I know that most of you probably watch movies all the time and probably have for years, both in your homes and in the theaters. I'm not a movie goer, never have been. I've never been enthralled by shows on screens, either large or small. I don't know if I have mentioned it before, but I do not watch TV either - haven't since 1984. I spent the summer of 1984 happily unemployed, somehow flush with cash, and living in Lexington with two friends, Mary-John Celletti and Chris Greenwell, who later married, had a son, and later divorced. Their son is now a senior at Saint Xavier High School here in Louisville. But, I digress. That summer, for fun, I took two classes at what was then called the Lexington Technical Institute. Truthfully, I enrolled so as to participate in the University of Kentucky's student government legitimately. I had been involved before when I was a freshman.
Two friends of mine, Tim Freudenberg and David Bradford, were back-to-back UK student government presidents, both of whom I helped. David wanted to appoint me to some position, but one needed to be a student. So, I enrolled in the classes. One was a public speaking class, ironically taught by an Indian professor, and the other was a theatre class of some sort. I passed both classes. Lexington Technical Institute later changed its name to the Lexington Community College, and much later changed names again and is now called the Cooper Campus of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College, a part of Kentucky's system of community and technical colleges located throughout the Commonwealth. They were all once a part of the University of Kentucky system, but were made independent a few years ago. LTI, then LCC, and now the Cooper Campus of the BCTC, is located on Cooper Drive on the UK campus, south of South Campus, and north of Commonwealth Stadium. A little to the east is the Kentucky Educational Television headquarters.
I spent that summer working with student government and hanging out at a place called Charlie Brown's, a bar on Euclid Avenue. Occassionally I'd go around the corner to the Saratoga, a neat old place in the style of the Oak Room in the Seelbach, on E. High Street, where I'd occassionally find my late Uncle Noble Hedger indulging in a sasparilla of some sort. (A sasparilla of some sort was also the favorite drink of my old and sadly deceased friend Jerry Kleier, a South Louisville politician, veteran of WW2, and all around great guy, but his stories will have to wait). The Saratoga was rather high-brow, but I enjoyed it. My friend David Gore lived in an apartment somewhere in that block, perhaps on the second floor above the Saratoga. On the other hand, Charlie Brown's was quite laid back, and tres chic I suppose. It had several sets of couches and large-cushioned chairs, and a library along one wall. A group of us would discuss the plight of the world and of the United States while enjoying drinks (I preferred bourbon and soda at the time), listening to A Whiter Shade of Pale, and a eating a Charlie Brown burger, which distinctively was adorned with a large dollop of Grey Poupon Mustard. The group I hung out with was living our own version of Margaritaville, casually living through the events of a summer of drinking and socializing, and having the student government as a backdrop. The truth is, I miss it, I miss it all.
That summer, Lexington (and American) television viewing offered three big events, the same three they offer in each leap year, that of the Summer Olympics, and the two national political conventions. I watched all three, mostly on a sofa in an apartment in the Lakeshore Drive area of Lexington, out Richmond Road in behind the new Henry Clay High School, set against the Lexington Reservoir, the "lake" part of Lakeshore, Laketower, and the Two Lakes communities.
The National Democratic Convention was up first, in mid-July. The Democrats held their convention in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the city of San Francisco, California. There the delegates gathered to nominate my Party's nominee based on either state caucusses [cauci?] or primaries. Earlier that Spring I had participated in Kentucky's one-and-only real presidential delegate caucus, at least in my lifetime. As a voter in Kentucky's Third Congressional District, I supported the delegates who were supporting the Reverend Jesse Jackson. The site for my area's convention was none other than the TV classroom of my high school alma mater, Durrett, a room I had never been in during my time as a student. Jackson's delegates won Kentucky's 3rd CD although he did not fare as well in other parts of the Commonwealth. Neither did Jackson fare well at the convention, although he did place third, behind the eventual nominee former Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale and former United States Senator Gary Hart, who might have come back four years later, but for some Monkey Business on a small boat. The first real highlight of the convention was the nomination of Queens (NY) Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as the vice presidential candidate, chosen over, among others, San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, and Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins. The other highlight was the keynote speech given by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
The Summer Olympics followed from sunny southern California, in the City of Angels. A little trivia. The official name of what is usually just called "LA" is El pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula. An unrelated trivia question: Name the state which has the longest official name (or just give me the official name). The 1984 Summer Olympics ran from late July into August. They were overseen by none other than the incumbent president, Ronald Wilson Reagan, who was also running for re-election. How convenient. Carl Lewis was one of the stars, running sprints and laps around oval tracks setting four world records, equalling the number achieved by Jesse Owens from forty-eight years earlier. Zola Budd, the South African-suddenly-turned-Brit, also gave Americans something to talk about, as she and Mary Decker bumped a few times, eventually sending Decker into a tumbling fall into the infield. The other name of memory from that summer's Olympics is Mary Lou Retton, a young lady from West Virginia, who stole the hearts of many viewers with her gymnastic triumphs. She was the first female to appear on a box of Wheaties and was most recently seen in the 2004 Republican National Convention, now an outspoken Christian Conservative, where she led the Pledge of Allegiance in the convention which renominated the worst president in the history of the Republic as their standardbearer.
The final event that summer was the lackluster Republican National Convention, held in late August in a city that no one will ever say rivals San Francisco for beauty, Dallas, Texas. Incumbent President Ronald Reagan and his incumbent vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush, were renominated without opposition. I cannot remember any highlights of this convention. And with the close of this convention, my summer viewing, and indeed regular daily viewing of TV of any kind, came to a close.
That isn't to say I haven't watched TV at all during the ensuing twenty-three years. That's hard to do in a country which values its TV viewing habits, while at the same time criticising them as detrimental, with some going as far as saying they will be part of the downfall of the American empire. Anyone who visits a mall, or a friend, or a relative, is likely to encounter a television [we used to call them television sets] which more likely than not is "on" whether anyone is watching or not. The advent of cable TV has expanded viewing options over the years, and satellites even moreso. Nonetheless, I have pretty much stuck to my aversion of TV through thick and thin. Most recently, in 2004, I watched only the funeral procedings of President Reagan, whose body was shipped back and forth across the continent several times before finally being laid to rest at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on June 11th in a very beautiful ceremony, held just as the sun was setting (so Reaganesque). A few weeks later, tornado-like weather hit Louisville on July 13th. I had been caught in the 4th Street underpass by the U of L campus from where I watched what I thought was a tornado pass in front of me. I went home and tuned in the TV to see what had happened. Something called a derecho had moved through Louisville and done some significant damage. LG&E reported its largest number of power outages since the deadly April 3 tornado 31 years earlier. In 2005 and nearly all of 2006, I can not say that my TV was ever turned on, although to be fair, due to illness in 2005, I cannot recall much of anything from May to September. I did turn it on those last few days of 2006 to watch the funeral rites of yet another president, Gerald Ford, who had died on December 26. President Ford was the longest-lived president, surpassing President Reagan by forty-five days. Since President Ford's Mass in Washington DC, my TV has been dark. It sits in a corner of one of my bedrooms.
I started this discussion talking about not the small screen but the big screen. That juxtaposition of small screen-big screen reminds me of the exchange between Joe and Norma Desmond in the American dark-classic Sunset Boulevard. Joe the newspaper reporter said, "I know you. You're Norma Desmond! You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big!" Norma, delusional, responded, "I am big! It's the pictures that got small!" On the "profile" page of this blog, I have listed a few of my favorite films. That was easy for me because I haven't watched all that many films of any sort. I mentioned the ones which immediately came to mind. I should have included Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, The Sound of Music, Star Wars and maybe The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
The one sort of acting I do like is stage - theatre. But I do not get there often enough. My last trip to the theater was last fall, actually about a week before Autumn technically commenced. With my friend Stuart Perelmuter, I went to see Actors Theater's production of My Fair Lady, one of my favorites. I first saw it performed live in 1980 at the Youth Performing Arts School on S. Second Street. I've seen it several times over the years, and will see it again should the time and place of its performance allow. Other favorite plays include Lunatics At Large, The Importance of Being Earnest, and most any Shakespearean play. Maybe that is one of the reasons I like politics - and religion. There seems to be a lot of drama involved in both. We are all just actors, playing out our varying and various parts on different stages. Much as soliloquyed by Jacques in the second scene of As You Like It.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Incidentally, last night I watched a movie. It is called An Inconvenient Truth. It is former vice president Al Gore's documentary on global warming, with some personal and political highlights thrown in. He introduces himself as the guy who used to be the next president. It's well worth a view, even if you don't like the big screen, or Al Gore. It presents a very valid inconvenient truth we've all been living with for years. Someday we'll have to address it. Someday. If not soon, we'll end up like Jacques' man in his last scene, sans everything. But like the Old South's most famous heroine, Scarlett O' Hara, America will think about that inconvenient truth tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.