Saturday, August 27, 2016

I did not scratch

What I did: Centerline Events at HITS on the Hudson 3, a benefit for the Mitchell Equine Retirement Farm

What I wore: Charles Owen Ayr-8 black micro-suede helmet, heavy-duty hairnet, rhinestone-decorated black crocheted hair-bun-cover, white Ariat or Goode Rider performance-fabric show shirt, stock-tie (not pre-tied), turquoise pin that had been my mother's or that antique blue glass horse pin that had been a gift from my mother, new navy Pikeur show jacket that I tried on at the show and when it fit me perfectly I had to buy it, white full-seat Pikeur breeches, new white leather belt that I had custom-made because even your grandpa doesn’t wear a white leather belt anymore, custom Vogel dress boots, Prince of Wales spurs with new straps because the old ones were about to break, sunscreen, no watch because it’s being repaired, and no glasses because I’ve misplaced the ones I normally wear to ride in and my new ones slide down my nose.

What I did beforehand: bought bagels so no one would starve in my absence, reassured my dog Captain because he really hates it when we get out a suitcase and start packing; fed the cat; downloaded Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People” to my phone.

Who went with me: 269 other riders, and 359 horses (minus those horses who were scratched from the show at the last minute), including Hado. 

How I got there: in the fall of 1998, I decided to take care of some unfinished business. At the time, the plan was to learn to ride and get it out of my system. It isn't out of my system yet.

Why I went to this show: my brother (who plays at least two instruments serviceably well) once told me that when you start a new musical instrument, you are ready to play in front of people as soon as you know a song.

Where I sat: in a custom-embroidered black Sports Director Chair by Picnic Time from Wayfair dot com or on a black Devouxcoux single-flap dressage saddle.

Things that were sad: I was unexpectedly nervous. 

Things that were funny: this was my fourth rated dressage show with Hado, and I’m still tickled when other competitors wish me luck. I try to say, “Have fun!” more than, “Good luck!” Because I think the whole idea of luck is weird, and but so I can’t always control what comes flying out of my mouth at a show; after all, I’m on a horse, I'm on a real, live horse. I might say, “Have luck!” or “Good fun!” 

There’s a little bit of space around the outside of the show rings where you ride in and wait for the judges to ring a bell or blow a whistle letting you know they are ready for you. One of the rings at this show had to use an old fashioned horn, the kind where the judge or the scribe had to squeeze the bulb. To me, there is no better signal to Bring On The Clowns! 

Every horse is different; some are excited to be at a show, while others need to be inspired to temporarily abandon their general mega-chill attitude. Hado is usually of the latter category (although he has been known to spontaneously and without warning bounce up and down in the show ring). Despite his normally calm demeanor, Hado has a secret vice, which is to stand quietly and look completely mellow while invisibly persuading other horses to run and jump and leap into the air. Sometimes we walk around the paddocks at our home barn and one horse after another lifts its head and gallops towards us, while Hado walks along lazily, perhaps expressing some false-innocent surprise as a horse comes storming in and snorting at us. 

Our last class of the show, on Sunday, we were headed into the ring and passed the competitor who did her test before us just outside the ring. Her horse shot sideways, and Hado cantered off. Because he can be lazy, I decided to make him keep cantering all the way to the end before trotting. I was about to congratulate myself for being in charge of the situation when I met the competitor who did her test before us again, as she was exiting the ring a second time. They had, it seemed, shot sideways and jumped back into the show ring. 

Things that were not funny: she looked fairly irritated and understandably discombobulated, and I asked, “Did you just jump back in?” 
And she gave me a sharp, “Yes.”
I apologized. And I tried not to laugh.

What it is: a standard dressage arena at a competition in the United States is 20m by 60m, with a very low, white perimeter fence, and letters marking various spots 12m apart. A rider enters at A, and the judge typically sits at C. When I am going right in the ring, I can read my initials in order.  

Who should see it: we’d had a good round Sunday morning, and I thought about being finished at that point. Sunday afternoon at a three day show gets pretty quiet as competitors pack up and leave and tired riders scratch their last classes. I knew Hado was tired, and I was tired, but I also knew that we need the practice. So I did not scratch.

Thanks to Hado's enthusiasm about scaring another horse, we had an 8 for our entrance and opening halt at X and a 68% for the test. Maybe that sounds like a C- in school, but it was good enough for third place.

What I saw at home: the Bacon Provider was bottling our third batch of home-brewed beer (the first was a delicious success, the second a complete failure). We named it “Brexit,” in honor of recent events, and used an old English IPA recipe The Graduate unearthed. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

I saw "Hamilton"

What I saw: "Hamilton," a musical at the Richard Rodgers Theater, on West 46th between 7th and 8th Avenue.

What I wore: black Brooks Brothers no-iron cotton blouse with 3/4-length sleeves, stretch denim capri James jeans, black Puma suede sneakers, short black SmartWool socks, gold Victorian earrings I wore in my wedding, gold bead Tiffany necklace, my grandmother's square face Longines wristwatch, mascara, excited grin.

On the TV, Olympic swimming
What I did beforehand: dropped off my watch for repair, had lunch at Fig & Olive (where I complained they didn't serve eggs), watched the NYPD herding the excited and disappointed crowd at end of the live lottery in front of the theater, stopped for a pre-theater cocktail at the unexpectedly not inadequate Brasserie Athenée (corner of W 46th and 8th).

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

How I got tickets: though I half-heartedly played the Hamilton online lottery a few times, I bought these tickets online, through Ticketmaster's re-sale option, about a month ago; the  price printed on the tickets is $175 (each) for the seats plus $2 handling. I paid about $1100 (each) for the seats, with a $200 fee for handling the re-sale. 

Why I saw this show: because everyone made such a big deal about it. I even read Ron Chernow's book about Hamilton, which inspired the show. I found the book a good read, but ultimately depressing, because our founding fathers made terrible choices.

Where I sat: Front Row, Mezzanine, seat A 2. In my opinion the best place to see this show. (One of the reasons I was willing to spend soooo much money on this show was because these seats were available).

Don't worry about which cast you see.
The performers are all spectacularly talented.

Things that were sad: our founding fathers were petty, egotistical, adulterous nitwits with anger management issues.

Things that were funny: our founding fathers were petty, egotistical, adulterous nitwits with anger management issues.

Things that were not funny: the show is almost three hours, including a fifteen minute intermission. The Richard Rodgers Theater has narrow public areas that become very congested before and after and during intermission and has howlingly inadequate restrooms. People brought small children to this show, some dressed as horrifying, tiny, be-wigged, tricorned, enlightenment-era patriotic props, as if such cos-play might win a door prize.

What it is: the most important and acclaimed American musical of the past twenty-plus years. Yes, it is as good as they say. 

Who should see it: bastards, Americans, students of American history, sisters, fans of American musical theater, rappers, revolutionaries, Federalists, Jeffersonians, duelists. 

They put bee pollen on it.
What I saw on the way home: we got dinner at the Marshal, a tiny and bustling restaurant offering skillfully prepared, locally-sourced, delicious food on 10th Avenue, near West 45th (reservations recommended). Some of the staff consider us regulars, and when they saw the "Hamilton" programs in our hands, I told them we'd seen it to celebrate because, "We've been married 30 fucking years," which they thought was pretty awesome. So awesome, they surprised us with champagne and dessert at the end of our meal. We may have had the last word, though, with the tip. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I was mad

Maybe this was a few days before
What I saw: it was thirty years ago the other night (if you know what I mean by that), and I had arrived at the wedding rehearsal at the church. I'm not sure who told me, though I assume it was my fiancĂ©, but neither his father nor one of his sisters were there for the rehearsal, and they weren't going to be coming to the wedding. 

What I wore: I don't remember. I know what I wore to our engagement party (a purple silk abstract floral dress with puffy sleeves and a dropped waist). I know what I wore to the wedding shower (a bright royal blue silk shift with pleats at the shoulders and cap sleeves). I know what I put on after I changed out of my wedding dress (a two-piece, abstract-striped tan, gray and dusky blue dress with long sleeves and a long, flowy skirt). Clothes were very important to me in those days, right up there with mathematics and smoking.

What I did beforehand: there was some excitement around which of our college friends showed up, and where they should stay, and I think other people handled it. I probably sat in the sun, snuck off for a drive and a smoke, and spent a long time drying my hair. Maybe I got my nails done; it was the first time I had gotten my nails done by someone else. I went with my mom. I thought it was weird. I didn't get my nails done again until New Year's Eve, ten years later.

Who went with me: my mother and father and brothers were there at the rehearsal, along with my two maids of honor and my fiancĂ©'s mother and the one of his sisters who came, and his brother, who was his best man. 

Why we got married: we were 23. I was in graduate school. I think we thought we would have been perfectly happy to keep living together, but once my boyfriend's mother suggested it, getting married became this new thing we talked about all the time. I remember going out to dinner and our decision to get engaged, and spending the rest of the evening planning our engagement, which was to occur formally on another night when we would go out to dinner. We had to budget for this.

Things that were sad: when I told my parents that we were getting married, they were probably on the verge of telling me they were getting divorced. They did not say anything about getting divorced until we returned from our honeymoon. They were married 26 years. 

Things that were funny: I knew, when I found out I was missing a bridesmaid, that this was going to be the Thing That Went Wrong at my wedding, because there was always a Thing That Went Wrong at every wedding.  I thought that worse things could go wrong at a wedding. So I accepted it. But I stayed mad.

Things that were not funny: I was pretty angry at my fiancé's family for not telling us sooner, or not trying harder to be there, and took it as a personal slight for many years. I do not know when I stopped being angry about it. Sometime between 1986 and now, definitely.

What it is: someone not showing up at your wedding is always their loss, and not yours.

Who should see it: If you are invited to a wedding, you should go. If you can't go, express your regrets in a note. If you know you're supposed to go,  but can't, say so. 

What I saw on the way home: at our wedding ceremony, the next day, I got dressed at the church because I guess it's easier to transport a big, fancy dress like that in a car and have it arrive looking perfect than it is to transport a woman wearing it. My grandmother made my dress for me, so it was new. (She also made the bridesmaid's dresses, including the one for the bridesmaid who didn't show up). She lent me an antique beaded purse for the day (old and borrowed), and gave me a blue-trimmed handkerchief to carry inside. One of the Church Ladies who helped with weddings did not approve of my choice of dusky mauve lipstick, and attacked me with frosty pink. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

I saw "Men on Boats"

What I saw:  "Men on Boats"  at the Playwright's Horizons Theater, off-Broadway on the south side of West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th (not to be confused with the Signature Theater a closer to 10th Avenue on West 42nd on the same side of the street, where I showed up and confused the house manager, who had not even heard of "Men on Boats," but did encourage me to come back and see "Small Mouth Sounds," which I've read good things about but might not have time to see before it closes).

What I wore: stupid sleeves, white jeans, smirk, mascara, damp hair crammed into falling-down ponytail, Puma sneakers that are scuffed in a way that shows off my bunions, little purple Kate Spade purse for my glasses, wallet and keys, white cotton cabled poncho that I bought from a vendor at the horse show last weekend.

What I did beforehand: noodles and beer, cappuccino and cookie.

Who went with me: 127 strangers, who arrived after me, every one. 

How I got tickets: online for either $40 or $45 (when I got to will call, all they had under my name was a receipt for $40 and a receipt for $45 but no ticket, so they had to print one. And in my flusterment, I discovered that I what been walking around with the top button of my blouse undone, so, really, maybe it wasn't just the sleeves that were the embarrassment).

Why I saw this show: the cast's first names, in alphabetical order, are Birgit, Danaya, Danielle, Donetta, Elizabeth, Hannah, Jocelyn, Kelly, Kristen, and Layla. 

Where I sat: Row BB, seat 16 (second row, on the end). The theater was chilled to 2° K. Good thing I had my poncho!

Things that were sad: I try to see a show every week, and one of the arbitrary, unwritten rules I have for this regular undertaking is that I do not research things before I see them. I believe that art should always be self-explanatory. It means I sometimes see a play about Einstein, when I am totally done with Einstein-as-a-metaphor. However, when I sat down and discovered that this play is about John Wesley Powell and his exploration of the canyons of the American West, I realized that I should have invited The Graduate, who did a NOLS course canyoneering in the Rockies. Alas.

Things that were funny/not funny: I believe most Shakespeare productions would be improved as claymation movies, of course, just as operas should all be performed by marionettes, and while I enjoyed all the very funny female performers in this play, I longed to see it cast entirely with children. I would have even accepted the substitution of "Shoot!" for every one of the utterances of "Shit!"

What it is: A mostly funny play, in one act, about adventurers, with dialog that mixes contemporary vernacular with a smattering of the highfalutin lingua franca of the late 19th century white American explorer.

Who should see it: canyoneers, boaters, adventurers, fans of the recent Ghostbusters, Americans, and bacon lovers.

What I saw on the way home: three children, walking without an adult down West 42nd in the dark, clapping an improvised rhythm of their own invention.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I got eliminated

What I saw: I traveled to a weekend of dressage shows at the Green Mountain Horse Association Show Park, in South Woodstock, Vermont

What I wore: Charles Owen helmet, glasses, heavy-duty hairnet, fancy snood, earrings, stock tie secured with an antique pin, Ariat show shirt, Pikeur black show jacket and white full-seat breeches, belt, ProCompression white socks, custom Vogel tall dress boots, Prince of Wales spurs, white SSG gloves.

What I did beforehand: dropped dogs at a friend’s. Drove to Vermont via the back roads.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider, who proved to be an exemplary horse-show husband, holding my horse (which is actually his horse), taking pictures when asked to (but not not taking too many), watching us go, clapping, and saying we did a good job.

Why I did this show: you have to keep at it if you want to get better.

Where I sat: on my horse and on rocking chairs on the covered porch.

Things that were sad: Sometimes when you come out of the show ring, someone from the show management puts on rubber gloves and does a spot check, inspecting the bit in the horse’s mouth, making sure you haven't stuffed their ears, checking for spur-rubs on their flanks, and measuring your whip. The rule is a whip can be no more than 120 cm long. It’s a sport; you do have to have rules. At 8:14 a.m. on Saturday, I rode my first test, and got checked by the blue-eyed and friendly red-head attending my ring. Everything was fine. At 10:42 a.m., I rode again, and had a slight error. On our way out of the ring, we were checked again, by the same friendly red-head. This time, my whip did not pass the test, and she looked at me with her bright blue eyes and said I'd have to wait while the TD was called for. The TD arrived in her golf cart, looked at my whip, and left. The red-head returned my whip to me, and then I saw what the problem was: the tassel on the end of the whip now had four almost imperceptible threads teased from the end, lengthening it.  She looked at me again with her bright-blue eyes and said, “It’s fine. She says just go trim it.”

I understood, “It’s fine. She says just go trim it,” to mean that everything was ok. But it wasn't. Later when I went to get the sheet with the judge’s comments and scores, “ELIMINATED” was written across my test sheet in red pen on both sides.

Things that were funny: I won my 8:14 class, and had the high point amateur score at training level that day.

Things that were not funny: of the English riding disciplines I’m familiar with (eventing, dressage, and hunter/jumpers), it seems everyone thinks theirs is the superior discipline, and the others are doing it wrong. I have heard hunter/jumpers say that dressage riders are fussy control freaks, and that dressage is boring until the highest levels. I have heard eventers say that dressage is a tool, but that jumping is the whole point of riding. I have heard hunter/jumpers say that the eventers ride mediocre horses and risk their necks (and their horses’ lives) galloping pell-mell over cross-country courses jumping solid obstacles. I have heard dressage people say the hunter/jumpers don’t know enough flatwork. 

What it is: most of dressage competition is simply riders and horses performing written tests. The thing I like about it, despite the vagaries of a subjectively judged sport, is getting written feedback. 
Selfie, with Chainsaw Squirrel at GMHA
The weather was almost perfect the whole weekend, everyone--from the show office to the cook shack at GMHA-- was friendly and helpful and nice, there is a terrific tack store next to the show park, and Woodstock has nice places to stay and decent restaurants to try. The show park has limited to no wireless coverage: one of those rare and annoying treats which is simultaneously anxiety-provoking and liberating.

Who should see it: Within the last decade or so, someone noticed that the classes well-attended by spectators at dressage shows were always the musical kur, or freestyle classes. There is something fundamentally irresistible about horses moving to music. Originally, these classes were reserved for riders at the highest levels, but the USDF added musical freestyle for lower levels, and these are popular and surprisingly fun to watch. 

I am not always the best sports spectator, having a short attention span and a squeamishness about witnessing amateurish mistakes, but I do enjoy watching people and horses that I know. Anyway, we took our chairs to the top of the hill and watched a bunch of freestyle programs. At first I joked that it was like watching figure skating. The similarities are obvious (music, an arena, judges). What surprised me, though, was how inspiring it was to see a freestyle to music that really matched a horse’s way of going, how entertaining it was to see a horse throw a fit, crow-hopping across the diagonal like a bronco, and how entertaining it was, even when I didn’t like the music (yes, I did hear flamenco Mozart Jupiter symphony and Pachelbel’s Canon in D). I have to say that a horse and rider moving in harmony to appropriate music had, for me, the satisfaction of real art. 

What I saw on the way home: a big, muscled guy  stopped his pickup truck in the middle of Route 4 in Vermont to help a duck cross the road safely. In Perkinsville, three large white bedsheets hanging on a picket fence with a large message on each in red spray paint: “THE VILLAGE DON’T NEED SEX OFFENDERS.” Between Chester and Londonderry, a “Trump for President” banner strung across the collapsing roof of a rotting shed, which housed a rusting, tow-behind pop-up camper. In Amenia, we stopped to get the dogs, and to eat ice cream and see people we don’t see often enough anymore. On Route 22 south of Wingdale, NY, a violent rainstorm drenched us with great blasts of rain, lasting for a half an hour, and when we reached home, the pavement was dry and it hadn’t rained at all.