Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow …

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 4.19.2014

For Russell Mitchell and Richie Nocella, who too soon were taken to be a part of the greater Cosmos, and to Steve Ferrera and Dr. Robert Wilkinson, who are still here. And a special shout-out to William Shakespeare, John Updike, and all my South Jersey high school students without whom this story could not be told.

Have I ever told you about the time I performed the “Tomorrow” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth live on the stage of the Folger Shakespeare Library? No? Well, that’s because up until last Sunday, I hadn’t done any such performance.

But now I can tell you the tale (and, no, you smart-assed Shakespearean scholars – it’s not a tale told by an idiot).

I performed the monologue as part of a day-long celebration at the world-renowned DC Shakespeare institution to honor what would have been William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

And, as you can see here, I even have visual proof, that, in the words of Macbeth himself, “I have done the deed.”

But my involvement with the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy actually begins more than 4 decades ago, which of course chronologically makes for a whole lot more than just 3 tomorrows.

In 1970, I was a 2nd-semester freshman at Villanova University. My English class was taught by Dr. Robert Wilkinson (who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would become a life-long mentor ). In the class were 2 of my best friends, Steve Ferrara, my Boston-speaking roommate, and Richie Nocella from South Philly. Richie, Steve, and I had all been randomly assigned to Dr. Wilkinson’s Freshmen Comp and Lit Class (a bit of fortunate fate that would change all of our lives) the 1st semester and had chosen him for our Spring Semester English course.

In our next class, we would be examining the John Updike short story “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth.” Obviously, Updike used the beginning of the Macbeth soliloquy for his title. So Dr. Wilkinson had assigned me to memorize the 74-word word soliloquy and deliver it to the class to start our exploration.

Piece of cake, I thought. And it would have been too, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my recitation happened to occur on what turned out to be the first beautiful warm day of a Main Line spring. So somehow Richie and Steve, now joined by the fourth member of our freshmen quartet, Russell Mitchell, decided to celebrate the arrival of warm weather by grabbing some quarts of beer and some smoking material and head to a small stream near our Havertown apartment.

Now, in my defense, I probably didn’t fully realize what Steve was suggesting. To this day, Steve speaks funny. You know the type – Pahk yer cah in the bek yahd. (I mean, come on, there are r’s in those words).

But no matter what the reason, I found myself partaking in the merriment and soon I was – what is the phrase I am searching for here – oh yes, stoned and completely wasted. However, I was confident that I could still deliver my soliloquy since at the time I was a keyboardist in a rock band and had performed numerous times under the influence of chemicals that made members of the audience appear to be things like crazy-colored, melting dragons spewing giant bubbles.

We arrived at class. Richie, Steve, and Russell positioned themselves in strategic places where they could best annoy me. Dr. Wilkinson summoned and I headed to the front of the room, where I proceeded to deliver the soliloquy in flawless fashion despite the best attempts of my trio of friends to distract me. But Dr. Wilkinson – did I mention he is one of the most brilliant men I have ever encountered – must have sensed something was awry. He asked me to repeat my performance. And this time, the outcome was decidedly different. I swear I thought I was beginning by repeating “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” but instead it came out something like “Tomershthis, ang Teropoly um tomomsie.” And it went downhill from there. Anyway, we all had a good laugh, I graduated Villanova with a BA in English, and we moved on with our lives.

After a decade as a reporter, I switched careers and became a high school English teacher. I found myself teaching Macbeth in my British lit class. And so, as I had been asked to do so many years before by Dr. Wilkinson, I had each of my Honors and Academic students memorize the “Tomorrow …” soliloquy and deliver it to the class. To make it more memorable, I tried to pair up performance with interest. A member of the baseball team could recite it standing at home plate. Members of the drama club could say it on stage.  Classroom sweethearts could deliver it together. To this day, many of my students can still recite the soliloquy by memory when I see them. Of course, they then spoil the moment by pointing out that that is the only thing they remember from my class and exactly when did my hair turn gray.

Three years ago, I retired from teaching and instructional coaching and we moved to DC. But then I was asked by a friend to join him in educational consulting. Now I find myself splitting time between high schools in DC and Syracuse, working with teachers who teach in Twilight programs designed for students who are in danger of dropping out.

Last month, I was delivering an impromptu presentation to the teachers and students in Luke C. Moore High School in DC and, in the middle of the delivery, I used the “Tomorrow” soliloquy. While I was speaking the lines, I observed 2 teachers reciting them along with me. After the presentation, I discovered that one, an English teacher, had memorized the passage when he was a high school senior in Asia. The other, a math teacher, had been required to master the soliloquy when he was a 16-year-old student in Nigeria.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, that presentation served as a good rehearsal for my Sunday work on the Folger stage which you can view by clicking here.)

So that concludes my Tomorrow tale for now. I swear it all true except for the parts I made up. But does the story, as I always used to ask my students, contain any morals, messages, or meanings?

I think there are quite a few takeaways from combining Shakespeare’s original soliloquy with my several encounters with it over the decades. They include:

  1. Macbeth says the future “creeps” in a “petty pace.” He is wrong. The future doesn’t creep. One day you are delivering a Shakespeare soliloquy in your freshmen college class. In what seems like a brief passage of time (but is actually 4 decades) you find yourself delivering that same soliloquy on a stage.
  2. Macbeth calls life “a walking shadow” that after death is “heard no more.” Sorry, Macbeth, wrong again. Life is not a shadow, but substance. And memories allow our life stories to resonate through times that come long after we are gone.
  3. While it’s true that moments of our lives are “full of sound and fury,” they do not “signify nothing.” Our friends, our experiences, our memories all give meaning, not nothingness, to our lives.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, if 3 or more of your friends ever ask you to celebrate the warmth and beauty of a first warm Spring day, be safe, but take a chance.  For whether you are an idiot or genius, there really is no telling how your tale will turn out.

A Rooftop Celebration for DC’s Own Marvin Gaye on What Would Have Been His 75th Birthday

This article 1st appeared in The Price’s Do DC – 4.2.2014

For the 7th year in a row on his birth date, DC fans of Washington native soul singer Marvin Gaye packed the rooftop bar of the restaurant off U Street that bears his name to celebrate his legacy by listening to his music and hearing words from some of those who knew him well.

Gaye was born in DC on April 2, 1939 and attended Cardozo High School before finding fame as one of the giant stars of Motown. He was tragically shot dead by his father on April 1, 1984. Had he lived, today would have been his 75th birthday.

In a fitting tribute, all the proceeds from the benefit bash at Marvin’s went to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a charity chosen by the Gaye family.

Throughout the late afternoon and evening, musicians and singers from all over the DC-area performed hits made famous by Gaye. Those performers included Gaye’s musical director Gordon “Guitar” Banks and members of his old band the Marquees.

After a particularly stirring version of Gaye’s “Makes Me Want to Holler” by Maimouna Youssef and John Bibb, Cecil Jenkins, who described himself “as the last protege of Marvin Gaye” took the microphone.

“I think it is a wonderful thing you are doing by embracing Marvin Gaye and what he stood for,” Jenkins, who was Gaye’s lead dancer said. “Thank you DC for remembering Marvin.”

As did a handful of the others in the crowd who knew or worked with Marvin, Jenkins shared a few memories of the man he called his surrogate father.

“You remember the dance the rock?” he asked “Michael Jackson made it famous, but you should have seen Marvin do the rock.”

Unfortunately, a gun fired by Gaye’s own father 30 years ago made certain that no one would ever see that  again.

Chirping Away About a Cricket-Eating Contest Just Blocks from the White House

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 06.05.2014

I had intended just to come, eat a few bugs, and blog about it. But then I saw the sign. “Next … Cricket Eating Competition 1:15 p.m.,” it said. “Your participation is a $20 donation to DC Central Kitchen. Win Prizes.”

It really didn’t take a lot of consideration. I had already downed a grasshopper burger and 2 big helpings of savory bugs, so I had no aversion to adding crickets to the list. I think DC Central Kitchen is one of the city’s best charities, so that was attractive. And while I would be a newbie to the world of competitive cricket eating, I did have some experience in related fields. As a young reporter doing a 1st-person story, I had been the July 4th South Jersey watermelon seed spitting champion back in the 1980s for all of 2 hours until my record was broken.  And, since retiring to DC, I had blogged about the 2012 July 4th Z-Burger battle bash.

As I finished the last bites of a grasshopper burger, I told my wife to sign me up.

I took my seat at the table with about 20 other competitors. On my right was a legislative aide from Capitol Hill. On my left was a young Environmental Protection Agency worker.  Both gave me some pause for concern. I mean who knows more about bugging than the government. And the EPA deals all the time with environmental pests. But I actually thought my toughest competition might come from the recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who said he loved to compete in eating contests.

The head judge, who came all the way from England (or at least had a British accent) gave the directions. They seemed simple enough. We would each be handed 3 small cups of dried crickets. The winner would be the person who downed all 3 cups the quickest. If any crickets spilled on the table, you would have to consume those, too. You would have to raise your hand and then open your mouth to prove that all the insects had been completely swallowed. You couldn’t drink anything while eating.

The judge asked if we were ready. We all nodded. “Alright begin,” he said.

I learned quite a bit about cricket consuming in the next 3 minutes. First, there are almost as many ways of eating crickets in a cricket-eating competition as there are crickets. There is the dainty, grab one-by-one style. There is the 2-handed, 2-cup plunge. There is the dump-the-whole-cup down-at-once and then try to swallow method.

Then there are the faces of the contestants. They are interesting to say the least. They are also distracting. In fact, I became more interested in watching the faces than I did in eating. Or at least that is what I told myself. Actually, I realized after my 1st cup of crickets that I wasn’t cut out for hard-core cricket chomping and chewing. I did manage to down a 2nd cup. But by that time, the winner had long finished and I was battling for a 2nd or 3rd place finish that I really didn’t have the stomach for.

But even though I emerged beaten, I was not downhearted for long. A few steps away was the perfect cure for taking the sting out of a lost bug battle – I grabbed another of Chef Scruggs’ really tasty grasshopper burgers. However not before having 2 glasses of water and a Coke. If nothing else, I now knew that cricket eating is the saltiest work this side of competitive salt-shaker downing.

Film Director Oliver Stone Talks JFK, Conspiracy

Oliver Stone makes a point with Newseum Vice Chairman Shelby Coffey III.

When film director Oliver Stone speaks about his controversial film JFK, he wants it understood that he was not depicting absolute truth. Instead, he was making what he calls a countermyth to contrast with what he calls the myth of the Warren Commission Report, a voluminous compendium of information that maintains Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he killed President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago.

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC – 11.05.2013

“We were not making a documentary, we were dramatizing,” Stone says. “I thought the Warren Commission was fiction and I still do today.”

Stone appeared at the Newseum in Washington, DC to discuss his film, which was released 22 years ago and is enjoying a resurgence because of the timeliness of the 50th anniversary this month of that dark day in Dallas.

“The (Kennedy) investigation was badly handled from the beginning,” Stone said as he detailed his belief in both a conspiracy and a cover-up. “A major medical fraud took place. He should have been autopsied in Parkland (the Dallas hospital where Kennedy died). A doctor there says for 18 minutes he saw brains emerging from the back of President Kennedy’s head. A shot from the front was the kill shot and that is a shot that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t have made.”

Of course, if the Warren Commission is wrong and Oswald didn’t act alone, the question becomes – who is responsible for killing JFK?  “Look at the people who had the power,” Stone contends.

In Stones’ view, the military/industrial/intelligence complex was highly disturbed about Kennedy actions that they believed were wrong for an America which, at the time, was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and the idea of Communism.  “Kennedy was moving toward detente and the end of the Cold War. The generals wanted to blow up the Soviet Union because they could. They wanted a war because they knew they could win it. But Kennedy realized we were facing the end of the world as we knew it and he said no. They were furious and didn’t want him to win re-election in 1964. Kennedy took them head-on and paid a price for it ,” Stone said.

The director said he began to question the Oswald-only position after reading On The Trail of the Assassin by New Orleans attorney Jim Garrison in 1989. Garrison’s book detailed his investigation of a Kennedy conspiracy. Kevin Costner portrayed Garrison in Stone’s film.

Stone said he had always admired the 1969 film Z, by Greek director Costa-Gavras, a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of a Greek politician and the outrage at the military dictatorship which hatched the killing plot. “I wanted to do something similar on an American level,” Stone said. “I wanted to give a reason why he (Kennedy) must be removed from office.”

“In drama, you have the right to interpret history as you want. Shakespeare proved that,” Stone said. “Even documentaries aren’t objective. But I think the facts of JFK hold up to me.”