Friday, April 30, 2010

A Television-Free Zone

My daughter came for a visit last week and imposed her ban on television for most of the time she was here. That was okay, as exploring Hoboken (as long as you're not hanging out in sports bars) does not require a look at the tube at all.

Interesting that as an adult Alison has not owned a TV set. Growing up, she was surrounded by it, and as an agitated adolescent it was her bedtime companion. When I learned that she would not buy a television when she was earning her own money, I was impressed at such a brave and unexpected sign of maturity. She now has two teenage sons and when they come to visit me, liberated from the TV-free zone of their home, they enjoy the indulgence of spending much of their time glued to G-ma's tube. (With their superior knack for electronic gizmos, they know much better than I how to navigate the channels and find what they want to watch.)

Alison and I were going to watch a rented movie, but had spent so much time talking and visiting that it was after 9:30 P.M. when we got around to it, and we both were too exhausted to have much interest. Having had a stint as a realtor, she might have been interested in "Selling New York," HGTV's show about selling high-priced condos in New York City. Immediately she gave me her reaction, "How can they continue showing real estate porn in this economy?" so I realized watching that one would not be fun. I turned on a few minutes of "The Mentalist," which I often watch on Thursdays when winding down, but it was dreary seeing it through her eyes. I tried to explain, "See, this guy reads minds..." followed by some leaden dialogue and closeups of significant looks on the faces of over-madeup actors, followed by yammering commercials--she hates commercials most of all--and after about ten minutes she unsurprisingly said, "Mom, I just can't take this."

And so we went to bed instead. I have respect for her choice to eliminate crass television from her life. She keeps NPR running on the radio most of her waking hours. She is not affected by the false affability on shows like "Morning Joe" or the confrontational posturing of "Hardball." She and I agree that what passes for news on the cable channels is little more than contrived polarization, rendering viewers hardly more informed than before they tuned in. She acts on this knowledge, but for some reason I do not. I suppose I'm addicted to the blather and wall-to-wall noise television provides even though I get little out of it, and I know it keeps me from more productive pursuits. Whatever happened to that next book I was going to read? Or worse, whatever happened to the ones I was going to write?

With television, I have given my mind and maybe even my soul a vacation. I don't sit down and watch until after dark--but that's kind of like the old it's-five-o'clock-somewhere rule of the confirmed alcoholic. I'm not kidding anybody, even myself, by drifting into a pattern of plopping in front of the television set no matter how mindless the choice of program. To be honest, my worries about weight gain are also related to the way I eat snacks as I gaze at the screen.

Not that I'm 100 per cent convinced it is time to black out television in my life for good. I'll take a cue from the 12-Step programs and ease myself out one day at a time. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and that you want to quit. I'm not even there yet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hoboken Niceness II

This morning I decided to give my handbag the onceover. From time to time I take everything out, examine it, and throw away the accumulated trash bits. This time when I did so I discovered my money-purse was missing.

Alarm bells. At least it wasn't the credit card wallet, which is where the really big payoff resides, but instead the little European purse my husband used to use for change for the tolls on the big Autobans. I have since relegated it to carry my cash, with a little zipper compartment for change.

I thought back. I probably had about nine one-dollar bills and maybe a $20 in the folding money section. There is no ID card in it.

I looked about the apartment but could think of nowhere it might have been mislaid. It lives in whatever big handbag I am carrying at the moment. Sometimes I shove it into a pocket; it wasn't in the pocket of the jacket I wore yesterday. There were only two possibilities: I had left it at the A & P while I stuffed my grocery bag, or had put it somewhere, like the too-small pocket of my jacket, that might have allowed it to fall out onto the sidewalk on my way home. I hoped for the former. If it had dropped onto the sidewalk or the street, I would be out 30 bucks at least.

It's the kind of day I had hoped to avoid by staying in, but this was an emergency that required a trip to the A & P. (Better not to stay in anyway, even though it's drizzly and chilly.) I would drop off my two Netflix choices at the mailbox.

All the way to the store I had high hopes. I recalled vividly the time I had left my wallet and some mail at the post office on Washington Street when I still lived on Hudson. The angel who worked at that P.O. actually got a mailman to deliver it all--which she had packaged up in an envelope--to my door. I wrote a blog post about that experience.

But there was always the possibility that I hadn't left it at the A & P at all, but had lost it on the street.

When I got to the store I went directly to the lane where I had bought the groceries yesterday and was directed to Customer Service. I described the scruffy, well-worn little purse and even told them there was about $30 in it.

There it was. My heart sang with the joy of Hoboken Niceness once again as I walked home in the cold, misty drizzle. And actually there was over $40 in the purse. Next time I take it out it will have an ID card in it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sojourner Tooth

I have had this little tooth ever since I was five or six. When those baby teeth came out I remember it was my first exposure to the reality of growing pains. Teeth would get loose, sure, but sometimes they needed a little adult help to be removed as their replacements grew in. At one point Grandaddy tied one end of a string to a tooth and the other to a doorknob and slammed the door. It was not painless, but it was quick.

The tooth that needed to be removed at this advanced age was in the center of the bottom row. It may have been the one that came in after Grandaddy slammed that door, I don't know for sure, but I know the tooth has seen a lot of history. In the 1960's, soon after I discovered I was pregnant, I had an abscess that I found required a root canal. This was my first experience in the world of adult dentistry, and I'm here to tell you dentistry has come a long way in the intervening years. The young dentist performed the root canal by applying a silver post. It was certainly the most painful experience I had had in a dentist's chair up to that time, and probably since. Within the past five years I had to have a root canal done, and, with all the space-age type equipment, it was a breeze compared to that work on that little tooth all those years ago.

The dentist in the old days told me that the tooth was officially dead and led me to believe that when I got old--maybe 50 or 60--the dead tooth would be discolored and different from my other teeth. (It didn't, thank goodness.) He also said he didn't believe in the old saw "A tooth for every child," which I had never heard before anyway. When I told it to my young husband, he said, "Maybe not, but you just lost one for this one."

Over the years, the saved tooth has sojourned everywhere I have--to Switzerland, where my dentist's office had a view of the gorgeous Lake Leman with its water spout known locally as the "jet d'eau," back to the States where I discovered dentist chairs that reclined to the point of being chaise longues. Rubber gloves went on after the advent of AIDS, and drills became high-speed as novacaine shots became hardly noticeable. I always sympathize with my dentists, and have learned to be patient when they try to talk to me with my mouth full of hardware and cotton rods. The little lavatories for spitting into and paper cups for rinsing from disappeared as suction tubes did a better job.

Over the years I began to notice a boil-like eruption near the little tooth from time to time. When I asked my dentist about it she explained that it was probably caused by the old silver post, saying that they were no longer used because they deteriorated over time and it might have to be removed in time. I asked a dentist friend about this when I was home in Fairhope in February and he suggested I have it done sooner rather than later as I was going to have to have it done eventually. I asked my Hoboken dentist and we arranged for me to talk to an oral surgeon.

I shall make this long story a little shorter. I had the tooth extracted on Friday and had some bone grafted to the place where it was so that a new tooth can be implanted later. Because it is that little tooth, closely surrounded by a lot of other teeth, this was a delicate operation. The procedure was not easy for the surgeon, his hygienist, or me. But we got the job done and I have spent the weekend pampering myself and eating ice cream, mashed potatoes, and other comfort foods. I discovered something in the A & P called Kozy Shack Cinnamon Raisin Rice Pudding. If there was ever baby food for grownups, that is it. Yummy.

And the little tooth will be replaced in August. In the meantime I have a nice little appliance with a false tooth in it to save the place. I have made quite a lot of my tooth's adventure, and now the grieving process is over. Back to real life--but I think I'll wait until tomorrow for that. I've still got some chocolate gelato in the freezer. And there are some mashed potatoes left over; they'll be good fried for breakfast with some eggs. Like so much in my life, it's mostly about food.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Now Playing

Everything I said about the Hudson Theater Ensemble's production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which opened last week at the performance space in the Hudson School, still goes. You've got two more chances to catch the show--tonight and tomorrow night. I promise you'll be on the edge of your seat, even if you think you know how it comes out.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This One's a Don't-Miss

I am aware that some of my readers aren't lucky enough to live in Hoboken. There are some who don't even live in commuting distance. But those of you who can possibly get here need to know about one of the most thrilling theatrical performances you'll ever see.The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been in the consciousness of the English-speaking world since Robert Louis Stevenson first penned the novella in 1886. Stevenson hit a nerve with his dark tale of multiple personality disorder before it had a name, heightened by its setting in Victorian London with its pea-soup fog, in a period of uptight sexual mores, and many unsolved gory murders. The tale of the kind and beloved doctor who has a secret life as an unspeakable degenerate sociopath fascinates and created a mythology of its own. To put this well-known and often seen story onstage as a play creates a challenge very ably met by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who created a piece for actors playing many parts. This device can be distracting, but in the hands of the superb cast at the Hudson Ensemble Theater's production opening tonight at the theater in the Hudson School, 601 Park Avenue, it's always exciting and theatrical.

The pleasant Dr. Jekyll, although less charming than he's usually portrayed in the movies, is ably acted by Toby Wherry. In this version of the story, Jekyll is earnest and well-meaning, but hardly a man about town--a doctor with radical ideas, fraught with conflict and passion, both of which Wherry manages to convey throughout the production. His hatred for his superior in the hospital, Sir Danvers Carew (played magnificently by Thomas Tyburski) is palpable from the outset of the drama.Emma Peele, a Canadian actress who is one of the all-time best Victorian screamers I have ever heard, plays a lady of dubious virtue of interest to both the good doctor Jekyll and his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde. A very appealing actress, Ms. Peele balances her elegance with an inner passion that makes her a perfect partner for the formidable Hyde.

In this version of the story, Mr. Hyde is a person entirely separate from Dr. Jekyll. In fact, he seems to inhabit almost everybody in the play at one point or another. For the most part, the role is played by Sam Egge, in a turn so exquisite that I was not aware he too was playing multiple parts. The women are exceptionally well cast as men, with the versatile Florence Pape showing us even more of what she can do and newcomer Anneli Curnock bouncing in adeptly both as male and female, with one of the best lines of the evening, "I stayed to watch."

None of this is as confusing as it sounds. The play is superbly directed, and ticks along from beginning to end like a well-wound clock. It confronts the duality of all our personalities and spins the old story by making us wonder what Hyde has done now and who next will find Hyde in him. I have been to thousands of plays in my life, directed hundreds and played in more than a few--but at the end of this one I was covered with goosepimples. Safe as Hoboken is, it was not all that easy walking home alone in the dark and acting cool as I tried to get my key in the door.

Dates & Times:
Fridays @ 8PM: April 9 & April 16, 2010
Saturdays @ 8PM: April 10 & April 17, 2010
Sunday Matinee @ 3PM: April 11, 2010
Info/Reservations: 201-377-7014 or

Photos by John Crittenden

Monday, April 5, 2010

Theatre in Hoboken

Being this close to New York City, Hoboken has theatre at its doorstep. And this week there will be a production of the home-grown variety that promises to rival the big time, with professional-level acting and production values.

Hudson Theatre Ensemble, Hoboken’s own award-winning professional community theatre now in its 10th season, will present Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by nationally-renowned playwright Jeffrey Hatcher from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. The play will be at the group's space in the Hudson School, at Park Avenue and 6th Street. I've been asked to write a review of the show, but since it opens Friday and runs only two weekends, I thought my readers would like a little advance notice. I've seen the last two plays produced by the Hudson Theatre Ensemble, and they were delightful. No doubt this thriller, a new take on the R.L. Stevenson original, will not disappoint.

According to the group's press release, Hatcher’s fiendishly clever and provocative psychological thriller is hipper, more erotic, and theatrically intense than "your grandfather’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." It may be a little racy--recommended for mature audiences. (I wonder if they'll let me in.)

The question of duality intrigues us today, where the idea that everything is either black or white and that you are either for us or against us is so strong. Hatcher’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will remind us that human beings have multifaceted personalities much too complicated to fit into neat little boxes. In fact in Hatcher’s version, actors play multiple roles and the menacing Mr. Hyde himself is played by five actors – including one female!

Jeffrey Hatcher writes for both stage and screen. His accomplishments include screenplays for The Duchess (2008 film with Kiera Knightly) and Casanova (2005 film with Heath Ledger), as well as the popular stage version (with Mitch Albom) of the bestseller, Tuesdays With Morrie and plays A Picasso (winner of the Barrymore Award for Best New Play), Three Viewings, Scotland Road, The Turn of the Screw, Neddy and Murder by Poe. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar Award for "Best Play."

After I've seen it, I'll post my review here. I'm looking forward to this one.

Photo by John Crittenden

Tickets & Reservations:
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde opens Friday April 9 and runs Friday and Saturday with a matinee Sunday April 11. Second weekend Friday and Saturday nights only.
$15 General Admission; $12 Seniors/Students
Info/Reservations: 201-377-7014 or