Toronto journal 4: King Lear and the Subterranean Underground

We are going to Hyde Park to see King Lear,” Brandon said. Turns out he said High Park. Which is where we sat, perched high on a hill overlooking the outdoor stage at High Park in north Toronto. My expectations were low but I did carry high expectations in a picnic bag, a sub sandwich giving a measure of hope for enjoyment during the evening performance.

Shakespeare is sometimes difficult to follow. Lots of humor missed but I noticed veterans of Shakespeare in the audience chuckling so it must be funny and I’m just slow to the meaning translating Queen’s English into a slow Okie drawl. The production was performed with members of York University’s Drama and Arts School. York is the University where my son is working on his Masters Thesis on Radar Differential Measurement or something meteorologically spatial.

Anyway, it’s the shape of stuff in the atmosphere before it hits us on the head. He has developed a certain expertise in radar and was recruited to York University by the noted Atmospheric Scientist, Dr. Peter Taylor.

We also met Brandon’s buddies in the program, ZQ, Tim, Kai, and Isaac. My evaluation of Brandon’s friends: they are easy-going and smarter than I am. We are eating at a sports bar and there are several televisions tuned to street motorcycle racing, the kind where the rider turns corners with the bike leaning over sideways and Isaac (17 years old) is asking how the bike makes the turn at such high-speed. Tim, the one the guys jokingly call the savant, is studying atmospheric pollutants and has just returned from the northern Canadian woods where he is downloading data from the atmosphere. Tim pulls out a plain paper notebook and begins to sketch a model of movement at speed describing centrifugal force with mathematics, a simple graph and pencil and paper.

I don’t understand the sketch and I want to snap a picture but don’t want to appear to be a hayseed and make a big deal out of what they take as a mundane mathematical explanation for a visual and visceral sport like motorcycle racing. I wonder if this happens everyday in their world.

We’ve enjoyed the food in Toronto. One can eat at any country in the world when in Toronto. Bahn Mi from Vietnam, Pork Shoulder sandwiches from Cuba, and of course the traditional Canadian meal of Poutine, fries, gravy, cheese curds, yummy.

We’ve had a wonderful trip! We drove through Michigan after crossing the Canadian border at Sarnia, about 30 miles north of Detroit. We listened to the Audiobook version of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann while driving home. It literally wore me out, but it was fascinating. A lot of King Lear in Osage County back in the 1920’s, when the Osage Indians were the richest people per capita in the world and J.Paul Getty and Sinclair and Frank Phillips gathered under the Million Dollar Elm to bid on the Osage Indians’ subterranean kingdom.

The Osage built mansions and drove Cadillacs and succumbed to the foolishness of riches just like most of us do, and then one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The story is an indictment of the prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity. Utterly compelling, but also emotionally draining. The bad guys could just have easily been actors in a Shakespearean tragedy like King Lear…

rascals, eaters of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knaves; lily-livered, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogues.

Bill Shakespeare could really talk some trash.

A few evenings back, we sat with Brandon and Liz watching some old home movies that I had sent off to Legacy Box. They converted our home movies in 8mm and VHS format films into digital which we accessed through wi-fi. We stumbled upon this: Brandon struggling to breathe his first breath. One of the nurses was a good friend, Maresha Scarsdale, and I handed her the video camera. He is purple. Brandon thinks he looks like a purple lizard. Oxygen hasn’t coursed through his body and made him pink yet. I’ve never watched this. I was there, yes, and I held him and marveled then. I’m tearing up again watching and remembering…Brandon is struggling to breath, gurgling cries, his airways still not clear…Ello Stephney, another nurse friend of ours is working on him, clearing out his mouth and nose, and he magically begins to glow pink…he isn’t a lizard, he is human.

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” ― William Shakespeare, King Lear

We all cry before the blood fills our veins and oxygen brightens our countenance and we nestle in the warmth of human contact, and we determine that the fools and knaves and killers of the flower moon may share the stage, but they won’t rule the story.

Thanks for showing us around Toronto Brandon and Liz. You really put on a great show!

 

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Sixty Years on a Chalkboard

We celebrated our parents sixtieth wedding anniversary the day after Thanksgiving and while taking family pictures in the church sanctuary at the Dewey Church, I saw light emanating from the holy of holies, the door leading to the inner room where some of my family changed into baptismal garments before being immersed in living water. As children, we were not allowed to venture into this mysterious hallway.

My brothers and I walked to the open door and peered inside, to see what mischief our college and high school age sons were finding in the mysterious hallway leading to the baptistery.

Stashed in this hallway near the podium on the north side is a large chalkboard on wheels. We watched as Brandon, Jacob and Drew expounded on the world they know wielding only a stick of chalk and their minds and a language that they understand, meteorology, math, and physics. The chalkboard was covered with equations that I didn’t understand, pulse compression, calculus, algebra, for all I know, they were working toward an understanding of silly string theory. I understood none of it and realized this generation is closing in fast and I lack their savvy and skills.

chalkboard deWe Taylor brothers are not mathematicians. I’m a homebuilder, Toby is a physician, and Greg is a Gospel minister. We all three married women of numbers, high school math teachers. Our sons received from their mothers the gift of numbers, data, quantity, structure, space, models, and change.

Many of our daughters and nieces embrace the gift of poetry. The rhythm and grace of a healthy considered meal deliciously cooked by my daughter Jenna, the dietetics major. The expressions and elegance and passion of Toby’s daughter Emma singing a lovely broadway song called “Pulled” from the Adams Family musical during our family talent show. Niece Hannah expresses her poetic gift as a wonderful writer, nurse and friend to seemingly everyone she touches.

We are poets and mathematicians. When children are born, we write poetry, and explore possibilities. When we celebrate sixty years of marriage, we marvel and do the math, comparing our own marriages by fractal comparison, our own married tenure compared to the celebrated one. Possibility and reality, beginning and end, poetry and mathematics, the story lived out in the days between those bookends.

I remember vacationing with my family as a sixteen year old kid. We were in Orlando. I flew back alone to Tulsa for a golf tournament. I remember that first jet trip as a coming of age moment, even as I felt alone leaving my family in Orlando. I felt a sense of independence, that my Dad and Mom had enough confidence in me to let me fly back alone. I flew Delta Airlines and listened to canned airline music on my headphones from the early Seventies and late Sixties, Eric Clapton’s Layla and Marry Me Bill by the Fifth Dimension. It wasn’t quite as manly a coming of age moment as the Inuit Indians sending off a sixteen year old brave into the Arctic Sea in a sealskin canoe to hunt for caribou on a distant island, but it made me feel grown up. I also listened on my headphones to Carly Simon sing, Well That’s the Way We’ve Always Heard it Should Be. She was singing about her parents and about how she thought marriage was supposed to be and how it really was.

I tiptoe past the master bedroom where, My mother reads her magazines.
I hear her call sweet dreams, But I forgot how to dream.
But you say it’s time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me –
Well, that’s the way I’ve always heard it should be: You want to marry me, we’ll marry.

I remember the hauntingly beautiful voice of Carly Simon singing about parents who had failed to convey and live out the dream, marrying for no reason other than it’s the way I’ve always heard it should be.

Mom and Dad gave us no sense that love and marriage was easy. We saw the tears, the hurt, the trials, not just of marriage, but of life.

The poetry, the math, the story written with chalk on a sixty year old board, scrawled with equations spilling over the borders, overflowing with love and imperfection, grace and blessings, family and friends.

Taylor family 60thThanks for teaching us poetry Mom, and thanks Dad for doing the hard math, and for writing a story that never really ends. It lives on in holy places and back alleys, and in mysterious hallways on blackboards filled with equations, poetry, and stories that overflow the margins of our understanding.

Watching Our Autumn Sons

I once saw a list of things Dad’s should teach their sons. How to balance a checking account, how to ask a girl out, how to change a tire, and so on. But as I think about my failure to teach my son these skills, I realize how much nurturing help I’ve had.

Saturday I was playing golf with a group of Dads who have met annually since October 4, 1997, when we prayed prostrate under the shadow of the Washington Monument at a Promise Keepers rally along with half a million other men gathered near the Capitol of our country.
Stand in the Gap
We prayed for our children, those born and unborn, and prayed for fatherly perseverance. We’ve met every autumn since 1997, except the year of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. We eat, laugh, and play, like when we were boys. We pray for our families, reminding ourselves of the stone of remembrance we placed in our hearts near the Washington Monument that year. And just like many of our parents reminded us before we walked out the door on a Friday night, we remember who we are and whose we are, children of a just and loving Father God.

So on Saturday afternoon, I stood on the ridge of the little golf course at our home and looked east to the sun-splashed pond and watched the product of our 1997 prayers, the sons of our autumn promise. Brandon and four buddies from OU wake-boarded along the cat tails lining the banks and my nephew Jacob swam across the pond solo and nephews Easton and Tyler swam and kayaked, boys being boys, giddy and bullet proof, just like our generation played midnight frisbee in our underwear and ski jumped over firewood ramps packed with snow and clothed the Community Center statue with a toga.

It’s fun to see life come full circle and yet our sons are not the same. They are unique, they have an identity all their own. Their identity is more spiritual and less religious, more egalitarian and less biased, immersed with personal devices held in the palm of their hands accessing more information than all the libraries of the world contained when we were their age.

We sat in a circle around the campfire Saturday night looking at the stars through the canopy of the hackberry tree and we talked about how this group of Dads came to meet again and again each Autumn. And my brother Greg, challenged us with questions about belief and identity.

Who are you? Do you judge your worth by the grades you make and the degrees you have earned? Are you eternal…or just a mist? Are you a child of God, a citizen of Heaven?

I grew up in a church that sang about heaven, a cappella, and when we sang, Mansions Just Over the Hilltop, the words that resonated were not the words about streets of gold, but rather the line about the prophet whose pillow was a stone. I understood that prophet, the one with no permanent dwelling, tempted, tormented and tested, wandering about with a crick in his neck from sleeping with his head on a rock. And sometimes, being a dad is a pain in the neck. But I’m always looking for echoes of better days, glimpses, moments, when I peer into the future and see men who were once boys.

I’ve always thought of Heaven in bright colors. My theory about Heaven as a youngster included an inexhaustible bowl of peanut M&M’s flowing eternally like a rainbow dotted stream tumbling down a mountain. It wasn’t the stuff of Augustine, but it gave a creative flourish to my spare understanding of reward and punishment, and colored my black and white Bible in brilliant Technicolor.

Walking through the gates of Heaven would be like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the film transitions to color, as a sepia-toned Dorothy opens the door of a Kansas farmhouse and the vibrant world of Oz explodes in lush and gorgeous Technicolor, revealing Dorothy wearing a bright blue gingham dress as she steps over the threshold in a moment of true awe, no longer constrained by black and white.
Dorothy Oz Technicolor
Once in a blue moon, we catch a glimpse of the Technicolor scene on the other side of the door. Saturday, with golf clubs held in our hands like the staffs of Moses and Aaron, we gazed down from our golf game on the hill and admired our sons playing in the cat tails, riding the waves on a brilliant Technicolor autumn day, and we remembered the smell of the earth and grass under the shadow of a towering obelisk seventeen years ago. Thank you Lord for answering our prayers.

Why My Son Doesn’t Look Like Cary Grant

One of my best friends has a son who works at J.Crew. My son has a summer job driving the trash truck to the dump and he shops at Goodwill. But I think I’ve figured it out. It’s genetic. The why I mean. The why of why I dressed like an idiot until buying a few suits and working as a CPA at the age of twenty-eight. Before then I was like Steven Wright in his story of meeting a beautiful girl at the department store, “I met this wonderful girl at Macy’s. She was buying clothes and I was putting Slinkies on the escalator.”

Escalators are more interesting than buying clothes at Macy’s, but my youthful rebellion pales compared to that of my son. His youthful defiance by expressions of sartorial deconstruction bypasses Slinkies and detours to the local thrift store buying freshly out of style duds at the price of dirt.

Here’s what John Waters, the director of the 1988 movie, Hairspray, says about fashion tips for men. (It’s as if Mr. Waters crawled into my son’s closet, took a quick picture of the dissonant display of cotton, wool and leather, then wrote this paragraph)

“You don’t need fashion designers when you are young. Have faith in your own bad taste. Buy the cheapest thing in your local thrift shop — the clothes that are freshly out of style with even the hippest people a few years older than you. Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents — that is the key to fashion leadership. Ill-fitting is always stylish. But be more creative — wear your clothes inside out, backward, upside down. Throw bleach in a load of colored laundry. Follow the exact opposite of the dry cleaning instructions inside the clothes that cost the most in your thrift shop. Don’t wear jewelry — stick Band-Aids on your wrists or make a necklace out of them. Wear Scotch tape on the side of your face like a bad face-life attempt. Mismatch your shoes…go to the thrift store the day after Halloween, when the children’s trick-or-treat costumes are on sale, buy one, and wear it as your uniform of defiance.”

Mr. Waters was sitting on Brandon’s left shoulder in every Goodwill store he entered screaming into his ear, “Ill-fitting is always stylish,” and I was on the right shoulder whispering clichés about tucking in shirts as we pushed open the glass doors of Kohl’s and breathed deeply the fragrance of mass retail.
Brent Brandon Cruise
I whispered, “Hey, Brandon, how about this pair of Bass Weejun Loafers in basic black? You can keep spare change on top of your shoes!”, while the devil Waters replied, “Go ahead, look like your Father, I won’t say a word…won’t have to…the penny loafers will scream it out like a hobo sitting court side at a Lakers game.”
Terrel Taylor Coat Tie 50'sRoss Taylor Boot up on Old Car
Brandon’s Grandfather Terrel and Great-Grandfather Ross resorting to traditional style

Here’s what I think, which isn’t much, about clothing and young men.
Young guys eventually want to look like their Father’s, not the Dunlap belly, but when they were flat bellied twenty-somethings, sleek and young and Cary Grantish.

Guys seek solidarity with peers by avoiding traditional apparel and conversely, guys search for distinction by embracing the offbeat. They want it both ways. They don’t want to be like anybody, but they still want to be like something. Ah the horror, how to fit in yet stand apart, how to be a generational team guy and an expressive individual with unique clothing thoughts.

And I thought it was only me he was trying to not look like. No, it’s everybody.

So how do you look like nobody else yet still fit the definition of well-dressed?
Veggie tales french peas
In the words of Jean-Claude, the French pea of Veggie Tales fame in the castle scene (stolen from Monty Python) while expressing incredulity at their ability to clap hands when they had none (they were peas after all), “I have no idea.”

Cary Grant, however, does have an idea. The actor wrote an article for This Week magazine in 1967, discussing the finer points of men’s fashion. Here are a few of Mr. Grant’s tips:Cary Grantc.1955© 2000 Mark Shaw / MPTV
“I’ve purchased dozens of suits over the years and they all have one attribute in common: they are in the middle of fashion… In other words, the lapels are neither too wide nor too narrow, the trousers neither too tight nor too loose, the coats neither too short nor too long.”

“It’s better to buy one good pair of shoes than four cheap ones… The same applies to suits, so permit me to suggest you buy the best you can afford even though it means buying less.”

“How do I feel about ties? If I had only one to choose, then I think a black foulard, not too wide nor too narrow, is best, as it’s acceptable with most clothes. An expensive tie is not a luxury — the wrinkles fall out quicker and the knot will hold better.”

“Learn to dispense with accessories that don’t perform a necessary function.”

“Do see that your socks stay up. Nothing can spoil an otherwise well-groomed effect like sagging socks.”

“Don’t be a snob about the way you dress. Snobbery is only a point in time. Be tolerant and helpful to the other fellow — he is yourself yesterday.”

“Wear, not only your clothes, but yourself, well, with confidence. Confidence, too, is in the middle of the road, being neither aggressiveness nor timidity. Pride of new knowledge — including knowledge of clothes — continually adds to self-confidence.”

I’m becoming Cary Grant. Naaah, I don’t look like that, nor do I dress that way, and I hate ties but I do agree with Mr. Grant’s clothing sensibility. And I no longer give apparel advice to young men. They can figure it out on their own in their own good time. Somehow, I’ve come home to roost in the sartorial nest of common sense and English decency.Brandon Pink Tie Black Suit My son on a good clothes day

The Touchdown Bunny Hop and Thoughts on Richard Sherman

Did Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks offer a sincere handshake to Michael Crabtree in the heat of the moment and was his comment, “Hell of a game, hell of a game!”, real? Only Richard Sherman can answer that.

He seems like a nice guy, postgame rant notwithstanding. It did make me think that youngsters take their cues from the best players in the world and that my son and nephews and cousins all play ball, and that they watch these interviews and on-field behaviors.

My son wasn’t a star, he didn’t always get to play a lot, but I was always proud of how he carried himself, how he worked and supported his teammates. And I remember a touchdown he scored in the fifth grade and how he celebrated. I found this letter in my files today and after hearing football players say “I” all week on ESPN, rather than “We”, I read this letter, written to my son three years ago.

Dear Son:
Last week I watched cousin Tyler Davis emerge from the pile of 5th grade football players and run over to where his brother Easton was standing, whereupon, he declared, “I pan caked that guy…then put on syrup.” Maybe an expression of football swagger I’d never considered. A couple of hours later, I was watching Easton play wide receiver at Union Tuttle Stadium and late in the game the quarterback threw a fade route from about the south 20 yard line into the Southeast corner of the end zone over Easton’s shoulder and the defender was blocking a clear view of the play but I thought Easton caught the ball. However, based on his reaction of nonchalance, Clint and I could not tell whether it was a catch. Eventually Easton emerged for the far corner of the end zone and trotted toward the middle of the goal line handing the ball calmly to the referee. It was a “Been there, done that” reaction with little fanfare, no taunting, no celebration, just a score and back to work. You don’t see that inner composure and humility often anymore in the high school, college and pro game. In fact, in the wake of arrogant celebration and individual expression of self-accomplishment at the expense of a recognition that ten other players were on the field at the time of the touchdown, some have felt compelled to legislate away joy from that part of the game by penalizing excessive celebration…whatever that means. And so officials sternly stare down each touchdown like a sour-faced school principal viewing a playground fully expecting poor behavior at any moment.
And so in our culture of self-expression and do whatever you feel is appropriate as long is it doesn’t hurt another, humility is a virtue that gets little attention.

Rubel Shelley says it this way.
In athletics, we call it “swagger.” In the halls of the academy, it is “pomp and circumstance.” In business and high finance, it is “perks.” On the streets, it can be called anything from “attitude” to “posturing” to “respect.” And while none of these terms is evil or inappropriate, our shallow culture has come to define them in terms of a feigned superiority that lets one person or group step on another. So the football player dances in the end zone or over the opponent he tackles, and the pitcher in baseball pretends to be a gunslinger when he strikes out the other team’s cleanup hitter. In the university or company, the person who gets the promotion gloats over the one who didn’t…the result is not healthy self-esteem on display but boorish, uncivil, and cruel behavior – behavior of the sort that creates fights and vendettas when two persons or groups of the same mindset meet. Humility means acknowledging we all stand on others’ shoulders. We all know too little to put others down.
Brandon Fullback Bruins

One of my favorite moments from your 5th grade football games occurred at the home field at the Mid-High. You were playing fullback and we had the ball on the south 20 yard line about mid-hash. Kirby turned left and handed you the ball for a simple off-tackle play, but you popped it outside and hit a seam and raced down the east sideline. Just as you hit the 5 yard line, your body was obstructed by other players, but as you neared the goal, I saw your helmet rise into the air and you floated over the goal line as you scored a touchdown. Just a simple little bunny-hop and skip over the goal and then you handed the ball to the official. You acted like you had been there…but still had the joy of what had been accomplished without excessive in-your-face behavior. I’ve always remembered that little bobbing up of your helmet as a moment that I was very proud of you…not because you scored a touchdown, although that was cool, but that you got a kick out of it…that it was fun.

I’m sometimes frustrated by kids these days…that they are not respectful…not humble enough…not aware that they stand on the shoulders of others. But sometimes they teach an old guy like me about respect for tradition and for your opponent. I played a lot of competitive golf this summer in the Oklahoma State Amateur and other tournaments and played against some good young college and high school golfers. One characteristic about these kids that I played and sometimes beat was that they were respectful of the game and opponent and at match end, they would remove their cap, shake hands and wish the opponent good match and best wishes. I didn’t grow up removing my cap after the match although I’ve always been keen to the idea of sportsmanship and good etiquette and respect for opponent. But I love that the kids have taught me…and now I remove my cap out of respect for the game and the player I just beat or who just beat me…something I probably didn’t do ten years ago. It’s cool that twenty year old kids taught me that.

Keep having fun…just like when you crossed the goal in 5th grade. Don’t be afraid to celebrate…but also remember the words of C.S. Lewis,

“Humility is not thinking less of oneself but thinking of oneself less.”

I love you,

Dad

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2)