(September 5, 2000) Sometimes, fun comes in clumps.
A week ago Friday, my wife and I saw the Incredible Shrinking Violinist, Hilary Hahn, at the high school. Hilary herself did not shrink. She shrank the pianist, a very large man in a white dinner jacket. He hit the first note as an internationally renowned concert pianist, but Hilary quickly shrank him to an accompanist and then he disappeared altogether. She also shrank the auditorium so we felt as if she was playing for us alone.
Performing in public since age 6, appearing with the Baltimore Symphony at 11 and at the Skaneateles Festival for the first time at 12, Hilary is now 20. She is petite and youthful, and yet poised almost beyond imagining. She even walks beautifully. And when she plays, the instrument seems to become a living creature. She was so good I forgot to applaud. In one Bach piece, she harmonized with herself, playing two melodies simultaneously. I could not stop my eyes from looking for a second violinist.
The next Friday, again at the high school, we saw Bill Irwin, a clown who received a MacArthur “Genius” grant and showed me why my grant has been so slow in coming. He did the Seven Ages of Man, aging seamlessly before our eyes, beginning with Infancy and finishing with Cranky Sad Old Fart. He changed hats and became different people, recited the Gettysburg Address as rewritten by Eisenhower (no safe choices for this guy) and was dragged stage-left by an invisible force. His disco man whose body runs out of control was especially delightful.
Saturday morning, the President of the United States just missed seeing me while I was taking my walk out by the golf course, but he did catch up with my wife and I as we lunched in the park across from the Sherwood Inn. A tactful man, he could see we were with friends, and did not disturb us.
Our friends had come over from Buffalo, and along with my daughter and her boyfriend, we went to the New York State Fair that evening to see the Goo Goo Dolls. Kim is a producer at a studio where I have done most of my radio spots; the Goo Goo Dolls have been rehearsing and recording upstairs at the studio for 15 years, and Robby, the bass player, was my “young male” voice whenever I needed one for a spot. He became rich and famous but, bless him, he has not forgotten the little people.
We arrived at the Fair at dusk, in time to see sunburned families, broke, dazed and dusty, trudging up the Trail of Tears to the parking lot. The concert was wonderful, and afterward we produced our secret blue backstage passes and were whisked into the presence of 100 or so family members and friends of the band.
Using a silver pen, journeyman guitarist Nathan December added a nose ring to the photo of a girl in the Dizzy Up the Girl CD notes, smiling and saying, “Johnny hates it when I do this.”
Johnny Rzeznik, the lead guitarist, has excellent tattoos, a beautifully tinted version of Picasso’s “Dream” on his right arm and a Saul Steinberg drawing of a man pondering a question mark on the left.
But it was most wonderful to see Robby again, barefoot, purple hair, a wild look in his eye. My daughter thought I was cool for days. A rock star hugged me.
It was fun too to watch Robby talk to his parents, a nice white-haired couple in shorts and Goo Goo Dolls t-shirts. Robby wants them to change their phone number so callers won’t bother them, but his mother said, “I’ve had that number for 30 years; I’m not going to change it just because you’ve become some rock star.” I can’t forget the picture of their parting, of the neat, older man smiling at the barefoot, purple-haired wild man saying, “Goodbye, son.”
Monday afternoon, we watched the Labor Day Parade roll by. The bagpipers were terrific, and the gorilla in the miniature car was an added bonus.
* * *
(September 8, 2004) Among the pleasures of living in Skaneateles are the parades that bookend the summer. This past weekend, we enjoyed yet another Labor Day parade, led by the Skaneateles Fire Department which annually plays pied-piper to the assembled multitudes, showing them the way to their Field Days in Austin Park. The parade is made all the more meaningful to me by the kindness of my neighbors who set up viewing chairs on their lawn and a lavish buffet in their kitchen. Frankly, for deviled eggs, salmon mousse, a large sandwich and a cold beer, I would watch hamsters march by their house.
This year, because parade-regular Celeste had moved from Skaneateles to New Hampshire, I felt compelled to take notes. Unlike myself, Celeste is gifted with restraint and thoughtfulness, and so last year as we both watched a rather portly gentleman running uphill to rejoin his fellow marchers, it was I who said, “Well, there’s a heart attack in the making.” And Celeste replied, “Oh, Kihm, you say out loud what I’m embarrassed to even think.”
As it turned out, there were no huffing puffing stragglers this year, but I did see plenty that Celeste would have enjoyed. The Syracuse Kiltie Pipe Band provided the best music, the skirling audible for blocks, but they ceased playing to catch their breath at the top of the Jordan Street hill, much to our disappointment.
On the Mottville Fire Department’s truck, I saw the motto, “Everyone goes home.” I wasn’t sure if that meant after the fire, or something in a larger, philosophical sense, but I liked the sentiment. And there followed fire trucks from Fleming, Spafford, Sennett, Baldwinsville, Port Byron, Conquest (“Where the heck is Conquest?” said a number of parade-watchers in chorus, and a lone voice answered, “Near Scipio.”), Delphi Falls, West Niles, Aurelius, Howlett Hill, Meridian, Camillus, New Hope, Borodino, Otisco, Onondaga Hill, Kirkville, Lyncourt, Cazenovia, Fairmount, Sempronis, East Syracuse, Minoa, and then I lost track because two bees mounted an assault to relieve me of my beer, and that was something worth fighting for. But you can get the small town feeling pretty well from my incomplete list.
Minoa had the best truck, old, rounded and painted a deep, beautiful green. At least two rural fire departments sent tanker trucks, which led to conjecture that they put out fires with milk; this is dairy country. Some marching firemen had chromed fire axes on their shoulders, but the lot from Port Byron carried theirs with both hands, at the ready. Cazenovia looked and sounded better than anyone, their dark uniforms sporting bright red carnations and their band pumping out a much more than respectable “God Bless America.”
Next came the military vehicles, causing us to blink to be sure this was Labor Day and not Memorial Day. First a jeep with big bombs on a little trailer. A bulldozer with a mine-sweeping roller. The amphibious troop carrier, always a crowd pleaser. And then two Zamboni’s from the skating rinks in this town that loves its hockey. One carried a large red dog named Clifford, apparently encouraging skaters to read in the off-season. The next celebrity was Joe Whiting, playing his saxophone on the Finger Lakes SPCA float which was festooned with real puppies. Close behind, a young lad with an electric guitar played Peter Townsend riffs from “Tommy” for The Collective coffee house, and the Skaneateles Ski Club walked by getting in shape for our forthcoming eight months of winter.
Big Red Towing was next, the biggest tow truck I’ve ever seen and obviously the only one to call when you’ve got a balky fire truck. Then the Cato Rotary, Skaneateles Lions Club, a series of classic cars tailed by classic police cars, one of which played “One Adam Twelve, One Adam Twelve” over its radio, logically followed by characters from Charles Dickens’ Christmas and an enormous John Deere corn harvester (the “7400”) pursued by Irish dancers and Shriners. I was on beer #2 by then, and it’s a good thing.
Finally, the classic tractors, the John Deere entries outnumbering the Case gems by 11-2, and the capper, a group of horses and riders from the Skaneateles Equestrian Center, who, my neighbor and host informed me, are placed at the end of the parade so the other marchers won’t have to march through horse poop. Good idea.
And then the parade was over. After all that marching, I needed a nap.