April 2018




The Players Club and Edwin Booth


“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”


                      —Groucho Marx

Counter to Groucho’s catch-22 line of self-deprecation, I have embraced the opportunity to join The Players club. In fact, they had me at their home page!


That reimagined classic logo suggesting a history in the performance arts… overlaid on that plush burgundy stairway… leading to…



… “A Certain Club?” A coded suggestion of secrecy, ala Skull and Bones?


Rather, I would guess it to imply, a place for those of discerning tastes and a flare for theatrics. Though I dare not ask for clarification, lest it reveal any “uncertainty.” Lest it expose me as an interloper who really doesn’t belong.

To enter the club for the first time, is to experience a sense of time travel. I imagine sitting there in that Chesterfield chair… the fireplace ablaze … a snifter of brandy in one hand…a good cigar in the other…discussing Cole Porter’s latest smash hit. Perhaps, “Anything Goes.” (“I haven’t seen Coley around here of late, have you?”).


I might have worn my Harris Tweed. And maybe after a guttural laugh at a bawdy joke, I’d retreat to the billiards room downstairs or the library upstairs. Where I might have encountered Professor Plum with Candlestick and an alibi. Yes, that’s it. An alternative universe. I’m caught inside of a game of Clue.


All cute fantasies aside, I have in fact entered a townhouse purchased in 1847 by Edwin Booth (yes, the brother of that guy; more on that shortly), one of the most famous Shakespearean actors of the 19th century. He retained an upper floor as living quarters even after he turned over the remainder of the place to The Players; a private club he conceived of and opened on New Year’s Eve in 1888.

“We do not mingle enough with minds that influence the world. We should measure ourselves through personal contact with outsiders…I want my club to be a place where actors are away from the glamour of the theater.”

Opening night, was reportedly “before a gathering of men from the theater, fine arts and letters, journalism and commerce….” (A fly on the wall might have overheard, “Hey, how about Cleveland winning the popular vote but losing to Harrison in the Electoral College. I’ll be darned”).


As with such clubs in New York City, and up until the late 1980’s, it was a bastion of male privilege. The grand dame of the theater Helen Hayes, was the first woman admitted to The Players on April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday, in 1989. A large portrait of her prominently hangs in the club’s main dining room. Indeed, it is one of the many paintings of a rather eclectic array of celebrities, current and past, including in this carpet-bombing sortie of name dropping...




The majesty of presence that was Edwin Booth, still permeates the club though he has been gone 125 years. So much so, that when you walk up those burgundy steps, you can find the room that is preserved as it was on the day he died in 1893. His slippers still lie beside the deathbed.



To most people outside the club, or those not versed in theater history, Edwin Booth is little more than a footnote. One that might be added in concert with his infamous brother John Wilkes Booth, when recounting Lincoln’s assassination. And right there is a bit of irony, in that Edwin Booth saved the life of the President’s son Robert, just a year earlier at a train station in New Jersey.


In his day, some theater critics considered Edwin to be the best actor ever. His career had begun in touring with his father Junius Brutus Booth, when his first break is said to have come while appearing in Richard III in 1849.


Throughout his illustrious career, he toured the U.S. and Europe, and was known mostly for his portrayals of Hamlet. A bronze statue of Booth as Hamlet stands across the street in Gramercy Park; a private park with access available to club members.


A few oddities associated with Booth as Hamlet that I found interesting, start with the human skull on display in his room. We are told it was willed to him by a man who was condemned to the gallows, who Booth tried unsuccessfully to have spared.


This gift by the ill-fated man, was intended to be used by Booth in the graveyard scene in Hamlet. Was there ever a more personal connection to … “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”?


He once held the record for 100 performances in the role till another theatrical legend John Barrymore, stopped at 101 (an egocentric act of “one-upmanship” for which I would not have admitted him to the club years later).


Not quite as dramatic, so to speak, but quite impressive, is that Booth’s last performance as the young Dane, was as a 58-year old in 1891 the Brooklyn Academy of Music, just two years prior to his death.


Finally, so what about his relationship to his brother? He had two brothers actually, and we are told that he was closer to John. And this interaction with him, is noteworthy in one case in particular.

“He appeared with his two brothers, John Wilkes and Junius Brutus Booth Jr., in Julius Caesar in 1864. John Wilkes played Marc Anthony, Edwin played Brutus and Junius played Cassius.


It was a benefit performance, and the only time that the three brothers appeared together on the same stage. The funds were used to erect a statue of William Shakespeare that still stands in Central Park.”

And as to his reaction to the assassination, he issued a public statement which ran in various newspapers, that read in part:



Given our world of texting and tweeting, his eloquence verily leaps off the page.


As a member within the “newest class of 15 Players,” which includes a Scientist, School Administrator, Nurse, Real Estate Executive, Venture Capitalist, Executive Recruiter, Pharmaceutical Executive and a PhD Candidate, along with the usual suspects in arts and entertainment, I imagine that this is the sort of mix Edwin Booth had in mind at the outset.


Along with a message of welcoming by the club’s president, we are urged to “raise a glass” when our paths cross at the club’s Grill. Which I hope to do, along with a long-time member, a great-great-great nephew of Edwin Booth. Which will be… great.













Deciphering a Haiku Sprung from the Game of Ball



If it’s this month, and it is, T.S. Eliot’s terse assertion cannot help but come to mind; at least this particular mind: “April is the cruellest month.” Which kicks off his knee-slapper of a poem “The Waste Land,” and lies within this opening thought that usually goes unquoted in its entirety:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead of the land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

That the month of April could be perceived so harshly, is on the surface so counterintuitive. Most would claim that it is January and February that really suck. And in fact did, in a Gallop poll taken a decade ago (no joke). Which is why poetry is such a mystery to so many. And in regard to months and poetry, some might turn to Groucho again:

“My favorite poem is the one that starts 'Thirty days hath September'
because it actually tells you something.”

Meanings or intent in verse can be hard to decipher, as they deal heavily in metaphor, simile, allusions, while often shunning the literal. Which in the main, is the domain of prose, as I see it. And with poetry being so highly condensed in its verbiage, that can lead to further ambiguity. Something I once sought to illustrate to students at the Hillside School in Pasadena, a place which caters to kids “disengaged from learning,” according to its mission statement. I was a guest from the Independent Writer’s of Southern California (http://iwosc.org/), and to illustrate my point, I held these up side by side:


The “disengaged” got the analogy and turned in fabulous poems in a homework assignment. (One boy even wanted the golf ball, though for what purpose I dare not test). But I digress.


In a knowingly ironic counterpoint to Eliot’s dour take on April, the Academy of American Poets first designated it as National Poetry Month in 1996. But for me— before I ever knew my iamb from my pentameter—April was always about the grand return of America’s Pastime. And more than any other sport, baseball has stirred the imagination of artists, writers and poets since its birth. And why not. This “certain game of ball” as Walt Whitman put it, seems so transcendent to those of us who love it so.



Like spring and baseball, I too return. This time reprising a haiku sprung from this beloved game of ball. Which speaks (if only in a whisper), to some greater life reality? While unintentionally suggesting some of Eliot’s dull roots with rain?


Did I mention that this baseball haiku of mine was published in an anthology, Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems, in which I felt honored to appear alongside noted literary figures such as Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan, Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa and the late great Major League relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry, who wrote a book of baseball poetry on the side? Of course I did (Baseball and Spring and Poetic Things APRIL, 2014 MUSE-LETTER).


For the uninitiated, and as explained in various sources, a haiku is not merely a very short poem. But one that is… “recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived in which Nature is linked to human nature. It is one of the world’s oldest regularly written forms of poetry, and Basho (1644-1694) is recognized as its foremost poet.”


In its classic form… “It consists of a 5-7-5 syllable format within its three lines. The first line seeking to draw us in. The second providing more information, sometimes in the form of an image. With the third line offering an answer to a question of the first two, while providing more depth of meaning and insight through its implications.” (Phew).


It takes some work on the part of the reader… “who must share in the creative process, being willing to associate and pick up on the echoes implicit in the words.” Which is what the editors of “Line Drives” were willing to do in the book’s introduction, to the tune of 400 words of speculation on my 13-word haiku.


First, the haiku. Then their “play-by-play” commentary, which at times is humorous without seemingly intending to be, reproduced exactly as it appeared on the page. Though I have emboldened some of their thoughts as they get “closer to home,” for those who may want to skip the esoterica of baseball that precedes.

Nine men stand waiting
      under storm clouds that gather.
                      Someone asks for time.



“Time has been called in this game that is subject to no clock, but why and by whom? Does it matter? The nine men are presumably the players on the field, but this is not necessarily so; perhaps only the grouping of nine men outdoors somewhere suggested to the poet a baseball team. Even if they are players, which ones? The catcher might be standing if time has been called, but then where is the batter, and why isn’t the number of waiting men at least ten? And why aren’t the base coaches and umpires also waiting? Because they are the ones conferring while the players wait? If one imagines a less formal game, then who is being asked to call time? If the nine men include the man at bat, perhaps it is he who has called time, tired of waiting for the pitcher to stop fidgeting. And perhaps the pitcher fidgets because a runner at first (but now we would have at least eleven men) is not standing there like someone waiting for a bus but edging off base: perhaps that is why each line moves a bit further toward a righthand margin. And perhaps this runner (maybe he’s the one calling time?) is causing the pitcher to consider another throw in his direction or to contemplate changing his pitch selection.


But having pondered these matters, we haven’t even considered line two yet, those gathering storm clouds. Is time being called by the pitcher because he’s ahead after six and the storm will buy him a win, or has the batter called time because his team is hopelessly behind, the game not yet official, and a storm that day’s only salvation? Or are we to take those men, those clouds, that desire to stop time less literally, more existentially? Is the poem metaphysically portentous? But if so, of what imminent event beyond a possible storm do these clouds foretell? Does the poem tell us how we all stand helpless before approaching disaster, of how we all sometimes wish to stop time, arrest change? Is this why Vazzano’s small vignette arrests us, causes us to linger for how many minutes over a poem that takes perhaps five seconds to read? But even so, why tell this poem in the form of a haiku? Is this game taking place in Japan, or has the form been chosen because the poem is in fact the koan we found it, for now, to be?”

Play ball!






Quote of the Month



Perhaps as a counterpoint to T.S. Eliot’s April and the previous haiku…









Paronomasia Intended



I love words. As should be evident by now. And wordplay, even more. Which is why I have entitled this piece as I have.


Paronomasia is another word for pun. A pun, as we know, is “a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of a term, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.”


What we might not know, or be able to put into words, is that “these ambiguities can arise from intentional use of homophonic (that’s homophonic), homographic, metonymic or figurative language.”


For those of us who might seek validation for our excessive punning, I suppose we can point to Shakespeare who incorporated over 3,000 puns in his plays (Word Up! by Rob Kyff). Though you’d need to be a scholar on Elizabethan word meanings and their pronunciations, to ferret them all out.


In the modern idiom, we might be interested to know that the O.Henry Pun-Off World Championship, will once again be held in Austin Texas this May (which is rather ostentatious to my dismay). Wonder what the Bard would think of our contemporary plays on words?


Though I might have taken any fun out of what is to follow (“I’ve fallen into didacticism and I can’t get up!”), I’ll still pass along a list of three dozen puns that have been sent to me recently by a friend of fifty years, who shall remain nameless. (Bob Rattner). Thus, funnel any ensuing groans in his direction. He’s on Facebook. Along with a billion of us others (who in light of recent developments might be reconsidering).


Without further ado, and much ado about nothing…


There was the person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.



A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.



When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.



A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.



A will is a dead giveaway.



When you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.



Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.



Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off? He's all right now.



A bicycle can't stand alone; it's just two tired.



When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.



The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.



He had a photographic memory which was never developed.



When she saw her first strands of grey hair she thought she'd dye.



Acupuncture is a jab well done.



The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.



I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.



She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.



A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.



No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.



Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.



A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.



Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.



Atheism is a non-prophet organization. (In memory of George Carlin)



Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'



I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.



A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'



The dwarf fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.



The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.



A backward poet writes inverse.



When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.



A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant looks at him and says, 'I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'



Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says 'Dam!'



Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly, it sank proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.



The batteries were given out free of charge.



Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, 'I've lost my electron.' The other says 'Are you sure?' The first replies, 'Yes, I'm positive. '



Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.



"More of your conversation would infect my brain." (The Comedy of Errors)
"They have a plentiful lack of wit." (Hamlet)
"You are not worth another word, else I'd call you knave." (All’s Well That Ends Well)


“As you from crimes would pardon'd be
Let your indulgence set me free.” (The Tempest)




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