Thursday, September 8, 2011

Groovin' Through The Sixties

I really love history but I am not nostalgic, so Friday evening's performance of "Groovin' Through the Sixties" wasn't exactly the kind of musical I would have held my breath for.

Amateur theater, even in a major metropolitan area, can be a risky business.  But the hard cruel fact is that fine art seldom rises from the back streets of economically depressed towns like Endicott, New York.  Of course, the one cool thing about a really bad variety show is that it can be incredibly funny.  About the time my son leaned over and whispered  "Dad, this is like Improv Night at a rehab center," I knew we were onto something! 

The show had been a last minute choice on a cold rainy November night.  Devon was over visiting Sam, the Monopoly game had already bankrupt sister Sarah and I was in the middle of mortgaging my hotel on Marvin Gardens when it hit me.

"Hey, why not call it a draw and go see that play Barb is in?"  

The two remaining crap-shooting capitalists eyed me suspiciously and then Sam said,
"Barb?  Barb Vartanian?"

"Yeah, Barb Var-tane-ee-um"  I said, our friend from Greene.

"Right," Sam said, moving his piece past go and grabbing a couple hundred from the bank.  "The one who works at the State Mental Hospital.  Since when is Barb Var-tane-ee-um an actress?"  

"Well she's not.  "Groovin' Through the Sixties" is a musical.  I assume she singing."

"Oh great, Barb belting out Janis Joplin'... I don't know Dad."  Sam said grinning at Devon who was purposefully staying out of the conversation.

"Never too old to rock!"  I countered, picturing Barb at her sink with a glass of water in one hand and two Aleeve in the other.  "Come-on, it'll be fun."

So we piled in the Saab and headed north across the border, braving the blinding back spray of endless tractor-trailers and SUV's on route 81.  I dropped the kids in front of the theater and then did a U-turn and parked in the direction from which we came.  The Avenue was conspicuously empty with parking spaces convenient and welcoming.  

The highlight of the ten dollar show was the old black man with the paralyzed right arm.  The stroke must have blinded him as well for he was led to the microphone by a stagehand. There, to the out of synch rhythm of a live band, he rasped away at a tubercular rendition of “Mustang Sally.”  There was something about his withered arm retracted against his chest that reminded me of an acid-shinged Joe Cocker at Woodstock, only his vocal was slightly less decipherable.    

We dinned Chinese after the show and were the only customers in the joint. My observant son wondered aloud why in an Asian restaurant there was a Hershey's Ice cream cooler against the wall by the cashier.

"Just doesn't seem all that ethnic." he pointed out.

"Just another example of America as melting pot,” I said, spearing a steamed dumpling.
"An expression of cultural plasticity and the global economy."

"Right," Sam smiled in reply "sort of like that Folgers French Roast you've got chilling in the refrigerator." 

"And what about my Folgers French Roast?"

"Dad, I thought you were the one who said 'never skimp on coffee'?"

"In a recession Sam, coffee is considered a luxury." I said reaching for the tiny cermaic cup of  tea.  "I would appreciate some consideration of the compromises I am forced to make during these tough economic times; beside, being carbon footprint conscious, I opted for a little tie-me-over from the Exxon mini-mart instead of driving all the way to town for some quality beans.  By the way, how’s your  Kung Pow Chicken?"

"Awesome.  I like this place!"    

I tipped my head forward and glanced over top of my reading glasses, drawing Sam's attention to the room's vacant tables and booths.  

"Apparently your opinion is not shared by many of the locals."

"Well Dad, you know what they call Endicott these days?"

"No, tell me." 

"Empty-cott." he said with a big ricy grin.

So we finished our meal and bid farewell to the car-less Avenue’s boarded storefronts. The illuminated marquees of Dominos Pizza and The Adult Book Store were the only splashes of life still blooming on the rain slick asphalt as we nosed the Saab onto Main Street and toward the on-ramp of the interstate.  Soon we were crossing back into dark hills of rural Pennsylvania where the “Groovin’ Sixties” never even happened.

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