Today’s big headline news is that human beings mated with Neanderthals over 80,000 years ago. I don’t know why scientists are just discovering this now. Tennessee Williams explored such a relationship between Blanche and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, his 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. And, of course, we also see such relationships being acted out today with alarming regularity in and out of the classroom, perhaps even in and out of our own bedrooms.
Listen to Paul’s interview.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players… One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. And then the whining school-boy… the lover, sighing… a soldier, full of strange oaths… the justice, in fair round belly… The sixth age shifts into… the pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side… Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Although I’m calling this website “a personal memoir in flux,” it is also my hope that the various sections will be of interest to people, whether they know me or not. “Out on a Lim” shares short observations on day-to-day life. “Limerances” chronicles longer remembrances of things past. “Limoscenes” presents descriptions of the plays I’ve written to date, with production photos. “Images in Limbo” shows pictures of the aging process, of me with family and friends. “Limpets” are the non-human dogs in my life, and “Limitations” are tributes to people who are no longer with us. So here I am, past imperfect, present progressive, future tense. Let me know what you think. — Paul
Writing on Sarah Palin in Time magazine’s double-issue on The 100 Most Influential People In The World, conservative gun-toting sexagenarian rock guitarist Ted Nugent asserts that “the independent patriotic spirit, attitude and soul of our forefathers are alive and well in Sarah. In the way she lives, what she says and how she dedicates herself to make America better in these interesting times, she represents the good, while exposing the bad and ugly.” I think it’s time to get rid of all my old Ted Nugent records, except that I’ve never bought or owned any.
An article by Andrew Jacobs in The New York Times gives some wonderfully wacky illustrations of English as it is written and spoken today in China—e.g., the Dongda Anus Hospital for what should be the Dongda Proctology Hospital, restaurants offering “fried enema” instead of “fried sausage,” and signs in parks which urge visitors to treat grass humanely, with such admonisments as “The Little Grass Is Sleeping. Please Don’t Disturb It” or “Don’t Hurt Me. I Am Afraid of Pain.” Lawncare today, perhaps human rights tomorrow. But, I digress.
Visiting Hong Kong some years ago, I was amused to see the following sign posted by the stairwell of a fancy department store: “Foreign Ladies Have Fits Upstairs.” And in Japan back in the early 1970s, when tourists were urged not to eat fresh fruits or raw vegetables because Japanese farmers were still using night soil to fertilize their fields, the Tokyo Hilton had elegant little placards on the tables in their dining facilities, which proclaimed that “all the fruits and vegetables served in this restaurant have been washed in water personally passed by the chef.” And my favorite story of all is the one that a friend recounts about the early wake-up call he left at his Tokyo hotel. When the wake-up call came as requested, at four in the morning, the ominous voice at the other end of the telephone line said, “Sir, your hour has come!”
But, why pick on the Chinese or the Japanese for trying to learn the logic and nuances of the English language? When I first started to teach Freshman and Sophomore English at the University of Kansas in the 1970s, a group of us instructors had great fun compiling the gems we found in the essays written by our students. I still remember some of them.
“Inductive reasoning is done inside the brain, while deductive reasoning is done outside the brain.”
“The wild, wild west was a gun-flinging society.”
“I want to mar a woman just like my father marred.”
“I’m the first person in my family to go to collage.”
“In the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Laura’s leg keeps coming up between her and other people.”
Growing up Chinese in the Philippines in the 40s and 50s, learning to speak and write English first with the Jesuits at the Ateneo de Manila, and then with the Christian Brothers at De La Salle College, I never dreamed that I would spend most of my adult life in an institution of higher learning in Kansas, teaching native speakers of English how to speak and write their own language properly. These days, with all our students texting and tweeting, throwing out the once-sacred rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, I’m starting to think of Chinglish and Japlish as the Queen’s English. Capisce? Or is that Kapish?
How-to guru Karen Salmansohn has sold over a million books, among them How to Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Successful Dog Trainers. She might have gotten the idea from Strindberg’s play Miss Julie, wherein the haughty heroine treats one suitor like a dog by making him jump over her riding stick, and another suitor to grovel on all fours while kissing her foot. Alas, poor Miss Julie is seduced and abandoned at the end of Strindberg’s play, and she commits suicide. So, does life imitate art? Well, not exactly. According to The Kansas City Star, it now turns out that Karen Salmansohn has filed a lawsuit against a former boyfriend whom she claims “had strung her along for months with promises of marriage and a baby, but abruptly cut off support when she became pregnant.” She thinks that’ll fix him. Fix him just like the randy dog that he is, so the only tail he’ll chase from now on will be his own. In 2010, Miss Julie does not slit her throat. She castrates through litigation.
Guess who helped to write the controversial law which allows cops in Arizona to arrest anyone whom they suspect to be illegal aliens on the basis of how they look and sound? Like it or not, it’s Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who is now running for secretary of state in Kansas. According to a news report in the Lawrence Journal-World, Kobach said “if elected secretary of state, he would help draw up a similar bill in Kansas only if asked by a state legislator and if he had some spare time.” Okay, so what do Kansans look like? Be afraid, everyone. Be very afraid.
Now that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed Immigration Bill SB1070 into law, which allows cops in Arizona to arrest anyone who looks suspiciously illegal, it’s time for the fashion industry to come to the rescue. According to California Congressman Brian Bilbray, cops “will look at the kind of dress you wear. There is a different type of attire—right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.” What we need, therefore, is for haute couture to introduce a new line of Illegal Chic, the Wetback Look, so we can all be improperly attired as we head for Arizona, get ourselves arrested, and then “tea party” in jail with all our brown brethren, courtesy of Arizona taxpayers.
Gregg Henry, Artistic Director of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, sent out this press release earlier this week.
The Paul Stephen Lim Asian-American Playwriting Award
Supported by the University of Kansas Endowment Association, this award is given to the outstanding full-length or one-act play on any subject written by an Asian-American student, in honor of Paul Stephen Lim’s outstanding career as teacher, playwright and passionate advocate for new voices in the American Theatre.
Born of Chinese parents in the Philippines, Paul Stephen Lim was already a successful advertising copywriter and newspaper journalist when he emigrated to the United States at the age of 24 to further his education and to pursue a career in writing. Conpersonas, his first play, won the KCACTF National Student Playwriting Award in 1976, initiating a life-long relationship with KCACTF. Lim started teaching playwriting at the University of Kansas in 1989. He founded English Alternative Theatre (http://www.eat.ku.edu) the same year to nurture and produce the plays of his students. He was awarded the Kennedy Center medallion in 1996 for his work with student playwrights, was the Region 5 National Playwriting Program Chair 2000-2003, and served on the National Selection Team in 2004. To date, 30 plays by his students at the University of Kansas have been seen at various regional and national festivals of KCACTF. http://paulstephenlim.com.
The inaugural recipient of the Paul Stephen Lim Asian American Playwriting Award is Edgar Mendoza, Carnegie Mellon University, for his play BLUE NOTE RUN. It includes a cash award of $2,500, membership in the Dramatists Guild of America, and a professional development residency to be determined in consultation with Mr. Mendoza.
Gregg Henry very kindly flew me into Washington D.C. to attend Festival 42 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and to present the award personally to Edgar Mendoza. Here’s the short speech I gave from the stage of the Family Theatre at the Kennedy Center on the evening of Saturday 17 April 2010.
“Back in 1976, when I won the KCACTF National Student Playwriting Award, my agent said that if I wanted to work as a playwright, I would need to move to New York. I chose to remain instead at the University of Kansas as a teacher, reconnecting with KCACTF in meaningful and fulfilling ways through my playwriting students and the Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards, which give voice yearly to young American playwrights of all colors and stripes.
“I am truly honored that my name is now being added to the list of KCACTF playwriting awards. The recipients of this new Asian-American playwriting award are free to chronicle our Asian-American lives yesterday as workers in the fields of Hawaii, the canneries in Alaska, the bad Chinese restaurants which sprang up everywhere the Chinese helped to build America’s railroads…or maybe our Asian-American lives today as doctors and nurses, mathematicians and computer geeks…or not. For we are all Americans first and foremost, and then the hyphenated Americans which make us all unique.
“May our awardee tonight be the first of many in the years to come.”
Of the names being floated as nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Justice John Paul Stevens when he retires, the one I like best is Al Gore. He won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election, but was denied his rightful place in the White House when the controversy over the Florida election recount was “settled” by the U.S. Supreme Court on a 5-4 margin in favor of George W. Bush, the only time in history the Court determined the outcome of a presidential election, and look what happened. Al Gore is now my man for the Supreme Court. It’s Poetic Justice.
I was smoking up to sixty cigarettes a day when I finally quit in 1994. And now, sixteen years later, when the nurse weighed me at the doctor’s office prior to my annual physical, there was no avoiding the fact that I’ve packed on sixty pounds since my last cigarette. So how did this happen? Let me start at the beginning. It all began with Miss Utah.
You may find this hard to believe but, back in the Philippines, when I was just sixteen years old, I was already hosting my own television show on Channel 10, the government-run station. Our weekly hour-long variety show was on the air for a couple of months in 1960. It was called “Get Together” by our unimaginative producer because he claimed this was what the show was, a get together. Needless to say, I rarely had any say about who the guests were. I would show up every Saturday at the studio (which we called “the barn”) a couple of hours before taping the show, and that’s when I’d find out whom we were featuring at the “get together” that week. Because it was a variety show, the guest list tended to lean more toward the entertainment industry, mostly movie stars, especially if they were Hollywood celebrities visiting Manila for one dubious reason or another.
Back then, a name we were all familiar with was Steve Parker, who was married to Shirley MacLaine but who, for some reason, did not live with her. Alas, rumor had it that Steve preferred to sow his wild oats with a wide array of attractive Asian lasses. Although the unconventional long-distance marriage between Shirley MacLaine and Steve Parker survived for several decades, they finally got divorced in 1982 and, to no one’s surprise, he immediately got hitched to a Japanese woman in Hawaii. But, back to Miss Utah.
In 1960, besides being famous for being unfaithful to Shirley MacLaine, Steve Parker was also an enterprising entrepreneur. One of his enterprises was a spectacular stage show which he produced annually, a lavish extravaganza featuring beauty queens from all the beauty pageants—Miss America, Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Cosmos, Miss Galaxy—who were willing to tour Southeast Asia with him; parading in their swimsuits and evening gowns; showing off their unique musical, declamatory or baton-twirling talents; rousing and arousing the natives with their energetic high-kicking dance routines.
I have no idea how our producer managed to get Steve Parker to bring his bevy of buxom beauties to “the barn” but, there they were, bigger than life, that fateful Saturday afternoon in 1960, when I was expected to “Get Together” and chat intelligently with them. What I didn’t expect was to be chatted up.
It happened during a short lull in the taping of the show, when the beauty queens were changing into their much-anticipated swim wear. First one out of the dressing room was the statuesque Miss Utah from the Miss America Beauty Pageant, wearing a blindingly white one-piece bathing suit with a red sash across her chest to match her flaming red hair, and white stiletto heels which made her seem even taller than the Tower of Babel, given how she reduced all the men in “the barn” to Jell-O and gibberish.
To this day, I have no idea why Miss Utah chose me, but I can still hear the clickety-clack of her stiletto heels on the linoleum floor as she headed in my direction. Once she had me cornered, she slipped her left arm into my right arm. She didn’t seem to mind the fact that one of her breasts was resting firmly on the crook of my elbow. “Can I have a cigarette?” she asked huskily, sounding like Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, or maybe Julie London in those early Marlboro commercials which aired in moviehouses in Manila prior to the trailers and the main feature.
Probably no one else but me remembers this, but when Marlboro was first introduced, its target audience was women, not men. Long before the world was introduced to the rugged Marlboro Man, we were all treated to a black-and-white commercial of sultry songstress Julie London having some kind of dalliance with a man in a dimly-lit restaurant. Slowly, seductively, she pulls out a Marlboro, he lights it for her, and then she blows smoke in his eyes as she starts to sing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” in that breathless, whispery, smoky voice of hers. In my boyhood, Julie London was the insurmountable Marlboro Woman, the pulchritudinous personification of “filter…flavor…flip-top box!”
And now, standing in “the barn” in her stiletto heels next to me, Julie London had metamorphosed into Miss Utah. “Can I have a cigarette?” she repeated pointedly. All eyes in the room were suddenly on me. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop, but it was my pen and clipboard. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, “I just had my last one. I’m out.”
“Oh.” She looked disappointed. She let go of my blushing elbow and clickety-clacked across the room to one of the cameramen. I saw him offering her a cigarette, and then she clickety-clacked back to me. She didn’t take my arm this time, but spoke in the same life-altering baritone as before. “Do you have a light?”
I could hear the technicians in the room starting to snicker because they all knew about my pristine respiratory organs, my virgin lungs. “I lied earlier,” I blurted out the truth. “I don’t smoke. I don’t have a light. I’m sorry.”
“I see,” she smiled sympathetically. “Well, when you’re old enough to smoke, be sure to look me up in Utah.” And then she clickety-clacked away again, to the same cameraman, taking his arm and sticking his elbow into her ample endowments. He completed the ritual by flicking his Ronson and lighting her fire.
Before the day was over, on the heels of my humiliation in the hands of Miss Utah, I rushed out and bought my first pack of Newport mentholated cigarettes.
Shortly after that, I worked as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson Co. One of our clients was Liggett & Myers, makers of premium L&M, Lark and Chesterfield cigarettes, which were given free to JWT employees, so we all smoked like chimneys. Later, when Marlboro dumped Julie London and created the Marlboro Man, in commercials which showed him herding all those wild mustangs to the thumping theme from The Magnificent Seven, I shifted to Marlboros.
Flash forward to 1994. By then, I was teaching in the English Department at the University of Kansas. I was also running English Alternative Theatre, my own theatre company. Two years earlier, I had bought a truck on installment, to haul furniture and set pieces for the theatre company. As for my nasty nicotine habit, well…you know how theatre people are. I was smoking two packs of Marlboros a day, three if I was in rehearsal with a play, which was just about all the time.
In the spring of 1994, a good friend asked me what I was doing that summer. He had rented a large house for two months in Lurs, a picturesque village which dates back to the 10th century, perched on a narrow butte overlooking the Durance valley, one of the best wine-growing regions in France. He said the house itself was surrounded by magnificent olive groves. Would I care to spend the summer in France with grapes and olives and people who don’t speak English? There was only one catch. He was allergic to cigarette smoke. I would not be allowed to smoke in the house, and certainly not in his presence.
By then, I had been smoking for 32 years. Unbeknownst to him, I had in fact been thinking about quitting—not because of all the dire warnings from the Surgeon General, not because my dog coughs every time I light up near him, but because the University of Kansas had recently banned smoking in all the buildings on campus. I had just spent a miserable winter putting on my bulky jacket, cap, scarf and gloves every 15 minutes in order to commiserate outdoors with other victims of the ban. Oh, how we smoked and fumed at the injustice of it all!
Thinking my silence was a sign that I was about to turn down his kind invitation to spend the summer in France, my friend made me another offer. Because he really cared about my health, he said that, if I gave up cigarettes, he would be happy to pay off the rest of the payments on my red Toyota truck. Is it a deal?
There was no way I could quit cold turkey, so I proposed a compromise. I would bring two cartons of Marlboros with me, and when that was gone, I’d be done for good. To my surprise, he agreed.
We left for Lurs in early June, and I stuck to my plan. I would cut back to two packs a day for the first week, then a pack a day for the second week, then ten cigarettes a day for the third week, then five, then three, then two, and then…finally…on the Fourth of July, I would have my last cigarette and declare my INDEPENDENCE from Marlboro Country! This I did in 1994, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.
But, as I said earlier, I’ve also put on 60 pounds in the intervening years. When I had my last physical, I told the doctor I didn’t feel any healthier for having given up cigarettes. Did I just swap possible lung cancer for probable diabetes? The doctor patted my arm, the same arm which had been intimate with Miss Utah four decades ago, and said: “If you had the will power to quit smoking, you’ll have the will power to lose weight.”
And so I’m working on it. I’m looking for pictures of Twiggy and Mahatma Gandhi to put on my refrigerator door.
While on the internet recently, just out of curiosity, I Googled some of the people I’ve mentioned in this “limerance.” According to Wikipedia, Steve Parker, Shirley MacLaine’s ex, was in Honolulu on May 13, 2001 when he expired of lung cancer. Julie London was in poor health because of her long-term cigarette habit until her death on October 18, 2000, in Encino, California, at age 74. Wayne McLaren, the actor who portrayed the Marlboro Man in print and television cigarette advertising, succumbed to lung cancer at age 51 on July 22, 1992.
As for Miss Utah…whoever she is, wherever she is…I hope that she hasn’t kicked the bucket…that she’s kicked the habit…that she is now so fat she’s no longer able to bend down and slip on those stiletto heels to go clickety-clacking with impunity…but that somewhere in back of her closet she still has that blindingly white one-piece bathing suit…that she takes it out occasionally to look at it…and perhaps remember how she once shamed a boy in Manila to “manhood.”
The cover story of The New York Times Magazine today is about Lindsay C. Young, a biologist who has been studying a colony of albatrosses in Hawaii. Young’s research reveals that, not only do albatrosses mate for life, but many of the “couples” she has been studying are, in fact, Sapphic females. Which leads me to suspect that the ancient mariner in Coleridge’s epic poem might have shot the albatross because she rejected his overtures for intimacy during the long voyage on that ship without women, perhaps preferring to flock together with a female companion of her own feather. It was a hate crime, pure and simple. The creepy old guy was homophobic.