Monday, 11 February 2013

Reviews Of Books I Have Read

There's A Chance Rosenblatz and Goldenberg Might Be Dead

Though I don't turn my nose up at the thespian arts (unless I have a nosebleed of course), reading plays has never been my cup of tea or coffee or even a nice, soothing mug of beef bouillon, especially after my landlady has locked me out of the rooming house on a cold winter day because she thinks I've been peeing all over the toilet seat. Plus a play, in print form, is usually very meager in the page department and thus not very good for crushing silverfish unless you get a good flex to your downswing, in which case sometimes the damage is even greater and more satisfying than say, from an encyclopedia volume or large print edition of War And Peace. Waiting For Godot? I think not. More like Waiting For Silverfish. But that's neither here nor there because in the end the play's the thing and if anyone has broken a leg on the theatrical stage it's my good friend and brother-in-law, Schmeltzy Gimmeldick, philosopher and owner of Gimmeldick's Hardwood Flooring Outlet. Well, he can now add dramatist to his well-rounded resume after the play he's so recently penned is ready to be put through its paces and whose pages he rushed right over to me, the paper still warm from his inkjet printer. A freshly born and swaddled baby couldn't have been more comforting, inspiring or better smelling.
The playwright, philosopher and hardwood flooring expert extraordinaire, not to mention my brother-in-law, Schmeltzy Gimmeldick. Here he can be seen preparing for a role in his very own play using his patented "Gimmeldick" method acting exercises that make Stanislavsky look like a Sunday walk in the park holding a hot fudge sundae between your buttocks while an escaped Boston terrier that has recently undergone brain surgery bites your legs and urinates on your flip-flops.
Schmeltzy and I go way back because he married my sister who won't talk to me but that hasn't stopped Schmeltzy from keeping me leashed to the family tree which includes visiting me from time to time to bring me frozen TV dinners and cans of chili and beans and spotting me a few bucks occasionally because I know he fooled around on my sister with his secretary, Mitzi, whose no looker (being wall-eyed and having legs like the balustrades on a decaying staircase) but neither is Schmeltzy unless you like copious amounts of back hair. Oddly, the rest of his body is as bare as a baby's bottom but his back is tufted like a silver back gorilla. Anyway, that's water under the bridge or off a duck's back or wherever that water goes.
Lest you think Schmeltzy is a neophyte in the dramatic arts, people should know he comes from a long and esteemed theatrical lineage. His mother, Verna, pictured above, was a popular ventriloquist in her day with her dummy sidekick, Milton. As adept at throwing her voice as she was with flower arrangement, the highlight of her act came when she would breastfeed her dummy. "Does little Miltie need some of mama's milk?" she would coo and Milton would roll his eyes and clack his jaw and stammer out a "Yes, mother," while the crowd would go crazy, turning over their seats in their haste to get a better view and eventually the police would arrive and close down the gymnasium and then Schmeltzy's dad, Boris, would have to bail her out of jail but not before she finished her show for the boys down in the 23rd precinct and got a few phone numbers to perform at private birthday parties. If that's not a showbiz trooper and show stopper I don't know what is. On a side note of interest, Milton survives to this day and works as a salesman at Schmeltzy's hardwood flooring outlet.
So with a proffered twenty smackers paper-clipped to his manuscript along with a stack of Swanson Hungry Man dinners in a shopping bag that he placed at my feet, I was all eyes and ears to see and hear where his dramatic urges had taken him. Little did I realize at the time that it was old Shakespeare himself whose door Schmeltzy would be knocking at and then banging on, belligerently I might add, when Shakespeare didn't answer, although I mean that figuratively of course. In reality it was actually Schmeltzy banging at my rooming house door but my sleep was deep, due to a previous night's combination of NyQuil and instant chicken soup (not that I'm sick-it's just a recipe I'm currently working on), and so it wasn't until he started bellowing my nickname, Fuckface as he so fondly calls me, through the cheap veneer door paneling, that I awoke from my slumber, my eyes lightly crusted with the downy dew of my dreams and overactive mucous membranes. And so there we sat, two worldly men of words and weltschmerz (not to be confused with the welts that Ethel inflicted upon Fred Mertz and known as weltsmertzes), as I probed Schmeltzy about his recent foray into the world of stagecraft.
"Shakespeare was a jackass," Schmeltzy informed me, pushing my pile of word searches off the bed  to make room to sit down (I find that word searches sharpen my mind and keep me honed and better prepared to detect the subtler nuances in the great literary works that I rarely, if ever, read). "I mean I read this Hamlet shit back in high school and his two best characters, those Rosenblatz and Goldenberg guys are just wasted, playing second fiddles to all those other boring jackasses. I know 'cause I Googled it and what I saw didn't make me too happy. So I decided to remedy that situation. I mean if I were Shakespeare and knew which side my bread was buttered on, I would've made these two guys front row and centre but I guess that's why I'm a hardwood flooring king and he's just some old dead guy with a fancy collar who couldn't get no royal pussy and died of syphilis in an outhouse on the outskirts of Salisbury. And then this Tom...Tom...I don't even know his fucking last name but I think it's that guy who hosts America's Funniest Home Videos and that shit-ass Dancing With The Stars show, he decides to write a play focusing on these two schmoes but he gets it all wrong making them all funny and cute instead of being the backstabbing son-of-a-bitches that would fuck your sister behind your back and then make you sniff their fingers fresh from your sister's ass though you don't know that's where they've been before going off to maybe kill your cat or salamander or whatever the fuck kind of pet you have or love to death. I mean, I wouldn't hire that guy to sell hardwood flooring to overweight bingo-callers strapped to mall scooters in Sudbury, let alone write a play that people might like and recommend to their friends and family not to mention getting a little goddamn historical accuracy because that kind'a shit matters if you wanna be a playwright. Am I right? Eh? Am I right or not? Oh yeah, and he covers up the fact they're Jews. Both him and Shakespeare, coupl'a anti-Semites goosestepping their way through some crappy barbaric finger-sniffing sister-banging century if you ask me."
Schmeltzy's mother actually was a bingo-caller and also confined to a mall-scooter, so he didn't just toss that phrase out there without a touch of authenticity. Known for her vivacious and bubbly personality when she wasn't drinking and her ability to run over and sometimes crush people's toes with her scooter when she was, Zora was in high demand from Napanee to Winnipeg to Moosonee. She brought a level of professionalism and expertise to the bingo-calling profession that many said hadn't been seen since Floyd Dudendum had passed away, on the job I might add, calling B-23 just as a huge cerebral hemorrhage brought him to his knees and then eventually onto the industrial carpeting, the last flickers of his breath softly rustling a losing cardboard pull-tab flap that had been discarded close to where his face came to rest. Here's a rare photo of Zora before a game. She liked to arrive early and just meditate and get a feel for the space to help her prepare for a frenzied night of bingo-calling. It's this same focus and concentration that Schmeltzy brings to the stage (he did a wonderful one-man Pirates of Penzance in the hardwood-flooring warehouse one lunch break that brought all the shippers and receivers to their feet calling for an encore and another twelve-pack of beer), and is sure to make his play a success once he finds some actors at the detox centre or homeless shelter because, as Schmeltzy says, "those are the people from the school of hard knocks who have the theatrical chops and deep sense of character that you can't get from any Russkie method-acting school where everyone's pants smell like vodka and pickled herring farts plus these homeless alcoholics really bring a role to life not to mention they work for peanuts, literally, as long as you throw in a couple of bottles of barrel wash."
"I couldn't agree with you more, Schmeltzy," I said, eying the stack of Hungry Man frozen dinners.
I didn't want to tell Schmeltzy that he had the wrong Tom and that I believed he meant Tom Stoppard, a British playwright whose works I'm well not acquainted with but who did host a TV game show on the BBC called Name That Meat Pie in which contestants had to name the meat filling of various pies for cash prizes and/or dental work. Of course that was well before he made it big with his absurdist plays and his Tom Stoppard fashion line of men's hosiery and undergarments (the play-writing business unfortunately doesn't pay big money so Mr. Stoppard, instead of putting all his eggs in one basket, put some into cheap knock-off socks and underwear that he has manufactured in sweatshops and then ships over to London where he jacks the price and puts his logo-TS-on the packaging and when people ask him what TS stands for he smirks and says, "tits and socks," which leaves people bewildered but gets them talking and buying his product and every year, in conjunction with the London Royal Repertory Theatre's Production of Shakespeare's Frights, Fights & Delights, a review of Shakespeare's greatest hits from his best plays set to music and with laser lights, Stoppard puts on his own variety show he calls Stoppard's Cock-Of-The-Walk Cavalcade Of Tits & Socks, which allows him to market both his designer line and his thought-provoking plays so someone's laughing all the way to the bank and it sure as hell isn't Shakespeare even though he's dead so it's a moot point but if he were alive a bank would be the furthest place from where he'd be, especially with Tom Stoppard standing there counting all his moolah, licking his absurdist chapped lips and holding up the line. Either way, Schmeltzy was happy that I was in complete agreement with his Shakespearean theories (I know which side my bread's buttered on and mine comes with a frozen entree), and it was then that Schmeltzy persuaded me to make a run-through reading of his play and I agreed because I'll pretty much do anything for a heat'n'serve Salisbury steak with instant mashed potatoes, peas, carrots and gravy, all beautifully compartmentalized in its own foil serving tray. To me it's like being on an airplane taking off on a soul-searching and adventurous journey without having to leave the comfort of my lumpy bed or feeling homesick for the warmth and comfort afforded by the rooming-house odours of moldy dishtowels, boiled cabbage and mouse feces.
This is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as far as I'm concerned and it should be noted, to keep on a theatrical theme, that Salisbury steak was named for the 4th Duke of Salisbury who, in the 15th century repelled the forces of King Richard the III who had teamed up with the thieving and murderous sons-of-a-bitches, Prince Vimrod and Queen Jagenstoffle of Norway who King Richard had fallen in love with and promised her the city of Salisbury as part of his betrothal package deal, but the whole affair ended in tragedy when Prince Vimrod was accidentally impaled by King Richard III's fake unicorn that he had fashioned out of mutton and a narwhal's tusk as a gift for Queen Jagenstoffle to be presented on their wedding day. The Duke of Salisbury vanquished the invading troops, their morale already broken by Vimrod's tragic death and the event was commemorated with the invention of this special dish. The theatrical angle comes into play when one realizes this is where Shakespeare is buried, after contracting a venereal disease at the local brothel and passing away on his chamber-pot, mulling over his penis sores and varicose veins. Unfortunate for the world of literature because at the time he was working on his unfinished play, tentatively titled "Those Murdering Norwegian Sons-of-a-Bitches," about this tragic moment in British history that, alas, never saw the light of day nor the stage.
Now that we have all that background information out of the way it's on to Schmeltzy's play. I took the part of Rosenblatz and Schmeltzy played Goldenberg in our rooming-house read-through and I must say Schmeltzy punched all the theater of the absurd tickets with this magnificent tour de force of existential angst, apathy and the resulting constipation that these two formidable forces wreak upon the body. Something I'm no stranger to when you've consumed a pound of T.V. dinner Salisbury steak. Honestly, it's like Waiting For Godot but with smoked meat. Or Sartre's No Exit but in a deli. Here's a sampling.

Act I. Curtain goes up on a delicatessen setting where two men are sitting at a table. 
Rosenblatz: Why did you order the double meat?
Goldenberg: Are you crazy. I always order the double meat. How many years have we been coming here and you ever see me order anything but the double meat? You got Alzheimers of something?
R: You've ordered the kishka before.
G: I've never ordered the kishka here. You must be thinking of the kasha. One time, what, five years ago, I had an upset stomach so I ordered some kasha. So, sue me. A man orders kasha once, from that day on it's just kasha, kasha, kasha. Do I look like a kasha eater to you? Granted, my grandparents were big kasha eaters back in Russia in the shtetl but they didn't have much else to eat after the Cossacks made off with all their wives and goats and sheep and fire-making tools. But me, hey, I haven't done too bad as a zipper manufacturer. Who wants kasha when you can have pastrami or corned beef or even a smoked tongue sandwich, especially with the kind of money I make.
R: Hey, I make just as money as you with my button factory and you never hear me complaining about having a nice plate of kasha from time to time. Nothing wrong with a little kasha. Once I was over at Hymie's place and he put out a big platter of pickled herring and smoked whitefish but I said, "Hymie, I don't mean to be rude but you wouldn't by any chance maybe have a little kasha to go with this?" Hymie understood. He's a kasha man. Kishka too. Hymie would never turn down a plate of kishka.
G: Kasha, kishka, kasha, kishka, who th'hell cares? I didn't order it, I'm not eating it, I don't wanna talk about it anymore. Now how about this Hamlet guy. This is something we need to discuss. He's been underselling me with his own zippers, cheap zippers, such crap you wouldn't believe. I wouldn't put them on my grand children's pants. He's giving the zipper industry a bad name. I mean people think a zipper is a simple thing. Oh yeah, go ahead and make them cheap. What is it anyway? Just a bunch of little metal teeth with a thingamajig that zips them up, how hard could that be? Well, I'm telling you, my friend, this from a man who has devoted his life to zippers. They're more complicated than nuclear fission, anti-gravity machines, toaster ovens for God's sake. And this, this gonif thinks he can take business away from me. You know what I say? Eh? It's time to murder this son-of-a-bitch. Kill this Danish prick and his family if we have to.
R: (sleepily), Danish? Mmm, what kind? Lemon or poppy seed? I like a nice danish.
G: Not that kind of danish, you putz. This Hamlet guy, he's from Denmark. Anyway, are you up to killing this thieving son-of-a-bitch or do I have to do it myself?
R: Yeah, yeah, what's your hurry. Let me finish my corned beef first. It's not like he's leaving the country. Oy, I think I've got gallstones. Or kidney stones. Can you get stones in your kidneys? I don't even know. Maybe I should go to the doctor. Have you seen my walker? I can't kill anyone if I don't have my walker.
G: You know, maybe you should take it easy. Stay here, have some nice rice pudding, my treat. I'll take care of things (looks offstage to a suggested figure working the deli counter). Hey, Moishe, you busy for the next few hours. I gotta go kill somebody and I could use a little help. Nothing big. Kill a guy, maybe his wife too, he's got a Cadillac, it's yours if you tag along.
(from offstage comes Moishe's voice)
M: Sure, sure, just give me a second. I've gotta get this brisket out of the oven. A Cadillac, eh? What colour?
G: Maroon.
M: Maroon. I love that colour. And it rhymes with macaroon. And raccoon. I love raccoons, especially the way they wash their food. I once saw a raccoon wash a kreplach in a pail of dirty water and cooking oil in the alleyway out back of the deli. It broke my heart. And I still have my old maroon leisure suit hanging in the back of my closet. You wouldn't believe how much pussy a schmekel like me could get with a maroon leisure suit and a pound of pastrami. I'll tell you all about it later after we kill this Nazi Danish son-of-a-bitch and we're driving back in my new Cadillac.
Lights dim. Curtains go down. End of the first act.

If anyone should think Schmeltzy was exaggerating when he had Goldenberg describing the intricate mechanics of zipper technology, look no further than this diagram. Seemingly simple at first, this is actually a formulaic problem that confounded even Einstein on his best days, making him bite through so many pipe stems his wife made him take up cigar smoking, if only to save his teeth. Working against gravity and atomic and molecular entropy, the zipper redefined all our previous preconceptions about the laws of physics. Oh, sure, you could say. It's just teeth, tape, slides and stops but the only person you'd be fooling is yourself. The next time you're zipping up remember the laws of nature are totally against this process. The only thing more unnatural than a zipper is a lobster operating a backhoe to dig out a swimming pool for its children, an event which did occur in a suburb of Toronto until the neighbours wised up and called the police and the lobster was arrested, not only for trespassing as it didn't live on the premises, but also for destroying private property and disturbing the peace since lobsters are nocturnal and it did most of its digging at night.
My only wish is that Schmeltzy lives to see his play performed on the stage or local gymnasium or shipping dock because talent like this shouldn't go to waste. Nor should those Hungry Man dinners he brought me. I've offered to volunteer my time in any way Schmeltzy can use me, from stage director to actor, understudy to set designer because a play like this would stop Stoppard in his tracks and throw Hamlet into an omelette of contemporary thought where thankfully poor Yorick would be buried under such well-laid and beautiful hardwood flooring that no one would dare disturb its highly polished surface just to dig up some old moldy, maggot-ridden jester's skull, let alone make a speech about it. So if this play hits the limelight on Broadway, off-Broadway or in that doughnut shop parking lot off the 401 highway as you come off the Orillia 32B East off-ramp that takes you to the Trillium Star Casino and Clancy's Golf Centre if you continue for another 4 kilometres, I suggest you zip your lips and let the actors do the talking. Schmeltzy turns the theatre of the absurd into so much cheese curd that wouldn't be out of place on a plate of poutine, on the stage or crusting the front of Marlon Brando's underwear back in the day when On The Waterfront meant a pair of cement shoes on the East River and your severed penis jammed into your mouth could easily be mistaken for a cannoli bobbing in the waves, the only witness being Samuel Beckett (or Uncle Sammy as he was known in Hollywood and at Phil's Heating & Duct Cleaning in Milwaukee) and Uncle Sammy wasn't saying anything. In my humble opinion all I can say is that one day this play is sure to become as great as TV dinner Salisbury steak, with or without the apple crisp dessert option.