“Howl, howl, howl, howl!”

28 November 2015: Flesh Today, Flash Tomorrow.

We rehearse Act One of my play Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris this afternoon, for a free staged reading at the Lawrence Public Library at 7 PM on Thursday, December 3rd.  The play was written back in 1980, was produced by the Lawrence Community Theatre at that time, and subsequently also had a successful run Off-Broadway in New York.  So now, 35 years later, I am revisiting the play.

Before he wrote My Life and Loves, his scandalous five-volume autobiography which was immediately banned as pornography in both Europe and America upon its publication in the 1920s… before he  was a successful journalist and editor in London in the 1890s, where he was friendly with literati like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, and glitterati like the Prince of Wales and Princess Alice of Monaco… Frank Harris was first an Irish immigrant and student at the University of Kansas in the late 1860s.

There’s a scene in Act One which shows Young Frank arriving in Lawrence with Prof. Byron Caldwell Smith.  They are met at the train station by Frank’s older brother William and Mrs. Mayhew, a saucy local woman.

WILLIAM:  And what do you profess, professor?

BYRON:  Nothing of great importance, I’m afraid.  I’ve been hired to teach Greek and Latin.  I’m surprised the University didn’t send someone to meet me.

MRS. MAYHEW:  Isn’t that typical of those folks on the hill?  Come, I’ll take you up to Fraser Hall myself.  I have my buggy with me.  We can leave the long-lost brothers together.  Come, before it gets dark.  On the way, I can tell you all about the wildlife in Kansas.

BYRON:  How about the University?  Do you know any of the faculty?

MRS MAYHEW:  Wildlife, faculty, same thing.  Give a professor two or three shots of whiskey, and he becomes part of the local wildlife!

At the staged reading at 7 PM on Thursday December 3rd at the Lawrence Public Library, Young Frank Harris is played by Benjamin Good, William is Jeremy Auman, Byron Caldwell Smith is Shawn Trimble, and Mrs. Mayhew is Cynthia Evans.  Other actors include Jeanne Averill, Will Averill, Dean Bevan, James Carothers, Amy Devitt, Margaret Kramar, Stephen Moles, Karl Ramberg, Kitty Steffens, and John Younger.

27 November 2015: BLACK FRIDAY MATTERS.

Being a person obsessed with language in all its odd manifestations, I decided to look up the origin of “Black Friday,” and here’s the best and the worst that the internet has to offer.

First the worst:  The day after Thanksgiving was “when slave traders would go into town to show off their best slaves,” offering to sell them at a discount so plantation owners would have all the “help” necessary for the onslaught of winter.  Contrary to popular opinion, Shakespeare in his play Otello did NOT use the line, “The Moor, the merrier.”

And then the best:  The day after Thanksgiving was “when retailers had one last chance to offset all their losses from January through mid-November,” by offering to sell their shoddy goods at a discount, thus moving from being “in the red” to “in the black.”   To hide their dark  intentions, the retailers enlisted the help of Santa by dressing him up in red, accompanied by his favorite reindeer, who had a red nose.

And there you have it.  It matters not which one you pick because, in my opinion, all Fridays matter.  After all, wasn’t it on a Friday that Christ died on the cross, to save us from the gross consumerism of Christmas which begins the day after Thanksgiving?


26 November 2016: POTUS, TOTUS and PUTIN.

TOTUS (Turkey of the United States) was granted a presidential pardon amid much fanfare yesterday at the White House by POTUS.  And now all eyes turn to President Vladimir Putin.  Will he or won’t he pardon a troublesome Turkey shooting down a Russian plane for flying where it shouldn’t?  Or will the hungry Bear gobble, gobble?  Yesterday Ukraine, today Syria, tomorrow Turkey.

25 November 2015: Ashes unto ashes…

I was with a group of KU retirees right outside Pioneer Cemetery in Lawrence this morning, the closest we could get to watch the 9 AM detonation and implosion of McCollum Hall on Daisy Hill.  Although we waited in anticipation for over an hour, and the actual destruction of the building took only ten seconds, at this moment, hours later, my heart is still pounding, and I can still hear the fifteen or sixteen thumping blasts before the one big terrifying BANG which brought down the imposing ten-story structure.  And then, suddenly, the wind brought the airborne debris in our direction, covering not just many among the living but also all our friends and colleagues who lie buried at the cemetery.

Here’s what went through my mind:  Is this what Syrians experience on a daily basis as their buildings are bombarded and their lives are destroyed by the airstrikes from the west?  Did it really all begin with September 11, 2001?  What was it like for people in New York on that fateful day?  And what was it like for people who lived near the Nazi death camps and the crematoriums during World War II?  What was it like to stand beneath snow that does not melt?  Ashes unto ashes, dust unto dust.

And then the following lines from Emily Dickinson:  “As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow–First–Chill–then Stupor–then the letting go.”  Except I cannot seem to let go.  Not yet.  Maybe never.

25 November 2015: Ibsen’s Nora Goes to Paris!

After over forty years of teaching and seeing countless productions of Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to the recent KU production of the play, but I did, and it was one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had in a very long time.  Afterwards, my friends and I volunteered various sequels for what might have happened to Nora after she decides to leave her husband and children.

Here’s my version.  With her friend Kristine’s urging, Nora takes up embroidery and sewing, then takes in laundry as well.  But this cannot begin to pay for all her bills at the local sweetshop, so she falls back on her flirtatious ways and begins to show old men her sweaty silk stockings for a fee.  Next, she moves to Paris where, before too long, she changes her name from Nora to Violetta and becomes a famous courtesan.  She catches pneumonia from removing her stockings once too often in public, and is soon consumed by passion as well as consumption.  The composer Verdi is one of her many admirers, and he writes an entire opera about her.

11 November 2014: Direct Line to God

Letter: Dire prophecy

By Carl E. Burkhead, Lawrence
November 10, 2014

To the editor:

This prophecy was given to me on the day (Oct. 7) following the Supreme Court’s decision that will likely make gay marriage legal in 30 states including Kansas (Journal-World, Nov. 5). The prophecy is that God will bring a sharp rebuke to the U.S. if we do not repent individually and as a nation. A part of the USA will be removed; which part, how and when I don’t know. However when it comes, it will come quickly.

I believe this potential painful rebuke with its abrupt cutting away is because gay marriage (and abortion) are a two-edged assault against God’s plan for marriage and families. God always has a purpose in his dealing with disobedient nations. It is His intent to bring us to repentance, but if we choose to ignore this warning, He will act.

Letter: Love thy neighbor
By Paul Stephen Lim, Lawrence
November 11, 2014

To the editor:

Since Carl E. Burkhead receives prophecies directly from God (Public Forum, Nov. 10), and we have now been warned that God will bring “a sharp rebuke” to America (for its evolving views on gay marriage and abortion) by an “abrupt cutting away” and removal of parts of this country, I would like Mr. Burkhead to tell God to begin the sharp rebuke by cutting away and removing all land and homes owned by disobedient Christians who do not “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

15 August 2014: Alliterative Governors

I rarely write Letters to the Editor, but I was moved to send in this one which was published in today’s Lawrence Journal-World:

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign team reportedly likes to refer to Democratic challenger Paul Davis as “the liberal lawyer from Lawrence” for no other reason than because they like the literate sound of alliterative words.  This from our literally “go-for-broke governor from Garnett.”