Friday, August 22, 2014

More playing in Claremont

The following is a column I wrote last month for the Claremont Courier. 
                                                A BOWL FULL OF MIDSUMMER MAGIC
   It’s cold potato and leek soup.  But doesn’t vichyssoise sound so much more refined and elegant?  Doesn’t vichyssoise sound fancy and exotic and all the more appropriate for a special occasion on a warm summer evening? 
   That’s what I thought when I was growing up and my father made vichyssoise one year for my August 1 birthday dinner.  After all, the French cold soup was his “specialty” – actually, it was about the only dish he made at that time, so it really was exotic.  The dinner also included my mother’s fresh peach pie with shortbread crust and peach glaze – my favorite. 
   But the dinner was even more special.  It was a picnic dinner with another family, a shared birthday celebration, as I recall.  Not only that, but this elegant, al fresco dinner with my dad’s special vichyssoise was at the Greek Theater on the Pomona College campus. 
   Talk about special.  Talk about exotic.  The Greek Theater was downright mysterious.  This was long before the Seaver Theater, which is next to the Greek Theater, was built at the eastern end of Bonita Avenue.  And that was some years before the Greek Theater was formally renovated and named the Frederic Sontag Greek Theater.  
   I’m not sure if, at the time, the Greek Theater was the Greek Theater.  It may have been just called the greek theater, just a natural amphlitheater that was part of “the wash” behind the Pomona College campus.  Yes, there had been Fourth of July celebrations there in Claremont’s early years, but it was now abandoned.  I remember there being a chain-link fence around it with a locked gate.  I think our friend, who was a professor at Pomona, got the key.  Or we broke in. 
   Many years after this exotic evening, which may have ended with a night-time swim at the Harvey Mudd College pool (my dad, who was a professor there, got that key), but still long before the theater was dedicated to the memory of Professor Sontag who taught philosophy for years and was known to love theater,  I went back to see a student production of Jesus Christ Superstar.   A friend was playing keyboard in the band. 
   The show was a bit rough and rudimentary,  being done in the bright sunny afternoon, and it was hard to hear the singing, especially from the guy who played Jesus,  over the band.  However, I was struck by how the dusty, natural bowl provided an appropriate backdrop for the biblical rock opera – and all the more so with it being done in the bright sun.  Seeing Judas entering from and then exiting to the oak trees behind the stage was especially effective. 
   I remember thinking that this was a great use of a terrific natural venue. Those students were definitely onto something. In the following years, especially after the renovation, I would go over to the Greek Theater and imagine the possibilities.   I would sometimes take friends, and they would agree the the amphlitheater was beautiful and that it was too bad that it was not being used. 
   Sure,I knew that  the theater was used for student parties and probably other college and frat-like events, but why weren’t more plays being done there?  After all, it is a theater – now named for a lover of theater.  What about concerts?  And why couldn’t the community use it during the summer when it was not being used – at all – by the college and when it would be lovely to see plays and concerts at this outdoor theater on warm evenings? 
    So I was thrilled to see Ophelia’s  Jump, a two-year-old, Claremont-based theater company that has been using various venues in the area until it finds a home of its own,  putting on a Shakespeare festival  featuring two plays this summer at the Greek Theater.  The Midsummer Shakespeare Festival, with the theme of “Summer of Love and  war” and featuring “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and  “Macbeth”  in repertory,  was another venture by Ophelia’s Jump utilizing the facilities at Pomona College.  It followed an exciting, innovative production of Sarah Ruhl’s  Eurydice in Seaver Theater in late May. 
   I was away during the first weekend of the July 17-27 festival and was very happy to be able to see both plays during the second weekend.  Although this was a first-time venture and not very elaborate, it was a treat to see how professionally done it was and that it wasn’t unlike many established Shakespeare Festivals I have attended.  It was nice to see people there early to enjoy the displays about the plays and the tables featuring face-painting and couplet-writing. And, of course, there was a pre-show,  provided by an Shakespearean improv group from Fullerton called The Mechanicals (referencing A Midsummer Night’s Dream) on the evenings I was there. 
   But, as the Bard would say, the plays were the thing, and they very much were worthy of the spotlights  (yes, it was terrific to see this theater decked out with a nice set of lights for an evening event). Yes, the plays couldn’t be more different – one being a fluffy comic romp, the other a grisly killing-spree drama – but that made it all the more fascinating that both productions shared the 1960’s theme if not setting. While Wives, directed by Beatrice Casagran who also played Lady Macbeth amazingly enough, had fun with colorful period costumes and props, Macbeth,  directed by Kevin Slay, went to town with the theme of civil unrest and political corruption, as when protesters carried signs in support of Banquo.  Also fascinating was the use of 1960’s rock music,  with Wives featuring fun, light-hearted tunes by such groups as the Byrds and Macbeth featuring darker music by the Doors, Led Zeppelin and the like. 
   Also, as with any group of plays done in repertory,  it was interesting and fun to see actors playing vastly different roles in different plays.  There were plenty of examples of this in these productions.  I will just mention Jedd Johnson, returning from Eurydice, who was a hoot as Master Ford in Wives  and chilling as Lord Macbeth. 
   The cement seating in the  amphlitheater may not have been inviting, especially for nearly three hours,  but I noticed that a number of people brought cushions and folding seats,  and a few brought chairs to sit in on the lawn above.  The verdant venue was also used in exciting ways, such as when the troops in Macbeth appeared, like Judas, from the trees at the back of the stage.  I can imagine Puck and the other night-time fairies In A Midsummer Night’s Dream appearing from those trees. 
   It looks like we’ll have the chance to see this.  Ophelia’s Jump plans to make this venture at the Greek Theater an annual event.  I’m wondering if a summer music festival, perhaps featuring  the Claremont Symphony Orchestra,  could be a possibility.  This may be the stuff of dreams but no more than my dad’s vichyssoise and Ophelia’s Jump. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Catching up in a high-tech world

   In the month since I last posted, aside from doing some nice traveling, I have been working with the hands-free set-up that I have now on my desktop computer and which I described in my last post.  In general, I think my typing is faster, even with all the errors I’ve been making, to go along with the trial, and although I still get tired. 
Yes, I still get tired – perhaps more so during this time – but it is another way of getting tired, and it is this other way that I’m trying to and will hopefully get used to.   Previously, when I was typing with my hand, I was using my whole body, which ended up being exhausting.  Now, I have to be very focused as I ontrol the mouse with a dot on my glasses and hold still for it to click.  This is challenging and, yes, tiring.
   Perhaps most challenging is always having to re-orient the mouse, so I don’t end up stretching and, yes, using my whole body.  I’m seeing that this is at least a matter of posture – yes, John, sit up straight! – but is there something else I’m missing?   There are other challenges and things that I’m noticing:
*it’s a trick to see what I’m typing while focusing on the on-screen keyboard.  I have found myself typing words that don’t get on the page. 
*I love the word prediction, but I wish I could delete an entire word when I click the wrong one. 
*I have to constantly move my head, or I’ll click on something I don’t want.  I have deleted a whole documents (I was able to undo this) and gone onto strange websites this way. 
*I think I have the Dragger, which does the clicking, set at the right time, but sometimes it is awfully fast.  Other times,  it takes forever.    
*It is a good thing I can easily switch off the Dragger.  I need to remember this.  Like when I need to think about what I’m writing or just need a breather. 
*The beep that the Dragger makes when it clicks drives me crazy after a while.  I feel like John Glenn in orbit. But I’m not sure if I want to turn it off – it helps me know that something has been clicked.  Is there another sound available? 
   I will probably find out if there  another sound available.  I have made some discoveries that have made using this easier.  For example, I realized that it makes sense to hide the groups of keys on the onscreen keyboard that I don’t regularly use, thus keeping me from clicking on them by accident.  Like I said, using this has been trial and lots of error, but I do think I’m getting better at it, and I am hopeful it will end up making my life easier. 
   When I was visiting my parents last month, my dad and I were marveling at how much technology has made it possible, let alone easier, for the disabled to be out in the community and productive.  For example, when I was born in 1960, it was likely that a big part of why there weren’t many disabled people seen out in the community is that motorized wheelchairs weren’t available or widely available.  And, oh,  how much easier school would have been if I had had a computer!  I couldn’t use a manual typewriter, so it was a big deal that I could get an electric typewriter. 
   I have been using another high-tech device in the last two months.  I am hopeful it also will make my life easier, but, again, it’s a work in progress, as I explain in the following except from my column published in the Claremont Courier on July 3:

  I didn’t want the firemen to come.  Really.  I didn’t. 
   I was pretty impressive that they did, though, complete with blaring siren and an array of first aid equipment.  It was pretty impressive that they arrived so quickly.  And it was even more impressive that they knew where I was, more or less,  and that they were able to find me.  
   Something to remember when the fire trucks and police cars start off the Fourth of July parade tomorrow, with their sirens chirping and lights flashing. One more thing to cheer on and applaud. 
   But I didn’t need the siren and first aid. I didn’t need the big scene.  Really.  I just wanted one of my attendants to come and pick me up with my wheelchair-accessible van. 
   Actually, I didn’t need a ride, and one of my attendants was with me. 
     I had my attendant with me that Saturday morning a few weeks ago,  and I had gone out with him and was testing a new device that I had recently gotten.  It didn’t work that time as I wanted it to, but, boy, it certainly worked. 
   I had gotten weary of going out in my wheelchair on my own as I can and often do safely and easily do – one of the reasons I love living in Claremont – and not knowing what kind of help I would get if my motorized wheelchair broke down.  I was more and more concerned about getting someone to stop and assist me or make a phone call. Even in a friendly place like Claremont, people are busy or have some trepidation. And I never knew what kind of help I would end up with. 
   I once found myself laying on my back in the back of a police car,  being lectured on the way to my house about keeping my chair battery charged (I charge the battery every night, thanks – one of the motors had conked out). I didn’t want to know how they got the big, heavy chair into the trunk, and don’t ask me how the chair wasn’t damaged when it was taken out at my house.  (I got an apology the next day.)
   Another time, I got a ride in a wheelchair-accessible taxi – a short drive from the village to my house but with the charge clicking up what must have been every few feet.  The driver wasn’t happy when I had him push me in my heavy dead chair up the ramp and into my house, and he was even less so when it turned out I didn’t have enough cash on me for the fare.  (I wasn’t planning on needing an expensive ride home.  )
  I just wanted a reliable way to contact one of my attendants and get a ride home in my van.  It’s upsetting enough when my wheelchair breaks down; I didn’t need the extra worry and drama.  Friends of mine shared the concern. 
   The tricky part was that I am not able to use a phone.  Plus my speech is difficult to understand.  How could I contact an attendant without having to rely on some patient person to come by and stop and try to assist me? 
   After some research online,  a company with a device called Moble Help looked like it might be the answer.  It is like a Life Alert device, except that it has a G.P.S.  This means that when I’m out and I press the button, I will be in contact with a person who will not only know who I am but also right where I am. 
   That was the theory,  and it sounded good. 
   It was important to try out the device once I got it, to see if it was as good as it sounded and if it would work when I really needed it.  I went out several times and gave it a dry run, with someone I knew with me to explain that it was a test, not an emergency, or to help out if there was a problem or if questions needed to be asked.  The Saturday morning a few weeks ago was the third time out. 
   The first time was more or less a disaster, with the woman repeatedly saying “I can’t understand you” and leaving my friend and I to wonder if the device would work at all for me (this was during a free trial period ). It turned out that the woman in Boca Raton – that’s where Mobile Help is based – didn’t see the note about my speech. 
   During the second dry run, all four of my contacts were called – and I didn’t find this out until later.  I had wanted just one specific attendant to be called, especially since two of my attendants live quite far when they are not working for me.  Later, my attendants and I decided it isn’t a bad thing if they are all contacted (they can call each other to make sure one is helping me).
   For the third run, I decided to test the GP. S and went with an attendant to a small garden on the Pomona College campus, somewhere that didn’t really have an address. My attendant and I were quite impressed when the woman who responded knew right where I was – “off Fourth Street” when I pressed the button.  She asked if I needed assistance, and I said yes.  I then didn’t hear from her,  and my attendant and I were wondering what was going on when, a few minutes later, we heard the siren.