Monday, July 27, 2009

Our magnificent electric pleasure dome

Columbus may not be nationally known for its bustling arts scene (though we have a fairly active one), but we do have one of the few operating old-fashioned movie palaces in the country, the Ohio Theatre. Opened in 1928 (an easy year for me to remember because that's also when my mother was born), the theater, on State Street across from the Capitol Building, presented movies and live stage shows for many years until a combination of the popularity of television and suburban sprawl wound up closing most of the downtown movie theaters--I remember 4 downtown theaters in the 60's: besides the Ohio, there was the Palace (where I saw many a B-horror movie and which is still used for concerts and plays), the RKO Grand (a Cinerama theater where I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time), and the Hunt's Cinestage (where I saw Dr. Zhivago).

The Ohio was in danger of being torn down when, in 1969, money was raised to save the building and renovate it. It was fully restored and has become the prize gem of CAPA (Columbus Association for the Performing Arts), housing stage shows, concerts, ballets, and other personal appearance events. And, during the summers for the past 40 years, movies return to the theater in the form of the Summer Movie Series of classic films.

I just love going to the Summer movies, even though I've seen virtually every film they run, and in many cases, I own them on DVD. The theater is huge, seating 2800 people (and though it never fills up for the classic movies, the crowds always number well into the hundreds), spacious and air-conditioned. The acoustics, especially for the 30's movies, are not ideal, but generally that's not an obstacle to enjoying the movies because, frankly, I go there for the surroundings--ornate decoration (restored faithfully from the old days), a giant balcony area (we try to get there early to snag seats in the front row of the loge, the best seats in the house), gold-gilt stars painted on the ceiling, a big movie-theater organ, and most spectacularly, a huge chandelier with hundreds of lights, suspended above the balcony.

We went on a free guided tour of the theater over the weekend, and though I didn't get to see anything I hadn't seen before, I did learn some interesting trivia (most of which has already gone through my sieve of a brain) and got to take lots of pictures, some of which you'll find below.

The lobby, as seen from the West stairs:

The screen, as seen from the balcony:

The organ, called The Mighty Morton, played before every film by Clark Wilson, who refers to the theater as a "magnificent electric pleasure dome."

Bathrooms for the gentry:

Balcony steps:

One of the wonderfully ornate, though non-functional, box seats:

Monday, July 20, 2009

One small step

1969, as we're being told by the media, was a big year for the country (Woodstock, Charles Manson, Altamont, and the Moon, for starters) but it was also a big year for me; at 13, I hit puberty, began to think I might be a homosexual, got my braces on, and discovered rock music. Frankly, in the middle of all that personal ebb and flow, the moon landing wasn't all the crucial to me, though of course I understood its historical importance. I did, however, get quite caught up in moon-landing fever for a week or so.

One reason why Apollo 11 may not, at least in the run-up to it, have seemed terribly momentous to me was that I grew up reading science-fiction. Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Amazing Stories, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, and Stanley Kubrick had already taken me to the moon and beyond. I knew all that was fiction, but the 60's was a time of change, when so much seemed possible, and I guess I assumed that, of course we'd get to the moon, we're Americans! My dad was a navigator in the Air Force, and though never close to being an astronaut, he wore zip-up flight suits that didn't seem all that different than what the Apollo guys wore, which maybe gave the Cape Kennedy missions more of an everyday feel to me.

At any rate, I don't remember giving the July mission much thought until a day or so before the launch. In preparation for getting on my braces, I had a couple of wisdom teeth removed just a few days before the launch, and at that point, getting put under by the dentist seemed scary and perhaps more exciting than watching a moon landing. School wasn't in, but my neighborhood friends (and my younger brother) were all caught up in the moon rage, so once I got past the dentist, I got swept up in it as well. We played Astronauts, formed a science club, and put together a little hand-made science magazine, of which 3 or 4 issues were "published" during that July week.

The real kicker was the media. There were books and magazines about the moon, and soon even all the networks (all 3 of them--Public TV barely counted since it came in spottily and often with lots of snow and static) had lots of coverage. What might have finally sent me into real teenage-boy enthusiasm about the moon landing was that my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, was interviewed and served as a commentator for one of the networks. I guess I thought if he was excited about this, I should be, too.

The bulk of the action happened over the weekend, and our little science club went into overdrive spending every moment we could either watching the TV coverage or, when the talking heads got too boring, talking about how cool it would be when we'd go to live on the moon when we were grown-ups. The actual landing ("The Eagle has landed"), which I think took place Sunday afternoon was quite exciting; we all jumped and cheered, and even my normally taciturn father seemed thrilled. But it was Neil Armstrong's first step onto the lunar surface, that night around 11:00, when I finally really did feel that this was a remarkable and momentous occasion. Of course, one reason I felt that way was because it was way past my bedtime, and Mom and Dad let my brother and I stay up for this, but by now, I knew that real life was catching up with science fiction. I'm not sure I've ever felt quite so excited about and proud of being an American as I was that night.

In the long run, I have to leave it to the scientists and cultural commentators to determine what the moon landing really meant, because right now, it seems very much like a last gasp of colonial glory that was done, rather like climbing Everest, because the moon was there. But I'm happy to have been the age I was at the time: young enough to get swept up at least briefly in the event without having to worry about a job or a career (or even, since it was summer, homework) and old enough to have vivid memories of it that will last the rest of my life. I do have to say, however, that we watched 2001: A Space Odyssey this weekend to commemorate Apollo 11, and in some ways, that film seemed more real to me than the actual landing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pasta primavera

When I was buying my supplies for last Friday night's pasta primavera, the clerk asked what I was going to cook and I said pasta primavera and he said, "I've never had that," and looked at me with big puppy dog eyes. I assumed he wasn't actually flirting with me, and I replied, "Well, it's just pasta in a light olive oil-based sauce tossed with vegetables," and he said a little sadly, "Oh, I guess I have had that."

One of the first things I learned to cook after I met Don was a pasta primavera dish from a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. It was basically a stir-fry of carrots, broccoli, onion, and pea pods, in butter and white wine. I took to cooking quickly and really enjoyed it, but I've always been someone who has to stick to a recipe; I'm not very adventurous. Even dishes I've been making the same way at least twice a month for 15 years now (like hamburger stroganoff or pork chops in mustard cream sauce or sloppy joes) I still make with the printed recipe in front of me.

But slowly, I've been allowing myself to improvise a bit here and there. I found a pasta primavera recipe in a book called Cook Yourself Thin. That's never going to happen in this house, but I thought I'd give this one a shot. It calls for a pound of asparagus (bottoms snapped off--remind me to tell you sometime about the first time I cooked asparagus and threw away the tips, thinking they looked too feathery to eat) cooked up for a few minutes in chicken stock, then set aside. Then you stir-fry mushrooms and onion in olive oil and garlic, add peas and more chicken stock, throw the asparagus back in, and toss it with pasta (in this case, rotini).

That didn't sound like quite enough food to me, so I added some yellow bell pepper strips, chopped plum tomatoes, and celery slices, and threw some white wine into the stock (some yucky Pacific Rim Riesling that I was trying to get rid of). At the end, the recipe called for baby spinach to be added; I normally would have left that out, but I happened to have half a bag of spinach left over from a salad a few nights ago, so in it went.

I'm happy to report that my semi-improvised recipe was liked by all (that is, Don & I), and was made even better with a glass of Caldoni Pinot Grigo, which I picked because the bottle was cool, and some multigrain Tuscany bread. I forgot to take a picture of the food, but you'll find the cool wine bottle pictured. A very nice, light summer dish, and even better, the leftovers made a great cold pasta salad the next day!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My glorious celebrity dreams

Yes, I'm one of those braying jackasses who will relate his dreams at the drop of a hat, to anyone who is unfortunate enough to be within earshot. So as anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with me will know, I frequently have dreams in which celebrities play a large part. This started way back when I was just 8 years old; in 1964, after seeing A Hard Day's Night for the first time, I had a dream that the Beatles came to Grove City (the central Ohio suburb where I grew up) and stayed with my family to get away from the crowds, so my dad hollowed out our concrete front porch and they stayed in there, and I would bring them food and refreshments and they were super-nice to me.

The next one I remember, in high school during my Ziggy Stardust phase, was that I was in the studio audience watching David Bowie on Jeopardy (back before they actually had Celebrity Jeopardy weeks)--and he kept getting answers wrong and smiling knowingly at me.

Back during the heyday of Friends, I dreamed I was on a date with Matthew Perry (on whom I had a big crush at the time)--he drove a fast little sports car, took me to his high-rise apartment overlooking a glittering big city, and put the moves on me. My response as he was climbing all over me was to wonder out loud if I should call my partner Don to make sure it was OK for me to mess around with Matthew Perry. (Apparently I can't even cheat in my dreams.)

I dreamed I was giving a naked Angelina Jolie a hot oil massage. I dreamed I was singing backup for Madonna but she changed the song list at the last minute and I didn't know the words. I've had vague sex dreams about Jeremy Piven (I think real sex dreams ended back in college when I started having real sex.)

My latest: I dreamed I was backstage at the Michael Jackson memorial, waiting to go on to perform "Man In The Mirror" with Lena Horne and Grace Jones. That's it--I woke up before I went onstage--but shootin' the shit with Lena Horne, I mean, how cool is that? I'm reading a biography of her right now, which is probably why she was in the dream, and of course it's just plain difficult to get away from anything MJ, but how Grace Jones wound up there, I'm at a loss to explain.