Total Eclipse: Maryland Prepares to See Some of It

One of the most anticipated celestial events of our time happens August 21 when the moon passes between the earth and sun, creating a total eclipse visible through a large swath of the United States. Although Maryland is not in the path of totality, skies will darken that afternoon and there will be plenty of opportunity to experience a true wonder of the natural world.

Many people from around the globe are traveling to various points along the path of the moon’s shadow, which will run from Oregon to South Carolina, to see the total eclipse. Maryland will experience a partial eclipse that will obscure about 80 percent of sun throughout the state at peak.

The exact times for this eclipse may vary within a few minutes depending on location, according to Maryland Geological Survey Director Richard Ortt. The eclipse will occur over Maryland at these times:

Western Maryland:

– First Contact: 1:12 p.m.
– Mid-eclipse: 2:38 p.m. (peak obscuring of the sun)
– Last Contact: 3:57 p.m.

Central Maryland:

– First Contact: 1:18 p.m.
– Mid-eclipse: 2:43 p.m. (peak obscuring of the sun)
– Last Contact: 4:02 p.m.

Coastal Maryland:

– First Contact: 1:22 p.m.
– Mid-eclipse: 2:47 p.m. (peak obscuring of the sun)
– Last Contact: 4:05 p.m.

The only safe way to look directly at the partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, do not provide adequate protection. Viewers must be sure the glasses they use are CE and ISO certified for direct sun viewing.

“For anyone who wishes to view the eclipse, safety precautions must be taken to prevent the sun’s harmful rays from causing severe eye damage,” Ortt said.

Observations of the eclipse’s effects aren’t limited to the sky. Maryland’s coastal areas and the bay will experience a higher-than-normal “perigian spring tide,” when the gravitational pull of both the moon and sun are at their strongest due to their alignment with earth.

Also, biologists have noted during a total or partial solar eclipse, fish react to both the falling air temperatures and decrease of light. Fooled into thinking the sun has set, some species have been observed heading to deeper water. For the duration of the eclipse, nocturnal fish may become more active while daytime fish become less active. Similar impact may be found on other wildlife as well.

“Anyone who plans spending the eclipse on the water may have a rare opportunity to view this impact on aquatic species,” said Fishing and Boating Services Director David Blazer.

Maryland’s public lands provide some ideal viewing locations. The Maryland Park Service is offering various events around the state, including:

– Assateague State Park will host an exhibit at the Nature Nook to include information and viewing glasses for lending use.

– The Discovery Center at Deep Creek Lake State Park will be monitoring temperature, bird song and species shifting. The center will also have viewing glasses on hand.

– New Germany State Park will have glasses on handand host a guided discussion.

– North Point State Park offers visitors a short hike through the Black Marsh Wildlands and stunning views of the eclipse on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Preregistration is required by emailing andrea.townsley-sapp@maryland.gov.

– Rocky Gap State Park offers a free, family-friendly walk along the Lakeside Loop Trail, offering scenic views of Lake Habeeb during the eclipse. The 45-minute hike begins at 2 p.m. Visitors should arrive early to check in at the Camp Office and then meet at the Nature Center. Viewing glasses will be provided while supplies last.

– Tuckahoe State Park will hold a free solar eclipse party at the ballfield in the Cherry Lane Campground area from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The event will include themed crafts, music, snacks and a limited supply of viewing glasses.

“We’re expecting a lot of people to enjoy our beautiful public lands, guided by expert staff, as ideal places to experience the eclipse,” said Maryland Park Service Superintendent Nita Settina.

Events are weather-dependent and capacity is limited in some parks, so visitors should check with their park of choice before leaving home.

Editorial: We’ve Been There with the Talbot Boys Before but Haven’t Done Anything

When the full impact was felt from the violence in Charlottesville that took place in front of a statue of a Confederate general last weekend, it is suspected that more than a few Talbot County citizens felt a certain degree of deja vu as the media once again put the spotlight on similar Civil War memorials commemorating those who served to defend the institution of slavery and state rights.

Two summers ago, Talbot County faced its own moral dilemma in discussing the fate of the Confederate soldier monument entitled “For The Talbot Boys” on the Courthouse lawn in downtown Easton. This came in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, which motivated the local chapter of the NAACP to file an official complaint with the County requesting that the statue be removed.

That NAACP complaint led the Talbot County community into an intensive six-month conversation about racism and the history of the Eastern Shore and slavery. Several town hall meetings were arranged to discuss these issues, dozens of letters to local newspapers were published, and open hearings were hosted by Talbot County Council.

The Talbot Spy also felt the need to provide extensive coverage of this issue. Thinking it was consistent with our educational mission, and also seeing it as what educators called a “teachable moment,” we completed an eight part special series (re-published in today’s Spy) with historians, religious leaders, elected officials, and local citizens to provide context and commentary on what Talbot County needed to do in the face of this difficult moral dilemma. We also didn’t hesitate to offer our own opinion on the statute.

The outcome of this debate, as ratified by the Talbot County Council members, was to keep the Talbot Boys statue where it stands today. Their decision, represented by Council President Corey Pack remarks, talked about the legal and cultural reasons why monuments like the Talbot Boys should not be disturbed. While President Pack made it clear that more could be done to acknowledge the real history behind the statute, as well as the Union boys that also died in the conflict,  the Council did not see these solutions as part of their legislative responsibility but encouraged citizens to take on a leadership role to rectify these profound gaps.

But since that summer of 2015, it is sad to note that not one group or individual has stepped forward to ensure that the full story of Talbot County in the Civil War is honored. The Talbot Boys still sits on the Courthouse lawn without interpretation, without a balanced viewpoint, nor acknowledging the other four hundred young boys from Talbot County that fought for the Union and end slavery.

Perhaps the Charlottesville tragedy will spur our community to take action finally. But this time, let’s please finish the job.

 

 

 

A Defining Moment by Craig Fuller

In life, there are defining moments. At their best, they may be acts of heroism, selflessness or extraordinary kindness. At worst, they are acts or phrases that simply sear the national psyche and are never or not soon forgotten.

For people in public life, defining moments can literally make them or break them. In a campaign, a candidate and his or her team only hope that if a favorable defining moment comes they will be smart enough and fast enough to take full advantage of it. And, countless hours are spent seeking to avoid the moment that negates much of the good one might otherwise have done.

Consider these brief excerpts and you get the picture:

“Ask not what your country can do for you….”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall…”

“I am not a crook.”

“Read my lips….”

This August will long be remembered as a time that provided a defining moment for President Trump. Every armchair quarterback can judge just what the moment meant; however, what is clear is that Mr. Trump sought the opportunity to speak his mind on the tragic events in Charlottesville. He found the moment in the lobby of Trump Tower. He spoke and most were outraged with his message and even his usual defenders were silenced.

It was a defining moment that provided instant reaction followed by some strong moral action.

Within a few days, a group as unlikely as the chief executive of Walmart, an individual leading more than 2 million employees who see 100,000,000 customers a week in their stores along with the members of the nation’s Joint Chiefs of Staff who lead America’s military were separating themselves from the views expressed by President Trump. Presidential advisory committees were shut down ahead of all their distinguished members resigning. These were not hastily made political statements. These were carefully considered expressions that took the moral high ground.

Now, we should ask, just how do we move on?

Will this President ever travel without protests?

Will we ever listen to a Presidential speech read from the teleprompter without wanting to wait a few days for the “real views” to emerge?

Can congressional leaders be persuaded by a presidential call for action on important legislation?

Can the American people be moved by Presidential proclamation?

If political leaders ask the nation to move forward to advance an agenda, will anyone really follow?

The defining moment that came days ago has weakened the presidency. About this, I am certain. The critical issues that need to be addressed in Washington in the weeks ahead are the same: health care, national security, the budget, infrastructure, the debt ceiling, tax reform and a serious drug crisis to name a few. Now, only with strong legislative initiative and bipartisanship in our nation’s Capitol will these issues advance. Whether today’s Congress is up to this task is unclear, but even they must know, regardless of party, that in August President Trump managed, at least for a time, to achieve a kind of lame duck status only seven months into his term as president making their obligations all the greater.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Easton Sidewalks: Marc|Randall on Dover Street

For Marc Randall, the owner of Marc|Randall, a women’s apparel store on Dover Street, the bet has always been that will be a select group of women on the Mid-Shore who care enough about fashion and quality, and who also have the means to spend $250 for a sweater.

In fact, this business plan has been in effect for twenty-five years now. Starting in 1993, Marc, and three fellow investors, felt the time was right for a high-quality women’s clothes store in Easton. And on many levels, this calculation has turned out to be a significant success story. The store has attracted many patrons who are indeed willing to seek out exceptional quality and pay the relatively higher costs that go with its quality, as an extension of their sense of fashion and timeless appeal.

And this customer base has also been very devoted to Marc as well. Year after year, this unique band of loyalists, make it a habit to build seasonal wardrobes are built around Randall’s distinct sense of style. It is also not uncommon for Marc to experience the joy of seeing those sweaters and dresses passed down to daughters and granddaughters.

All of this should add up to a certain sense of security that the Marc|Randall store should be sustainable during this rapid change in the retail sector, but that doesn’t stop Marc from worrying that younger women will not carry on this tradition.  With consumers forgoing quality and seeking lower prices, he can only hope that this great history of fashion on Dover Street will continue.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Marc/Randall please go here

Out and About (Sort of): Change is Inevitable and Difficult by Howard Freedlander

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, August 9, I went to the Safeway store in Easton to buy lemons and limes for a modest dinner party at our home. It seemed that gloom overhang the store.

I listened to a “management type” whom I had never seen before say to a longtime employee, “Nice to meet you, but I’m sorry it’s under these conditions.” You frequently hear that comment at a funeral home or hospital. Something didn’t seem right.

When I arrived home, I opined to my wife that I thought that this store, a mainstay in central Easton for nearly five decades, was about to close. I predicted we soon would read about the unfortunate demise of this simple, even ordinary Safeway store. And so we did the next day. It is too close in September.

Sometimes you don’t want to be right.

The closing of this store was inevitable, despite its advantageous location. New, progressive grocery stores, filled with far greater selections of food, better marketed with more flair, are now commonplace and pervasive in Talbot County. Safeway could no longer compete.

For reasons unknown to this unsophisticated consumer, the corporate honchos at Safeway had decided not to invest in this store. I suspect it could not do anything but find another location for a larger store similar to the one on Kent Island and throughout the country, something it tried and failed to do some years ago. After all, Safeway is a savvy operation accustomed to competing with the best and most progressive grocery emporiums.

In this case, Safeway was content with operating a mediocre store, watching it wither and die. What a shame for our community.

Situated conveniently at the intersection of Washington and Bay streets, with ample parking, it was within walking distance for both Easton residents and workers. Of course, it wasn’t fancy. Its offerings were limited. The term “gourmet” did not apply to this store. Its employees were loyal and helpful. It had an “old shoe” quality about it. You knew what you were going to get. Your expectations were, well, suitably realistic–low.

While I might sound critical, I also felt comfortable in this ordinary store. It didn’t intimidate me as others did. I didn’t have to call my wife in desperation and seek further guidance about the requested brand. I even knew what I was doing sometimes. My own expectations of myself were low.

Change is difficult, even when you know it’s approaching quickly. The end always arrives with a thump.

So, what will happen with this property? Will a specialized store like Trader Joe’s claim it? Will it become a medical facility? Will a non-profit eager to expand view this location, with its good-sized parking lot, as ideal for acquisition?

I hope it doesn’t sit long without a new use.

On a human level, I hope the Safeway employees find new work homes. They worked hard to keep afloat a sinking ship. Lack of investment by the corporate tier and increased competition spelled the end of a nearly 50-year tradition in Easton.

I will train myself to become accustomed to another local grocery store. Lord knows I will have ample selection.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Profiles in Spirituality: Unitarian Universalism with the Mid-Shore’s Reverend Sue Browning

According to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s own data, the U.U. Church currently has just under 200,000 members in the entire United States, and about two hundred of them attend church in Kent County or Talbot County on any given Sunday.

In comparison, the Episcopal Church, another relatively small denomination, has about 3,500 active members in the same region, while the Catholic faith comes close to having 7,000 adherents.

These numbers may suggest that the Unitarians represent a tiny part of the religious fabric on the Delmarva, but those statistics do not account for the extremely high level of activism these small congregations — one in Kent and the other Talbot County — participate in during the year in their communities. In fact, when one factors in contributions that the U.U. Church make locally in such critical areas of concern for social justice, immigration, and the environment, one then can one see the full impact of the Unitarian Universalists on the Mid-Shore.

And one person who sees that impact on an almost daily basis is the Reverend Sue Browning, who is in the unique role of being the minister of both the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton as well as the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River in Kent County.

The Spy sat down with Rev. Browning to talk a bit about Unitarian Universalism as a faith, which is liberal by nature and characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” In other words, Unitarian Universalist members do not accept a creed per se but are unified by a shared search for spiritual growth.

We also talked to Sue about the important role that faith, unconventional as it may be in the U.U. Church, plays in the life of its members, the spiritual dimensions of aging, and the need to exercise one’s compassion and gratitude like a muscle which will only gets stronger with time.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Unitarian Universalist Churches, please go here for Chestertown and here for Easton

 

 

 

Saddle Shoes and The Kingdom of Heaven by George Merrill

Getting to the right place for the wrong reasons is more the rule than an exception.

For a long time my parents were uncertain which church to affiliate with. My father had been raised Methodist, and my mother Dutch Reformed. Neither was an active churchgoer but – as many middle class people – they thought their children could use the respectability of some religious affiliation. Proximity I think finally clinched their decision: the Church of the Ascension was much closer to our house than either the Methodist or the Dutch Reformed Church. The parish was an easy walk from home so there was no need for transportation. My religious journey began not with aspirations to greater piety but for proximity and convenience. I was baptized there. I was ten at the time, considerably older than the typical baptismal candidate.

I had little sense of what baptism was about. The rite assured that I would become an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. At my age, these theological formulations went over my head and I remember my baptism now only because of the relief I felt that my suit and especially my saddle shoes remained dry during the ritual. Prior to the baptism, my parents bought me a glen plaid suit and the shoes for the occasion. I was a clotheshorse and eager to wear my new clothes. The solemnity of the occasion was of secondary importance to me if I was aware of it at all.  Dressing up was first priority– a shallow motivation to be sure – but I was nevertheless respectfully clothed to claim whatever my new status was as a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Even during the baptism my worldly desires dominated.

During the baptism, my head was slightly inclined over the baptismal font in preparation for the priest to pour water on top of my head. This was done three times in the name of the “Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”  I could think only of how to protect my saddle shoes from any cascading water. Fr. Rogers was skilled at this maneuver so the shoes remained dry while I received my new inheritance. For all the wrong reasons I was initiated into a spiritual community, which grew in importance as I became older and more aware.  I would say, the choice of that parish also turned out to be a good call, even as my parents, or me for that matter, had little if any sense of the implications that belonging to this community carried.

How many decisions do we make or in which we enthusiastically participate during our lives without having any idea of what’s really going on?  It’s probably most of them. Those decisions cause no great harm. A fortuitous outcome of many of mine has led me to believe there is an overarching reality that redeems us even as we muddle through life. To see such grace at work during our lives requires a hard look at the erratic course a life follows.

Voting, marriage, and buying a first home are three decisions I imagine most of us make while poorly informed. Studying up on your candidate, engaging in pre-marital counseling or contracting for a house inspection can offer some assurances that we’re acting with our eyes open. However wide our eyes may be opened, there are always surprises. Many blindside us but some are welcomed.

Scientists deal with this reality regularly. In investigating one phenomenon, they invariably discover something radically new and altogether different.

One day, scientist Perry Spencer of Raytheon was fiddling around with a microwave emitting magnetron used in radar when he felt an odd sensation in his pocket. He felt something sizzling. A chocolate bar in his pocket had begun melting. By a fluke he discovered what we know as today’s microwave ovens.

Navy engineer Richard James was experimenting to find ways to stabilize delicate instruments on ships that were always rolling and pitching at sea. What he inadvertently stumbled upon is what delights the heart of every child; the ubiquitous “Slinky.” Three hundred million sold worldwide.

There’s a spiritual message in this. It’s a dead-end to insist we have to get it right.  There’s a piece of scripture that has suggested this but only because it has been misinterpreted. “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” Know anyone who is up to that? If you do they will probably bore you to death. The English word ‘perfect’ is an inadequate rendition of a word that at its root means ‘compassionate.’ As human beings we are not challenged to “get it right” but to be compassionate, a far more challenging ideal. Aspirations to perfection lay an enormous burden on you and me. Perfectionists can drive themselves and everyone around them nuts.

The election of Ascension to be my spiritual home and the baptism that followed it was hardly the result of high-minded piety or idealism. It’s nevertheless where the full story began. I became a part of a nurturing community through my turbulent adolescence, aware of the healing power words and music while I discovered some of the timeless tools by which I could attempt to plumb the mysteries of God and of my own soul.

And all I knew when all this began was that my parents were delighted not to have to drive us to church and the saddle shoes remained dry during my initiation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Delmarva Review: Clues to John Barth’s Genius: Jimmies, Jazz, and Scheherazade by John Lewis

John Barth wanted to be a jazz musician. He played drums in a combo—with his twin sister, Jill, on piano—that gigged around Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and after high school graduation in 1947, he high-tailed it to New York City to study at Juilliard. “It was an absolutely clear and unambiguous experience to learn that what I had hoped was a pre-professional talent was, instead, a pretty good amateur flair,” he told me, over crab cakes at Easton’s Tidewater Inn. “This was the big band era, and I was studying orchestration. I was a drummer, but I didn’t want to spend my life on the road. Being an arranger sounded more respectable.”

Barth had hoped to emulate Billy Strayhorn and Pete Rugolo, his heroes. “But I knew from the first week at Juilliard that the young woman on my left and the young man on my right were going to be the professional musicians of their generation,” he recalled, “and I was going to have to look for something else to do.”

Barth actually has the angular and craggy appearance of a jazz musician, a look that’s accentuated by a closely clipped, white beard and the occasional beret atop his bald pate. But his personality is infused with professorial confidence and sharp wit, a testament to his rapport with the fiction muse he tapped after transferring to Johns Hopkins and finding “something else to do.”

“It was the opposite of what happened at Juilliard,” he said. “When I stumbled into fiction, I had the unequivocal feeling that this was my true calling: all I had to do was learn it from scratch.”

Barth felt the Cambridge education system left him largely unschooled. In fact, he has said “nothing since kindergarten prepared me for [college]” and noted that, despite being on the academic track in high school, his career counseling amounted to a 10-minute talk with the phys ed teacher.

I’ve heard folks question how a “backwater” like Dorchester County produced such a keen intellect, and—if you ignore the inherent snobbery of such a comment and consider Barth’s claim that his formal education was lacking—it is a mystery. Lord knows what it was like between the Depression and World War II, when Barth called Cambridge home. But he obviously got something vital from the Shore that informed his writing and worldview. And, it turns out it was

the perfect incubator for an autodidact with a pen- chant for brilliant meandering. In fact, meandering is something of a refined art in that part of the world, and it’s key to getting at the essence of Barth’s particular type of genius.

Meandering permeates just about everything in Dorchester County—from the unhurried and digressive conversations taking place on the street and in country stores to the flatness of the landscape itself, which is characterized by its tangle of curving roads and bending shoreline intersected by cuts and creeks and other bodies of water that rise and fall with the moon.

Coupled with the flatness, such undulating and fluid geography is endlessly fascinating, though it can be downright disorienting, and it’s no wonder Barth had to look beyond the horizon to his “navigation stars” for direction. Barth told me he considers Scheherazade—the female storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights—one of his “principal navigation stars.”

“With her life ever on the line, only as good as her next piece, Scheherazade remains for me the most piquant emblem of the storyteller’s lot,” says Barth.

These days, Barth, whose noted books include The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Giles Goat Boy, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, and the Scheherazade- inspired The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories, is now a navigation star in his own right. He gets mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce and is considered one of the greatest figures in world literature. He’s swooped in and out of the mainstream, won the National Book Award (for Chimera in 1973), and influenced the likes of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem. He’s actually achieved adjective status— Barth-ian, or Barth-like is synonymous with intelligent, metafictive, postmodern literature.

Thinking a map might be useful in navigating around Barth’s hometown, I was in luck: the Cambridge library has put together a Barth walking tour. With commentary from the author himself, a map directs pilgrims to sites of interest, which include his boyhood home on Aurora Street, his grandparents’ house on the corner of Maryland Avenue, and, according to Barth’s comments, “East Cambridge Elementary school, where I once got paddled for writing a naughty poem about our teacher, my introduction to the pleasures and pains of authorship.”

The tour leads down to the river—again, in Barth’s words—“The Choptank rivershore at Aurora Street’s foot, where we kids [including my twin sister, Jill] played year-round, and the Route 50 bridge nearby, where we swam and dived among summer sea nettles.”

More than a baptism, Barth equates his immersion in these waters with life itself. “I never tire of remembering that the salinity of these waters is about the same as that of the amniotic sea that we all first swam in,” he told the Dorchester County Friends of the Library during a 2005 talk. A copy of Barth’s text is on file there.

At the riverfront—which is still accessible, although you’ll have to maneuver around a hospital that’s been built in the intervening years—it’s easy to see what captivated Barth and fired his imagination. From this spot, small waves approach from the horizon to lap against a shoreline that stretches out on both sides. Looking up, you’ll see the Choptank River Bridge leading north to Baltimore and Washington. Looking down, you’ll find teeming life at your feet, an entire ecosystem just below the surface: minnows, patches of sea grasses, jellyfish, and the occasional blue crab.

The Maryland blue crab remains a potent symbol of the region, and it flourished in the bay’s brackish waters when Barth was a boy. In the summertime, the Choptank’s waters were teeming with hard crabs, soft crabs, and peelers— jimmies (males) and sooks (females) alike—scurrying sideways across the river bottom. They not only caught Barth’s eye, they subtly influenced his approach to writing. In fact, Barth tells me he comes at subjects sideways, “as blue crabs incline to do.”

Here, the crab becomes symbolic of postmodern literature, with regards to crafting Barth-ian metafiction in which the storyteller moves sideways through streams of information to systematically and subtly change perspective along a narrative bend. That’s the way Barth thinks, writes, and speaks.

In conversation, he can sound downright annotated, as I learned during lunch. When discussing novellas, for instance, Barth noted, “The market for them is gone.” He added commentary, “an interesting form that was popular from the time it was invented,” along with when (the 18th-century), where (Germany), and who popularized it (Goethe). He opined that it is “a lovely narrative space.”

He then playfully defined a novella as “a work of fiction too long to sell to a magazine and too short to sell to a book publisher.”

And finally, he offered advice: “When you perpetrate one, you usually need to add on a few short stories [in order to sell it].”

An Eastern Shore native would recognize, if not the subject matter, the measured pacing and wry tone of such comments. It’s the same sort of discursive storytelling that’s been going on for generations around potbellied stoves, across shop counters, and on docks and wharves throughout Dorchester. Barth relishes being that sort of meandering storyteller, (not so) plain and (not so) simple.

The locals say he got the storytelling gene from his father, Whitey. At the house where he wrote his first novel, The Floating Opera—it’s part of the walking tour— the current owner was out sweeping the sidewalk when I visited. At the mention of the Barth name, he lit up. “He was a natural storyteller, the best you ever heard,” he said, leaning on his broom. “He was extremely erudite.”

But this guy wasn’t talking about John Barth, who’s known as “Jack” around town; he was talking about Whitey. “If Jack could write as well as his father talked, he’d really be doing something,” he added. “It seems like Jack takes ten pages to tell something that could be told in one.” He set the broom aside and lauded Whitey’s storytelling prowess, noting that he had owned a popular soda fountain, called Whitey’s Candyland, on Race Street. Although the building has been torn down, the location is noted on the walking tour, and Barth recalls that it’s “where we all occasionally helped out but mostly hung out.”

Hanging out, he was exposed to storytelling as a lively and witty art courtesy of Whitey, who also served as judge of the Orphans Court for 44 years, worked with the volunteer fire company, was a devoted American Legion member, and was an in-demand after-dinner speaker at functions throughout the county. “By comparison to his life,” Barth has written, “my own (literary and academic) seems almost reclusively detached, its radius much wider but its roots far less deep.”

Where Whitey burrowed, his son scuttled.

Besides passing along the storytelling gene, Whitey helped expose his son to popular and modernist fiction. Barth devoured the paperbacks his father stocked at the shop, and it was there that he first encountered books by Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and H.P. Lovecraft, along with William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer.

He’d go on to devour books in the Hopkins library, where he shelved classics as a part time job and spent countless hours browsing the stacks and discovering the vastness and diversity of world literature. Like his Cambridge days, it left an indelible mark on his body of work. “If you happen to be a refugee from the Dorchester County tide marshes, as I was and remain,” Barth once told a Washington College audience, “and particularly if you aspire to keep one foot at least ankle deep back in your native bog while the other foot traipses through the wider world, it is well to have such an off-the-cart smorgasbord under your belt, for ballast.”

Barth returned to Cambridge for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring him, and, perhaps most tellingly, he’s set his last few books on the Shore.

His 2008 book, The Development, was comprised of nine related stories set in an Eastern Shore retirement community where “a failed old fart fictionist” (Barth’s words) named George Irving Newett lives. G.I. Newett. You can practically hear Whitey chuckling at that one.

Barth tells me, via email, that his forthcoming book features Newett as its narrator: “The novel’s full title is Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons. Title borrowed from Prospero’s remark in Shakespeare’s Tempest, of course (`Every third thought shall be my grave’); subtitle from the five seasons of the story’s present action (First Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Last Fall) and the corresponding `seasons’ of the narrator’s life.

“After an accidental trip-and-fall head-bang while [Newett and his wife] are touring Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, he experiences a series of five seasonal dreams/visions/hallucinations/whatever that trigger recollections of his boyhood, young manhood, maturity, and later age in `Bridgetown’ and adjacent `Stratford,’ in `Avon County’ on MD’s Eastern Shore.”

Barth, now 81 years old (in 2011), seems intent on coming home, again and again. When asked if this will be his last novel, he writes that “time will tell. Since its completion, I’ve written no further fiction.”

But Barth says he has started writing a piece about his years as a jazz musician— presumably doing so while keeping one foot at least ankle deep in his native bog.

John Lewis is editor at large at Baltimore magazine and teaches writing in the Curatorial Practice MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. This story was published in Volume 4 of the Delmarva Review, in 2011. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Cambridge, MD with his wife and two children.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Threatre Review: Wacky Neil Simon Classic ‘The Odd Couple’ at TAP

Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” produced by Tred Avon Players (TAP) and currently playing at Oxford Community Center, may be one of the most successful of Simon’s plays – and considering his long and fruitful career, that’s saying a lot.

The basic concept is simple – two friends who are very different and the conflicts that occur when they become roommates.  One is fastidious, the other a carefree slob. But how many Broadway plays of any era have spawned not only a hit movie but three TV sitcoms – plus various other spin-offs including an animated cartoon and a TV sitcom version (by Simon himself!)

Simon’s play, which premiered in 1965, features mismatched roommates Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison – the one an uptight “neat freak,” the other an easy-going slob.

The original production starred Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix. The play took home four Tony Awards: Best Actor (Matthau), Best Author (Simon), Best Director (Mike Nichols) and Best Scenic Design (Oliver Smith). Matthau reprised his role in the 1968 film, with Jack Lemmon taking the role of Felix. And in the long-running TV series (1970-75), Matthau was replaced by Jack Klugman and Tony Randall played Felix. For some unknown reason, the TV series changed the spelling of Felix’s name from “Ungar” to “Unger.”  At TAP, they stick to the original.

In this female version, the fastidious roommate was played by Sally Struthers of “All in the Family” fame where she played Gloria, the ditzy daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker and “Meathead’s” wife.  Rita Moreno, who is well-known for her role in “West Side Story” played the messy roommate.  Moreno is one of only twelve performers who have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony.  This is definitely a story concept with characters that have drawn major talents over the decades.

The plot revolves around the personality clash between the two roommates – Oscar’s life, like his apartment, is a shambles, with unpaid bills, broken appliances, and a failed marriage, but he takes it all in stride, although he gets a bit misty eyed when his five-year-old son calls him on the phone. Meanwhile, his fellow journalist Felix is a hypochondriac who fusses over every detail of his life.  Everything must be  just so! Felix upbraids himself – and everyone around him – when things are not up to his impossible standards.  Every glass must have a coaster. But he’s a terrific cook!  The situation is ideal for comedy – in fact, it’s been used or adapted many times, including in the current TV hit, “The Big Bang Theory.”

Best friends, Oscar and Felix, have at it!    

The play opens at the Friday night poker game in Oscar’s apartment in New York City, sometime in the early 1960s. Four of the six regulars are at the table. The interplay between the characters and several comic bits – the soggy potato chips and “green” sandwiches Oscar brings the other players, due to a broken refrigerator – make it clear that Oscar is a complete slob and living on the edge of financial disaster.  As the evening goes on, it becomes evident that one of the regular players, Felix, is missing – and then they find out that Felix and his wife are getting separated.  Now they’re really worried.

The weekly poker game

But then Felix shows up, quite late, and everyone feigns indifference as he wanders about the room, clearly at his wits’ end. Oscar offers him a bed for the night, and Felix accepts – and after the other players leave, he offers him a place to stay. The basic premise of the play is now set up – in effect lighting the fuse for an explosion the audience senses is bound to happen. But, of course, it would spoil the fun to give much more away.

Cast and crew of “The Odd Couple”

The Tred Avon Players’ production, directed by Ed Langrell, assembles a reliable cast of regulars from local theater productions. Click on link for a Spy interview with the two lead actors, Bill Gross as Oscar and Bob Chauncey as Felix.

Bill Gross takes the role of Oscar,  Loud and physical, he is convincing as a macho ‘60s sportswriter. He does a good job of portraying the character’s growing annoyance with his fastidious roommate, despite his carefree attitude toward most of the rest of his daily life.

Oscar, Vinnie, and Murray the cop listen at the bathroom door, ready to bust in in case Felix tries to “harm himself.”  

Bob Chauncey projects a nice nervous energy as Felix, capturing the suggestions of femininity as the character cooks, cleans, and performs the other duties of Oscar’s missing wife – and reveals an emotional softness that must have seemed far stranger in 1964 than it does now. He is a snappy dresser and his hair looks perfectly sculpted. Chauncey is hilarious when he loudly attempts to clear his sinuses,

While Felix and Oscar get star billing, the rest of the ensemble plays an important part in the play. The four poker buddies – all recognizable New York character types – are very well cast.

Patrick Fee does a fine job as Murray, the street-wise cop with a heart of gold. His mobile face and physical presence are just right for the character. A solid job by one of the Shore’s more versatile character actors.  Most recently, he played Bottom the Weaver in Shore Shakespeare’s production of “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”

Felix makes sure that each poker player has a napkin and a coaster – and uses them!

Roy, Oscar’s accountant, is played by Paul Briggs who deftly shows his character’s exasperation and concern about Oscar’s irresponsible finances. Briggs holds his nose and drops the stinky garbage out the window.  But he keeps his feelings  in check when Felix appears, becoming reasonable and pragmatic when it is needed, just like an accountant.

The cynical Speed is played by Brian McGunigle, who is now completing  an impressive run of five roles in a row in plays varying from Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” to Tred Avon’s “A Man of No Importance.” His character’s feigned indifference is well conveyed. But of course, Speed really does have compassion for Felix and McGunigle makes these two seemingly opposite emotions believable.

Zach Schlag is cast as mild-mannered Vinnie, whose henpecked home life is a contrast to the broken marriages of the two main characters. The character’s pliability is the source of several entertaining bits, providing great physical comedy as Vinnie slips and falls while frantically racing around the room to help save Felix.  Although he doesn’t have as many lines as some others, his expressions can be hilarious as he reacts to the other characters.

Felix and the two sisters have a good cry. He’s such a sensitive man!

Lisa Roth and Anna Kusinitz-Dietz play the Pigeon sisters, Gwendolyn and Cecily.  The sisters, a divorcee and a widow,  are originally from England and now live in a neighboring apartment.  They have taken quite a shine to the roommates. Their interactions with Felix and Oscar are a fine bit of Neil Simon comedy, well acted by the sisters as they flirt mischievously or cry copiously.  Their giggles and glances are infectious and the audience loved them. On Thursday night when we were there, the audience broke into spontaneous applause as the sisters left the stage.  It was not the end of the scene.

The set, consisting entirely of Oscar’s living room, is worth walking up for a closer look at intermission or after the play closes – details such as an old manual typewriter and a beat-up baseball glove are letter-perfect. The subtle changes in the room as Felix’s “neatnik” influence begins to be seen are nicely done, as well. The costumes are also right on – especially the Pigeon sisters’ early-‘60s colorful dresses with bright, shiny pocketbooks and knee-high boots, Oscar’s #7 Yankees jersey and Speed’s Hawaiian shirts. The soundtrack – designed by Fee – has a nice selection of period-perfect music. A pleasure to see the little touches so well taken care of.

The 50-plus years since the play was written are evident in many details of the plot and dialogue. For example, it’s no longer that unusual for a man to be a good cook – as Felix is. The sums of money mentioned – 34 cents for a pack of cigarettes, for example — are vivid reminders of what inflation has done, while the characters’ concern over the cost of a long-distance phone call is a historical curiosity in today’s era of unlimited cell phone plans.

And hints – quite humorous hints! – that the relationship between Felix and Oscar echoes their failed marriages, probably seemed edgy if not outright taboo in the early ‘60s.  The uptight culture associated with the 1950s lingered into the early ’60s. Hippies hadn’t happened yet and the sexual revolution was still on the horizon. Simon was exploring new territory. He used comedy to explore relationships and situations that would raise few eyebrows today but were uncomfortable for most people at the time. Divorce, separation, alimony, all these were looked upon very differently then than now. Those who lived through those times will find the contrast from today both interesting and amusing; younger audiences may find it an entertaining history lesson. But this is all subtext, the play is a comedy about relationships and surviving breakups, whether it be with spouses or friends. It asks whether people can change and grow. And it ends with hope and a laugh.

There were plenty of laughs in the large audience for Thursday’s performance, which director Langrell described as a “pre-opening” opening. If you’re in the mood for a classic comedy, with  nostalgia for a different time, it’s well worth the trip to Oxford Community Center, 200 Oxford Road. It’s about an hour from Chestertown or 15 minutes from Easton. The play runs just over two hours.  Remember it starts at 7:30 not 8 p.m.!

“The Odd Couple” is playing through August 20. Shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. Call 410-226-0061 for reservations – which are strongly recommended, judging by the sizable audience Thursday.  This Sunday’s matinee, we are told, is practically sold out already!

Photos in this article are courtesy of Randy Bachand. Thank you, Randy!

Check back – we’ll be posting more photos.

Felix straightens a picture. It was just a tiny bit off-kilter. And it was driving him crazy!

She likes me!

L-R Standing: Speed, (Hawaiian shirt), Murray, Vinnie, Briggs, Oscar,  Seated – Felix

Murray, Speed, and Oscar

Vinnie tries to sweet-talk Felix into some sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trips in America by Al Sikes

“I’m 32, Mr. Dunn, and I’m here celebrating the fact that I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing which is what I have been doing since 13……..other truth is, my brother’s in prison, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy’s dead, and my momma weighs 312 lbs. If I was thinking straight, I’d go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some Oreos. Problem is, this is the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?” Maggie Fitzgerald, Million Dollar Baby

Few movie scenes remain vivid in my mind. But when Maggie Fitzgerald, in a stunning portrayal by Hillary Swank, faced off with Frankie Dunn the boxing manager, played by Clint Eastwood, the imprint endured. So when I read that the founder of Facebook and multiple billionaire Mark Zuckerberg had taken a road trip to better understand America, the scene flashed back.

As Maggie’s plaintive dialogue reveals, she is a waitress who had grown up in a hard-scrabble family. She was also a pretty good boxer who had come to Frankie Dunn’s gymnasium to ask him to manage her career.

Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn was an edgy traditionalist who didn’t see the boxing ring as a fit place for a woman.

Frankie Dunn didn’t understand Maggie Fitzgerald and Mark Zuckerberg will need more than a road trip to understand America.

Zuckerberg finished high school at Phillips Exeter Academy and college at Harvard. He is said to be the fifth richest man in the world. He is, of course, the founder of Facebook and a road trip will not provide a real connection to a world he has never occupied.

My road trip began in 1986 when I came to Washington and continued in 1993 when my wife and I moved to Manhattan. Decreasingly, I found, did I work or play with people who shared my background. In some ways when I left my home state, Missouri, I left a public world and entered a private one.

Most of my new peers and associates attended private elementary and secondary schools and colleges. I was a public school guy in a private school world.

Age invites reflection. Having spent the backend of my career in the digital industry, my reflections are in part informed by that fact. And the fact is that the digital age rewards, and often in outsized ways, those who were shaped from an early age to complete algorithmically.

David Brooks wrote a column recently in which he talked about the pediacrats: “It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.”

Commenting on a book in the same column, “The Sum of Small Things,” by Elizabeth Currid- Halkett, Brooks notes, “To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food, truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.”

My East Coast field trip, or to be more honest, residency, brought me fully into this world. I am from time to time still disoriented, but never more so than when I puzzle about what might be done to bring America together again.

I believe it is safe to say that most coastal, upper-middle-class residents were shocked by the election of Donald Trump. I was surprised, but not shocked, having had the good fortune of experiencing much of America’s diversity.

When we chose to end national service, we unwittingly chose to end meaningful assimilation. Most, unfortunately, we turned characterization over to character actors directed by often condescending film directors. Empathy was not possible.

Zuckerberg is a poster boy for disruption and the enormous economic leverage enjoyed by the tech elite. He was private school all the way. He enjoys an elite intellect and voracious ambition. Most Americans are not on the road to high technology riches or even the rewards that come to those in the upper echelons of value-added work.

The Hillary Swank character was willing to do what was necessary regardless of where her work landed her on the social ladder. Likewise, many who voted for President Trump were willing to do what they thought necessary to shake up the political world.

Movie-goers know how Million Dollar Baby ended.

It is impossible to know how this wrenching chapter in America’s political life will end. But, let me hazard a guess.

Trump will ultimately fail. He does not know either America or political leadership. It is not enough to exploit anger; successful Presidents must also understand America’s generous nature and how to tap its energy. And, I am not talking about larger budgets, but the respect we want and extend to others.

I also do not believe the next President will come from the corporate world. Those who know America best have served in its armed forces, the only popular institution. I believe Americans will once again turn for leadership to those who know America best.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.