Visiting the Past

28 years ago, the summer I turned 21 (go ahead, do the math, I don’t mind!), I spent 3 months as part of the Opera Company at Chautauqua Institution, in south western New York.

For those of you who don’t know about Chautauqua, their mission, as noted on their website, is as follows:

Chautauqua is dedicated to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life through a program that explores the important religious, social and political issues of our times; stimulates provocative, thoughtful involvement of individuals and families in creative response to such issues; and promotes excellence and creativity in the appreciation, performance and teaching of the arts. – See more at:

There are arts and entertainment for the Summer Season, from mid June to late August; activities include lecturers discussing various topics, workshops, special guest concerts at the open air ampitheatre (possibly my favourite venue of all time)) a selection of plays put on by the Chautauqua Theatre, and of course the Operas from the Chautauqua Opera Company.

It was a long time ago that I was part of the Opera Company, and while I’ve been back a handful of times for various concerts and, yes, an opera or two, I’d never gone back for more than a few hours, and always with someone who had little time to or interest in reminiscing.

This past weekend, that changed, and my sister Barbara and I went back for a long weekend.  We stayed at a hotel in nearby Jamestown, NY (accommodations are available on the grounds of the Institute, which is the oldest gated community in America, but they are on average over $200 a night), and commuted each day the 20 minutes or so to the Institute.

While at Chautauqua, we saw the All Ladies Big Band and fireworks on July 4th; the wonderful opera Madame Butterfly, performed in English (all operas at Chautauqua are performed in English, per the conditions of the bequest that founded built the opera house).  We visited the amazing Chautauqua Bookstore, and wondered around the large grounds taking pictures and yes, reminiscing.

The first thing I noticed, and that Barbara noticed (she used to drive to Chautauqua regularly to attend the lectures, theatre and opera before she moved away from Erie 20 years ago) was how much the trees had grown.  We both remembered them smaller, less inclined to block the sun.

Chautuaqua House and trees, copyright 2014 A Halperin

Chautuaqua House and trees, copyright 2014 A Halperin


We separated for a time, she to explore the Bookstore, I to find some of my old Opera haunts.

I was part of the Young and Apprentice Artists program — no, not as a singer, I’m pretty much tone deaf; I was the Assistant Stage Manager for the Opera Company, working almost exclusively with the Young and Apprentice Artists.

We’d practice in small buildings we used to call the Slave Quarters or the Sweat Shops.  Small, wood, the largest of them probably not more than 14’x20′, many not more than 8’x8′.  One door, one window that might open, elevated about 6 inches or so off the ground.  Hot, smelly, sweaty and uncomfortable, and the home for us to practice in 4 to 8 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Artist Rehearsal Space aka "Slave Quarters" Chautuaqua Institute. Copyright 2014 A Halperin

Artist Rehearsal Space aka “Slave Quarters” Chautuaqua Institute. Copyright 2014 A Halperin

I found those buildings — they weren’t as isolated or as far from Norton Hall, the opera house on the grounds, as I’d remembered, but they were just as small and dark as I recalled.

I snuck into Norton Hall (they were doing early rehearsals), and took pictures.  Norton Hall was still un-air conditioned.  The portico is still a lovely shade of pinkish lavender, and the distinctive  wall light sconces were still the same.  Even the pink/purple  carpet and wooden seats were the same.


Chandelier, Norton Hall, Chautuaqua Institute Copyright 2014 A Halperin

Norton Hall, Chautuaqua Institute Copyright 2014 A Halperin

Norton Hall, Chautuaqua Institute Copyright 2014 A Halperin

There used to be a huge, gravel drive behind Norton Hall, largely gone now and replaced by a lovely garden.  And, of course, the trees were taller.  Otherwise it was all the same.

New Garden behind Norton Hall, Chautuaqua Institute  Copyright 2014 A Halperin

New Garden behind Norton Hall, Chautuaqua Institute Copyright 2014 A Halperin

For an hour or so, I was 21 again.

I wish I could say I’d formed lifelong friendships that summer.  I didn’t.  I can’t even remember the names of the artists I worked with, but I stood there in the lobby of Norton Hall, and I could hear their voices, and their laughter, and I could remember the lighting cues I called each night.  I remember the songs my Artists sang, swing and big band standards like Steam Heat and A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square (we tried to do that one a capella, but had to have a general keyboard underneath the song, because our youngest artist couldn’t stay on key without accompaniment).

I remembered going “over the wall”, as we referred to leaving the Institute grounds, to help one of the other Stage Managers and the Set Dresser pickup props from antique shops in the surrounding towns.  I ended up driving the Opera Company’s only van, as I was the only one in the Company who could drive a stick shift.

I remembered looking forward to every Sunday afternoon, when my mom and stepdad would come to visit and take me off the grounds for dinner because (as my mom still loves to tell people I would always say), there was “a reason they called it an Institution”.

Some things had changed, of course, besides the trees.  There had been a cafeteria we all would eat at; in 2011 it was turned into condos. Most of the houses, the majority beautiful Victorian ‘gingerbreads” over a 100 years old, had been repainted, including the house where, for one hot wonderful summer, I rented a single bedroom with a shared bathroom on the third floor.

I’d shared that small room – barely big enough for a twin bed and a chest of drawers, with the two kittens I’d adopted,   I had purchased one male tabby from the owner of the deli that was run in basement of the Arlington, the house where I rented the room (all the houses at Chautauqua have names, as well as street addresses).  The cat belonging to the deli-owner had had kittens, and by the time I moved in all but 2 were claimed, the male tabby and a female, white with tabby patches. As I said, I only purchased the male tabby, and when I headed up the stairs to my room, caring my new friend (“Pita”, according to the deli-owner; I renamed him within a day to Andrew, or Roo, for short), and was followed by a peculiar set of sounds:

“Meow!” BANG.  “Meow!” BANG.  “Meow” BANG

The Arlington, Chautuaqua Institute  Copyright 2014 A Halperin

The Arlington, Chautuaqua Institute Copyright 2014 A Halperin

I looked back down the stairs, and there was the female kitten, using her tabby-tipped front paw to try to pull open the screen door (gone now).  I sighed, went back down the stairs, and picked her up.  I returned to the deli and said, “apparently, I just bought a second cat.”   I named the female Ashley, after the Ashland house across the street from the Arlington, because all the Young Artists in the Opera Company lived there.  (I thought about naming her Ashland, but all the other cats would have laughed at her).

I would have those two wonderful, highly entertaining cats for 7 more years before I moved to the big city of Cleveland.  I guess I did make some lasting friends that summer, after all.

It was a wonderful weekend, and a lovely trip to the past.

We should all make it once in a while.


Fathers and what they teach us.

I’m a child of divorce. (Technically, since my Dad married 3 times, I’m the child of 2 divorces, but whatever). As anyone with step parents knows, Father’s Day can be tricky.

There have been three people in my life to whom I sent Father’s Day cards. I’ve been thinking a lot about these three people lately, and what I learned from each of them.

The first, somewhat obviously, was my Dad.

Dad was personable, pleasant, and liked to talk to people. More, he liked to listened to people.  From Dad, I learned that everyone has a story, and that each story has value. I learned that wait-staff and bus drivers and people living in the subway were PEOPLE, first and foremost, and should be treated with respect.

I also learned to love trains, and to appreciate the importance of mass transit in our society.  From Dad I learned to love animals, and how to solder wire.  I learned to use a variety of hand tools, and some power tools, and that the Man of the House is only Man of the House so long as the Women in the House allow it.

From Dad, I also learned about hypocrisy and disillusionment, and that sometimes people have whole other sides to them that even the people closest to them don’t know.  From Dad, I learned how to hurt people as quickly as possible, with the most lasting affect, with the fewest number of words.

In the last decade before he died, I learned things about my father that I wish I didn’t know; things about lying and hurting others and taking responsibility for your actions — or not.  And, when he died a few years ago, I learned he talked a good game, but that I mattered considerably less to him than I realized.  See, Dad had done something that I could forgive, but not forget or condone, and I told him that I would not see him until he took responsibility for his actions.  We talked about it at length, and what he needed to do to show me he was taking the responsibility.  If he did that, all he had to do was call me and say “honey, I did it,” and I’d be up to see him as soon as I could arrange it.  Three months after his death, I found out that, 6 months before his death, he actually had done it.

He just never told me, despite a couple of conversations we’d had about the very subject, and why I wouldn’t visit, and when I would feel comfortable visiting him again.  Apparently seeing me was not as important to him as him looking like a wronged, martyred man to the rest of my family.

Still trying to live with that.

I still love him though, the way you can only love your Daddy.

Still trying to live with that one, too.

The second person I sent Father’s Day cards to was my Stepfather, Leo.  I called him Spot (he’d had chest pains, and on examination, they found a spot on his lung.  Turned out to be old scar tissue, but we started to call him Spot then, and I called him that until he died, from a blob on his lung that turned out to be new cancer). I also called him other things, of course:  nit-picky; annoying; controlling; pain in the ass; not-my-father.  That bastard, although I didn’t call him that for very long.

People thought I didn’t want him living my Mom because I wanted my parents to get back to together.  Hell no, my parents getting back together was a recurring nightmare.  I didn’t want him living my Mom because he tried to be a dad to me, and I’d been doing quite well without a dad on the premises for many years, thankyouverymuch.

I learned a lot from Spot, too.  I learned that your ‘real’ parents can lose your respect, but that until they do so, they pretty much have it automatically.  A step parent has to earn that respect, though, and it’s a bitch of boulder- and quicksand-filled row to hoe to do it.

I learned that there’s a group of people who are very organized and methodical, but leave unintelligible and apparently unorganized piles of crap all over the place.  These people are called engineers, and they can actually find anything in an unintelligible and apparently unorganized pile of crap in under 20 seconds.

From Spot, I learned that two different people using the exact same tone of voice to say the same words don’t necessary mean the same thing and that one can be yelling at you, but the other isn’t.

I learned that some people will hold on to perceived logic in the face of scientific fact, but that these same people, who can be totally closed minded about physics and science, can be open-minded and open-hearted with people.

From Spot, i  learned what real love is.  It’s not flowers, and candlelight, or pretty words and promises.  It’s when a woman thinks about moving 100 miles away, and the man who loves her starts looking for jobs in the new city; no discussion, no conversation, just “whither thou goest” and how the hell does he support himself once he goest there?

Love is when a person is zonked out of his mind on pain killers and chemo drugs, to the point where he thinks he’s 40 years younger, and cannot recognize his own brother, but he’ll still know who the woman he loves is, even if he didn’t know her yet in his own mental time zone.  And he’ll ask for her the first thing when he wakes up, even before he realizes he’s in a hospital.

Love is when a person is zonked out of his mind on pain killers and chemo drugs, so he can’t remember your first name, but he still lights up when he sees you and remembers the stupid nickname he gave you when he married your mom.

That’s what my step-Spot taught me, and I miss that nit-picky, controlling, pain in the ass bastard every day, even after 19 years.

But there’s one more person I give Father’s Day cards to, and this person taught me more than Dad and Spot combined:  my Mom.

Dad moved, and we didn’t, when I was 10 and from then on, it was pretty much just me and Mom, since my brother was 16 and my sister was 19 by then.

Mom and I used to say it was us against the world — “and we’re gonna get creamed!”, per our favorite greeting card; but what Mom taught me was that it’s okay to lose some times, but it’s never okay to cheat to win.  It’s okay to give in to others, but it’s not okay to let them take you over.  Failure is actually an option, but not trying your best isn’t.  Competition between people is inevitable and natural, but the only person who can really beat you is yourself, and that’s the only person you should ever try to get the better of.  And just because you know how to hurt people as quickly as possible, with the most lasting affect, with the fewest number of words, doesn’t give you the right to do so.

So Father’s Day is here again, and my Dad and my Spot aren’t.

But my Mom is, and I’ll be sending her a card, like always, because it wasn’t easy to be a mother and a father to me, and she deserves to know that I appreciate it.

A Little Clarity

There are two things on my mind today:  Flight MH370 and the shooting yesterday at Fort Hood.  The reactions to both of these are, to me, so completely irrational that I think I need to put down a few thoughts.

I work with some people who have expressed to me that they are now unwilling to fly because of MH370, because the flight disappeared. 

I pointed out to them that this tragedy got so much attention not just because people (apparently) lost their lives, but because a plane disappeared.  Which never happens.

Let me share some statistics with you, to put this in perspective.  I live near Cleveland, OH, and Cleveland is the home to a decent size international airport.  According to a quick internet search, there are 834 international airports currently operating in the world.  Some bigger than Cleveland (CLE), some smaller.  I’d say CLE is about average for a decent sized city in the world.  

Average number of flights leaving CLE every day?  240

Assuming an average airport has, say, 1/3 that many (80), that’s still 66,720 flights every day.

Let me repeat that.  Sixty-six THOUSAND plus flights every day.

That’s 24,090,000 flights annually.  Just from INternational airports.  That’s not counting regional airports, or small airports or even larger airports that don’t happen to have international flights. 24 MILLION flights from international airports.  Every year.

Do you know how many flights crash or go missing every year? That’s been harder to pin down, but I’ll tell you this.  IN 2012, according to the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board in the US), in 2012 there were a grand total of 449 deaths in airplane related accidents.  NONE of them involved commercial airlines.  According to the International Business Times, there’s less than, on average, 200 crashes, annually, since 1943.  The most there were in any given year was in 1943, when there were 562.  

So, assuming 200 crashes annually, and 24M flights — that’s 0.0008333% of all flights crash.

Put it another way, according to NOVA, the chance that you will die in an airplane crash is 1 in just over 2 MILLION.  By contrast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, your chance of getting struck by lighting in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.  

I think I’ll fly.


Let’s talk about Fort Hood.  There’s a lot of talk on the news about a history of mental health problems.

Again, let’s put that in perspective.  According to a recent study by the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry, 1 in ever 5 soldiers had a history of mental illness when they enlisted.

Let me make something clear.  I respect ALL our soldiers, from every war, in every age, for any reason they chose to serve.  I work in a company where I personally know of 15 vets working in my department alone.  And those are just the ones I’m aware of.  I have nothing but gratitude for anyone willing to serve.

My point with the above statistic is that we then put these courageous men and women (20% of whom had some form of mental illness to begin with) into hostile environments, teach them to kill and send them places where people are actively trying to kill them,  Then we bring them home.  

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 in 5 of the brave men and women we bring home from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  30% of Vietnam Vets were diagnosed with PTSD.  And yet, when asked, “More than 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans responding to a recent survey said they did not seek mental health care because of a perceived negative impact on their careers. (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Member Survey 2012)”.

25% need help; 40% won’t even ask.

And people worry about 1 missing plane out of 24 Million?

I realize I’m sounding cold, and that losing those 276 people on MH370 is a tragedy, and hard on their families to not know for sure.

According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, 1.5 million soldiers have returned from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  That’s an estimate 375,000 people who have PTSD, most of whom will not get help.

My point to all this?

I just don’t understand our priorities.  We are spending all this time effort and money to try to save 276 people who are, in all likelihood, beyond help and have been for 26 days.  

For the men and women who fought to keep us safe, the latest budget included $17 Million for mental health in the Military.  

Figuring out what happened to Swiss Air flight that crashed in Canada cost $39 Million in 1998.

Where the hell are our priorities?

With a Little Help from my (new) Friends

So.  First, thank you to all those who were kind enough to comment on my first post, and who have decided (for reasons, by the way, I totally do not understand) to follow me.

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I started blogging to have a way to get the stuff that’s stuck in my head out, so that my head can concentrate on the stuff  should be doing.

What I should be doing is working on my book, and as I’ve been doing that, I’ve hit a place where I…could use a little help.

I have a character who uses other people’s (actress’s) voices to speak, and chooses a different voice to use depending on the type of conversation.  So, when this character is trying to be very persuasive, she uses a sex voice — Kathleen Turner’s, to be exact.

For day to day, business type conversation, a more business like, strong voice — Kate Hepburn’s

To command, a strong voice — Judi Dench.

Like that.

But I”m sure I’m going to need other voices — for comforting, or having heart-to-hearts, or scolding, or flat out yelling, or expressing alarm.

And I’m wondering if people here could make suggestions as to whose voice would be appropriate in different situations.

If anyone has ideas, I’d be happy to see them in the comments!

Thanks in advance!

Hi, There!

I am a new blogger, and a very casual one at that.
I won’t be changing the world, or commenting (much) on world affairs.  I won’t be posting often at all.
But sometimes, just sometimes, things get stuck in my head and blogging seems like a good way to get them out.
Enjoy the ride, or move along; all are welcome, and none are required,
My best to  all