UB-Day April 30

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Stephen Harper (4/30/1959)

Stephen Joseph Harper is the 22nd and current Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. He was appointed Prime Minister of Canada after leading the Conservative Party to a minority government win in the January 2006 federal election. Stephen Harper became the first Conservative Prime Minister after more than twelve years of Liberal government (from Wikipedia, since I decided to leave editorial comments out; my Canadian friends will have to argue amongst themselves).

Trivia: Loves hockey and is currently writing a book about it, although there seems to be some question as to whether he’s a Flames or Maples Leafs fan.

Age Today: 48.

Shares Birthday With: Kirsten Dunst (25), Isiah Thomas (46), Jill Clayburgh (63), Willie Nelson (74), and Cloris Leachman (81).

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UB-Day April 29

(For more information on what UB-Day is and why you should care, read this post.)

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Daniel Day-Lewis (4/29/1957)

One of the most interesting actors around.  First, he seems to have immersed himself in Stanislavsky theory, something that went out of fashion 40 years ago; he tends to dwell in his characters, on and off the set or stage.  Secondly, he’s remarkably picky (he’s only made 4 films in the past 10 years).  Third, he can’t seem to decide whether he wants to act or make shoes (seriously).

He was born in London but became an Irish citizen in 1993.  He won an Academy Award for My Left Foot in 1989, and was also nominated for In The Name Of The Father and Gangs Of New York.

Trivia: His father was Cecil Day-Lewis, the former British Poet Laureate, and he’s married to Rebecca Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller.  Also, he made his debut in Sunday Bloody Sunday at the age of 14 (uncredited) as a street vandal.

Age Today: 50.

Shares Birthday With: Andre Agassi (37), Uma Thurman (37), Michelle Pfeiffer (50), Kate Mulgrew (52), and Jerry Seinfeld (53).

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UB-Day April 28

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Eddie Jobson (4/28/1955)

Born in Billingham, County Durham, England, Eddie Jobson is a premiere rock violinist and keyboard player, at different times being a member of Curved Air, Roxy Music, 801, U.K., and Jethro Tull.  He was also part of Frank Zappa’s band for the Zappa in New York recording.

In the 1980s, Jobson released two CDs. The Green Album – with Zinc (1983) was performed in a rock-band format with session musicians, and Theme of Secrets (1985) was an electronic album and one of the first releases from New Age record label Private Music. Since 2000, he has run Globe Music Media Arts, which describes itself as a music/video production company, music publishing company, and online store.

Trivia: Jobson also has had a very successful career as a composer of TV and film soundtracks; he scored nearly 100 episodes of Nash Bridges (hey, somebody had to).

Age Today: 52.

Shares Birthday With: Penelope Cruz (33), Jay Leno (57), Ann-Margret (66), and Harper Lee (81).

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Degender It

I got a nice e-mail yesterday from an editor, asking me to write a piece for his publication. I’ve worked him a lot in the past, so he knows me and mentioned some qualities he was looking for that he thought fit my style.

This is the nice kind of e-mail. There are other kinds.

But I’m always sort of bewildered by this sort of thing, someone abstracting what I do into categories. I can’t deny it, but I can’t do it myself. I’m too close, or too dense or something. There are some stylistic things, sure, particularly when I write for newspapers, but as far as tone and thematic elements I might as well be a 9-year-old writing a book report on Camus’ The Stranger. I haven’t got a clue.

So I was a little intrigued by a site I found this morning. It’s called Gender Genie, a little program that attempts to discern gender from writing samples.

I decided to play. I figured I was bound to fool this dumb algorithm; I write about a lot of subjects, in a lot of ways. I submitted 10 different samples, all over the map — politics, fatherhood, baseball, friendship, movies — and figured I’d get at least 1 or 2 “female” guesses. I’ve got a feminine side, right?

Try it yourself. It’s fun.

Ten samples, ten answers. All the same. No hesitation, no waffling.

Umm.

I write like a girl.
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The Quality of Mercy

(This weekend, in Flagstaff, Arizona, men and women who were involved in the theater department of Northern Arizona University in the 1970s are gathering for a reunion that, unfortunately, won’t include me. Recently, through an exchange of e-mails attempting to nail down some dates of various productions, I was reminded of the summer of 1980, when some of us were fortunate enough to work with Oscar-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge in two productions, Sam Shepard’s Buried Child and Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. “Fortunate” is a tricky word here; Ms. McCambridge did not want to be there, apparently, and made things miserable for a lot of us. Still, I dug out some rose-colored glasses three years ago, when she died. Here’s to old friends, good times, and selective memory. From March 2004.)

——————–

My grandmother cried when Elvis died, I remember. Just wept. My grandmother. Elvis.

It’s funny how we react, hearing the news that a famous person has passed on. Their lives get tangled up with our own, mixed in with memories. Our first date, our first vote, the first time we fell in love at the movies. We mark moments, we speculate on whether they really do die in threes as our mothers claim, we watch a retrospective and read an obituary, and we have stories.

I have a story.

It was announced last week that Mercedes McCambridge had died, at age 87. A celebrity to be sure, an Oscar-winning actress for “All The King’s Men,” and after a fading career she had perhaps her biggest fame as the voice of the Devil in “The Exorcist.” She had the voice for it, for sure.

A Life, then, as the Irish say. And oh, she was Irish.

She was also my friend, for a very short time, what seems like a very long time ago.

“I didn’t believe a word of it!” was the first thing she said to me. We were in rehearsal for Sam Shephard’s “Buried Child,” a play she despised. She wasn’t all that happy with my monologue at the moment, either.

I was playing her husband, hard enough when you’re 23 and your co-star is 40 years older, but then I imagine it was never easy being her husband.

She was loud and bossy, and I don’t think she particularly cared to be in the boonies of Northern Arizona, working with students, doing plays she didn’t like. But it was a job, and it was acting, and acting was what she knew. And she knew it, trust me.

Early on, she twisted her ankle on a cable backstage while we were doing “Blithe Spirit.” It didn’t seem to improve her mood, and she spent the rest of the summer in a wheelchair mostly, griping and snapping at anyone who got in her way. I hid a lot.

We hated her.

And then, one day in rehearsal, she needed a prop, a liquor bottle. One of the crew dashed off to the office of our technical director, a gin drinker, and found an empty in a trash can. It was filled with water and rushed to the stage, and Mercedes McCambridge poured and drank. And stopped.

She smiled then, a small smile and a strange sight for us, after all these weeks. She looked at the glass, and looked at us.

“My God,” she said. “I haven’t tasted gin in years.”

And she began to talk.

We knew, I suppose, something of her battles with alcoholism. It was part of her resume, her story, and there were long bouts and many hospitalizations, and finally AA and recovery. She talked of this, and also of Joan Crawford and Jack Kennedy, Marlon Brando and Orson Welles. Movies she’d made and places she’d been, and for an hour or so we sat at the feet of our enemy and listened.

She broke character that day, and we saw a life, and we learned something.

Her friends called her Mercy. I called her Ms. McCambridge, of course.

On opening night of “Buried Child,” we had a dialogue, she and I. Ms. McCambridge was offstage, reading from her script, while I sat alone on a couch. It was a difficult trick, lines and lines of one-word sentences and interjections, and at some point I flubbed. She covered, I covered, and we went on.

Afterward, she pulled me aside. “Young man, you were a pro out there,” she said, a pro being what she was and what she respected most of all.

She talked to me, then, from time to time, gave me suggestions and praised me occasionally. She encouraged a career, which never happened but then I was young and she was a famous person. I listened.

I never saw her after that summer, never crossed her path again, but I was glad for the experience and grateful that I’d survived. I’d never met a tougher woman, or a better actress, and I say that knowing it’s true and knowing it would be a compliment to her.

I followed what remained of her career, noted her biographies and caught her old movies when I could. I saw her on “Magnum, P.I.” one night, playing a washed-up actress, the villain, wheelchair bound until the end, when she leapt from the chair and tried to escape.

At the end of the show, Magnum explained. It seems she’d twisted an ankle during a production of “Blithe Spirit,” he said, and was in a wheelchair and just loved the attention it gave her.

I knew this already, of course, knew that she loved the spotlight and being theatrical and living up to her reputation. It was quite a reputation, all earned, and when I heard the news, heard that she’d died on March 2 but the announcement was made on St. Patrick’s Day, I knew who was responsible, and why.

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Excerpted from The World According to Chuck: Stories from Mukilteo of Family, Faith, Friends, Baseball and Sponge Puppets (Xlibris, October 2004).

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UB-Day April 27

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Sheena Easton (4/27/1959)

Born Sheena Orr (she took the name of her first husband and never gave it back) in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, Sheena Easton reportedly decided on a singing career after hearing Barbra Streisand sing the title song in The Way We Were. While attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, she was picked by producers to be the subject of a documentary on the reality show, The Big Time, attempting to document the rise of an unknown artist in the music industry. It worked.

Ms. Easton (with training in speech and drama) moved into acting in the late 1980s, making her debut on Miami Vice as Sonny Crockett’s (temporary, unfortunately) wife. She’s subsequently appeared on other television shows and in theatrical productions, including Man Of La Mancha and Grease.

Married four times, she currently is a single mom and lives in Las Vegas.

Trivia: Her only #1 single in the United States was called “9 to 5” in the UK but renamed “Morning Train” to avoid confusion with the Dolly Parton song. Her 1984 offering, “Sugar Walls,” was not only the first music video banned for lyrics (as opposed to images), but also named one of the “Filthy Fifteen” by Tipper Gore; it was written by Prince, if that helps.

Age Today: 48.

Shares Birthday With: Ace Frehley (56), Casey Kasem (75), and Jack Klugman (85).

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More Pain, No Gain

I posted a couple of days ago about my adventures with chronic pain and linked to a New York Times article about a doctor currently on trial for prescribing pain medication. I neglected to mention a couple of things.

First, when I went through my two-year experience (again, it was relatively mild; more annoyance than anything), I did a lot of reading on chronic pain and its treatment (and mostly lack of same).

Secondly, as some of you know I tore a rotator cuff tendon last summer and eventually had surgery. The surgery was easy, but as a result of an immobile arm for a while I developed upper back spasms (trapezius) that were vicious; I could not sit up straight for any length of time without excruciating pain. And I mean excruciating.

It was during one of these episodes, at some point in December I think, when I’d exhausted every form of conservative treatment I could think of (and yes, I tried opiates and muscle relaxants, as dangerous as that is for a recovering alcoholic, but they were of minimal benefit anyway), it suddenly occurred to me that I wouldn’t want to live like this.

Literally. Would not want to live.

In my case, of course, I knew it was temporary, if frustrating at the moment. But it gave me some insight.

Here’s an article written 10 years ago on the subject of chronic pain and “opiophobia” (fear by physicians of prescribing chronic pain medication for fear of legal retribution. A couple of paragraphs stood out, this one

Dr. Sidney Schnoll, a pain and addiction specialist who chairs the Division of Substance Abuse Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia, observes: “We will go to great lengths to stop addiction–which, though certainly a problem, is dwarfed by the number of people who do not get adequate pain relief. So we will cause countless people to suffer in an effort to stop a few cases of addiction. I find that appalling.”

and this one

A 1982 study of 10,000 burn victims who had received narcotic injections, most of them for weeks or months, found no cases of drug abuse that could be attributed to pain treatment. In a 1986 study of 38 chronic pain patients who were treated with opioids for years, only two became addicted, and both had histories of drug abuse.

I’m seeing this through my own particular prism, naturally, but once again I’m struck by what I perceive as a pretty awful truth. It’s not that physicians are ignorant about chronic pain; it’s that they’re ignorant about addiction.

Read the piece if you’re interested at all. It’s fascinating reading, but I doubt it’ll make you feel better.

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UB-Day April 26

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Koo Stark (4/26/1956)

“Mum, I’d like you to meet…”

Koo Stark is an actress with a few forgettable roles and one memorable one — that is, being the one-time romantic interest of Prince Andrew, a problematic relationship considering that Ms. Stark had made at least a couple of questionable career choices.  The primary one of these was starring in a film called Emily, in which she often appeared without her clothes on, thereby giving headline writers the gift of Stark and naked to do with what they please.

She has sort of a historical (from this vantage point) reputation as a porn star as we vaguely try to remember who she was, but really she wasn’t; just an actress who wanted work and didn’t really mind what kind of part she got.

She’s also a portrait photographer and breast cancer survivor.

Trivia: She had a small part in the original Star Wars, which unfortunately ended up being edited out.  She also can be seen as a bridesmaid in Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Age Today: 51.

Shares Birthday With: Jet Li (44), Bobby Rydell (65), and Carol Burnett (74).

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Do I Feel Hot?

A letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two.

This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they?

Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

CONNIE M. MESKIMEN
Hot Springs

Now let Mr. Snopes take a swing at this. Read some of the responses, too.

(Thanks to Mark Evanier for the link)

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