When I was in junior high I was still a believer. I thought celebrities were a super-human breed with god-like abilities. It didn’t matter if they were two-time Oscar winners or a panelist on a game show, being on television made them stars.
That was my first impression of Elaine when I saw her on the local station’s version of GE College Bowl. It was a Sunday afternoon show that pitted teams from Fort Wayne schools against each other. They were quizzed on areas of general knowledge. Elaine represented Elmhurst, the high school I would enroll in the following year.
She had a hip look that set her apart from the other contestants and an expression of intense concentration listening to the questions. She seemed much more composed than the others, even during the frantic moments of the incredibly fierce lightening round.
At my first day of band practice that Fall, I was surprised to see Elaine in the second chair of the clarinet section. The mechanics of how our friendship formed that year escape me but by Spring we were signing each other’s Anlibrum yearbook. Part of her inscription to me included: “At the beginning of the year I wondered who the cute new French Horn player was. And now I know.” My powers to underwhelm have always been immense.
On my trip to Fort Wayne recently I stopped in Chicago to see Elaine and her husband Ted. We reminisced about the typing class we took because we thought it would help us with college papers. It did. We even remembered some of the drills (see title above).
And we continued the ongoing discussion of whether the Band Director, Mr. Myers, was gay. Elaine contends he wasn’t because he had a wife and two children. I told her most international courts threw that one out years ago.
My iron-clad reasoning centered on his persistence in having us perform overtures and medleys from Broadway musicals. And how he would make annual trips to New York then come back peeing his pants over the latest smash hit he’d seen. An admission like that will still get a man the Chair in Alabama.
One of the soothing places I like to get to in my head is the autumnal feel of the outdoor scenes in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Elaine and Ted live in Evanston where that feeling abounds in spades.
So much so that Halloween seems to be the most important holiday of the year. Houses are decked in orange lights and over-the-top lawn displays of skeletons and ghouls. In front of one particularly involved tableau defunct I said it had to be the home of two gay men. Elaine’s son replied, “nah, it’s just an old married couple.”
On Sunday we went to the Block Museum to see its show Pop America, 1965-1975. When my hosts first suggested we go, I’d never thought of there being a Pop movement in other Western Hemisphere countries. To me Pop Art was a send-up of US Commercialism laden with urban wit, camp and irony. How could that translate in less affluent cultures?
Seeing the show made me realize that Pop is really about the mundane imagery of everyday life. In the US it just happens that everything is over-commercialized. In other countries the subject matter comes from religious and political propoganda, fashion trends, sports teams and bottle caps.
Whereas the American Pop Artists used a spontaneous slap-dash style, the images in this show had a restrained and elegant feel to them.
Afterwards we regrouped at the Smiley Brewery to discuss the show over Belgian Mussels and a flight of Texas/Kentucky BBQ. The Pop era had us comparing notes on our counterculture days and common experiences we shared. Like the whole earth bread baking phase we went through.
Elaine got tongue-tied saying she had also participated in that “bed breaking” trend. We laughed as we awaited the judges’ ruling that it was, indeed, an acceptable answer.
Is it any wonder we’ve been friends since high school?