Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 14, 2001: The Day the Music Lived. Again

     The other day I was (metaphorically) out foraging for wood to keep the ego fires burning.  It had been a week or so of 'downer days' - attorney screwed up so trial, with probable award for Moi, postponed;  child of mine refuses to return a valuable antiquity JUST when Mom in need;  spinal "condition" and car accident injury causing more pain and less range of motion;  contractor lied about beach cottage cleaning so son took wife there for leisurely Mother's Day weekend which she spent cleaning;  related my woes to "friend" whom I've been supporting through a cancer scare for months only to get, "BOOOO.  Talk when things better." in response.  (Funny.  She doesn't LOOK like a 'rubber crutch'. - and I could smell, taste, feel a tailspin case of "woe-is-me" coming on.
     I frequently turn to (St.) Groucho (surely a Jew for Jesus) at such times.  And not jus for his comedy, which had as its stockpile, IDEAS, ie, he would create an art form which would then announce itself to the world as inane, incomprehensible, inimitable and, always successful.  You see, his IDEA of comedy rendered the FACT of comedy valid. 
      (The only way to explain this little 'way' he had with the comedic is by example.  This because both in presentation and content, Groucho's ideas often sound confused, illogical, as if they had lost their way and didn't do what they set out to do.  Groucho would be delighted with this outcome.  To wit, an exchange from the play "Animal Crackers" between Captain Spaulding (Groucho) and a society lady (Margaret Dumont):
     Mrs. Dumont:  Captain, did you BAG SIX tigers?
     Groucho:         I bagged them. . . . . I bagged them to go away but they hung around all afternoon.  They
                            were the most persistent tigers I've ever seen. . . . . The principle animals inhabiting the    
                           African Jungle are Moose, Elks and the Knights of Pythias.  Of course, you ALL know
                           what a moose is?  A moose runs around the floor, eats cheese and is chased by the cat. 
                          The Elks, on the other hand, live up in the hills, and in the Spring they come down for their
                           annual convention.  It's very interesting to watch them come to the water hole.  And you
                          should see them run when they find out it IS just a water hole.  THEY were looking for an
      But I believe his most admirable 'Marxmanship' is exhibited in how he lived his life.  His Credo: - and this is PURE conjecture - 'YOU might "Bet Your Life" but I prefer to think mine through very carefully.  He had an innate sense of the importance of knowledge.  Having been deprived of the opportunity to learn formally because family survival duties required him to succeed sartorially and, therefore, financially.  To compensate, he syphoned knowledge from books, social events, for example, hosting a dinner party where he fed AND fed on his guests, and keeping up with acquaintances whose mental acuity he admired.  His frequent luncheons at the famous Algonquin Table with Dorothy Parker, FPA, Chico Marx and noted authors and refined performers of the time.  Ere long, he distanced himself from "the Table" luminaries.  He felt they were not living up to their potential;  had become absolutely refractory and were stagnating.
     Surely, there is nothing to be gained by fostering relationships with the likes of THIS group.  Which is why I come bearing gifts today, dear reader.  They are for you and, it is hoped, will serve you well on  your journey, your LIFE journey.
 I.  Befriend little "better-you-makers", eg, God, happy doers, 'HEALTHY' ego possessors and loyal, loving mates and pets.

     (Groucho's brand of executing this kind of living mimics best some of the Greek gods Trickster and Pan.  His antics - engaging as they were - DREW folks with 'the right stuff' to him.  People love to laugh and he was personally responsible for countless solo outbursts of erratic and disruptive behavior but he was also, and deeply, involved with similar outbursts with three or four of his brothers.  Amusing pranks, yes, but a display of filial unity and devotion that appealed to worthy 'friends'.  Pan, known for an impish kind of rape, ie, an outward transgression which is actually - and secretly - welcomed by his victims.  One of the Ladies Marx, daughter Miriam, is a case in point.  Their father-daughter relationship was based on a true, if primitive, love.  Groucho at Miriam's PTA meeting is a fine example of life with father Marx.
     He attended the meeting at her special request, sat in the front row, and was not recognized.  Miriam was delighted and very proud that he was there.  He behaved beautifully from the time the president called the meeting to order until the Treasurer began her report.  He listened in martyred silence as she reeled off, in a high-pitched voice, page after page of dull facts and figures.  But when she climaxed her report with the announcement that the PTA had spent eight dollars and ninety-seven cents for tea during May, he could no longer restrain himself.  Jumping to his feet and shouting, "What KIND of tea?".  Taken aback, but still in command, the treasurer said, "Why orange pekoe, of course."  "Why wasn't I consulted?  I happen to like Chinese tea!"  "We've always used orange pekoe and I think we all enjoy it."  "Well I don't.  And I don't know about these other people either.  They're just a bunch of sheep that will drink any swill given to them."  He then demanded a vote; the meeting was in a shambles and Miriam was asked to escort her father home.)

     II.  READ - only the best of fiction and non.

     (As mentioned earlier, Groucho determined to educate himself.  While others played neighborhood games in their precious off hours, he read.  Later, when pastimes matured to girls, pool, cards, croquet, he sat at home alone or at the theater - reading.  His children claim he kept a current news magazine on the front car seat so he could make good use of red lights and traffic jams.)

     III.  ENGAGE IN WELL-ROUNDED LEISURE ACTIVITIES.  And these ALWAYS in moderation, eg, nap is good; in bed lightly snoozing 80% of the waking day is bad.

     (Groucho, acutely aware of their collective lack of performing talents when they started out working in vaudeville, had to do some fast talking to keep the rotten eggs and tomatoes at bay.  And it worked.  His "word salads" - practiced in off-hours - sparked a life-time banquet of Marx malapropisms and general mayhem in every field of entertainment.)

     IV.  HELP THE NEEDY but do not confuse "fellowship" with obsession, neglect of one's own duties or the excuse of never having the time to - in solitary - examine your own journey.

     (One gal Groucho helped regularly was mother Minnie - an out-going, fun-loving, poker-playing woman who loved to make the decisions.  Her interest centered on getting her boys started on a career and playing a role herself - manager.  Groucho once said, "My mother treated us all equally - with contempt."  The fact is, he visited her daily and treated her with consistent kindness and respect.)

     V.  LOVE ART, SPORTS, LEARNING.  And it need not be in that order.  There are NO rules, actually.  For example, what one person considers "art" may simply be utile to another.

     (For Groucho, certain objects - what some might consider creature comforts - elicited very strong responses.  His first car, a Pontiac convertible, was purchased for twenty dollars in cash.  It meant a great deal to him.  Indeed, each Sunday, the family enjoyed a regular outing - a twenty minute drive to the park where Dad would spend several hours simonizing and buffing while the family watched.  Go figure.)

     VI.  LOVE LOVE, shunning the evil, the tawdry, the mean and hurtful, the selfish.

     (Groucho's love of love in this way is performed in his relationship with his children.  His concern for every aspect of their development had them in and out of school - lest they miss seeing FIRST-HAND a one-of-a-kind object or learning experience.  He honestly felt that excursions with him were far superior to anything the school could offer them educationally or culturally.  With Groucho, education was, "Reeling and writhing, of course, and then the different branches of arithmetic - Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision.", as Lewis Carroll had said.  It was also just as confusing to Arthur and Miriam as it was to Alice in Wonderland.  Actually, they always brought their lessons along and learned a great deal.)

     VII. LOVE YOU - MIND, BODY, SOUL - WITH HUGE AMOUNTS OF LAUGHTER, AS MUCH GRACE AS POSSIBLE AND HONEST/WILLING PARDON ALWAYS ON HAND.  For it is true: One minute you're waiting in the wings; the next, you're wearing them.
     These have been my counter to "The Seven Deadly Sins":  I give you,
I write them wearing my 'just-received-yesterday' "One Fabulous Mom" pin from one of my fabulous children.  I dedicate - and will soon give them - to my FAVORITE, FABULOUS, FUNNY FATHER, Msg. Ray Barton (pictured below with the 'pin-giver')
September 16, 2008
                                                                  Father officiated at the
                                                        wedding of Julie & Matt Compton

November 5, 1976
Father Ray officiates at
the 'Punch Bowl" Baptism
of Julie Jean Leavy
(Plastic half-full glass of cola = Druid Good Luck talisman)
Later, L. . . .
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