Good Marriages: There Are Plenty of Them

Yesterday, I put out a request for suggestions of couples who have good marriages so I could write a magazine piece about them. My expectations were low: maybe 15 nominations in an area of 200,000 people.

Boy, was I surprised. In less than 12 hours, I had about 60 suggestions, almost every one of them solid and interesting. I had to cut off the request and begin to make selections–consulting with my editor.

This is truly gratifying. I’ve been married so often that I have–upon occasion–considered starting a 12-step program for serial monogamy.  My impression has been that marriage, for all intents and purposes, is dying, if not dead. But, I’m wrong. At least wrong about Roanoke.

I can’t wait to write the story, but getting to the 10 couples who will be featured will be the most difficult part of the process. A good problem to have.


Airline’s Leggings Ban Is Not as Simple as You Think

Proper airline attire? Not for ‘non-revs’.

There was a much publicized story late last week about United Airlines refusing to allow three young girls wearing “leggings” to board one of its planes. That part was true, but there is more to the story and you likely will not be banned for wearing Spandex or shorts or a bathing suit, if that’s your choice.

According to CNN, here’s the real deal: “the passengers [who were denied admittance]  were ‘pass riders.’ United employees or their dependents can fly standby on a space-available basis. They pay a fraction of what the rest of us pay. But there are trade-offs. Pass riders are prioritized last on standby.

“‘Non-revs,’ short for ‘non-revenue,’ are subjected to a dress code, which only they can access on the United website with a password; it’s not publicly available.
United’s code bans, among many other things, form-fitting and Lycra/Spandex clothing, or anything inappropriately revealing. Non-revs are perceived as a kind of unidentified representative of the airline, sometimes known only to the flight crew. Pass riders — even a 10-year-old child — are treated more like United employees than members of the public.”

Harvesting the Best Part of the Horse

Robin putting her horsie through the motions.

Robin introduces me to her pal.

As you might imagine, I’m not a big horse guy. My daughter takes care of that for the entire–extended–family. But I do understand fully the value of horses. Their poo is indispensable for my garden.

So, yesterday, I drove out to my pal Robin Barnhill’s ranch/farm/whateveryoucallit in the wilds of Roanoke County (you have no idea how rural this county can be) to harvest some of her eight or so horses’ leavings. She boards her horses at the ranch, doesn’t own it.

After the loading of the poo onto my truck, I got to watch Robin put her beautiful Appaloosa through some of its moves, and took a few photos. Here’s what it looked like.

That’s me working toward a better garden.



Basketball Scholarships for the Poor? Not So much

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.

“Fewer than 1 in 5 students playing Division 1 hoops, and 1 in 7 in all Division 1 sports, come from families in which neither parent went to college. And their numbers are declining.”–Tom Farrey in The Undefeated (here)

Those numbers, writes Farrey, are “a closely tracked figure because [they’re] a key measure of socioeconomic opportunity. … First gens are typically from poor and working-class families that have difficulty paying for college without scholarships.” A degree (which 86 percent of Division I athletes earn, about 60 percent for the general student population in six years) is a ticket to the middle class. So few college players actually end up playing professional sports that the figures are negligible. It’s like looking at the number who will eventually own rubber plantations in Borneo.

The fall is precipitous in the money sports, according to Farrey: “In men’s basketball, the sport that used to have the highest percentage of first gens, the number plummeted by a third in just five years. Women’s basketball experienced a similar drop. Football fell by more than 10 percent.” Just “14.2 percent of all Division 1 athletes are first gens.” Still that’s not the whole story because the “NCAA did not survey athletes in 10 smaller sports … equestrian, fencing, men’s gymnastics, bowling, rifle, rugby, sailing, sand volleyball, skiing and squash.”

All this tells a sad tale for the inner city kids, but it also goes to the point that youngsters’ parents often spent many thousands of dollars running them all over hell and half of Georgia to play softball, elite basketball, soccer and other sports in hopes of winning a scholarship … one that all that up-front expense would likely pay for and throw in a good used car.

I don’t like full athletic scholarships because they put entirely too much emphasis on an extracurricular activity (one that benefits the school far more than the athlete), often at the expense the education that these students are supposed to be getting for their hard labor. I do favor scholarships for kids who show talent in some area–basketball included–and wouldn’t be able to go to college otherwise. Those are need-based and are legit to a degree. You can argue, though, that the emphasis on the sport is still wrong. Requiring the maintenance of a solid GPA–and giving help to reach that, if needed–would be a great step.

It also wouldn’t hurt to penalize schools whose athletes go pro with no attempt to graduate. That would likely kill Kentucky basketball, but I think we could live with it.



Trump vs. Clinton: The Russians Are Coming

Did not … did, too … did not … did, too …

I pulled this not-so-presidential “debate” excerpt (actually a peeing contest) off Facebook a bit ago and it’s fascinating in view of the multitude of investigations of Trump that are going on at the highest levels of our constabulary. It also shows Trump as a simple schoolyard bully without the intellect or the vocabulary to actually debate–only to argue in the “did not … did, too … did not … did, too …” vein.

CLINTON: Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.
TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.
CLINTON: And it’s pretty clear…
TRUMP: You’re the puppet!
CLINTON: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…
TRUMP: No, you’re the puppet.
CLINTON: … that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.
So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber-attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton…
CLINTON: And I think it’s time you take a stand…
TRUMP: She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else.
CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.
TRUMP: She has no idea.
CLINTON: I am quoting 17…
TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.
CLINTON: … 17 intelligence — do you doubt 17 military and civilian…
TRUMP: And our country has no idea.
CLINTON: … agencies.
TRUMP: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.
CLINTON: Well, he’d rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely…
TRUMP: She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.

(Photo: Chicago Tribune)

Linsee Lewis Delivers in ‘Belle of Amherst’

Linsee Lewis on stage with ‘Belle.’

Linsee Lewis’ remarkable performance in William Luce’s “Belle of Amherst” comes as little surprise, given her previous incarnation as Margaret Fuller in “Charm” at Showtimers in 2014.

Linsee Lewis: A part she knows well.

This veteran actress (24 years, beginning when she was 12) doesn’t just portray poet Emily Dickinson in the Star City Playhouse production (its first in its new Vinton studio), but, says artistic director Marlow Ferguson, “She is Emily Dickinson.” And then there’s the little fact that this is the role she chose for her final acting project in college. She knows it and she performed the holy hell out of it Sunday afternoon before a sparse, but appreciative crowd.

Luce is credited with the writing of this piece, but most of it was actually written by the “old maid,” who was pretty much a recluse for her adult life, living vicariously and through her poetry, which didn’t become popular until after she died in the 1880s.

Linsee posing with a dedicated fan.

Linsee is an actor that we simply don’t see enough in this valley. She has been on stage at nearly all its venues (and god knows there are a lot of them), but her performances are always nuanced, authentic and quite real. She commands the stage, even when she’s not doing a one-woman show, as she does in “Belle.”

Star City Playhouse is also an interesting story. This small group has been running pillar to post, putting on some good projects, mixed with some not-so-good ones, but rarely with any stability. Maybe that has come with its move to Vinton. Ferguson’s wife and producer Karon Ferguson explains the set: “Marlow always constructs the sets. Our set pieces are from NYC where there is no storage. The front door, oval window and alcove were from ‘Aliens in the Family’ a Muppet show and the staircase is from NBC’s [Saturday Night Live] from a ‘Home Alone’ skit.” Aaron Semones (Karon’s brother) helped with much of the building’s construction.

This plays two more weekends, so you can still see it. Times are Fridays 7 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are cheap: $12 for most of you and $8 for students and old people (like moi). Reservations can be made at 540-366-1446.

Me and buddy Gene Marrano (also an actor).

A Skateboard Park To Be Proud of (in Bedford)

Alex Forte goes through his moves at the Bedford Skate Park.

I’ve driven through Bedford a number of times in recent years, but not until Friday had I seen its marvelous skate park, one Roanoke kids must envy. Roanokers have been begging for a first-rate skate park for years, but have been left with an inadequate plywood park under a bridge for as long as I can remember.

The Bedford Park, sitting beside U.S. 460, is about five years old and gets pretty heavy use in warm months and weekends, according to Alex Forte, a 20-year-old who was skating as I was shooting photos. “It’s a great facility,” he says. “It’s a lot like the one in Lynchburg.”

Had he ever skated in Roanoke? “Yes. But that park is kind of sad. Pretty awful, actually.” Personally, I think the kids in Roanoke deserve better. Let’s hope they get it soon.

The park’s expanse is impressive and its challenges diverse.

Alex rides a crest.

Entrance to the park.

Why We’re Here with Health Care Reform

David Frum

The Atlantic’s David Frum wrote the following on his blog on the occasion of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) becoming law in 2010. He had worked to find a reasonable compromise on “Obamacare” to no effect. At the time, he was with the conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute. He has since grown up.

“We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

“There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or—more exactly—with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

“I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters—but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.

“When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say—but what is equally true—is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed—if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office—Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

“So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.”

The post got him fired by the conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute. Republicans, it seems, don’t compromise or deal; they fire.

Roanoke Theater in a Time of Plenty

“Arcadia” cast on stage at Community High. The redhead at the left is my pal Mary Ellen Apgar, who will shine.

Over the next three weeks (and more), people in Roanoke have the opportunity to see why we have become nationally known for our theater productions. My schedule alone includes the following:

Sunday: Star City Theatre presents William Luce’s “The Belle of Amherst” with the sparkling Linsee Lewis as Emily Dickinson in this one-woman show. Star City, a vagabond often looking for a home, has a new one in Vinton. This little theater, almost always on the edge of financial disaster, does some fine work because its owners are long-time New York theater veterans who do this for the love of the craft. (Details here.)

Friday of next week, Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” will be the destination in Off the Rails’ downtown theater at Community High School. OTR is the most consistently offbeat of all our Roanoke area theaters and the one willing to take the biggest chances. It is a joy to watch. (Details.)

The following Friday is “Godspell” at Hollins Theatre. This could well be the show-stopper of the entire season, given Hollins’ history and its position as the bar for this region (professional or amateur). You can bet this will be lavish, full, entertaining and inventive. Always is at Hollins, one of the top-ranked theater departments among colleges in the US of A. (Details. Scroll down.)

Finally, one I’m not seeing, but would if my grandgirl were here: Mill Mountain Theatre’s children’s production of one of my favorite books, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” This one’s not just for kids, it’s by kids and should be a delight. (Details.)

Hope you take the time to see some of these. Theater in the Roanoke Valley is superior and here is strong evidence.

A Great Play for Children (and a Favorite of Mine)

One of my favorite children’s books, The Velveteen Rabbit, will play March 25-April 1 at Mill Mountain Theatre and there’s a lot about it to like.

MMT’s production will feature student performers, designers, and technicians. As part of MMT’s continuing initiative connecting theatre and literacy, free books will be available for students.

Director and co-adaptor Jay Briggs explains: “Our playful interpretation of this classic story invites the audience to use their imagination and decide what is real? We have a talented and spirited cast of elementary and middle school students, including some who are starring in their first play ever. They are excited to share this story with you.”
MMT is not selling advance tickets and you pay what you think it’s worth at the door. Completely up to you. Performances are Marcy 25, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; March 27 and 31, 7 p.m.; April 1, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Margery Williams’ story, of course “explores the ways love can transform lives. The book, first published in 1922, urges children to consider the philosophical question, ‘What makes something real?'”