Night and Day Downeast
Old Orchard Beach fireworks last night. For $30 I had my fortune told by Madame Marsh, an OOB fixture for 38 years. She threw tarot cards and saw a healthy grandson arriving, and lots of money from my work as a writer. So if you start seeing Volvo and Starbucks ads on the Chronicles, you can be sure that I will pay a return visit to Madame Marsh for the full monty, a Spiritual Reading for $75.
My father and I took Amtrak's Downeaster from Old Orchard to Boston's North Station this morning. We talked of many things, and fielded one call from Fifi and several from Mom as we watched bright sunlight play in the forest beside the tracks. He had a blueberry cake, and I had cranberry, and we each had a cup of Starbucks coffee, black. We will return to the beach this afternoon via Boston Coach after his lunch in Cambridge with the president of the Federalist Society.
Here at Starbucks at 143 Stuart Street, I shared a handicapped table with Adriana Yu, a sophomore at Bentley College who for the past four years has interned at the Boston bank where Dad was CEO for 15 years. She is 19 years old and speaks Chinese. We agreed it is a very small world.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Hitting the Spot
Tim Bixby, my sister's partner, at stern, pilots the old canoe he bought last year for use at Ocean Park. Yesterday afternoon he introduced me to the wonders of a Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge within walking distance of the family cottages. In 54 years of coming here, I've never visited the refuge. We used to canoe elsewhere a lot as a family, so I know my way around a paddle and how to settle into a tippy canoe without getting dunked. Tim's a keen observer of wildlife, and I enjoyed spending a couple of quiet hours with him, watching and hearing birds, feeling the boat surge as we struck a stroke in unison. I have a blister on my thumb to remember the outing, as well as this fine photo taken by Tom Atkinson, our visiting friend from Wyoming.
Tom and his wife Tish joined my parents and Fifi and me for dinner at Joseph's in Old Orchard Beach last night. I wasn't sure how my proper Bostonian father and our wild west buddy were going to get along, but I needn't have worried--or else I didn't worry enough. It turned out they both belonged to Sigma Chi fraternity, Tom at University of Wyoming and Dad at M.I.T. This led to Dad singing a verse from "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi" and Tom doing his infamous squeeky duck-talk. My mother was nearly wetting her pants with laughter, and I knew what was coming next. I excused myself for the bathroom and returned to find the entire table collapsed after Dad's singing of the 1939 Pepsi jingle--backwards. He mastered this bizarre verbal feat one summer when he was bored out of his mind mowing lawns, and it's all lurking there in deep RAM. Out in the parking lot, I think Tom and my father exchanged some kind of handshake, but I didn't ask.
It somehow seemed appropriate to the vibe for me to fall back into mortified 14-year-old mode last night, but secretly I was proud of father's nutty performance. "Your father is fantastic!" Tom gushed as we drove back to the Hooper. I know. He's the only retired bank CEO I know who can sing the following song backwards:
Pepsi-Cola hits the spot,
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot,
Twice as much for a nickel too.
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
The Maine Thing
This is the view from my side of the bed at the Hooper Cottage. If setting were all it took for peace of mind, I'd be a walking Serenity Prayer here at Ocean Park. But no. At the Kennebunk AA meeting this morning, an ambulance siren wailed outside the Unitarian Church. "They're playing our song," a visitor from New York quipped. His sponsor once told him, "You're well-balanced. You have a chip on each shoulder." These meetings in the book-lined church library have become as sweet as melted butter during my vacation month in Maine. The steady base of locals is visited by bizarre birds from all over, chirping of sobriety in many accents.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
The Glorious Rebirth Performing Troupe, seen in photo above, rocked the Hilton ballroom last night during a showcase of Pittsburgh multicultural performing arts. The woman on the left later gave a solo rendition of "New York, New York" that enabled me to glimpse the face of God. She put every last ounce of her self into the singing of a song, and at the very edges of her own singing something bigger seemed to creep in and take over. Other artists during the evening displayed the same genius for emptying themselves and filling the audience with unexpected delight. I soon forgot the lack of air conditioning in the hotel and my own wariness at finding myself one of just a handful of people of no color at the festivities.
At the end of the Pittsburgh Dance Ensemble's piece, one of the young women badly hurt her right knee. She sat just off stage with an ice pack while Nego Gato, an explosive group of drummers and acrobatic dancers performed African Brazilian wonders. Two male dancers did soared through frightening aerial maneuvers as the injured dancer was wheeled out on a stretcher.
Earlier in the evening, Eric Hayashi, a friend of mine who serves on the WESTAF board, showed the full-length movie he co-produced, "Only the Brave." This is another example of an artist pouring himself into a work of art, beyond the very last drop. The movie tells the story of Japanese-American soldiers who had been interred in concentration camps during World War II and who volunteered to fight in Europe. Their 442nd Regiment fought a terrible battle in France, saving a surrounded band of Texan GIs. One scene, before the regiment shipped out, shows two of the Japanese-Americans encountering racial slurs from white soldiers in a pool hall. By the end of the movie, when the lieutenant of the saved Texans thanks the Japanese-American sergeant, the heroism of the 442nd has been made unforgettable.
Eric has been working on this film for several years, traveling all over the country finding backers, and the actual filming was a super-human marathon of near-sleepless days and nights at Universal Studios. His parents were hauled off to the camps during the war. This movie is personal.
If this weren't a blog, I'd be reluctant to ruminate much further. Talking about race and culture is dangerous. I've had the experience here of seeing an African American encountering me, one of the few whites here, and for a moment seeming to figure out exactly what to say to me. And I know the challenge, whether it's trying to begin a conversation in French with a Frenchman, or introducing myself to a woman on the bus to one of the events. "Hi, I'm a super-privileged white guy whose parents paid for him to attend prep school, Harvard College and Harvard Business School and who is now living on a trust fund. What's your story?" I obviously don't lead with that, but it's in my head.
Last night it struck me how clearly the passion of the singers and dancers had its roots in the oppression of slavery, of racism, of all the stomping out of cultures that has been conducted in history. Art that arises from oppression, whether it's American slavery or Communist muzzling of poets and writers, seems to have an edge, an energy which is uniquely powerful and transforming. The multicultural art on display at The Association of American Cultures conference is potent medicine, as was the jazz of an earlier era and the hip-hop of today. People who have had to fight with every ounce of their being simply to survive have something crucial to reveal: the power of art to kindle super-human hope and new life.