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It’s Tuesday.

Which also bears on what I’m writing today. It’s Tuesday is a Viola Spolin game. Or perhaps someone else’s game based on one of hers. Either way it’s derived from one of her core ideas for making a scene work: “explore and heighten.”

Word and attitude/emotions must always heighten throughout the scene/exercise, until the both the exploration and heightening have gone as far as the player is able to take it. The trap is: it’s easy to neglect the “exploration” part of the equation and move quickly and predictably to the “heightening” of easy and predictable anger. Each “move in the game” must somehow come out of and be related to the prior “move.” After writing this I realize the game is a bit complicated to explain in a few words and to play in the rehearsal or workshop. It takes practice to make it work. But it boils down to” You have to explore before you can heighten.

And today is Tuesday, and I explore and heighten:

It is by no means a mundane Tuesday as Tuesdays go here in the 400 block of Hastings St. This Tuesday marks the beginning of the third consecutive week that our block has been under 24-hour police protection. Maybe necessary, maybe not. As I’ve mentioned, our mayor lives directly across the way. And like a lot of other mayors has been taking the heat from the left.

Black Lives Matters has been a major presence here.

The occupiers here have, as a group, all been quite young and, and, quite well-mannered and very careful not to step on our plants. Our exchanges have been patient. One person asked me if it was ok to smoke in front of our house. That’s really being polite.

On the other hand, the leaders, especially the one who bills himself as “Lorenzo, The People’s Protester,” and whoever ripped down our “Black Lives Matter” sign from our porch and threw it up the street, have not been so curteous . Their zealotry and physical threatening of neighbors at all hours are what led to the police cruiser currently parked directly across the street. “Which side are you on?” was the chant Lorenzo led on his bullhorn until 2 in the morning. When He took it up again a little after 6 am, I explained to him that there are 3 babies, 2 young boys, and a woman about to give birth in the houses closest to where he was holding forth with the aid of his extreme amplification. “That’s why I’m doing it. I’m here to disturb them and you. You bald, old man” Bald was ok, but I resented the “old”. By then the bull horn was inches from my face.

Barbara advised me to “Get in the house!’ I always do what Barbara tells me.

Which side was I on at that moment? It’s complicated.

Sunday morning, two people one who lives further up and the other further down on Hastings, got some coffee donated and brought out some street chalk so people could replace the obscene comments left by the protesters. Lorenzo, was there, and the neighbors and their kids came out. You could see people on both sides trying to make it work, but I can’t say that anyone looked as if they were having a really good time. The only jarring note was chalked on the sidewalk in front of one of the older resident’s house, a guy who had yelled at some protesters to stop peeing in the passageway next to his house and screamed at them that they should all go home.

The message read, “a white racist lives her.” Another neighbor washed it off before it could be seen by more than a few people.

Community Officer Dave, who’s been on a regular beat here these past weeks, is from Brooklyn. He came here originally to get a graduate degree in fiction writing at Pitt and just stayed on. He was the screenwriter on Tony Curtis’s last incompleted (Tony died before filming began) film project and the writer of the new series of Hardy Boys Mysteries-which led him into doing research at the Pittsburgh Police Academy for a book about the Hardys becoming police academy cadets. This research led Dave into going to the academy himself. Dave has now been an officer here for eight years. He’s created a chess program for at risk kids, which takes place in the Pittsburgh libraries. Like any good Brooklynite, he can also talk your head off with his wonderful and very engaging stories of the many lives he has led. “Let me tell you about the time I met Arthur Miller.”

The streets have been much quieter the last few days. The protesters have moved on. The reporters too. But my depression about the whole series of events lingers.

Who do you read when you want to feel better, or do you listen to music, or cry on a friendly shoulder, or go to church? Different strokes. I go to Vonnegut. I’m reading a speech he wrote, but did not deliver, for his hometown of Indianapolis in 2007. He died two weeks before the scheduled date. The speech was read in his absence by his son Mark. Kurt Vonnegut had come to the conclusion some years before that, that he didn’t have another novel in him, but he still had some words he wanted to get out into the ether.

“The most spiritually splendid American phenomenon of my lifetime is how African-American citizens have maintained their dignity and self-respect, despite their having been treated by white Americans, both in and out of government, and simply because of their skin color, as though they were contemptible, loathsome, and even diseased.

“And what gift of America to the rest of the world is actually most appreciated by the rest of the world? It is African-American jazz and its off shoots. What is my definition of jazz? “Safe sex of the highest order.”

“I asked my son Mark a while back what life was all about, since I didn’t have a clue. He said, “Dad, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” Whatever it is. “Whatever it is.” Not bad. That one could be a keeper.”

Thank you. Kurt, or as you wished you might be called and never were, the “Gentleman from Indiana.”

And here is the least complicated thought that is on my mind today.

Lorenzo, and officer Dave, and you and me, how can we help each other get through this thing, whatever it is, together?

And if it what you’re doing, doesn’t bring us together, cut it out.

Please, stop heightening without doing a thorough exploration first.


Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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