“And You’ll Gonna Pay!”: Oh, Those Memories!

When my ex-wife and I lived in South Pasadena from 1986-1991, we encountered an eccentric French couple who became our landlords.  The woman was in her 60s, of a highly suspicious nature, and was always going through other people’s trash to find evidence of their misdoings, which she never found.  She also liked to place a quarter near one of the laundry machines to see who would take it, but nobody ever did.  Whenever she got angry at a tenant, she would exclaim, “And you’ll gonna pay!”  She used to scream at her husband, yelling out that he was the son of satan and a monster.  However, her spouse merely shrugged his shoulders and turned his back to her.  Unlike the woman, he was quite cordial and agreeable and loved to fix things.  “I fix. I fix.”, he would proclaim whenever we had a plumbing problem.  But he used scotch tape methods rather than any bonafide plumbing tool, so the problem always recurred.

The Case of the Water Men:

When we moved into this apartment complex, two men from the water company occupied the apartment opposite us on the second floor(We lived on the first floor).  Not long after our arrival, the water men left and the space was to remain unrented for the rest of our stay.  Now many people went up the stairs to visit the apartment,  but nobody took it.  We began to wonder what was so terrible about that apartment that kept prospective tenants away.  We thought about what the water men could have done to have made the space so repulsive.  These thoughts kept us busy on dreary days and were the source of much amusement.  However, this was a case that had no solution.

Roach motel:  Reservations Recommended!

When I first told my ex about a roach motel, she envisioned several rooms with furniture, a dining table and several accessories for comfort.  She was truly disappointed when she saw a bleak rectangular box with glue-like material inside, which would be the last object a roach would see before heading into eternal silence.

My roommate and I lived in a relatively clean, well-furnished apartment for several years until a couple of girls moved in downstairs(This time we were upstairs).  For amusement and extra money these girls sold their services on the top of the roof, so their clients could get an aerial view of Westwood as a bonus.  Alas, the girls had a habit of leaving garbage bags outside their room for days.

Word spreads quickly in a college town, and soon every UCLA roach dropped its studies to head for our apartment building.  Unfortunately, these roaches were not like our current garden roaches, large and orange-brown and quite choosy about their mates, but small German roaches that mated with every female roach no matter how unattractive she might be.  Soon our apartment was full of roaches that liked the dark, so we bought a roach motel.  The next day it was filled with roaches and a few other curious insects.  And every day it would be the same story.  Finally, we resorted to other methods.

Retribution!

Our owner’s in-laws came over when repairs were needed.  The man was quite the gentleman, but the woman we called “The Wicked Witch of the West”, because she needled us and said that the repairs were our fault.  We honored her by intoning the evil witch’s theme from the 1939 MGM movie.  One day she was showing our apartment to to possible renters.  She yelled at us:  “What is all this white powder on the floor?!”  I replied, “That’s to kill off all the roaches.”  My roommate and I laughed and laughed, but I will draw a curtain of silence over this scene and this post.

 

“Have You Not Done Tormenting Me With Your Accursed Time!”–Pozzo, From Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot

Bert Lahr As Estragon In Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot.

Bert Lahr as Estragon In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.

In Act 2 of Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, the previously conceited and self-assured Pozzo has lost the watch that regulated his life and gone blind.  His slave, Lucky, has become dumb, which is in stark contrast to the long, rambling, and disturbing speech he gives in Act 1.  In Beckett’s work, virtually all of his characters suffer from some physical ailment that makes life even more painful for them.  Vladimir, the more intellectual side of man, suffers from kidney problems, while Estragon, the more earthy side of man, suffers from pains in his feet.  The above photo shows Estragon suffering from acute pain, both mental and physical.  But Waiting for Godot is about more than pain;  it is about time and its manifestations.  The very title implies time.  In Beckett, time exists as an abstract entity, but it does initiate specific changes that are crucial to the dramatic power of the play.  It is not surprising that the play is often described in musical terms, because music embodies time and variations in tonal patterns.  When we examine the events of Act 2 as opposed to Act 1, we see some musical parallels.  On the whole, although Estragon and Vladimir don’t change in Act 2, the people around them do and they create a more menacing, threatening tone.  Pozzo, who dragged Lucky as his slave on a long rope in the previous act is now blind and guided by Lucky, who is now dumb and on a short rope.  Also, Lucky wears a different hat.  His previous one remains on the stage.  In the second act, Vladimir is alone with the Boy, Mr. Godot’s messenger, as Estragon is asleep.  Without Estragon’s loud, whiney voice, the scene is subdued and unbearably sad.  The hopelessness that Vladimir feels when he learns that Mr. Godot “does nothing” is tangible throughout the audience and the confined space of the theater.  “Tell him that you saw me” are the last words that Vladimir says to Godot’s messenger.  While Vladimir can recognize the Boy, the latter can’t recognize him.  Beckett appears to be saying that our existence is so meaningless that our individual characteristics count as nothing.  Quite a contrast to Pozzo’s trumpeting ego and arrogance in Act 1.  Time inevitably brings death to a human life and both acts deal early with words about death.  In Act 1, Vladimir and Estragon discuss the possibility of hanging themselves.  In Act 2, Vladimir sings about a dog that a cook beats to death with a ladle.  He repeats the last words of the song four times, the last line five times, “Then all the dogs came running and dug the dog a tomb.”  Time has done its job.  The crescendo arrives with Pozzo’s anguished outburst:  “Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time!…, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that enough for you?  Then, what follows is Beckett’s view of life that reverberates in several of his works:  “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”  Pozzo and Lucky go off, leaving an ominous silence.  But, throughout all the darkness and despair, the once barren tree has produced a few leaves and Vladimir and Estragon’s friendship will continue…

Surprise! Russian Humor: The Encore

Here are some more samples of Russian wit at work:

A teacher asked his student why he didn’t do his homework.

The student asked him:

–Did you correct my dictation?

The teacher answered:

–No.  I corrected students’ dictations from the other classes.

The student responded:

–Well, I did the homework for my other teachers.

A boy’s mother told him that if he got a tattoo, he could just get out of the house.

His father told him that such an opportunity doesn’t happen very often and that he should make the best use of it.

A patient was at the psychologist’s office:

–At work, it seems that nobody understands me;  all I see are dull eyes, indifferent looks and a total lack of desire to listen to me.

The psychologist asked his patient:

–What do you do for a living?

The patient replied:

–I teach quantum physics.

A daughter was begging her relatives for a baby brother or a baby sister.

Her mother tried to explain:

–Understand, precious, that Daddy is on a trip and he won’t return for several days.  Until Daddy gets back, we can’t have a baby.

But the little girl retorted:

–Just the opposite!  We’ll have the baby right now, and when Daddy returns, we’ll tell him:  Surprise!”

A Bit Of Russian Humor To Provide Perspective

As an American, I am envious of the Russian sense of humor that culminates in the ubiquitous anecdote.  No matter what the event or the occasion, the anecdote is up to the task.  It is the voice of the people, coming through a barrage of political slogans, twisted phrases and distorted language.  I believe that the Russian anecdote is a release, a coping mechanism for all the struggles and problems this great nation has had to endure.

A digression with a quick return to our topic:  We often forget how different Russians and Americans are.   Russia is largely a misogynistic culture, although there have been many strong women throughout Russian history and quite a number of “superfluous men”.  I remember a UCLA professor telling me I was going to take a men’s exam rather than a women’s exam.  At the time I was shocked, but realized later that such an attitude is common.  Anti-women anecdotes still predominate.  Such an anecdote could never be printed in an American paper:

At the zoo, a little girl asks her mother:

–Mommy, why is that goat looking off in the distance with such a sad expression?

–And, do you often see your Daddy smile?  That’s just the way men’s lives are.

Putin has been characterized as a swaggering bully.  He is a former light-weight champion.  To the White House, he has been responsible for a number of problems and there is an anecdote for that:

At the White House:  –Did you hear the latest?  Obama’s Press Secretary is pregnant.  Do you know who was responsible?

–I can guess.  It must be Putin, since he’s responsible for everything else!

And about the Ukrainian situation:

A lady from Israel is talking to her friend from the Ukraine:

–So, what’s been happening over there?

–We’re having a little war with Russia.

–Have you had any losses?

–Just a few things:  the Crimea, a couple of regions, some airplanes, some helicopters, some weapons and some of our people.

–And what have the Russians lost?

–Would you believe it?  They haven’t arrived yet!

And, of course, there is the Russian economy.  We look at two different perspectives:

The reality of the Russian economy:  The director of a major business was given the gift of a hen that could lay golden eggs.  Within a month, the business failed to make a profit.

–My dear Holmes, what do you make of the fact that in one year the ruble has dropped to half it’s value, while the euro has dropped to a fourth of it’s value?

–Elementary, my dear Watson.  The given fact indicates that European help is twice as terrifying as it’s sanctions.

And there is the medical profession.  Two anecdotes:

–Russian medicine is very simple.  Whatever illness you go into the hospital with, you die from.

–Why don’t we fall off the earth when it rotates on its axis?

–We’re stuck to the hospitals.

And, lastly, the all embracing topic of alcoholism:

–Hello!  I would like to buy some alcohol on credit.

–Judging by the color of your face, I would say you have an excellent credit history!

–Do you have a dream?

–I do.

–Please tell me what it is.

–It’s to give up drinking.

–So, give it up!

–And then, how could I live without a dream?

Indeed!  How can anyone live without a dream?

Remembering Robin Williams: Mork And Mindy’s Window Scene

Mork and Mindy was a popular American show from the late 1970s.  The opening theme was a series of clear melodies with a soothing harmony.  Quite a contrast to My Favorite Martian’s, disjointed, unsettling theme from the 1960s.  America had changed and its view of alien beings had changed.  The world of the 1970s was one of unprecedented freedom, acceptance and the belief in the unlimited potential of a human individual.  Suddenly, discrimination diminished.  All ethnicities, religions, people of various sexual orientation flourished.   Julian Beck’s Living Theater was thriving on the streets and experimental art became the norm.  To be sure, the 1960s began the reform movement on TV and beyond;  Bewitched(in 1964) was the first TV sitcom to show a couple in the same bed and was redolent of intimacy and passion.  Poetry of Richard Brautigan and others were gaining prominence. The generation gap was getting wider.  But the 60s was an explosive age, an eruption from the stale, too-well role-defined, authoritarian world of the 1950s, while the 1970s was an age where the rebellions and upheavals settled into a new, but still discernible pattern.

Mork and Mindy took the American audience by storm in 1978, when a young, short, athletic, comic actor cavorted as an alien from the planet Ork.  He was juxtaposed with the more refined, careful, Mindy McConnell(Pam Dawber), who worked in her Dad’s music store in Boulder, Colorado.  Together, their slow evolving relationship of mutual discovery and respect, formed the main subject of the show.

Mork comes from an emotionless planet and has been sent by leader Orson to observe earth habits.  Mork communicates his observations to Orson through his brain and these comments usually conclude the show.  They are often quite provocative and thought-provoking.

Through Mindy, Mork gains an appreciation of emotions and their consequences, reaching an apex with the manic “Mork’s Mixed Emotions.”  His first love is a mannikin named Dolly whom he worships and reveres.  However, Mindy teaches him that there is something rather special about a woman’s touch that Dolly does not have.  And so begins the growing intimacy that Mork and Mindy share in their developing awareness of their mutual feelings.  The episode blends slapstick humor, exaggeration, sadness and wistfulness in a blend that only Robin Williams could deliver in his quiet innocence.  And he provides this special mixture throughout the series.

The famous Window Scene from “A Mommy for Morky” epitomizes Williams’s capacious artistic talents.  Mindy has met an old boyfriend, who once broke off an engagement.  However, she is attracted to him, and agrees to go out with him to various restaurants, causing Mork to blurt out:  “Is this the guy you’ve been eating around with?”  Mindy tells Mork that she’s serious about her boyfriend, with marriage a distinct possibility.  Mork  is jealous and sad, but cannot admit these feelings.  Mindy’s boyfriend is anxious to have children, but Mindy questions what kind of mother she’d be.  Mork has never had a mother, only a Nanny computer that attended to his needs.  Since Mork has a time machine that will transform him into a three-year-old(which he sets for 10 minutes), he decides to use it for such a purpose; so that he can experience a Mommy and Mindy can experience what it’s like to be a mother.  Before our eyes, Robin becomes a three-year-old with tantrums, irresponsible playfulness, and seemingly inexhaustible energy and Mindy learns how difficult it is to be a mother.  When Mindy leaves with her boyfriend, the scene turns dark, and we can feel Morky’s despair at being left alone.  With tears in his eyes, he runs toward the window, shouting:  “Mommy!  Mommy!’  As he looks through the window, we see the tear-streaked face of a lonely child.  Suddenly, as if by an unseen magic, Mork changes back to a young man, and his:  “Goodbye, Mindy” is delivered in a subdued, sad, almost resigned manner.  The young boy’s dependent need for his mother has been juxtaposed with a man’s growing dependence on a love he, too, cannot do without.  It is a piece of TV magic that only Robin could have brought off, because throughout his life, the child never departed.  It often raised its head  in its sheer innocence, playful exuberance, and delight in its surroundings.

At the conclusion of the episode, it was usual to hear Mork stating to Orson:  “This is Mork signing off.”  Alas, forever, Robin.

And A Little More Russian Humor

The following examples of Russian humor were taken from the Russian magazine, Laughter All-Around.

1.  –I heard that you decided to back to your husband.

— Yes.  I could no longer stand to see him enjoying himself so much!

2.  Little Elsie was finishing her prayer.

–And one more thing, Dear God.  Please send some clothes to those poor naked girls that Daddy looks at in his magazine.

3.  –Just imagine what a catastrophe!  Yesterday my three-year-old son threw fifty pages of my new novel into the fire!

–What!  He read it already?

4.  –Mommy!  Why did the wolf eat the grandmother instead of Little Red Riding Hood?

–Go to sleep, my precious one…Maybe he wanted dried fruit.

5.  A married couple was taking a stroll through the forest.  The wife says:

—  What a wonderful spot to rest and have a snack!

—  You know.  You may be right.  Fifty million ants can’t be wrong.

6.  From a theater review:

–Art demands victims and the hall was soon filled with them.

7.  A wife, who had just gone fishing with her husband, speaks to her friend:

–It turns out I did everything wrong!  I spoke too loud.  I didn’t bait the hook properly.  I didn’t cast the line in the right place.  I didn’t get a strike the right way.  And what’s more:  I caught more fish than he did!

Beauty Of The Salad Is Breathtaking: The Best Of Gloria Russakov, Part 2.

Gloria Russakov worked with a staff from Oregon Magazine to evaluate a slough of restaurants in Oregon.  Her reviews are both personal and humorous. She describes herself as “the short woman in the big glasses” and always paid for her meals.  She warns people to be careful when eating at Samovar Bakery-Restaurant Lunch in Beaverton:  Nothing upsets the staff more than to see the Amerikanskis(Amerikantsy) blatantly waste food.  Even reassuring them that you like your lunch, but that some 5’2″ females are susceptible to weight gain even on Perrier, will not assuage their anger.  Leavings trigger grimaces, shrugged shoulders, mumbles of “terrible” in two languages, and a posse which runs after you with the unfinished apple strudel you were trying to escape.  However, Gloria can become quite poetic when she encounters a creative dish:  “Beauty of the salad is breathtaking.  Chunks of cucumber, zucchini, green pepper, celery, iceberg lettuce and tomato all tossed with an oil-based sweet and sour dressing accented with onion, all bordered with tall cabbage leaves.  Flowers from The Country Inn garden are arranged among the layers of leaves.”  Such is the description of a salad from The Country Inn in Eugene.  Compare this with the salad at The Keeping Room in Cannon Beach:  “Salad is one of those combinations no one(wisely) bothered inventing before.  Pieces of cantaloupe are combined with pieces of cucumber, then dressed with a semi-sweet, watery white dressing.  All are deposited on a lettuce leaf to catch the run-off.”  Her description of their cheesecake is positively lethal:  While it(ginger cheesecake) inspired one California tourist to write in for the recipe, it inspired another to grab her coffee cup, gulp fast and rush down the block to cleanse her palate with nibbles from the leaves of nasturtiums planted in front of the White Bird Gallery.  Nasturtium leaves are visually appealing, impeccably fresh and mercifully unsauced.”