NIGH ON TEN YEARS AGO, I had a job in Seattle: I was a telemarketer for the 5th Avenue Theatre. It was one of two main venues for Broadway-style musicals, a genre that had left me less than moved my entire life. My job entailed calling basically anyone who had purchased a ticket to at least one show with a credit card and tried to sell them a season subscription (there were six shows per season).
We concentrated on former season subscribers, of which I turned out to be exceptionally successful at wooing back to the theatre. Now, what was unusual about this for me was that having grown up in coal-mining country (Northeastern Pennsylvania, the only place in the world where anthracite coal can be found) in the 1950s and ’60s, I had a typically straight male’s opinion of musicals: they defined the term “lightweight” and were often too silly to even attempt to comprehend their attraction to anyone. And the movies that had been made from musicals had bored me since I first saw one.
(I grew up loathing Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, all of whom I now consider fanTAStic! Oddly, the male actor that I loathed the most was Cary Grant—don’t ask me why; I forget—who I now consider the greatest “movie star” in Hollywood’s history! But that’s another story …)
Of course, I also knew that the only men who went to musicals were gay! (Of course.) I say this with little or no homophobia intended; that was merely a general observation of straight men of my era and upbringing.
So, I took this job with NO previous positive experience with musicals. As everyone else on the sales team were fans (and most of the men were gay), I was the odd-man-out. As sales leaders were rewarded with complimentary passes to shows, and I was invariably among the top salesmen, I usually had four or more tickets to each of the six shows. Berni and I went to each, taking different friends each time.
I loved it!
While memorable shows included the pre-Broadway introduction of Hairspray and a lively rendition of The Rocky Horror Show—the most surprising show was an anniversary production of Hair, but I will save that for a separate post—I found myself gravitating to the older classics. Lo and behold, my favorite show ended up being My Fair Lady!
The mature Cary Grant, who looks as though he was born to play James Bond decades before Ian Fleming conceived of the impossibly competent 007.
At the back of the bus
All of the above was simply an introduction to the gist of this post: during the period in which I worked the day shift, I took the bus from Bellevue to Seattle. On my first ride, I took the last seat in the back of the bus, where I was joined by a young man (I was in my fifties, he in his twenties) who I will call Doug.
Doug was in the computer/IT/internet business, something I knew little about. To me, a perfect computer was like a car: I turn it on and drive. I don’t want to know anything about what’s under the hood. If I have a problem, I take it to the shop. That’s why I had a Mac.
I don’t recall what led to our ongoing conversation, but, essentially, each morning we would discuss something that was a hot topic in the news. Once Doug found out that I was a political animal, he would ask me questions about whatever topic was puzzling him. I would then ramble on endlessly until we reached our stops.
To Doug, my take on topics was unique: he read the news in the papers (we had two dailies and one Sunday paper in the mainstream mold and two weeklies in the “alternative” field) and on the internet, but claimed that the way I explained things was unlike anyone else’s.
He took to calling my daily punditries Neal’s Rants and started passing out my observations to his co-workers. He enthusiastically encouraged me to get involved in a new internet format called “blogging,” of which I also knew nothing. He even offered to set up and maintain a website for me under that name so that I could get my perspective out to a large audience.
Needless to say (what a cliché), I did not take his advice. Now, ten years later, I finally have a site and one of its features is the Neal’s Rants section. Please keep in mind that I am now 62 and a wee bit mellower than I was even at 52, so my ranting may not seem as ambitious. And, due to the (unexpected?) staggering success of the blogging format, my take on things may not seem so “unique.”
Nonetheless and what the heck, here goes! My first topic will be the Zimmerman-Martin case. I am also a baseball fan: today’s Seattle Times announced that the GM for the Mariners may be making NO trades to bolster his predictably mediocre, sub-.500 team! I will then post rants as I am motivated by topics in the news.
Hence the origin of Neal’s Rants, which I want to dedicate to Doug, wherever you are …
HEADER IMAGE: The inside of Seattle’s lovely 5th Avenue Theater. The ceiling is not a painting: it is a 3D relief painstakingly made and painted by hand by a team of Santa’s elves who moved to the Pacific Northwest 200 years ago to escape the more severe effects of Global Climate Change.