Thursday, July 29, 2010

Relatively trivial.

I love discovering unusual pairings in the family tree. (Getting a bit Chaucerian here, try a different tack.) Odd relationships, I mean. People with unexpected kin.

Just found out today -- Anna Leonowens, the real-life governess whose writings inspired the movie Anna and the King and then, of course, the Rogers and Hammerstein musical (and film) The King and I, was the great-aunt of . . .

 . . . Boris Karloff.

My very favorite composer on the planet, Ralph Vaughan Williams, was the great-nephew of personal hero Charles Darwin and the great-great-grandson of Josiah Wedgwood, of pottery fame, for whom I entertain no particular affection beyond general admiration.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Some fathers just wear egg on their faces.

This morning, I'm haranguing the boys so that they'll get to camp on time -- Primus and Tertius doing gymnastics, Secundus a week-long film and TV course at a different location, two Rye miles (i.e., the equivalent of thirty kilometers in non-Westchester) from his brothers. Same drop-off time, hence the impatience of taxi-driver Daddy.*

Despite the ticking clock, they move with all the slow deliberation of moon-walkers, blissfully unsullied by the merest touch of urgency. (Why can't a nine-year-old make tart and irrelevant comments without pausing in the middle of tying his shoelaces?)

Primus belatedly reminds Tertius that socks and sneakers are required for an activity today, Tertius refuses to believe it, clings to flip-flops, unable to grasp the concept of wearing sneakers anyway as insurance, in case of the dim possibility that his older brother may actually be right. Daddy now quite exasperated, spinning car keys like worry beads, snapping orders.

I might have had more authority if it hadn't come out as "put on your snocks and seekers." Twice.

Last sacerdotal appearance, about five years ago.
It reminds me of an occasion a few Halloweens ago. (This will sound like a publicist's fantasy piece, but it's completely true.) Real life having, sadly, shifted my innocuous old priest costume into the scary category -- especially when chaperoning three small boys around the neighborhood -- I switch to dressing as the Grim Reaper** for trick-or-treating, face completely hidden behind a black fabric screen. But after the first year of this, the mem-sahib complains that it creeps her out (although it's turned out that it was me, not the outfit). So for the Reaper's next appearance, I try to soften it a little. Long, blue clown shoes poking out from underneath the black robe and a big red nose attached to a rubber skull half-mask. Somehow, though, it has the opposite effect.

That evening, Primus commits one of those childhood sins, long forgotten and no doubt fueled by high-fructose corn syrup, that requires a serious parental scolding. (When did every overhyped American tradition become a kids' candy-fest?) Having removed my Halloween costume, I sit him down on the living room sofa and lecture him for ten minutes on his behavior. And it's only as I draw to the end of my brilliant fatherly peroration that I realize I'm still wearing the clown nose.

I now go trick-or-treating dressed as a monk. You don't need to wear pants, and neighbors offer you beer.

*Are you talkin' to me? (I love footnotes. They're like P.S.'s)

**My former Citibank colleagues and I decided years ago that a "Grim Reaper" should be the name of a cocktail, although we were unable to come up with anything sufficiently lethal. We did agree, from frequent caipirinha-oiled business lunches (it was the 80s) at the nearby "Brazilian Pavilion" in midtown (it was the 80s), that it should have a cachaça base. But the next ingredient foundered on the current legal status of absinthe. (Not to mention the abandonment of New Coke.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Poet's day.*

I'm telling the boys about "Mockingbird," a new game I just thought of. (It's a bit obvious, so I doubt I'm the first person to come up with this idea.) You begin with the lullaby "Hush Little Baby," and take turns to make up a couplet, giving the next player the challenge of completing the rhyme. Extra points for fiendishness and ingenuity.

So I start with the real lyrics:
Hush, little baby, don't say a word;
Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird don't sing,
Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring . . .
And here, I change it up:
And if that diamond ring don't sparkle . . .
Take it, Primus. (Admittedly, all that comes to my mind is "Papa's gonna buy you a horse called 'Arkle.'"**)

Primus is made of better stuff. In a flash: "Papa's gonna buy you a pile of charcoal." Bloody brilliant.***

*"Poet's Day" as a hallowed acrostic for Friday: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday. Is that just an English thing?

**Not Urkel. Arkle. Notoriously successful Irish racehorse in the 1960s.**** And six punctuation marks in a row, beating my previous record. Although does the double asterisk count as just one?

***Totally worthy of Ogden Nash (1902-1971), who was born here in Rye but is insufficiently celebrated around these parts.*****

****Coulda had "patriarchal."

*****Like me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

School of hard knock-knocks.

This happened a couple of years ago, before I had this blog, but I was reminded of it today for some reason.

I'm telling Tertius (then about four or five years old) some knock-knock jokes, but he's not getting the idea of the pun. Instead he insists on starting the joke himself, giving me a first name, and then when I say, say "John Who?" he just adds the family name of a friend at his nursery school.*

Trying to be encouraging at all times, I explain that it's awfully nice to remember your friends, but just repeating their names lacks a tad on the laughing-my-ass-off front.

"Look," I say, "what's funny is when something surprises you, when it's silly. For example, if I say I just saw a brown cow, you might be interested, but you wouldn't giggle much." (Tertius could giggle for Britain.) "But if I say I saw an orange cow, you'd laugh because it's such a silly idea."

And he duly does. "I get it," he claims. "Okay, let me try again. Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Apple," he answers. Apple? Where did that come from?

"Apple. . . who?" I ask, with trepidation.

"Orange cow!" he explodes gleefully.

*Alice, the dim verger on The Vicar of Dibley, played to perfection by the magnificent Emma Chambers, did the same thing once, during the regular post-credits joke-telling spot with the equally redoubtable Dawn French.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Life of Brian.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum -- he of the "axis of evil" coinage -- now has a conservative website called "FrumForum." Frum appeared this morning (via telephone) on Brian Lehrer's show on New York's public radio station, WNYC.

Lehrer (the best political and current affairs radio host ever) heralded the segment by giving himself this inadvertent tongue twister: " . . . and we'll be hearing from David Frum from FrumForum."

Nailed it. But he's buggered off on vacation for two weeks to recover.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In all humility.

The average two-year-old has a vocabulary of a few hundred words. At five or six years old, it's expanded to 2,500 to 5,000 words, and the child goes on adding words at a rate of 3,000 a year -- that's eight new words a day! -- until the end of formal education, when acquisition tails off drastically. Final tally: anything from 20,000 words to 75,000, depending on which expert you consult. (The range is all to do with whether you count inflections and variant meanings of the same word.)

There are more than a quarter of a million definitions in the latest edition of Chambers Dictionary, the crossword enthusiast's tome of choice. But unless this is your bedtime reading, or you're studying for a Scrabble competition or a spelling bee, the chances are that, by the time you're an adult, new words come along so rarely that you can remember the first time you heard each one.

Yeah, from time to time we jump back into the flood, with a new job or field of study, say, or a flurry of so-called advances that give us "twitter" and "blog" and "meme" and "iPad." I had some swift learning when I moved to New York. Sure, I already knew all those common British/American differences that irritating schoolboys like to trot out -- mainly the parts of cars -- but what was "taupe"? (The English would call it "beige.") And I'd never heard the word "faucet" in my life. ("Tap.")*

Today, I had one of those learning experiences. An NPR correspondent from Florida, floundering to end a sentence about the effects of the oil spill, used a catch-all ". . . and elsewise." And I'm about to leap on this hideous formation -- for the British, the addition of the suffix "-wise" to any word is seen as the worst excesses of the American advertising industry -- and compose a smug little post, no doubt bringing in a reference to La Palin's recent "refudiate" (God, it's like fish in a barrel with her). Only something made me check first.

And there it is. "Elsewise." In several dictionaries. Meaning just what you'd expect it to mean. Used by my second-favorite author Charles Dickens in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, no less. (Which means I must have come across it before and failed to store it away.)

It's true: you do live and learn. Still.

*Big problem. When you have an English accent, nobody likes to correct your Briticisms, so you continue to use the wrong word for years.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Finite jest.

There's been a lot of buzz about a website called "I Write Like", which analyzes samples of your writing and gives you the name of an author that you . . . er . . . write like. (If you're interested, Google "I Write Like" for a swift sampling of the many newspaper and online articles that have covered this.)

The general consensus is that it needs more work. Gawker put in a transcript of the recent Mel Gibson rant and the suggested author was Margaret Atwood. But when Margaret Atwood put her own prose in, she came up with Stephen King. As did Herman Melville, vicariously, when the New York Times plugged in Moby-Dick.

But of course, it's irresistible. And remarkably fast. So I tried three extracts from This Private Plot.

The opening paragraphs scored me David Foster Wallace (DFW pictured right).  A clear endorsement.

Then I tried the climactic chase scene, and got Stephen King, presumably not writing as Margaret Atwood. Under the circumstances, another palpable hit, especially when you think  it could have been Dan Brown.

And finally, I entered a chapter that's meant to be a parody of a quality broadsheet newspaper's theater review. That earned respected horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. (If it was going that way, I'd have preferred M.R. James, but at least the program recognized the different style.)

By the way, this blog entry -- up to the preceding paragraph -- came out as cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson. Which is puzzling, but better than Mel Gibson.*

*See what I did there? Brought it full circle.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tired British meme but possibly unfamiliar to visitors from other parts of the globe, and rather useful advice for me at the moment.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Daily Insult: non-age-related edition.

The inspection sticker has expired on the mem-sahib's station car, so getting her to her morning train means a brief family road trip. Climbing into the car, Secundus finds my cell phone -- missing for three days -- which had fallen under the seat. Daddy duly delighted, despite thwarted plans for iPhone replacement.

On the way home, we spot a Jeep with an unusual color, a striking metallic khaki (the color of Leila barf, according to Primus). I recall wistfully that my last car before I moved from England, a Renault 14TS hatchback nicknamed "Rochester," was a similar color, a goldish green. Or greenish gold. (Since it was a company car, issued to my first wife as a perk, it doesn't make the meager list of "cars I've owned," even though I did more of the driving.)

"Where is it now?" Secundus asks. I calculate that it's been thirty years since it was manufactured, so I suggest that it was probably scrapped a long time ago.

"I hope you didn't leave your cell phone in it," he murmurs.

Let the Wookiee win.

A new clutch of word games grips the boys, among them Charades and Twenty Questions. ("Is it bigger than a bread box? And what's a 'bread box'?")*

In the minivan on the way to camp, Tertius is miming a movie title, which he claims has three syllables. It's usually quite easy to guess his puzzles, because the older boys know every movie and TV program he's ever seen in his seven years. And besides, he can only remember the names of the most recent ones. If in doubt, go for SpongeBob SquarePants. But today, the answer turns out to be Star Wars.

"Star Wars doesn't have three syllables," protests Secundus. 

"Star War-uhz," Tertius ripostes instantly.

*Hey, five punctuation marks in a row, with no cheating or vulgar repetition.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The sound of my own voice.

I have no way of identifying the individuals who read this blog. Honestly. I don't even know when my followers have logged on. But Google does provide some basic analytics showing the cities that provide visitors. I was quite proud to have attracted readers from Moscow and Mumbai and Lahore, as well as towns in Romania, Vietnam, and Thailand. Until I realized they weren't actually spending any time here -- probably clicking through using that "Next Blog" link just above Will's head and not halted in their tracks even for a second by a doctored picture of Shakespeare.

Quite a few visitors check in from my home town of Rye. But suddenly,  in the last couple of days, I started getting unusually long visits -- fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, two or three times a day! A local fan! Wow! If only I could pinpoint her. (Or him, I suppose, he added grudgingly. Not that there's anything wrong, yada, yada, yada.)

Hang on, though. Fifteen minutes on one blog entry? My charming yet discerning devotee must be truly savoring every word.* Fifteen minutes? Why that's the amount of time it takes to . . . write it.

Yup. I forgot that my computer got a new Internet Protocol address the other day, and I hadn't updated the filter setting that excludes me from the statistics. Oh well.

*Or more likely has second-grade reading skills.

More of an act than an actress . . .

 . . . is how an anonymous wag once described the colorful Tallulah Bankhead. Scrabbling around for ideas for an Oliver Swithin short story, I briefly consider fictionalizing a highly apocryphal anecdote about La Bankhead, but my integrity prevails. Still . . .

Tallulah was once in a stage production with an ambitious actress much younger than herself, whom she overheard bragging "She's not so great. I can upstage her anytime." "Dahling," Tallulah replied, stepping out of the shadows, "I can upstage you without even being onstage."

The play included a scene in which Tallulah exits to leave the younger actress onstage alone, performing one half of a long telephone call. Before she left the stage, Tallulah placed the half-full glass of champagne she'd been sipping on the very edge of a prominently placed table, half on and half off. For the rest of the scene, the audience's attention was entirely on the precariously balanced glass, ignoring the other actress entirely.

Triumph for Tallulah. (Of course, the adhesive tape on the bottom of the glass helped.)

Probably untrue. The whole "convenience" factor of the circumstances weighs against it. (Not to mention that it requires Tallulah Bankhead to walk away from a half-full glass of champagne.) As unlikely as the famous* anecdote of Jean Harlow, who apparently met Margot Asquith, wife of a British Prime Minister and a wonderful wit in her own right. Mrs. Asquith found herself needing to correct the movie star's mispronunciation of her first name: "No, dear, the t is silent. As in Harlow."

*Not going to stop me telling it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Talking of Harmondsworth (see last entry), this is the Middlesex village where my late (adoptive) mother was born and where my aunt (her elder sister) and cousin still live. It's about thirteen miles from the center of London. My grandfather's job was to take produce from the surrounding farms to the London fruit and vegetable markets, probably Covent Garden. In those days, nearly a century ago, this was a day's round trip by horse and cart.

Harmondsworth sits a little north of the main road to Bath, connected London-wards by quiet country back lanes to the neighboring villages of Sipson and then Harlington, which was where my father was born, during the First World War.

Around the same time, a few acres of the vast Hounslow Heath just a mile or so south of Harmondsworth were turned into a military airfield for those newfangled "aeroplanes."  The spot was near a tiny hamlet called Heathrow.

By the Second World War, Heathrow Airport and its supporting businesses had leveled most of the land south of the Bath Road (including the farm laborers' cottages where Dad came into the world, now the site of the airport's telephone exchange). But despite the encroachment of one of the world's busiest airport, Mum and Dad never fully accepted that they'd become de facto suburbanites, even after they moved a couple of miles further east to Hounslow. As for "London," a mere dozen miles away and eventually part of their address, it was to them a distant, impenetrable maze, rarely visited and much dreaded by my mother in later life.

For what seems like a decade or more, the present-day inhabitants of Harmondsworth, Sipson, and Harlington have lived under a shifting life sentence, as various plans for the extension of Heathrow Airport added injury to the continuous insult of noise and air pollution and road traffic by threatening to raze many of their homes and encircle the remainder. At one point, Harmondsworth's twelfth-century church (left) and historic tithe barn -- Britain's largest (below) -- seemed destined for destruction. Later, it was the entire village of Sipson that would be flattened for that third runway.

But within the last couple of weeks, the UK's new coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have permanently scrapped all of the previous Labour government's plans for Heathrow's expansion. A victory for homes and communities and history -- and for the power of a persistent grass-roots protest.

This is the best possible outcome for the villages where I knew so many people when I was growing up and still have relatives now. But it came from a Tory-dominated government. What's a die-hard lefty to think?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is this the face of a murderer?

My nonagenarian aunt's late husband was once, among many other things, a sexton for the parish church in Harmondsworth, England. I seem to be following in a family tradition of gravedigging.

Leila, the serial killer, struck again this evening. This time, she achieved a lifetime's ambition and managed to outrun a very small rabbit. Mary and I hear the sudden yells of the children, but by the time we get out into the back yard, the damage is done. Leila is made to drop her prize and is hauled unceremoniously into the house, primal instincts still coursing through her sinews, puzzled at the absence of praise for her accomplishments.

This time, Primus is the conscience of the underbeast, demanding we rush the convulsing rabbit to the Rye Nature Center. Could it be saved? Is it just winded? There is no blood, but a strip of furless skin on its haunch shows mauve, and the animal's spine looks odd. As we place the patient in a shoebox lined with paper towels, the movements slow and then stop, and there's no reaction to Secundus's breath on the open eye or to my finger brushed against its whiskers.

Primus decides this is the worst day of his life and Leila the worst dog in the world and leaves the scene in distress. I fetch the spade again and, with the help of those experienced mourners Secundus and Tertius, choose a burial site. I explain this can't be next to Soldier, the valiant mouse, because that's where, a week ago, I secretly interred the baby bird that I had encouraged the boys to leave for its mother to find, only to have their visiting cousins unknowingly release Leila into the back yard while we were at the bookstore.

We find another spot and bury the little body. The two boys dutifully toss a pinch of dry earth into the grave before I fill it in, an odd little ritual that I first came across in Hammer horror movies. This time, the victim remains unnamed, but the digging threw up some slices of brick, which Tertius installs as tombstones for both the rabbit and the fledgling. Maybe tomorrow, they'll love Leila again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Me and the mollusc.

Paul and I were right, except that wimpy psychic octopus didn't even venture a guess at the score. (Okay, it was only 1-0, not 2-0 as I predicted, and Spain's winning goal was a nail-bitingly long while coming; but its quality was worth two ordinary goals and more than made up for the 117-minute wait/yellow-card fiesta.)

Big Olé out to my Spanish friends and former relatives.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Final Prediction.

I bought my first guitar when I was fourteen, a fourteen-quid piece of crap that I nicknamed Gladys in total ignorance of B.B. King's similar naming habits.

Until then, my instrument was the wildly phat oboe. (It was supposed to be a gateway toot to the saxophone, but I never got that far.) However, the terminal unhipness of this member of the woodwind family didn't stifle my ambitions for budding rock and roll fame (after all, the original line-up of Roxy Music included an oboist, or "oh-beast" as my mother always pronounced it), and my first planned line-up for a band was me with Chris Cockayne and Jeff Fanning, two cello-playing fellow thirteen-year-olds. Combined, we had the sex appeal of a bottle of paint brush cleaner.

I mention this because the first of many suggested names for this luckily abortive combo was "The Psychedelic Octopus*." Which brings me neatly but glibly to Paul, the psychic octopus.

You can tell the Americans are finally embracing soccer: they're ladling out statistics by the, er, ladle-full. I always thought this US obsession with stats was to stop the punters nodding off during the long lulls that occur in baseball and American football. The football played by the rest of the world, with its two 45-minute halves of continuous action -- so irritating to commercial television -- didn't need to bother with esoterica, at least in my day. There was nothing more taxing to the memory than "Who won the FA cup in 1958?" (Bolton Wanderers, who beat Manchester United 2-0) and "Who scored a hat-trick in England's 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final?" (Geoff Hurst, of course) and that's about it. Statistics were for cricket -- a game that's longer than baseball, but just as fast. Which means just as slow.

Soccer is all about possession. If the other team has the ball, no matter where they are on the pitch, you'd better show a desperate avidity to get it back that would make Gollum look like Ghandi, or before you know it, you'll be picking the precious out of the back of your own goal. Ask the England squad.

This morning's New York Times includes a stunning information graphic all about possession. Somebody has determined, for all the games played so far, which team touched the ball more, on a minute by minute basis. Ninety minutes per game, plus thirty minutes overtime for several matches. Translated into a row of ticks color-coordinated to team strip, like a long bar code. Sixty-two matches altogether. All in a space that's about a third of a page. Oh, America admit it -- you love this stuff!

The Netherlands has a pretty respectable history of possession in all their games. But fellow finalist Spain's record is a virtually unbroken ribbon of red, dominating their opponents in every match. And for that reason -- and because they're very, very good -- I'm picking Spain to be the winners tomorrow afternoon, probably 2-0.

And that fortunately puts me in agreement with Paul, the psychic octopus at Germany's Oberhausen Sea Life Aquarium. Presented with his mussel snack in a choice of two containers, each marked with a national flag, Paul has correctly predicted the final outcome of all of Germany's games in this year's World Cup, including their loss to Spain in the semifinals (which scored him some death threats) and today's German victory against Uruguay for third place. And when asked about the final, Paul chose Spain, despite the fact that the average Spaniard would see him more as a tapas than a clairvoyant. See it here.

Which leaves only one question. Not how does Paul do it. (Of course he has an opinion about soccer -- with eight legs, he's 36% of a side on his own, and he'd never be guilty of a hand ball.) But whoever thought about asking him?

*And talking of musical octopuses in 1969 and aquatic beasts called Paul, a belated shout-out to Ringo on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Smooth operator.

Tertius is in the family room, playing with his toy ATM. (Yes, they have those.) He asks me for some change to plug into the slot -- it counts money -- and I duly fish out 56 cents in coins.

Then he offers me a box of tissues. I notice that this is an opened box, removed from my office a day or two earlier, and feel moved to point this out to him.

Later, I am in my office when he rushes in and asks if I'd like my tissues to be delivered by hand. He returns with the box in a plastic shopping bag.*

"The charge is 56 cents," he announces with glee. "Oh, you've already paid me." He scurries off.

Now, it may be because I wasn't around when the business genes were handed out, but I'm still trying to figure that one out.

The good news is that it would normally be Secundus who would pull a stunt like that. So now I have two entrepreneurial children who stand a chance of being the next Bill Gates. Which is just as well, because that's my only retirement strategy.

*Yes, I take plastic shopping bags from the store and recycle/repurpose them all as garbage bags. And for those cloth bag toters who'd criticize on autopilot, I have to ask, "then what do you put your garbage in?" If the answer is those Hefty or Glad products that get carried home in your cloth bags, don't they use up just as much of the world's oil-based resources and spend as long in the land fills? (They're not biodegradable -- I checked on Glad's website.) Perhaps more, since they're a good deal thicker, use a different kind of plastic for the ties, and are often impregnated with odor-masking chemicals. And they're not recyclable. (And never mind the extra costs of packaging and printing and advertising, and the carbon footprint involved in getting them out in bulk to the supermarkets -- or the extra drain on your budget -- when the free plastic bags are already there.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

A word from Rip Van Winkle.

Surfacing from four days of the flu, I find the world transformed around me. This has been a bad strain, donated by the mem-sahib. (What did I ever do to her to deserve this? Oh yeah, I remember.) A fever as frequent as a syndicated Law and Order, tottering headaches, and a malaise that turns your brain to styrofoam. I cannot handle the most basic functions of parenting. (No difference, then.) You sleep, drink water, and sleep again.

And all this happens with the outside temperature in the nineties. The master bedroom to which I have been exiled is the Ultima Thule for our plucky one-zone air-conditioning system, which exhausts all its chilling power on the earlier stops, mainly the guest room's tiny bathroom. (Highly recommended for a respite with a crossword puzzle on a sultry day;  you could keep penguins in that half-bath, and Secundus probably will some day.) I stare instead at the Costco window fan, completely flummoxed by this whole business of which direction to send the air. You shouldn't have to make those decisions when you're that sick.

Finally, I'm well enough to lift myself from my damp memory-foam pillow -- perspiration, instead of the usual tears -- and try to make myself useful by taking out the trash. I stop on the threshold of the garage, not merely because the door is oddly difficult to open.

The children's long-discarded strollers have been opened up and placed in a row. In front of them is another neat row of more recently outgrown car seats. They're facing a horizontal arrangement in which a couple of folding frames for holding leaf bags are now supporting the two very long cardboard tubes that contained our new patio umbrella (which the recycling guys have ignored on at least two occasions).

Behind this, two cardboard boxes of clothes destined for the Salvation Army have been set up as a desk and chair for what seems to be an office. There's an old computer keyboard on the "desk," plus a stack of blank paper and a pen stolen from my office. The seat cushion is the pad from the dog's traveling crate, and her old training pen has been opened up to make a partial wall. The whole assembly takes up half the floor space of the garage and is roped off with a length of clothesline, one end of which is tied to the door handle, hence my difficulty getting in.

Naturally, I suspect Secundus, the Inventor. But when interviewed, he assures me it's the brain child of  seven-year-old Tertius, who decided to build a theater. (Although I later discover that Secundus abetted and added the office element, which fortuitously looks exactly like the sound and lighting control board at the back of many theaters.)

"So is it supposed to be a movie theater?" I ask Tertius.

"No, it's a plain theater," he explains. (The long, horizontal pieces of cardboard are the stage, apparently.)

"A plain theater?"

"You know, where real people dance. Like in operas."

We have to get out more.