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How to Begin a Stormy Monday

Although the rest of the world seemed to continue right along on its downward trajectory, judging by the snippets of news we found time to peruse, at least the rest of the weekend here on the prairie provided some much needed distractions.
Our retreat from reality began Friday evening, when we noticed that Netflix had at long last come through with a fourth season of “Orange is the New Black,” its very popular and oh-so-critically acclaimed women-in-prison saga. Despite our usual aversion to anything popular or acclaimed by the current batch of critics we’ve always been suckers for a women-in-prison saga, so we devoted an embarrassing amount of the next 24 hours to binge-watching that. To avoid the risk of any plot spoilers we’ll just say we found it pleasantly distracting, despite a disappointing paucity of the nude shower scenes and lesbian frisson that makes the women-in-prison genre so compelling, and we’re pleased that this previously very feminist take on the genre seemed very sympathetic to some of the male characters, and it even takes the side of the flawed but mostly idealistic warden over his obnoxious girlfriend, even if it blames that on her corporate job at a for-profit prison company, and we’ll eagerly be awaiting for who knows how many months to find out how the season-ending and racially-charged cliff-hanging prison riot turns out. Oops, sorry for that plot spoiler.
Saturday involved a funeral for the very fine and most interesting fellow who always sat just one pew in front of us at church, and an overdue haircut with our neighborhood barber, who is so good at his job and charges such reasonable prices that you have to book an appointment a week in advance, and in between these choirs and throughout the evening there were the thunderstorms that often pop up around this time of year. The recent torrential rains have made the grass throw thick and tall, but provided us with an excuse for not cutting it, and for finishing an entire season of a women-in-prison saga, and on the whole they were another pleasant and slightly cooling distraction.
Sunday was Father’s Day, and our Mom and Pop have moved back to town from Back East after a few decades so following church we had a pleasant lunch with the both of them, with the conversation only slightly touching on the news as we all agreed it’s too unpleasant to talk about on such a nice sunny day. Of course Father’s Day always comes during the final round of the United States Open Golf Championship, and our Pop was an avid golfer who once hit a much-bragged about hole-in-one, so there was some talk about that, as well as ancient horse racing history, due to some movies they’d recently watched, as well as the evening’s deciding seventh game in the National Basketball Association’s championship. Our Mom’s a rather astute sports fan as well, and was able to correct our Pop that the NBA finals were indeed that night, but we wound up not missing it all while at the Wichita Music Theater’s production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at downtown’s Century II building.
As former theater critics for the local newspaper, back when it had the money and staffing to review local theater, we can tell you it was such as great show that we didn’t mind missing the games at all. A guy we always liked named Dustin Johnson won his first major championship at the U.S. Open, the Cleveland Cavaliers won that city its first major professional championship in 52 years, upsetting the defending Golden State Warriors and depriving San Francisco of yet another trophy, and we had Gershwin music happily in our eyes as we read the results. We took a peek at the rest of it, and will get around to that during a dreary week that includes dentistry and other unhappy chores, but for now we’re savoring the respite from reality.

— Bud Norman

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That’s Show Biz

All hell could have broken loose the past few days without our noticing. This past week was devoted to our annual appearance on the local stage, and amateur theatrics is an all-consuming activity.
On our drives to and from the aged but still elegant Orpheum Theater in downtown we caught word on the radio that the stock markets are tanking, Ukraine is heating up, and some feisty Nevada ranchers have somehow managed to stare down the Feds, but there wasn’t time to dive into all the details with our usual thoroughness. We tried to keep apprised of the Ukrainian situation well enough to know if our cheeky skit about the matter, which featured Vladimir Putin and a bear hoofing to “Singin’ Ukraine,” was veering into bad taste, but otherwise we were too preoccupied with ironing costumes and memorizing lines and placating temperamental cast members to keep abreast of the rest of the world.
The show closed its three-night run on Saturday, but the cast party went well into Sunday and the rest of the day was devoted to watching the final round of the Masters and recuperating from the grind of show biz. A lack of talent spared us any singing or dancing, and our three short scenes were carefully written within the severe limitations of our acting ability, but it nonetheless proved quite exhausting. Theater is a collaborative art from, which necessarily entails other people, and that always wear us out. The mostly media-affiliated folks who put on the annual “Gridiron” shows for charity and ego gratification and a good bunch, at least, and by now we think they’re almost used to us.
Our humble efforts got some good laughs, more so the first two nights, for some reason or another, and it once again proved an enjoyable experience. After 47 years the “Gridiron” show is a local institution that brings out all the other local institutions, so it’s a good way to immerse one’s self in the city for a short while. We got to schmooze with our district’s reality conservative congressman, Rep. Mike Pompeo, and the director of the nationally-regarded Music Theater of Wichita company, who’s always been nice to us despite the occasional bad reviews we’d write back in our newspaper days, as well as some old friends and comely women. The county commissioner from Haysville was obliged to be less friendly than usual this year, due to his constituents’ recent umbrage at the jokes the show traditionally makes about the town, and there was no one there from the local television station that fired a fellow cast member for inadvertently uttering an expletive at the end of a news cast, which of course was a recurring gag in the show, but on the whole everyone was nice enough.
The show was unusually right-wing this year, too, which was a welcome change from the usual fare that you’d expect from a mostly media-affiliated troupe. That’s partly because the show has recently added some younger folks who are surprisingly sensible about politics, and partly because the past year’s news has been dominated by Obamacare and foreign affairs and other issues that demand ridicule if they can’t plausibly be blamed on Republicans. A staunch lefty on the cast was lamenting the lack of Koch Brothers-bashing, but when we wondered what they should be ridiculed for she couldn’t come up with anything but a hateful glare. The same hateful glare came back when she noticed that the cast party’s host had aluminum and plastic commingling with his other trash instead of being placed in proper recycling bins, but a few glasses of wine she was back to her usual pleasant self, and in any case it didn’t affect our comedy very much.
A day’s rest should have us ready to confront reality, and we’ll even be glad to be back to it.

— Bud Norman