Monday, April 25, 2011

Shakespeare 101

We never do anything casually--seems like it's whole hog or nothing at all. No in-between options in this house. So, when we saw and loved The Merchant of Venice on Broadway with Al Pacino and Lily Rabe (a nice birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law), I had a feeling that it heralded the beginning of Shakespeare 101 for the spring semester.

You can't just go to a Shakespeare play with no knowledge or background. You have to do your homework to really appreciate a play--there's just so much involved--the language, the plot, historical context. Gary and I have different approaches. I opt for Spark Notes, a great website that summarizes each scene, as well as giving a comprehensive overview.  Gary is the purist and, while he may do cliff notes, he also tries to read the play and get a feel for the language. (also allows him to make pointed comments during intermission like: "Did you notice they dropped scene 4 and combined scenes 1 and 2?"  Sheesh!)

Our second play was Timon (rhymes with Simon) of Athens, staged at the Public Theatre, a small venue with Richard Thomas (John-Boy of the Waltons) as Timon.  I'm sure most people have never heard of this historical play that is rarely performed and may not have even been properly finished by Shakespeare. Some things just don't add up, so scholars speculate that it was still in draft status. Why even perform it, then, you may well be asking, as I did?
The hook is that it is eerily relevant to the recent financial chaos we've had and examines what happens when the bottom drops out of an extravagant, licentious lifestyle.  When bankruptcy looms, where do your friends go? I loved the first act, although normally I'm not a fan of Shakespeare in suits, set in the 1920's. How do you reconcile Elizabethan language with the flapper era?--bit of a disconnect, but falls under the theatrical category of suspending disbelief. We accept certain conventions in theatre, if it's done well, because it's an artificial world we're willingly entering
The second half dragged a bit--numerous long soliloquies (this is Shakespeare, after all).  But, how can you fault a play that stages the decadence and depravity of the city by updating the traditional veiled dancing girls with a brief view of a 1920's porn movie? 

Our third play was Macbeth--a great gory play, fast moving, witches, ghosts, sword fights, people going crazy, riddles, ambition, guilt, deception.  Something for everyone! The Duke Theatre at 42nd street was the perfect setting--small stage, surrounded by the audience on three sides, with entrances and exits from all over the place. You really felt like you were in the play, especially from the 2nd row! 

This weekend we saw a surprisingly good student production of As You Like It at Bergen Community College. I loved the classic Elizabethan costumes, moveable scenery of three anthropomorphosized trees and an enthusiastic cast with a few very talented actors. 

Still to come: King Lear at Brooklyn Academy of Music in May and Romeo & Juliet this summer at a re-created Globe Theatre inside the Park Ave Armory.

One of the best things about Shakespeare is the language. I never realized how many popular phrases originated with the bard.  An interesting benefit from this Shakespeare-mania is we are now ready for the most challenging intellectual cocktail party, ready to drop a few verses, just to show how "learned" we are. Feel free to borrow any of these quotes below. I've also suggested some appropriate places and times to say them.

  1. If you get along well with your oncology nurse, you might joke as she draws blood:  "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" When she hooks up the IV infusion, try: "If you poison us, do we not die?"   (Merchant of Venice)
  2. After you get a bad sunburn at the beach:  “Mislike me not for my complexion, The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun.” (Merchant of Venice)
  3. At the next baseball game:  "Fair is foul and foul is fair." (Macbeth)
  4. When rain is pouring down and temps are in the raw 50's:  "Fair is foul and foul is fair."(Macbeth)
  5. To your boss, when you've missed a deadline:  "To-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow"  (Macbeth)
  6. After a boring day at work, to a co-worker:  "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; (Macbeth)
  7. When blowing out your birthday candles: “Out, out, brief candle!” (Macbeth)
  8. As your boss or a politician explains austerity measures: “It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)
  9. Save this full version for when you've lost your job, your home and your love all in one day (in other words you're really depressed): “Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)
  10. Cooking dinner:  "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." (Macbeth)
  11. Getting stubborn stains out of the rug: “Out, damned spot! out, I say!"  (Macbeth)
  12. As you pull the overcooked turkey out of the oven on Thanksgiving: “what's done is done.” (Macbeth) 
  13. After a bad day on the stock market: “What's done is done.”  or “We have seen better days.” (Timon of Athens)
  14. After any bad day: “We have seen better days.” or “True is it that we have seen better days.” (As You Like It)
  15. As you finish off your Easter candy in one sitting: “Can one desire too much of a good thing?” (As You Like It)
  16. In response to the crazy religious right: “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” (King Lear)
  17. When you want to pass the buck: “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (King Lear)
  18. Words to live by: “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest". (King Lear)
  19. When looking at a bad report card or a start up’s business plan: “Nothing will come of nothing." (King Lear) 
  20. When a deal is too good to be true: "All that glisters is not gold." (The Merchant of Venice)  Note: the "glisters", not glitters-this will set you apart as the Shakespearean aficionado.
  21. When an expectant couple shares the names they've picked for the new baby and you don't like any of them: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." (Romeo & Juliet)
  22. On reading someone's blog: “he hath strange places crammed
    With observation, the which he vents In mangled forms.”  (As You Like It)
  23. When bloggers get carried away with themselves : "All the world's a stage"  (As You Like it)
A long post, I know. I guess Gary is not the only one in our house who's gone “all out” for the bard, who, by the way, died almost 400 years ago on April 23, 1616. 

And, yes, folks, we are coming to the end of poetry month!

Monday, April 18, 2011


You're familiar with texting and sexting, but do you know about mistexting--texting with mistakes?

I am an expert, but it's not all my fault. Partly it's due to my 1G "dumb" phone that has no keyboard and forces you to use the numeric keypad. Why haven't I upgraded you may ask? Seems I'm on the family plan and one of my sons (not mentioning any names) always has a crying, urgent need to take the new phone upgrade. So far he's had the Samsung basic, the orange Samsung keyboard phone, a blackberry, a droid and now is considering the i-Phone. Well, he's a busy guy and I can take that extra 30 seconds with a text message because I don't send that many. 

My trusty compact black and silver Samsung, dumb as it is, sports a 'Word' feature, where it will guess what word you've inputted on the numeric keypad and then allow you to hit 0 to see the next guess, if the first one wasn't correct. Kind of like the little engine that could. My phone is trying so hard to climb that mountain and he may jurt make it.

An example: I key in 'cat' and the phone guesses in this order: 'act, cat, bat, abu, cau, cav, acu, bau, activate'. Maybe not what you'd expect, but it usually gets you there in the end. One of my favorites: key in 'just' and you get 'jurt, just, lust, and kurt'. The dumb phone tries, but it also does not learn from its mistakes or alter the choices based on frequency of words you do use. At this point, I almost never change 'jurt' to 'just'--they're synonyms as far as i'm concerned and my kids are used to my messages. "Jurt got back from the shore". Oh, this one must be from Mom.

The other day I got good news in a text and rushed to send back a big YAY. Typing in 'yay' on my phone returns 'wax' and instead of hitting 0 for the next word choice, I mistakenly hit send.  Before I had even realized my error, I got my son's lightning fast reply- a single question mark. (For me to do that I would have had to switch mode from Word to Symbols, click over to the ?, hit enter and then return to Word, but I'm not complaining, jurt saying...)

Back to correcting my 'wax' message: I scrolled through the other word choices: 'way, yaw, waz'. That's it. No 'yay' even listed. So, this is where it gets time consuming. I switch modes from the Word option to ABC and then hit each key the correct number of times for the right letter. So now the simple YAY is keyed in as 9,9,9, for the Y, 2 for the A and 999 for the second Y--7 keystrokes plus I had to change modes. 

Turns out i'm a YAY person and use it frequently. I could switch to the more generic 'Great or Awesome or Cool or You Rock'. I tried 'hurray', but that is also unrecognizable, translated as 'hurraw'.  Hurraw?! 

Then it hit me. Wax. WAX! What an Awesome, Cool, Great, You Rock word!  OK, you've said it in a normal voice and free associate wax with candles, car wax, floor wax, ear wax, birthday cake with wax encrusted frosting....Wrong! Say it out loud and raise your hands over your head. (Don't force me to make a video because, as you already know, my phone stinks and can't do that.) Shout it with enthusiasm: WAX, WAX, WAX! Oh baby, I think I'm onto something here. Feel free to share this with your friends. This is how new slang is born and I'm thinking viral here. Maybe I will need that YouTube clip after all. Could be a video taping session needed over Easter. I'll keep you posted!  

Happy Passover/Easter/Spring to you all!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stranded at the Jersey Shore

My friend Rita and I had a delightful day at Point Pleasant Beach on Monday. Sun was shining, inland temps in the 70's and on the beach, a brisk chilly wind blowing off the 47 degree ocean water, making it definitely "cooler at the shore."  And the highlight of the day unexpected encounter with a seal.
No, there wasn't a big crowd for the stranded baby seal and no one called out "Is anyone here a marine biologist?" a la Seinfeld.  No George Costanzas had to roll up their pants and plunge into the surf.
George wading in to rescue the whale on Seinfeld
(check out episode 14  The Marine Biologist from 1994-one of the funniest! )
The seal pup had been lying on the beach for the last two days with some bite marks, according to one spectator, although Jenkinson's Aquarium experts had inspected the seal and declared he was simply resting. By the time we chanced by, a call to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine had already brought an efficient young woman who was scooping up the seal in a net and maneuvering it into a portable carrier. A local man assisted her, carrying the crate to the waiting van, where she added ice around the seal to prevent further dehydration. 
The seal would be treated at the rescue center in Brigantine before being released back to the ocean. The Center claims to have an 88% rehabilitation success rate. Here are some pix from their website:
Using the flexible net 

Back at the rescue center

another harbor seal being released after successful rehab
back in the ocean!

Harbor seals and gray seals follow sage senior citizen advice, migrating southward in winter and returning to the north in spring in time for pupping (birthing) season off the coast of Maine and Eastern Canada. 

I had no idea that seals often wash up on Jersey beaches in the winter and in increasing numbers in recent years.  According to The Star Ledger, "There have been 26 seal strandings in New Jersey since November. Fourteen of those strandings happened in February." 

Seals are sometimes injured or sick or may just stop for a rest on their long journey. They travel alone or in a loosely defined group, widely spaced in order to have their own territory for feeding on fish, squid and mollusks, so it's not surprising that some lose their way and land on the shore.  No need to worry that Mama Seal is crying and wondering where her wayward juvenile is--humans should be so lucky!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Daffodils and Spring

April is National Poetry Month. The gorgeous, sunshiny weather this weekend was inspiring, so here is a little poem I recall from grammar school (It was a favorite to write in autograph books--remember them?)

Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where 
The birdies is.

Not exactly Robert Frost, but happy. And, if you're wondering where the birdies is in New Jersey, the answer for blackbirds is....everywhere.  

This picture doesn't capture it, but the flocks have been blackening lawns and swooping down from trees, squawking and swirling through the sky. I had a Tippi Hedrenesque moment running to my car parked in the driveway, but luckily no attack squadron dive bombed me. Check out this YouTube mashup of scenes from Hitchcock's The Birds. 

Such a deliciously scary movie. Whew...on a calmer note, here's a favorite springtime poem by British romantic poet William Wordsworth. 

Wildlife Center - a few years ago- We're still about 2 weeks away from peak bloom for this year

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Saturday, April 2, 2011


Today is my anniversary - two years since my stage IV diagnosis and still stable and on the same treatment regimen! YAY!  I almost hate to type that out--don't want to jinx myself.  Not that I believe in omens...

When I went for my first Catscan and nuclear bone scan two years ago,  I was happy it was my niece's birthday--that had to be a good omen. Unfortunately, not so.  I remember the technician coming back in and saying he needed one more view on the side and I took that as a bad sign. Yes, it was, but most likely it would have been a bad scan with or without that final side view.

Totally irrational to believe in good luck, omens, superstitions, and yet.. we all at least give them lip service. Do you have that lucky shirt, penny, charm, number, four leaf clover, rabbit's foot? Do you avoid black cats, the number 13, walking under ladders?

Is belief in omens just another thing we can blame on our parents? How many times did I hear the following when I was growing up:
  • happy the bride the sun shines on; happy the corpse the rain falls on
  • hat on a table means a fight
  • two forks means a fight 
  • itchy nose means a fight (hmm, seem to be a lot on fighting)
  • two spoons--honeymoon soon
  • dropped silverware means unexpected company is coming
  • if the palm of your hand itches you will be coming into money. 
  • If your ear itches and it is red and hot, someone is speaking bad of you.
  • if a woman is the first to bring in the New Year, it's bad luck. (I remember my father once walked around the house just after midnight to assure that a male brought in the New Year and he always got on the phone first on New Year's Day to talk to my grandmother)
  • if you have turkey or chicken for New Year dinner, you'll be scratching all year. Better to have a nice fatty roast for a prosperous year. (before we worried about cholesterol)
  • if you get a chill up your back or goosebumps, it means that someone is walking over your grave. 
  • it is bad luck to kill a ladybug, let milk boil over, open an umbrella inside the house, or give someone a new wallet or pocketbook with no money inside.
  • it is good luck if a bird poops on you, you put your clothes on inside out or you have one of the aforementioned lucky charms
  • a wish made upon seeing the first robin in spring will come true - but only if you complete the wish before the robin flies away.

and my all time favorites:

  • laugh before supper, cry before bed.  (said to a child who was overtired and laughing a little too hysterically, but could also be interpreted as bad luck to be too happy?)
  • good luck to see a hay wagon or a carful of nuns --according to my Grandma Connell (not too likely today!)
  • good luck if you rubbed my brother's new crewcut haircut according to our laundryman, who bet on pigeon races.  (Yes, it was a different era--my mom sent out the shirts and sheets and the laundryman would pick up and deliver)

I took a spin around the internet and found quite a few other interesting ones. Birds are popular in all cultures as good or bad omens:

On the way to a business endeavor, find a bird: if bird flies to the right, it is good luck. To the left is bad luck.

A crowing hen, a whistling girl, and a black cat are considered very unlucky. Beware of them in a house.

If a rooster comes to your threshold and crows, you may expect visitors.

While on a trip if you see three magpies on your left it is unlucky; but two on the right is a good omen. (this assumes you can identify a magpie--think Hekyl and Jekyl)

If you hear a cuckoo on your right you will have good luck for a year. (I thought they only lived in clocks)

Whoever kills a robin redbreast will never have good luck, even if they lived to be a thousand years old. (that's harsh)

A water wagtail near the house means bad news is on its way to you. (again, get out the Peterson's Guide. hint: a water wagtail is the same as a pied wagtail--does that help?!)

Birds in the household are considered bad luck, and certain types of feathers are considered bad luck as well.

Constructing of stork nest in a particular household is believed to bring its owner good luck and prosperity. It is also believed to protect a house from thunder strikes. 

If a bird hits the window, someone will die.

So, I don't know about you, but the next time I need good luck, I'm going to wait until the birds are flying to the right, hope one will poop on me, look for a child with a crewcut,  put my shirt on inside out, stick my lucky penny in my pocket and head out to the countryside to find a hay wagon.  Yeah, that should cover it for now---until you send me your own prescriptions for good or bad luck.