Saturday, July 21, 2012
When I was a girl, my father had a phrase he used to shrug off a minor set back – things like going to the theater on the wrong night, missing the last subway or getting rained on at the beach. A verbal reset button helps put life's little snafus into perspective. "It is what it is," serves that purpose for a lot of people, but for my father it was, "The best laid plans of mice and men aft gang astray."
He said it was from a poem by George Burns – the 18th Century Scottish bard, not the comedian. He would explain repeatedly how "aft gang" was Old English for "often goes. Alas, I looked it up for this blog and it's actually "gang aft a-gley," (which is, in fact, Old English for "often goes"). "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley."
The verse, which John Steinbeck borrowed as the title of his novel, Of Mice and Men, is from the poem To a Mouse. It tells of how Burns upturned a mouse's nest while ploughing a field. The poem is an apology to the poor critter, whose efforts to build a snug den have come to naught:
...But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy...
Oh how I wish I could read this with an actual brogue.
But on to the best-laid plan.With my daughter interning in San Francisco this summer, and our 19 year old son is still living with us, I was pondering some kind of family night out, something more special than the nearest cineplex. This is challenging. Junior doesn't do theater, and there is little hope of our various musical tastes coming to a harmonic convergence.
Then I got an email from my old friend Ticketmaster. Coming up, Al Green at the Greek Theater. Al Green. Old school R&B. Great songs, great singing. What's not to like? Junior would get his snark on, but I knew he'd enjoy it on some level.
Part of the UC Berkeley campus, the Greek Theater is a classic outdoor amphitheater next to the sports stadium. Both venues sit atop the Hayward Fault. We learned the hard way how uncomfortable the theater's cement bleachers are. Tech companies put their logos on foam butt pillows and hand them out for free at the ticket entrance but your rear is still numb by the time the opening act leaves the stage. Better to buy lawn seats and arrive strategically early. You can get close enough to see reasonably well, the acoustics are just fine and you get to sprawl out on your blanket and have a picnic. Dinner with Al Green! A rare evening of non-dysfunctional family bonding! I made menus up in my head. Roast chicken. Pasta salad. Maybe I'll bake.
I reminded my son of the date, a week in advance. That's way too early for it to stick in his mind and normally, I would be reminding him again three days before the event. Except I forgot, because I'm ADD too. And so it was that the boy and his friends bought tickets to an all-day Batman marathon, culminating in the screening of the latest sequel at midnight. The show was – you guessed it – on the same night as Al Green.
Oh well, I rationalized. The kid probably would not have become an instant Al Green fan anyway. I knew I could sell the ticket at the gate. I'd revisit the menu for more grown up tastes. We could get some prosciutto, pâté and stinky cheeses and enjoy the music with our daughter.
Except daughter is traumatized by a deluge of articles about unemployed law school grads. She's worried she won't find work and she's trying to make a good impression. Of course, she got a last-minute assignment the day of the concert and cancelled on us.
Such is life, I told myself. Easier to sell two tickets than one. The picnic got paired down to prosciutto and melon, bread and cheese. Our family outing had morphed into a date night.
We got to the Greek Theater in plenty of time and readily parked above the theater. The lot was almost empty, as was the payment booth. We scrambled down a grassy hill to the ticket area. We were first in line: no one was there. And I mean no one. The concession stands were unmanned. There were no venue employees to be seen. I knew the date was right – I had gotten a reminder email the day before. Then my husband spoke up. "Maybe it's at the Greek Theater in LA." I grabbed my phone and googled. Yep. Right venue, wrong city. Glad I could make a contribution to Al's retirement fund. At least our kids weren't there or I'd never hear the end of it.
There was still some daylight left and we decided to go find a spot to eat outdoors at nearby Tilden Regional Park. We stopped the car by a meadow. The remaining patch of late afternoon sun had already abandoned the lone picnic table. We sat in the shade, chilled by an insistent breeze. We'd be dining al-fresco-your-ass-off. I poured us some iced tea and wine. When I pulled the prosciutto out of my bag, I realized I had left the melon at home.
We packed it in and went home to join the melon. "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley,"