like a guy who’d be leaving office under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement. I remember him picking up a bullhorn and stepping into the war zone, rallying the troops, as it were, and creating the illusion of strong leadership when it was most needed. I’m no fan of Giuliani, and I think there are a number of books out now that will give us a more realistic representation of his mayoralty, but I will say that I’ll always be grateful for the strength and courage he exhibited in the aftermath of the attack. It was memorable indeed. 

 I also remember something else that day: I remember how characteristically brusque New Yorkers reached out to one another in uncharacteristic ways. 

 A young man offering to carry an old lady’s groceries, neighbors holding one another and weeping, strangers bumping into one another in the crosswalk, and checking to see that the other person was all right, instead of spewing invective and epithet. 

 It didn’t last long, but for about 48 hours, New Yorkers were all part of the same team. 

 I remember that we had the sympathy of the free world that week, and that we had more allies than foes. 

 I remember Christie Whitman, EPA secretary, assuring people that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe. 

 I remember the president telling us that he would get the man responsible, and that the man responsible was Saddam Hussein. 

 I remember how my dog finally calmed down when Liz came home to us on Friday. 

 And I remember seeing an American flag on the back of every firetruck that went by for years afterward. Flags became the must-have fashion accessory of the season. 

 This week will be the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Frst-responders to the catastrophe are suffering from illnesses like mesothyleoma and black lung disease. 

 And my little dog idied peacefully in my arms 10 Decembers ago of natural causes. 

 Much has changed since that day, and much has been learned. 

 And I must confess that my skepticism rises automatically whenever I see a politician wearing an American flag lapel pin now. 

 I don’t think any New Yorker who lived through it will ever forget that morning. So many heroes, so many horrors, so many images seared into our collective memory. 

 But the image that I keep coming back to is the cloudless summer sky, moments before death and devastation rained down from it.

60!

Posted by Don Stitt on January 21, 2016 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

1/25/16 is my 60th birthday, and I recently marked 50 years in show business. 


 This May will be the 40th anniversary of my summer in Beach Blanket Babylon, (which is still going strong in SF.) 

 And next year will mark my 40th anniversary as a union actor. 

“You’re an actor! Why must you tell everyone your real age?” (Fortunately, that old friend is no longer my theatrical representative.) 

Everyone says the odds of winning the Powerball are impossible. Statistically, I am more of an improbability. 

 Consider these facts: 

My great grandfather survived a Confederate prison camp. 30% of prisoners died in them. 

Mother survived a Japanese prison camp in Manila: 4,000 POWs. 2,000 survivors. (Mom weighed 79 lbs. when MacArthur “returned.”) 

Her water broke during a blizzard. Drunk, (but lucid enough to recognize that an ambulance wouldn’t get up the hill in the snow,) she drove herself to the hospital. 

 The baby weighed 4 lbs, and was covered in bruises. They didn’t have the term “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome” in January of 1956, but the doctor said the baby wasn’t expected to last 24 hrs. 

 Today, however, that baby has beaten those odds by 21, 915%. 

In January of 1956, Lerner & Lowe tried out a show in New Haven called My Fair Lady, Sinatra recorded I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and Elvis hit the Top Ten with Heartbreak Hotel, and on that particular Wednesday, Shatner was doing a matinee of Julius Caesar at Broadway’s Winter Garden. 

 And on 1/25/56, my wonderfully absurd and silly life began. 

I am happy to still be here, to still have most of my sense of humor, much of my self -respect, and to still be reasonably ambulatory. 

 I am happy to have begun my 7th year teaching writing at WCSU. 

I am grateful for having had the good fortune of working in a wide spectrum of creative endeavors. 

 I am lucky to have had more successes than failures, more laughter than tears, more good times than bad, and more friends than enemies. 

I’m proud to count actors, dancers, singers, musicians, comedians, clowns, magicians, teachers, librarians and writers among those friends. 

 (And one really good mime. But he doesn’t want to talk about it.) 

Thank you, my friends, for having enriched my 60 years on this planet. 

If I had to describe my life in one word, I would probably quote Robert Benchley’s description of Alexander Woolcott: 

“Improbable.” 

 But it has been a helluva ride on that seesaw, and it ain’t over yet.

Hemicentennial

Posted by Don Stitt on October 28, 2015 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

DON STITT 

HEMICENTENNIAL 

“May I have a volunteer from the audience, please.” 

These were words that would change my life. 

My friend Rob and I had a little magic act in Stamford, CT, that was composed of cast-off tricks from his father, Ed, a professional magician. When his wands, silks and production boxes were being upgraded, the leftovers went to our act. 

 Rob and I made $10 an hour giving shows at birthday parties and senior centers, and we had joined The Society of American Magicians, a very big deal to a couple of nine year olds. And it made Ed very happy, too: Ed would become the president of the Society of American Magicians.

 SAM always has their annual convention on Hallowe’en, the night that former president Harry Houdini died. And in 1965, the convention was held at The Roosevelt Hotel, a short walk from Grand Central Station. Ed had planned to take Rob along to the convention, and invited me to come along, too. 

I got autographs that night from Dennis Day, Kuda Bux, The Amazing Randi, and Henny Youngman, (whose grandson was my age, and a magician.) 

Off to the side, a room had been set up with a stage, upon which magicians could do their acts for booking agents. When we came in, a fellow named Chang was doing his act, with his beautiful female assistant. (I think she was known as Lady Chang.) Unlike a lot of “Chinese magicians” of the day, Chang actually was Asian, as was his lady friend. I could see that Chang was about to present a trick designed for an unsuspecting audience volunteer; it involved two seemingly identical props, one of which did the trick, one of which didn’t. In fact, Rob and I did the same trick in our little act in Stamford. 

 Taken by an uncharacteristically mischievous spirit, I told Rob, “If he asks for a volunteer, I think I’ll have a little fun with him.” 

 Sure enough, Chang said the magic words. 

“May I have a volunteer from the audience, please.” 

My hand shot up, and since I was on an aisle in the third row, I was the logical selection. (One that Chang may have been better off without.) 

I approached the stage, and stood near the prop table, (under the watchful eye of the beautiful assistant.) Because I hadn’t been the person to set the props, I couldn’t know which prop did the trick, and which one didn’t. (They were identical, after all.) 

But I was pretty sure that the one on the left was supposed to be on the left, and the one on the right was supposed to be on the right... While Chang was downstage with his back to me, explaining the premise to the audience, (comprised almost exclusively of other magicians,) I winked at the assistant and mimed “Shhh!” 

 And I switched the placement of the props. (The assistant shouldn’t have permitted that, but she was giggling too hard to stop me. And Chang evidently didn’t hear the sounds of muffled laughter coming from his colleagues in the audience.) 

Chang came up to the prop table and took what he thought was the prop that was rigged to do the trick. “Take your box, and go like this.” 

 But the prop didn’t do anything magical. 

I said, “You mean like this?” I executed the illusion the way nearly everyone in that room that night, probably, had done it at one time or another. 

 KA-BOOM! My first big laugh in New York. 

(I must take a moment to say that Mr. Chang was very gracious about my little prank, and even happily posed for a picture with me afterwards.) 

 AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT... 

The Manhattan Savings Bank, in 1965, was located a couple of blocks from The Roosevelt Hotel, on Vanderbilt Ave. at 47th Street. And the bank’s Vice President, a fellow named William Denton, was a magic enthusiast. 

 In the days before credit cards and Automated Teller Machines became dominant forces of the holiday season, banks had a lot of work on their hands at Christmas time with parents who had to stand on long bank lines, often with small children in tow. Bill Denton had come up with an idea to make Christmas banking more fun. 

The vast main branch had enough spare room in which to build a 99 seat theatre, with a stage and lights. Denton commissioned a Christmas musical, The Magical Spirit of Christmas, which would star Milbourne Christopher, a venerable magician and magic authority. Also in the show would be the Jans Brothers, little people who were European circus stars. And the pre-show audience warm up was done by an Argetinian sleight-of-hand artist named Maximillian. The show would be presented three times a day on weekdays, and four on Saturdays. 

 The plot involved Santa sending his magical emissary to the Appalachians, to make the season brighter for a miner’s family. (This was a hot topic in 1965.) 

And one of Mr. Christopher’s illusions in the show would involve a doll house for the little girl, who, when asked what she wanted, had said, “May I have a Dutch Boy doll, please?” 

The illusion called for Chris, as Mr. Christopher was called, to wheel in a dollhouse that seemed to be about 40” square. The doors would be opened to demonstrate that the house was empty, and would be turned around when the doors were closed. Upon opening them again, there was a Dutch Boy doll roughly the size of a GI Joe. The little girl would pretend to be disappointed that it wasn’t bigger. Chris would return the doll to the house, turn it around a second time, and upon opening the house, a larger doll in the same costume, roughly two feet in length, would appear. Again, the little girl expressed disappointment that it wasn’t “Really Big!” 

 With this, the doll would go back into the doll house, which would revolve a third time, after which...Chris would open the ROOF of the house to take out a “doll” in the same costume, to be played by a 9 year old boy, who would then come to life. 

Now, I ask you...if you’re Bill Denton...and you have come to the Roosevelt specifically to try to find a 9 year old blond boy to assist Milbourne Christopher with some magic tricks in a Dutch boy costume...and you see little Donny Stitt use a magic trick as a device to get a laugh that was loud enough to carry to Columbus Circle... 

 WHAT WOULD YOU DO? 

Mr. Denton spoke to Ed, and Ed told him he would talk to my parents. 

 And the next day, I was “booked” for my first paid gig in a New York show. 

 (An ill-timed bout of the Chicken Pox almost prevented it, but they seem to have wanted me enough to work around my delay in joining the rehearsal process.) 

I have always celebrated Hallowe’en as the anniversary of the beginning of my show business career, and this Hallowe’en is the 50th anniversary of it. 

 (I was paid for my role with a savings bond that my father promptly banked...and completely forgot about. When I was back in San Francisco with Can Can in ‘88, he found it again. With interest, it turned out to be worth nearly $2,500! No a bad take for a nine year old who had done four weeks worth of work.) 

I cashed a couple of residual checks last week, and I just paid my dues, so I guess I’m still an actor. And as of this Hallowe’en my career spans 50 years. Reflecting on this good fortune has reminded me of some of the shows I am most happy with which to have been associated. 

(They would include, but not be limited to:) 

 Beach Blanket Babylon (now in its 42nd year) 

Irving Berlin in Revue, which I co-authored and choreographed, and which ran for two years in SF.

A Kid’s Summer Night’s Dream, which got an Equity production in NY in ’79, and which I co-authored and scored

Patent Leather Shoes (my first original Broadway cast) still making audiences happy decades later

El Grande de Coca Cola (’86 NY revival, with the show’s creators) and which has a hit sequel now, too

Can Can with Chita and the Rockettes (Nat’l Tour)

A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (SJ Rep, ’89-90, with a dream cast)

Buddy:(the Buddy Holly Story) my third original B’way cast (and the best job ever)

A Funny Thing/Forum ’96 B’way revival,(replacement) Great Time!

Letterman (about 20 appearances, including one in which I caught a 40 yard pass from Joe Montana)

Law & Order (this one impressed the spouse)

Fame (Swiss premiere of a musical based on a film I had worked on in ‘79: A happy working vacation)

Seussical, Fulton Theatre,(I did the National tour, too, but THIS one was a happy experience)

The Voices in My Head Have Formed a Choir and Somebody’s Singing Flat! A show I wrote, scored and performed in at the Edinburgh Fringe in ’07.

Forty Second Street, Fulton Theatre, (simply stunning) always wanted to do it, was worth the wait. I have been a lucky fellow, to have had a career that has lasted as long as mine has.

And it all goes back to a night when my friend and his father invited me to go to the SAM convention.

And how the words, “May I have a volunteer from the audience, please,” changed the trajectory of my life forever.

A Bumpy Ride

Posted by Don Stitt on July 13, 2015 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (1)

DON STITT

 

A BUMPY RIDE

 

I have had a great many happy experiences in my 50 years in show business, but I want to tell you about one of the other kind. Forgive me for not identifying the show or the players involved. But I think this can give you a glimpse into the kind of entertainment circumstance you do NOT want to experience. This all happened on a National Tour of a Broadway show.

 

At the first rehearsal, a girl who had never done so before was appointed “swing.” The “swing” is the person who “covers” all the dancers. The songwriters stressed that the choreography for the show should not be “cute.” As soon as they were out of the rehearsal room, the choreographer started to teach the cast some choreography that was so sickeningly cute that we were a little mortified. The new “swing” wanted to do a good job, so she asked a lot of questions, mostly of the director.

 

At the second rehearsal, we were told that the director had fired the swing for asking too many questions, and her replacement was introduced. We were also told that all of the choreography we had learned the day before was being thrown out because it was too “cute.”

 

We had already seen a person fired, and we had to restage one entire dance, and it was only the second day. (The number in question would eventually be restaged 14 different ways.)

 

After our last rehearsal in New York, we went to the town where we would be doing our “previews.” Two performances in Niceville, Florida, (which a coworker observed should probably be called “Slow and Surlyville.” The technical effects for the show were overwhelming, and the technical rehearsals, which were not completed before the first preview, prevented any consideration being given to the acting, singing and the dancing. Heavy scenery was suspended all over the backstage area, and the performers were forced to walk under the items, most of which would be lethal if they fell on a person.

 

One dancer, before the first preview, said, “I don’t know about y’all, but I’m a Christian, and I’m going to pray before the show tonight. If anyone else would like to pray with me, please do.” Because we were all aware how dangerous our jobs had become, the cast prayed together before every one of the 300 performances, starting with that first preview. Including myself; There are no atheists in foxholes. I am somewhat pleased to report that there were ONLY three fairly minor injuries at the first preview, which I was convinced would yield at least one fatality.

 

Surviving the first two previews, (and seeing the overblown technics of the show eat up so much of the rehearsal schedule before being deleted,) we moved on to the next city for the Official Opening. The show continued to rehearse the cast and change aspects of the staging right up to the opening curtain. It was stressful in the extreme. But we opened, and we thought that things would begin to ease up a bit.

 

We thought wrong.

 

Our star was a Broadway veteran who had a distinguished career as an athlete before becoming an actor. So I think it is very telling that the athlete-turned-actor’s back muscles had become so tensed up that the star in question was unable to perform any of the shows in the first town after the opening. The star could not, in fact, even walk. The understudy went on at the second performance, without the benefit of rehearsal. And because the understudy was the aspect of the production that most of the tech support was focused on that night, I made my entrance at that performance in a $2,500.00 tailor made suit...and no shirt. (This made the overweight, tattooed wardrobe mistress with the purple hair feel as though I had made her look foolish. I now had an enemy in the company, one who would leave little surprises for me in my quick-change shoes, including, but not limited to, safety pins, razor blades, and thumb tacks.)

 

As we were traveling to the third city, one of our dancers was detained by the police. It seems that he had found a wallet, and attempted to make some purchases with the credit cards therein. Off to jail he went. We had lost a second performer before arriving in the third city.

 

At the third city, our star returned to the show. And we were told that on Thursday, we would shoot a television commercial during the day, and do our regular performance at night. Because so many union stage actors are also members of the unions that cover film work, none of us anticipated anything less than a SAG or AFTRA contract to cover our work on the commercial.

 

But when we were changing into our street clothes for the dinner break after shooting was complete, the voice of the assistant company manager informed us over the loudspeaker that our contracts were coming to our dressing rooms for our signature.

 

“And if you turn it in, signed, before you leave, you’ll each get a hundred dollars in cash!”

 

Suddenly it became apparent that the producer was attempting to swindle us out of the union contract that we all simply assumed would be a part of the process. This revelation led to some dissatisfaction with our employers which would continue long after the union contract, which a coworker and I made some frantic phone calls to obtain, was signed.

 

One of our leading players suffered from migraines. Very severe ones. At one performance, he was unable to perform, leaving the work to his understudy, who was on tour with his wife and twin toddlers. While I have no doubt that no one had expected the understudy to this major role to have to go on for a few more weeks, it was rather disconcerting to discover that the understudy did not know his lines. Seemingly at all. Which became more problematic because the entire libretto, or “book” of the show, was in rhyming couplets. The understudy attempted to hide a script where the audience couldn’t see it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see it either. And his attempts to ad lib in rhyme were simultaneously hilarious (to the cast,) and sort of pitiful.

 

Also in the third city, we were informed that the Production Stage Manager was being fired because of the chaos of the tech week in Niceville. I am attempting to keep this essay free from my personal feelings, but I must say that in this circumstance, there were a lot of people who should have been fired, perhaps including the director. But the Production Stage Manager had given his all in the service of the production, and he had, in my estimation, been scapegoated by the crew and the designers. I would be sad to see him go.

 

In our fourth city, a revelation came to light. One of our actors was an outgoing ten year old boy. He had become friendly with one of the adult dancers. So friendly, in fact, that he had shared a bed with that same adult dancer. While I certainly think that his mother was negligent in her parenting responsibilities in this regard, I guess you can’t fire a mother. The dancer in question was replaced at the end of the fourth city. And the dance captain, the person who “maintains” the choreography, had given his notice. We had lost four people in the first four cities.

 

In San Diego, the conductor grew impatient with his musicians. Said conductor was an unpopular fellow with the cast; at the opening performance, he became so enraged at the playing of the band that he literally walked out of the orchestra pit, leaving the concert master to conduct the remainder of the performance. Which was a relief...the concert master was a fine musician, and performed heroically.

 

The producers, however, offered the conductor a raise to return, which he did, for a time.

 

In Baltimore, we had to cancel two shows on a Wednesday because of a blizzard. We were all in a hotel adjacent to the theatre, so we all could have gotten there. But no one would have been in the house. So we got a night off for room service and “adult beverages.”

 

There was a girl who was under the age of consent, and she happened to be the daughter of one of the producers. She started sleeping with the sound man. Whereupon we arrived in a major city not far from Manhattan, and were told that we would be doing the opening night performance in that town with the sound board being run by an assistant who had never “run the board” before. I am told that no one in that city ever heard any of the show clearly while the assistant found his way around the board.

 

And perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that another cast member gave his notice that he would be leaving.

 

The crew for a big tour works long, hard hours. And they did so in New Orleans, where one crew member finished the load-out, and was photographed by the assistant stage manager, passed out cold backstage after the load out had been completed. This crew member was fired...and replaced by a heroin-user.

 

Performers continued to leave the show with alarming frequency. There was a time when a national tour was the next best job a stage performer could book after a Broadway show, but this tour was simply too much. I told my wife that I was considering leaving, too, but she convinced me that the younger performers needed a veteran performer such as myself to watch their collective backs, and I stayed with the show. I wish I hadn’t. The tour never really “settled in.”

 

Without question, the two worst-designed theatres I have ever played were both designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright, a man who revolutionized architecture, but seemingly didn’t understand the needs of a theatre. Our stop in Arizona played to awful sightlines and poor acoustics, and it was there that I was further disappointed by the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness failing in his bid to win the Triple Crown at Belmont. And the temperature in Arizona was over 100 degrees for the entire week.

 

By the last stop on the tour, it was decided that we would have a brush up rehearsal. But by this time, the director had become fed up with the tour, and declined to make an appearance. Still, because the last theatre we played was owned by the one producer who actually cared about the cast, we were relatively comfortable for those last three weeks. And the producer must have known that the aforementioned wardrobe mistress was evil, because she was told that her job would be done for the last three weeks by the theatre’s own wardrobe mistress, and was sent home early. (This was the best news I got while I was on the road with that show.)

 

I got on the plane for home after the final performance with a heavy heart. The entire run had been an ordeal, the sort of ordeal that comes out of a circumstance where the main producer, who has amassed his wealth with non-union tours, and whose crews are accustomed to treating non-union actors with glaring contempt, throws professionalism, safety concerns, and respect for the acting profession to the wind.

 

On the plane ride home that night, I felt sad that I had no happy memories from the Broadway show I had gone on the road with. While I had made a few friends, they were few, indeed. And while I had made a union paycheck for 40 weeks, it wasn’t enough to afford me any real comfort.

 

Happily, a little over two years later, I was offered a chance to recreate my role in a production of the show at a historic theatre in Pennsylvania. And some of my former coworkers were brought back, too. But the house crew was respectful, helpful and courteous. The director trusted the material, (unlike the previous director,) and had respect and affection for his company. The choreographer was quite wonderful; he only needed to stage each number once, and the choreography was pleasant to look at, while still being simple enough to execute while the performers were singing.

 

So when someone mentions the title of That Show to me, and makes light of how unhappy I was doing it, I reply, “I had a perfectly wonderful time doing it! Two years later, in Pennsylvania.”

 

And because of that production, I had finally acquired some happy memories (and a lot of new friends) from my LAST 32 performances of the show I toured with for 300 performances, all over the country. And that last stop made it all worthwhile.

New Rules

Posted by Don Stitt on June 19, 2015 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (1)

DON STITT

NEW RULES

After a night of tortured dreams, I have a few ideas I'd like to share:

1.) Clinton said it first, but Obama has said it, also. WE MUST HAVE THE UNCOMFORTABLE DISCUSSION ABOUT RACE. By avoiding it, we perpetuate the vulnerability of people like those churchgoers, and we enable the violence of people like that twisted young boy.

2.) Since the Second Amendment guarantees gun access to a "well-regulated militia," let us allow guns ONLY TO THOSE WHO ARE SERVING IN OUR MILITARY AND OUR POLICE FORCES. If you are someone who wants to shoot guns, enlist. (And while we're on the subject, since it seems pretty obvious that ISIL is the dividend we receive from the criminal invasion of a sovereign nation on the basis of lies and war profiteering, NEW RULE: IF YOU ESPOUSE MORE "BOOTS ON THE GROUND" IN THE LANDS OF THE MIDDLE EAST, WE'RE SENDING YOUR KIDS OVER FIRST.)

3.) We MUST make mental health a more prioritized consideration than it is now. We must make counseling more available. We must learn to recognize better the warning signs of mental illness. And we must get the people who need it into care.

4.) In a society such as ours, woven from so many different backgrounds and histories, I propose something radical: HATING PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU SHOULD BE RECOGNIZED AS A PSYCHOPATHIC ILLNESS. I don't know what made this boy mentally ill, but I do know that his "hatred of all black people" dovetails into it. We must address racism as symptomatic of mental unbalance, in 2015. We can no longer tolerate racial hatred. Period.

5.) Education has to be a part of our awakening here, it seems to me. We have to address the people who are in "denial:" That slavery was our national disgrace. That Chinese immigrants were forced into labor to build the Transcontinental Railroad. That the holocaust came perilously close to genetic annihilation. That apartheid was evil. That our country imprisoned Japanese Americans citizens unjustly during the Second World War. AND THAT THE WHITE MAN STOLE THESE LANDS FROM THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND SLAUGHTERED THEM. Feelings of white superiority tend to diminish significantly when a person learns how egregiously the "Aryans" have treated the rest of the peoples of the world. We must, therefore, reverse the trend of cutting funds for education, and make people better educated.

6.) Gun lobbyists, like the people who perpetuate Big Oil in the face of a global climate crisis, and the monied interests behind Citizens United who thereby perpetuate Income Equality (and thereby quash attempts to raise the minimum wage and lift Americans out of an endless cycle of poverty,) are only able to facilitate their treacheries because they are anonymous, and in effect, invisible. NEW RULE: IF YOU ENGAGE IN ANY ACTIVITIES THAT QUALIFY YOU AS AN ENEMY OF THE STATE, WE GET TO PUBLISH YOUR NAME IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

7.) Common sense doesn't seem to be very common any more. And at the center of this issue, it seems to me, is the issue of growing self-entitlement. One example: When you're driving, and you see people breaking all the rules of the road, it's because they think they're better than you are. When billionaires buy up every square inch of a neighborhood and raise the rents to keep out the poor, it's because they don't understand that for a democracy to function, it needs all classes. Without laborers, you have no one to cook your food, or clean your streets, or fix your roads. Without the rich, there isn't enough tax revenue to pay for a great nation. And by sidelining the Great American Middle Class, the big corporate interests are setting this nation into a death spiral, in my opinion. NEW RULE: NOBODY IS BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. THIS COUNTRY IS ONLY GREAT WHEN WE ARE ALL EQUAL IN OUR CITIZENRY. We must learn to respect one another and appreciate our differences. And the people who seek to make themselves "above the law" must be stopped at all cost.

8.) There is nothing "political" in what Pope Francis has suggested in his encyclical. When a politician tries to frame it that way, it's because the common sense initiatives put forth therein threaten the money that the politician is receiving from the lobbyists who are perpetuating the problem. IF WE DON'T ADDRESS THE CLIMATE CRISIS IN A REASONABLE MANNER, AND SOON, THE PLANET WILL BE UNABLE TO SUSTAIN HUMAN LIFE IN ANOTHER HUNDRED YEARS. AND THAT WILL MAKE YOUR DESCENDANTS SUFFER.

9.) Another lesson from the tragedy in Charleston, it seems to me, is that while not all of us are participants in the comforts of faith, faith does, in fact, hold comfort for those individuals who are. We must be respectful of the religions and beliefs of others. But no one mindset, in this regard, should outweigh any other. (And if you think that your Super-Church should be free of taxation, I would remind you of what Jesus said: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.") And I also need to make the point that faith is speculative, whereas science can be proved. Using faith to counteract science is detrimental to us all. NEW RULE: IF YOUR RELIGION IS MORE VALUABLE IN YOUR LIFE THAN SCIENCE, YOU GET TO SPEND THE REST OF THAT LIFE SEQUESTERED IN A MONASTIC ENVIRONMENT.

10.) Look, people. Our society is devolving, and we have to help it to evolve in a more positive way. Love one another. And if you can't love one another, respect one another. And if you can't be respectful of people who are different from you, then perhaps you need counseling. And if you need counseling, get it. And if you are mentally unwell, don't buy guns, (even if the NRA tells you that it's okay to.) There is beauty everywhere, in every one of us. Let us come together, as one people, of a nation whose fabric is woven from all the colors in the rainbow. Love your fellow man to the extent possible. And if you can't love that person, at least try not to give in to mindless, psychotic hatred. Rodney King was a tortured soul, but he said something during the LA riots that I keep coming back to, owing to it's innocent profundity: "Can't we all just, you know, get along?"

I wish you a beautiful, logical, educated, compassionate, meaningful and helpful day.

SMALL TRIUMPH

Posted by Don Stitt on February 20, 2015 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

DON STITT

SMALL TRIUMPH


The Internet Movie Data Base, or IMDB.com, is the internet source for veritas regarding what films a person has or has not worked on.


Because most of my acting work has been in the theatre, I haven't cultivated a lot of film credits.


But there was one film that I worked on in which I was so recognizable as to cause me to receive phone calls in the middle of the night from old friends who had just seen me on the late show.


The film was called The Wanderers, (1979,) and it concerned warring gangs in the Bronx of the early 60s.


Because one of the gangs was comprised of short Irish guys, I easily landed some extra work in it...provided I didn't have any objection to having my hair cut very short, to accomodate the period. (I didn't.)


Union negotiations being what they are, the Screen Actors' Guild told the producers that if they hired 100 union extras, they could use 200 non-union extras. Meaning that when shooting began on a cold late-autumn day at Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx, there was a 2-1 ratio of hungry young men with no experience in film to professional actors with union cards.


Two funny stories resulted from this.


The first one was meal time. Our lunch break, around the (empty) Van Cortlandt pool, involved box lunches. Everybody got a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda.


Because Animal House was then a recent memory, one of the non-union performers, in an attempt at being funny, stood up and hollered, "Food fight!"


Consequently, roughly 200 box lunches and their contents were soon sailing across the rim of the empty Van Cortlandt swimming pool, and there was much laughter from the non-union sector.


When the chaos had settled, we heard an Assistant Director over a megaphone declaring, ""If it isn't cleaned up in 5 minutes, nobody gets paid."


And the SAG members chortled amongst themselves as the hooligans scurried to retreive their lunches from the bottom of the empty pool.


But the better story shows up in the end of the film.


The four "gangs" had been directed to advance to the center of the football field at the climax of the film, and stare one another down. Clint Eastwood style. Just a cold stare-down. The tension was to be subliminal.


Ah, but...once again...the ratio of non-union amateurs to professional actors was 2-1, so...


When the director called "action," the slow approach that all the gangs were supposed to adopt and adhere to was gradually overtaken by a normal paced walk. The normal paced walk was supplanted by a brisk walk. The brisk walk became a jog. The jog became a run. And the run became the charge of the light brigade. With hooting and hollering and wild gesticulations.


Mind you, this was entirely unrehearsed. The momentum of the enthusiasm among the non-union street kids became a tsunami. And there was no way to stem the tide.


The four "gangs" converged on centerfield and began a mock brawl. Spontaneously. With fake punches being thrown, and wrestling-style "take-downs." 


I was wielding a baseball bat, but I didn't succumb to the excitement. (After all, I was a professional.)


I think most of the union guys were expecting for the director to call for another take. But the improvised "rumble" was used in the final cut. And I have to admit, it looks pretty good, too.


I have lobbied for the IMDB to credit me as "Ducky Boy with Bat" for literally years now, to no avail. (Which I thought was odd, because I'm so visible.)


But last night, I saw that they had added the credit. (Woo hoo!)


It may seem like a small triumph, but I wanted to be associated with that completely spontaneous moment in movie history.


The moment when a major Hollywood film was hijacked by the amateurs...who made for an exciting, if unexpected, finish.


And now I have that credit.

The Emperor's Proclamation

Posted by Don Stitt on November 17, 2013 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

DON STITT


THE EMPEROR’S PROCLAMATION


An Englishman named Joshua Abraham Norton received a $40,000 bequest from his father’s estate and moved to San Francisco in 1849. He became an entrepreneur who lived by investment. By the 1850s, he was worth a quarter of a million dollars.




But not all investments pan out, and such was the case with a shipload of Peruvian rice. He had heard that The Glyde, a merchant vessel, was carrying 200,000 pounds of rice. Norton believed that by purchasing the entire shipment for $25,000, he would be in a position to corner the market (in a city with a rapidly growing Asian population.)



But shortly after inking the deal, several other shiploads of rice arrived from Peru, thereby lowering the price of rice, and Joshua sought to nullify the purchase of the shipment through the courts, claiming the dealer had misled him regarding the quality of the rice. While the lower courts supported his argument, the trials continued for 4 years, until the Supreme Court of the State of California finally ruled against him. By this time,he had been undone by legal fees.


His bank foreclosed on his holdings, and he was bankrupt by 1858. He left San Francisco for about a year.


Upon his return, he wrote letters to the various newspapers, which contained an uncommon “proclamation:” 



“...At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton... proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to ... make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.”

—NORTON I, Emperor of the United States


(It should be noted that his title would eventually include the line, “...and protector of Mexico.”)


Mind you, in most great cities of the world, this man would have been regarded for what he probably was, a lunatic. But San Francisco is not just another great city of the world.


San Franciscans seem to have delighted in the arrival of an Emperor, mad or no, and embraced him. While he was still bankrupt and penniless, he was regularly fed by the best restauranteurs in town. He and his two canine companions, Bummer and Lazarus, regularly dined together.


His “uniform” was an elaborate blue one with gold epaulets, with a beaver hat, decorated with a peacock feather and a rosette, which was given to him by the Commanding Officer of the Presidio. In time, he would routinely parade down Montgomery Street at noon in his uniform with the dogs, and the three of them got their own box at the Opera House, where they would acknowledge their subjects before every performance.


To the extent that a man who received free lodging and free meals should ever need cash, a local printer issued him his own private currency. Local merchants would usually honor the notes, which read, 



"The Imperial Government of Norton I promises to pay the holder hereof the sum of ten dollars in the year 1880, with interest at 5% per annum...payable in gold coin.”


During his tenure as Emperor, Norton I did somememorable things. 

He called for abolishment of the United States Congress, citing that “...fraud and corruption prevent a fair and proper expression of the public voice; that open violation of the laws are constantly occurring, caused by mobs, parties, factions, and undue influence of political sects; that the citizen has not that protection of person and property (to) which he is entitled.” He subsequently abolished the Democratic and Republican parties.


He decreed that anyone using the abominable word “Frisco” should be fined $25.


During one of the frequent anti-Chinese riots of his era, Norton positioned himself between the rioters and their Chinese victims, bowed his head, and recited The Lord’s Prayer repeatedly. Eventually, the rioters dispersed without incident.


One of his proclamations called for a suspension bridge to be built between Oakland and San Francisco, and another for a tunnel to be constructed joining the two. (His proclamations came in 1872; The Bay Bridge was begun in 1933, and the Trans-Bay Tube was completed in 1969.)


When his uniform started to look a bit shabby, a new one was commissioned by the board of supervisors. In response, the Emperor issued a “patent of nobility in perpetuity” for each member of the board.


When a cop named Barbier tried to commit Norton to a mental institution, the police chief released Norton and issued a formal apology on behalf of the entire police force. Norton received it graciously and offered an imperial pardon to the arresting officer. Thereafter, all policemen would salute the Emperor as he passed them on the streets.


He died in January of 1880, the same year his notes would become due for redemption, (although no one ever tried to redeem one.) And as a result, many people over the years have asked the question: Was Emperor Norton I mad, or was he crazy-like-a-fox?


The question is irrelevant. The people of San Francisco loved their Emperor (perhaps because he was powerless,) and in San Francisco, madness is tolerated as long as it is well-intended. 

Everybody in San Francisco is a little bit crazy, but most people are happy, as well. In this context, madness becomes subjective.


Yesterday, the people of San Francisco came together to make a sick little boy’s dream of being Batkid for a day come true; when the call went out for volunteers to aid in the fantasy, so many responded that literally thousands had to be turned away.


Miles Scott ran through the streets of San Francisco with the assistance of a grown-up Batman, and battled The Penguin and The Riddler, to the delighted cheers of hundreds of thousands of supporters. By extension, he made the news around the world, and lifted the spirits of millions of people all over the globe.


For this reason, I feel it necessary to issue the following proclamation:


"Whereas Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, has been prevented from doing so himself (by a slight case of death,) I hereby proclaim myself the Emperor’s Interim Press Secretary, for the purpose of issuing the following statement:


“We, the people of the United States hereby declare and recognize Miles Scott to be Batkid, Victor Over Evil of the people of Gotham City and San Francisco, and declare that this title be afforded to him in perpetuity, with all honors and privileges pursuant thereto.



“Thank you, Batkid. You have saved a grateful nation from the encroachment of cold-heartedness and cynicism, and you shall always be our hero.”


And I sincerely believe The Emperor would approve.

9/11 PLUS 12

Posted by Don Stitt on September 11, 2013 at 7:10 AM Comments comments (0)

DON STITT

9/11 PLUS 12

 

I remember the cloudless sky, the low humidity and the comfortable temperature. A perfect summer’s day. I was discouraged that morning about not having landed the role of Clarence in Westchester Broadway Dinner Theatre’s presentation of A Wonderful Life the day before. I had already read the paper and taken my morning bath. I had voted when the polls opened at 6. Ihad just made a second pot of coffee, and I was sitting down to play the piano.


 

I don’t play the piano before 8:45 AM because I don’t want my piano practice to be a nuisance to my neighbors. But I had just looked at the LED on the VCR, and it said 8:45, and I figured pretty much everybody would be up, so I sat down to play, anticipating my dog’s interference.


 

I had taught my dog to “sing;” I had trained him to respond with a sympathetic whining howl to “Hello, Dolly” in the key of F, and now Russ would never let me play the piano unless he got to do his song first. He’d invariably trot up to the piano, put his paws on the bench, and wait to be picked up for his “big number.”


 

But something was different this morning. Almost at the exact moment he put his paws on the piano bench, a weird look came over his face, as if he had heard something in the distance. He immediately scurried around to the other side of the bench, curled up in a fetal position, and began to tremble.

 


Even though the “trembling fetal position” thing was familiar, he only responded like this to two phenomena; fireworks and thunder.Fourth of July had left the poor dog scared witless some weeks before, and he would occasionally respond this way to thunder that was so far off in the distance as to be barely audible to us human-folk.

 


But this morning, the dog was responding to something I didn’t hear, and what’s more, it was a cloudless summer morning with a temperature in the 70’s and very low humidity. Couldn’t be fireworks or thunder. How strange, I thought.

 


I played for about 20 minutes. When I was done, I decided to go for a bagel at the butcher shop three doors down. As I passed through the courtyard, I saw Henry, the young guy who assisted the superintendant of our complex. He was watering the flowerbed.


 

“Man, it was weird to see those planes flying into that building, huh?”


 

I smiled and nodded and kept walking, (which is my usualmodus operandi when I don’t know what the hell somebody’s talking about.)


 

Immediately to the right of the entrance to my courtyard there was a TV repair shop. The guy who owned it looked exactly like Joey Bishop. In the two years I had lived there, I had never seen a television on in the TV repair shop. But as I walked past this time, I couldn’t help noticing that the owner had all the televisions on.


 

I walked in and gave him a “What gives?” shrug. The proprietor pointed wordlessly to the TV in front of him.


 

I watched them replay the footage of the second plane hitting the second tower over and over, because it had just happened, and none of the newsanchors knew what to say or do. There was no footage yet of the first plane hitting the first tower. A helicopter picked up some distant shots of terrified people standing in crashed out windows, engulfed in flames, and leaping to their deaths. These shots would never be shown again, and I’m sure I only saw them because live television can’t be edited.


 

Then, in a flash, the studios reverted to a live feed of the towers, and I watched the second tower collapse into a cloud of black smoke. I thought back to an interview I had seen on 60 Minutes a few weeks before, and I gasped the words, “Osama bin Laden.” He had made a prediction of a major event that would take Americans by surprise.


 

And now I knew what it was that Russ had heard and been frightened by at 8:46 that morning. He had heard the first plane hit the first tower. I also no longer cared at all about Wonderful Life at Westchester Broadway. There were bigger things to worry about.


 

I remember hearing on the radio that they were closing the polls, and the votes (like mine) that had already been cast that day would be discounted. A new election would be scheduled for the following month.

 


When I looked in on my dog, Russ, he was shakin’ like a Nash Rambler. I tried to hold him to calm him, but he didn’t wish to be held or calmed. He just wanted to vibrate. And so he did.


 

My wife called me from Western Connecticut State University, where she had begun a professorship the week before.


 

My wife informed me that she would have to stay at WestConnfor a couple of nights, because they weren’t letting any cars come onto the island of Manhattan. “Don’t worry about me,” I assured her, “there’s no problem here.”

 


I was in shock and didn't know it.


 

I remember Rudy Giuliani, who only days before was looking like a guy who’d be leaving office under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement. I remember him picking up a bullhorn and stepping into the war zone, rallying the troops, as it were, and creating the illusion of strong leadership when it was most needed.


 

I’m no fan of Giuliani, but I will say that I’ll always be grateful for the strength and courage he exhibited in the aftermath of the attack. It was memorable indeed.


 

I also remember something else that day: I remember how characteristically brusque New Yorkers reached out to one another in uncharacteristic ways. A young man offering to carry an old lady’s groceries, neighbors holding one another and weeping, strangers bumping into one another in the crosswalk, and checking to see that the other person was all right, instead of spewing invective and epithet. It didn’t last long, but for about 48 hours, New Yorkers were all part of the same team.


 

I remember that we had the sympathy of the free world that week, and that we had more allies than foes. I remember Christie Whitman, EPA secretary, assuring people that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe. I remember the president telling us that he would get the man responsible, and that the man responsible was Saddam Hussein.


 

I remember how my dog finally calmed down when Liz came home to us on Friday. And I remember seeing an American flag on the back of every firetruck that went by for years afterward. Flags became the must-have fashionaccessory of the season.


 

It was twelve years ago today. New York, and everyone in it, was changed that day. We will always carry the scar tissue from that wound in our hearts.


 

I don’t think any New Yorker who lived through it will ever forget that morning. So many heroes, so many horrors, so many images seared into our collective memory.


 

But the image that I keep coming back to is the cloudless summer sky, moments before death and devastation rained down from it.


 

In some ways, I wish I didn't remember.


 

But we must never forget.



SYRIA'S SERIOUS

Posted by Don Stitt on September 6, 2013 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

DON STITT

 

SYRIA’S SERIOUS

 

 

 

Unless you have been sequestered in a bomb shelter deep in the bowels of the ancient world, you are probably aware that Syria’s dictator Assad has a full-fledged revolution on his hands. His nation is divided between the Sunni majority, revolutionary activists, and militant Islamist factions that are all trying to assume control. And it is claimed that he has been using Sarin gas on his citizens in efforts to remain in power. Sound familiar?

 

 

 

But unlike the run-up to the invasion of Iraq eleven years ago, there is striking evidence that these claims are actually true about Mr. Assad. This is not some cock-and-bull story involving yellow cake uranium that will allow a war profiteer the opportunity to pump $139B into the company for whom he had previously served as CEO; most people agree that this actually happened, and that a red line has been crossed.

 

 

 

What red line is that, you ask? Well, it seems that nerve gas was first unleashed during WWI, and in 1925, there was an accord in Geneva where the world’s military powers agreed that using chemical weapons should be prevented, as doing so was not effective warfare, and only ruined the lives of innocent civilians. (And if the idea of world leaders agreeing on what constitutes acceptable warfare strikes you as ironic, we are probably on the same page.)

 

 

 

So for nearly ninety years, the world community at large has agreed that gas attacks are unacceptable, especially when used by a dictator to reign in his own populace. And while Saddam Hussein does seem to have used this method on his own people, it was some years before the flimsy excuses that were put forth to justify invading his country and taking him out.

 

 

 

So why do I keep comparing the proposed military strike by the US on Syria’s chemical weapons factory with the invasion of Iraq if they aren’t similar, you ask? Simple. Because our invasion of a sovereign nation in the Arab bloc on the basis of falsified intelligence, to justify the murder of a quarter of a million innocent civilians, (not to mention the 6,000 casualties among our allied troops,) has permanently damaged the credibility of the United States with the Arab people of that region.

 

 

 

And therein lies the problem. Well, one of them, at least.

 

 

 

There is also the matter of the outcome of such a strike. Most knowledgeable people involved in the upper levels of the discussions agree that such a strike will not really have any lasting or positive effect with regard to reining in the abuses being enacted by the dictator in question. And it certainly will not remove him from power, which the Pentagon claims they have no interest in doing, anyway.

 

 

 

Our political and military leaders claim there will be no escalation from a limited strike on a military target to a boots-on-the-ground invasion, even though they concede they cannot effect meaningful change without such an invasion. The general consensus seems to be that Assad’s use of chemical weaponry on his own people cannot go unpunished because of the aforementioned Geneva accord, and because a violation of internationally accepted ideas of what is “appropriate warfare” flies in the face of what the world community can and will accept.

 

 

 

No one was upset when Assad killed tens of thousands of his own people with bullets or mortars. That comes under the heading of “acceptable.” But the use of chemical weapons crosses an imaginary line in the sand. (Which also seems to harken back to eleven years earlier.)

 

 

 

And while the United Kingdom has resolved not to join us in such a strike this time, (as they are still smarting from the humiliating discovery that everything they were told about the invasion of Iraq was a bald-faced lie,) our president and our secretary of state have concluded that we must act.

 

 

 

That the United Nations is discouraging such a strike is no more of a deterrent at present than it was eleven years ago, either. The people at the top levels of our government feel they have to show the world that the United States is not to be trifled with, because they are the only remaining super-power. (This is a flawed notion, in my opinion, as I think it is hard to look like a superpower when you are $9 Trillion in the hole. I submit to you that if there is a superpower remaining in the world, it is the one that we owe all that money to, China.)

 

 

 

In addition to which many Muslim people view the United States with contempt for reasons other than that of the Iraq invasion. We are referred to as The Big Satan, (in conjunction with Israel, which is called Little Satan.)

 

 

 

But ours is not the only government that thinks dropping bombs on innocent civilians in the name of protecting innocent civilians is a good idea. One of the nations that agrees with this ideology is Israel. And I think that speaks for itself. Certainly during the Jewish High Holy Days.

 

 

 

But wait, we have other nations who support us, too! There’s France, the nation that we demeaned for a lack of support during the ill-considered Iraq invasion. I guess that if they support our action, we can stop referring to a favorite side dish as “Freedom Fries.”

 

 

 

And in fairness, we also have diplomatic support from Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who probably have more American dollars in their respective treasury at the moment than we do. So no one can accuse us of acting unilaterally here; we have formed a coalition of the Yes Men.

 

 

 

Fortunately, our current president was a professor of Constitutional Law, and he does not want to go ahead with such a strike unless he has the support of Congress. The very same Congress that has blocked every initiative he has put forward, regarding such things as Veterans’ Benefits, the Jobs Bill, Unemployment Coverage, Economic Stimulus, Marriage Equality, Women’s Reproductive Rights, and The Affordable Healthcare Act, (which they are still trying to repeal, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld it.)

 

 

 

One would think that the GOP controlled Congress would seize upon this as another opportunity to embarrass the president and weaken his power. And while it remains unclear whether the Congress-at-large will support a strike, it was surprising to learn that the committee overseeing such things has voted (narrowly) to support this action.

 

 

 

Well then, if we have other countries that support us, and we seem to have our elected officials in rare agreement over such an action, what could possibly go wrong, you ask?

 

 

 

Oh, nothing much. Although I couldn’t help noticing that Russia is positioning warships in proximity to those that are maneuvering into place in the Mediterranean for the strike, and that they are allies with Syria’s dictator. And that Syria buys their weapons. And that Russia’s leader seems to still cling to the Cold War mentality that we are and always will be their enemy, even though there is no more Soviet Union.

 

 

 

Oh, yes. I forgot to mention that Iran, which has hated us since about 1953, when we put another dictator into place in their country, and which has demonstrated increasing animosity toward us since their revolution in the late 70s, has promised a retaliatory strike against Israel if we strike Syria.

 

 

 

And that Israel has promised to “respond with force” against Iran if they do. (Have I mentioned the fact that Israel isn’t the most popular kid on the block in that part of the world?)

 

 

 

Even Syria’s leader has called The Middle East a powder keg ready to blow up at any moment, and this remark was unrelated to the proposed military action against them. The Kurds, Shia and Sunnis all hate each other, the area is rife with terrorists, and there only seems to be one thing that most of them agree on: Bombing Israel sounds like a wonderful idea in any given circumstance.

 

 

 

And, of course, Iran has been working toward nuclear capability in recent years, and may already have it. And Israel has nuclear weapons. And we don’t really know what other nations have, except for North Korea, which seems to have nukes, and a crazy despot in charge looking for an excuse to bomb Los Angeles. (Unless Dennis Rodman is there, in which case all bets are off.)

 

 

 

My word count tells me that I have just composed one thousand four hundred and twenty five words in an attempt to explain this circumstance to you, so I shall attempt to be brief in my summarization of my opinion in this matter, an opinion which I will happily admit has little value whatsoever aside from, perhaps, amusement and entertainment.

 

 

 

If dropping bombs on Syrians in the name of protecting Syrians could easily lead to a global nuclear conflict, I submit to you that this is not the best idea to come down the pike since the hula hoop. Especially if all parties agree it won’t significantly change anything other than sending a strong message to a despot who has already ignored reason and compassion in his desperate attempt to retain his position.

 

 

 

Unlike the blatant, self-serving lies of the Cheney...I mean Bush... administration, intelligence supports the conclusions the president and secretary of state have drawn this time. And I agree that someone should do something to stop Assad, if such a thing should prove to actually be a possibility.

 

 

 

So I say we rent our warships to Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and at least make some money off the rental. If they prove to be hesitant to strike another Arab country, let them pay the French to man the ships and push the buttons.

 

 

 

And let us not give the Kurds, Sunnis and Shia any more reason to hate us than they already have.

 

 

 

Pass the Freedom Fries, please.


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