Friday, December 28, 2012

More good Claremont thoughts

In my last post, I brought up some good - or at least amusing - things in Claremont. Here’s another, as I explored in my column which appeared in the Claremont Courier early this month.

It was great to see the write-up in these pages on Bridges Auditorium a few weeks ago, including a nice full-color photo on the front page.


Don’t get me wrong. I love this grand old theater on the Pomona College campus and have many wonderful memories, literally a lifetime of wonderful memories, of Big Bridges, as it is often called.

One of my strongest memories is of when I couldn’t get in. I went to hear Jesse Jackson speak on a weekday when he was running for president, only to have the front door close on me. I banged on the front door - yes, I literally banged on the front door - and was told there was no more room. Really? The gigantic auditorium was so full that there was no room for me? I had to go over to the side of the building and listen in on a speaker that kept going in and out.

Fortunately, I was able to get in many, many other times - maybe hundreds of times - over the last forty years or so. One of my earliest memories of Bridges Auditorium is my mother and I with tears streaming down our faces, laughing at Bill Cosby.

I remember seeing Marcel Marceau, the renowned French mime, two or three times, after he kept saying that he would no longer perform. And I won’t forget seeing Harry Belafonte, a true entertainer, putting on quite a show when he was well into his sixties.

I also have special memories of going more recently with a friend who had never been to Big Bridges to see Claremont High School’s production of Cats. Sure, it was a treat to see the students, as well as my awed friend, in the big-time theater, but who else but the indefatigable Krista Elhai, the CHS theater director, could get high school boys to wear, let alone sing and dance in bib overalls with tails sewn onto their butts?

No doubt many of us in Claremont have many such memories of going to Bridges Auditorium as I did to hear such people as Sandra Day O’Connor, Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Bono, Michael Moore and Ralph Nader and to be entertained by the likes of Margaret Cho, the Ahman Folk Ensemble, Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, Judy Collins, the Lar Lubovich Dance Company, Ben Harper and Willie Nelson, what is returning later this Winter. Many of us have also gone there for performances by the Inland Pacific Ballet Company and student groups like the ballroom dancers and the a-capella singers that I wrote about last month.

Yes, I’m sure we all love Bridges Auditorium and having this great, world-class theater, that has featured world-class acts, right here. That some of us don’t have to drive to get there is a bonus treat.

So why does it need to be saved or revived? And why does it need saving and reviving again?

This is why I didn’t like about the recent Courier article. Or what I didn’t like about it. Here is this immense 2,500-seat theater, built in a grand Italian style and completed in 1932 and named for a Pomona College student that died and which, as I always understood to be the largest collegiate auditorium on the West Coast if not west of the Mississippi, looks as if it might take over the campus and perhaps all of Claremont, and the big, happy news is that there have been a few shows scheduled for this school year (comedian Eddie Izzard on December 2, a musical production of A Christmas Carol on December 8 and 9 and Nelson in February, along with two ballet productions).

Something is really wrong here.

Yes, it is wonderful that, now under Pomona College’s purview, Bridges Auditorium has a new administrator, Christopher Waugh, who is thrilled to be in charge of the facility that he calls “stunning.” Yes, it is great that there is renewed commitment, with, according to Mr. Waugh, the college “absolutely looking at ways we can create a sustainable staffing pattern for the space” and “bringing back the classic Bridges” that was “about bringing world-class leaders, speakers and artists to the colleges and to the surrounding colleges and community.”

But why is this an issue? Why is this commitment “great news?” Why hasn’t there been this commitment?

What is more disturbing is that we have seen this story before. Every five years or so, for as long as I can remember, there has been an article in these pages about this magnificent white building, with hand-wringing over it being run down and not being used or with giddy hope about it coming back and being revived to its former glory.

Why is Big Bridges’ glory always former?

Also, in these articles more recently, it’s is mentioned that the theater has been handed off between Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium, like the proverbial hot potato. This latest article states that Pomona College obtain Big Bridges this time for $1.

$1. Like it was being given away. Like nobody wants it.

Definitely not like a magnificent, world-class treasure. And it’s certainly not used like a magnificent, world-class treasure. When I attended U.C Riverside, the University Theater brought in two or three shows each months during the school year. I often attended, and music ensembles and contemporary dance companies were emphasized. Also, it appears that UCLA’s Royce Hall is always booked with an impressive, big-name line-up. And these are in the U.C system, which isn’t exactly rolling in dough.

The article also mentioned a show with Taylor Swift that was filmed this Fall for a television broadcast. Apparently, “with colored lights bathing the 22,000-square-foot ceiling, famously embellished with a gold and silver-leaf rendering of the Zodiac, the 2500-seat theater his never looked better.”

Bridges manager Sharon Kuhn commented, “They took what we had already, this beautiful ceiling, and just highlighted it. It was glowing.”

Too bad Big Bridges isn’t always lit up and glowing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reaching for Christmas

I think it’s Lily who, as a teenaged girl, greets her family in John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire with “Merry Fucking Christmas!”

It is hard not to be bitter and cynical about Christmas, with its message of peace and hope and good will to all, this year when...

...there are plenty of people like the man who recently wrote in a letter in the Claremont Courier, “They obviously enjoy living under the Obama administration and in an entitlement state. No longer is it necessary for individuals to plan for and cope with tough times and take responsibility for their own lives. It’s one thing for the state to provide assistance for infrastructure or low-income people whose lives were wrecked as a result of Katrina. But it’s quite another for upper-income people on Long Island to be standing there after Sandy with their hands out to the Obama administration rather than sacrifice the buying of a new car or toys such as boats, instead of purchasing insurance for unforseen calamities.” (No wonder the healthcare law was/is such a long, hard slog.)

...not only is Newtown, Connecticut, along with the rest of us, reeling and mourning after the brutal mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and burying twenty 6-and-7-year-olds and nine others, including the shy, troubled shooter and his gun-keeping mother, but gun control is still a dicey proposition - although now, finally, after a number of these uniquely American shootings, it just may be a possibility. the same vein, on Black Friday, the biggest day for Christmas shopping, there was an all-time-high number of people asking to buy guns; there are people who say that, if we can’t have guns, there is no telling what the government will do to us and the N.R.A has just called for every school in the nation to have an armed guard - in other words, more guns!

I can go on with a bitter, bah-humbug list - the “fiscal cliff,” polio vaccinators killed in and driven out of Africa - but the world is about so much more. As Christmas reminds us and as I riffed on in my latest column in the Claremont Column below, the world is also full of hope and happiness and things seen in the best (or humorous) light. (Hey, if you’re reading this, that means the world didn’t end - and that’s a good thing!)


“Make a left at the light up here and we’ll go to Pomona.”

We were out running a few errands. We were heading north toward Foothill Boulevard when my friend, who was out from L.A, mentioned that he wanted to pick up some fast food. I had to explain to my friend that there are no drive-through fast food restaurants in Claremont. I had to tell him that we had to go to Pomona if he wanted to grab a burger or get a burrito from Hell Taco, as I call it.

I’m always having to explain to him that this is Claremont and that things are not quite the same as they are in Los Angeles and West Hollywood where he works. I have to explain that things are a bit different here in Claremont. Like how he might get a ticket if he parks on the street overnight, or like how there are hardly any tall signs.

It is also like how, as I wrote about some time ago, he noticed that the red lights seem to take a little longer out here.

I like having to explain to my friend that Claremont is a bit different. I think he likes it too.

My friend ended up stopping at Sprouts Market, at the light on Foothill, and getting a Salisbury steak dinner in the deli department. I don’t know if it was the best, healthiest thing, but it was definitely better than a Whopper and a large order of fries.

My friend would agree that he eats better out here in Claremont.
* *
It’s a good thing, though, that Pomona isn’t far, that it’s easy to get to Pomona. Not so that we can get fast food, but so that we can see Raul Pizarro’s paintings.

Raul’s paintings shine. Literally. They glow. I don’t know how he does it - no, he doesn’t use neon paint - but his works appear to have an inner light. The colors - especially the blues and white - are so rich and deep, they are iridescent. Magic.

This is what got me when I first saw the paintings when I first went to see Raul at his home in Pomona. Never mind that he has Muscular Dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. I don’t know which I like better: the large paintings that are like classic Disney films (I’m talking Fantasia, Pinochio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) on the big screen or his small pieces, many featuring bear-like creatures and stars, that are like jewel boxes.

Like I said, Raul’s paintings are magical. Which makes this exhibit nearby in Pomona a special treat for the holidays.

The exhibit, entitled Theatro Del Mundo, is up right through the holidays, until January 8, at the Bunny Gunner Gallery, 266 W. Second St., in the Pomona Arts Colony. I find many of the places there have weird hours or aren’t open when they say they are, so it may be a good idea to call before going. The number is 858-2808.
* *
Meanwhile, at Pomona College back here in Claremont, it looks like, as always, the kids are alright.

More than alright, actually. I went by Lyman Hall two weeks ago to hear the Pomona College Jazz Ensemble in an end-of-semester performance, and I was, as they say, blown away by the students, including a vocalist, Anna Miller, who sounded like a much older, seasoned pro. Not only did the kids sound great - cool and hot and swinging - but many of the pieces they played were pieces they had brought into practice sessions and “tweaked” themselves.

This was explained by Barb Catlin, who was directing the ensemble for the first time. She was clearly quite pleased and impressed and chatted up the audience between numbers with tid-bits about the L.A jazz scene and how this ensemble fits right in. She made the classroom-like hall feel like her living room.

All the more so when it turned out that the guest trumpet player, Wayne Bergeron, who has played in a bunch of places with a bunch of people and is big in L.A and Hollywood, is her fiancé.
* *
Sometimes, I wonder if these kids are completely sane. Another friend and I were laughing about these guys at the colleges who walk around on these cold, damp nights barefoot in sandals. And when I say sandals, I mean flip-flops.

They might be bundled up in sweat shirts and wool caps - except for the completely insane ones in shorts and tees - but they always have flip-flops. No doubt, to a kid from Pennsylvania or New Hampshire, flip-flops are obligatory in Southern California and make perfect sense - just grab and go - an long as it’s not snowing and Mom is a thousand miles away.
* *
I wonder if a few of the students are heading down to the Mayan pyramids this week after finals. At the very least, flip-flops may make more sense, and, in any case, Mom will be even further away.

Earlier this year, Ed Krupp, who runs the Griffith Park Observatory and who now and then enthusiastically pops up on T.V, gave a lecture at Pomona College, saying that the Mayan calendar 12/21/12 end-of-the-world prediction is bunk, based on a faulty miscalculation. Nevertheless, the Peruvians are cashing in on the date, expecting quite a crowd.

Another friend reports that a guy he knows with dreads down to at least his knees is on his way to the pyramids. He’ll be joining something called the Rainbow Gathering. My friend, who isn’t as young as he used to be, suggested that it is probably worthwhile to avoid this crowd.
Assuming we get through 12/21/12 and make it into the new year, we’ll be smack dab in a political campaign, complete with yard signs, coffees and debates, with Michael Keenan signing up at literally the last hour to run in the March 5 City Council election.

For a few days, it looked like there wouldn’t be more than the two incumbents, Larry Schroeder and Corey Calaycay, in the two-seat race, and, with the two simply being reappointed, we would have had a breather after the marathon of campaigning last year.

Oh, well. As usual after New Year’s Day, life - and the democratic process - goes on.

That is, if Ed Krupp is right.

Friday, December 7, 2012

See this film - and take a deep breath

I see that The Sessions is being nominated for some awards from minor groups. I hope this movie is nominated for many more awards, including the Oscars and, yes, even the Golden Globes. I’ll take Golden Globe nominations, because the more nominations this film gets, the longer it will be in theaters and the more publicity it will get. This is good - not just because it’s an excellent film but because I want people to see it.

I want people, many people, to see The Sessions, because it is one of the very few mainstream, non-documentary feature films that gets it about disability. Not since 30 years ago, when I saw Coming Home, which literally made me see that I could be sexual, have I been so turned on and encouraged by a mainstream movie dealing with living with a severe disability.

This film is breathtaking - literally - and not just because it puts living with a severe disability in your face. It is about Mark O’Brien (John Hawke, wonderful), a poet and journalist living in Berkeley in the 1970's who, having polio, spends much of his time in an iron lung and gets around by being pushed on a gurney and who wants to lose his virginity and, with the blessing of a cool, only-in-Berkeley Catholic priest (William Macy, better than ever with long hair), hires a sex therapist/surrogate (Helen Hunt, absolutely luminous) to help him do so. The film is based on an essay that O’Brien wrote about the experience.

If this sounds challenging, like “yikes!,” that because it is. From the time we see O’Brien being washed by an attendant that he doesn’t like, this is a hard film to watch. It just gets more real, painfully and brutally so, such as when the surrogate undresses O’Brien, prone and rigid, for the first time. As I said and as with Hunt’s full frontal nudity, this is in-your-face stuff. Definitely not like the all-too-glib, feel-good French film, Intouchables, that was all the rage earlier this year.

But this isn’t your standard sad, dreary, tragic-crip story. Yes, this is a man who can’t even use a wheelchair and has to suck on an oxygen tube, but he is brimming with life, love, wonder, curiosity and a sense of humor and adventure, if not mischief. (After all, hiring a woman so that he can fuck, not to mention consulting with a Catholic priest about it, is pretty gutsy and outrageous, while also remarkably naive and innocent.) Sure, that O’Brien is rejected when he makes romantic passes to his female attendants is morose, but it is frankly the way things are (believe me, I know).

At the same time, the movie, which was written and directed by a guy who has polio if I’m not mistaken, does a reasonable job at not making O’Brien too much of a brave, inspiring hero-crip. Although, as I said, what he does is pretty gutsy, and I guess it’s hard not to be inspired by him and his story - heck, I am (can you tell?)! There is some melodrama - there is a power outage one night, shutting down his iron lung, and he can’t call anyone on the phone (Why didn’t he have an overnight attendant? Did he not have enough funding for one? Mmm....perhaps the movie can be even more real....) - but it is again frankly the way things are.

Since seeing this film a month ago, I have also been even more aware of how I get around and how people see me in the world. For example, I whine about feeling trapped when it rains, but what about always being on a gurney? (The film opens with archival footage of O’Brien getting about on a motorized gurney, but, as explained in a voice-over, the motorized gurney was taken away because, even with a bunch of mirrors, he had no idea where he was going and caused “terrible accidents.”) And I both really see and am okay with sticking out when I zip around town in my chair with an attached computer that speaks and plays music even as I am more comfortable tilting back my chair and letting my body dangle when I’m out at talks and concerts.

There are several other things I love about this movie. I love it that it’s set in Berkeley, a city that I’ll always have a very soft spot for, even as I no longer want to live there or can take being there for more than a couple days. I love it that O’Brien has a very strong and pure Catholic faith and that he talks to Jesus and Mary and has a cool little icon sticker on the front of his iron lung. And I love it that his cat, that scampers in through an open window and brushes past O’Brien’s face at the beginning of the movie, is just like my cat Irie and that in the film’s last image, after O’Brien has died, the cat is perched on top of the iron lung, waiting.