Friday, August 31, 2012

Light Opera Society

I really don't know what the hell I was thinking that summer ...

Jun. 26, 2003 - 2:08 p.m.

i'm excited about this new production coming to the Chicago civic opera house...

Der Turbaldenung (the Deadbeat), Richard Wagner, 1854
July 1 -- September 1

Set in the Harz Mountains of Central Germany, Der Turbaldenung is Wagner's least-staged opera. He again looks back to Germany's pastoral mythology (a la "Tristan und Isolde") and the tale of Ulfen, younger brother of Heindrich, first king of Upper Saxony.

Ulfen, a woodsman, loses a game of droughts with a group of tree fairies, and forfeits his stewardship of the fabled Gutschtimt Forest, given to him by his brother, King Heindrich. Despondent, Ulfen, moves in with Friedhanna, the seamstress and object of Heindrich's affections.

Friedhanna permits Ulfen to sleep on her settee. The woodsman spends his days bemoaning his foolishness for losing his woods to the tree fairies ("Did Gunter not tell me that they use loaded dice?"), and revealing his half-baked schemes for quick fortune ("With Uncle Ott's inheritance, I can start my spear sharpening business."). Friedhanna takes Ulfen's complaints with good humor, but his constant presence in her home is a source of frustration for his brother the King, who attempts several unsuccessful trysts with the seamstress, replacing his throne at court with a stuffed likeness.

King Heindrich tempts Ulfen with lesser jobs at the castle ("Perhaps you'd fancy the head curtain detailer's position. I just had the last man hanged."), but his brother refuses.

Frustrated and desiring the lovely Friedhanna, the King arranges a meeting with her in the woods, but both are captured by the tree fairies. Ulfen hears the seamstress' cries and runs into the forest to rescue her. There, the fairies challenge him to another game of droughts for the lives of his friends. This time, Ulfen simply slays the fairies and frees Heindrich and Friedhanna.

In gratitude, the King offers Ulfen the Gutschtimt Forest to tend again, but Ulfen refuses, saying he will travel all the known lands, telling those he meets of his experiences ("I was once like you, a non-working schlub, but I harnessed the power of 'self-actualization' and turned my life around... and now you can, too.").

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Class of '94

Last weekend we attended the wedding of two old friends. It was the most fun I've ever had at one, save my own. While a group of us waited at the bar for the ceremony to begin, I spotted a young, thin blonde woman weaving through the crowd. I paused, and it came back that we mutually knew the bride and groom. But her sudden appearance still shocked me. Like I'd seen a ghost.

We had gone to high school together in Northwest Indiana 20 years ago. For the benefit of my wife and those of you trying to read between the lines, I did not date her, have a crush on her or harbor any romantic designs at any time. I didn't go out with girls back then, being in the lowest social caste at Andrean H.S. It was a coed school, but for some reason the usual allotment of goths, metalheads, stoners and other kinds of "bad girls" weren't sent our way. Maybe the uniform scared them off. So we were out of luck: a bunch of sexually frustrated young dudes with the sparse beginnings of facial hair.

The blonde lady at the wedding was one of those brainy people lucky enough to be admitted into a high social caste without playing sports. I always wondered how you got this free pass, but deep down I knew these elect had something at the time that I didn't. They were good looking and socially confident. At 14, I was shrimpy, shy and on the verge of a major acne offensive.

I resigned myself to my place those first two years and found some really good friends along the way, starting a healing process of the scars of junior high, which was far, far worse. By the time I left The Region in the summer of 1992, I had begun to embrace music culture, which has always opened its arms to society's outcasts. The high school I'd graduate from in suburban Buffalo would be like a dream compared to what I was leaving. My life would be better in so many ways, though I didn't know it as a moving truck pulled up to our house. That would take time.

The wedding reception rolled on and bled over to a dive bar across Milwaukee Ave. I saw the blonde woman here and there but never talked to her. I knew she wouldn't remember me, and I didn't want to seem like a weird stalker or anything like that. After a few hours she disappeared, and the thought of that place and time eventually dissipated. I was back in the present, drinking and dancing.

The human mind drains away much of the bad memories of the past. It's probably a coping mechanism. The years 1987-1992 were the toughest of my life, but now I look upon them fondly. My brother Matt and I have been planning a trip back to Merrillville to visit the old places and reminisce together, and I couldn't be more excited. Last year when we passed the baseball fields outside town on the I-65 — where I used to watch Matt play little league — my heart jumped.

But how many times back then did I sit in my room and feel alienated; feel like the last man on the list; feel like I had no shot at anything: girls, popularity, whatever. As painful as those experiences were, the memory of them has since left me like so much air. Or maybe it was absorbed and turned into positive energy — something that secretly drove my activities among the subsequent groups where I was finally accepted.

All I remember now of five years in Merrillville — or, rather, remember first — are the sunsets over the woods of the Turkey Creek golf course and the 1988 World Series. Yes, that's an exaggeration. I can remember much, much more about that time. But when it's something bad, the sting is nowhere to be found. Now I just smile and say, "Hey, I survived and things got amazingly better." 

And that's what I said to myself when I saw that young lady at the wedding. For a split second the whole pecking order reactivated in my mind, and I remembered what it felt like to know you're not allowed to talk to someone and that they will never, ever talk to you. That made me a little mad back in high school, but happily it hasn't mattered since, well, May 1994. The day I was set free on that graduation stage in the Williamsville (N.Y.) South High School gymnasium.

I've never liked being forced to do things with a group, so that's why I didn't like high school. But nowadays I feel some weird kinship because of that arbitrary imprint, all based on my birthdate. I feel we're connected for life: my classmates and I from Andrean and South, and also from the greater collection across America. The Class of 1994. I root for us all to make good: for our school, our age slot, our generation. We have something to contribute to humankind for the rest of our lives, in our way, imprinted by the schools and culture of our youth.

Was all this really going through my head, three drinks in, upstairs at Revolution Brewing? Maybe not so extensively (or lucidly), but the feeling was there. I found myself raising a glass of rose-colored beer, for my fellow graduates, my alma mater, my classmate and her bald boyfriend. Here's to you, Men and Women of '94. May you live as long as possible and be happy. Now go out there and make us proud. Go out there and fight!

That said, they're still going to have to talk me into going to the reunion. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Veg Pt. 2

Part two of the story of my vegetarianism is now up at Next Gen Green.


Thursday, August 23, 2012


Today I am 36 years old. It's strange to write that. I remember when I turned 26. I went out to eat with my parents at Petey's II in Orland Park on LaGrange Road and had duck. For some reason I'll never forget that meal. The room was crowded and suffused with gray-white light from the overcast sky outside.

It felt so weird sitting there. By comparison, on the previous birthday, 25, I was incredibly drunk and stoned after a night at the Greenpoint Tavern. I spent an hour throwing up on the loft couch, feeling as though I might die, before passing out. Such is a young person's life. 

Earlier at lunch I tried to remember all of my birthdays back to age 18. I'm happy to say I can recall 13 with absolute certainty, with two probables and four can't-remembers. When I wrote them out, I was struck by how different they were year to year, particularly before I was married. I don't mean that in a "loose dudes" way, but just that I was in a different city each time through my early 20s.

Yes, I've had to move a lot in my life, but the biggest benefit is that I've met so many people. I'm really staggered when I look at my Facebook profile at the disparate places they come from. I can remember them all just like it was yesterday, and there are so many more I can think of whose names are foggy, or who've avoided social media, or whom I'm too embarrassed to track because they may not remember me.

I finally settled down when I moved here to Chicago. And though the general setting's been the same for a decade, I did find someone to share the yearly celebration with: my wife, Erika, a.ka. Miss August 22. I've always liked that our birthdays are back to back. And if I forget what happened one year, she can usually remember it with her powerful brain.

If you're reading this and you know me, all I can say at this point is thank you. Thank you for crossing your life with mine. I know it hasn't always ended amicably. If you think I'm an idiot, I can't blame you. I can only say I'm sorry. And if you think I don't want to talk to you anymore, that's not the case. My life is so busy now, I've never been good with the phone, and I'm also kind of lazy. I know I have to make a better effort.

The experience of living is ultimately an individual one, and I cherish my alone time maybe more than most. But it's the people you meet who make it interesting and, ultimately, meaningful when we reach outside ourselves and connect. Thanks for being you, folks. You've made my life better for it.