The Muses

November 30, 2015

 

The week before Thanksgiving was one I will never forget. My first musical stage play, High and Mighty, was gloriously produced by Southeastern Louisiana University. The creative team and cast, led by Jim Winter, was the A Team by all standards. I had the opportunity to work with people whose professional accomplishments I had only admired from afar up until this point. The production far exceeded anything I had hoped for, but something else began to factor into the whole experience; something I had not planned. You see, immediately after the production was placed on the calendar, I sent letters (the old fashioned kind) to all my friends and colleagues around the country whom I thought might be interested and/or supportive. The script had soft appeal to most, simply because they are my friends, but it had hard appeal to a handful of people because the characters, along with bits and pieces of the story are based upon them. Yes, fictionalized, but still rooted in a version of my friendships with them. Our young adulthoods, put on display for the world to see. It was all heavily embellished, of course, but still…still.

I must admit, it was with tender trepidation that I invited them to attend the show. Why? Because they might not like what I did with and to the characters that were born out of them. Over and over again, I warned them that “I have taken great liberties with your character. She is based on you, but I have heavily embellished and fictionalized the story and your…her…characteristics. I have made her a touch more desperate than you ever were. I have given her a fondness for the drink that is greater than anything you ever displayed. Etc, etc, etc. Hope you like her! HA! Ha ha! Ha. ha….”

Never in a million years did I expect the two main character’s muses to fly across the country, on the same day, to see the show. After all, production dates were nipping at the heels of Thanksgiving. Surely, these people would not be able to fit my little play into their lives. I had not even seen one of these women for over twenty years. Surely they won’t come, I told myself. Then, I will be off the hook of worry. Wrong. Not only did the two main characters show up, but so did another woman who is simply referenced at the end of the play, but never actually seen. Yikes.

The good news is that these three women, all of whom I met at an Upper East Side Presbyterian Church in the 1980s, were honored to be featured in my script. They got kick out of the fact that I wasn’t afraid to blow them up a little. Ok, a lot. Prior to the performance on closing night, they sat at my dinner table, eating my gumbo while I picked at my serving, warding off the nervous demons in the pit of my stomach. We all giggled, toasted and roasted each other just as we did over two decades ago. It all felt as though twenty five years had blown by in a second. My past washed over me in waves of mixed emotions; melancholy, gratitude, fear, joy, anxiety. At the performance, the two women flanked me like bookends. As the last word on stage was spoken, each of them grabbed a hand from me and gave it a squeeze, punctuated by tears and then a hug. In that moment, I felt twenty five again, but without all the weirdness of life’s uncertainty. At that moment, my heart was so full, I thought it might tip over. At that moment, I remembered why I love the theatre so much, and why I love these friends.

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Have you heard the good news? Apparently, drinking champagne, daily, is the secret to keeping your brain cells happy, healthy and engaging as you grow older. Goody, goody gumdrop. Sounds crazy, huh? Well, generally, I don’t put much stock in these breaking news reports, for they are sure to be contradicted and/or changed in a matter of years. They always are. This one caught my eye, however. Not because I drink a lot of champagne, although I may start. It caught my attention because my oldest friend (note-not my friend for the longest time, but my oldest friend), M, just turned 99 years old. She is not the 99 year old in marketing materials for elder care. No, no, she is more like the 65 year old in marketing materials for high end make up…or Hermes scarves…or overpriced skin cream. This woman never misses a gathering that will be intellectually and socially stimulating. She has season tickets to the ballet, the symphony, the theatre and more. She holds board memberships on cultural organizations of all kinds and she is the one to show up at meetings with a tray of bacon wrapped shrimp and a bottle of bubbly. She still “dresses” for all occasions and calls everyone “Dahlin.” No blue jeans, elastic waist pants or cardigans for this gal. No, it is high heels, hose and sophisticated dresses for M. She is gracious beyond compare and still regularly entertains in her home with quiches she has just pulled out of the oven and flowers she has just clipped from her garden. And if you don’t feel enough like a slacker just yet, now hear this. She reads approximately three books per week. And yes, she sips glasses of bubbly throughout the week. Champagne is her drink of choice and she wears it well.

All of her friends admire her and everyone wants to be just like her. That includes me, but if that is going to happen, I better start sipping. So Happy Birthday, Devine Miss M! 99 looks fabulous on you. Keep popping those corks.

How many Zeringues does it take to compose music for a new musical play? Apparently three, but only two of them have to actually be related. When I started writing my play, High and Mighty, I never intended for it to be a musical. I never intend to write a play at all. The truth is that in my job as an arts presenter, I was suddenly in the position of covering duties of those employees who were casualties of massive layoffs at the state university for whom I worked. It was an uncomfortable position to be in, for I had earned my education in theatre so that I could create art, discuss art, ponder art. Up to that point, my career in theatre had taken me onto the stage, behind the stage, and in front of the stage. It had been blissful.

Suddenly, however, I found myself having to be on site for all sorts of evening facility rental events, many of which had nothing to do with art of any kind, much less theatre. Corporate events, social events, political gatherings, etc. had invaded my world, and I found myself in the mundane position of having to unlock doors, periodically breeze through the crowd to make sure they were happy, wait until the crowd departed, then lock the doors. In between the big events (unlocking and locking), I often had two, three or four hours of time on my hands. It was dead air time, for there is only so much paperwork one can complete until there is nothing left. So what’s a girl to do? I decided to write a play…for fun, and so it began. I would leave my characters in my office, sleeping, during the day. But on nights of rental events, they were set free from their hiding places and invited right back into my head and onto my computer screen.

Before I knew it, I was enjoying the rentals so much that one night, one of the characters began to sing! It was then that I knew I needed help for, although I read music and am happy to sing and play it, I do not compose it. Since this was my first real rodeo, I had no idea where to begin. After much stumbling around in the world of composers, I decided that perhaps I should seek a novice, like myself. So I did. I invited my friend Bridget Zeringue out for coffee and presented the idea, along with a copy of the script, to her. A few days later, she contacted me to accept the challenge, but with one condition. She wanted her husband Drew Zeringue to be a part of this effort for, you see, he is quite the guitarist. Yeah, yeah. I knew that already. So off we went on this journey of making a musical. I would hand off lyrics to Bridget and Drew, along with bad cell phone recordings of me singing melodies I envisioned for the songs, and they would return a few weeks later with notes on pages. Over home made chili (thank you, Bridget) and wine, we would polish them, together. Sometimes we would meet at my house over crawfish etoufee. I think the food really helped. Something about breaking bread together pulls humans toward each other.

Once the tunes and the words were all happily married, Bridget announced that we now needed an arranger. That is the person who arranges all those notes for different instruments and voices. No problem though, because she had someone in mind. His name was Shane Zeringue. No relation. (Really? In Louisiana? Want to bet?) So we ushered Shane into our fold and cut him loose with the songs. He brought them to new heights, adding ebbs and flows to the tempos and the swells. He tailored the songs for instruments and voices so that they became one big happy family. Truly, Shane brought all of our efforts together and tied them up in a bow.

Together, the four of us are an odd match. At least I am to them. You see, we are of different generations, them and me. Technically, they could be my children. For many collaborative teams, this could be a problem, but for us it all seemed to work out just fine. I bring to the table years of living and stepping over things along the way. They bring a freshness, a youthfulness to the whole process and product. All four of us bring a love for the project. I am grateful for the Zeringue Gang, for they have enriched my story and walked beside me as we all learned how to collaborate. They are the best. And did I mention that two of the three of them are not even related…as far as we know?

Doc

October 28, 2015

This year is a big one for me, for I will see my first full length musical produced on stage. Southeastern Louisiana University is producing High and Mighty November 17-21. Consequently, I feel like a woman waiting to give birth. It is the strangest/most exciting/scariest/most intimidating thing I have ever experienced. The good news is that the script is in the hands of a master. Jim Winter was kind enough to read my script, as a favor, about two years ago with the goal of offering me guidance to either

a) keep going, but revise

or

b) stop writing and learn to paint instead.

What happened was unexpected. He took the script under his wing and mentored me through the revision process. At the same time, he orchestrated a series of readings and workshops to support the development process. He confided to me that new play development was his favorite aspect of theatre. This process was exhilarating for him. The crowning touch for me came the day he asked me for permission to produce it on stage. Wow.

That was over a year ago, and we are now into the home stretch of rehearsals. Jim has treated the script as a doctor would a healthy pregnancy. He is positive, capable and gentle with the mother. Still, he is firm regarding the final stages (no pun intended) of this journey. Observing him at rehearsals has been one of my favorite pieces of this pie. The man exudes the patience (again-no pun) of Job as he sets actors free to discover their characters. Never once have I seen him spoon feed an actor a motivation, a movement or a line. He Socratically offers fodder for development, then stands back and lets them find their way. It is the most generous thing a director can do for an actor, no matter how seasoned, no matter how green.

How did this cast, crew and I get so lucky to have Jim as our leader? Hmmmm. It was just in the stars, I guess. All I know is that my due date is November 17, and I am certain that this baby is in the best of hands.

Honey, I’m Home!

October 22, 2015

Honey, I’m Home!

A man in my neighborhood is extremely enamored with Halloween. The obsession is growing each year, too. A few years ago, this person, who shall remain nameless, decided to dress up in a vampire costume to hand out candy to the little children who rang our..I mean HIS… bell on October 31. Cute, huh? He also hired a student to repeatedly drop a bloody, ghostly dummy out the window of the second floor of the house as little Trick or Treaters walked up the front steps of the house to retrieve their annual stash of bite sized preservative, fat and sugar delivery systems. The children, and some of the adults who ushered them around town that night, were horrified as they were not expecting a ghoul to drop in front of their faces without warning. Witnessing their fear and terror was manna to this…person. And so it began. The annual challenge to out do last year’s efforts at horror. Every year, more bones, gravestones, spirits and special effects have been added to the menagerie of fright.

A few years ago, late one October night after a meeting in the city, I drove into my driveway….I mean MY NEIGHBORHOOD…I saw that THIS PERSON…had removed all the light bulbs from lighting outside the house as well as inside the house and replaced them with RED light bulbs. I assume that was to emphasize the whole blood and guts orgy that was to come in a few days. After all, the anticipation of the big event is half the fun, right? For days prior to Halloween, I….I mean THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE INSIDE THAT HOUSE…had to step over **#!&#! lamp shades that had been removed, special lights that had been installed, and miles of extension cords that were the lifeblood (sorry, no pun intended) of the entire show.

The year after that addition, I….I mean THESE PEOPLE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD, had hired a carpenter to complete some of the odd jobs that regularly come with owning an old house. Rotten wood, chipping paint, minor leaks. You get the idea. And actually, I am sure it was THE WIFE who had carefully budgeted and planned for the carpenter’s projects. This was probably not something she enjoyed doing, but she had done it, done it well and had even created a timeline for completion. Now, this is the crazy part. Without a word, the NAMELESS PERSON had sidetracked the carpenter into building a CASKET instead of plugging the damn roof leak! That way, THE MAN IN VAMPIRE COSTUME would have a casket in which to lie down. The children would have to pass right by it if they wanted any treats. Seriously. And yes by the way, this PERSON is an adult. He is an adult with lots of education. Go figure. Sooooo, as the wood remained rotten and the paint remained chipped, the LIFE SIZED, HEVY DUTY, TASSLE TRIMMED CASKET was constructed without a flaw. Hours and hours of labor. And the carpenter seemed thrilled! And neither the carpenter or THE OTHER PERSON found this to be odd at all!

This year, THIS PERSON WHO RESIDES IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD agreed to let his wife design the spookiness, as he realized that perhaps his efforts had grown somewhat out of control. She did a splendid job, for clearly the woman has good taste, draping the house with simple, yet elegant spider webs and giant black spiders. It looks as dignified as possible under the circumstances. And still, THE PERSON waits until she is going to be away from the house for several hours, and he begins tweaking. He cannot stop himself. Like Jack Nickolson in The Shining, he daily roams the grounds seeking targets for improvement. So, as of two nights ago, there are now ghostly, moving blue floodlights gracing the house. This is in addition to all the other lights in and on the house. Blue lights. Red is sooooo last year. And I must say, the effect is not horrible. It looks as though the house is surrounded by a moat and the moonlight is casting a hazy glow on the sloshing water. I have no idea what is coming next, but it will be something. How do I know this? Because we still have over a week to go before the big day. There is plenty of time for improvement. And apparently, THIS PERSON is always thinking about his next reign of terror. Also, this sort of curse never stops giving. Fine. Whatever. I am just saying that before this is all over, THIS PERSON’s wife may start to think that, actually, he looks pretty good in that casket. That is still to be seen, but I am NOT NAMING NAMES.

Booked

October 3, 2015

Do you remember the first full length chapter book you ever read? I do. It was The Hidden Staircase, number two in the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene. My mother gave it to me as a Christmas gift, and I think I was about ten years old. I started reading that book the day she gave it to me and couldn’t put it down. I read it as I walked around the house, stepping over wrapping paper and ribbon. I read it in the bathtub, a joyful indulgence to this day. I read it until I fell asleep and picked it back up the minute I awoke. I read it straight through until I finished. That was my first torrid affair with a book, and the beginning of a lifelong habit that has brought me peace when I felt overwhelmed, and quiet when the world got too noisy. Books have been lifelong companions to me; the family that never gives me a hard time. Books have transported me to lands I will never visit, and introduced me to people I still yearn to meet. Books have taught me about food, weather, plants, addictions and loneliness. Books have taught me about anger and gentleness, love and hate, hunger and sex. Books are the thing that I love most about many of my friends. To this day, when I enter a person’s home for the first time, my eyes scan the rooms for two things; the artwork they choose as daily companions, and the books that they are reading. You can learn more about people by perusing their home for those two things than you can from hours of conversation. Books and artwork speak volumes in their silence. The absence of them speaks too. That is why I dislike electronic reading devices. They rob us of the chance to get to know someone before we have even spoken. Books are the backdrop of a person’s interests. The only thing better than a good book is a friend who loves the same book you love, or hates the same one you hate, or loves the one you hate. My friend Cecily regularly sends me text messages that contain nothing but the title of a book and the name of the author. That simple communication is one of my favorite elements of the friendship.

My first official book club developed while I was living in New York in my twenties. There were a few of us from Hammond who had moved there within the span of a few years. Some of us knew each other fairly well, some of us knew of each other, and some of us thought we remembered each other, but weren’t quite sure. Ironically, some of our mothers had even been in a book club together at approximately the same time in their lives, so we decided that New York needed a Hammond Book Club. That is how she was born, the HBC. The truth was, we probably needed each other, and the books brought us together as divine intervention.

Once a month, we would gather in each other’s apartments, scattered around the city. Some of the apartments were spacious and inviting; a Hammond living room transported to the Big A. Some of them (ok, mine) were tiny and bustling with roommates and collages of furniture left behind by former roommates. Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Mid Town, Brooklyn. We shared meals, wine, opinions and stories from home. We talked about the book of the month and argued over whether the characters were noble or spineless. Uncle Tom, Frankie, Antonia. The list of names goes on and on. Those gatherings were like getting a strong dose of Louisiana when we were sick from the lack of heat and humidity. It was marvelous, and I miss those monthly gatherings with ladies who impacted my life more than they will ever know. You see, I was the youngest of them all, therefore grateful to be given a seat at such a sophisticated table. They wrapped me up in words and settings, with a glass of wine on the side. It seems like a lifetime ago. Still, if I close my eyes I can picture the setting. There is a tray of shrimp mousse and crackers, sitting on a cocktail table, just as our mothers would have taught us. I can see Ricki tossing her head back as she laughs with gusto. I can see Laura and Kit shaking their heads at something foolish I had just said. I can see Claire listening intently to an opposing opinion, knowing she is growing inside just by listening.

Soon after the HBC began, we started inviting other women to join us. You know, yankee women. And they slid right in there adding yet another flavor to the group. Throughout those years, we attended each other’s weddings, gave parties together, went to church side by side-ok, sometimes-, and cried on each other’s shoulders…sometimes. But mostly, we loved our books together. Loving books together is a powerful bond. Trust me, it is. I miss those days and that combinations of people. Sometimes, I think about trying to get all of us together again to talk about a book but, these days, we are all scattered around the country. Sadly, it probably won’t ever happen. Still, there are times, when I pick up a new book, that I wonder what those ladies are reading. I know that they are reading something good. Or bad. Or controversial. But you can bet that they are reading something, because that piece of you just doesn’t go away.

Graceland

September 22, 2015

Last week, I accompanied my pastor in taking communion to two ladies who can no longer make it to church on Sundays. One of them is residing at a hospice facility, as she is reaching the final chapter of her life on earth. The other is living in a nursing home, for she struggles with dementia and old age challenges in general. The prospect of offering communion to them felt inviting and daunting all at the same time. For those of us who participate in this particular sacrament, the ritual is comforting; a reminder that we live in the love, forgiveness and support of Jesus Christ. For those who do not recognize the holiness of the ritual, it must seem somewhat bizarre. A bite and a sip, along with prayer and contemplation. The entire process can take just a couple of minutes when only three people are partaking. No matter what your perspective is on the sacredness of it all, it is hard to deny that those who ally with it do so with devotion and gratitude.

This was not my first visit to our local hospice house. I had been there before to visit friends who were preparing for the ends their lives. The facility is quiet and well appointed. It is peaceful and has many characteristics of a private home, but is isn’t a private home. It is where people go to gently die. We walked through the door, signed in, and proceeded to ______’s room. She was sitting up in her bed, looking fresh as a daisy, as classical music played on her radio. Her room was a hybrid of a guest room and a hospital room, generic, yet cozy. A few of her personal belongings were scattered around the room. She had a stack of books on the table next to her bed. To a person not familiar with her situation, she could have been mistaken for a retired person having a delightfully lazy day. Our visit was filled with pleasant dialogue about friends, family, books, history and culture. She happily admitted that she felt well, and was experiencing no pain at all.

“I feel just fine! And let me tell you, this place is wonderful. The Episcopalians bring lovely meals to us once a week. And look here! I have my own refrigerator, so I can keep whatever I want in there. And the staff here is lovely. It really is so nice.”

I was somewhat taken back by her lightheartedness, but not completely surprised. You see, this is a woman who exudes grace. She always has, and preparing for death was not about to rob her of that.

After about an hour, we left the hospice house and drove to the nursing home to visit ______. She was not in her room, which was a touch alarming. We perused the halls and public spaces, and there she was in the social area, sitting in her wheel chair, chattering with a volunteer. When she saw us, her face lit up.

“Oh, look! It’s my pastor and his wife!” She got half of it right, anyway. “Oh, I am so glad you are here! Come with me. I want to show you something.”

She led us down a hall towards the bulletin board which outlined activities and menus for the month. Along the way, we passed others. They were all in wheel chairs. Some were asleep, some were awake and drooling, some were muttering, some were…just sitting. We found the board. Bingo…movie night…peach cobbler…Girl Scouts…Salisbury Steak…Bible Study…….You get the picture. The place was clean but still had that faint, yet common aroma. Eau de Nursing Home. A marriage of chicken soup, corn bread, urine and Pine Sol.

____________ beamed with pride. “I am so grateful. This place is very nice. Isn’t this place just lovely? It is so nice, really. After I broke my ankle and had to come here, I decided to stay. It really is very nice.” She smiled from ear to ear. “ I have my own little bathroom, but the room for baths is down the hall. They help you. It is all so nice.”

I was astounded because I would not have categorized this place as lovely and I sure as hell would not have elected to live there. Still, _________ found the establishment to be just shy of thrilling. The Ritz Carleton. I couldn’t blame this perception entirely on her mental state because I have known plenty of people struggling with dementia. Dementia doesn’t necessarily make a person delightful and grateful. This woman was those things and much more. She was positively glowing…because she loved her nursing home.

We finally made it back to her room and shared a communion meal. ____________ repeated her stories of gratitude over and over. Never once did she complain or drop her grin. In this place, filled with a herd of others in the same state or worse, she was uncommonly happy.

I have thought about these two women for days. They are both living in circumstances that could easily be described as sad, depressing, hopeless or dire. Still, each of these women overflows with joy. Gratitude oozes from them. Delight is in every breath. How can that be?

A friend of mine, a hospice chaplain in California, is writing a book about her experiences with people who are dying. She has consistently witnessed that, regardless of faith background or belief system, people who have lived their lives gracefully through kindness to others, generosity and forgiveness die just as gracefully. Her observations are that at the actual moment of death, those people have less physical pain than those who have alienated friends and family, and have lived miserly, selfish lives. Interesting. My prediction is that, when the time comes, death will gently embrace the ladies I visited. I would bet the ranch on it, and I know one other thing for sure. When my day arrives, I hope that I can share with others the same grace that they shared with me last week. If I can do that, then I will have done well. That’s what I think, anyway. I do.

His Majesty

September 4, 2015

Well, my husband and I have done it again. We have befriended a neighborhood dog who has quickly turned into our surrogate. His name is Tucker and I don’t know how this happened, but we keep doing this even after we have taken vows not to do it again. Since last summer, when our last dog died, we have sworn off pets, lest our hearts be broken yet again. You see, when our Yellow Labrador, Bubba died in 2014, the pieces of us that lived inside his heart died right along with him. Over a year has passed since that heavy July day but, still, every time I enter my house, I glance into the corner of the kitchen where his bed lived for 14 years. Still, on the quietest of evenings, I could swear that I hear his collar jingle from downstairs as he scratches away at his left ear. When he was still with us, I knew that the scratching meant that he had somehow procured a nibble of something that activated his allergies. He had been on a very strict hypoallergenic diet forever in order to keep him from scratching himself raw. Scratching meant that someone had thrown a potato chip over our fence, or I had dropped a piece of chicken on the floor as I cooked, or any other plethora of possibilities. Scratching meant that it may be weeks before he stopped itching so badly. So yes, sometimes I hear the jingle and, I could swear that he is still here.

The last day of his life was spent at the veterinarian’s office. It was blazing hot outside and Bubba was having trouble breathing. This particular vet had become a special person in our family over the years. She had been there when our other pups had reached their ends of days and she had treated them all with loving care along the way. Once, she had hosted a birthday party for her own dog, and had invited our Bubba, who won the costume contest as King Bubba, crown and all. That last day, she let us stay with him throughout the day until she had time to perform her duties gently, thoughtfully and lovingly, offering the dignity that Bubba deserved. Her courageous presence was the bolster we needed to get through the day.

Once we made the collective decision that “it was time,” she checked her patient list for the day so that she could ease Bubba into the afterlife in a manner that was not rushed. She told us that the best time would be late afternoon, after her last patient. She didn’t think that she could work further that day after she took care of Bubba. She loved him a lot, you see. That gave us almost two solid hours to spend with Bubba. So we agreed and I assumed that Tom and I would both remain with our dog until it was time. Tom surprised me however, when he announced that he had to leave. He had to go somewhere. He was vague, and it made no sense to me, but I accepted it because everyone copes with sadness in their own way. So I laid myself on the floor next to Bubba until Tom returned. He didn’t show up empty handed though, for clenched in his fist was a white paper bag with a logo across the front. Burger King.

The doctor explained to us that she would first administer to Bubba a sedative to put him to sleep. Then she would give him the second shot, which would stop his heart. The sedative would simply lull him off gently, preparing him for the second. It would take less than a minute for him to drift off to sleep and their would be no anxiety or pain. There would be no fear or discomfort. Dr. _____ alerted us when she began administering the first shot. At that same time, Tom opened the white bag and removed from it a Double Whopper, which he began to feed to Bubba one gentle bite at a time until he slept soundly, with a mouth full of beef and cheese. It was the first really decadent meal he had enjoyed in years. It was the first intentional food he had tasted that didn’t feel hard and bland. Can you imagine? It must have been the most unexpected surprise ever. It must have been unreal. It must have been heaven for him. As a mater of fact, I am sure it was. I know it was. Without a doubt, it was heaven.

The Clap

August 27, 2015

Having attended mainline Presbyterian churches for my entire life, I am familiar with the total aversion to whooping it up in church. We are reverent. We are respectful. We are attentive. We do quiet like nobody’s business. We are rarely tempted to sway to the rhythm of the hymns and anthems that permeate the pews on Sunday mornings. But why? Other churches do it. Some have rock bands leading their inner metronomes to glory, but the Presbyterians, well…the Presbyterians don’t do that…much.

In my younger years, on any given Sunday, I would start to feel the beat during a spiritual and inadvertently, my toe would start to tap. Unquestionably and on cue, I would get at least one disapproving look from some of the elder Calvinists in the room. At least, at that time, I interpreted their expressions as disapproving. What I didn’t realize was that they were not chastising me at all. They were trying to save me! You see, they knew what I had yet to learn. It isn’t that Presbyterians don’t want to jump up and down to the rhythm of the night. It isn’t that they find shame in clapping to the beat of the gospel. It isn’t at all that they do not approve of the Sunday morning clap. It is simply that they know an unspoken truth of the people of the white walls better than I. Presbyterians can’t clap. They can’t.There.  I’ve said it. Blame it on the grape juice if you must, but the reality is that they cannot clap to a beat. Oh, I know what you are thinking.
“Not true! _______________(fill in the blank), in our choir, claps all the time!”

Hmmmmm. Maybe.  Still, I challenge you to re-evaluate that person’s clap. If they are indeed of  Presbyterian heritage, they will not be able to clap to the beat. They may slam their palms together with a smile and the spirit of a prophet, but just watch them closely. They are off beat. I stake my husband’s kilt on it. It’s as though they are hearing music in their head that has nothing to do with the music that is actually present. The good news is that if a person has enough Baptist in their bloodline, they may be able to keep the Sunday boogie going, but chances are they will not indulge lest they make a spectacle of them selves.  And the irony is that Baptists are not supposed to dance, right?  Right?  Isn’t that the old joke about…Never mind.  The point is that until the theological bloodline gets watered down, the Presbyterian hands shall remain folded. It is in our blood. Think you have a real clapper? As much as I commend your optimism, just watch them. You’ll see.

Crowned

November 6, 2013

Recently I was invited to judge a beauty pageant.  “Are you kidding me?” you say.  No I am not thankyouverymuch, but I also had reservations regarding this task for, as I pointed out to the kind woman who recruited me, I know less than nothing about pageants.

“I am probably not your girl.  I will screw it up for you.  I will embarrass you.  Really.  I will pick the wrong girl and screw it up.”  She persisted however, pointing out that I would be good at the talent evaluation and that I knew fitness well (why thank you!).   I told her that I did not want to screw it up for their organization and she assured me that there would be plenty of judges’ orientation and  that by the end of the day I would be a pro.  So I agreed with trepidation.

The day approached and I received my judges’ packet in the mail.  Inside was a plethora of information about the contestants, judging guidelines and a schedule.  I was to report at 8:00am on the day of the event wearing business attire, although a suit was not required.  Good thing too.  I would be oriented, fed, put to work interviewing contestants and then given a break during which I would change into “evening attire,” which to me means pajamas. Clearly, I had a little work to do before the big day.  By the time it arrived however, I was ready.  I arrived fifteen minutes early so that my business attire high heels and I could make it up the stairs in time for the kickoff.  Not to mention, I was wearing red lipstick.  Nothing says beauty like red lipstick, so needless to say I was feeling pretty darn confident.  As the other judges began to arrive I started to lose just a touch of my mojo.  The first one to arrive was the most glamorous woman I have seen in a long time.  She had a long history in and around pageants and was wearing full throttle makeup.  Her lips were as red as mine but more plump and less wrinkled.  Her skin looked airbrushed and her every move seemed effortless.  Here’s the kicker.  She was several months pregnant and I didn’t even know it.  Next to arrive was a woman who was some sort of celebrated leader of the pageant world.  At least she was older than I and she was very kind.  It went on like this until we were all there.  Everyone knew everyone else except me, but they welcomed me into their world anyway.  We chatted over coffee and pastries until time to watch the training video.  None of the guidelines surprised me too much.  What did surprise me was the requirement to sign an affidavit stating that I would never discuss the contestants, my opinions or the judging process with anyone.  If anyone should ask about it I was simply to say that I had signed an affidavit agreeing not to discuss any of it, but I wished all the contestants the best of luck.   Then we were told not to react during the competition.  We were allowed to smile at the television camera when they called our name, but that was all we could do. No clapping.  No smiling.  No winking or leaning over to make a comment to the other judges (as if!).  No body language.  Nothing.  Nada.  Poker face.  They reiterated this over and over.  I got it.  I got it!  No problem.  I watch Homeland.  I know what to do.  No problem.

Following the afternoon break I reappeared in my silk evening attire and bigger red lips ready to smile for the camera. Still feeling dumpy next to Mrs. Gorgeous Pageant Veteran, I seated myself as far away from her as possible.  We were sequestered in a little room until the show was ready to roll.  We were briefed again and asked if we had any final questions. I sheepishly raised my hand.

“When do I go into the isolation booth?” Silence.  “You know.  The booth that is soundproof.  When do I get to go inside it?”  Gentle chuckles filled the room as Imperial Grand Wizard of Pageants smiled and shook her head.

“Honey, there is no isolation booth.  They don’t use those anymore, but if they did only the contestants would go inside them. These days the girls each get a different question.”  Shoot.  What fun was there in a pageant that didn’t even have an isolation booth, huh?  I ask you.  Where is the fun in that?

“I knowwwwww that.  I was just joking.  Hahaha!  Haha!  Isolation booth!  Hahaha!  Gotcha!”

And the night flew by.  Visions of beauties in bikinis, high, high shoes, evening gowns and spray tans whizzed past me in a flash.  Before I knew it, the night was over, my lipstick was faded and my evening attire was wilted.  We did our job as a panel and we had a winner.  No blood was shed and all I had to do was make it to my car without being interrogated by angry mothers.  I made it to my car just fine without even having to play the affidavit card.  As my head hit the pillow that night I thought of Bert Parks and Mary Ann Mobley and Vanessa Williams.  Ah, the times they may have changed for some, but for others, the parade goes on.  I have my own thoughts about it all but, well…I signed an affidavit  agreeing not to talk about it so………