Sunday, September 28, 2014

Russian Doll (for Christine Gabriel)


Russian Doll

She answered an ad, one calling for a mail order bride.
The trades, in the sixties, replied by postal mail sent.
He strolls onto the set as both of their arrivals coincide.
She was to be a Russian counterpart to this Italian gent.

She'd plied her trade, for grade, at Oberlin, in Norwalk,
That liberal arts college in Ohio, on the honor system;
A bilingual brunette, who could walk the walk, talk the talk;
Ideal counterpart for this "next Valentino," an unknown gem.

Their play opened in Duluth, Minnesota, ran for but a day.
The troupe packed and was bused to the next scheduled venue.
This afforded the actors time to practice lines along the way.
They left town so fast, no one had a chance to read a review.

The plot, one of intrigue, taking place during the cold war,
A time of uncertainty across political and social terrain;
The leading man recited his line, "My name is Rappaport."
Zarya presented her credentials to be his new ball and chain.

Plot called for him to be wed, in order to receive inheritance;
This was all for show, to collect, just an elaborate ruse.
The mail order scheme was a risk, but well worth the chance;
A desperate girl might respond, one having little to lose.

Those in the know, kept to themselves, Rappaport's secret.
Zarya, made head of household, played and dressed the part.
So happy to escape Federation, she'd be forever in his debt,
He envisioned a time they might explore matters of the heart.

By the time the curtain closed, after the second act of three,
The audience was made aware, Zarya came on wings of portent.
Who knew that espionage was her intent, not a desire to flee?
Crowd squirming, confirmed, never trust one with that accent.

Patrons witnessed, as his secrets became Zarya's to reveal.
Rappaport was oblivious to her scheming ways and her intent.
As the final act closed, Rappaport's impending demise was real,
Proof positive, theater goers' time and money was well spent.

As was custom, actors lined the lobby to meet each patron.
Rappaport was deluged with "well done" and even "great show."
Zarya received minimal accolades, as she was revered by none.
Eventually, when time for pass and review, she would not go.

The play, from every angle, in the Northeast, was a success.
Plans were made to take it south of the Mason Dixon Line.
Why they chose such an ambitious move was anyone's guess,
Their current tour, making bank, showed no signs of decline.

After a two weeks hiatus, a vacation well earned and overdo,
The troupe found themselves on stage, in action, in Tennessee,
Two weeks booked, nights and matinees; after that, who knew?
They took Music City by storm, their names blazoned Marquee.

No one in the cast saw it coming, when word came down to all,
The performance about to commence, would be the final fling.
As to why the production was short on funds, was anyone's call.
That everyone would be paid in full, helped to ease the sting.

Emotions in the lobby, running high, after final curtain call.
A man petitioned Rappaport, asking if he would discuss a deal.
They would talk later, if Rappaport could bring the Russian Doll.
That is what the man called her. To him, Zarya was all too real.

The following day, Christine and Rodney signed up for service;
No reason to delay, so for them it was sooner rather than later.
From all indications, the acting business here was hit or miss.
The man with a plan, touted, "Both of you were born to cater."

To appear in stage character, was stipulated in their deal,
He would keep his Rappaport regal air and Zarya, her accent;
With the money promised, neither felt put out, to make it real.
Their employer sold it well, that every night would be an event.

Nashville is chock full of singers and writers who entertain.
For our party host and hostess, the success door opened wide.
Rodney's unscripted performances came off lethargic and plain;
While Christine's stock was rising, his was in steep decline.

Rodney was called into the office, offered a chance to redeem;
He and the girl would make a killing, just for one petty theft.
An audio tape was the object of desire; the want of that stream
was essential to a future success. Rodney took the bait and left.

It seems, a Nashville tradition, is to try for an answer song.
Ever since Kitty followed Hank as a honky tonk angel with heart,
First one gets if right, the other caught up, seemingly wrong.
A successful answer song can be a career milestone, or a start.

Rodney pitched the idea to Christine. "We are better than this,"
Was her stern reply. "Just this one time, Baby, I'm on my way,"
was Rodney's response. Their decision, ultimately, was his.
She said, "Just this once, I'm done, and you're on your way."

The event, a major record release party, held the next night;
Christine's task, to sneak into the mansion's basement studio,
Procure a demo tape with new album songs, and exit stage right,
Before the artist got wise. Spying the drawer, wouldn't you know,

A stiff wind blew through an open window, then a power surge
Brought the lights down. She found herself alone in the dark.
She froze in silence, sure she heard breathing. On the verge
Of panic, Christine's inherent fear, that she was now the mark.

One door opens, as another drawer is closed, heard in stereo,
Christine was busted. Gazing around the room, following a beam,
A man holding a flashlight said, "Where did your partner go?"
She wanted to ask the same, but instead, just listened to him.

He locked the door, just as the lights came back on, to view
his intruder, telling her these walls were lined to hold sound.
Looking about, she saw walls lined with gold records, strewn
next to awards and decrees, documenting success he had found.

What, or who possessed her next, an unanswerable question,
As she went into character, that of Zarya, the Russian Doll.
She spoke with her accent, as the the country legend quizzed on,
As to who sent her, though he knew the answer. He knew all.

"I got a tip. He talks too much when drinking. I understand
why he bears me ill will. Simple truth is, he has that right.
Years ago, I stole an answer song from him, just as we planned.
My accomplice, believe it or not, was his wife, on that night."

"She is gone now. For what it's worth, I want my conscious clear.
My solution to remedy this transgression is to give you the tape.
No strings attached, you just act like you stole. It is here."
She read the label, took it in hand, and made her mock escape.

Christine had no way of knowing, the man had already switched,
so the tape she held would be of no use, when she passed it on.
The singer had no way to know, his perfect plan was bewitched.
The sounds had already been swapped, by another, who was gone.

Her employer and his staff of writers worked through the night.
By noon the next day, the lyrics to a dozen songs were complete.
Chistine told him she could sing; turns out, the girl was right.
She had them all recorded in record time, which was quite a feat.

By the next day, radio stations were spinning the advance track.
This single would take the industry by storm, revive a career.
Before it could make top ten, an answer song played back to back;
Juke boxes and disc jockeys featured both, the rest of the year.

The height of a career is to play the awards show, on the screen.
Television cameras fucused on the legend, sitting on his stool,
While beside him, stood the next big thing, future country queen,
Following his act to a standing ovation. She took him to school.

The following week, a small group of fans rolled up in a tour bus.
The Legend's home was the second stop, according to the guide.
Tourists come, to see the stars, who live better than than us.
Studio door was ajar, inviting curious onlookers to step inside.

They found him in there, sitting at his desk, stone cold still.
An empty bottle of tequila, cap off; seems the worm had turned.
An enthusiastic camera bug snapped a shot, as they often will.
Guide said, "No more pictures! That one will have to be burned."

The Nashville police were called, in event there was foul play.
Coroner closed his eyes, said it appeared his heart played out.
The man with the camera, slipped out, making a clean get away,
Thinking about a week's worth of pictures, they'd take, no doubt.

Call for a shroud misconstrued; florist showed up with a bouquet.
When the news came across the radio, his street filled, a parade
of thrill seekers and sentimental sorts, who always make their way
to toss accolades toward a perfect stranger; a simple charade.

His funeral, celebrity laden, for the former star, casket closed;
A  who's who list of stars attended, those who wrangled a pass.
It was a one sided mix of spotlight hounds and friends supposed.
"Amazing Grace" sung, as sunlight streamed through stained glass.

It might come as a surprise, but he had real friends left behind.
Several gathered for a remembrance affair, over on Music Row.
After a night of drinking, conscious clearing, only to find,
one burning question. What of the girl, and where did she go?

The girl in question, Christine, was now touring the midwest,
in a renovated Eagle bus, provided by an exec from her label.
Fleeing the confines of music city struggles, she thought it best
to take her road show north; no desire to be part of their stable.

She played state fairs and rodeos, always ending a tour in Ohio.
Christine and the Russian Dolls, two back up singers for stage.
"Russian Doll" on the inlays of her guitar, so all would know;
Christine, though forgotten in Nashville, was a heartland rage.

She and her bass player found themselves romantically inclined,
Up to and including real love, the lasting kind, not about lust.
At first break from the road, each signed a marriage license.
They stepped away from touring, seeing need for time to adjust.

With a baby on the way, Christine thought it best to retire.
As to where they would live, her choice, where to settle down.
Only one clear choice, she enthusiastically voiced her desire,
and with decision made, she was heading back to Norwalk Town.

This Saturday past, Christine was digging through artifacts;
A local charity had come calling, for an auction impending.
She discovered a box, filled with fan letters, loose stacks.
In the mix, mail unopened, a six cent stamp paid for sending.

She opened and read a personal message for her, in deep detail,
where this guy had taken a picture, then decided to conceal,
but a still voice came to him in the night, telling him to mail
the image to her, which he did, decades earlier, to reveal...

A picture of the country singer, sitting silent graveyard dead,
and just behind him, a familiar girl, striking yet subtle figure.
Christine recalled a picture on the wall, when her employer said
the image was of his former wife. This was her, she was sure.

Christine never knew of the double tape switch, so irony eludes.
She went through life thinking the iconic figure played fair.
Having no question at hand, resolve is a ghost. That concludes
this chapter in the life of the answer girl. We'll leave it there.

Michael Todd  (2014)

Note: Many thanks to Christine Gabriel for her inspiration. Christine is a writer, currently in the process of writing "The Crimson Chronicles Series." The first book in the series has been released... Please visit Christine at her website...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quiet Time


Quiet Time

When I was a youngster, I was at a friend's house, on a Saturday afternoon. We had just watched the Dick Clark show, American Bandstand, and were left with not much else on the tube except for a Shirley Temple movie or snow skiers tumbling down a hillside.

I spied an old picture book on the coffee table, and asked my friend if I could look at it. She said I could, but there was not much to see in it. It belonged to her grandmother, who was living with the family now that her husband had passed away. The grandmother still owned her house in East Tennessee, so most of her belongings were there, but the picture book was among the possessions she brought to Memphis.

Most of the pictures were of her children and grand children. Only a dozen or so photos of she and her husband were to be seen. As I was looking through those a second time, after we had gone through the entire album, I remarked to my friend, that it was a shame the couple never went anywhere, as all the images were obviously from around their home.

Can you imagine my surprise, when a voice from behind me said, that was not the case at all? Neither my friend or I had heard her come into the room. We had no idea she was looking over our shoulder. I apologized for my remark. She said that was not needed. Then she sat between, cradled the picture album and told us some stories.

Quiet Time

Perhaps you can tell, he was camera shy;    
He said "I would only do this for you,"    
Never stood still, rather wiggly and spry;
I remain challenged to explain just why.  
This is his best, in my humble review."

Taken on the night he chose to propose,
I can still see him there, on bended knee.
Dressed to impress in his finest of clothes.
How he stirred up nerve, only heaven knows;
Dreamed of the day he'd ask to marry me.

Life was quite hard in that small rural town.
See his heart's passion, plowed deep through that field;
A living carved out through green shares in brown
Sporting a Stetson, but held like a crown.
Unable to keep his love there concealed.

Here he is dressed for a game of baseball.
Traveling teams, came for barnstorming fun.
Cleats ripped his leg, an unfortunate fall;
Poured Coke over it, no fussing, that's all,
True healing magic, he hits a home run!

We're all smiles here at the sweet county fair.
My prize peaches turned blue-ribbon that day.
Look close, you can see me clutching a bear.
For years, we left it in sight without care
Our children welcomed to find it to play.

Bless his heart, he was born with two left-feet.
Here we are at a Saturday square-dance.
Refusing to give up and take a seat.
Got a mail-order lesson, set complete,
To learn how to Charleston, study his stance.

Here were are on our ride to meeting day.
Never missed a Sunday, not a time late;
I'd visit after, his patience at play.
Notice that porch swing, we'd sit there all day;
Each afternoon, like a wondrous new date.

You do not see, but he was in this scene.
He's the one doing the picture taking.
His hand was steady, his eyes were quite keen;
Said it was like viewing life on a screen;
Knowing well the memories he was making.

We never thought about leaving our home.
We had it all, never feeling alone,
Even when our kids went out on their own.
Neither felt burdened by an urge to roam.
I never knew quiet, 'til he was gone.

She closed the book, then set it on the stand;
Rose to her feet, giving a solemn stare.
There is not a place, I now understand,  
Where they had not spent time, just as they planned,
Except that one place.... He was waiting there.

Michael Todd (2014)

Disclaimer: I wrote the draft for this, back in the Spring, as a poem to give to Lainey. She likes Robert Frost. I was trying to write with a rhyme scheme that was similar to a Frost piece. I have seen Lainey do those, in a challenge, and she owns them.... When I realized, I was so far off the mark, rather than shelve the poem, I sent it to Lainey, asking if she would help me with it. What you see here is the finished product she provided. Seriously, I probably averaged a major mistake per stanza... So, unlike that Frost poem, where he came to a fork in the road, and chose one over the other... in my case here, I chose to turn around and go back, to get my bearings, which in this case, was going back to Lainey, in order to get it right. Hey, if she could teach me how to write a sonnet (she did), surely, in time she can get me to where I can do one of these all by myself. But, in the event I cannot, if is always good to know she is there for me.

September 10 is Lainey's Birthday.