Monthly Archives: April 2012

Why I love the musical Oklahoma!

I come from a musical family.  I am fortunate in that.  Both of my parents sang; my mother played piano, and my siblings and I were forced to do the same.  In spite of our grumbling and complaining, we all grew up to be musicians of a sort and are grateful for it.

The piano was the heart of our house.  It was played daily.  My mother was a firm believer in practicing, which we all did plenty of, but she also played for pleasure.  It was necessary for her sanity.  She was a stay-at-home-mom with quiet aspirations to do more.  (She had been a nurse, but gave it up to raise kids.)  Music was her balm, her meditation, her sanctuary.

After practicing Bach or Debussy, inevitably my mother would start a familiar show tune, and my father would put down his paper, bound up from the couch, put his hand on her shoulder and sing along.  He had a beautiful and distinctive tenor voice.  My father was a tad “larger than life,” especially in my eyes, but his singing voice was warm and inviting.  Often my mother would harmonize with him.  As I kid, I thought this was normal, that everyone’s parents would leap into song in a moment’s notice; only later did I realize this wasn’t necessarily the case.

Their favorite songs were from American musicals.  Hymns were for church, rock was for the radio, but show tunes were for fun and their melodies filled our family room.  My parents had never been to Broadway, but you wouldn’t know it from the stacks of scores and librettos piled on the top of the upright.  I grew up listening to the music from The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, Mame, Kismet, The King and I, West Side Story, I Do, I Do, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and of course Oklahoma!

As I entered my teens, I remember thinking these songs were cheesy and dated.  I never understood why my mother (and sometimes my father) would tear up and get emotional when they reached certain lines like, “for here you are, standing there loving me, whether or not you should” or “don’t cry young lovers, whatever you do, don’t cry because I’m alone; all of my memories are happy tonight, I’ve had a love of my own” or “open your angel’s arms, to this stranger in paradise, and tell him that he need be a stranger no more.”  After the song was finished, they would kiss and I would roll my eyes.

 – My father and mother singing, with my sister Mary.

As an adult, I get it.  Now I understand that lyrics like, “your hand feels so grand in mine” and “out of my dreams and into your arms I long to fly, I will come as evening comes to woo a waiting sky” are close to perfection in that they have both depth and simplicity.  Now those same lyrics make me weep.

There are a lot of reasons to love this show.  Sure, Oklahoma! was the first collaboration between Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein.  Sure, it was groundbreaking in that Agnes DeMille (in her first Broadway appearance) created the iconic dream ballet.  Sure, it received stunning reviews, and yes, it has withstood the test of time to remain one of America’s favorite musicals.

However, for me, I will always associate this show with my parent’s love of music, and their love for each other.  Even in the midst of a busy rehearsal, with a million little problems that somehow need to be solved yesterday, I stop in my tracks when I hear “I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way” because I swear I can hear that clear and distinctive tenor voice singing along.

*Liz Woodworth is current directing a version of Oklahoma! presented at Stagenorth and opening (gulp) April 26th.  Make your reservations now.

6 Comments

Filed under Humor, Music, Parenting, Theater

Traveling with a Vegan

Traveling with a vegan has its disadvantages.  Sure, it’s getting easier.  You can go online and read menus in advance, or even check ingredients.  Did you know that Burger King has an all vegan sandwich?   It’s true.  Even the bun is dairy-free.  Between the internet and phone aps, it’s much easier than it was 10 years ago.  But even cool little aps like “urban spoon” can sometimes spin you wrong. That Indian place, that was so good? Well, 2 months ago it turned into a Cuban place that doesn’t understand what “vegan” means.

“Like vegetarian?”

“No, like vegan.”

“What does that mean?”

“No animal products.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“No animal products, like eggs, or cheese, dairy… like that.”

“This is a restaurant, not a hardware store.  We serve food here.”

There are two vegan meals that most restaurants will make a big deal about and yet, they are not necessarily “deal” worthy. They are the 1) humus plate/platter (usually served with pita and kalamata olives) and the 2) portabella mushroom sandwich.

Now for those of you who eat dairy and meat regularly, you might be thinking “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Well, try that for every meal for fourten days straight.  That was our trip to Canada. Thank God for Taco John’s.

If you want some variety in your meals, you need to get creative.  You try to do more than “hold the cheese.”  Sometimes restaurants, if given enough time, will make special meals.  We are lucky enough to live in an area where we have amazing restaurants, and since folks know Kriner, they make an effort to “step up” and be open to entree items that take a chance and step away from a humus platter and a portabella mushroom sandwich. In fact, when we’re in really good hands, we just make a call and say “Kriner and I are coming in tomorrow” and the chef makes whatever he/she wants. Sadly, you can’t take your favorite restaurants with you when you travel.  Sometimes, when you travel, you kind of have to make “a deal” out of ordering, which is incredibly difficult for my husband.  My husband is incredibly averse to being the center of attention for anything.  He doesn’t like it when people look at him, he doesn’t like to be embarrassed and he doesn’t like special treatment and yet, he married me.

Over Easter, we went to the Twin Cities, and we spent Good Friday as most good Christians should, by shopping at Mall of America.  We were all really hungry, tired and crabby; I decided rather than the food court, we should get a proper, sit-down meal and treat ourselves, something I am particularly good at. Kriner mentioned something about Noodles and Company, but I cut him off.  We made our way over to this “upper crust” restaurant with hip and trendy decor.   It looked like it “should” have been able to feed a vegan.  We got a table, and I said to the server “You can feed a vegan, right?” I was met with a blank stare and a moment as the wheels spun.  ”You know, no meat, no dairy, no eggs?”

“Vegetarian?” he asked.

Kriner stepped in “No animal products. I see you have a portabella mushroom sandwich. Just hold the mozzarella and I’ll have fries too.” The guy left, clearly unsure of what happened, and Kriner shot me an evil look for coming dangerously close to “making-a-big-deal-out-of-it.”

Five minutes went by, and the server came back and said, “OK, we got you covered. There’s no cheese on the bun,” and I said, “and hold the cheese on the sandwich, right?” This poor guy shot me another look that screamed, “I’m confused but will try my best to look cool.”

Now it’s easy to make fun of servers and that’s wrong. I worked too many years as a waitress to understand how awful it is to not know what your costumer is talking about. For years, I thought “Egg Beaters” was a fun and unique way to say “Scrambled” only because no one told me what Egg Beaters were. Seriously.  “You Figure it Out” should have been the title of the training manual at Country Kitchen, only if there were a training manual.  Neither the manager nor the head waitress ever said anything about it; I just went on keeping on until some woman with in a wheelchair and a respirator complained that her eggs tasted too good. (Proving my point education never hurt anyone…but fatty, buttery eggs can.)

So, Kriner admonished me with his eyes, I turned to my cocktail (and yes, it was lunch) and Em was reading her book. What’s a girl to do but pull out her Kindle and read the latest mommy-porn best-seller? Within two minutes, the waiter, the head chef, and the hostess came to the table. It was like a little parade for “The Clean Linen Wearers of America.”  I heard Kriner whisper “shit” and I girded my loins.
The chef was all smiles.  “Hey, heard you were a vegan.  We have this portabella sandwich…” Kriner started to wave them away with his hands and said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve been over this. That’s fine, just please hold the cheese.” The hostess beamed, “Well, our chef has something really great in mind, he wants to create something special just for you.”  She was like a cheerleader at that point, very perky and happy.

The hostess was working some happy-magic on me, so when I heard that this chef wanted to make something special for my husband, I blurted, ”YES!  That would be awesome!”   Again, Kriner shot me a look.  For me, special = special.  For Kriner, special = very bad.

At this point he was so mortified he just wanted them to go away. He was perfectly OK with the portabella mushroom sandwich and fries, but apparently it got mucked up for him.  I reminded him that maybe it will be worth it, maybe he will eat something fabulous.

Just moments after Emily and my goat cheese and basil pizza was delivered (which, by the way, was fabulous) they brought out this crazy looking mortification on a tray.  The hostess and the waiter both delivered it (people are now staring at us as if we were important, or, at the very least food critics.  Kriner was halfway under the table.) On this long rectangular tray, sat three pieces of lettuce, with a mushroom on each, a healthy dollop of salsa on the side, and on top, the pièce de résistance, a teaspoon of humus. The chef called it “a deconstructed portabella sandwich” and the hostess beamed. No bread, no fries, no carbs at all, which are very, very necessary for a hungry vegan.  Just three little piles of fancy crap on lettuce.  (Actually, come to think of it, he did get a bowl of “root chips.”)

You know that look that Walter Matheau gives Jack Lemon in pretty much every movie they ever did together? Well, that’s how Kriner was looking at me. I wiped pizza sauce off my chin.  At that point, he was so hungry he would have downed dirt, so he ate it, but I could tell he was pissed. I made sure to pay the bill and not let him see the total.

2 Comments

Filed under Family, fitness, Humor, Vegan

Pong

One snowy Christmas eve, my father came home with a bounce in his step, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Along with this energetic demeanor, he also had a bag, a big bag with a big box in it. “What’s this? What’s in the bag?“ We could tell this was going to be something big, because he was all “presentational” about it, and after a deep breath, he told us.  Over the strains of The Julie Andrews Firestone Christmas album playing in the background, he told us; this wasn’t just a simple present.  This was a “family” present.  That had to mean something big, right? Something great, and something amazing.  With great restraint and absence of inflection, he said it was “Pong.”   Pong, the very first home video game on the market. “Pong”- even the name was fun. We had only heard of it, whispered of its glory on the playground, but here he was, my father, with an actual Pong game in his big, strong hands. For us!  For Christmas!  We couldn’t believe it. He was so proud and we were in awe. He was a god at that moment, a prince among men.  He must love us very much to bring home such a trophy, such a grand display of fun and affection. It was quite a moment for our family.

He slowly pulled the box out as if it were a time bomb. He then opened the box. “Ahhhhh” followed by “Wow” “Far Out” and finally “Rad.” Even my cynical brother had his interest piqued. There it was, the Pong. It was white and shiny and futuristic looking and somehow, oddly enough, had that new car smell. There was a moment of silence, and then my brother blurted “Well, hell, set it up!”

Those 10 minutes spent hooking it up to the TV seemed like a century. We were giddy with anticipation. “Hurry up, Dad!“ ”Hurray for Dad!” “Hurray for Pong!” we cheered. I thought about how jealous my friends would be when I told them we had Pong.  And then, after what seemed like an eternity of wires and swearing and static and more swearing, the screen changed from snow to black and our television was transformed into a game! It was magical! There we were, in our family room and we were playing an arcade game, in the family room, an arcade game! And oh, how we played. It was a delight; it was fun and fabulous and amazing and everything we had hoped for. We cheered and laughed and my father was a hero; everyone knew it. This was Frank Woodworth’s moment; he was in his glory, for exactly eight minutes. My brother dared to be the first to say what we were all thinking, “That’s it? That’s all there is?” With those few words, my father’s shoulders fell. It was over. The golden glory was gone.

For those of you who don‘t know what Pong is, to call it “basic” is a bit like saying an overhead projector is cutting edge technology. Like saying guys who work at NASA like science.  It is the MOST simple of video games. Although the box “claimed” to have 3 different games in 1 console, those games were in fact: tennis, badminton and ping-pong. I think you know where I’m going with this. In essence, one player rolled a dial (yes, a dial) that controlled a white “bar” on the screen that moved up and down. Not across or over or under, just up and down, and a square “ball” would bounce back and forth; the mission was to hit the ball with your bar. If you did so, it would make a sound, much like the game’s name. It you missed, a new ball would miraculously appear so you could repeat this exercise ad nauseum. The ball moved at a snail’s pace, all this on a black background.

The graphics were, well…not. It was the most basic, primitive game possible. A ball (for lack of a better word) went back and forth. That was it. It was the tennis without any of the fun of tennis. If Edison would have invented Pong, he would have considered it a failure and kept on trying until he ended up with Ms. Pac Man. It even bored the dog.

But that was my Dad; he would buy the first new thing that came out on the market, and suffer through all of the improved versions that came afterwards, stubbornly committed to the first version he bought. He didn’t really take the “wait and see” approach to much in life. Who else do you know that actually bought an Opel hatchback? He once bought one of those “porta-phones” that was the size of a golf cart and it had an antenna so large it should have been able to receive calls from the moon, but oddly, it only had a 20 feet radius from its “docking station” in the kitchen. We would try to use it by the pool and would have to tilt our heads toward the kitchen as if we were constantly in a state of confusion. When newer, smaller phones came out, he would look down his nose at them. “We have a port-a-phone…who needs another one?”

“Yeah, but dad, this one works in the car.”

“We don’t need to talk in the car. Americans are smarter than that. It’s unsafe….that’ll never catch on.“ That was my dad. A trend setter.

Sadly, my father’s Pong stayed under the television, right next to the Beta recorder (see?) collecting dust. He didn’t give up though. He was undaunted. Years later, when my father would energetically ask “Who wants to play some Pong?” I respond with “I have homework” which was code for painting my nails, popping zits, or writing emotional, crappy poems in my journal.

After the Pong bust, the cooler more versatile games starting coming out, like the “Atari” home system. Ohhhh, Atari.  You know, where you could actually, you know, change the game? It was like an 8 track player (which of course, my father also owned) for games where you could pull different games in and out; it was the precursor for the Holy Grail of games, the Nintendo.  I would beg my dad for an Atari system and he would say emphatically “No, play Pong! You have a perfectly good Pong game over there. You kids don’t appreciate what you have…” which was absolutely true.

My dad was taken from us when he was way too young, but he’s still with me.  I can still hear his voice, coming out of my mouth, when I tell my daughter, “No, you don’t need a smart phone you have a great walkie-talkie. Angry Birds, Schmangry Birds. Go get a deck of cards.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Humor, Parenting, retro, Technology