May 20: Alexander Hamilton; Alexander Ham-il-ton. “There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait.”
So I waited. And waited. After seven years of reading everything I could find about this extraordinary show, after seven years of memorizing every beat and rap on the cast album, after nearly two years of stubbornly ignoring the filmed version, I saw Hamilton.
Thanks to my brother-in-law Loyd here in Des Moines, Kevin and I sat three rows from the stage. The actors could have been singing right to me. (I beamed my biggest, most encouraging smile just in case.) I whooped and clapped and didn’t sing. At the end of the first act, I am exhilarated and exhausted.
Oh, the lights are dimming. The second act begins soon. I can’t wait.
Bonus: I lied. At the command of King George III, I joined the entire audience in singing the final lines of the King’s first song: “Da da da da DA, da-da-da-da di-ya DA, da da da ….”
Double Bonus: Is it possible that this was the best part? Kevin and I sat close enough to the stage that, during the standing ovation, we could read in the actors’ eyes their joy and gratitude and relief as 2,000 exuberant fans wildly cheered their love.
May 21: OMG. As I waited in the lobby of our hotel for tonight’s minor league Iowa Cubs game, I spied, at the reception desk, a young man with a fountain of braids flowing from the top of his head. I interrupted him after he collected his take-out. “Excuse me. You look like someone I’ve seen before.”
He paused and then he smiled. Now I was positive. “I just saw Hamilton last night. Third row. Did you play John Laurens and Philip Hamilton?” He smiled even more broadly, and then my fountain of fandom erupted. I told him how much I enjoyed the show and his performance. I asked about his career, his tour, everything. He asked my name and told me his: Elijah Malcomb. I pointed to the time (“doesn’t tonight’s curtain go up in 90 minutes?”), but he said it was fine and kept chatting with me.
His company is coming to Washington DC soon. I am definitely buying another third row ticket so that I can smile at him one more time.
May 21: The Iowa Cubs couldn’t catch the Columbus Clippers but they could help to catch a mouse.
At the game last night (once again, we sat in the third row), my niece Ella pointed to the wire holding the protective netting between our seats and the ball field. A mouse scampered along the wire 25 feet over our heads toward the Cubs dugout. Then, to the horror and delight of the fans, the mouse started moving head first down the netting, eventually scrambling across the dugout roof. An usher approached with a broom and dustpan, but the mouse scampered away. A Cubs player helpfully stuck his hand up and guided the mouse into the dustpan. To cheers (and some boos — people were really rooting for the mouse) the usher carried the mouse away.
Five minutes later I bumped into the usher and his dustpan. “Where’d you put the mouse?” Gate A. (Doors open at noon for tomorrow’s game…)
May 22: Yesterday morning with Kevin’s sister Susan, I wandered among the overflowing stands of Des Moines’ enormous farmers market. I purchased a Dutch pastry, a Polish sausage, jewelry and handmade greeting cards. We marveled at the street-corner singers and so many dogs. (Indeed, one can buy a tote bag illustrated with “the Dogs of the Des Moines Farmers Market.”)
Then Susan and I stopped to chat with an elderly man and his daughter who were selling handmade bird and butterfly houses. These miniature whimseys were trimmed with ornamental doorknobs, Victorian hinges, and roof tin discarded from the Iowa State Capitol. I recognized the craftsman’s Italian accent: strange, because almost no Italians emigrated to the United States between 1924 (when the doors to Eastern and Southern European immigrants slammed shut) and 1965 (when they opened again).
The craftsman told me that he secured an immigration “number” in the 1930s. His number was finally called more twenty-five years later, and he decided to come over. His daughter — who is roughly my age — was born here.
During our visit, I felt like I was talking to my own grandparents, who had arrived in the United States a few years before the 1924 immigration law took effect. According to a remarkable book I read recently called The Guarded Gate, by Daniel Okrent, more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1880 and 1924. In 1921 alone, nearly a quarter million Italian immigrants entered the country (possibly including my mother’s parents). In 1925, the number plunged to 2,662.
Although I was charmed by the birdhouses, I have so much more to remember him by.
Bonus: The full title of the 2019 book is The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law that Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America, by Daniel Okrent (who, interestingly, also appears as a baseball expert on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary).
May 23: I bought an Iowa Cubs baseball cap for Jeremiah but couldn’t find a way to pack it safely. So I decided to wear the too-big cap on the airplane, undaunted by the foam-finger-waving “Iowa” cartoon on its crown and the wobble around my ears. At the gate, I saw a young man wearing not two but four cowboy hats on his head. We smiled at each other and agreed: it looks goofy, but it works!
May 24: Our word in yoga today was “linger.” I thought of Goethe’s Faust: how Dr. Faust at last exhaled “stay, thou art so fair” only when it was too late. I thought of the Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.” And I thought of the time in Noank, Connecticut, when, striding through my exercise walk, I suddenly halted to savor a small quiet view.
I enjoy museums and vistas, where I’m supposed to linger. Will I open myself to linger somewhere today completely by chance?
May 25: My lingering yesterday (and today) has collapsed into my grief, as I think about the elementary school children, their teacher, their families, and everyone torn apart from the shootings near San Antonio yesterday. I can see the classroom — my classroom — and the children — my children. I stagger from the horror.
May 26: And kindness embraces us too. I was puttering around in the backyard when our neighbors came by to say hello. We planted another Hoogendorn Japanese Holly bush for you, they said. (Great!) We potted one of our banana plant babies for your patio, they said. (Love it!) And — do you mind a suggestion? — we want to teach you how to “stitch” the extension cord for your lights. (Huh?)
They’d seen the coil of cord in the garden across the lawn. They knew I ran the cord over the grass to plug in the lights. And they predicted, as I did, that someday I’d forget to move the cord before the lawnmower roared by. I’d been thinking about digging up the sod to make a trench, but, golly, that’s a lot of work…
They asked me: Do you have a straight-edged shovel? Sure. I handed it to my neighbor, who then plunged the blade two inches down, wiggled it back and forth to make a “stitch,” and repeated the plunge-and-wiggle motion across the grass. Thinking of Tom Sawyer’s fence, I was tempted to keep asking questions until my neighbor completed the job. But guilt forced my hand. I took the shovel, plunged and wiggled the blade, and finished the “stitches.” Together we tucked the extension cord into the tiny channel we’d created and stamped the grass back into place.
Ta da! I should have known that I could sew better with a shovel than a needle!
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