Why can’t they be like we were?

What was your high-school musical? I remember but one: “Bye Bye Birdie,” starring the band director’s blonde son in the title role. (His blonde daughter was some sort of super-majorette called the “Golden Girl.” A band parent’s exacta.)

Anyway, I wasn’t in “Bye Bye Birdie.” I wasn’t in the crew. I was even more pathetic than that — I hung out with some people who were on the crew, and came to practice mainly for the shenanigans we pulled in the trouper deck, surely the best hiding place, and shenanigans venue, in the school. (My second-favorite place was only available if the janitor liked you — the room under the swimming pool with the window that looked into the deep end, about five feet down. I spent a rapturous free period there, watching my classmates adjust their suits after diving, their faces distorted by held breath, bubbles trailing from their noses.)

Anyway, I never saw the final version of the play; the trouper deck on show night was a serious place. But I can still sing most of “Telephone Hour” and “Kids.” Which I suppose, for a trouper-deck troublemaker, that counts as a fairly successful theater experience.

How long ago that was. Which is why I recommend “The Supersizing of the School Play,” from Sunday’s NYT, reporting…anyone? Yes, the welcome news that high-school theater is the latest once-simple-and-wholesome educational activity to get steroidal and utterly screwed up. The story is datelined New Albany, Ind., which shouldn’t surprise anyone; Indiana is on the leading edge of the Supersizing of the Marching Band Show — follow that link for vintage NN — and it figures it would be on this trend, too. Hoosier parents think of high-school theater as a wholesome activity that will keep their kids off drugs and out of gangs (and it will, if they stay out of the trouper deck). What’s a $165,000 budget for the fall musical when such lofty aims are at stake?

When did it stop being enough to put a kid in his dad’s old vest and have him sing “Sue Me” in a Noo Yawk accent? Probably sometime before puberty. Today, even grade school students (and their schools) are being cultivated with “junior” versions of Broadway shows from M.T.I. and the “Getting to Know You” series from R&H. (Yes, fourth graders can now do a 70-minute “King and I,” albeit without the deep kissing.) By the time they return from high school drama club trips to New York, they want to perform the sophisticated roles, and replicate the increasingly dazzling effects, they enjoyed as audience members. …Bit by bit, a world formerly known for wooden renditions of “Our Town” in the cafetorium has become something strangely more like professional theater in its elaborateness, ambition and choice of material. And the most challenging musicals are now among the most coveted; some high schools do “Sweeney Todd.” Some do “Evita.” The holy grail for the elite programs, at least until “Cats” is released to them in 2006, is the humongous “Les Mis�rables.”

Oh, great. A high-school production of “Cats.” A new definition of hell.

What a weekend. Gentle temperatures, gentle sunlight, birdies tweeting outside my sickroom window, which is where I spent most of it. It was another deck-clearing mystery illness — fever, muscle aches, coughing, laryngitis, oh-you-name-it. I’ve relocated to the guest room, the better to spare the spouse a) my germs; and b) my restless thrashing in the throes of agony. I think the corner may have been turned, however — I awoke with damp hair, damper clothing and actual energy, evidence the fever had been driven from the building. I felt good enough to pour my first cup of coffee in two days, which instantly banished the lingering traces of headache, too.

“How much of this headache is whatever-I’ve-got and how much is caffeine deprivation?” I wondered at breakfast. Sobering thought, that — physical withdrawal symptoms must mean I’m an official coffee junkie now.

Like I care.

Here’s something being a newspaper columnist spoils you for: Newspaper columns. I used to read them all religiously; now I have but a small selection on my bookmarks, old reliables I find, well, reliable, and everybody else can just get in line. Some days are worse than others; take Mother’s Day.

There were no fewer than four Mother’s Day columns in my News/Free Press combined Sunday edition today. The day is a gimme, a big slow pitch, low-hanging fruit. I know this from experience; just go write a little bit about your own mom and leave early on Friday. Write about how you never appreciated her until you had kids of your own, salt with a few anecdotes, wind up with either a) I’m glad you’re still alive for me to tell you how much I appreciate you, Mom; or b) now my Mama’s dead and I wish I had told her sooner. (OK, so I couldn’t find one of those today. But I’ve read ’em.) What kind of tears are you trying to jerk, happy or sad? Either one’s a winner on the sappiest day of the year.

Column-writing is like shoveling coal into the furnace of a speeding train, and you take the easy ones where you can get them. God knows there’ll be enough days when you have no peg, no inspiration, and you’ll be reduced to writing about the weather. I’ve done both — Mother’s Day and the weather.

I only wish, now that I’m older and wiser, more editors would put a curb on M.D. emoting. Hold a competition; any columnist who wants to write about Mother’s Day has to submit it a week in advance, and only one will run, a determination to be made any way an editor sees fit.

This is the best Mother’s Day column I read today. It is spare and simple and…spare. Predictably, it’s by one of my old reliables.

Oh, and anyone who tried to get away with an editorial this lame? Would be shot. The link will only work for those who actually pay for the Col–bus Disp—-, and GOD KNOWS WHY THEY WOULD, when you open the editorial page and see the headline “Give Mom a hug.” It does not disappoint:

Mothers have antennae that detect trouble brewing while dads are mesmerized by sports on TV. Parents of both genders dearly love their kids, but mothers are better at showing it. Some problems never are solved until Mom gets home from work. As they mature, mothers willingly relinquish pieces of their independence in order that their husbands are fulfilled, the kids are healthy and happy, the pets are fed, rooms are clean, beds are made and prayers are said. Motherhood is the most difficult job that many women undertake, but it can be the most satisfying. The love and respect shown today for moms, stepmothers, grandmas and great-grandmas are hard-earned. Take time to remember that special person in your life.

OK, noted. And so the week begins.

Posted at 6:26 pm in Uncategorized |

16 responses to “Why can’t they be like we were?”

  1. Paul said on May 9, 2005 at 2:53 am

    Dear Nancy–Thank you for pointing out the obvious, but nearly always unsaid, about Mother’s Day glurge.

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  2. mc said on May 9, 2005 at 9:59 am

    Holy cow, that editorial may be the worst dreck I have ever read. There are so many ways to refute it… the gender stereotyping alone is astounding. Ick.

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  3. MarkH said on May 9, 2005 at 10:36 am

    Every now and then, I get a reminder (as if I need it) why I’m glad I’m not in Columbus anymore. Often, it’s something related to the “Dispatch”; you’ve provided another year of relief, Nance.

    My favorite Mother’s Day note was from CBS News Sunday Morning. Ben Stein waxed sparingly about his mom, what she was like as he grew up, and repeated at least three times how, throughout his life, she would not “leave me alone!”. Then “…she died unexpectedly of heart failure in 1997, and finally, she had left me alone…and I hate it”. I don’t remember the rest, but for those of us without our mothers, that last said it all.

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  4. mary said on May 9, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Now I’m stuck for the rest of the day with the thought of Cats performed by high schoolers. Of course I’m thinking of my high school days which seem very distant. We did Carousel one year, and Lil’ Abner another, and they were ok. We also did Our Town one year, which I think was required by law at the time. We may not have had quite the money or support, but my class did produce two fairly successful Broadway performers, and one fairly successful filmmaker. None of them are famous, but all three are always working, which is quite an accomplisment.

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  5. adrianne said on May 9, 2005 at 1:05 pm


    My paper tried hard to stay away from treacle this Mother’s Day. Our featured piece: an interview with columnist Barry Lewis’ mom, a 5-foot spitfire from Brooklyn with burgundy hair from a box who began her interview thusly: “Tell Barry he’s on my shit list” for not visiting during Passover.

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  6. Nance said on May 9, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    Ace, congratulations on finding a paper with a sense of humor about its content. You might want to retire there.

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  7. joodyb said on May 9, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    It seems my pending-dotage diversion is to be columns that outrage to the point of ulcers. From where I sit, I needn’t look far.

    There was another cop killing in St. Paul this weekend. As Exhibit A, I hope you can see the link, still, to the Joe Soucheray column that ran Saturday 1A. Upon reading, Mark sputtered for HOURS. |-(


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  8. Nance said on May 9, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    Wow. That sort of redefines “overwrought,” eh?

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  9. joodyb said on May 9, 2005 at 11:50 pm

    If you’re bored, ask Mark what he thought about the PP’s coverage.

    Init. copy desk reax was to headline (J. did not know the victim personally, so that made it misleading; it also makes it look like the guy went by his last name, which from all reports was not the case). A motion to rewrite it for the city was met with word that it was the ME’s approved choice. At which point we all hung our heads and walked back to our desks. Oh, and it was bannered across the top of the page.

    You don’t even want to think about his Mother’s Day column.

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  10. Nance said on May 10, 2005 at 7:05 am

    I like the interior joke, if you will — he rages that life just doesn’t shut down for the death of a cop, the way it used to, THE WAY IT SHOULD, DAMMIT. And then he reveals that he was so broken up, he quit his golf game early — after only 12 holes!

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  11. TSO said on May 10, 2005 at 10:05 am

    That Dispatch link reads like parody. Being a one newspaper town can really suck.

    The Dispatch also delivers little suburban “kidz” papers (free, of course) which are basically glorified photo albums of area children. And it reminds me of how in the days of company towns the employer would benevolently/condescendly provide free cigarettes or some such nonsense in order to buy employee cooperation. These little papers seem like little props to keep a one newspaper town happy.

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  12. Dick Isenhour said on May 10, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    Nancy: One vivid memory I have of my mother was accompanying her to see our family doctor in Churubusco, Indiana. She was deaf in one year and our doctor was blind in one eye. Whenever he would tell her something she didn’t want to hear, she would place her index in her good ear so she couldn’t hear him. He, in turn, would take his hand and cover up his good eye so he couldn’t see her dismissing what he had to say. It was a real hoot.

    (On a personal note: I used to read your column regularly in the online version of The News-Sentinel and lost track of you. Glad I found you. — DI)

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  13. Richard N. / Toronto said on May 10, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    Re Mother’s Day columnizing … I’m glad I don’t have to write a column. 🙂

    But I have to suffer through gratuitously saccharine Mother’s Day references in our local papers & even on the Psychedelic Psunday show on local hard-rock radio.

    You could probably divide M.D. columns into 2 categories – those that are just out & out gush from the get go (“You were always there …”) to Belated Appreciation (“I never realized how important you were …”), triggered either by the birth of one’s own children or the death of Aforesaid Mother.

    One of these days I should write something for those of us with hateful mothers we do not remember fondly and do appreciate, really, for what they really did for us. My mother had a sad & loveless life herself, but she hurt her 5 children a lot. Just this past March I was sitting in an Arctic Circle in SLC and my 15-year-younger sister told me yet more horror stories – really horrible movie-of-the-week stuff our mom did to her. So no Mother’s Day sob stuff for her.

    Cheers (really!), Richard in Toronto

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  14. mary said on May 10, 2005 at 7:00 pm

    The interior joke you refer to reminds me of the Martin Mull version of “White Man’s Blues.”

    Oh I woke up this morning, and both my cars were gone.

    I woke up this morning, and both my cars were gone.

    I felt so low down deep inside, I threw my drink across the lawn…

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  15. deb said on May 11, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    mary! does this mean that you, too, owned a copy of the obscure “martin mull and his fabulous furniture” LP? i thought i was the only one!

    another of my favorite mm lyrics: “oh tell me, how could i not love (ba-dum-dum-dum) a girl your size?”

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  16. Chuck Lopez said on May 12, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    Nancy —

    First of all, I enjoy your site daily. But regarding today’s entry …

    While editing a magazine for a Nationwide for many years, I realized early on that the word is spelled “memoriam,” not “memorium.” Whch is how I originally spelled it …

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