Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Full English Breakfast

When I awoke this morning I was disappointed to find no one offered to fry me up any eggs and bacon (or as we Americans call it, ham) with tomato, mushrooms and beans as they had the past three mornings. And I was really starting to like the beans too! I just returned from a whirlwind trip to England to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was absolutely fantastic and a dream come true. About 10 months ago I found out Patrick Stewart would be performing in Hamlet and immediately purchased tickets for two nights. Seeing Patrick Stewart perform Shakespeare has been on my list of things to do in life for a while now. I've seen his one man show of A Christmas Carol twice and it was amazing. I have been a Shakespeare freak since high school and seeing Mr. Stewart performing Shakespeare was a bit like the Holy Grail for me. Even though it meant spending money I really didn't have, traveling by myself and spending only four days total, it was something I was determined to do. As it turns out, it was more than worth it. I would go again in a heartbeat.

The trip started a little unevenly. My flight was about half an hour late so I knew I had very little time to make my train at Marylebone. I raced for the Heathrow Express to Paddington, from there caught the tube two stops to Marylebone and, quite unfortunately, missed the train to Stratford by just a couple of minutes. I chatted for a while with two very friendly conductors and after telling them I had theatre tickets they suggested that rather than wait for the next train, which if on time (not something British railway system is known for) would have put me in Stratford with only 30 minutes to curtain, I take a train to Warwick and get a taxi from there. It would give me an hour and a half. Perfect!

I absolutely love England so I enjoyed gazing at the green fields and fluffy white sheep on the way to Warwick. The taxi driver deposited me at the Falcon hotel in Stratford with plenty of time to shower and get ready for the play. The theatre was only a few minutes walk, but I didn't want to be late so I went directly there rather than stopping for something to eat or to go to the ATM even though the taxi had taken most of the cash I'd brought with me. This ended up being a critical error on my part, but at this time there was no way of knowing what the evening had in store.

I got to the theatre, had a bottle of orange juice (lunch and dinner) and took my seat. Front row of the circle, center. In my opinion, the very best seat in the house. For the next three and a half hours I was completely caught up in the magic of the Bard's words brought wonderfully and vibrantly to life by this amazing cast. I have seen a lot of Shakespeare performed, including other performances by the RSC, but nothing even comes close to being as truly brilliant and perfect as this production of Hamlet. The entire cast was outstanding, but I have to admit being completely blown away by David Tennant (or as I knew him prior to this, Dr. Who) in the lead role. He was tremendous. A true comic genius with the range to play the full scale of emotions of the Danish Prince from heartbreaking despair to ribald humour, acerbic wit to seething anger. Quite honestly, I think I fell just a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) in love with Mr. Tennant based solely on his performance. Of course I came specifically for Patrick Stewart and he did not disappoint. His Claudius was truly diabolical, and quite frightening. He is a commanding presence on the stage (or as I wrote in my journal after the performance, "like a god upon the stage") and I have to say I feel incredibly lucky to have seen him on four separate occasions now. He is an amazingly gifted performer and this is never more evident than in his theatre work. Finally seeing him perform Shakespeare was even more brilliant than I imagined. I also have to give kudos to Penny Downie whose turn as Gertrude was also quite memorable. The entire cast was, truly, outstanding.

So after witnessing this amazing incarnation of what is perhaps Shakespeare's finest work, I found that there was yet another incredible treat in store. After taking their bows, the actors announced that this was a special week in England when they raise money for the actors' fund and the entire cast would be in the lobby with buckets. OMFG! I could not believe what I was hearing. Mr. Patrick Stewart was actually going to be in the lobby. I could actually meet him! When I arrived in the lobby, there he was behind the bar, thronged by people, signing autographs. People were having their programs signed. I had decided to wait and buy one the following night because I had so little cash. Oh no. What to do? Then I remembered my ticket. It was actually quite large and would do nicely. I scrounged all of the change from my purse, about four pounds total. I felt terrible. I would have liked to have given so much more. If only I'd had time to go to the ATM before the show! Still, I knew this might be my only chance. Although they had said they were taking up the collection this "week" I knew there was no guarantee they would do it the following night. I waited for my turn with Mr. Stewart feeling excited, terrified, giddy and also ashamed that I had so little money for the charity bucket. When my turn came, I slid my ticket across to him and whispered a tentative hello. He took the ticket to sign and then looked at me expectantly--waiting, I'm sure, for me to speak. I looked at him with what I'm certain was a crazed expression of terror and could not bring myself to utter a single syllable. He handed back my ticket, I found my voice to say "thank you very much," threw my money in the bucket and literally ran out of the theatre.

OMG! Patrick Stewart had signed my ticket! I was nearly hysterical with my good fortune. It was only later that my regret at not having talked to him began to creep in. And I really wished I'd had more money to give. I could have asked if he'd take U.S. dollars, which I had, for the collection. I could have told him I'd traveled for 10.5 hours by plane, 3 hours by train, 15 minutes by taxi and 5 minutes on foot just to see him perform. I spent most of the night lying awake rehearsing a concise speech of admiration for his work, which (I hoped) didn't sound too stalkerish, on the off chance they would be taking the collection again the next night. I was fully prepared. I purchased a program and made sure to have some liquid courage during intermission. Alas, it was not to be. My chance had been a once in a life time chance. I was sad only because I really, truly would have like to have given an appropriate donation to the fund and I would also have liked to have told Patrick Stewart how greatly I admire his work. If anyone reading this happens to know Mr. Stewart, I would greatly appreciate it if you could pass this along to him. I realize only two people read this blog, but I'm putting it out there anyway!

Despite the fact that I was unable to really speak to him, I am absolutely ecstatic over my great fortune in being in the theatre the one night it was possible to get his autograph. And, even if I had not had that particular opportunity, I would still be on cloud nine now, having witnessed such a tremendous production, not once, but twice. It was even better the second night. I'm certain I could have watched this play a dozen times without becoming the least bit bored. I can say in all honesty that this was the adventure of a lifetime and a dream come true for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kids Today

So I'm walking down the street to my office yesterday and I see an ad on the side of a bus shelter which, I kid you not, is actually aimed at getting kids to play. It says "One Hour a Day. Go Out and Play!" What kind of a country are we running here where kids aren't, of their own volition, going out to play? Isn't that their only job as kids? Isn't there something in the way they are hard wired that causes them to erupt into spontaneous play without prompting from the Ad Council? How did we end up here? Is it the video games which have taken over most every kid and a number of adults and turned them into sort of cyber zombies who live only in the virtual world? The paranoia parents have of letting their kids outside in a world filled with creeps and wackos? Or the chronic over-scheduling of our kids with homework, sports, clubs, lessons, etc. all aimed at getting them into the right pre-school so they can go to Harvard Law some day and then resent the fuck out of you because they really wanted to be a photographer? Perhaps we have a perfect storm which has come together to rob children of their childhoods, of the pure exhilaration of riding their bikes as fast as they can and taking the "Evil Knievel" style jump at the bottom of the hill, of climbing trees and throwing Frisbees, playing football and having snowball fights. I admit I spent more than enough time sitting on my fat little backside playing Barbies, but I did all these things and more and had a ball! Do kids today really need an ad to encourage them to have real fun in the real world? If that's true then it is a sad, sad day for America.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Bailout Blues

What the fuck is going on here? AIG gets $85 billion then sends their people on a $400,000 retreat and the government turns around and hands them another $38 billion? Are they on crack? According to this article on Marketwatch.com http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/senate-chair-gets-mad-over/story.aspx?guid=%7BCDA1827B%2DFC98%2D4320%2D80E9%2DCD0239BDC80F%7D AIG has yet another retreat planned! And Wachovia is sending up to 75 of its brokers and their significant others on a cruise of the Greek Isles. This is beyond ridiculous! I have no words to describe how offended I am. Remember when everyone used to complain about the "welfare moms" who were driving Cadillacs? How is this any different? These companies are accepting bailout money and then continuing to behave irresponsibly. Talk about fucking hubris. Kudos to Senator Baucus. I hope he can actually do something to bring these greedy bastards down.

Look, I did NOT buy a house I couldn't afford. I didn't dupe stupid people into taking out adjustable rate mortgages on houses they couldn't afford. I didn't package up bad loans and sell them as securities. I didn't rate said securities as AAA. So tell me again why I'm stuck footing the bill for these shenanigans? Fuck every last one of them. Let the banks fail and they can all rot in hell. All my money's in liquid assets (aka wine!) so I've nothing to lose now that my 401k has been decimated. I can live on ramen. I've done it before. Let Wall Street feel what it's like to suffer for change. Maybe I'll never be able to retire, but if it means these bastards get what's coming to them, I don't care. I am too incensed to care.

I do have one really good idea for helping Wall Street out though. I know exactly how they can raise a ton of money. Did you hear how Lehman Brothers CEO, Richard Fuld, was punched in the face while running on a tread mill in the gym after announcing Lehman would be filing for bankruptcy? Knocked him right the fuck out, apparently. I know, it really is awesome! Now, wouldn't you like a similar opportunity? I know I would. I say we take all these Wall Street Fat Cats, especially any recipients of golden parachutes and any prick who goes on that cruise of the Greek Isles, and we line them all up and for $10 anyone who wants to can take their best shot. $20 for a shot to the groin! I think there would be plenty of interest from all the Joe and Jane Six-Packs out on Main Street, don't you? Look, I know violence is wrong, but I'm just saying.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Made in America

Remember when you were a kid and you could still actually find stuff that was made in America? When was the last time you saw something with a made in America label? I know I can 't remember. It used to be only cheap stuff was made in China and it was considered inferior. We didn't have Wal-Mart when I was a kid. We had K-Mart. Sure we shopped there, but never for anything substantial. K-Mart was associated with cheap products. Often made in China. Or Taiwan. All of my Barbies, which we bought at K-Mart, had Taiwan stamped on them. Foreign made products made my WWII vet dad angry and he avoided them when he could. The implication was always that products made in China were cheaper and, therefore, inferior. For the past ten to fifteen years I've noticed more and more things have the made in China label. I've purchased gifts, say photo frames with little tags saying made in China. I always removed the tag so the recipient wouldn't think I was cheap. It has recently occurred to me that it is no longer only cheap things which are made in China. I bought a decidedly not cheap dining set last year. The brand name was American Drew. Imagine my surprise when the table and chairs were delivered and I discovered little tags saying made in China. You would think that if the company name is American Drew, their products would be made in fucking America Yesterday, I was washing dishes and noticed for the first time that underneath the Crate & Barrel logo on the back of my plates it says, you guessed it, made in China. Again, these plates were not cheap. I did not buy them at Wal-Mart. I bought them at Crate & Barrel. Fucking Crate & Barrel. I suppose I really shouldn't be disparaging China in this way and I sound a bit like Archie Bunker here, but it would be a lot easier if there weren't a story every other month about some new poisonous product coming out of China. First the dog food, then the toothpaste, the children's toys. Now of course they have the tainted milk. Products made with the tainted milk have, in fact, made it to the USA. Mostly to small Asian markets, but still, is anyone paying any attention? Shouldn't one poison scare be enough? And what's up with the Chinese?
They executed the former head of their FDA last year http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/09/AR2007070900689_pf.html. Now you would think that would be enough to put everyone on the straight and narrow and yet, here they are with tainted milk.

But China really isn't the problem. The problem is American companies who are so obsessed with profit margin that they refuse to make things in America anymore. Manufacturing jobs are going the way of the Dodo bird. And with these manufacturing jobs goes our middle class--the very people companies count on to purchase the products they have made in China, Bangladesh, Mexico, etc. Without a middle class, there just isn't going to be a market for consumer goods, no matter how cheaply Wal-Mart can sell them.
Look, I don't know what the answer is here, clearly we are living in a global economy (one that is in serious trouble right now), but the collapse of the middle-class in America seems almost apocalyptic in nature and I think it is about time American businesses thought about the big picture for a change instead of just this quarter's bottom line.