A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

That Smell

Ooh, ooh that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Ooh, ooh that smell
The smell of death surrounds you.
—Lynyrd Skynyrd

I lived and breathed that smell at the concert I attended at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Saturday. No, we didn't see Lynyrd Skynyrd and I’m happy to report, no one died—at least not to my knowledge. But the smell was bad enough to make you think that someone or something HAD died.  Not so, however. We knew from whence the smell emanated.  The Source appeared to be very much alive although, perhaps not well.

Meet Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Grace's legs.

The music—Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (GPN)—was terrific. Grace is a generous performer who puts on an energetic show. She jumps and abounds—amazes and astounds, leaving the middle-agers in the crowd wondering how the hell she does it. While I resentfully (and likely erroneously) propose that she was diagnosed as ADHD as a child, there is no doubt in my mind that Grace is a woman who LOVES her job. With a killer, rock and roll voice that puts her in the brawny vocal category of Ann Wilson (Heart), and Joan Jett (and the Blackhearts), Grace gives legs to the raucous sound of the Nocturnals. She’s a tower of long limbs in high heels and short skirts. Add to that a long, sandy, blonde waterfall of hair which she flings with wild-woman abandon and you’ve got a sexy, siren with lungs that stun. 

At one point during the show the woman sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, “My husband wishes I were her. I wish I were her too.” Yeah. I feel ya, sister.

OK. So back to the smell. I sensed trouble when I first sat down. A dude about a chair and a half wide was squeezed into the seat front of me and I could distinctly detect his odor. The aroma of barely contained sweat and hair overdue for a shampoo reached my olfactory bulb as soon as my fanny hit the fold-down. Before I had any idea what was in store, I leaned over to the Huzby to report, “I can smell him.” 

Talk about your foreshadowing moments.

Within the first few songs, GPN had the crowd on their feet and moving to the beat. That was all it took. I don’t know what that guy had for dinner, but whatever it was definitely ignited his internal, intestinal, combustion engine. The assault began. 

As John Donne might have said had he been there:  Ask not from whom the smell rolls, it rolls from thee, big guy with the small date seated directly in front of me.

With two more songs gone, in absolute disgust, my nose in a revolted twist, I looked over to the Huzby who had one hand up to his nose while using the other to wave wildly and uselessly. A dense, infected air had descended upon us. The odor wafted heavy and thick—far and wide—and continued for the next two hours.

During this time, the Huzby waged a campaign of reputation damage control. Aware that the row in back of us was also experiencing the noisome noxiousness, he made it clear we were suffering too and were not the perpetrators. As I looked at the two rows directly behind us I saw more hands fly up to protect unsuspecting airways from the odiferous onslaught. With grand, unmistakable hand gestures, The Huzby indicated to the affronted parties: It’s not us, it’s that big guy, the next row down.

I did my best to ignore the foul stench and my maniacally gesticulating spouse. I tried to concentrate on the music. The songs were great. The smell, however, was not only great but constant and breath-stopping. The Huzby, not feeling particularly stoic, vacated to the stairs and leaned against the wall to enjoy a reek-free rest of the show.  At some point I looked behind me to see that most of the folks in the two rows up had taken the Huzby’s lead and fled the scene. I’m telling you. This was bad, bad air.

I truly believed as the evening wore on our beleaguered, butt-burping buddy would run out of—gas. I was wrong. Lord have mercy, was I wrong. Sir Fartsalot managed to keep the pipeline open and flowing for the entire length of the show.  

I had a moment, when I considered lighting a lighter but there were three problems with this plan.
1  1) If I lit a lighter, there might have actually been an explosion.
2   2) If I lit a lighter and there was no explosion, there might be a blue flame that ignited me like a fire cracker since I was in the direct line of fire.
  3) I didn't have a lighter.
And while I was thinking about all the possible incendiary outcomes of lighting a lighter I didn't have, the show ended.

We drove back to our hotel discussing mostly the gaseous bitch-slapping we'd just endured and a bit about the music. 30 minutes later I reported to the Huzby the stink was still embedded in my nasopharynx. Christ, Almighty. Staying power, too. One wonders: Does the military know about this stuff?

As I was falling asleep with stench molecules still unwilling to vacate the receptors in my nostrils, I had a moment when I actually felt sorry for Mr. Methane. But then I thought about it some more and decided that along with feeling sorry for myself, the person I really felt sorry for was his date.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Enduring the Endurance--Stop me if you've heard this one before...

The Huzby loves tales of frozen wastelands—the more frost-bitten, teeth-chattering, and blue-lipped—the better. You would think Mongolian, Siberian and Arctic stories,  appropriately frigid and bone-chilling, might hold top position on his glacial-o-meter. But, no. These locations are not nearly remote or isolated or desolate enough to satisfy. Only tales of the Antarctic suffice to scale to the top of the iceberg and scratch my sweetie’s incessant icicle itch.

Like the Huzby, penguins also finds tales of Antarctica irresistible.
Remember “The March of the Penguins”? Emperor penguins huddling en mass for months in slow rotation, one precious egg under each belly pouch, defying the brutality of the sunless winter. Oh, yeah. That was a good one. A documentary I gave him called “Antarctica” must have been merely OK, because we’ve only watched it once. But the story the Huzby holds in the frostiest, most shivery esteem is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his 28 man crew of adventurers. The team’s quest was to attain the geographical South Pole.

Meet the explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

These men with their pack of 69 sled dogs and one feline participant, a grey tabby named Mrs. Chippy, sailed the Endurance, a wooden ship built with polar bear hunting in mind, into the pack ice of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. After becoming stranded and watching the Endurance go down, Shackleton and his men survived the ravages of relentless cold, months of near starvation, and a long, icy trek and open boat journey back to Elephant Island at which point Shackleton and five of his party rowed to South Georgia Island to get help and rescue the remaining crew nearly two years after setting sail. Sadly, the dogs and Mrs. Chippy were not so lucky. I’ll let you use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Or if you’re like me, you already know the story quite well.

Lucky for these dogs they didn't know how the story ended for them.

It’s a tale of supreme, unflinching commandership, of surviving against the vagaries and savagery of nature, of hanging in there when there seems to be no reason to. It’s a chronicle of teamwork.  It’s a history of overcoming what seemed to be, but were ultimately not, insurmountable obstacles. It is—as if the ship’s name had sealed their fate—a saga of tremendous and awe-inspiring ENDURANCE.
Alas, the Endurance; she was unable to endure. Not so for the crew, however.

Did they achieve their goal of making it to the South Pole? No.
Did they make it back to civilization without losing a single human life? Yes.

Apparently the Huzby had long been aware of this truly amazing story. It was news to me when I sat down to watch the Nova special, “Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance,” with him some years back. Wow. Pretty unbelievable and miraculous, I had to concur.

We discussed it and agreed that I would never have survived such on ordeal. Having zero ability to deal with frigid temperatures (below 72o F, I need at least a light jacket), I’d have been shark bait or penguin fodder before I could sputter, "I should have packed a puffier parka." We also agreed that it’s possible the Huzby might have survived if he’d responded to the 1912 ad that read—

As mentioned, we’ve watched the Nova special. We’ve also watched a TV dramatization with Kenneth Branagh playing the role of Shackleton called “Shackleton”. The movie “South” also detailed the trials, tribulations and perturbations of the crew of the Endurance as documented by Frank Hurley, the crew’s photographer. The still and moving pictures are well preserved and depict the epic journey with eye-witness vividness. Yes indeed, we’ve watched that one too.

No doubt I should have been expecting that “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition” narrated by Liam Neeson, would appear in our mailbox in a tidy Netflix envelope. But then you ask yourself how many times you need to endure the telling and retelling of the Endurance. If you’re me, the answer is three times is pretty much overkill. If you’re the Huzby, it’s not nearly enough.

About seven minutes into this fourth version I had to ask—“Haven’t we seen this before?”
“No.” my South Pole-obsessed spouse espoused. “We haven’t seen this one.”

I hate to break it to y’all out there but the story never changes. Damned if Mrs. Chippy and all those 73 dogs (including the four pups that were born on the trip) don’t die all over again in this version of the story. And once again, Shackleton’s party of 28 men are first stuck, then stranded, then lost, then hungry and of course throughout—they are consistently COLD because they’re in the freakin’ badlands of Antarctica. And yes indeed, those same 28 men, lost, freezing, starving and desperate, with Shackleton leading the way, make their way back to civilization. Hurray!!! And once again, they don’t make it to the South Pole but, son of a gun, if those poor suckers don’t all keep their ess together and and survive without losing one human life. Yes, indeed. You have heard this one before.

Most of the exploration party on Elephant Island. They were not exactly in a partying mood.

Here is the one thing I heard on this telling of the story that was news to me:
Apparently, when Winston Churchill was apprised of the fact that Shackleton was setting out to make it to the South Pole he was unimpressed. Why? Well, that would be because Norwegian, Roald Amundsen and his team, had successfully skied to the location two years earlier. Not only that, Shackleton’s prior colleague, Robert Falcon Scott, and his party also made it to the South Pole 35 days after Amundsen. Sadly, Scott and his cohorts all died on the return route. Churchill’s take on Shackleton’s late-to-the-party expedition was—Hey. Been there done that. Did you not get the memo?

Having nothing to do with the fact that the cigar-loving Winnie is a not too distant relative of mine, I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree.

I’m not planning to tell the Huzby but the way things are going I’m sure he’ll find out anyway: There’s still an IMAX version—“Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” —we have yet to see. I’m not exactly sure how it has escaped his notice.

Do you think the enlarged account of the drama will turn out any differently? Nope. Neither do I. But it’ll probably have the added enhancement of making me motion sick while watching. I’ll wear my parka, gloves, ear muffs and bring a waterproof bag—just in case.

Ah. The things we endure for love.