Thursday, June 29, 2006

Andre Hangs 'Em Up

Andre Agassi broke onto the tennis scene as a 17 year old "haircut with a forehand" in the words of Ivan Lendl. Now, as a mature man of 35 with a shaved head, a geezer's bad back, and 4 Grand Slams to his eternal credit, Andre has announced that he will retire after the United States Open in late August. They say that you can play tennis if you have one big weapon. Boy, did Andre Agassi have one. I say this without hesitation or fear of contradiction: nobody ever crushed a forehand like Andre Agassi. Courier and Lendl were close. And from what I hear Rocket Rod Laver could crank it and judging from his Popeye-like forearms, I could not disagree. But the Agassi forehand was a full time WMD as well. And he didn't hit his with a woodie.

That is not to say he was a one trick pony along the lines of say, a Roscoe Tanner or, apparently, an Andy Roddick. For one thing, he could play defense. In the eyes of many, Andre Agassi and Jimmy Conners are considered to be the best returners of serve in the history of the game. Conners got everything back. He considered it a matter of personal pride not to get aced. Andre could give a shit. Indeed, he won Wimbledon despite getting aced by mega-headcase Goran Ivanisevic 27 times. He got just enough of Goran's first serves back and all of his second serves until Goran eventually self-immolated. He has attributed his success at returning to his vision which is augmented by his fast hands. Indeed, Andre has remarked in the past that he thought he would have been a good baseball player for this reason. I can see that.

He was as close to an "all-courts" player as we have seen in the modern era. He won 8 Majors on all 3 surfaces. Unlike Lendl, who claimed to be allergic to grass despite being an avid golfer and equally unlike his fellow Bolletieri alumnus Jim Courier, Andre could volley a little. Unlike Michael Chang, his serve had depth and bite for a smaller man. Unlike his main rival Pete Sampras, he could play on clay. Unlike, Jimmy Connors and John Peter McEnroe, Andre was never thought of as a jerk by his peers despite the outlandish behavior of his younger days. That honor went to the sanctimonious and clannish Michael Chang.

But mainly what Andre Agassi had was a set of cast-iron cajones. Coming off surgery in 1993, he became the first unseeded player to win the US Open. By 1997, his inattention to conditioning and numerous injuries (not to mention the distraction of a tumultuous marriage to the high-strung Brooke Shields) caused him to drop to drop off the tennis radar screen. By then, his ranking had sunk to 141 and he was reduced to playing the challenger circuit to get back to the ATP tour. After a year of diet and conditioning, Andre did what most people thought was impossible. He came back to the bigs. And in 1999, he became the first man in history to win a French Open after falling behind 2 sets to love, a feat he accomplished against Andre Medvedev who was a hellacious clay court player.


But cajones can only take you so far. They allowed him to take a set from Roger Federer at last year's US Open. But by the 4th set he had the look of a beaten man. Cajones won't let you play on clay with sciatica. So he skipped the French last month. And they alone won't help him win either Wimbledon or the US Open this year either. Mainly because Roger Federer is not beatable on grass or hard.

What the hell. Now is as good a time as any to get out. He has nothing left to prove to anybody. He won over 300 million dollars in prize money. He has the Agassi Charitable Foundation and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy to look after. He is married to Steffi Graf. Maybe you have heard of her. They have two kids. He has a pretty good life in front of him.

If you have a chance to watch any tennis in the next couple of months, look for the bald guy with the boxer's build and the tight-assed, pigeon-toed gait of a running back. And raise a glass to the old man.

Because you will not soon see the likes of him again.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Today's Wally

There is a lot of stuff going on in sports nowadays. Phil Mickelson blew the U.S. Open golf tournament with a choke job for the ages. The Dallas Mavericks performed the equivalent by gagging away the NBA Finals despite a 2-0 head start, a huge lead in Game 3, and with the final two games on their home floor. Most impressive.

Over in baseball, Ozzie Guillen just got fined and ordered to sensitivity training after using a slur to accuse Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times of being a homosexual. The College World Series started last night. The St. Louis Cardinals, despite having the advantage of being managed by a Certified Baseball Genius and despite the return of Albert (editorial note: The original version of this referred to Pujols as Alex. This is proof of what can happen when you get in a hurry. My bad. Mea culpa.) Pujols have lost something like 6 straight games.

Wimbledon begins next week. Andre Agassi announced that he will hang up his racquet after the U.S Open in August. What an impact he has had on the game. I wonder how history will judge him? The high school all star games were played last Friday night. It sounds like it was a good chance to get a look at some future Razorbacks. The NBA draft is next week. Wonder where Ronnie Brewer will wind up? Wonder how many European players will be drafted in the first round? Wonder where Larry Brown will pop up next now that he has been canned by the Knicks, who by the way, make the Saints appear well run.

You would think that all of this activity would provide ample fodder for the reasonably curious and thoughtful sports writer. Judging from the sports page of today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette you would be wrong. Instead of writing an actual sports column, Wally Hall wrote today about some poor family who evidently got snookered by a home builder " from north of here."

Now I am sorry that these poor folks got sideways with their builder and have been forced to go to court. But the only connection this story has with sports in general is the apparent fact that the aggrieved family are such big Razorback fans that they had a Razorback emblem molded into the floor at the entrance of what was to be their "sport's room." That's it.

But then again, I guess it is easier for Wally to hack out a maudlin column about people that he probably heard about for the first time over at Corky's or at the Busch Classic softball tournament than it is to actually write a thoughtful piece about any of the million interesting things going on in the sport's world nowadays.

That would be too much like work, I suppose.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

Greetings, my peeps! Today's offering will be short and sweet as I am preparing the F Street Sports Bar for an out-of-town guest. My buddy Jim from Baton Rouge should be here around noon or so. He is driving to Little Rock from Lake Providence where his folks live. He is coming to play golf with me in the Hendrix Warriors Booster Club tournament in Conway.

Jim is a rabid LSU fan. Come to think of it, that is the only kind of LSU fan that exists. Anyway, I think it is good for him to hang around an organization that doesn't pay guys under the table. Hell, Hendrix is Division III. It doesn't pay guys period. It is good for him to actually see real student-athletes. It is a good thing all the way around.

Summer job: My goddaughter Audrey broke it to me that she has crossed over and is working for a law firm in Chicago.

"That's ok." I said. " You will be able to rationalize it in later years by reminding yourself that you were young and that you needed the money."

She actually likes it. She says that one of the lawyers she is working for is defending an "alienation of affection" lawsuit. She asked me if I had ever heard of such. Heard of it? One of my associates has practically made it an art form if one were to believe the scurrilous accusations leveled by the attorney that wrote him concerning these matters. For the uninitiated, alienation of affection is the tort of changing the affections of the spouse of a (generally enraged) plaintiff.

We need not trouble ourselves with discussing this much further as Arkansas the Progressive abolished the cause of action back about 1982. And who was the Governor who swiftly signed the bill doing away with the statute? William Jefferson Clinton, who may or may not have had a personal motivation to sign it in addition to a "good government" reason.

Anyway, Audrey is enjoying her job. She got to serve a subpoena the other day. This was a great idea BTW. Send a cute girl out to hit a recalcitrant male witness. He probably never saw past her big brown eyes. The law firm picked up her cab fare back to Wilmette. She seemed to be greatly impressed by this. Ah! To be young again.

I worked in factories when I was her age. Working in a law office may imperil her soul but it is easier than hanging metal doors on a paint line 8 hours a day. I will give her that much.

Sula's latest blog: You may remember my friend Sula, who last graced these pages with her blog about all of the hookers running around Destin during tourist season. She is from Forrest City, Arkansas which is a fair sized city out in the Delta. It is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who drove the Yankees crazy during the Civil War. He also founded the Ku Klux Klan. I would like to think that his brave exploits in the service of the Great Cause inspired the locals to name the place after him but I wouldn't bet on it.

I'm not crazy about the place, having lived there for a year after law school. But then again, I didn't grow up there, so I don't have memories of friends and family as does Sula. I love Sula so I will not say anything derogatory about her happy childhood home. Which was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest. If you want to go to her blog, you can check it out at .

One of the more amusing stories you will find there is about the local theatre that was called the Imperial back in Sula's day. I don't remember what it was called back in 1982 when I was working there. But by then, it had been reduced to showing black exploitation movies. I remember distinctly when the marquee announced that it was showing an epic "women behind bars" thriller entitled "Black Bitch, White Bitch." The poster depicted 2 women in ripped up prison clothes hauling ass across an open field. The black woman had a Billy Preston level fro. The white chick looked like Daisy Mae. Their wrists were chained together. They both had enormous breasts by most state prison standards.

Joe Bob Briggs would have said, "Check it out." I did not.

And that's all I remember about the Imperial. And I don't remember much about Forrest City except I learned much from one of the state's best trial lawyers while I was there. That and I was told some primo dirt (at least it was primo at the time) about a woman who lived there. This was waaaaaaaaay before I had met Sula and I didn't really realize who this person was until the forrestcitymemories blog got put up. This blogging stuff can sometimes produce unforeseen results, non? Talk about forrestcitymemories!

But don't worry Sula. I can be bribed.

Mats, you little bitch you: Three time French Open champion on # 1 ranked Roger Federer's inability to beat # 2 ranked Rafael Nadal on clay which played itself out again last week when Federer lost to Nadal in 4 at this year's French Open after taking the first set 6-1: "Federer has no balls and Nadal has 3."

Me-OWWW! You rarely hear this kind of smack coming out of any tennis player not named Williams or Hingis. I think that this is a sign of growth for the ATP. But that's just one man's opinion.

It's not too hard to prepare for guy company. About all you got to do is clear a path, throw out some papers, that kind of stuff. I've got plenty of Community brand Dark Roast coffee. I went and got a bottle of Knob Creek bourbon which he had never had until his trip up here for last year's tournament. Prior to his first sip of Knob on my front porch in the Spring of 05, he drank Canadian whiskey. To this day, he is the first white person I know that ever drank that stuff.

But the scales have fallen from his eyes. I called him yesterday morning. He was almost to Lake Providence the Beautiful. I told him that I had purchased the ceremonial bottle of Knob Creek. He told me he was bringing one too.

Looks like we are set. I think this will be a good trip. Somebody needs to show the young men and women athletes of Hendrix College how to play through hangovers and it might as well be us.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hell You Say

I am just now getting around to my edition of Golfworld that was published before the US Open. They interviewed Phil Mickelson, who when asked about the alleged reinvention of his earlier wildassed game, said and I quote:

" I've changed the way I play aggressively. I've taken a step back and become conservative in some areas so I can be aggressive in others. Instead of bombing a driver off a par 5 and leaving myself a 3-iron from the rough, I'm better off hitting a 3-wood off the tee and leaving myself a 3-wood from the fairway. (emphasis supplied.)"

Really. He said that.

All I can say is that Phil must have been struck with amnesia when he got to the par-4 # 18 on Sunday because he pulled out the driver that had been misfiring for him all afternoon and he promptly hit one to the moon.

I cannot possibly make this stuff up.

Patiently Waiting for Jesus to Call

I have been struck down by one of my periodic allergy flareups. I have been doing pretty well lately in that regard. The only thing I can figure is that my being in the proximity of numerous floral arrangements has set me off. Either that or being in the proximity of Baptist clergy. The same thing happened to me after Uncle Bill's funeral about this time last year. Baptists and flowers figured prominently in that ceremony as well. I need to remember this.

My friend Judy asked me to serve as a pallbearer at her father's funeral. Mr. Oather Garner was a very fine Christian gentleman. He was 80. He had Alzheimer's. He did not know anyone. He referred to his wife as "mama," which while not altogether inapt demonstrated the depths of his confusion. He died in his sleep Saturday morning. Just didn't wake up. Just like Aunt Jean.

It is a blessing for all concerned. One does not have to be alive for very long to learn that there are some things that are worse than death.

This being the South, the coffin was open at the visitation, a tradition that my goddaughter Audrey-Judy and Jim's kid- found tantamount to barbarism, a reaction that I pretty much agree with. Despite being 20 years old, this was Audrey's first funeral. Evidently, she found the practice sufficiently traumatizing that she wouldn't enter the funeral home for the actual service until the coffin was closed. It was a tough two days for the girl.

" Hell, that's nothin'." said my friend J. She was calling from the courthouse during a respite from doing her part to keep the streets of Little Rock safe or at least less ridiculous as our little procession rolled through South Arkansas en route to Kingsland. I was following a hearse (typically pronounced "hurst" in these parts). Her voice was in my earpiece on the right. The Detroit Tigers were in my other ear. Not a bad way to do a procession if one must do such a thing. Beats all hell out of riding with 6 people in a Cadillac in any event.

"When I was a little girl in Georgia, they used to lay 'em out in living rooms or dens for 2-3 days. Sometimes people would take pictures of 'em." she said.

"No!" I said. I was genuinely stunned. I had never heard of such a thing happening around here. I mean, I knew that they used to hold home vigils for the deceased here in Arkansas years ago. But I never heard of taking pictures of them. But then again, Polaroid technology probably did not penetrate Cleburne County until the late sixties or so. That might account for why I had never seen anything that weird as a kid.

"Yep. I have seen it with my own little eyes. Typically, the ones that liked to take pictures were pretty strange to begin with. But I have seen it done."

I must tell Audrey. She will start her junior year in college this fall. It is about time that she is acquainted with the fact that cultural barbarism is a relative thing. We have our quirks here in Arkansas. But at least we don't photograph the dead. Not unless they are at a crime scene.

Here in the South, we still pull over when we see a funeral procession draw near. All along the way, cars and trucks pulled aside to let us past. A state trooper gave a two-fingered salute. Along the side of the road there were several produce stands in operation. Just outside Sheridan I noticed one such vendor had two baskets of tomatoes on display. One basket was adorned with a hand painted sign that said, "Cannin' tomatoes." The other one said, "Eatin' tomatoes." Until yesterday, I had no idea there was a difference.

Eventually, we crossed into Cleveland County. Immediately to my left I saw a water tower with "Outer Kingsland" on it. This strongly suggested the presence of an "Greater Kingland." But I couldn't prove it because the lead hurst was soon bearing a right onto a logging road beside the Garner family cemetery.

There was a group of elderly people waiting for us in lawn chairs under an oak tree. One gentleman agitated the breeze with a fan festooned with the name of a local candidate for sheriff. My friends helped their mother make that long walk to her husband's grave. His death may have been merciful. But blessing or no blessing, it is a terrible thing to see a man carried in a coffin before your eyes. Just a terrible thing. Once we got the coffin in place, I heard the preacher tell the funeral director, "We need to get started. It is too hot for these folks to sit out here much longer." And with that, we drew near the tent. The preacher opened his Bible.

And we said goodbye to good old Oather.

After the service one of the nieces told me a story. She said not too long ago the highway department wanted to cut a by-pass through Garner cemetery. The local engineer said they had to have the by-pass and that the family would have to move some of those graves that were closest to the highway. The family said that there was no way in hell those graves were moving. Some of those folks had been lying in rest there since 1883 or so.

"The engineer told us that they would just come out and do it if we wouldn't. Well, I told him he had better bring the sheriff too because otherwise all of us would be out there with our guns and we would shoot the first one of 'em that set foot out there. Some of those graves have babies in 'em. They've been laying by their mothers for a hundred years. They're not moving until Jesus calls 'em."

She said the engineer never came back. The by-pass never got built. And those graves are still out there where they were originally installed patiently waiting for Jesus to call.

One of the things that used to infuriate me back during the Clinton Administration was how the national media used to portray the Arkansas that brought forth Bill Clinton as this den of internecine corruption which was completely alien to the rest of the country. Regardless of this gross and largely untrue caricature of our state, Arkansas is also a place where you can find cannin' tomatoes and eatin' tomatoes and where folks pull to the side of the road when a funeral procession comes through. It is a place where elderly people sit patiently in infernal conditions, waiting under an ancient shade tree to receive one of their fallen.

This, too, is the Arkansas that produced a Bill Clinton.

It is also the kind of place that produced a saint on Earth like Oather Thomas Garner.


Monday, June 19, 2006

FIGJAM Agonistes

This is Phil Mickelson. Golf pro. Numero uno or two-oh in the world depending on who you talk to. He struck a pose similar to this Sunday afternoon upon throwing away the U.S. Open with both hands. He blew a two stroke lead on the final hole to hand the championship on a platter to Australian Geoff Ogilvy. Mickelson has been known, somewhat derisively, as "Phil the Thrill." This is due to his former style of play in which he hit the ball all over the place and relied on his short game to get up and done for pars. I mean, this is a guy that carries a 64 degree wedge. One that he had custom made for him. Most guys, myself included, have no business trying to hit a 60 degree wedge.

We had thought that "Phil the Thrill" had gone away. Tired of being referred to as the "Greatest Player Never to Win a Major" ( a dubious honor that now falls upon Colin Montgomerie) Mickelson started dialing it back. He began playing it safe. He went for percentages instead of whatever wildassed notion might strike him out there. Upon replacing his inner Salvador Dali with the golf equivalent of Earl Weaver he won three majors. And, according to Esquire magazine, shortly thereafter acquired another nickname: FIGJAM. Which is an unflattering acronym for "Fuck I'm Good. Just Ask Me."

But back to last Sunday. Phil Mickelson entered the final round with a 4 stroke lead. Unfortunately, "Phil the Thrill" showed up to play the final three holes. On 17, he put it in the woods. He also put it in a garbage can. No problemo. He takes a free drop and salvages bogey. FIGJAM! Having eluded disaster on 17 he approached number 18-a par 4-needing only to make another bogey to force a playoff.

Now, I have been playing golf for about 8 years. I am a bad golfer. Really bad. I play well enough to scrape it around with my far more talented friends. But that's about all I can say for myself. I can scarcely imagine what it must be like to play golf for real. But I think I can identify trends. If I have hit only 2 fairways out of 14, if my last drive wound up in a garbage can, I rethink my strategy off the tee.

But I'm not "Phil the Thrill." He withdraws the driver yet again. Which he promptly hits 60 yards off of the fairway, striking a hospitality tent. After swooning a la Mimi in "La Boheme" he turned to his second shot. Instead of punching out into the fairway, he tried some hope-to-Jesus shot to try to save par. Instead he hit a tree and the ball settled about 25 yards away. By the time he gets off the course, he has carded a double bogey and Ogilvy is inscribed upon golf history's immortal scroll. Thanks, mate!

To his credit, FIGJAM manned up about it. "I am an idiot." he said. Nobody in the assembled press corps challenged this statement. Neither did my brother John who is a scratch golfer.

"I don't care if you are playing for the US Open, the Fourth of July Tournament at War Memorial or to see who buys the beer after the round." he said. "You take that score (double-bogey) out of play. You do it by hitting a 2-iron or 3 wood off the tee. You keep the ball in the fairway and you get on in regulation. Enough weird stuff can happen to you out there without going out of your way to manufacture it."

Some observers, like my brother, believe that this was a massive choke job. Others think that Mickelson was just too macho to play for the tie. All I know is that for about a 25 minute stretch he looked like a pudgier version of me with hair out there. I do not mean that as a compliment.

Don't cry for Mickelson. He will recover. He will win another major. He has more money than he can possibly spend in one lifetime.

But you have got to figure that he will forever rue the day that "Phil the Thrill" climbed back inside his head.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

I am back from a quick trip to Tucson. I needed to take a little break from the People's Republic of Hillcrest and this blog. More about Tucson later. Suffice it to say I am fit, tan and well-rested and ready once again to "take up the pen." Or in my case, the laptop.

Even though I am not a parent, I like Father's Day. I try to take advantage of all of the Father's Day sales. I bought some cheap golf balls at the sporting goods store. I bought some cologne at the department store. They threw in a dopp kit, a really nice carry-on bag along with some extra potions and nostrums for lagniappe. Carolina Herrera. Hell of a gal. My brother John is typically kind enough to include me in his Father's Day activities. The last couple of years we have played golf. This afternoon we will take Clarke to see the local minor league team lose. It will be a good day. If you can't have fun with a 5 year old at a baseball game, you need to get your pulse checked. Nope, I got no problems with vicarious participation on Father's Day.

I think I would have been a good father. Indeed, it wasn't too long ago that I was in mortal peril of becoming a stepfather. At least that seemed to be the way things were heading. Being the practical sort that I try to be I went out and bought books on step-parenting and I pored over Internet websites devoted to the subject.

Suffice it to say, the peril passed and the books got donated to the library. So it goes.

This is nothing I go screaming in the night about. For a single non-pederast sort of person, I've got more children in my life than I can say Grace over. I have 2 Godchildren. One is Catholic and and the other is Episcopalian, thus covering the main liturgical branches of the Christian faith. I have 4 nephews. On more than one occasion I have been foolishly asked to sponsor a kid for Confirmation into the One True United Methodist Church. One of the Confirmands under my charge was a convert from a Baptist church. What stress.

The little girl across the street comes over to visit all the time. And it would appear that I am once again coaching Little League with my buddy Steve, who is one of the parents who foolishly asked me to be a Godfather of one of his 19 kids. As you can see, I do not lack for attention from the small people.

And while I think that I would be a good father, I don't really know that for sure. God knows that I posses a veritable Whitman's Sampler of faults, quirks, lousy habits and intemperate ideas. I don't much consider myself to be the sort of person that any sentient parent would point out as a model for right living. Granted, it's not like I've killed anybody or anything. Woody Allen once said that said that half the trick to being a good father was showing up on time. To which we can add, the other half of the trick would be to refrain from fucking your wife's adopted daughter. Even I wouldn't do something as trashy as that. And even though I've got that going for me, I concede that at this stage in my life, my flaws and my quirks are practically embedded in my DNA. It's probably just as well that I am not in a position to inflict myself on a child of tender years for any longer than an intermittent basis. But I suppose that I would do the best that I could do, much as my father did and his father before him. And hope like hell for the best.

My own father was a painfully shy man. He was also under tremendous stress. He worked for the Teletype Corporation. You might be saying to yourself, "the what Corporation?" which should indicate the origin of Dad's stress. Teletype was part of the Bell System back when there was a Bell System. Teletype made teletype machines which were pretty much the precursor to computers and fax machines. All of the newspapers TV and radio stations got their news from the teletype machines. The government and the military sent messages on the damn things. They were everywhere.

Long about 1975, IBM started making computers. And about this time, some genius with Ma Bell up in New Jersey made the fateful decision that the competitive threat from computers was nothing to worry about and that IBM would never make it.

Wrong as usual.

IBM and the computers they made took off. Suddenly, and I mean, suddenly nobody needed Teletype machines. And a huge company that seemed to employ at least a quarter of Southwest Little Rock suddenly started laying people off. The Unions made trouble. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 kicked in about then which meant that Teletype's hiring practices had to be overhauled. Guys my father wanted to promote got passed over. And if all of that were not enough, it got sued by the EPA when its waste treatment plant (designed by my father) discharged something into Fourche Creek which caused it to turn blue. No, these were not happy days.

One morning during this time, as I sat on my parents' bed waiting to use the shower, I heard my father's voice behind the door. I was a teenager, so naturally, I eavesdropped. My father was praying. He prayed for the strength to make it through another day. He asked God to watch over his sons and to keep them safe. He asked for happiness to return to his marriage. I also heard him say, " Father, you know that sometimes I just don't think I can make it . I've got to. I've just got to."

And that is how my Dad, my shy and desperately unhappy Dad, began every working day: By praying in private behind the locked door of his bathroom. And after that one time when my youthful curiosity got the better of me, I always stood a respectful distance out in the hall until he came out.

We often think that heroism is measured by one's response to physical danger as on the battlefield or when confronting a harrowing illness. And this is certainly true. More ridiculously, we impart this attribute to our sports figures as if playing a game for a zillion bucks is somehow ennobling. But I think that if the word means anything, it also applies to regular guys that go out day in and day out to bust their ass at soul-killing jobs for no other reason than because people are depending on them. Regular guys like my father who invoked God's aid every morning from his bathroom in Mabelvale.

It's nothing I go screaming in the night about. But it is something that I think about from time to time. I am no hero. But I would have done my best. I would have done my dead level best. And I think I would have been ok.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


I am taking a break from the blog for awhile. Will be back next week.

Take care.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

"A Chorus Line" is the current production of the Arkansas Repertory Theater. I attended a performance of the old warhorse (that's showbiz talk for a show that is guaranteed to make you a zillion dollars anytime the curtain goes up) one night last week. This was probably the third time I have seen ACL. Let me be clear about something. I absolutely hate this show. Always have. I doubt that I would have gone to see it last week except that the Rep was good enough to let a charity I support use what was basically a dress rehearsal for a fundraiser.

I never understood why ACL was such a big deal. It has no plot. Or not much of one: 17 dancers are auditioning for 8 spots in the chorus line of a major Broadway musical. Along the way, certain of the dancers tell about their lives. They dance. They sing. They endure the withering criticisms of the director conducting the audition. All but 8 are cut. Curtain.

Really. That's about it.

I guess I don't like it because the characters are strictly cartoon figures. You have a fiery Latino. You have your vamp. You have your stereotypical gay types, the most dignified of which happens to be a drag queen. You have a washed up hoofer making one last try. You have the small town types who left the country for the big city and are DETERMINED TO MAKE IT NO MATTER WHAT. Pretty thin stuff.

I don't like ACL because the music isn't very good. The dialogue isn't much better. I had managed to forget that the book has at least 2 of the male characters giving these long gay coming-of-age stories. Maybe that was pretty daring in 1975. It is merely tedious in 2006. Not offensive in the slightest. Just tedious. And besides, didn't lesbians exist in 1975? Maybe the authors didn't put any lesbian characters in the show because they felt that your average gay woman probably wouldn't make such a big honking deal about her sexual orientation in front of a bunch of strangers.

Maybe I don't like ACL because back in another life, I used to do musical theatre. Not that I much liked it. I did theater for one reason and one reason only: to meet women. And it worked. I typically was one of the few straight guys in any of the shows I was in. Indeed, I was involved for many moons with a woman who worked at the Rep and I used to hang out over there. As a result, I grew weary of theater people. The worst of that lot tend to be highly neurotic and beyond high maintenance. Worse than singers even. As I watched ACL the other night, I kept thinking, "I just don't like these people." I typically won't spend 2 hours with people I dislike unless I am in court.

Also, I don't like ACL because it exalts the cruelty of "Zack" the director. Now this kind of meanness really exists in the theatre. I just didn't like being reminded of it. In fact, it occurs to me that maybe ACL-bad as it is- resonates to this day because it would appear that an entire generation of viewers and voters are transfixed by the vicious judges of "American Idol." The American Idol people are punks. They are dealing with pseudo-amateurs that are willing to put up with the almost certain prospect of exquisite humiliation in hopes that they might be "stars." Indeed, in retrospect, "Zack" is Albert Schweitzer compared to Simon Cowell.

Finally, and returning again to the topic of human degradation, I dislike ACL because it spawned "Flashdance" and "All That Jazz" which made wearing leg warmers in the grocery store fashionable. This was a terrible thing. For these reasons alone I am glad that the eighties are long gone.

Some things don't change. I still hate ACL If you want to see a real musical about plucky and determined young New Yorkers, go rent West Side Story. You want to see how cutthroat humiliation obtains in professional theatre go see A Chorus Line.

Don't go see "Rent" either.