Tag Archives: ARIZONA

TOP GIRLS – CARYL CHURCHILL

22 Mar

ALBION DECLINING

AN ODE TO THATCHERISM

 

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            Churchill doesn’t introduce us to blood-spattered Colonel Mustard guiltily holding a dripping candlestick in the library, nor do we meet Miss. Scarlet with a glass of red wine in one hand and a dagger in the other. There’re no murders in the play but cordite hangs so thick that the reader nearly chokes on the fumes. Instead we’re offered a play that’s devoid of one person, a protagonist who isn’t listed in the dramatis-persona, nor who’s to be seen on any stage and yet whose ghost, like a murdered Scot, haunts the production. Churchill relates that when she initially wrote her play she was heavily influenced by the political climate of the time, and the temperature of that specific period perspires in measured degrees throughout its production. Instead we’re offered a good old fashioned “M for Murder” where it’s up to the reader to sift the detritus in order to discover that, “when the possible is impossible, then only the impossible is probable.” Scrutinizing her list of characters we’re able, just as great nineteenth century consulting-detectives are able, to determine for ourselves the identity of the uninvited guest. The main character of the play isn’t Nicola, Deborah, or Abigail or any other proto-eighties name that the love-generation of the sixties decided to endow their first born with, but Marlene; Marlene with a not-so silent “M.” It’s this letter which defines the play, that construes character and which is representative of the entire undercurrent of the production. “M” is for Margret not Marlene and it couldn’t be more obvious if the lead character had it crayoned on her forehead during each and every performance. The spook that haunts the play is the late, but not lamented Margaret Thatcher; the female inspiration for Caryl Churchill’s play, “Top Girls.”

            Margaret Thatcher, probably the most divisive character who ever held the contentious title of Prime Minister, carved her legacy into the very heart of what was once England with surgical disregard. Apologists would say Britain, but Margaret, as her legacy proves, only truly cared about England, the other countries of the unfortunately named United Kingdom reduced to sources of revenue and contention, depending upon her government’s needs. In order to subtly communicate to audiences the inherent dangers of Thatcherism “Top Girls” was written as a societal introspective rather than a theatrical reflection. Through the character of Marlene, Churchill chronicles the beginning of the downfall; the death of empire and all that was great about Britain. Through her character we discover the demise of society, the rise of the individual to the detriment of the collective, the North-South divide, the destruction of the family unit and what it meant to be a disenfranchised native on a sinking island nation. With total disregard for British heritage and accompanied by a specious reverence of wealth, Margaret Thatcher left her mark, just as Marlene indelibly scrawls her own legacy in the play. The Top Girl in question is Thatcher, the production Thatcherism, the encore, a wilderness of industrial and social dereliction.   

            A play of two acts with the first being a confused and muddled retrospective; a group of women representative of historical figures who, the more wine they drink, the more they chat and obfuscate one another. One could be confused that Churchill is attempting to portray feminist triumph; that women through the years have fought their corner and progressed under the direst of circumstances in order to obtain at least the hammer with which to smash through glass ceilings. Tales of rape, subjugation and a will to overcome unfold throughout the first act; experiences of fortitude and despair that both enthrall and perplex. This is supposed to be a celebration but for whom, or rather of what? Marlene has been promoted and is about to achieve directorial status, proof that she’s got what it takes to be top-bitch in a dog-eat-dog world. The assumption then, is that the party is to celebrate professional success? The women at the party through loss of self-respect, love and even life, have helped to pave the feminist path. Marlene likewise has apparently overcome the odds but rather than the epitome of female success she’s portrayed as the antithesis of empathy. The corner office is now hers, but what was it that she sacrificed in order sit comfortably within it? Rather than dwell on her promotion, Churchill chooses to showcase the struggle of the others and in doing so intentionally glosses over Marlene’s perceived achievement.

            The first act is representative of transition, what Thatcher would’ve undoubtedly termed progress. The achievements of the past, personified by the historical women, are discarded in favor of the contemporary and her irrepressible march towards monetarism and egocentrism. When Thatcher took office, Britain was indisputably the “Sick Man of Europe.” A flirtation with state run institutions and the empowerment of the unions had led to stagnation in production and too much power in the hands of those who controlled vital services, rather than an equitable equilibrium of shared power. It’s easy to understand the rise of Labour after nearly a century of crushing worker subjugation. The Second World War had made a difference, and the social contract that’d been the country’s reward for surviving and destroying Nazism was well deserved, however, in retrospect was a peter-principle of too much too soon. The empowerment of the workers meant that the political pendulum swung too far to the left and ultimately had to swing once more to the center. Under Thatcher rather than finding that center, the pendulum swung instead, inexorably to the extreme right. Instead of celebrating the policy of nationalism and social awareness as alluded to by the various historical figures at the party, the social contract is discarded as Margaret steps into the second act; an allusion to the origins of Thatcherism and the abandonment of socialist values in order to empower the individual at the expense of society as a whole. A little short sited when one considers Margret’s humble beginnings – similar to the tales of Churchill’s historical women – as a village grocer’s daughter at the hub of the local community and who participated enthusiastically as a member of a congregation. The society she’d learned to appreciate as a young woman was clearly no longer to her taste and the lady was definitely for turning when it came to the idea of deconstructing Britain. In act two we encounter a modern, vibrant, controlling Marlene who’s focused on the future, having dismissed the ideals of old Labour and any hope of a revitalization of the social-contract.

            Two girls play outside, one a coarse, older girl, the other a younger more eloquent and obviously brighter child. Despite their differences they both play in the same back yard. There’s an adult in the vicinity, however, her attentions are elsewhere; Mother Britain no longer has time for her children and so the young Albions, left to their own devices and outside influences, are quickly choosing their own path. The mother is Marlene’s sister Joyce, or rather she personifies Britannia, the children in the back yard, although we don’t yet know it are not hers, and are representative of a divided nation. Although the oldest is supposedly her daughter there’s an obvious appreciation of the other child and her abilities. Britannia questions the younger girl about her future and is flabbergasted by her aspirations. It’s apparent that under the flagship of Thatcherism, if one works hard anything is seemingly possible. Britannia can only despair at her older daughter and shake her head, no longer seeing the value of posterity but imagining instead the brave new world of individual success. But at what expense, Churchill asks? Shouldn’t society benefit both children, aren’t both children worthy, don’t they each have talents which could be utilized to the betterment of the collective? It’s obvious that one of the children in the production will fail whilst the other will undoubtedly succeed. With a shrug of the shoulders and a matter of fact acceptance the sister character goes back to the minutia of life. Here Churchill demonstrates to her audience a fractured and polarized society. Yes, the future according to the new political doctrine is for all, but unfortunately not attainable by all. The ideology of personal monetary success at the expense of others signifies that rather than standing on the shoulders of the giants – the female guests of the first act – the Thatcher generation is crawling across the bodies of their neighbors; a simplistic scene but one which is analogous of Thatcherism.

            Marlene is now the top-girl at the Top Girls agency and professionally is in control of her life. Just as Thatcher had risen to the top, so has our protagonist. Young women with aggressive male vernacular are her subordinates, their accents denoting them as working class girls made-good and therefore tolerated by the British caste system and the new model society. But at what expense has she achieved her management  status? She’s given up a daughter, walked away from family, betrayed her roots and all but deserted a sister whom she hardly sees. In order to succeed she’s had to abandon so much. Once again Churchill is demonstrating the dearth of society, the disintegration of the family unit, geo-political separation, and the rise of the individual.

            To achieve promotion Marlene had to overcome traditional male hegemony and become the best man for the job, as Thatcher probably would’ve undoubtedly enjoyed saying with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. The man she’s supplanted, despite the supplications of his wife for his position, suffers cardiac arrest. Again Churchill’s skill in blanketing her real meaning is sublime. The sick man and his loving wife represents the mass unemployed and their communities who’ve been dumped and forgotten after the wilful destruction of steel, shipping, coal and industrial manufacturing. With no recourse, thanks to Thatcher’s illegally instituted regulations, the withdrawing of labor has become a crime. The heart attack signifies not only the death of the unions but also of the nation. Coal the life blood of the country, the fuel which boiled the kettle of the industrial revolution, employed millions and was the foundation upon which the North of England was built is eviscerated. Thatcher policy crushes them to the point where they’ll never recover and dismisses their communities as unviable just as Marlene dismisses the wife of her former colleague, “Could you please piss off!” Instead of industrial excellence and full employment it’s the rustle of bank notes and the flashing of computer screens in a money driven economy that signify transition. One could perceive Marlene’s promotion as representative of female progression but to define it as simply the usurpation of male domination would be naïve. Churchill clearly makes her point and it’s hard not scream Margaret every time Marlene’s name is mentioned. Her careful crafting of the scene is indicative of the demise of the British way of life.

            In the final scene there’s an attempted reconciliation between sisters – again read Britannia and Thatcher – both drunk and maudlin, who although related, can never be friends. Bearing the gift of a too small dress Marlene offers unwelcomed charity; a halfhearted attempt to patch the irreparable rift of a divided nation. The daughter Angie, who’s doomed to failure and representative of those who don’t personify the ideals of Thatcherism, tries on the ill-fitting garment she’ll never get the chance to wear. The realization that things have gone too far and that amends need to be made is obvious in Marlene’s demeanor, with the explication of her private rather than her professional persona in a place where she’s neither welcomed nor wants to be ; Maggie perhaps, not Margaret? The concept of an abandoned daughter representing a neglected nation creates momentary doubt in Marlene/Margaret’s intent, and is perhaps a glimpse into the never, publically displayed humanity of Thatcher? As a mother and wife she conceivably possessed the ability to empathize and yet was so compartmentalized that she was capable of destroying the lives of vast numbers of the population and their communities to pursue an ideal of neo-conservatism. The sisters continue to argue and even surreally discuss the policies of Margaret Thatcher, both adopting stereo-typical juxtapositions. The notion that one can succeed no matter where you come from is contradicted by a post- card of the Grand Canyon lying on a small kitchen table, in a house in the middle of nowhere, containing a forgotten family and an abandoned child. To add insult to injury Marlene tells Joyce, “I believe in the individual, look at me!”

            The daughter who’s been privy to what was supposed to be a private conversation is now aware of the true relationship between herself and her birth mother Marlene. No longer a child of Britannia but the progeny of Thatcherism her final words are lamentable. What choice does she have as a potential Tesco’s shelf-stacker, “she’s not going to make it?” She doesn’t want to emulate her adopted mother and eke out her life in rural anonymity, but realistically nor does she see herself fitting into the sophisticated professionalism of London briefly experienced when visiting Marlene in the city. The final word she utters, in a moment of self-realization, is, “Frightening!” Evidently she doesn’t have a choice, and in a world of top-girls, doesn’t stand a chance.

            Top Girls is suffused with the idea of Thatcherism and the misrepresentation of character to define the plight of 1980’s Britain is understatedly brilliant. Ignoring all the usual clues for literary discovery and avoiding the elephant-trap of feminist criticism, one grasps the epiphany of Churchill’s monumental political commentary. The only top-girl in this play is Margaret Thatcher, and Churchill doesn’t give a damn who knows it.

 

 

 

 

 

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EVERYONE’S A CRITIC…

15 Sep

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FORMALISM. LITERATURE STUDIES

The Formalistic movement of literary critique was a reaction to the cold, calculated method of viewing literature through the eyes of supposed political motivation, biographical nuance and historical interpretation, the verbiage laid open like a cadaver on a slab to be viewed as individual pieces. Instead of the detractive pseudo-science of literary vivisection, the text was considered by the Formalists in its entirety as a work of literary endeavor; the product of its parts rather than the sum of them.

Formalism allows one to avoid the clutter of political climate and social adaptation, a novels provenance and the atmosphere in which it was created. Unhindered by such motivations we, the reader, are observers of the words in the work and what it is they say to us and of the author. It isn’t about situational context or trying to put one’s self in the position of the writer but to understand that which they have written, rather than that which has caused the author to write it. We are not applying a deconstructed analysis but taking the body of text as the sum of its parts and viewing it in its totality. What is denotative and what is connotative, what metaphors are being used, can we recognize themes through either allusion or simile and is there an etymological significance with regard to word usage?  Simply put, it’s is not why we think it’s being said but how it’s being said.

The beauty of the formalistic criticism is its simplicity. To add biographical bias or to presume the authors intent is to step outside its bounds, to presuppose their mind and reason is to analyze and dissect. Instead, by utilizing the text as a metaphorical murder site, we can sift through the clues, peruse the D.N.A. and formulate an opinion. When one observes a painting one may choose to contrast the quality of lead based paints over modern oils or perhaps compare the use of horse hair instead of synthetic bristles. But what of its body and what does it reveal of itself? Is the painting beautiful, what does it mean to you, what in its composition evokes an emotion or causes a reaction?

Close reading of a text will reveal such things as tone and mood, metaphors and allusions, indications of intent and innate symbolism. Through the analytical observance of text we can discover its secrets, what it is that underlies the work and what is written between the lines, so to speak. To use the old adage of “It isn’t what we say but how we say it,” that is the crux of formalistic critique. The focus of the formalist is the text, the whole text and nothing but the text.

 

 

THE TRAVELLER

6 Aug

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 A LIFE LESS TRODDEN…

“There’s a code, not a lot of people know that, they just think that homelessness is about not having a roof over your head. There’s that of course, but there’s so much more to it than just that. It’s a little like thinking that fishing is about threading a worm onto a hook and casting a line into some murky pool in the hope of getting that Kodak comment with a slime covered fish and a grainy photo on the back page of the Evening Press. If that were the case then why would people do it — why do people do anything? Is it about pitting your wits, the thrill of the chase, the chance encounter with that which will enlarge the mundane and make for fireside-tellings and beer soaked half-truths all the more enduring? Nobody really wants to get out of bed at dark o’clock and sit in some stinking mud pit whilst chewing on cheese and onion sandwiches  —  filthy nails digging into pure white bread — and sipping on over sugared tepid tea. Bollocks is what it is, yet thousands, no I would think billions, head to the waterside every weekend to indulge in pseudo riparianism. So what are they running from — or too for that matter — all those silent, solitary, static figures? A chance to be alone, to think, to peruse and plumb the depths of ones psyche and weigh one’s soul against a pocket sized Feather of Maat — to see if one is wanting in the getting enough out of life stakes. A trip down memory lane, a troll through consciousness — simply being at one with oneself. You can’t tell me that the hordes of camouflaged enthusiasts waiting in the reeds, like Rourke’s Drift Zulus, are thinking about fishing? A chance at the big time perhaps, a reprieve from quotidian Colditz tunnel digging and the journey towards the light at the end of it? The smell of corruption and the ache of bone chilling cold in preference to domestic bliss-ter and heated conversation? Course not, they’re a million miles away on the other side of the universe traversing interstellar highways in personalized time-discontiuums. Hence it’s like homelessness, exactly like homelessness because one has nothing to do with the other, or itself, and that’s where you strike the parallel — the fact that both states have absolutely zero in common with their supposed activity. It’s all about escape, running away — social if not moral cowardice wrapped up in fuzzy weekend activity or a none participatory societal state. The anglers of the world are abject cowards; the fish can probably see their yellow spines through the murk of filth through which they submarine.

Likewise the homeless with that unwashed well-worn bravado who epitomize misguided declarations of what it is to be free — a slap in the face to paycheck wage slaves living the nightmare of two up two downs, thirty year mortgages and the unrequited love of their 1.7 children. We’ve all seen my colleagues, and I do use the term loosely, down on the corner banging their drums, waving the flags, playing their three string guitars and juggling as though their lives depended on it. Strange really that a folk so interested in shunning society are so eager to make their presence felt and engender contact with those whom they despise — as though rotting teeth, tussled hair and an urgent need of a bath is going to enjoin the right kinds of social intercourse! There we sit with our mangy dogs and our even mangier women, surrounded by brown bagged sausage-roll sustenance and empty cider bottles. Hardly an advertisement to those contemplating a similar lifestyle — not exactly a recruiting campaign to join the legion of the idle or the regiment of the damned.

But I digress.

There’s a code. Not one where we face the East on our knees or exchange bodily fluids in freshly slashed pressed flesh, but a code all the same. The code is to never take more than you need, never be a burden and never beg. If you choose to dismiss the first two then one must insure that the third statute is upheld. I’ve seen them myself and they disgust me, able bodied teens — sturdy beggars — sitting on the pavement, heads down with palms outstretched. Nothing wrong with the buggers, there just suffering from that malodorous affliction called self-induced idleness. What they really need to do is get off their arses and go and find something that would actually allow them to finance whatever addiction it is they are trying support via the misguided benevolence of the passing public. The freedom they were looking for, the Romany lifestyle all be it sans caravan, is probably more effort than they’d envisioned. Being homeless isn’t easy, there’s the constant hassle from the pigs, the queue at the soup kitchen, the inevitable Mary and Joseph moment where one discovers after five rain soaked hours that there really is no room at the inn.

It’s hard bloody work.

When ones wardrobe consists of a puke stained jacket from Dumpster and Sons and pair of third party, gently-used piss-stained jeans that barely button, one can hardly expect to excel at the interviews. Sure you may have your shit together, the lies may cascade from your tongue and your eloquence effervesce however, the fact that the prospective employer can’t stand to be in the same room as you because of the way you smell is hardly conducive to a symbiotic working relationship. Being homeless means acceptance of oneself and one’s own created reality. It’s a choice; it’s something you want to do. One chooses to travel, to peruse life from the other side and to experience a life less trodden. There’s no romance, you can leave that to the scribblers and the poets. A life on the road isn’t for the feint of heart, where every moment is an adventure, every day an accomplishment. To be at odds with human nature, an observer of the real world isn’t everybody’s luke warm cup of tea. Nobody asked or forced me, it was something I chose to do.

I may be a work shy cunt but I’ll never beg!”

FREELANCE BABY…

19 May

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SHAKESPEARE IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN – A free-lance piece for the Arizona Magazine

(The surprising popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in a desert landscape.) 

An investigation into the popularity and influence of Shakespeare’s writings in 21st century Phoenix.

By Colin James 

            Margery fusses with her wig and quickly applies another coating of grease-paint. She can feel the swell of voices beyond the curtain — sense their expectation. An audience that’s wined and dined and who now expect to be entertained; after all they’ve paid their $15!
            The Pebble Creek Players have rehearsed for months, in fact the best part of a year. If they haven’t got it down by now they never will. They’re word perfect, and perfectly practiced. It wasn’t easy; a passage of trial and tribulation — long afternoons fortified with iced whatever’s. But tonight’s the night, the moment her amateur thespians will eke out their lives as shadows and poor players as they pace the boards of the Pebble Creek community center.
            Margery adjusts the prosthesis underneath her shirt, looks across the void, and smiles nervously at one of her fellow cast members hidden in the shadows. Slowly she ambles to center stage; difficult to do with one leg in Plaster of Paris however, assisted by crutches she does her best. Suddenly there’s a hush, the only voice that of the compere. “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to this evenings performance.” The voice is a mumble, the words barely audible through the thick curtain that separates the performers from the audience, or rather the Christians from the lions. “Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Greys, Pebble Creek’s answer to Shaftsbury Avenue and Broadway.” Applause. The curtain is lifted.

*

            Arizona sunshine beats down on black top as Snow-birds and visitors from colder states caper nimbly in newly acquired tennis sneakers defending their own side of the net. The laughter and mirth generated by an afternoon of tennis is palpable in contrast to the intensity of a small but dedicated “band of brothers” that while away the hours in rehearsal and recitation of a Shakespeare play in a private home across the street. Pebble creek, a Robson Retirement community on the west side of Phoenix, caters to those lucky enough to have left the work place far behind; an active adult retirement resort where no matter your flavor of distraction, it can be found behind it’s secure stucco walls. 

          Wendy Jackson, 65, a native of Madison Wisconsin and grandmother to six, holds a copy of Spark’s Notes “No fear Shakespeare” in her hand and reads aloud to the assembled mixture of silver haired ladies and gents who sit comfortably in a semi-circle around her. The text is Henry the V, the notebook a study guide for those introducing themselves to the works of Shakespeare. The Greys, the Pebble Creek Players is an erudite bunch who intend to perform the play later this year. The “happy few”, with drinks in hand, listen intently to Mrs. Jackson as she enunciates; sipping gratefully from freshly made iced-tea. 

            “Theater has always been in our blood,” explained Wendy, “My mother was a dancer and my father, during his military service, worked for a glee-platoon that put on productions for the troops. Although my father was often a little embarrassed of his service, he often spoke of his wonderful-war, entertaining front line soldiers. My father had been a painter and decorator before the war, so when they came looking for volunteers he was a shoe-in, as they needed someone to paint and construct the sets. I guess you might say that the grease paint and limelight was spooned into me as a child. Shakespeare came later for me, probably around the time I went to college.” 

            Wendy looks wistful as she relates her amateur dramatic experience. “Of course it all started in high school with the Christmas show and the annual production the drama society would perform for the parents and students. Once bitten by the bug, I never really lost touch with the stage, and the discovery of a deeper more thoughtful production developed in me with my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember it was Twelfth Night and I was lucky enough to get the part of the maid. Quite an undertaking however, clearly my director saw something in me that, looking back now, was probably a turning point. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics, and in particular Shakespearian productions, even when pregnant with my two boys ever since. There is something in the language that is so enduring and meaningful. As my old director would say there is ‘cadence on the tongue and music in the ears’ when his plays are performed.” 

            But how much enthusiasm can there be for the Bard in a retirement community on the far edge of Phoenix? Is there really a market for a 16th century play-wright in the Valley of the Sun? 

            Wendy laughs, “You’d be surprised. Of course there’s always enthusiasm for the golden oldies,” as she calls the more popular Broadway productions, “but there’s always a lot of interest in Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many people have made it to retirement, who only now are listening to, and enjoying his plays. She shakes her head and smiles, “Seems like a waste to me, but better late than never.” 

            The Pebble Creek Players have to date performed 3 sold out productions of William Shakespeare’s plays and alongside their theatrics have created both a reading club and a study group. “A lot of the residents,” explains Wendy, “can’t seem to get enough, and we’re always being approached by new people interested in joining our various groups.” 

            There is no age limit, or statute of limitations that makes the plays popular. When one thinks of Shakespeare penning his prose and performing his plays for the mob in London, clearly it wasn’t sunbaked Arizona that he had in mind. 

            It’s Friday night and a group of around 10 teenagers sit on a stage beneath florescent lighting at Saint Luke’s Church on the corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback road, a location popular on Sunday mornings with a largely Hispanic congregation. The group of young enthusiasts waits eagerly, chatting and browsing on their smart-phones. The teens have volunteered to participate in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Brelby Theater Company on the West side of Phoenix in Glendale. This older, less in vogue area of town, has suffered the effects of economic malaise. During the 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were being performed for a half-penny a time for the groundlings in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, The Globe Theater hardly had an address to boast of either. Glendale is now populated by lower income families, with a large Hispanic demographic. At least half of the kids waiting for Geoff Shelby, the organizer of the workshop and one of the principals of the theater, are the children of Latino immigrants and not all of them are legal. 

            Geoff a tall, gangly, salt and peppered veteran of the theater calls the kids to order and hands out copies of this evening’s texts. Romeo and Juliet; the balcony scene. 

            “Something they all know about even if they don’t realize it yet.” Geoff throws me and infectious grin and launches into Romeo, oh Romeo. 

            “Alright then who’s heard that before?” asks Geoff. A couple of hands go up in the air. “Who’s heard of Romeo and Juliet?” Several more hands appear. “You guys have been holding out on me. Seems you’ve have already heard of this Shakespeare character.” Laughter ripples through the small group that’s excited to get down to business. 

            “Shakespeare,” Geoff tells me, “is as relevant today as he ever was. It’s simply a case of getting young people’s attention. With so many distractions and sources of instant gratification one has to bring the plays to the fore, sit the kids down, and show them what they’re missing. It’s amazing to see the transformation from disinterest to over-the-top enthusiasm; their pride in being able to recite and remember tracts of text. You literally see the kids grow as they stand on stage and recite for their parents at the end of the course. 

            The Brelby company has been a feature of the Phoenix theater scene for well over 15 years and was formed by Geoff Shelby and fellow thespian Anita Rodriquez . 

            “At the time,” says Geoff, “there was no real theater. Sure there were movies but it wasn’t the same thing. Live theater grabs an audience by the throat and forces their senses into the action without the distraction of popcorn and product placement. We originally formed the company to perform one play however, since then we’ve done over forty. Shakespeare has always been a main-stay of our revue, an evergreen that audiences don’t seem to grow tired of.” 

            The Brelby, a not-for-profit organization, has benefitted from Arizona for the Arts funding, hence their community give back. “Ticket sales,” says Geoff, “ are unfortunately only half the story, and alongside our theatrical work we all hold regular jobs. Theater is our passion, unfortunately not our profession.” The look on Geoff’s face at the interaction of the kids is worth the million dollars the Brelby Theater Company truly deserves. He believes that keeping Arizona’s kids on the stage and off the streets is money and time well spent.

*

            Arizona is a keenly diversified state where one can ski Flagstaff in the morning and bathe in Phoenix sunshine in the afternoon; a state known more for copper, cattle and cotton than Elizabethan English theater. One can rodeo-ride in Buckeye or sling six-shooters in old-town Tucson, but one can also find the theater in all its diversified forms throughout the state, and surprisingly that of William Shakespeare. There is a ground swell of enthusiasts and over 20 independent theater companies, private individuals and interest groups, who devote their time to either studying his works or performing his plays.

*

            In the heart of downtown Mesa a very different atmosphere can be found from that at Saint Luke’s, although their intent is the same. The Desert Rose Theater, “The best theater you’ve never seen,” as they advertise themselves, are in the throes of final preparation. Unlike the Pebble Creek Players who were surrounded by garden furniture and cooling beverages there is a sense of urgency, a heated atmosphere of needs-to-be-done; a group in excess of 30 people, swarm around the theater building preparing for an opening night that is only a week away. The posters are printed, the blurb gone to the local press, and ticket sales haven’t been too shabby either. They intend to perform William Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kathryn Stewart, the director of the theater, is in no mood for half-measures, and even less time for anybody not directly related to the play. 

            With tousled brown hair and eye-glasses pushed up on her fore head, Kathryn is the epitome of efficiency. She continuously shuffles papers through her hands while we talk, and despite the interview, is keen to engage several people in conversation at any one time. In between her directions for stage management and interjections between actors, I discover her passion for the plays. 

            “I finished college in Washington, and joined a theater group directly afterward. With a liberal arts education and a passion for the stage, much to the disappointment of my parents, I took to the road. For me it’s always been Shakespeare. I’ve worked with other companies in the past, but it’s always a welcome return home when I go back to doing what I love best.” 

            Kathryn has trod the boards for the past 30 years and is clearly a devotee to her art. But why Phoenix? Why Arizona? 

            “The Rose Theater first came to Phoenix in ‘92.  At the time we performed mainly for schools and colleges. Now, much to my distress, the study of Shakespeare and his works has nearly disappeared from the curriculum and so we’ve had to make ourselves more affable to the public. This has meant more elaborate stage craft and a sense of utter professionalism in order to attract paying audiences. Although we’re a volunteer organization we do employ several professionals and very often contract actors for our leading roles. This allows us to take our plays on the road, and during any given year we cover most of Arizona. Our season is generally made up of four plays two of which are always Shakespearian in nature whether Shakespeare, Marlow or Johnson for example.” 

            Judging by the amount of people involved and the projected two weeks of four performance plus matinees, Kathryn has her hands full. I leave her to her work and head for my final Shakespearian experience.

*

            My destination is the aluminum and glass edifice of the Mesa Arts Center, An opulent, outwardly expensive monument to the theater and performance art. The center features art, dance and music, and is home to the Southwest Shakespeare Company, the most auspicious of all the Shakespearian players within Phoenix’s city-limits. I step into a polished steel elevator and wend my way to the office of Margaret Monroe, the current publicity director for the company. As expected Ms. Monroe is dressed in impeccable business attire and exudes and air of supreme confidence. A total contrast from Geoff Shelby and his make shift accommodation in Glendale. 

            “You have to understand that Shakespeare can be performed in many different ways,” she explains, “and have been on many different occasions. The fact that we’ve this beautiful facility and the ability to hire top notch actors doesn’t detract from the work being performed by others. You have to remember that during Elizabethan times there was also a differentiation between those who paid pennies to stand and watch performances in the rain, and those who sat on cushions in the balconies. Shakespeare is for everybody and in order to proliferate his works we offer a first class location with a first class experience.” 

            Although the company does receive some arts-council funding, it is a self-sufficient organization and turns a profit. When not performing in Phoenix, they take their plays on the road and even internationally. “Phoenix is a great base for us,” explains Margaret, “as everybody here is from somewhere else. Many residents have come from larger cities where they’ve enjoyed quality theater and so expect the same.” A classic case of the market will provide.

*

            Mrs. Menendez watches her teenage son as he leaves the house, walks down the garden path, turns, waves, and disappears into inky blackness. Menendez crosses herself; not in fear for her son but in thanks for a certain individual who’s come to town — a voice that will take her beloved boy off the street and keep him safe from harm. She knows exactly where Jose will be for the next two hours; in fact she knows where he’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday for the next two months. Secure and surrounded in the caring environment of the Brelby Theatre and Geoff Shelby; free from the scum who pollute the streets.
            So who is this masked man, the caped-crusader that has arrived to save the youth of Glendale? No man of steel, rather a man of words; a warrior poet whose plays and sonnets have brightened the planet for over 400 years; a writer who has chased away the shadows and illuminated the lives of millions. Parents of Glendale and Phoenix take heart. William Shakespeare abides in Arizona.

 

The End

POE – ETRY

14 Oct

 

The stack of prepaid junk-mail had lain on his desk;  offers of credit cards, Caribbean holidays and a notification, courtesy of some no-named agency in the Philippines, informing him he was worth a million dollars in prizes. Buried beneath all the unsolicited correspondence he’d almost missed the letter.  He still didn’t know why he’d done it, why he’d stopped the shredder in mid-mangle and pulled the white envelope clear of the paper shards. It was personally addressed in a hand he didn’t recognize, franked from a sea-side town where he’d spent many happy hours. Maybe it was the recognition of the Florida state symbol foiled by the bright white of the envelope, or perhaps the shinning sun on the postage stamp, either way it had peaked his interest.

Slitting the envelope open, he read.

“Dear Bill.

Long time no see. I’m finally leaving the service and taking retirement.”

An old Navy buddy he hadn’t seen for years was hanging up his hat and heading for the beach. A great guy, and a good friend, but that’d been a million years ago.

I’ll be staying at the old house on the Cape and thought you might like to join me and maybe catch up on old times. Drinks are on me, so’s the vacation. Think about it. It would be good to get together after all these years.

The letter contained dates, addresses and a proposed time table. His old comrade wouldn’t be there for the first couple of days;

I’ve some pressing business to attend to, so if you’d like to come down and treat the place as your own for a couple of days  that would be great – in fact you’d be doing me a favor. Nothing worse than walking into an empty home!

Bill smiled, “Who wouldn’t want a fully paid vacation in a fancy beach-front house?”

Even now he could see himself sitting on the deck, toes in the sand, drink in hand, as he watched the liquid lucidity of an azure-blue ocean break and wash across golden sand. With the sound of gulls in the air, and a vision of sun-bronzed beauties wandering the beach, he’d quickly made his decision.

“Hell! After the year he’d had, he deserved it. What with the housing crash, the corporate restructuring and the latest unobtainable sales goals. Fuck yes! Work used to be fun, now it was just work. It’d been a tough couple of years, not just on the business side of things but his personal life had taken a hit as well. After the accident his wife had packed her bags and left, taking the maid and the dog with her. Married for over twenty years, she’d just got up and walked out. The bitch!”

It hadn’t been his fault, there’d been loads of people at the party that night. How could he possibly have been responsible for the death of the girl found floating in the hot tub. The police had been sympathetic but the media merciless. Descriptions of a drink, drug fuelled party, which although not entirely untrue, where exaggerated to the point where he’d been cast as a modern day Caesar overseeing weekend orgies and hosting untold debauchery behind the walls of his Malibu mansion. No blame could be attached to him, and there was absolutely no proof that he’d supplied the drugs. Sure, he had his connections and with the money generated by the housing boom at the time, it’d been too easy to get hold off. A quick phone call to the friend-of-a-friend of the loosely connected Cuban-exile contingent and the necessary had been provided.

Drugs, girls, whatever he wanted, and all just seven digits away.

He hadn’t known her. She’d had some foreign sounding eastern European name. Sure, she’d been a looker, judging by the newspaper photographs, but all he remembered was a water logged body tossed up on the pool deck with paramedics trying to pump her back to life. The moment had been surreal, the blue flashing lights of the emergency vehicles, the uniformed officials surrounded by half-naked party guests in little more than bikinis and shorts. A moment that had been far too serious for the light hearted party atmosphere that had prevailed. Of course the press had camped outside his door for weeks, bothered his family and accused him of God knows what. He was no plaster saint and he’d had his share of flings with girls so numerous he’d forgotten most of their names, but he wasn’t a murderer.

“Saborsky? Sikorsky?  What had the girls name been?” Didn’t really matter now, it was all so long ago.

Of course his fair-weather friends had deserted him, his phone calls going unanswered, his lifestyle of the rich-and-nearly-famous gone forever. After his wife had taken what little money wasn’t mortgaged into the house he’d moved into a regular neighborhood, with regular people, earning regular money. Guilty or no, the mark of Cain was upon him. Scarlet-lettered and treated like a social leper the invitation he held in his hand was a breath of fresh air.

He checked the calendar on his desk. There was nothing that couldn’t be reshuffled and decided he’d accept the offer. “Fuck it, what did he have to lose?”  He pressed the button on the intercom and spoke with the secretary outside. “Louise do me a favor and get a letter off to,” he dictated the address and the name. “In fact send a telegram,” that should get to his old buddy a little faster; hopefully he’d have an answer before the end of the day.

* 

Two weeks later Bill found himself waiting in the Florida sunshine on the side of a road. The telegram had come back in the affirmative.

…..Sounds good stop

Look forward to a few drinks stop

Relive some of those glory days stop.

Will send car stop

Details to follow stop……..

Planning on relaxing he’d packed a suitcase with a couple of tropical shirts, board shorts and some khaki slacks. Not required to dress-to-impress he’d judiciously left his ties and stiff collars in the closet where they belonged. He glanced at his watch; the car should have been there by now? The sun was starting to climb and Bill was beginning to perspire – a bead of sweat leaked from his brow.  Pushing his sunglasses up his nose he watched as a dark limousine indicated, moved out of traffic, and pulled up to the curb.

The door opened and a chauffeur liveried in black stepped out of the vehicle. “Mr. Brown? I’m here to collect you Sir.”

Brown climbed into the rear of the car – the suitcase was placed in the trunk. The interior of the vehicle was a gorgeous mix of richly stitched leather and Ebony carpentry replete with drinks cabinet, a television and a cassette player. Brown was impressed; clearly his friend had done well for himself. The glass slide partition between the front and the back slid down, and the chauffeur spoke over his shoulder. “Mr. Keagan instructed me to ask you, to make yourself at home. You’ll find drinks in the cupboard and there are some cigars, which you may appreciate, in the humidor. Anything else you need, just speak into the microphone and I’ll be more than happy to assist.” Brown thanked him, the partition slid up, and the vehicle glided back into traffic.

Bill couldn’t help but smile. It’d been a long time since he’d enjoyed any form of hedonism and he was about to indulge. Crystal-glass chinked and rattled as he decanted a generous helping of whisky. His fingers found the latch to the humidor, his eyes greedily selecting from the Cahaba’s and Monte-Cristos. Glass in hand and cigar in mouth, Bill watched the City disappear behind them as they headed for the coast. For the first time in months he was smiling. Life was good.

*

Bill woke slumped in the back of the car, the vehicle motionless the engine off. There was a heavy smell of whiskey and his shirt was damp, the crystal glass lay smashed on the floor. Not understanding what had happened Bill tried to sit up but couldn’t. His head was pounding and there was enormous pressure behind his eyes. He attempted to focus but found it difficult, went to move but felt hampered by his leaden limbs. There was a face on the TV screen. He was sure that it hadn’t been there before? Was he drunk, surely not?  Just because his means had diminished didn’t mean his bad habits had, and he was still a regular imbiber. He stared at the face on the screen not recognizing the image. He held his hand to his throbbing brow and forced himself into an upright position. Where was the driver? He stared through the darkened glass, there was nobody there. What the hell was going on? Looking out of the window he could see the ocean. The vehicle was parked on a slip-way, slightly angled down toward the ocean. Where they there? He didn’t recognize anything, but there again it had been a while since his last visit. Sitting erect and doing his best not to slide back down the seat he stared at the image in front of him. It was young woman. Something fizzed and clicked in his brain and he began to trawl on a dim recollection.

“Surely not?” The female face stared at him from a past life. “It couldn’t be?”

“Shirovsky,that was the girl’s name, the girl who’d died at his party. Stupid cow what had she been doing? Ruined his life she had. Her death had taken everything from him and yet it wasn’t his fault. The girl on the screen was her, he was sure of it. What was she was doing on the TV? It didn’t make any sense.”

*

The driver’s door opened and Bill watched as the chauffeur leant in. The man released the hand break and the vehicle lurched forward. Slowly and deliberately, the glass partition slid down. Like a face in a dream he saw the man’s lips move disproportionately to his words. “Mr. Shirovsky wants you to know that it really isn’t his fault.”

Bill pulled on the handles but to no avail, everything was locked. He did his best to kick at the doors but he’d no strength. He felt as though he were struggling in quicksand – everything he did, useless and weighted. “Hey, what’s going on?” he demanded. “Let me the fuck out of here! Hey arsehole. What the hell does that mean?”The chauffeur smiled and the partition slid back into position.

With the image of the drowned woman still on the TV screen,  Bill watched helplessly as the driver walked to the rear of the vehicle. Putting his weight against the car the chauffeur pushed. The vehicle slowly edged forward. Inertia took hold, and the limousine began to roll down the ramp towards the sea.

Bill still dazed from the effects of whatever had been in the whiskey was now keenly aware of his situation. “Let me out,” he yelled.

The car bumped into the ocean, the water slapping against, and enveloping the windscreen. Bill could only stare. Trapped inside the car, and weaker than milk, there was nothing he could do. Fear was taking hold and Bill, unable to resist his fate, could only sit and watch as the vehicle slowly floated from the dock and gradually dipped beneath the water. He felt his bladder release, smelt the piss – the warm liquid pooling in his trousers, the dark stain spreading across his lap

The chauffeurs words rattled in his head, “Mr. Shirovsky says it isn’t his fault. What the hell did that mean?”

The ocean pored through the doors and windows, the front of the car submerged as it surged relentlessly upwards towards his chest. He watched the screen flicker, the image of the girl disappear. He screamed but it came out as a whisper. Cold water raced into the vehicle and he fought to shift his position as the pressure of  inundation forced the air up into the roof of the vehicle. Struggling to hold his head clear he thought on the girl – thought about holding his breath – thought about dying.

 It hadn’t been his fault.

*

The chauffeur watched as the vehicle disappeared beneath the water, the residual air exploding to the surface in a tsunami of bubbles. With the car gone his task was completed. He turned and walked back to the waiting vehicle.

AUX PRINTEMPS

9 Oct

 

Contemplating the vista below, Bill fished inside his jacket for his pipe, tapped it into his hand, and then stuck it between his teeth. Leaning on a shovel, he watched as dawn broke, the lights of the town gradually extinguishing to reveal blackened chimney stacks and dilapidated rooftops.  For the inhabitants, warm showers and corn-flakes would be the order of the hour before another day of toil and struggle demanded their presence on factory floors.  A city slowly coming back to life; a magical now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t moment. What just minutes before had been a sea of lights and flood-lit streets, returned to daytime normality.

He packed the pipe with tobacco and reached into his trousers for his matches.“Damn it,” he thought,” where were his bloody matches?” He turned around. “Hey Jim, you got a light? I can’t find me frigging matches.”

Jim cursed; stopped work, fumbled in his pockets, and after a quick shuffle came up with a lighter. ”Are you going to help me out you lazy old bugger, or do I have to finish this all by my bleeding self?  He demanded.  

Bill smiled, told him to go fiddle with himself, and lit his pipe. Smoke billowed around him, the sweet scent of caramel filled the forest glade. “It was a beautiful spot alright,” thought Bill. “What was the word? Pristine, that’s what it was.”

 It was good to be out in the fresh air, at one with nature. He looked back at his son who was shoulders deep in the trench shoveling dirt for all he was worth. Father and boy, sons of the soil, unified in a common purpose – there was nothing like a bit of hard graft to unite and repair passed differences. It hadn’t been easy raising the lad – memories of a never satisfied wife who’d left them both in the lurch for what she thought was bigger meal ticket.

“Shame the meal ticket had left her for a younger pair of tits – life’s a bitch aint it?”

With record unemployment, miner’s strikes, and industrial austerity the effort it’d taken to put food on the table hadn’t always been easy. The list of cock-ups and myriad difficulties that’d gotten in the way of raising the boy right had often seemed insurmountable. He hadn’t done badly though, and the strapping man who was digging his way to Australia was a credit to him; all the fellas down the pub had told him so.

Ever since he and Jimmy had gone into business together, their fortunes had taken a dramatic turn for the better and life had suddenly become a lot more tolerable. No longer the two-up-two-down on Isambard Kingdom Brunel Terrace but a couple of semi-detacheds in leafy suburbia complete with P.V.C. windows and indoor plumbing. Finally they were moving up in the world.

The figure in the hole grunted and swore, the sound of a shovel flung high into the air thumped onto the ground. “For fuck’s sake dad, give me a hand will you? We’ll be here all bloody day.”

The sun climbed higher in the sky and the coastline along the south side of the town began to take shape; the boats in the harbor and the rock-ridden beaches all coming into view. Tilting his head to one side Bill imagined he could hear the voices of the men unloading freshly caught fish but it was more than likely just the tinnitus playing havoc with his eardrums. A brief spell with the artillery during national service, lobbing shells across desolate moorlands at imaginary communist hoards and practicing the defense of the indefensible, had put his piano playing days to bed for good, at least that would have been the case had he have ever played the instrument. Eighteen months of pure bull-shit, but at least he’d managed to wangle a trip to Germany. A smile spread across his craggy face as he remembered dirndl-dressed frauleins at the bier fests he and his mates would frequent on the weekends. It hadn’t been all bad.

Jimmy was starting to get angry. “Move your wrinkled arse you old git. I’m sweating my bollocks off over here.”

But that was a long time ago, a different epoch, life had moved on since then. Partnering with his son had probably been his best move; it was definitely his most lucrative. They should have done it years ago, but reconciliation is never on a time table, and after Jimmy’s release from nick it hadn’t been easy to pick up where they’d left off.

Bill watched as Jimmy climbed out of the hole and walked back to where they’d parked the car. He was a good lad. All it’d taken for him to realize it was a thirty year pain-in-the-arse and a short, sharp, injection of capital. He drew smoke into his lungs satisfied with his lot, happy with his circumstances. Turning his back on the view, he sauntered over to where Jimmy stood impatiently waiting.

The boot was open. “Give me a hand here, this bastard weighs a ton,”complained Jimmy.

Sucking on his pipe Bill looked into the boot,turned away, and then wretched, “Bloody hell boy, the bugger’s starting to stink!”

“No shit Sherlock, we need to get him out of there and then burn this bloody thing.”

Grabbing the corpse by the shoulders Bill and Jimmy heaved the body out of the car and dropped it onto the grass. Their latest post office extravaganza had gone slightly array and instead of making their usual clean getaway they ended up in a gun fight on the pavement outside. Bill was certain he’d taken out the guard; he’d watched him drop to the ground after unloading on him. He hadn’t seen the second man though, and as Jimmy jumped into the car the glass on the driver’s side had splintered, the bullets ripping through the interior and killing Danny their getaway driver. Luckily Jimmy had the sense to jump behind the wheel, and with a screech of rubber and a couple of backward shots for good measure, they’d headed for the hills. It would’ve been a little awkward to drop Danny at a hospital – too many bloody questions!

They dragged Danny by his legs and pushed him into the hole. Gasping from their exertions both men stared at the man in the woodland grave.

“Alright dad, you finish covering him over and I’ll do the car.”

“Lazy little bastard,” thought Bill, he always got the shitty-end of the stick. He stabbed the shovel into the heaped earth and scooped it over the body. The exploding car and ensuing fireball illuminated the corpse, giving Danny a final, if slightly macabre vitality before his face disappeared under the dirt.

Burning upholstery crackled as dense, acrid smoke from smoldering tires blotted out the town below and filled the clearing. Bill took one last look, stuck his pipe back into his pocket, and concentrated on the job at hand.

FREE CHECKING

25 Sep

 

Economic malaise is gnawing a hole in my wallet. Wait a minute, isn’t that what austerity is supposed to do, isn’t the economy meant to take its toll on the average wage slave? Let me throw a little energy saving, mercury-filled-light bulb-illumination on my situation and clarify exactly what I am ranting about. We’ve all experienced the so-called invisible effects of the economic downturn, the escalating price of gas, the deflation of house prices, and the plethora of for-sale signs that have sprung up overnight like fiscal-fungi in our thinning neighborhoods. Talking heads on BBCNNBCBS allude to political tensions in the middle-east, that it’s the attenuated Straits of Hormuz that are squeezing the financials, not an aggressive western embargo on Iranian oil causing economic shrinkage at the not-so-super market.

 My dollar is still the same size, yet the amount of product it buys has significantly decreased. The peanut butter jar, not just my optimistic outlook, is now only half full. The container, that used to hold lashings of the brown sticky stuff, has been down sized to hold a mere modicum of product deemed worthy for the same price. My bill’s metaphysical dimensions remain constant yet the amount of earthly return i.e the measure of spreadable deliciousness from the jar-of-plenty has clearly shrunk. Should I close my eyes, click my heels, cross my fingers, and hope for Aunt Em to make things better? Perhaps I’m imagining things, but then again no.  Consumer theft is in progress on every aisle. If it isn’t the pb-and-J then it’s the soap containers and shampoo bottles. Shades of a twentyfirst century Gulliver as I walk through an ever shrinking world; my shopping cart Swift-boated in the current of corporate greed. From the perspective of an Ancient Mariner the boards are shrinking without environmental embellishment, instead some pseudo entity in New York, with capital interests, is hedging and bonding my vessel of free enterprise with Titanic effect.

So where am I going with this?

I recently joined a credit union because I’m sick of banks – mortgaged to the hilt and foreclosed upon at the point of a paper sword. Enough already, Wells Fargo can go and fuck themselves at wherever stage they consider appropriate. So far so good – no problems, and they accept my remunerations as though I were a customer and not a virgin bride on prima nocta. Until today, hence my literary vitriol. The only downside to the upturn of my recent financial affiliation is the quality of their plastic. You know, that residual product derived from oil, hailed as the shape-shifter of modern society, the universal material of our current epoch – a manmade replacement for organic perfection?

“How would you like groceries sir, paper or plastic?” A common enough question at environmentally conscious grocers across America except, at my credit union, the only material they offer their psychedelic A.T.M. cards is in plastic. Personally I’d prefer wood. A nice mahogany or ebony, something that would enhance my own personal opinion of myself; alas! It would seem shaving pennies and gouging customers is the order of the day at the Desert Schools  Credit Union in Phoenix Arizona where I am offered a lesser, a faux if you will, plastic. I didn’t know it was possible, but there again I’m not a rocket scientist nor a plastic-ologist. I’ve been with the bank since February and am now the proud owner of bank card number five. Am I frivolous with my processions? Do I wantonly sling them hither-and-thither? No of course not, it’s a bank card; I keep it in my wallet, along with all my other cards!

 Due to the chemical combination that forms my blue and white garish access device to all that I hold financially sacred, the card has a tendency to split along its magnetic seam. Not such a big deal and a quick visit to the union, one would think, would resolve my pliable predicament. Several times this year I’ve walked into the building, proffered my spoiled cards, and within ten minutes been reimbursed with a brand new card allowing me to access my own impecuniosity. Today however, I had the questionable pleasure of meeting the delightful Tammy, a fully paid up, card carrying member of the fascist-bastard corporation, that does its best to cloak itself in the affability of a credit union. An endearing folksy title, a euphemism for community and neighborhood that offers the hard working, impoverished-employed a sanctuary, a safe harbor, for their monthly pittance. Unfortunately, turns out that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

It’s football Friday; Tammy has a football shirt on, so does every other employee. A cheap attempt at showing unity with their public, that they have our interests at heart, that deep down they’re on our side, not that of the Rothschild’s and the Bilderberg’s. She doesn’t remember me even though we’ve spoken on several occasions with regard to accounts, business contracts etc. But that’s okay, Tammy probably sees a couple of hundred clients a day.

I fill in the necessary paperwork. All is well with the universe, any second now I am going to receive my sliver of plastic, the world will continue to turn, and I’ll go about my business. Except it doesn’t.

Tammy looks at me from behind her football blackened eyes and asks me in if I would like to pay the five dollar renewal fee from my checking or my savings and then to add insult to injury, smiles.

Piss boils and a vein pulses on my forehead. My demeanor has obviously changed and before I split my shirt and turn green Tammy, in a moment of life preserving lucidity, pushes back her ergonomic chair on carcinogenic carpeting and asks tentatively if I’m angry? Angry – fuck yes I am angry – I would even go as far to say that I’m slightly perturbed; to say the least Tammy,I take exception. If that constitutes displeasure then I guess you have your answer.

I do my best to explain to her that this is the third card in so many months that has broken and that obviously the quality of their product is inferior and therefore why should I be expected to pay? Tammy feigning surprise asks me if I keep it in my wallet along with the other plastic fantastic that has never broken, despite the fact that they’re stored in exactly the same place, in exactly the same arse- controlled climatic environment. Naturally, and in a manner that would exemplify a father chastising a small child rather than an invading Norseman bludgeoning a pleading Christian, I try to clarify the reason for my disdain.

Free checking with enhanced costs! I’m loving it, but beginning to question my own sanity and reasoning of why I moved from one corporate entity to another? Surely my savings would be better off stuffed in a sock under the mattress? No late fees, no additional checking or early withdrawal charges, and no Tammy. Refusing to pay and carefully enunciating my four lettered explanation, I’m eventually offered a complimentary card so that I can continue to deposit my hard earned wages into the yawning coffers of the Desert Schools Credit Union.

I leave the building victorious; my bright shiny card nestled in my obviously inept wallet. Tammy has had the most exciting day of her banking career, now she to has a story to tell around the water cooler with her other football-shirted colleagues. “Do you remember the day when…?” A story that’ll be related from colleague to colleague; a saga of epic proportion that will be embellished and invigorated, with scar displayed enthusiasm with its retelling. Oh, the excitement! A day in the life of a corporate hireling or, as her brass anointed name plaque announces her, personal financial assistant.

Corporate greed is insidious; free checking accounts have turned into monthly stipends. It may be a small victory, hardly worthy of mention, but they’re my laurels, my lap of honor, my flag-flapping-gold-draped-medal-moment.

Mumbled platitudes of, “I’m just doing my job,” allusions of, “Ja mein Fuhrer. Heil Hitler! Please mind your step on the way to the showering facility.”

Vine Vide Viche.