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Monthly Archives: March 2011

The six-word novel

Challenged to write a novel in six words, Ernest Hemingway supplied the following: “For sale: baby shoes. Never used,” a work of more pathos than most books I’ve read in these 60-plus years.

In the Minimalist seminar last semester, we discussed the value of brevity in writing (a possibility I rarely acknowledge in my own wordsmithing) and tried our hand at it. Here is mine: “Big date. Football team. One condom.”

Some few years ago a friend of mine did not succeed in a quest for tenure–that much abused system possibly in its twilight–and received the following six-word letter of rejection: “Good luck in your future endeavors.” Have there ever been six words with more meaning and simultaneously with less? They say volumes about the state of higher education and the callousness of a system that treats its faculty like toilet paper.

PS: If you can choose a language for this Hemingway exercise other than English–one that is more “efficient” in its use of words–I’ll nominate Julius Caesar’s immortal “Veni, vidi, vici.” THREE words! And it still works, even in English translation [“I came, I saw, I conquered”].

The problem with contemporary design

“Die unausweichliche Frage nach dem eigenen Stil beginnt mit der Überwinding der Mode.”

This quote, unattributed, comes from the homepage of Kniže & Co., a haberdashery in Vienna still operating in a building designed by Adolf Loos. Luckily for me, the Kniže website provides this English translation: “The unavoidable question of style begins with the overcoming of fashion.” As a teacher of architecture (on a good day), I can think of no more succinct statement of the current dilemma in design.

Not incidentally, Adolf Loos, who designed the Kniže shop on Am Graben, said many similar things, if not this quote itself. I’ll have to do some checking. Does anyone recognize it?

Ecclesiastes 3:1

“To everything there is a season…” Writing about Agincourt’s newest restaurant, Howard seemed like a proud uncle.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

The Periodic Table

“The history of every major galactic civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?’”—Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Who would write a history of food and its consumption in Fennimore county? Who would read it? Many of us have simply never escaped “survival” mode, so anything more speculative or analytic is beyond the pale.

Don’t get me wrong. On any given day we all find ourselves in these three phases. During that three-day mind-numbing blizzard last winter, for instance, holed up at the apartment with a pint of expired sour cream, some dried figs and a can of minced clams, I longed for Lynne Rossetto Kasper on speed dial. Until we shoveled out, my table was anything but splendid.

So, it was with considerable delight last Tuesday that I attended the opening of Agincourt’s newest eatery, “The Periodic Table” at the corner of Broad and James. Its subtitle—“elemental eating for the 21st century”—affords some insight to the restaurant’s philosophy: locally-grown, seasonal foods for maximum nutrition and minimum carbon footprint. A pretty tall order and one worth our support. Downright millennial!

Wasserman’s bins, barrels and spools of hardware are gone, sadly. But with shelves and clutter swept away, the old store is surprisingly bright, open and airy. Divided roughly in thirds, there is a bakery-coffee shop at the front—cookies, koláce, pies—with the restaurant behind, wrapping the kitchen on three sides. Watching Chef Rosemary Plička and her small staff in action has become the best show in town.

Chef Plička has brought us memories of Central European soul food from Omaha’s Czech community. She grew up on South 13th Street in Little Bohemia. But, at thirty-years of age, Chef Plička also brings a youthful twenty-something take on food, its growth and preparation. Her idea is to fill the larder from vendors within fifty miles (when possible) and minimize the energy required for transport and preparation. Breads, for example, come from Vandervort’s Bakery just up the block (and their flour from the Fahnstock Mills); pork comes from Okkema Farms at Grou. Organic vegetables are growing within our city limits. Locus and focus.

The menu is broad but brief. Entrées are fresh, never frozen. Vegetables are crisp, colorful, complementary. Reductions, subtle. Service is prompt and self-effacing. It all worked so very well Tuesday night (squash soup, loin of pork, corn spätzle, balsamic reduction) that our party-of-four wonder what to expect six months from now in March. I’m eager for that experience and many others in between.

I spoke with Chef Plička (as restaurant patron, journalist and landlord; for those concerned about conflict-of-interest, Rowan Oakes and I do own the building). I wondered about so bold an undertaking, and one so far from the beaten path. Rosemary scouted a number of locations (with her husband and business partner Brad Nowatski) and chose Agincourt because it’s already at the center of their best suppliers. She praised the quality and reliability of regional growers and was eager to participate in our downtown renovation initiative. “Northwest Iowa is a cornucopia! And your old Wasserman Block appeared at just the right moment for our business plan.” Their financial package combines personal savings, a federal loan from the Small Business Administration, and tax incentives from our “Home Grown” Program at the Fennimore County Economic Development Council. Anyone starting a business in these perilous economic times could study this as a textbook example.

Conversation during dinner Tuesday night inevitably turned to food, not only as a life staple, but also as the prime vehicle for socialization. We spoke of other community watering holes: of Adams Restaurant (a pleasant habit for more than ninety years), of the venerable Bon-Ton and the Koffee Kup (K2 to locals); and now The Periodic Table. Perhaps someone should write that history of local food, the very lubricant of our culture.

Happily, there’s a new reply to Douglas Adams’ question: Where shall we have lunch?

I’m reposting here Howard’s column from eighteen months ago. Happily, the Periodic Table is still a favorite Agincourt eatery.

Innocence

Innocence is all too fleeting. It can be lost, stolen or given away, though its disappearance can occur in the blink of an eye or slowly, over many years, like the evaporation of Lake Baikal. Last week’s tsunami took a large measure of our innocence away.

Some of us have made small personal gestures to help the Japanese people, hopefully including the folks in Agincourt. But Howard hasn’t been on-line today, so I’ll have to get back to you on the relief efforts there.

Six months; 110 posts

Just under six months into the blogosphere, curiosity is getting the better of me. I write to explore; I blog to share. But I also crave feedback.

Google Analytics affords a little insight to who and when people are visiting posterous, so I thought you might enjoy knowing the distribution of my visitors. You know who you are. Here are the countries outside the U.S. and the cities in each in the order of frequency since September 2010:

  • ENGLAND (Lambeth, Hull, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Stoke Gifford, London, Norwich, Manchester, Bristol, Blackburn and Bishop Aukland)
  • AUSTRALIA (Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne)
  • BRAZIL (Pelotas)
  • ITALY (Milan, Brescia and Bari)
  • NEW ZEALAND (Aukland)
  • CANADA (Montreal PQ and Haney BC)
  • PORTUGAL (Queluz and Leiria)
  • CZECH REPUBLIC (Prague)
  • FRANCE (Limoges)
  • GERMANY (Munich)
  • INDIA (Hyderabad)
  • IRELAND (Waterford)
  • MEXICO (Tlalnepantla)
  • RUSSIA (Moscow)
  • AUSTRIA (Edelsbach and Vienna)
  • LUXEMBOURG (Luxembourg)

Brazil and BC are easy: current NDSU students. The Italians are descendants of the artist who painted the two small portraits. Portugal, the Czech Republic and Austria are our AFS foreign exchange son Georg who’s commuting between school and home. France and Germany are recent NDSU graduates (Hi, Tanner; hi, Matt). But who the hell are all the Brits, Aussies and Kiwi? And, come on! Tlalnepantla? I couldn’t make that up on my best day. If purpose brought you here, enjoy. If accident or chance, come back soon and sit a spell.

 

The play’s the thing…

Jim Tierney’s recent passing allowed Howard to survey the history of theater in Agincourt’s public life. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Thank you, Joni Mitchell.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

θέατρον—the seeing place

Cities of the ancient Greeks embodied their three-part understanding of human nature: We are triune beings, the Greeks believed, consisting of body, mind and spirit.

Gymnasia and stadia helped build bodies. Sacrifice in the temenos strengthened our relationship with the gods. Civic discourse at the agora spilled over into the theater of ideas imagined by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes. Together they make us whole, complete. It’s all about balance.

That Greek sense of theater—a focused distillation of the human condition—has been a part of Agincourt culture from the beginning. Harney’s Orpheum, our first purpose-built venue for stage productions, was built in the mid-1870s and seated about 300 on movable chairs. Itinerant theatrical troops made regular stops here on the Des Moines-Omaha-Sioux City vaudeville circuit, but the Orpheum probably saw more dinners, dances, spiritualists and religious revivals than any of Shakespeare’s work. It served well enough until 1893 — speculation persists that the fire wasn’t accidental — when the business community formed a stock company to underwrite a worthy legitimate theater. Inspired by Chicago—why not go for the Olympic gold of urban influence?—we built The Auditorium, a theater wrapped with income-generating retail and office space. What’s good for Chicago was clearly good enough for us.

Performance art of a different sort arrived in the person of Dr Reinhold Kölb, Edith Wasserman’s brother and authentic Viennese psychologist. Kölb was a disciple of Jacob Levy Moreno, Romanian-born inventor of psychodrama, which adapted many aspects of theater for therapeutic benefit. But Kölb put his own spin on Moreno’s methods, incorporating Japanese Noh or puppet theater. Patients at “Walden,” Kölb’s private clinic appropriately situated at the east end of Thoreau Avenue, wrote plays, designed and built puppets, and performed for the public as part of their rehabilitation. The puppet theatre in The Commons—that bent plywood extravaganza, still looking like some refugee from Radio City Music Hall—is all that remains of his innovative (quirky?) approach to mental health. The ancient Athenians would have held his productions over for weeks. Standing room only. But then the seats were made of marble.

Now here’s a twist: It’s probable that a young James Edward Tierney sat on the grass enjoying one of Walden’s last productions in 1944. Tierney’s family farmed near Pocahontas but often drove to Agincourt for shopping on Saturdays. While dad conferred with John Deere and mom bought lingerie at deBijenkorf, little Jimmy unwittingly joined group therapy at the park. Walden’s puppet productions were only a legend when I was young, but I’d like to think that some of their unorthodoxy lay at the core of Tierney’s theatricality and had long term consequences for us all.

I see a second installment in the near future, with further details regarding Tierney’s theatrical career.

The Time Capsule (Part 2)

Agincourt after dark…
A COLUMN OF LOCAL INTEREST AND INTROSPECTION
by Howard A. Tabor

“The Scarlet Number” (Act I, Scene 2)

Life is a marathon. Run the race or stand on the sidelines; I recommend running. Wear your colors proudly and don’t get in the way.

Each runner bears a number large enough to be identified by race officials and fans at checkpoints along the route. Those of us running the race of life should also have to wear numbers—scarlet numbers—drawn from the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition), used by mental health professionals to assess their client/patients. Those identifying numbers would facilitate real social interaction along the way and alleviate a lot of unnecessary discomfort, disappointment and outright pain. Rooster Leer had (and probably still has) Narcissistic Personality Disorder (#301.81), though the DSM-IV’s scarlet number won’t be showing. That would entail a level of personal introspection of which she was fully incapable.

Enter Ken Tucker, the only person Rooster may have held in even moderate esteem. He was twenty-five years her senior and from Dubuque.

The family name was Taucher, of German ancestry, but it probably got changed at Ellis Island…or during WWI when being German wasn’t such a good idea…or for convenience in the business community. Soon after Ken’s birth in 1918 his father disappeared from the scene. Mom relocated from Ohio to live with a sister in Dubuque; she never remarried and died when Ken was about to enter high school. The disappearance of one parent and the preoccupation of another with family livelihood left their mark on Ken. What scarlet number would he be sporting in the race of life?

Ken married Evelyn in 1945 and they had one child, a son. Don’t envy a salesman’s life; it’s hard. On the road, eating in restaurants, sleeping on foreign sheets…alone. Did Ken try to be a better father than his own had been?

Ken and Rooster seem to have connected in the summer of 1976; think of it as a bicentennial project. The “time capsule” I received last week includes an ad from a 1970s singles magazine purporting to be hers. Before the internet(s), this is how we connected socially during the swinging sexual revolution. The ad portrays a woman of substance, well-employed, stable, domestic, seeking a gentleman friend; there were intimations of kink. The truth may set us free, but honey attracts more than vinegar. They met in Grinnell, about half way between. A time capsule receipt identifies the Starlite Motel; one snapshot shows the May-December couple at a wayside picnic ground.

Rooster’s notes to Ken hint at infrequent meetings (liaisons?) for the next five years. But half a conversation is often worse than none at all. It is clear that there were expressions of love on both sides, but who knows what we mean by that much abused word. Their meetings became less frequent until the winter of 1981, when Ken asked a favor of Marielle, one final courtesy that she could do for him, something he could ask of no one else. They set a day in January at the truck stop motel in Fahnstock, but Marielle failed to appear, sending a note afterward about some medical issue, the over-adjustment of a drug and a resulting seizure. Ken returned to Dubuque, his favor unfulfilled, not knowing why until her note arrived.

A second date was set in February. This time they met at the truck stop restaurant and checked in to the motel together. Marielle left to get her things for the evening they would spend together. Ken waited. He pondered. He knew. He understood.

Ken wondered what note would arrive this time. How do you top a diabetic seizure? This time he took a different course.

He knew where she would be: her window booth at The Roost on Highway 7. As he walked toward to bar, Ken could see her scarlet mop against the glass, an adoring arc of retinue facing her. What options crossed his mind? Turn tail and run or step in for a beer before the long drive east to the Mississippi?

Harry Pogemiller was tending bar that night in 1981. Harry is cursed with total recall, so be careful what you say within earshot. He remembers that night very well, not because of any “scene,” but because there wasn’t one. Ken simply walked in, unnoticed. He ordered a draw beer and then stepped to the edge of her circle, people he recognized but did not know. He saw then that it was acceptable for Marielle to be horizontal with him alone but not vertical with him in public. Whatever she got from him when they were together was something no one else should know. What might it do to her reputation? A man old enough to be her father, the father of anyone in her circle of friends.

Marielle noticed Ken. “Didn’t you get my note?” she asked, startled to see him just ten feet away. “No, I didn’t.” He walked back to the bar.

Life drained from her face. Her posture sagged. Some minutes later she went to the restroom and Ken watched for a chance to speak with her alone. “I can’t stop you,” she said, staring into a corner of the entryway. Harry Pogemiller recalled the precision of Ken’s next words: “I asked you earlier today to let me in, to let me know you, to let me help. Inadvertently, you’ve done exactly that, and I’m grateful for what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned about you and myself. Believe this: I want only the best for you, but that won’t include me.” He left the bar and drove beyond the gravel field of mercury-vapored light.

The accident report from the Poweshiek county sheriff’s office is a model of economy and tact. The motel clerk remembered them checking in at 7. Harry recalled their final words at 12 and the calm in Tucker’s voice. Ken’s car left the road a few miles east of Grinnell some time between 2 and 3 a.m. Alcohol was not a factor.

I’m anxious for the day forensic science (our friends at CSI & Co.) will have a test for final thoughts; when a swab of grey matter smeared across the windshield will yield the last thoughts that cross our mind the moment life is gone. What did Ken think a second before his car mangled that sturdy tree? I have to believe it had nothing to do with Marielle; that it had been the tragic coincidence of a patch of ice and a startled deer.

POSTSCRIPT

Mary Ellen Leer’s local career outlined last week gets wildly mixed reviews. Folks who knew her take extreme positions; few fall in the middle. But the voting isn’t over. Even death can’t guarantee a bottom line, despite society’s preoccupation with summation and assessment. There is one observation, however, that I can make about Rooster and Ken: They were both hollow; it’s just that one of them discovered it about himself and learned not to quench his thirst at a well gone dry.

Two questions persist: Why me? Why now? I searched the internet for information on Marielle Leer and located her on-line résumé; it was updated late last year. This is what I found: 1) She claims an advanced degree in Theatre Arts from Drake University in Des Moines, though the registrar’s office at Drake has no record of the university awarding her a degree; 2) She claims a relationship with the Goodman Repertory Theatre in Chicago, which the Goodman is unable to confirm; 3) Her widowed mother lived three blocks from me until her passing a few years ago, cared for by Mrs. Leer’s surviving older children. No sign of Marielle.

The Time Capsule (Part 1)

Big_red_rooster.jpg

Few people are more detached from contemporary culture than I am. Perhaps I choose to be. Ideas fundamental to living—today or at any time; distinctions between acquaintance and friendship, notions of common sense and common courtesy, of responsibility and respect—bear little resemblance to the templates from my youth. Things just don’t mean what they once did. Change is not always comfortable.

My friend Howard Tabor is bothered by this, too—this craving for universals in a fractured time. There is no history; there are multiple, sometimes contradictory and overlapping histories. While, contrarily, FaceBook® has reduced the nuanced spectra of personal association to a single choice: friend. Take it or leave it; be it or don’t. Another social networking site limits you to 600 contacts. Six hundred contacts! The mind boggles. I have a tough enough time managing a Christmas list of fewer than twenty-five.

Howard’s piece this week troubles me still and will for some time to come, I suspect, because it strikes so close to the heart; a tale worthy of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Agincourt after dark…
A COLUMN OF LOCAL INTEREST AND INTROSPECTION
by Howard A. Tabor

“The Scarlet Number” (Scene 1)

This week the U.S. Postal Service delivered a time capsule to my desk.

Wednesday’s mail brought a plain manila envelope, nine by twelve, with no return address. Was that white powder something toxic like anthrax or just the residue from my morning doughnut? In the interest of national security, I flirted with calling the county hazmat team. But curiosity trumped common sense. It often does.

The stamps on the envelope, for example, were an assortment of miscellaneous postage issued during the 1960s and 70s in single-digit denominations, celebrating everything from statehood anniversaries to the Oregon Trail and Helen Keller. It was postmarked Des Moines on the previous Monday. Very curiously, my address was typed. No, not word-processed; typed. On a typewriter. With a fabric ribbon. I thought the last of those were either at municipal landfills or the Smithsonian Institution.

I opened it with sweaty palms and fluttering heart.

The folder inside contained an equally motley assortment of clippings, snapshots, receipts, ticket stubs; the stuff of scrapbooking. My Wednesday had unexpectedly been redirected into a day of recollection; of sleuthing, googling, phoning and faxing that lasted until one o’clock Thursday morning. I forgot to eat. What emerged from the envelope’s miscellanea was an intimate one-act play with a small cast of characters. I actually knew one of them, so will change the names for modesty’s sake. Let’s call her…

Rooster

Mary Ellen Leer was born a couple of years before me, the last of a middling brood of five or six kids. Mary Ellen may have been that last accidental child of aging parents; I recall there were a dozen years between her and the nearest sibling. She was an ample girl, certainly taller and better endowed than her contemporaries, though perhaps uncomfortable in her own skin for those reasons. She was also two years ahead of me in high school, so I was aware of her, though she took only small notice of me, I suspected, because of my family’s prominence in the community. Mary Ellen’s principal physical asset was her hair: a mane of intense, unimaginable red. Some said it came from a bottle, but others in a position to know said the carpet matched the drapes. During the years of our acquaintance, she was always called “Rooster,” and it was meant in every sense of the word.

Rooster Leer could have been a politician; could have been anything, I thought, because of her innate ability to network. We didn’t know that word in the 60s, but Mary Ellen played the game better than many today—and without a blackberry. At school she bore a nimbus of entourage, a halo of classmates eager to bask in the warmth of her flaming hair: on the stairs, by her locker, in the cafeteria at a scale unmatched before or since. It wasn’t her sexuality that drew them to stand, kneel or sit within the radius of her aura; it was charisma, another word with growing currency in the 60s. After all, we had JFK.

And the pattern continued at college. I frankly can’t recall what her major may have been—if any. She was in most respects a generalist, with an emphasis in socialization. One skill did emerge during those turbulent Vietnam years: Rooster found her voice in the Theatre Department. It was perhaps a natural escalation, the focus of her strutting and fretting upon the stage of life. As Lady Macbeth in “The Scottish Play” she was awesome—not the least because it was her own hair that carried the part, not some polyester mop.

A career in the theater followed graduation, or at least the semblance of one. She found a stage name—Marielle, a contraction of her given names—but the parts that came her way were few. She auditioned with our local community theater and with larger professional companies in Des Moines, Sioux City and Omaha. She sent résumés to Chicago and New York. Her reviews were good (“…wonderful spirited performance…”), but the parts seemed to take second place to a larger role as the center of her own Ptolemaic cosmology: the precise center of adoring adulation; the heart of a personal firmament. It’s arguable whether the theater attracts narcissists or creates them.

Now here’s the odd part. Despite the upper triple-digit number of her ever-increasing retinue (“Did you see Mary Ellen in ‘Our Town’? I cried!”), there was no appreciable intimacy. I asked her once how she prepared for a new role. Did she study what others had written about the character; did she scour old reviews for other interpretations? “Who has time to read,” was her reply, possibly the only conversation we ever had. And probably the most insightful.

She took an apartment downtown above the Bon-Ton Café but lived in seclusion. There may have been back-stair beaus but I never knew who they might have been (male or female; her sex was certain, but her gender orientation was ambivalent, perhaps purposely so, for how better to expand one’s entourage). Here’s the inherent contradiction for a narcissist: the absolute necessity for keeping people within arm’s reach simultaneously requires they be kept at arm’s length. We were invited close and encouraged to imagine ourselves a part of her inner life, but if Rooster had one, it was a carefully guarded secret.

The infrequent roles that came her way afforded marginal income, so she moved back to her parent’s small house on the southeast side. Whether basement or attic, we never knew. None were invited there. Instead she lived a public life, that is to say, a life lived in public: by day among a constantly shifting group of friends at the Bon-Ton, in a booth unofficially reserved for her use; in the evenings at The Roost, the bar/pool hall/bowling alley out on the Fahnstock Road. (See any irony here?) Income came from low-prestige, low-paying jobs in restaurants (my guess is her tips were astonishing; she knew how to work a crowd). For nearly a year she was also an information operator for Iowa Bell (that stage voice serving her so well). Day jobs came and went, but always with a snippy observation about their mismanagement, misapplication or misunderstanding of her not inconsiderable talents.

Marielle Leer slipped from our radar. Someone thought she had moved to Chicago to promote a theatrical career. And her story might have gone unexplored, had it not been for the Wednesday mail.

This is has been Scene 1.

A reading from the Gospel of Carse

Chapter 17:9-11

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

“Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Traininig regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition.

“Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.”

One of a kind

James T. O’Rourke, late director of the Rourke Art Museum at Moorhead, Minnesota, died on March 3rd. He was seventy-seven years old. I wonder if James was more than a lttle like someone who died recently at Agincourt. 

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

One of a kind

In the 1950s Isaiah Berlin wrote an essay titled “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” reference to a fragment attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many little things,” Archilochus tells us, “but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin’s essay expands on this simple observation, separating thinkers into two groups: foxes, who draw upon a broad range of experience because the world cannot be reduced to a single unifying concept, and hedgehogs, who see the world through a single lens that foxes cannot imagine. The application here may be strained, but I’d like to make a case that our friend James Edward Tierney, who died March 3rd, was a hedgehog.

We celebrate because James had a singular vision: that theater could not only survive but might actually flourish in a small Midwestern community, and that all our lives would be better for it. Since the summer of 1960 when he founded the Prairie Playhouse in an old warehouse, James worked tirelessly to make quality theater an integral part of our lives. He saw the world in Isaiah Berlin’s terms—through the lens of a single defining idea—and pursued it with passion that attracted true believers, like many of us who remember him today, and very likely offended others with its single-minded tenacity. Luckily for this community, Jim’s persistence seemed not to acknowledge the possibility of failure, or even compromise. With the recent completion of his fiftieth season, let’s hope he took some satisfaction in a half century of success. He set the bar and we are challenged to carry his vision toward its 75th anniversary and beyond.

Isaiah Berlin’s essay uses a figure of speech called syzygy—a would-be Scrabble word if only there were three Ys among the tile. Syzygy is one of those words we should know but don’t: it means a yoked pair; two concepts linked in tandem or in opposition, like yin and yang, law and order, death and life. My worldview has become increasingly binary—syzygetic—in recent years; it has guided my understanding, for example, of distinctions between justice and the law, education and training, acceptance and resignation, contentment and happiness. Open rehearsals at the Playhouse explore those and other fundaments of being in the world, lubricated with dreadful coffee; exciting conversations that found their way onto his stage. Ultimately, the largest difference between James and me may be this simple syzygy: I’m a dog person, while Jim preferred the company of cats.

We often measure the worth of a life with a table of statistics; Jim’s is notable in that respect. He loved statistics, always in the superlative, each entering Jim’s Book of Playhouse Records as the largest, longest, latest. Five productions per season means that he has directed at least 250 plays. Few of you know, however, that Jim also studied architecture for one semester at Ames, but it was probably the math that did him in–a shortcoming for which we should all be eternally grateful. Yet architecture was his constant companion in the design of every production, each an essay on the relationship between narrative and environment.

Several years ago I went to the post office on Bainbridge Island, Washington; I was vacationing there and wanted to mail several postcards home. In the post office lobby wall there were two slots for outgoing mail: one was labelled “Island” for local mail to the its upscale residents; the other read simply “The World.” A syzygy of sorts and one that reminds me of Jim. His cosmology was constructed in a similar binary way. There is the Prairie Playhouse. Can we imagine it without Jim? And then there was the world of everything other–all else that had little or nothing to offer his agenda. I, for one, am grateful that Jim may have been one of Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehogs.

One of a kind–but one at a time.

Too bad they never met. I think next week’s column will fill us all in on the history Tierney’s Prairie Playhouse.