March 17, 2010

Ghosts in the Adobe Walls

Above: Peter Diseth and Kate Costello as Ernie and Jerry Pyle in the Ka-HOOTZ production of The Headlight Zone.

I'm in a play.

I haven't been onstage in years. Five years to be exact. I was an aide to President Bush in a sketch performed during the Gridiron Show in New Orleans. That was a mixture of music and comedy put on by members of the New Orleans Press Club that satirized local, regional and national politics. I also danced in the opening number on the show, and contributed musically, rewriting lyrics to the song "Stayin' Alive" to reflect the state of affairs at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Not long after that show, I moved to Albuquerque, and a year after that, Charity Hospital, the Gridiron Show, and New Orleans were inundated with water. Of the three, Charity Hospital did not survive.

Before that, since my wife is a journalist and has been a performer in Gridiron Shows in New Orleans and San Antonio, I often wrote songs for them. One was "Wal-Mart," which satirized the razing of a housing project to make way for a Wal-Mart in the Garden District of New Orleans, all to the tune of "Love Shack." My favorite line? "The Waltons shimmy! The Waltons shimmmy and dance around and around and around!" One was "Erectile Dysfunction," which I wrote for the San Antonio Gridiron show about Bob Dole and his little problem, to the tune of "Conjunction Junction."

Now, five years after my last stage appearance, I am back. I'm appearing in Albuquerque, like some washed up vaudevillian of old, in a drama no less. "Ghosts in the Adobe Walls" is a ten minute play that is part of a set of seven such plays in the production "The Headlight Zone," produced by Ka-Hootz Theater. It is, of course, done in the style of the old Twilight Zone TV shows, and I play a Rod Serling character who appears on stage and narrates, complete with little moral at the end.

My co-worker, in her other life, is a producer, director, writer and sometimes actor, and this set of sketches was her idea. She had directed another sketch show, entitled "Any Night Live" and I helped her run her lines so that she could learn the parts she was portraying. One was a Twilight Zone type of sketch, and when I did the voice of Rod Serling, I really did Rod Serling. That evidently remained in her mind, because she asked me to be one of the five people portraying Rod in her new show.

My wife also stumbled into the same play when my co-worker mentioned that she was having trouble casting women. I told her that my wife had stage experience, and before I knew it, she was cast in the lead role as a woman being victimized by her ex-husband who gets some otherworldly help.

Our opening night is this coming Friday, and I'm not nervous. I know my lines. The only thing that I'm not comfortable with is holding a cigarette. I don't smoke, so it doesn't come naturally to me. But I have Rod's cadence down. I can POP the MAIN WORDS in a SENTence, JUST like HE did. And the writing is obtuse enough to sound profound, though Rod could sound profound reciting Rub a Dub Dub, three men in a tub.

It's fun, and in the wake of some difficult times last year, gratifying to know that I can put myself out there. Oh, and I've had two complements on my rehearsal performances. One was from a sound guy, who told me that he really liked how I did Rod. The other was from a mentally handicapped adult with Down Syndrome, who told me I was really good out there even though he hadn't seen me perform at all. But it was great of him to give me some love, and I'll take all the compliments I can get.

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March 15, 2010

Tucson: Who Knew?

Perhaps I'm naive, but I just discovered Tucson as a destination.

My wife had to go to Tucson, in her capacity as president of the Journalism and Women's Symposium (JAWS - their logo is a pink shark with lipstick). JAWS is scouting out locations for their 2012 annual meeting. Not any location will do. Members want a resort style place and access to wilderness for hiking and recreation. Meetings are to be rotated throughout regions, and 2012 is the Southwest's turn. So, off we went to Tucson to look at hotel/resorts.

If you are the spouse of someone who is scouting for such meetings, it's a great deal because the hotels are doing whatever they can to get picked. Hotel rooms are comped, meals are comped, drinks are comped, your wife gets little gift bags that include candy, tchotchkes, and often complementary bottles of wine and food are sent to your hotel room. The El Conquistador Hilton gave us what must have been the biggest suite in their place -- the room was bigger than our house with a bathroom bigger than our kitchen complete with steam shower. It was a nice vacation for me.

But the thing that surprised me completely about Tucson was the food. I knew that it was a college town, and you can't go anywhere without seeing University of Arizona logos and gear. I knew it was deserty, that there was cactus all over, that it butted up on some national monuments and parks. I knew that it was a place for golf. But I didn't know about its foodie reputation, until now.

Tuscon features some James Beard Award chefs, I was told, and indeed a Tucson chef, Janos Wilder of the restaurant Janos, is a semifinalist for this year's Outstanding Chef award. We were wined and dined at the JW Marriot, the Hilton El Conquistador, the Westward Look, and the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort - all with excellent food. In addition, we dined on our own at a highly recommended restaurant named Harvest.

All I know is that the good was great. I live in Albuquerque, which is a similar sized city, and while we have good restaurants here, Albuquerque is not completely a foodie town. But Tucson definitely was. If I go back, I will probably have to scale back my expectations on where I stay, but I certainly will know that I can eat well. Usually, that's a big part of what makes a trip, and a place, memorable.