The April Fool’s Day Kid: Part 2

Dear Michael,

So let me just offer this advice. Make the most of it. It’s a one-in-a-million gift, and you really should take advantage.

Write those wisecracks down, or else they’ll evaporate into the ether, forgotten and irretrievable. Written down, they may someday come in handy, ready to be organized, marshaled, deployed.

Consider it an obligation almost holy: if you can make people laugh, you should.
But let me also put this out there. Beware the wisecrack. It can get you into trouble. As much as I urge you to cut loose and feel free to improvise your ass off, exploiting your talent to the maximum extent allowable by law, it’s incumbent on me to deliver a word of caution.

Years ago, around 1994, my former boss Howard Rubenstein took me to meet with a new client, Anna Strasberg, the acting coach and Lee Strasberg’s widow. We watched some actors rehearse first and then Howard introduced me to her. I thought we hit it off pretty well, only to learn a day or two later that I was grossly mistaken. Howard called me into his office – he never came into yours – to let me know I was off the account.

“You’re too much of a wise guy,” he said, and then explained. Apparently Anna Strasberg had made a remark to me about all the actors being in costumes. I, feeling clever, then said something about how I was there in my PR costume. I know: a groaner, hardly clever. I had figured – wrongly, it turned out – that there in that theater, in the spirit of the setting, an attempt at impromptu humor, however pathetic, might be welcome.

Au contraire. Evidently Ms. Strasberg questioned my seriousness.

And that’s exactly the sort of misperception that you could risk encountering yourself. Wisecrack once too often, to the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place, and it could come back to bite you. You could find yourself accused of lacking seriousness.

The wisecrack can be either blessing or curse, escape or trap, and only you will be in a position to try to figure out which is which.

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The April Fool’s Day Kid

Dear Michael,

Out it comes from your mouth, quicker than anyone could anticipate, taking the world by surprise.

A wisecrack.

No sooner does it happen than faces nearby break into smiles, stomachs are clutched and a sound is heard.

Laughter.

So it has gone with you over all these years.

“Did it just get fat in here?” you once asked as Caroline entered the living room.
Another time I bid you hello and you asked me to explain what I meant by that.
And on and on, wisecracks about me and figures in the news and the world at large, everything fair game, ready prey for your snake-flick of a tongue.

Exactly when your wisecracking prowess made its official debut is hard to say, but you definitely started young, a prodigy of the quip and the comeback.

It’s really something special, this miraculous ability to turn out funny remarks. It takes a certain view of the world as essentially absurd, a sense of the ridiculous, and you’re equipped with that mindset.

One time, many years ago, maybe 30 years or longer, I went to a party and, in the middle of conversations, reeled off one wisecrack after another. Whether any were funny I have no idea. But this guy turned to me at one point and said something like, “You really like to get in there with your little comments, eh?” He said it with a smile, and all I could say in reply was something like, “Yeah, now that you mention it, I guess I do.”

Same with you. You’re a conversational trespasser. You pick up on what others are saying and play off it, giving it your own twist, branding it with the Michael brand, zapping out your zingers.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

P.S.S. – Are your kids funny? Funny, how? Like, clown funny?

Yuks Amuck: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

· Does my fat make me look fat?

· I’m unlucky in romance. Even my self-love goes unrequited.

· I made a mistake. It’s what the Japanese call a faux pas.

· I hit the gym regularly, but lately it’s gotten ticked off and hit me back.

· He promised to wait for her indefinitely, perhaps even longer.

· Husband to wife on vacation: “I’m surprised we all got through today without killing each other.” Wife to husband: “Well, there’s always tomorrow.”

· For some years now I’ve suffered from rather a serious anatomical abnormality. It’s called having my head up my ass.

· If you’re ever hoist on your own petard, please, whatever you do, go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

Yuks Amuck

Dear Michael and Caroline,

So enough with the serious stuff, yes? Let’s take a breather here and catch some chuckles. As they say, he who laughs, lasts.

Herewith, then, with amusement aforethought, are my attempts at such:

She drank only on special occasions. Like daylight.

I passed a pleasant evening, as well as, truth be told, a moderate-sized kidney stone.

Maybe I’m pressing my luck here. But that’s okay. It needed ironing anyway.

The minute she arrived, she had somehow already overstayed her welcome.

I’ve spared no expense, nor, for that matter, have I incurred any.

You know the term “time will tell?” Well, sometimes time tells too much. Maybe once in a while I should just tell time to shut the fuck up.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Your Eyes Wide Shut

Dear Michael,

I know you must dream at night. I think you probably dream during the day, too.

That’s good. I’m a big believer in dreams – in having dreams in the first place, in pursuing your dreams, in keeping your dreams alive. A life without dreams is hardly a life at all. A dream is a message, a touchstone, a compass.

I’ve seen you sleep at night all these years, as a baby and as a boy and now as a young man, and all along I’ve wondered, What are you dreaming about?

Maybe you’re dreaming about girls, or a particular girl, a girl already met or a girl as yet unmet, and how she looks and sounds and smells and feels.

Then again, maybe you’re dreaming about your next screenplay, about all the dialogue coming out just right, pitch-perfect, and then the movie that results, and everyone going to see it and like it.

Whatever it is you dream about – a woman, professional success, a cool apartment, loyal friends, – just make sure you dream your dream, my son, my beautiful boy. Never stop.

If you’re going to write, then write well and truly, as only you can write. Write the truth as you know it because it’s the only truth you’ll ever really know.

Dream on.

Tilt at windmills.

Roll that boulder up the hill.

Dare – by all means dare! – to fly too close to the sun.

P.S. — Question of the day: what do your kids dream about?

My Girl, Dreaming

Dear Caroline,

I’ve seen you smile in your sleep.

I’ll come into the living room early in the morning and look over at you sleeping and every once in a while you’re smiling. It’s just a small smile, your mouth upturned at the ends and spread wider than usual.

I imagine the smile in your sleep means you’re dreaming a happy dream.
Makes sense, right?

I also like to imagine the kind of dream you’re dreaming, what you’re dreaming about. Maybe you’re dreaming about yourself on a stage, singing. You’re at the Metropolitan Opera House for your debut as Mimi in “La Boheme.” You’re looking beautiful in the footlights, the audience finally seeing – and equally stirring, hearing – you perform the opera you were born to perform.

Is that your dream?

Am I at least warm?

Maybe your dream is even broader and more ambitious than that. You’re living on Central Park West, already a star, all your awards on the mantle over the fireplace. You’ve sung all over the world, San Francisco, London, Paris, Milan, doing all the great operas, all the Puccinis and Verdis, playing every major role. You’re still young, still beautiful, and your voice grows still better, purer, more mature. You’re living the life you’ve always wanted.

Is that the dream?

Am I in the ballpark?

I could go on guessing. But this much I guarantee. We’re probably dreaming the same dream for you, the dream that brings you all the joy you deserve. I want you to dream your dream, whatever your dream might be, as long as it’s a dream you can truly call your own.

So dream on, my dear girl. Dream away and dream your dream. Dream long and dream hard and dream big. Dream of the life you want and the person you want to be, of what matters most to you. Then live your dream.

The Boy Goes Maverick

Dear Michael,

Let me come right out and say it: You’ve always kept to yourself.

Even as a little boy coming home from school, you never volunteered much of anything about what happened in class that day.

Along the same lines, you’ve shared very little, at least with me, about anything else personal, your friends and your ambitions, unless I’ve asked.

For a long time I found this tendency toward privacy and secretiveness more than a little frustrating. I’ve always believed that only if I know how and what you’re doing can I really be of any use to you. If you’re troubled about something but refuse to let me know, I’m pretty much handcuffed from doing anything about it. And so your long, frequent silences have puzzled me and left me feeling largely helpless.

But lately I’ve come to feel differently about your reluctance to let me in on your life, and even to understand and accept it.

For starters, this is how you’ve always acted, staying to yourself, keeping your own counsel, confiding little of any depth or intimacy about your education or your girlfriends, doing so no matter how I reacted, whether well or poorly. And so clearly this is your personality, this is how you’re always going to act, it comes naturally to you rather than by design, and no one, perhaps least of all me, is going to change it.

I’ve also come to recognize, at first only dimly but lately unmistakably, how much your guardedness, especially toward me, resembles mine toward certain others. You’ve held yourself back from me because of your concern about what I might say in exchange, questions I might ask, concerns I might raise. I do the same, even now, especially with anyone who has any power or authority over me, because I prize nothing quite so much as my independence.
So it goes, I suspect, with you. You, too, prize independence, and independence breeds a certain distrust, maybe even paranoia.

So I’m in no position to fault you for your reluctance to confide in me, because I’ve felt the same reluctance, whether toward certain family members or my employers.

Finally, I guess it all has much to do with fathers and sons, perhaps most particularly with fathers. We fathers often take a backseat to mothers when it comes to our children, and rightly so. You’re going to tell Mom stuff you might never tell me because you feel more comfortable with her and, yes, trust her more.

We fathers are often regarded as a sorry second option for such confidences. For all I know, we might even be seen as The Other Parent.

No matter. After having you as my son for almost 25 years now, almost half my life, I accept your wish for silence, for privacy, for independence, particularly in relation to me.

The fact is, I have no choice.

But if you know nothing else about me, know this. I’ll always be ready to lend an ear. You may dislike what I say, even disagree with it and resent it, but I’m always ready to listen.

P.S. – Two-part question of the day: Have your kids ever gone maverick? If so, what do you do?

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio (Part 4)

Dear Caroline,

For me, a pivotal moment came when you performed in “Kismet” – and, more specifically, when you sang “Not Since Ninevah.”

Oh, my God. I can still hear the opening in my head.

“Baghdad! Don’t underestimate Baghdad,” you sang, those opening words of warning.

“Baghdad! You must investigate Baghdad! And learn a few of the facts you never knew before.”

You are luring the listener into the exotic, the song now a seduction.

“Our palaces are gaudier, our alley ways are bawdier,” you sang, emphasizing “gaudier,” then giving “bawdier” a gutsy, earthy growl. The song is a tour through a land of lust and sin and decadence, with you as the tour guide. How you pulled it off I’ll never know, Oh, but how you belted the ending.

“No, not since Ninevah,” you sang, soaring higher, “not since Ninevah-eh-eh!” and then “Ninevah,” going higher still, impossibly high, a cry of raw ecstasy.

Unbelievable.

You stopped the show. The audience listened, the room hushed, rapt at your rapture. Everyone burst into hearty applause. I whistled my appreciation as loud as my lips could manage.
In that moment, at least in my mind, and maybe in yours as well, you surfaced as a star.

Nothing and nobody would stop you now. You gave me a thrill I can never forget, the thrill of a lifetime (http://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/kismet/notsincenineveh.htm).

Oh, I’m leaving out some songs here, of course, or else this account would just go on and on.
I’ve left out “Glitter and Be Gay” from “Candide,”
(http://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/candide/glitterandbegay.htm) and also “Adelaide’s Lament” from “Guys And Dolls” (where, practicing at home, you again proved you could play a tough cookie with just a touch of bimbo). http://www.lyricsondemand.com/soundtracks/g/guysanddollslyrics/adelaideslamentlyrics.html
And now of course – who can ever keep up with you? – you’re onto opera, doing “Quando m’en vo” from “La Boheme,” practicing and practicing and practicing that aria until you get every note, including those last challenging few, just right (http://www.aria-database.com/translations/boheme3_quando.txt); and also “Spargi d’amaro piante” from “Lucia di Lammermoor” (http://www.beverlysillsonline.com/text/l_lucia_di_lammermoor04.htm).

And through it all, I see how you look as you sing, that expression on your face. It’s utter absorption. You’re living completely in the moment. You’re telling a story, telling it and selling it. You’re on the stage singing, making the songs your own. You’re going through a metamorphosis with each character you play, inhabiting those characters, climbing into the skin of Christine and Mimi and Pocahontas.

You’re proving every day, as you mature at a breathtaking pace, as your voice grows ever stronger and your sense of the lyrics ever deeper, that the stage is where you belong, that the stage is truly your home.

Sing, my angel, sing.

P.S. — A 2010 Daily News article about Caroline:

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/queens/2010/06/18/2010-06-18_dream_gig_sang_out_loud_overcoming_odds_to_make_her_way_in_the_opera_world.html

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio (Part 3)

Dear Caroline,

“He had it coming, he had it coming, he only had himself to blame,” you sang, doing “The Cell Block Tango” in “Chicago.” “If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same.”

Ah, now you were singing a different tune, a song about murder, and you nailed it. You had to come off as tough in that song, the song an aria of injustice and cold-blooded revenge, hardly what you would call a pretty song.

You showed some new chops here, some real versatility. We knew you could play the princesslike perfection of Belle and Ariel. But now you showed you could play tough, too (http://www.smartlyrics.com/Song235651-Chicago-Cell-Block-Tango-lyrics.aspx).

Singing in key is all well and good, but maybe little more than a parlor trick unless you also know how to tell a story. A song is about the right notes married to the right lyrics, a wedding the singer then gets to conduct. Someone else composed the music and lyrics, but the song must ultimately sound like it’s coming from you – must sound, indeed, like it could come only from you.

We could see you now developing that special touch, that magical instinct, for finding the truth embedded in every song you sang. Every time you sang a song you explored its depths, searched for its purpose, its essence.

So it went with the songs from “Mulan” and “The Mikado” (has any Gilbert and Sullivan fan ever seen a Yum Yum cuter than you? Or better at giggling? Or just generally, um, yummier? I dare say no).

Yet so much more still lay in store.

P.S. – Part 4 will appear tomorrow.

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio (Part 2)

Dear Caroline,

Those Disney movies got you going, really inspired you. Dreamworks went on a killer streak for a few years there, and you ate it all up.

“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?” you sang. “Wouldn’t you think my collection complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl who has everything?”

How well and truly you sang that lovely song. You embodied Ariel and her yearning for love, her search for all life can offer. You captured that song’s tenderness, becoming Ariel, a little mermaid yourself, your voice catching the current that carried you to shore (http://www.disneyclips.com/lyrics/lyrics22.html).

How perfectly timed those movies turned out to be in your life, coming as they did exactly when you emerged as a girl. You had new songs to sing, songs being heard for the first time. How lucky!

And then, of course, you adopted another persona, again that of a young woman yearning, a dreamer and lover of books.

“Tale as old as time, true as it can be,” you sang. “Barely even friends, then someone bends, unexpectedly.”

You transformed yourself into Belle, gave voice to her character. You could sing as her because you felt so much like her, so identified with her. How beautifully you sang that song (http://www.lyrics007.com/Disney%20Lyrics/Tale%20As%20Old%20As%20Time%20Lyrics.html)
and all the others from “Beauty and the Beast,” too.

You were already doing more than mere mimicry, more, too, than carrying a tune that danced in your head. Already, though still so young, you understood the lyrics you sang, invested those lyrics with feelings, with soaring hopes.

You sang and sang and sang.

You sang in the morning and the afternoon and the evening.

You sang in your room and our bedroom and the living room.

You sang because you discovered that more than anything else you wanted to sing, because the songs swelled up inside you and begged to come out.

Who knew back then with any certainty that you were just getting started? Who could have suspected, much less forecast, how many more songs you would sing?

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio

Dear Caroline,

Once again you’re doing that special something you’ve done so well for so long.

Singing.

“Think of me, think of me fondly, when we’ve said goodbye,” you sing, oh so softly and sweetly. “Remember me once in a while, please promise you’ll try.”

Of all the songs you’ve song, and you’ve sung so many, you may have sung “Think of Me” the most. It might be your signature song, the song that meant more to you than any other, the song that made you a singer. You sang that song year in and year out, sang it until you mastered it and made it yours.

Ah, but before “Phantom” took over your life, http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/new_york/)
before you ever dreamed your Broadway dream, you sang all those songs from the Disney songbook. You mounted that boulder in Martha’s Vineyard, taking the stage.

“Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?” you sang. “Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned? Can you sing with all the voices of mountains? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”

With that song, “Colors of the Wind,” (http://www.disneyclips.com/lyrics/lyrics14.html) you established your ambition to be a singer, declared your identity for everyone within earshot. Your voice, then still so new to singing, quivered with emotion. You invested those searching lyrics with precocious soul.

You were only a little girl, but you sang with a big heart.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.