A Talk Show Disaster

My days are filled with the sensation that I am always five minutes away from a terrible mistake.

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The UG! Quarantine Show is one of NYC-based actor/director/stand-up Todd Montesi’s many, many ongoing projects. Live on Instagram, he and his fellow stand-ups discuss life and comedy in our pandemic era. He won me as a fan just because he pronounces the name of the show as it is written: “Ugh! Quarantine,” and not as I had pronounced it in my head when I first saw it: “U. G. Quarantine,” like the name of a long-ago college president.

He also sometimes says, “U. G.,” but it is his show, so he can.

In May, I started to work with a friend, Meghan Jenkins, an actor/comedian/director/creator/writer whose work and personality have started to attract notice from those whose notice might be desired. I assisted others more talented than I am in some of the work required to launch her website, and she has allowed me to publish a couple articles for her there. She also asked me to contribute a monologue to be read each week on her online improv comedy show, The The Ding Wrong Show.

My friend, Ms. Jenkins, landed an appearance on the UG! Quarantine show on October 10, and, not to get all show-bizzy on you, she slayed, as anyone who knows her might expect she would. (Video after the fold.) What was unexpected by your correspondent—me—was the fact that she spoke my name at all during her appearance, more than once. To judge from her discussion, one could be forgiven to think that I might be an individual worth an interview. Thus, I made my own appearance on Mr. Montesi’s program on October 12, and based on the video, it is clear that I am not that individual. (Shakes head vigorously, like a restaurant patron with regrets about that request for “extra parmesan.”)

Here is Ms. Jenkins’ appearance on the UG! Quarantine of October 10 (she makes her appearance at 8:09 into the show):
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30 Years with the Magnificent Glass Pelican

Perhaps the radar that the Magnificent Glass Pelican has flown under for many years had never been turned on. We escaped detection for so long because no one was looking.

My association with the longest-running unknown radio campus comedy show dates back to around this date in 1990. Before I met my friends (now lifelong friends), several had written skits and started to record them in a home recording studio.

One day, the friend with the recording studio (and the home!) asked to play me some of those tapes. I was a graduate student who had just started to study English Lit. and he had just finished his degree and was now an instructor in the English department. This was at SUNY (State University of New York) New Paltz.

I had just experienced a non-triumphant summer in which two college friends and I attracted enough attention to one of our theatrical productions to earn a negative review in the local daily newspaper. Compared to some, that made me an impresario.
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Ten Years

It’s a long list. Each day for the last 3653 days, someone has said or written something directly to me or merely within earshot that served to guide me through one more day sober. One more sober day. I have thanked some members of that list in person, but some others are individuals whom I met once and they guided me through that day and then moved on. It’s a long list.

The individuals who have offered their wisdom more than once, some have become friends. Others have died, some have moved away. Not to go all “In My Life” on you.

I do not claim to remember every morsel of wisdom that I credit as that day’s bit of help for me because I am not Proust and I am not a diarist and many days I would not know wisdom even if it was offered to me wrapped in a box and labelled “Wisdom for Mark.” (Everyone loves presents!) My life as a sober member of society is proof enough for me that help has been offered and accepted each day for what is now, as of today, ten continuous years of sobriety.
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Pandemic Diary: #NamingTheLost

Two days after my father, William Robert (Bob) Aldrich died of COVID-19 (May 10) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, I was a participant in an online video meeting. Just before it was my turn to speak, something caught my eye: a cardinal, small but rich red in color, alighted on the Rose of Sharon bush beside my window.

Not many birds choose to visit this bush; it is crowded with thin branches and it is smack against the side of the house here. Also, the flowers are not in bloom yet; when they are, the bees will comprise approximately ninety-eight percent of the bush’s visitors rather than birds: through the day, the sound of bumblebee collisions with the window next to the Rose of Sharon punctuates my day.

The red of the cardinal caught my eye, because red always does, and birds are somewhat rare on that exact spot and cardinals rarer still (this was the first time). I mentioned it as I spoke, mostly to make a joke about the fact that the previous speaker’s cat had leapt into her camera frame. (Her cat had chased this bird to me, was the quip. I’m a dad joke waiting to become a father.) Someone all but said that the cardinal was my dad; I do not remember if the thought was that a bird’s visit is spiritual or a cardinal’s visit is.

Red cardinals are the males of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); my dad was male, of course, but his hair was red when his hair had color. Red so noteworthy that his nickname in his hometown was “Red.” My friend had no way to know this.

I do not believe in a spiritual world, but sometimes it can almost seem (even to me) that the spirit world wants my attention. I do believe in a spiritual life in that I believe the only point to life is love; perhaps that is not “spiritual,” perhaps it is.
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Pandemic Diary: Just a Box of Rain

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry.
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
—T. S. Eliot, “East Coker,”
Four Quartets

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One day, he decided to read the pages that I’d left next to my typewriter. I was a literature major in graduate school, and I had just pounded out some pages about “The Waste Land” for a summer T. S. Eliot seminar. “I don’t understand anything you wrote, but it sounds like you know what you’re taking about,” my dad said with a chuckle.

My dad had a pretty good chuckle, just so you know. Chuckles are difficult to rank because they receive little attention in the universe of laughs, but they are worth a note. My dad’s chuckle was never one that claimed he knew more than the person with whom he was speaking, or more than anyone else, for that matter. It was an honest assessment of how amused he was at the moment, which I realize now was one way that told us his full-bodied laughter was true and truly felt.

I did not appreciate my dad’s chuckle that summer day so long ago, though. “The poetry of T. S. Eliot is more important than a laugh,” I am certain I thought. (I was insufferable, I assure you. My insufferable self, so convinced of his own importance, still is around here somewhere, but does not show up often.) Well, Eliot’s poems have plenty of laughs and chuckles available, as I now know, and I also know now that my dad’s message to me was a sort of baffled pride in a son so different from and yet so similar to him.

As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate Eliot’s volume Four Quartets and its deeply considered meditations on time, man’s role in the cosmos, eternity, and the permanent immanence of eternity in any possible moment, never at any individual’s bidding. With my father’s death from COVID-19 on Sunday, May 10, those themes become that much more important to me, and since he chuckled at my Eliot paper (“your report” he called it), perhaps a start with Eliot (“East Coker” opens with “In my beginning is my end”) today would have earned a chuckle from him.
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Pandemic Diary 28: Focus, People, Focus

Whatever the opposite of a laser is, that is my unfocused brain in quarantine some days.

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Anecdotal evidence is evidence only of an anecdote, so I report this not with statistical accuracy but only as something noticed: there has been an uptick in the number of posts on my social media feeds of individuals who describe themselves as “TIs” or “targeted individuals.”

“Targeted individuals” labor under the belief that each one is the focus of intense electromagnetic energy pulses sent to torment them; now, these individuals indeed appear to be tormented, to judge from what they write and how they write it (ALL CAPS and no punctuation), so it is no surprise that they need something on which to blame their depression and suffering.

I am one of those readers who always takes a moment to report these accounts to the Twitter or Facebook offices as “someone in danger of self-harm.” As a more-than-casual consumer of content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I have my own sense of how often I encounter posts from self-proclaimed targeted individuals: about twice a year. There have been more than that number this month alone.

Is this an effect of quarantine? Our national and global economies are in a free-fall brought on by a mandatory lock down (in many communities) made necessary by a fast-moving virus that mostly kills the infirm and elderly but also kills the young, middle-aged, and healthy (in New York City, more than twenty-five percent of the dead were younger than sixty-four and the greatest number dead of COVID-19 with no underlying condition are those between forty-five and sixty-four; not young but still employable); which ended almost all in-person commercial activity; which led to businesses shut down and employees furloughed or laid off.
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Pandemic Diary 22: Earth Day in Quarantine

Season’s transition on Earth Day in upstate New York and Cape Cod.

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Out of the small details one can become reacquainted with the larger picture. We only notice the details when we give the details attention, and attention only comes if we allow time to not matter.

Time has opened up in quarantine, for almost everyone—except essential employees—at the same time and thus it has lost a bit of its potency. (I still feel in a rush; I do not know if I would feel this if I lived alone or not. Decades of personal experience of life in a rush cannot be undone in a month of quarantine. That said, I have twice misidentified the day of the week this month and even missed an online appointment.)

There is an echo of a sense of needing to be somewhere, a muscle memory of a life spent awaiting the next thing. There are at least two men in my town whom I only know as walkers, not pedestrians: I have not yet seen either one in the act of being someplace to which he had been en route. Each man is always en route, always on his way without ever arriving. (Pedestrians arrive.) Neither man strolls, each one walks with purpose, one man carries a backpack, a back and forth on our Main Street here that is rarely interrupted by the event of arrival or departure. There is no next thing in a life spent in a perpetual search for the next thing or a mindless avoidance of the current moment.
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Pandemic Diary 21: Reasons to ‘Smile’

“Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along.”

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Charlie Chaplin never published lyrics for the piece of music with which he concluded his 1936 film, Modern Times. The Tramp’s last gesture to the Gamine (Paulette Goddard) before the two literally walk off toward the sunset is to point to his mouth and draw a line up along his cheek.

“What’s the use in trying,” she had asked a moment earlier. The two are on the side of a road with no cars to hitch a ride, with all they own in kerchiefs on sticks. “Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along,” the Tramp’s last title card reads. The two walk off down the road and instrumental music swells and the film ends:

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