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Posts Tagged 'chad afanador'

Addenda ad Secundam Partem: In which the CIA and Howard the Duck make an appearance

Basically the years we’re talking about right now are third through seventh grade — two thirds of my elementary school years and my first year of junior high. It’s hard to make those years interesting on their own terms, but I’ll see what I can do.

When we got to the Seattle area, I managed to be placed in a magnet program called TAG, “Talented And Gifted”. (How on the nose can you be?) That took me up through sixth grade, and I discuss that experience somewhat here, so I won’t go over that particular ground again.

At the start of the school year, Wellington Elementary (where the TAG program was housed that first year I was in it) announced a musical — none other than You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Needless to say, I auditioned. I said earlier that I had thoroughly internalized the character, and this must have been evident in the audition process, because I was cast in the title role. It was my first theatrical endeavor of any sort (at least going by chronology of auditions; the first performed was an in-class presentation of “Witling and the Stone Princesses”, an adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale “The Queen Bee”) and certainly my first musical, although one could argue that I had been playing the part for some time by that point. The rehearsal process was fairly lengthy, as I recall, and I think nobody was quite sure how I’d actually do once it became work, but it was the time of my life up to that point. The irony is that I’d identified the character because I was awkward and felt like an outsider most of the time, but I loved the other kids who were in it with me, and tried to stay friends with them. That might have worked better had the magnet programs not all moved to their own school the following year, and I lost touch with everybody pretty quickly (plus I was on the younger side of the cast anyway). Google searches turn up some of those folks — here’s Katie Margeson, my Lucy; and her sister, Anne, was Patty (none of this revisionist “Sally” nonsense in our production!). Chad Afanador, our Linus, actually has an IMDB page, and the Snoopy, Scott Grimm, is now a linguist of some note. (I am blanking on the name of our Schroeder. I’m sorry, man.) Anyway, I’d love to put up some pictures or video of this, but I think my mother has all of the photos. Dad videotaped the dress rehearsal, but the tape has been missing since 1994, when it was loaned to my then-girlfriend’s mother who was considering putting it on with her elementary school class, and I was never able to get it back (and in fact it was later claimed that she never remembered having it in the first place). If you ever find a VHS cassette labeled “Original C.B. Play” with a piece of masking tape on the front, do drop me a line. The thing about the videotape is that at some point during one of the verses of “The Kite Song”, I realized I was being filmed and choked on the words for a line or two, so it was never perfect anyway (but the actual performances were spot on!), but that’s maybe in keeping with the spirit of the character.

In absence of any of those pictures or video, here’s something that I’m pretty sure not every kid on my block had. Short version is that it wasn’t too far of a leap from Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown, and The Young Detective’s Handbook to spies, and I started reading everything I could on real-world espionage. A briefcase replaced my backpack to accompany the deerstalker and trenchcoat. When I was nine, I decided that I would be a perfect recruit as an intelligence agent — I was too young for anybody to ever suspect as a spy. With the courage of my convictions on the matter, I did what any normal kid would have done and wrote a letter to the CIA telling them they should bring me aboard.

I got a letter back, dated 5 March 1986, from one G. L. Lamborn, Public Affairs (who, if I’m not mistaken, is the author of this forthcoming book). “Dear Mr. Barrett: Thank you for writing the Central Intelligence Agency. You seem to be a bright, responsible, and ambitious young person. I am afraid, however, that you cannot be an intelligence officer until you are eighteen. We hope you will apply with us when you are older. A college education is useful for many of our positions — so study hard! We need people with your enthusiasm. I have enclosed two publications which will tell you more about the Central Intelligence Agency. Do not forget us.”

Well, obviously it didn’t turn into a career. It’s an interesting souvenir to have, at least, and I’m sure it made for an entertaining story for Mr. Lamborn.

Comic books became a big deal for me in around 1984. I still remember my parents freaking out the day when I decided that I was now collecting them — taking the advice of one collector’s manual to buy a bunch of new comics and see what I liked, I spent around $25 on a stack of new releases about as tall as my belly button (remember that these were the days of a 65-cent cover price). My Batman obsession has been reasonably well-discussed here, but I also quickly fell in love with the back issues of Howard the Duck. Yes, you read that correctly. The thing is, as written in the mid-’70s, Howard the Duck was an experiment on Marvel Comics’ part, a social satire, and it was hysterical. (I mean, c’mon. It took place in Cleveland, for heaven’s sake.) Imagine my bewilderment when I saw it realized on the big screen as kids’ horror-action-comedy. I still don’t quite know what George Lucas was thinking, but the movie’s duck simply wasn’t the same Howard who ran for President for the All Night Party in 1976 and fought Doctor Bong. Not even close. Batman in 1989 was a much happier time at the movies all around, to say the least.

In terms of music, piano lessons continued through the fifth grade, I think. There came a point where I was feeling overstressed; I was doing Columbia Boys Choir, piano lessons, and then my dad had enrolled me in karate lessons two days a week. I think I had one day at home after school a week, and it was getting a bit much. Plus, my voice was breaking, and I didn’t know how to manage that. This was in the middle of our domestic meltdown, so everybody was happy to have me doing less for multiple reasons. I didn’t necessarily give up the activities, just the formal involvement; I played Sir Joseph Porter in a sixth grade production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, and I started learning the guitar.

This meant I also picked up the pace in terms of reading. I read a lot of different kinds of mythology and folktales; Greek mythology, Welsh mythology (inspired somewhat by a book called Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones), Nordic mythology, and even French-Canadian folktales (in the form of a little collection called The Golden Phoenix). I read a lot of role-playing games, but I could never quite figure out how to play them myself. Genre fiction became a real love for me in sixth grade, starting with Piers Anthony, with whom I even had a correspondence going for a couple of years (well, with his assistant, anyway, even if he signed the letters). This really picked up momentum in my junior high years, so its flourishing is somewhat beyond the present scope.

“Hey, Richard!” I’m hearing a couple of people say. “That’s awesome that the CIA started a file on you when you were nine, but did you do any, you know, normal kid things?” Eh, I don’t know. I wasn’t a terribly athletic kid, and I didn’t really understand sports or why I was automatically supposed to care about them. I hated fishing — the first time I went, I was having a great time with my dad and my great-uncle until they took the fish I caught and bashed it over the head with a rock. I burst into tears — I was not expecting that in the least. I went to summer camp a few times, the YMCA’s Camp Colman and Camp Orkila. I played with fire once by burning some thread in the sink to see if they’d burn the same way fuses were depicted as doing in cartoons and movies. My parents freaked out when they found me, thought I was trying to burn the house down (the house that they were trying to sell), and I had bruises on my rear end from a plastic spoon for a week. I guess that’s reasonably normal.

I didn’t have a ton of friends in elementary school and was the object of a good amount of merciless bullying, much of it by girls, which meant that other boys generally wanted nothing to do with me. From third to fifth grade, my best friend in the world was Jeff Fletcher, a kid who was one year older than I was and who was simply a kindred spirit in many ways. He was always at my house, and we were inseparable. Then he went to junior high a year before I did (naturally enough), and our paths diverged a bit, coming back together when I got to junior high. There was also Brian Ward, whom I met in sixth grade and whose family also went to Overlake. In seventh grade, there was a bit of peer group that I found, consisting of Matthew Arndt, Brian, Eric Rachner, Eric Stangeland (another friend of mine with an IMDB page), Robert Stevens, and Russ Needham (who, with Brian, is pictured with me on 23 June 1989 at Luxury Alderwood Cinemas for Batman).

And that’s that for now.

Update, 6 February 2012, 3:06pm — I should mention that Jeff Fletcher and I were all-too briefly accompanied in our early years by one Chris Holtorf. He wasn’t around anywhere near as long as we should have liked, since his family moved to California when I was in fourth grade, I believe, but for the short time we were together, were a terrible trio, to say the least.

Chris and I recently (like, in the last few hours) re-established contact via Facebook for the first time in, I believe, twenty-six years, and he wanted me to also pass on that the three of us had a plan to construct a working replica of the Millennium Falcon in my backyard. It’s true. We were generally too busy sliding in sleeping bags down my staircase into Ember, my beloved Bernese Mountain Dog (an activity we generally referred to as “SLEEPING BAG DOGGIE!!!!!!!!!”), to actually get the damn thing built. Oh well.

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Husbands, fathers, and All My Sons

Over the summer I saw a local production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. I’d never seen it before, but I was familiar enough with the premise, and familiar enough with Arthur Miller’s overall dramatic sensibility and style to know I wasn’t exactly in for a Whedonesque light-hearted romp. I had a small role and was also in the chorus for Indiana University’s first production of William Bolcom’s setting of A View From the Bridge back in 2005 (I say “first” because IU just revived it, which I have to say surprises me a bit), and Death of a Salesman is near and dear to my heart in a lot of ways. My junior year of high school, a neighboring high school’s theatre department did a wonderful production of it with now-working actor Chad Afanador as Willy Loman. (Chad, I’ll mention, shared my very first theatrical endeavor, Wellington Elementary’s 1984/5 production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, in which he was Linus and I was Charlie Brown; he also was with me on my first trip to Indiana, when I tagged along with his high school to the International Thespian Society’s 1993 Festival at Ball State University.) Chad was so good that I dragged my parents to it the second weekend; at intermission, I got a taste of certain disconnects to come because they insisted we leave. “He’s too believable for it to be the least bit enjoyable,” they said.

Anyway, All My Sons was, predictably, thought-provoking (perhaps, for some, a euphemism for “depressing”); its commentary on the failure of the American Dream is well-trodden ground, but I wonder how much its setting obscures what the play has to say for contemporary audiences who might not be clear whether to take it as a period piece or as a present-day work. It’s a key plot point, for example, that a conversation needed to happen in person because “you can’t prove a phone call”, which sounds bizarre to me, and I’m part of a generation that still remembers things like land lines and operators — I can’t imagine how it must clang against the ears for somebody who grew up with cell phones being the norm. That wasn’t a problem for this production, however, because I was the youngest person in the audience by probably twenty years; it was mostly a blue-hair crowd, and it was a small one at that. It was really too bad; war profiteering is hardly an irrelevant issue in our time, and it seems like the kind of thing a contemporary audience should eat up. Maybe not in southern Indiana.

More intriguing and immediate to me, however, was the issue of fatherhood. Joe Keller is a man, in wanting to be a good father, makes choices that turn him into a bad father — and when his choices threaten to spill over onto his son, he has only one way to atone so that his son’s honor is preserved. This is also an issue for Willy Loman, and in a more abstract way, for Eddie Carbone as well. Joe’s tragic flaw, it seems, is that he’s a great businessman, but he’s a great businessman who can’t see that the businessman’s instinct of self-preservation has much greater consequences when lives are on the line. A businessman who makes business decisions that inconvenience his competitors and/or his customers is ruthless, maybe, but when he makes those decisions and they cost lives, then he’s a murderer — and when it’s wartime and those decisions cost his country lives, he’s a traitor and a murderer. In a way, Joe — again, like Willy Loman — does only what he knows how to do; he can’t figure out how to adapt to the different circumstances of wartime. In not being able to adapt, he is also not able to the father he clearly wants and tries to be.

We have a lot of images of fathers in our world that are problematic, literally and figuratively. From Darth Vader to clergy abuse scandals, father figures are almost de facto untrustworthy, unlovable, unreliable, to be viewed with suspicion and fear. For myself, it is anxiety looking both forward and back; looking forward, I am perhaps within a year of being a father myself, and this is not a matter of small concern for me. Looking back — well, what perhaps would be least inappropriate for me to say is that the number of times we had to move while I was growing up, combined with financial difficulties, my parents moving away when I was 17 (quite literally the day after I graduated high school), their divorce being fresh when Megan and I were married — leading to another series of relocations on both of their parts — and my educational and career choices have all contributed to familial relationships that are complicated. I’ve seen for myself Joe Keller’s attitude of “dollars and cents, nickels and dimes,” the belief that as long as a businessman is making the decisions he thinks are best for his business, then he should be seen as above reproach regardless of any other factors, and I’ve seen that perspective ensure that there’s nothing left for, or for that matter of, the family of the person who thinks that way.

Is it realistic to think that a father can pass on a legacy worth having to his family in this age? I don’t mean a material inheritance necessarily, but what about a way of life? A set of values? An identity? A memory? Or do things just change too fast nowadays for who a father is to mean anything to the next generation? Even taking up the idea of a material inheritance for the moment — I have one friend whose parents, still married, live in the house they bought in the early 1970s, and I have a neighbor who inherited the house he grew up in when his mother passed away, but these seem like outliers to me. I also just happened to read Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” recently, and Henry Baskerville’s conviction that “[h]ouse, land, and dollars must go together” strikes me as a perspective that just doesn’t work in the present day. Even factoring out tax laws, that just doesn’t seem to be how the world works at this point.

Is being a good father in 1947 (when All My Sons premiered) the same thing as being a good father in 2011? What about being a good husband? I’ve been married almost eleven years, long enough that I’ve seen friends’ marriages break up, including a few that I never, ever thought would, and a couple that are truly tragic with respect to the human frailty involved. We’ve survived, but I can’t pretend to have any particular expert knowledge about how it works, and I’m still figuring out how I can come anywhere close to being either the husband I want to be or that my wife wishes I could be, but thankfully Flesh of My Flesh has buckets of grace to spare.


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