Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Road to Nostalgia is a Haunted Highway

On a recent road trip to Michigan for a family reunion, I decided to take a short side journey to visit my childhood home in Ohio. And though I’d been warned “you can never go home again,” it wasn’t as nostalgic as I thought it would be. In fact, the old neighborhood had grown so full of tall trees and massive shrubbery that I couldn’t even see my old house from the street. Not all of it anyway. The pines and maples my parents had planted way back in the sixties were now towering over the structure, surrounding it in a dark forest-like atmosphere that made it look more like Snow White’s cottage than a two story colonial. In my memory, the yard was always very open and the trees were much shorter and you could actually see the sky and clouds, and even lay out to get a tan. (Before we all learned that wasn’t such a great thing to do.) But now, it was rather dark and foreboding, and didn’t hold any of the charm I’d remembered from my youth.

So, after about ten minutes of staking out the old neighborhood, I continued my journey to Cleveland, which would be the halfway point and my rest stop for the evening. As a child, I remember countless trips to Cleveland every Christmas to visit the Twigbee Shop at the Terminal Tower Higbees, and then seeing all the touring companies of Broadway shows when they played at the Hanna theater downtown. So though Cleveland had always been somewhat of a joke among comedians when I was growing up, especially after the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, it would always hold a special place for me.

But again, like my old neighborhood, Cleveland almost seemed like a foreign country to me. The downtown area, which was usually busy on a normal weekday, seemed all but deserted when I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. There were numerous stores that had been boarded up or were out of business, and the streets were pretty empty. There wasn’t a hustle or a bustle to be found anywhere. Even at five o’clock when most people would be hurrying to get home from a long day at work, there didn’t seem to be much action on the streets.

The next day, on my way to Michigan, I passed by a giant Uncle Sam on the highway. It reminded me of traveling across the country as a kid, and stopping at every tourist attraction that claimed to have the “world’s largest ball of string” or the “fattest chicken on record.” Finally, something from my youth that I could hold onto. I immediately pulled over and took some pictures.

Later the same day, I saw a “Big Boy” restaurant and stopped in for another possible trip down memory lane. As a youth, I’d always loved the Big Boy burgers and shakes, and all the comic books and toys you could get by going there. It became one of my family’s favorite haunts when we were on road trips. (Well, that and Stuckey’s, whose billboard signs along the roadway were notorious for enticing the tired traveler with their “world famous pecan logs” or souvenirs and novelties for the kids.) And though the Big Boy burger didn’t taste as great as I’d remembered, and there weren’t any comic books to be seen, it was nice to spend a little time in an atmosphere that reeked of good old-fashioned kitsch.

But the most memorable piece of the trip came when I happened to notice a sign along the Michigan highway that read “Prison Area. Please do not pick up any hitchhikers.” The very fact that they had to post such a sign was rather disturbing, as it obviously meant they’d not only had a huge problem with such occurrences in the past, but that it continued to be a touchy issue in the present. It also made me feel like there must be a preponderance of prison riots and breakouts in the area that would allow such hitchhikers to suddenly emerge on the highway at all. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a similar sign posted about two miles down the road, which meant the problem area must be growing. Whatever the reason for the signs, I didn’t stop or pull over for food for the next fifty miles, let alone pick up a hitchhiker (which I would never do anyway.)

So those are the highlights of my little road trip to the Midwest. Have you had any trips this summer that took you down your own memory lanes?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cat Clips--Bedroom Bickering

Please click on the photo above to watch the next episode in the "Cat Clips" series, entitled "Bedroom Bickering." In this episode, the cats debate various topics while sitting atop a very high bed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Trey’s Big Adventure and My Test of Faith

There are times in life that test our patience, our strength and our faith. And I don’t necessarily mean religious faith; but rather the kind of faith that everything will turn out as it should, if you just give it time. After all, isn’t that why we all keep going---to make sure that everything turns out as it should? (Or is it to stay one step ahead of our creditors? I can never remember which.) Anyway, this past week I went through three days of roller coaster emotions after one of my cats (Trey) decided he wanted to explore the universe outside the comforts of my yard.

It all began one morning when I went downstairs to feed the cats. It is our morning ritual—They wait at the top of the stairs for me to wake up, and then as soon as I make even the slightest movement toward the stairs, they fly down in leaps and bounds to be the first in the kitchen. And even though I didn’t see Trey among them that morning, I figured he might be sleeping somewhere and would certainly get aroused as soon as he heard the familiar sounds of food preparation.

But when Trey didn’t come running after all the other cats began gorging, I began to search his familiar hiding spots to see if he was just lazy, or perhaps even sick. After a very thorough half hour of searching, I began to panic. Where the heck could he be? Even his hiding places were empty.

And then it hit me. I had gone out late the night before to empty the trash, and perhaps he slipped out the door without me seeing him. As he is an all-black cat (except for a small patch of white on his neck), he can easily blend in with the dark areas of our backyard. And because he’s so fast, you don’t even notice him flying out underneath you until later when you happened to be glancing out the window and suddenly notice a familiar black cat happily prancing about outside.

In the past when this has happened, Trey usually stays in the backyard until I open the door to let him back in. The backyard is fenced in, and there are plenty of plants, trees, birds, bugs and catnip to amuse him while he’s out there, but I never let him out (intentionally) unless I’m back there to watch him. So on the few occasions when he has slipped out without me noticing, it’s always been somewhat of a shock, since I usually credit myself with having a keen sense of my surroundings. (Though perhaps since moving to the suburbs, my NYC skill set has become somewhat lax.)

So after searching through the many bushes and plants in the backyard, as well as the garage, I nervously began expanding my search through the front yard (which is not fenced in) and the neighbors yards. I brought along a bag of his favorite food and began shaking it, and after that didn’t work, I plugged the electric can opener into the outlet in the backyard, and began cranking it’s familiar “whirring” sound through a megaphone, in hopes this would bring Trey running. (The sound of the can opener always signals the opening of a tuna can. And no matter how asleep the cats are, or how far away, they always come running to the sound of the “whirring.”) Only this time, Trey did not come.

Nor did he show up that evening, or any of the following day. I called all the local shelters and the police station and the animal control center to let them know my cat was missing. And I also flooded the neighborhood with flyers offering a reward for the missing cat, and told all my neighbors to be on the lookout. But though I kept convincing myself that he would come back and all would be well, the fear of the unknown kept getting the better of me. What if he got hurt? What if he was picked up by someone? Or hit by a car and was laying on the road somewhere?

As my mind began to move to these darker thoughts, something inside kept telling me to stop putting those negative images out there. If I really wanted Trey to come back, I needed to believe that he would. That he was just off having an adventure somewhere and as soon as he got tired or hungry, he would find his way back to his happy little home.

That night, as I went to bed, my head was filled with thoughts of Trey. I tried mentally calling to him, hoping that there was some kind of telepathic connection I could forge with him, to help guide him home. I fell asleep, calling his name and turning on and off the can opener (in my mind, of course).

The next morning, I woke up at six am for some reason. The cats were all very happy to see my early rise, and scampered downstairs ahead of me to wait for their reward. But before laying out their food, I decided to glance out the back door just to see if any of the food I had put out the previous night had been eaten. The back door is constructed of a glass design that distorts anything you see through it, but that morning there was no mistaking the movement of a familiar black tail wagging on the other side.

As I tripped over myself to get the door open as fast as I could, my eyes started watering with the sheer joy of his return. I quickly unlocked the screen door and then opened it slowly as not to frighten him. And in he came, perky and peppy, as if he’d only been gone for five minutes.

But did I scold him or get mad? NO! I must have spent the next hour making sure he was all right, and petting him, and brushing him, and giving him so much attention, the other cats were probably considering their own temporary escape for a while. After all, if this is the kind of pampering you get when you return, it might be worth it to leave for a day or two. (That’s THEIR reasoning, by the way, not MINE.)

Anyway, Trey is back in the fold and everything is right with the world. (Well, not everything, but at least here in Plainfield.) So maybe if we all willed the world to be a better place, and went to sleep every night believing it to be so, then things might begin to look better. Considering the alternative, it’s a much healthier way to live.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had a similar experience?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cat Clips--Of Flies & Sven

Please click on the photo above to watch the next episode in the "Cat Clips" series, entitled "Of Flies and Sven." In this episode, Honey encourages the male cat to act as her Svengali so she can be a more convincing schizophrenic, while Tipi and Tuck go fly hunting in the office.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Angela’s Back and Better Than Ever!

Over the July 4th holiday weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of watching Angela Lansbury perform on Broadway in the Noel Coward classic “Blithe Spirit.” And even better, I had tickets in front row center. How I was lucky enough to get these prime seats, I don’t know, as I only called up the night before to make reservations. But it was well worth the trip into the city, as the play itself is a classic bit of comic genius, and the rest of the cast (including Rupert Everett, Christine Ebersole and Jayne Atkinson) were equally superb.

In the play, Ms. Lansbury plays a somewhat questionable medium, who somehow manages to conjure up the dead wife (Ms. Ebersole) of Mr. Everett, much to the chagrin of his current wife (Ms. Atkinson). I’m sure you can imagine what ensues from there, complete with clever, witty dialogue provided by Mr. Coward. All in all, it was a great day at the theater, and a nice reminder of what a great actress Ms. Lansbury still remains, even in her eighties. (I’d actually seen her a couple years ago on Broadway, when she was in the tennis comedy “Deuce”…but that was not a great play, and she seemed to struggle with her lines in that one.) But with Noel Coward’s hilarious storyline as a backdrop, Ms. Lansbury shined brighter than ever.

The only thing I found a little odd is that Ms. Lansbury appeared to be wearing the exact same wig she’d worn as Mrs. Lovett in the original Broadway production of “Sweeney Todd.” Even had the same accent. Not sure if there was an intentional reference or whether it was pure coincidence, but the similarities were rather obvious. Other than that, the entire show was “like butter.”

The play closes later this month, so if you’ve been thinking of going to see it, you’d better hurry. Ms. Lansbury waits for no one.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

FIND YOUR WAY--A Musical Mockery

It's still a tough economic climate out there, so it seemed like the perfect time for a little motivational song (even if it incorporates a little "tough love"). So please click on the photo above to watch the next video from the "Musical Mockery" series called "Find Your Way." It's a A humorous song to hopefully motivate those who are struggling during these troubling times.