Sunday, October 30, 2005

Meet Ozark Dan in Branson

My nephew Rick and I flew to Branson, Missouri, in October 2005. We would spend 3 nights there and then go on for 4 nights in Orlando and Disney World.

The big purpose for visiting Branson was to see Petula Clark perform with Andy Williams in his Moon River Theatre there. The real reason was to celebrate my birthday.

I have seen Petula perform in concert twice. Once was in 1967, when I was a freshman at San Diego State College (later University), and a fellow student, a music major no less, took me to see the Downtown star sing an incredible range of songs in downtown San Diego. The next time I saw her was 10 years later, in 1977, in Reno, Nevada. I was stationed in the U.S. Navy at Fallon, 70 miles east of there, and drove the hour to see her perform at the Sparks casino.

I’ve seen her in her on-the-road plays Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard, and once at an AIDS benefit in San Francisco – she performed 4 songs. But I ached to see her again in person. I had my chance when she signed with Andy to do 6 weeks, one stint in the spring and one in the fall. We bought tickets to two performances in Branson, two out of the three nights we would be there.

Andy Williams came on first, and I must say, he looked so fragile. Andy is 77 years old. From the fourth row, we could see he appeared gaunt in the face, but spry, dancing to every tune he sang. His voice was in fine shape, and while it didn’t have the same mellifluous sound I remembered from his sixties television show, it was firm and could hit most of the high notes. He performed an hour, then we had a small break, and then Petula came on. Then they came back together and did a good 20 minutes together, doing a comedy bit and singing songs.

Petula looked marvelous, dressed differently in long, flowing gowns each night, and seemed genuinely touched by the audience’s fawning appreciation for her gift. Her voice has witnessed the ravages of time, of course, as she will be 73 next month. She performed several hits, mostly Tony Hatch-composed songs, but also added in some of her own compositions.
While we were in Branson for that one musical purpose, we had a lot of time to kill on the way. At Rick’s suggestion, we drove around Branson, admiring the lush, green scenery of the Ozark mountains. And we came across a character or two.

I like to shop for souvenirs when I go to a new town – I know, call it a vice – and so we wandered into the Dickens Gift Shoppe, a monstrous building right on the main street of Branson, 76 Hwy, and found it filled with….shall I say it?….worthless crap.

But wandering through this warehouse of WC, we found a tall man wearing a cowboy outfit stretched over his bulging stomach, a tall Stetson hat, boots, and a six-gun. He seemed to belong to the store, and engaged us in conversation like a world-weary soldier hungry for conversation.

We got to know a little about Ozark Dan, as he introduced himself. Ozark Dan told us his wife’s family owned the store, and it looked like his chief task was keeping track (and guarding) the firearms and knives on display in the back of the store. They weren’t real firearms, he explained; each was equipped with the obligatory orange cap on the barrel, and each shot pellets. The knives, however, looked real enough.

His family took him to San Francisco once, and all he remembers about the place was their visit to Alcatraz. It’s a strange way to remember arguably the most beautiful city in the world, you must admit. And his father’s claim to fame was seeing Al Capone lie in state at the mortuary at which Dan's father worked.

Dan told us that his pistol was real but that it was empty. But he proudly told us he’s a member of the SASS, the national Single Action Shooter’s Society, and his badge (which I had mistaken for a real sheriff’s badge) displayed his membership number and was pinned on his chest. He was friendly but not smarmy, and a real pleasure to meet. We had at last seen a real piece of Branson. As opposed to thousands of tourists, just like us, lined up in their cars on the 76 Hwy. A real pleasure, Ozark Dan.

“Let’s All Sing Happy Birthday to Linda on the Jungle Cruise!”

We arrived in Orlando in the beginning of a hurricane.

Hurricane Wilma was timed to slam into the southern portion of Florida at 6 am the next day. 12 hours earlier, we drove onto International Drive, and immediately went looking for food.

The brochures in the resort told us to expect power outages and water shortages. I hadn’t planned on that, so…

Armed with peanut butter, jelly, and wine and Coke, we holed up in our suite on the 5th floor about 10 miles south of Orlando, and went to sleep.

Hurricane Wilma’s outside winds reached us, as predicted, early in the morning. When we awakened at about 8 am, we saw trees almost doubled over outside. However, the winds didn’t seem that harsh, maybe reaching 60 mph, and the rain not that torrential.

After one power outage, the T.V. came on at 2 pm on Monday to tell us that the Disney parks had opened. By then the rain had quit and the wind died down to a strong breeze. The temperature had dropped about 15 degrees. So we drove over to Epcot to begin our delayed WDW start.

Every day we would start out at a different park but always end up at Epcot for lunch. This period of the year is the scheduled Food and Wine Festival, and we would start at one end of the World Showcase and eat our way to the other. There were approximately 20 small temporary booths placed between Mexico and Canada, with small tastings for about $3 each. There were even more wine booths, and with each tasting would come the eventual pairing. However, some were a bit unusual: Gewurtztraminer with Chinese pot stickers? Don’t the Chinese have their own wines?

This was the continuation of my birthday celebration, my 57th. When we got our annual passes at Epcot, I got my first “happy birthday!” and a badge that said it was my birthday. From then on, I counted the birthday wishes. Most of the birthday greetings were from cast members, who knew what to look for, but a few came from visitors just like us. It became a game, counting the birthday greetings.

For the two days I wore the badge, I received 31. What a wonderful way to celebrate! Plus, I received a Mickey Mouse birthday card, signed by all the restaurant cast members, from the Rose and Crown Pub (located in England, of course, in the World Showcase at Epcot).

I think the best greeting, however, occurred when we were stuck on the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. We were waiting to get to the dock (“pier pressure,” claimed our over-zealous cast member, the pilot of the boat), and waiting and waiting. Finally he asked if anyone onboard had a birthday this month. I was the only one who raised her hand, and he asked my name. “Let’s all sing happy birthday to Linda!” And they did, all in the middle of this skanky water in the middle of Adventureland in Walt Disney World. Quite memorable.

I also have a story about being kissed on top of the head by Minnie Mouse, who made smacking noises as she did it, but that’s another story…

Monday, October 17, 2005

Squeeze Is the Operative Word

I picked up my cell phone at the Imaging Center and said “Hello” with a question mark. It was Pam. She was calling me about my mailing address. I said, “This may not be the best time to talk, as I’m in the middle of a mammogram." She laughed.

It really was kind of funny. I was sitting there with the gown loosely draped across my shoulders, waiting for the technician to come back and tell me whether the mammogram was okay or not.

The tech had some difficulty getting my right breast to behave, as it were. “It’s difficult with this new machine, and I have to admit it’s not automatic for me,” she said as she fussed about. I instantly forgave her for the hour-long wait I had endured. She obviously was doing the best she could. She then said to me, while pushing my breast onto the plate, “I can see where the scar is from the previous biopsy – and it’s in an area that’s hard to get to. We’ll have to squeeze your breast to the right side.” I interrupted her, pointing out, “and ‘squeeze’ being the operative word here.”

New equipment. New sadomasochistic ways of squeezing mammary tissue onto the cold, hard plate. Colder, harder. “It has to be cold in here,” she said, still rushing around. “If it’s not cool enough, the machine stops working.” Apparently there’s something about shivering flesh this machine just loves.

I appreciated Pam’s call in the middle of this, received while I was waiting for the news. A nice interruption to what shouldn’t be a stressful moment, but I had to admit it was. The technician rushed in about 5 minutes later and blurted, “The doctor has cleared you. Everything is fine – see you in 6 months!” Yay! I thought to myself, as I got dressed and finally walked out.

Six months? Gosh, is a mammogram in my future every six months for the rest of my life? I could see the letter now…. “According to our records, it is time to perform the follow-up examination of the questionable area previously detected on your mammogram….20 years ago…”

Well, I guess it’s better than the alternative.

Monday, October 10, 2005

If the Niners would only ask ME...

This is a sucky season for the San Francisco 49ers.

It was a sucky season last year. They only managed to win 2 games. That's pretty sucky. So, you would have expected the owners to go out and buy some talent, right?

Well, one talent. They took high draft pick Alex Smith as quarterback. Two games later, he's the starting quarterback. Poor guy was in his first game yesterday. He didn't spend much of the game upright, but instead, got to know intimately the grass at Candlestick Park. The Colts did their job on defense, penetrating the Niner offensive line again and again. The Niners couldn't even score a touchdown.

But the good part was the defense didn't give up. The Colts only (!) scored 28 points, final score 28-3. I find that encouraging, as this is a team that may go all the way.

So, what should the 49ers do?

Number One. They should read more blogs. That way, they'd read mine and know what to do.

Number Two. Put Mr. Smith back on the sidelines keeping stats. Buy a veteran quarterback. Someone who's been around, who knows the playbook. Joe Montana. Oh, wait, he's too old, too injured, and is writing books these days. Vinnie Testaverde. Nope, somebody else took him last week. But you get the idea. Somebody a little too old, a little too tried (make that "tired") and true. Somebody relatively cheap.

Number Three. And you might want to put this up to Number One: GET SOME OFFENSIVE LINEMEN! That means, ha! Loosening the purse strings a little.

That's all. That will ensure the Niners win more games this year than last. Not sure about this year if they don't make the changes. Oh, and we forgot one...

Number Four. Put the Oakland Raiders in the Niners' division. Then, if they beat them, who cares how many games they win?

Friday, October 07, 2005


I went on a shopping list for my friend, the student rabbi, on my way to her temporary parish. (Is it a parish if you're Jewish? Oh, God, I don't know. Add that to the list.)

I grew up in a Methodist church. Oh, well, that's not at all correct. I probably attended church fewer times than I have fingers. I preferred to go with Mom to the Big Church, as they got to sing some of the best songs I've ever heard. The church for little kids was full of nasty boys wearing suits that didn't fit. And the instructors kept trying to teach us stuff. Boring.

So I found myself in Safeway last Tuesday afternoon, looking for salt, peppercorns, bread crumbs, and matzoh. I couldn't find the matzoh. I called the rabbi on my cell phone (God bless 'em), found her preparing her sermon, and asked, "Okay, what is matzoh?" I felt pretty stupid about it, assumed it was bread but couldn't find it among the raisin and wheat breads. "It's crackers, but you might try the kosher section." The young man in Safeway led me to an unmarked section between "Hispanic" and "Asian", and there I found matzoh balls, matzoh crumbs....ah, crackers!

I had no idea how she was going to use all of this, but I found out soon enough at the temporary synagogue her congregation used, funnily enough, a small room in the Methodist church in this small town in central California.

One bright sunny afternoon we all traipsed down to the river and threw in to the rushing water parts of our past life, in the guise of salt, pepper, bread crumbs and matzoh bits. A way to start over in the Jewish New Year. It was very vivid, very colorful, a wonderful way to symbolize starting anew, to rid ourselves of the bitter, the sweet-but-deadly behaviors and habits, the things we brought from Egypt.

Egypt? I hope to catch up on that bit of history in the near future. I'm learning. I now know what matzoh is, how to employ it, and soon I'm hoping to learn about Egypt and the escape from slavery. Pretty cool.

This is a concert, this ain't church

My friend and I went to the Dolly Parton concert recently, held at the newly revamped Gideon Amphitheatre at Universal Studios. It was a lovely concert, as Dolly is a consummate entertainer. Except....

For the row of several women behind us. I looked around and, yep, we were so lucky. Nobody in our immediate vicinity was being subjected to the talking, the singing, the catcalls, the uproarious behavior.

I say they were "adults." They didn't act like it. They were, I'm guessing, in their mid- to late-20's. They were obviously fans, and seemed to know Dolly's entire repertoire, as they knew every song, every line in every song.

I leaned back during the first song and politely asked the two women on the end to stop talking. They stared at me but stopped, at least momentarily. Then, the three women next to them started talking in the very next song. The young man next to them, part of their group, asked them to quiet down. They didn't. I leaned back again and asked them to please stop.

"What is your problem? This is a concert, not church," one of them blatantly said.

I've been in this same situation before. The worst was during a Linda Ronstadt concert at the Concord Pavilion several years ago. I had paid $100 for my seat, and couldn't figure out why the five people next to me were talking through her songs, every song. I asked them to shut up several times, but was rewarded with drinks spilled over me and elbows to my shoulder and face as they got up repeatedly.

You can't talk to alcohol. I know that. I stubbornly continue, but in this case, I tried to listen to Dolly and tune out the young woman directly behind me who came in late but made up for it by yelling "JOLENE!!" in a drunken slur many times after Dolly had already sung it.

This may not be church, but if we could've heard Dolly sing, it would've been closer to it.