Facing the Utter Despair of a Trump Presidency

This man reportedly threw rocks at babies when he was a child.

My old friend Tommy Denton used to despair of living in a country that could elect George Bush Jr. as its president and then watching the Bush team slowly eat away at the America that has taken well over 200 years to build.

I haven’t talked to Tommy, a retired editorial writer of some stature, in a while, but my guess is that George Bush is looking less bad by comparison to today’s president and his lieutenants.

Bush made me mad nearly every day for eight years. Trump leaves me sharing Tommy’s despair.

I’m watching people I know and respect–hell, I love some of them–defend the indefensible, side with a power structure built to destroy the United States and the world through climate ignorance without firing a shot. This administration has Russia publicly laughing out loud as it carries out our sworn enemy’s plan to conquer us. Half of Congress is a player on Russia’s team. Some would call Mitch McConnell the MVP of that team and a handful of House members would be designated as cheerleaders.

I don’t need to detail the current president’s deficits as a leader, as a visionary, as a diplomat or as a human being. That’s been done ad nauseum and has had no effect whatsoever on his popularity among those who enthusiastically support him. Any of his deficits attributed to a Democrat or any other non-Republican would be a career killer. The president’s supporters will not be moved because they hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see and facts be damned. They are immovable.

The current drama-less impeachment proceeding has a pre-determined outcome because the president’s party has power and wants to keep it, regardless of what that does to our culture, our government, our standing in the world, our economy, our morality … all of it. The Senate likely won’t even try the case. McConnell has hinted he will simply dismiss it. Toss his hand and it will go away. My guess is he can. I mean, he dismissed a Supreme Court nominee because he could, not because it was right.

I’ve made the conscious decision over the past few days to crank back my political rhetoric and put my efforts into areas where they can have a positive impact. Like Tommy, I feel an overwhelming sense of despair when I face what is happening, so for a while at least, I think I’ll look the other way and change the things I can, as the Serenity Prayer suggests.

‘Sound of Music’: Good Production of a Great Play

Mill Mountain Theatre’s production of “The Sound of Music” got off to a bang last night–quite literally–when a large piece of the set came crashing to the floor just after the opening number. The house manager stormed the stage from the control booth, announcing loudly to the full house that everything was under control. About three minutes later, he charged back up the stairs, bellowing that the problem was fixed and the play would resume momentarily.

Shortly thereafter, Emma Leigh Gwin, playing Maria Rainer, twirled onto the stage singing “The hills are alive …” in a beautiful operatic soprano, as a grateful audience held its breath and then thundered its approval.

It was a dramatic beginning to one of American theatre’s most beloved stories, that of the Austrian von Trapp family singers at the brink of World War II. Ms. Gwin, Mill Mountain Theatre’s teaching artist, stars as the young nun candidate who is sent as a governess to the von Trapps to help care for the children of Captain von Trapp, a widower, played by stage and TV veteran Timothy Booth. Von Trapp runs his family like one of his ships and Maria brings warmth, understanding, love and music to the children, who have a history of making short work of governesses. They fall in love with her. So does Capt. von Trapp.

And there lies the rub. The Nazis want von Trapp to captain one of their ships and to send him off immediately. The rest you know.

This is a lavish production with heavy emphasis on costuming and sets (Jimmy Ray Ward, who recently won a Perry F. Kendig award for excellence in the arts). Tess Marshall, as Elsa Schraeder (a Shenandoah Conservatory grad with some hefty credits) is one of the primary beneficiaries of the costuming (by Jennie Ruhland), wearing some elegant late-1930s gowns, with authentic hair and makeup. She sings nicely, as well.

The children are all locals (and I only got to see one set of the two who perform). On opening night the talent among these youngsters–developed by Mill Mountain–was striking. Precocious Cave Spring third-grader Natalie Thorell as Gretl pretty much stole the audience’s collective heart from her first moment on stage to her last. But it was Ellen Frary, a William Byrd High School junior, as Liesl who demonstrated a level of talent that said “promise” consistently as she sang and danced with the professionals on stage. There are 14 children engaged for “The Sound of Music,” all local, all sufficiently talented to be cast in a professional production.

Much of the rest of the cast has Roanoke or Mill Mountain credits, led by well-known veterans Emma Sala (recent Hollins theatre grad, and daughter of a theatrical family) in two roles, MaryJean Levin as the von Trapp’s crusty maid and Patrick Kennerly as a nasty Nazi. Booth and Mary Grace Gordon (Mother Abbess, she of the “Climb every mountain, ford every stream …” show-stopper) are the only equity actors involved.

Directing this thoroughly entertaining production are Mill Mountain Artistic Director Ginger Poole (also choreographer) and Christopher Costanho.

The 2019 holiday season offering from Roanoke’s premier professional theatre is exactly what you’d expect: professional, entertaining and emotional (I kept having to surreptitiously wipe away tears). It’s a good production of a great story.

(The show runs through Dec. 22. Tickets are $20-$38 and you can order them here.)

Fall Still Hanging Around

This forest creature is benign, but he sure looks scary.

Susan shot me shooting her.

It’s been a while since my friend Susan and I have tromped all over the woods–life getting in the way and all–but yesterday we played hookey and did what we do best: photographed the beauty of nature. All the while, we were soaking in Mama Nature’s soothing caress.

Our excursion went into Botetourt County: Ikenberry Orchards, Fincastle, Daleville Town Center, Roaring Run Furnace. And it was lovely, even though this beautiful fall has passed its peak. There was still plenty to look at, plenty to appreciate. Here is some of that.

Roaring Run Furnace framed by fall.

Roaring Run Furnace.

More fall, more furnace.

Rail fence framed by nature.

Bridge to nowhere.

Fuzzy flora (sounds like a name for an exotic dancer).

You want peace? I give you peace.

Fall lingers.

The falls at Roaring is never less than beautiful.

When the sun hits the yellow leaves …

The water becomes cotton in low light.

Susan got some wonderful photos with her little camera. I wish she would post them.

Susan shot the following pictures of me, using various features on her little point-and-shoot camera. Cool stuff.

I look like Burl Ives here and if you don’t know who he is, think, “Have a holly-golly Christmas … “

Sometimes, fall is enough.

Mr. Studley Whiplash and his slung-over camera.

What the Brits would call a “draw-er-ing” of moi at the falls.

Exit, stage right.

Entertaining the Troops at Warm Hearth

Annie and the crew (Margie on the left as Mrs. Hannigan).

Margie turning the bottle up as Mrs. Hannigan.

Every year at Halloween, my Margie and her crew of nurses at Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg put on the dog at Halloween, finding a theatrical showpiece and becoming the characters. This year, the show was Annie and Margie went far against type, portraying the tippling lush and orphanage head Mrs. Hannigan.

The old residents take great delight in the charade and Margie’s crew really does it up right. Here are some photos (some of them in very low resolution, I’m afraid) from the festivities.

I will note that Margie’s daughter, Meghann Garmany, a highly thought of actor in New York, has nothing on her mom.

Hallowristmas Is Coming

There are no flies on Tara Marciniak, who was shopping for candy today at chocolatepaper in downtown Roanoke, dressed as a, uh, Halloween elf, or maybe a Christmas goblin.

Tara is the Director of Institutional Advancement at Center in the Square and she’s obviously advancing a couple of institutions with this outfit, which was–by far–the best I saw downtown today.

Fall Colors Glorious on Tinker Mountain

This is me at the railroad, resting at the bottom of Tinker Mountain.

An apartment complex is being built right next to the trail that accessed the Appalachian Trail in Daleville. I am not happy.

This area floods and gets muddy, so the log trail is welcome.

When I catch up on story assignments, as I did yesterday, I often reward myself by taking the next day off to walk in the woods. Today’s hike was to Tinker Mountain where the fall’s colors are what one would expect for October 25: quite lovely.

Herewith a look at Tinker Mountain on a Friday during “leaf season.”

Nice reflections in the Tinker Mountain creek.


Getting Lost with a Map

This is Potts Creek and it’s pretty, but it ain’t a raptor observatory.

This is Margie making Potts Creek look better.

OK, so I don’t know how I do it, but it happened again yesterday. Margie and I were driving up to the Raptor Observatory near Waiteville, which is not near anything, unless you count Paint Bank.

Waiteville, I suspect, is the nearest post office to this former ranger station that is either in West Virginia or Virginia, Giles or Craig County. Just not sure because it’s so close to the line.

These old boys greeted us on Virginia 600 at a buffalo farm. I think we got mooned.

Anyway, it’s off Virginia 600, which is off Virginia 311, which goes from Salem to New Castle, to Paint Bank. Then you take a left at the bridge and drive 22 miles to a dirt road that takes you up to the observatory, a one-mile walk from the parking lot. Sounds pretty simple, except it isn’t.

That’s Margie and me getting photo-bombed at the Paint Bank General Store while awaiting lunch.

I looked this baby up on the ‘net, got directions and even pictures of key turn areas. I followed my map to the letter, but no turn off Va. 600. After about 27 miles from Paint Bank, the road simply ended. I never did see the turnoff to the observatory. Neither did Margie. We saw a lot of flat highway, a nice creek (Potts Creek), a rails-to-trails turnoff, but no raptor observatory. The damn thing is out there, I know. But where?

Dad and the Marble Knuckles

Look closely at Dad’s knuckles. Ignore the cowlick.

My friend Leah Weiss is finishing a new novel and got in touch with me recently asking if I knew anything about marble playing, say in the 1940s, or if I knew anybody who did. I found her a 1952 marbles national champion and told her this story:

When my dad was 10 in 1922, photo day at school was a big deal. Moms would dress their children in formal wear and pack them off to school with this instruction: “Don’t you dare get dirty before the photo or you’ll answer to your father’s belt.”

The lure of marbles was too much for dad. He smacked them around before school in the dirty of the school yard, like he was addicted to crack. The photo here is of dad during the photo session, looking like he knows what’s ahead when him mom sees the picture. Look, especially, at his knuckles.

My First–and Only–Autograph

Samantha Fox was not (un)dressed like this when we spoke. And I did not undress her with my eyes. Promise.

It was 1978 and I was working in the features department of Roanoke’s daily newspaper. Editor Sandra Kelly asked me if I wanted to do an interview with Samantha Fox, probably the best known porn actress in the country at the time. She would be making a personal appearance at the Lee Theater on Williamson, which had gone from showing all-Disney movies to all-porn in an effort to keep the doors open.

You can guess my reply. With a large grin. You can also guess how the other guys in the features department–Jeff DeBell, Chris Gladden and Joe Kennedy–reacted. Heh, heh, heh …

I found Sam to be intelligent, funny, forthright and open. She was also pretty in a way Barbie would not know. There was something about her that had nothing to do with sex that I liked a lot. I thought after the interview that she could be a friend. That’s when I asked her for an autograph, a totally unprofessional request from a journalist. It was the only autograph I ever requested, unless you consider book signings.

She wrote–in red pen, “Dear Dan, Thanks for the intelligent, mellow interview. Now what? Love, Samantha Fox.”

As you can see, I still have the photo. Thanks, Sam.

If the Deal Looks Too Good To Be True …

This is the Jeep in question.

I stumbled upon a 2005 Jeep Rubicon (a top of the line Jeep) on Facebook’s Marketplace a couple of days ago that listed for $1,700. I thought maybe it was a typo, leaving out a zero, so I contacted the seller saying, “I’m interested. Can we talk?”

An e-mail showed up in my box from one Judith Mcalister giving me the details: The car “has been extremely well maintained with a full-service history, it has the 4.0 liter engine, only 98,741 miles, transmission is automatic. Has all of its original floor mats, all books, complete set of tools and keys. Everything works: lights, radio, windows, locks etc. It has no leaks or drips and does not smoke at all, slightly used in 100% working and looking conditions with a clear title free of liens. The price is $1,700 non-negotiable.”

I emailed her back asking where she lives and where we could meet so I could look at and drive the car. I left my phone number. She replied the next morning via email: “I am selling this vehicle because my husband passed away 5 months ago and I need to sell the vehicle before the 2th [sic] of the next month, when I will be leaving on military duty with my medical team out of the country for a year and do not want to store my vehicle. It’s not worth keeping insurance and paying storage fees for a year. I can send you pictures and more details too, just let me know if you are still interested.

” … I am in Logan UT in the military base getting ready for Japan. The vehicle is already at the shipping company sealed and ready for the shipping. I prearranged the deal with eBay. The deal includes free delivery and it will arrive at your address in 2-3 days. You will have 5 days to try out prior to making any purchase and if by any reason you find something you don’t like about it you can send it back at my expense.

“If you are interested in knowing more info about how it works, I can ask eBay to send you an email with more information on how to purchase it. Please send me your full name, shipping address and phone number so I can register the transaction with eBay. They will contact you with more details and information about this transaction.”

I sent her another email: “I’ll pass.”