Friday, December 18, 2015


Walking around the block the other day, I heard 3 little boys playing in a backyard. One of them shouted to his mom, I imagine, "We're playing an army game, but it's non-violent." Playing KP maybe. It made me think back to how us postwar kids in the mid-1950's always were playing army. We spent hours killing imaginary Germans and Japanese. I don't remember us being aware of the Italian involvement in the Axis, save for the little song, "Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk, Mussolini pulled his weenie now it doesn't work," which we loved to sing. A lot of us had genuine helmet liners to wear in our play, and lots of toy companies produced all the army necessities one could ever need. My favorite was the Mattel burpgun. I also loved my Bulldog Tank, for playing army with toy soldiers.

My thoughts on armed play in the past then jumped to playing cowboys. If we weren't playing baseball or football on Pineview Drive, we were probably playing army or cowboys and Native Americans. I then recalled my favorite cowboy gun. It was the Nichols Stallion 45. It cost five bucks, no less, and came in it own very special box. It was so heavy, it was tough for a kid to hold up. I bought mine at W.A.B. Drugs in Sea Breeze. Then I wondered if I or someone else could buy a vintage Stallion .45, now. I checked and sure enough ebay had a mint one in an equally mint box. Price--$895.95. I guess there are a lot of boomers who value their childhood and put a high price on it.

Enough reminiscing. I'll now try to get to the hazy point I am trying to make. It was logical that we played war and cowboys back then. Our fathers were WW II vets, and cowboy shows took up half the limited schedule on the 2 TV channels we had to watch. As a result there were few days when the suburban air around our houses wasn't filled with cap fire and shouts of "I got you!" and "You're dead!" For this we never got in trouble. That was an O.K. way to play. None of my friends became bad people, although, one guy, who lived close, but wasn't a playmate, became a murderer. I think it's safe to say that this wasn't brought about by playing army as a child.

What am I saying? I guess I'm saying that my childhood friends grew up to be gentle people, and yet, if kids now played the games we played then, they'd get shipped off to the Junior Shrink. We are an interesting and changing people, society, culture. . .
Perhaps, the biggest irony of our youth was that all the kids who played army to glorify WW II came of age just in time to qualify for the least glorified, most despised conflict, of all time, the War in Vietnam. We had gloried in our army games, but we didn't want to play for real.

This entry has nothing to do with gun control. If you were looking for something, sorry. This came about because of 3 little boys playing army in the backyard.

(If anyone thinks I was overcome by PC disease when I mentioned Native Americans, I wasn't. It was a joke. I have realized people sometimes don't know when I am joking.)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Peter Pan" is a Marvel!

I wasn’t looking forward particularly to the Wednesday performance of “Peter Pan” at Syracuse Stage.  I’ve seen several productions over the years.  Some really good, some so-so, and of course, last year’s live TV production, so disastrous that I still feel sorry for everyone involved.  I think that clunker was the main reason I wasn’t excited about this week’s SS holiday special.  I am so glad we went!  This production is the best live theater I’ve seen in quite awhile, as good, I think as the touring companies of “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys,” which were the last two musicals we attended

If you want a guarantee that your elementary school child will develop a love for live theater then this is the show to start that love.  If you can, get tickets for this show before it closes on December 31.  It is magical, delightful, exciting, any “rave” adjective you might care to supply, so wonderful that I am going to try to hold myself to a single adjective per kudo.  It is meticulously directed.  Every stage picture a live illustration from this wonderful tale.  The choreography is a joy to watch.  One number involving drumsticks made me want to shout ‘bravo,” even though I’m not the “bravo” shouting type. The scene design takes advantage of the not terribly large stage, creating both style and function, beauty and practicality. And the costumes--lost boys, pirates, warrior, are properly tawdry yet bright at the same time.  And the animal costumes!  I didn’t remember a kangaroo, a lion or an ostrich in other productions I’ve seen.  I’m happy for the creative inspiration that added these delightful creatures who hop and lope on stage and through the auditorium.  The crocodile is great, too.

 The “professional” actors in the cast are as fine as you would expect.  Donald Corren as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook plays both the good father and the famed villain with equal aplomb,  Christine Toy Johnson as Mrs. Darling/grown-up Wendy is the quintessence of mother, and Kraig Swartz is a properly smarmy Smee.

But the expression “youth must be served,” which means to me that youth should be given its head, and allowed to be its excited and joyous self, seems to fit this show! It’s “Peter Pan” after all, about kids who don’t want to grow up.  Peter, Wendy, all the lost boys, most of the pirates, all the warriors, the animals, and the maid Liza, are still youths, SU Musical Theater students, mostly seniors.  Everywhere I looked during a scene featuring a bunch of these young actors, I would find involvement, concentration, attitudes that made me think that this performance felt as new to these young people as it did on opening night.  I especially need to mention three names, Troy Hussmann as Peter, Delph Borich as Wendy, and Ana Marceau as Tiger Lily.  Keep at it, kids!  You’re doing exactly what you were meant to do!

And for the kids in the audience, the show is exciting and colorful, and they’ll see actors of their own age playing Michael and John.  There weren’t a lot of really little ones in the audience on Wednesday, but those who were there shouted “I do,” when Peter asked the audience if it believed in fairies.  I shouted “I do,” too, and applauded with the rest of the audience to bring Tinkerbell back to life.  At that moment, I believed in everything this talented and finely trained ensemble wanted me to believe!!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Robert Frost Already Said This. . .

Robert Frost Already Said This. . .

in unrhymed iambic pentameter,
which teachers and poets know as blank verse,
or at least in some strong, disciplined way,
a structure solid, yet transient. Like leaves,
first green in newness, hold on to their trees,
then scant weeks later, ramble off with breezes,
a gold and orange and crumbling danse macabre.
“What did Frost say?” that “Nothing gold can stay.”
Be it leaf or youth or Eden even.
His words as stark as freezing rain.  And hard
as the gravel kicked to the side of the lane
by the wooden wheels of the horse-drawn hearse.
A man is gold, a towhead as a boy.
No different, I think, when blonde turns gray.
Of a boy’s sudden death, Frost once did write,
“No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”
For me that is the most demanding thing,
we here alive turning to our affairs,
putting aside those that are gone to stay,
like heaps of leaves the wind to clear away.
So, live through winter and await the spring?
The April buds, the dewy flowers of May?
Time, the alchemist, will conjure more gold. . .
Ah well, Frost said this better anyway.
by Greg Ellstrom

(With Debt to Robert Frost and his poems, “Out, Out” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  Also, for those who know, to Ponyboy and Johnny for bringing fame to a little verse.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Going to the Theatre, Pronounced Theata!

         We went to Syracuse Stage yesterday afternoon to see Steve Martin's "The Underpants." "The Underpants" about a young housefrau whose underpants fall off while she's standing on a stool in her kitchen window watching the king go by in parade. It is very funny, directed at an effective, rapid pace, stuffed full of double entendres, and with terrific performances. It reminds me a little of "The Sneeze" by Chekhov but more out of control. It's probably 20 or 25 minutes too long, but see it if you can. I'm sure you will enjoy it.
          The reason for this post isn't to write a review, though. We were 15 minutes early, and as we sat in the house I watched the audience enter. Wednesday afternoon is heavy with senior citizens, although the kids from Chittenango who have attended the Stage for 30+ years were in the balcony. There were 2 or 3 interesting people down on the main floor. Kind of avant garde folk with interesting hats and flowing scarves. And I thought, seeing that I am a bit of a theatre person myself, that maybe I should start being weird. I'm sure many of you are saying, "you're already there, Greg," but I mean coolly eccentric, outre, artsy, and those kinds of adjectives. One of the artistic types there yesterday had a flowing mane of hair. That's not happening with me. When my hair gets too long it starts growing toward the left. If I wore a ponytail, it would stick out the left side of my head. Another guy was bald. That's not happening either. One guy never took his tweed driving cap off his head. Maybe, I can start wearing a beret. . .all the time. And I could get an earring for my left ear. (That's the hetero ear isn't it?) I could wear a torn t-shirt from some early 70's band, torn jeans, Chuck Taylors or cowboy boots, and a suede sport coat maybe with fringe. . .but you know I look bad in hats, and Linda wouldn't let me go to the theatre with ripped pants. I guess the weird, outre me just isn't going to happen. (Did you notice that I used the British spelling of "theatre," though. That's the way I always spell it. Pretty outre, eh?)--Greg Ellstrom

Friday, October 16, 2015

I Miss the Hike

I was feeling a little down this morning.  I had this nightmare just before waking up, which really screwed up my beginning of the day attitude.  It was a strange dream.  Full of people glaring at me.  But the dream is only secondary to the purposes of this brief post. 

The first purpose is to recall the fun my dad and I used to have hiking in the Adirondacks.  We only did a couple high peaks, the old standards Cascade and Porter.  My dad was almost 80 when we were hiking, so we stuck to some of the smaller peaks.  I have especially fond memories of Pitchoff, with the bus-sized boulders at the top and of little Mt. VanHoevenberg, where it took nearly as long to walk in to the base as it did to make the summit. When my heart episode occurred, our mountain hiking ended, and even though, I have been cleared to hike by my cardiologist, I'm afraid I no longer have the stamina.  Still, I cherish the recollections.

My second purpose is to explain what led me to write this post today.  At Panera, I had little talks with Jess, a terrific young woman who works there, and Terry Perrone, one of my Panera friends and a student from time gone by.  Jess had just come back from a trip to the Adirondacks with some friends during which they summited 2 mountains in 1 day.  Ah, the benefit of youthful leg muscles.  The 3 of us, first Jess and I then Terry and I, talked for a few minutes about good hiking memories.  Just that short term recollection of wonderful times shared with my father, chased the dregs of my crappy dream away.  The Adirondacks and memories of the Adirondacks have a way of spiritually refreshing me.   So does the ocean.  Maybe sometime, I will write a post comparing the two.--Greg Ellstrom

The beautiful photograph at the beginning of this entry came from

Thoughts About "The Martian"

This is not a rant.  Read it in a soft voice.  It’s simply an observation.  Yesterday we saw the film “The Martian.”  The film is about the survival of a man left behind on Mars when a mission has to be aborted.  The actors are all great, including Matt Damon, who is the Martian of the title, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and many more, each of whom seem perfect in his or her role.  But the star of the film is science.  It is science that saves the day.  This movie makes you want to be brilliant, to be as scientifically capable as these NASA geniuses, especially Matt the Martian.  As I was enjoying this really fine film, a thought distracted my enjoyment for a moment.  The thought was how can anyone deny the scientific proof of climate change, and why don’t we let science do battle with this enemy, utilizing the great minds like those portrayed in “The Martian.”  Oh, we’re all at fault.  We drive cars, after all.  But I’m mostly talking about the politicians and the businessman who deny the truth of climate change because of its economic detriment.  These deniers are the people who have the science at their beck and call.  Alone on a planet, one man uses his genius to survive, and yet the deniers chose not to use our genius.  Can the billions on this planet survive?--Greg Ellstrom

P.S.  When I posted this on FB, I was told there was an error in scientific logic concerning e-mail.  I'm sure that's true, but it doesn't diminish the power of the film.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Weekend Under the Carrier Dome

I spent a good part of last weekend in the Carrier Dome.  By 11:30 A.M. on Saturday, I had listened to the marching band playing on the quad, patted the Ernie Davis statue on the foot, and entered through Gate N, to make my way to my seat in Row R, 3 rows from the roof.  I hadn’t climbed the Dome steps in awhile.  Those are steep suckers, let me tell you.

As the crowd slowly filled in, I saw that I was sitting in an area with 3 or 4 sober and football-interested adult couples.  Good. Then shortly before kickoff, the uppermost rows were suddenly invaded by some. . .very interesting football fans.  More about them in a moment.  The section two over to the right from where I sat was made up nearly entirely of LSU fans in their purple and gold t-shirts with statements like “Geaux Tigers” printed on them.  They were a roaring and devoted group.  Not evenly slightly obnoxious.

Now, about the game. . .probably everyone knows it was about as terrific as a game can be when you lose.  Tons of kudos to the Orange players and coaches for crafting a really fun afternoon on the gridiron.  I had a great time, although at times it was challenging because of the “very interesting fans” I mentioned before.  

To my immediate right was a group of about 20 “interesting fans.”  When they came roaring up the stairs together, my first thought was that they had been dropped off by the “Incorrigible and Unrepentant” bus.  Noise, spilled beer, profanity abounded.  One really big guy sat at the end of the row with a twisted look on his face.  When the Tiger fans would roar in appreciation of their team, he would roar profanely at them and flip them off.  Also in the group was a woman who looked like the puppet “Madam.”  There’s nothing wrong with looking that way, but it is wrong to shout at an SU player who was getting attention to an injury on the field, to “get up off your g****m ass!”

To my immediate right was a group of 20+ “interesting fans.”  Some of these fans were fine, but a lot were 28 year-olds pretending they were still teenagers and being as obnoxious as they possibly could be by recalling the immaturity of their youth while consuming large quantities of beer.  Their major schtick was to be constantly jawing at the top of their lungs at the LSU crowd to the right.  They also would shout that they were about to come over their and kick some whoop ass any minute on them Louisiana folk.  I wanted to correct their behavior.  It was the teacher in me!  I wanted to start with something like “you infantile morons. . .” but I bit my lip and watched the game.  Just as well,  By the end of the contest, the un-teens had mellowed out and were actually talking jovially to a couple of LSU fans they had spent the afternoon cursing at.  And the other adults who sat about me and I had never found it necessary to flee.  Perhaps, there is hope for the future.

I left the Dome and walked the mile or so to where I had parked my car off Euclid Avenue.  The afternoon was gorgeous, and I headed home to sit on our new deck and have a beer that didn’t cost $7.50.

I was back at the Dome by about noon the next day.  This time I had to pay for parking because of the overlap in opposite side parking laws.  At 6:00 P.M. in the university area, you have to move your car to the opposite side of the street.  It was probable that the event would run until well after 6:00.  I knew a real good, close-by Dome lot.  Fifteen bucks later I was parked 200 yards from the entrance.

I was in the Dome to watch the Bronze Medal and Gold Medal games of the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships.  Indoor or box lacrosse is a tough game played by teams of 6, goalie included.  It’s much like hockey with line exchanges, power plays, amazing speed, and tons of checking.  No fights, though.  There is even a 30 second shot clock, which I guess is a nod to basketball.  The USA won the Bronze by doing a job on Israel.  The names of some of the players on the Israeli team made me think that a lot of these guys weren’t born in the homeland.  Starters included Harper, Miller, Hawkins, Culp, and Smith, probably US or Canada born Israeli team members.  The most interesting part of the box lacrosse get-up is the goalie uniform.  These guys have so much padding that they look like the Michelin man.  The Gold Medal game between Canada and the Iroquois National Team was great with Canada winning by 4 goals.  Canada has a big time box lacrosse league, I understand, and their players at the tournament are pros.  The Thompsons, Randy Staats, and other terrifc Iroquois players were not quite up to the speed and strength of the Canadians.  The Iroquois players have amazing stick ability, though.

A bit after 6:00, I went to my car to head home; my weekend “under the Carrier Dome” was over.  It had been a terrific sports weekend, although kind of expensive.  Saturday’s football game cost $51 for my ticket, $4.00 for a hotdog, $7.50 for a beer, and $4.50 for a Pepsi.  My total was $67 to see the football game.  Not too bad.  Lacrosse day was more expensive starting with a $41 ticket, $15 to park, $7.50 for nachos, $4.50 for a Pepsi, and, the ultimate indulgence, $30 for an official World Indoor Lacrosse Championship t-shirt.  Seeing that this event is only held every four years and is all over the world, I figured I probably wouldn’t be attending another and ought to get some swag.  Weekend total:  $161.00.  Worth it?  Yeh, I think so.  Yeh.  Definitely.--Greg Ellstrom