Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Operaville, the Novel: Chapter Six: Lamb Eats Pasta with Lions

Read the novel here, a chapter a week, or buy the book and companion CD at Amazon.com (also available on Kindle).


The Campbell Little League complex is situated right up against Hamilton Avenue, a busy suburban arterial, and offers the occasional sight of a home run hopping through traffic like a wayward frog. But it’s exactly the cramped feel – two fields and a refreshment stand crammed together like urban brownstones - that gives the place its atmosphere.
            I enter through a gap in the chain-link fence and am greeted by the sight of my nephew Kyle straddling the mound. Playing the field or standing at the plate, Kyle gives me the kind of jitters that perhaps only a blood relative could feel, but on the mound he is utterly unflappable. He nods at the catcher, brings those skinny legs together and chucks the ball homeward, not like a pitcher but like a kid throwing a ball. No blazing fastball, but he’s always around the plate, and has a three-quarter arm slot that produces a natural downward spin. He gets a lot of grounders.
            Right now he’s just warming up, so I continue leftward to the main attraction: one-dollar hot dogs, with an impressive buffet of condiments. I fix one with mustard and onions, another with ketchup and relish, and head for the main bleachers, nicely shaded by a wide awning. I find sister Carla high up, chewing nervously on sunflower seeds.
            “Hey!” she says. “Already stocked up I see.”
            “You kidding? This is dinner. And, well, lunch.”
            “That Colin works you like a dog.”
            “We thought of that for a name, actually. ‘Deck Dogs.’”
            Carla shifts quickly into update mode. She’s quite good at this. Perhaps she was a broadcaster in a previous life.
            “He’s doing well. It’s a good hitting team, but we’re still tied. At the plate, he ran out an infield single and flied out to right.”
            “Hey, as long he’s hackin’.”
            “Yep, he knows the rules. Called third strike – the floggings begin.”
            I suppose you need a sick sense of humor to survive parenthood. I like their priorities, though. They’d much rather Kyle go up there and hit something than wait for a walk the way some players do.
            “Uh-oh,” says Carla. “Here comes trouble. This kid hit one onto Hamilton last time. Hopped all the way across, like a…”
            “Wayward frog?”
            “Ha! Yes. Missed all the cars at least.”
            The kid’s huge, twelve years old and taller than me. What are they feeding these mutants? They’ve got a runner on second, so Kyle’s coach signals for an intentional walk. Catcher Jack stands up and receives three outside pitches, but on the fourth the batter takes a lackadaisical swing-and-miss.
            “Uh-oh,” says Carla. “I heard about this.”
            Kyle throws another outside pitch, and the kid takes another nothing swing. Kyle looks confused.
            “What’s that about?”
            “This kid gets walked all the time, so the coach told him to swing a couple times to add to the pitch count.”
            “Well, that’s pretty bogus. I say – drill ‘im!”
            “Shh!” says Carla. “Last week, some coach ordered up a beanball.”
            “Really? Wow.”
            “They’re a little touchy about it.”
            Kyle’s coach calls time-out and meets him for a conference. When play starts again, catcher Jack remains in his crouch.
            “Uh-oh,” says Carla. “I hope they know what they’re doing.”
            “I guess the temptation is just too great. I just hope he pitches it outsi-”
            I’m rudely interrupted by the sound of metal on cowhide. The ball screams over the left field fence and strikes a large tree right in the midsection.
            “Ah, man!” says Carla.
            “Crap. Shoulda drilled ‘im.”
            “Overgrown freak.”
            Monster Kid lopes around the bases and is mobbed by his teammates as if he has just clinched the World Series. Carla chews some more sunflower seeds, probably gauging how upset her son will be at this latest turn of events. I take the chance to sample the sweet alchemy of mustard, onions, bread and pork parts.
            “So,” she says. “What’s it like, being famous?”
            I swallow. “I really wouldn’t know.”
            She reaches into her bag and pulls out a folded piece of newspaper. It’s the society page of the San Jose Mercury-News. The headline reads Lambs Eat Pasta with Lions.

And performers dine with critics. International diva Maddalena Hart was seen al-fresco’ing Tuesday night with local opera critic Mickey Siskel at Saratoga’s Bella Mia. We can only assume that Siskel’s review of Hart’s performance in SF Opera’s Eugene Onegin was favorable, but according to former Merc scribe Leigh Weimers, he really had no choice. The divine Ms. H was even more divine than usual. LW also recommends Siskel’s blog, www.operaville.blogspot.com, which offers a unique blend of critique and tales of the composers.

            “Holy crap! I’m famous.”
            And you just got two hot dogs for two dollars,” says Carla. “I don’t think life gets much better. Oh! Kyle’s up. I told him I would videotape his at-bats.”

            My curiosity gets the best of me, so I make a stop at the Saratoga Library. The place was built three years ago, and is pretty much a biblioparadise. The computers are shiny-new, and situated around circular tables that offer generous pie-slice portions of personal space.
            I pull up my blogsite, check the bottom of the Onegin review and find 27 comments. Holy crap. Most of them are names I’ve never seen, requesting details of my time with the diva. They may as well be asking for my spare kidney. I do give a brief, vague account to Cordell – who has certainly earned my trust – but the only person who might rate the nitty-gritty is strangely absent.
            Seattle. Seattle.

            My straw-blonde sunrise returns to kiss me awake. She’s delicious, chewing on something vanilla to go with the minty toothpaste. Still, it’s harder than usual to produce a smile. I grunt, force myself out of bed and pull on a pair of jeans. Outside, it’s already warm – our usual early-summer hot spell – but Katie is bundled up nonetheless, a white parka over a blue turtleneck. I lift her into the air and plant a kiss on her lips, but she’s not buying it.
            “Is something the matter?”
            The best way to lie is simply and directly. “No. A little existential funk.”
            “Poor baby.” She trails a finger around my lips. “Maybe you’re having your period. I’ll say a prayer for you.”
            “No. Sing a hymn for me.”
            “You got it. And it’ll work, too. I’m an excellent singer.”
            “I know. I’ve heard you in the tub.”
            I hold her aloft and carry her to the door. She gets in and beckons me forward for one last smooch, throwing in plentiful tongue just to make sure I’m paying attention. Before she even rounds the corner I’m headed for the house, stumbling through the living room, hurling myself back into bed.
            Long, long hours later, I’m soaking in the tub, threatening to turn myself into a prune. Maddie’s in Seattle. Probably starts rehearsals Monday. But what now? Receptions with donors? Dinner with friends? A booty call with a Northwest critic? I wouldn’t blame her (the smell of Katie all over my sheets), but I take consolation in what I’ve seen of my fellow critics. Even when they’re hetero, they’re not exactly appetizing.
            I don’t even bother with breakfast. I start up the coffee, boot up the computer and discover 25 more strangers on my comments page. It’s like a fucking Mardi Gras in there. No Mad Huntress, but there at the bottom, at long last, is DevilDiva.

DD: Bruh-thuh! What the hell is going on here? Did you marry the bitch?

M: Any chance we could talk in private?

DD: Well, since you’re the instant celebrity, I guess I’ll have to be the courageous one. My email is…

Real-name revelations are not forthcoming. Her email address begins with DevilDiva@. I flip over to my email account and ring her up.

M: Thanks. Cyberspace is getting a little wacky.

DD: You’re more popular than a celebrity porn site! So I surmise that you’ve been doing some fraternizing with Madame Hart? How exciting is this getting?

M: We were spotted by a retired journalist, who sent an item to the local daily. Apparently, opera fans read newspapers.

DD: Who knew?

M: Maddie was experiencing some performer’s stress and decided that I was the one who could help her out of it. I still don’t understand why. I’ve really done nothing to earn her trust.

DD: Maybe she had to trust you. Maybe she’s working on instinct.

M: Well, she’s right to trust me. As a performer, she already means the world to me. And now, as a person… She’s incredibly genuine, which has to be such a hard quality to maintain when you’re such a public person.

DD: Hmm, you’re beginning to wax poetic. Do I detect something romantic?

M: Okay, well, yes. I’m trying to be careful with the details – and believe me, you’re the only one I’d say anything to, but yes, it was pretty freakin’ romantic.

DD: (Sigh) My Mickey, in love. I think I’m jealous – but I’m not sure which one of you I’m jealous of.

M: So you would consider going lesbo to further your career.

DD: Why not?

M: Did I mention how glad I am that we’re not discussing this on a public comments page?

DD: Prude!

M: Harlot!

DD: And quite the circus it has become.

M: I’ll tell ya. It’s not like Maddie gets hassled in public a lot – only twice, when I was with her. But she certainly leaves a wake.

DD: Celebrity is a powerful force. Enjoy the ride, baby. Will you be seeing her again?

M: She’s due back at SFO in the fall, but right now she’s off to Seattle to do Bohème.

DD: Mimi?

M: Yep.

DD: Well, even if it was one-tine-only, you’ve got one hell of a story.

M: Yes, but I’m also human.

DD: Meaning?

M: I call it the Plateau Syndrome. Five minutes after reaching a new level of achievement, we spot the plateau just above us and begin the yearning process all over again. We are the grasping species, the species with opposable thumbs.

DD: Keep grasping, baby. I gotta head for a voice lesson. Keep me up-to-date, okay?

M: You got it. Thanks for being my confessor.

DD: My privilege. Ta!

I’m about to go for that cup of coffee, but when I flash back to the inbox I find a strange name: Michael Sinclair. And here’s what he has to say:

Dear Mickey: It’s not often that I receive a recommendation from Maddalena Hart! But I scanned your blog and I must say I’m impressed. I run a website called theoperacritic.com, and although I’m based in New Zealand, I publish reviews from all over the globe. I would love it if you would be my West Coast stringer. I don’t pay anything, but I do have good relations with all the major companies, so you’d be able to get press comps in San Diego, LA, Portland, Seattle – even Vancouver B.C. if you feel adventurous. And it’s no problem if you’d like to keep running your reviews on your blog, as well.
Let me know what you think. I’d love to have you on board.
Cheers – Michael

I drift off toward the kitchen, I pour a cup of java and I swear I see letters spelled out in the steam.

Photo by MJV

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