By Ernie McCray
Oh, I had such a beautiful day the other day. It got underway with me sitting on the edge of my bed, yawning and stretching and making grunty old folk noises in rhythm with the popping of my 77-year-old bones.
With my querida gone to a mountain retreat I found myself reminiscing, remembering how, as an only child, I was often home alone.
And I would just pass the time letting my imagination fly and roam far and wide, past all the “Yee-Ha!” I had to deal with in a day – and I’d dream of a world that didn’t put up with any of that and then, depending on the mood I was in, I would often make up a little ditty about this society that was given life in my imagination.
Anyway on this laid back Saturday, I got dressed and, with a smile on my face, I thought of those days of yore as I drove to a local java shop for a buttery croissant and a small coffee, like the younger me riding my bike happily to Lim Nuey’s for a bag of penny candy or some dixie cup ice cream.
Very little, to nothing, has changed for me since those days it seems. Like when I got back home I sat and wrote. I’ve been doing that since I was a little bloke.
Then I stretched and put on some Maceo and moved to his groove for a half-hour or so. I got the dancing bug a long, long time ago. Drop the needle on a record and I’m on the floor. From the time I first stood up, I’m sure.
Then the music eased me into the next phase of my day, finishing a book and putting it away and then starting another one, a little later in the day. I lived in the Tucson City Library back in the day.
I squeezed in a little TV watching, recalling how, as a 14-year-old, I bought our family’s first television set because every time I asked my mom to dig in her pockets for one she would launch into her “Money doesn’t grow on trees” spiel.
Later in the day I took in Playwrights Project’s winning plays of 2015 at the opening night of this year’s festival of “Plays by Young Writers.”
The plays, as always, were wonderful, brilliant, taking me deeper into the child-like state of mind that had characterized my day.
In one play I was taken to a dystopian society that was every much as undesirable or frightening as anything George Orwell or Rod Serling could ever conceive in their imaginings. It was a world where everyone was to get along, but getting along wasn’t easy as Big Brother was huge. In this world if you dared to err, it definitely had to be on the side of caution. It reminded me of my primary school days at Blessed Martin de Porres. Gave me chills.
In another production, the playwright created a real life kind of situation, filled with humor, where workers at a tollbooth feared losing their jobs to “Fas TraK,” not knowing that their complaints were being reported by a new hire who was a spy. The play jogged a memory of a time when I was beyond childhood but still young, just out of college, working in accounting and timekeeping at Hughes Aircraft. The plant, right before I moved to San Diego to teach children, put in machines that could do my work effortlessly and quickly. Almost everyone in my department was fired before I had spent a week in my new city. I taught my sixth graders some of the lessons of the world when I told them that story.
One drama made me double over with laughter. The playwright crafted characters as absorbing as any we might see on any stage anywhere, or on any television show or in any movie. Her story was a take on how we, in the minds of many folks, coddle today’s children in schools and sports by giving them awards for just trying or for just being on the team. The main character receives a certificate for “Using 1/4th of Her Potential.” But when I look back on my childhood I can think of some old friends of mine who could have used some kind of prize – for anything. Something. Why shouldn’t everyone have a moment in the sun?
Another magnificent piece brought slight tears to my eyes off and on throughout its presentation. A mother, a Latina, struggles to feed her children and wants her daughter, a gifted student, to drop out of school and help out at home more.
My intermittent tears almost segued into uncontrollable sobs when the daughter said “I’m not happy. And if I’m not happy then that must mean…” and the mother replies: “What? That I don’t love you? There is happiness and there is also survival. Happiness is a luxury that some of us don’t get.”
Such thinking came from the mind of an 18-year-old writer of plays and it resonated with me deeply because I went to school with a couple of Mexican American girls who had to fight with their hardworking parents to stay in school. I understand the drama of such encounters, the heartache, the emotional pain.
As I drove home I couldn’t help but think of my mother who struggled mightily to keep us afloat as a family and I thanked her out loud, to myself, for introducing me to the arts, to plays, in particular.
She’s a big part of why, at a time of great turmoil throughout the world, I can so easily groove on a Saturday in a child-like state of mind, still able to dream and actively pursue better days.
When it comes down to it, I’d much rather dream than scream.
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