Thursday, February 20, 2014

Story 21: The Encounter

             “I feel like a ghost haunting my own childhood.”
            The man sitting at the library computer at first didn’t realize the comment had been aimed sideways at him.  The speaker tried a different tactic and faced his now-listener directly.
            “Don’t you ever feel that way about your life?”
          The next two seconds spanned an infinity for the listener, whose reactions ran the gamut of panic, anger, uncertainty as to what answer, if any, would not be stupid, rude, and/or wrath-inducing, and panic again.  The result: “Uh… sure?”
           That was enough: “I mean, really, like, we work through school, man, and, like, college, and, like, everyone expects you to be successful and rule the world, and here I am, still living in my parents’ basement.  Don’t you think the government and this country’s gone down the toilet since World War II?”
           The listener realized the subject had abruptly changed from the futility of youth to politics.  “Uh… sure?”
            “I mean, you had the Cold War, right, and Korea then, and Korea now, the Middle East for, like, ever, recessions, Darfur, the IRA, and the rich getting richer.  What’s the point of it all, man?”  He waited for The Answer.
            The listener saw some sympathetic glances shot his way.  Sympathetic, useless glances.  “Uh… nothing?  I mean, well, just… try… to do the right thing.” 
            “Yeah, but the CIA, man!  I’m telling you, it all goes back to World War II!  And then the Soviets – ”
            A stroke of genius: “Bees.”
            “The honeybees are dying everywhere.  No one knows why.”  It was pretty much known why.  “The honeybees are us.”
            “Gotta go.”  He got up and left.  A librarian stopped him on the way out.
            “I was about to ask if you needed help – he tends to trap anyone who listens.”
            “I’m fine, thanks.  He may need help, though.”
            “I’ll speak to his mother again; she’s hoping he’ll grow out of it by the time he turns 7.”

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Story 20: Vive L’Opera, Act II

Il Mascalzone (The Scoundrel)

            (The setting: a quiet street on a busy day in 19th-century Florence)
            (Enter: Two Servants)
            Servant 1: <Our master is a scoundrel!>
            Servant 2: <And his next target is the maiden living next door!>
            Servant: <How his shenanigans brighten our days!>
            (Exit: Two Servants.  Enter: The Scoundrel)
            The Scoundrel: <Aria!  My life is very sad because I have no one I can really talk to.>
            (Enter: The Maiden)
            The Maiden: <Aria!  I spend my days marking time until I get married.>
            The Scoundrel:  <I can solve that problem for you.>
            (Enter: The Maiden’s Male Relative)
            The Maiden’s Male Relative: <Halt, The Scoundrel!  You will not denigrate my female relative into a notch on your disgusting belt!>
            The Scoundrel: <Flee!>   
           (Townspeople materialize from the wings; Servant 1 picks up The Scoundrel in a car and they drive off)
            The Maiden’s Male Relative: <What was that demon horseless carriage?>
            Townspeople: <Demon horseless carriage!>
            The Maiden: <I must plot how to preserve my honor!>
            (Enter: Servant 2 in disguise as a child)
Servant 2: <Allow me to assist you, wink, wink.>
            Townspeople: <What could possibly go wrong?>
            (The setting: The same street with darker lighting)
            (Enter: The Scoundrel, grandly, through the automatic doors of his mansion)
            The Scoundrel: <Aria 2!  I have scored yet again.>
            (Enter: The Maiden, wearing rags)
            The Maiden: <I am a ruined wretch!  How did I let this happen to me between acts?>
            The Scoundrel: <Let me recount.>
            (Puppeteers enter and re-enact the sordid story in pantomime.  From the direction of the void that faces the characters (aka “The Fourth Wall”) comes the shout: “What a dastard!”)
            The Maiden: <Tragic Aria!  Now what will I do with my life?>
            (Enter: The Foreigner)
            The Foreigner: <Now for something completely random – let me regale you with stories from my native Japan.>
            The Scoundrel: <You’re not from Japan.>
            The Foreigner: <I never let that stop me.>
            (Exit: The Foreigner.  Enter: The Maiden’s Male Relative and the Two Servants)
            The Maiden’s Male Relative: <A plague on ye for corrupting my female relative!>
            The Scoundrel: <Next time keep a better eye on her, honored elder.>
            The Maiden’s Male Relative: <Strike you!>
           (He strikes at The Scoundrel and misses.  Servant 1 mortally strikes The Maiden’s Male Relative; The Maiden mortally strikes Servant 1; Servant 2 mortally strikes The Maiden; and The Scoundrel mortally strikes Servant 2 in order not to be left out of the action)
            Dying Characters: (In four-part harmony) <Alas!> (They die)
            The Scoundrel: <Ah me, onto my next conquest!>
            (Enter: The Foreigner)
            The Foreigner: <Little does he know that this is the just the right cause to avenge that I have been looking for all my life!> (He discards his disguise and reveals that he is in law enforcement) <Halt!  Police!  Your dastardly ways are at an end!>
The Scoundrel: <Alas!  And woe.>
(Justice is served, but too late for any of the good guys)


Friday, February 7, 2014

Story 20: Vive L’Opera, Act I

At the local opera house, it was the third of the six-performance run of Il Mascalzone (aka: The Scoundrel), the second of “The Dastardly Man” cycle by the great Immortale.  Any kinks that had revealed themselves the first time around had been ironed out by now: after all, even though this was a new production, The Scoundrel had been performed 2,337,678 times worldwide so that even the rankest amateur knew at least some of the lyrics.
The issue with this production, as with any of similar scope and ambition, was that there was too much set with too many performers and not enough stage to hold them all.  The hydraulic system and electronics worked perfectly, but the question on every audience member’s mind was this: were there  really motorized cars and automatic doors in 19th-century Florence?  The program indicated that this was not an updated version either, which would have been sneered at but then ironically forgiven.  The audience overlooked these anachronisms, but they felt taken out of the moment each time the machines whirred.
Then, there were the puppets, which were so realistic as to be almost creepy.  Everyone thought some children had wandered onto the stage, until realizing that these figures constantly were surrounded by three people wearing black, one of whom would whip the character’s head around on cue.  The alternative would have been to pay children to consistently obey stage directions and say nothing, and good luck with that.
And, in the grand tradition of the art form, many of the performers did not quite fit the ethnicity they were portraying – best to ignore it.
As the plot went into full swing, each featured singer got an aria or two, and a number of opera glasses were shattered as a result.  Audience members were able to follow along with the foreign lyrics by having translations appear on computer screens installed on the seat in front of them – another advantage over the past – and shot dirty looks to those who muttered “That’s not what he said!”  An appreciative, barely audible sigh would ripple throughout the theater as familiar tunes popped up throughout the score: one was recognizable now as a jingle for ice cream.
The three intermissions were an hour long each for the prime donne and primi uomini to rest their throats and for the stage crew to disassemble one set and build the next from scratch.  The conductor entered at the beginning of the show and after each break to take his bows, while the orchestra remembered his many abuses and refused to call him “Maestro”.
The grand finale was a resounding success, with every character on stage dead, dying, or vowing revenge as their portrayers visualized their after-performance naps.  The audience section resounded with sobs; the singers revived themselves to take their restrained bows; and flowers rained upon them from all directions.  The audience left the opera house that day with a new appreciation for art, theater, and culture, along with gratitude for not having to live in the time period they just witnessed wipe out 9/10ths of the dramatis personae.
The Scoundrel: three performances down, three to go.