Thursday, January 18, 2007

Who Knows Were the Time Goes?

That's the title of a Judy Collins song and album.

But really. How did it get to be 2 AM? Okay, so I worked a little late, and I didn't get home with the food from Boston Market until 8:20 or so. That time of night, it seems I always have to wait for more green beans. And yes, there was that brief stint in from of the tv with John, and a little time reading together in bed. And I admit I did flit around a few Madeleine L'Engle articles on Wikipedia, and tweak the sidebar of the Round Robin Photo Challenges blog. But that doesn't seem like enough to take me to 2 AM!

And all right, yes, I also researched James Thurber's brief, unlikely stage career. In 1960, when he was 65 years old, blind and not terribly well (he died a year later), he played himself in 88 performances of A Thurber Carnival. The sketch he did, "File and Forget", is one of my favorites. It consists of Thurber writing a series of letters to his publisher, trying to stop them from shipping him more copies of the books Thurber's Ark and Grandma Was a Nudist. The replies from the publisher, of course, invariably worsen the situation.

You see me rant about time and sleep deprivation almost daily, so let's go with this Thurber tangent instead. My copy of A Thurber Carnival, from Samuel French, Inc., is the copy my mom used to direct an amateur production of the revue in Syracuse circa 1967, maybe 1968. This was about the time of the riots in Detroit and elsewhere. Even Syracuse was feeling the unrest. Police cars drove around the inner city with masking tape on the windows, to protect the officers from shattered glass if someone came at them with a gun or a baseball bat. This was the backdrop for my mom's production of this funny, cerebral show that has more to do with the battle of the sexes than tensions between black and white. (The photo of my mom below is from 1979, over a decade later.)

A Thurber Carnival has a lot of props considering its minimal staging, and a surprising number of these are weapons. "Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife" calls for a large, lethal monkey wrench (Mr. Preble, in the basement, with the wrench); my mom's hand-written note adds a shovel. "If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox" requires a military sword and scabbard. Walter Mitty has a scalpel, a piece of pipe (another Clue weapon!) and a knitting needle. "The Little Girl and the Wolf" equips the girl with a 45 automatic "in basket with red ruffle." For one of the sketches, probably Grant or the Walter Mitty firing squad, my mom added white, non-working parade rifles, borrowed from The Manlius School, a military school that merged with Pebble Hill a year or two later.

The play was rehearsed somewhere downtown or around the University; it may have been at Reid Hall or Peck Hall, the two buildings of University College where my dad was assistant dean (or possibly dean by then). Wherever it was, my mom didn't leave the props there between rehearsals. She stored them in the back of her station wagon, which she also used to drive some of her actors home around midnight after rehearsals. At least one or two of them lived in the inner city.

Picture it: here is a professional psychologist and amateur playwright, age 40ish, driving through riot-torn city streets in her 1961 Rambler. In the back are a couple of rifles, swords, a heavy monkey wrench, a pistol, and a few less likely weapons. The streets are mostly deserted except for heavily-armed cops in taped-up cars. At any moment, my mom thought, she might get pulled over, and have to explain the arsenal in the back of the car.

Fortunately, the Syracuse police had little interest in the midnight movements of a middle-aged blonde woman from Manlius. They never did stop her. Good thing, too, except that it would have given me the punchline I so obviously lack for this blog entry.


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