Fun in Clumps

September 5, 2000

Sometimes, fun comes in clumps.

A week ago Friday, Laurie and I saw the Incredible Shrinking Violinist, Hilary Hahn, at the high school. Hilary herself did not shrink. She shrank the pianist, a very large man in a white dinner jacket. He hit the first note as an internationally renowned concert pianist, but Hilary quickly shrank him to an accompanist and then he disappeared altogether. She also shrank the auditorium so we felt as if she was playing for us alone.

Performing in public since age 6, appearing with the Baltimore Symphony at 11 and at the Skaneateles Festival for the first time at 12, Hilary is now 20. She is petite and youthful, and yet poised almost beyond imagining. She even walks beautifully. And when she plays, the instrument seems to become a living creature. She was so good I forgot to applaud. In one Bach piece, she harmonized with herself, playing two melodies simultaneously. I could not stop my eyes from looking for a second violinist.

The next Friday, again at the high school, we saw Bill Irwin, a clown who received a MacArthur “Genius” grant and showed me why my grant has been so slow in coming. He did the Seven Ages of Man, aging seamlessly before our eyes, beginning with Infancy and finishing with Cranky Sad Old Fart. He changed hats and became different people, recited the Gettysburg Address as rewritten by Eisenhower (no safe choices for this guy) and was dragged stage-left by an invisible force. His disco man whose body runs out of control was especially delightful.

Saturday morning, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, just missed seeing me while I was taking my walk out by the golf course, but he did catch up with Laurie and I as we lunched in the park across from the Sherwood Inn. A tactful man, he could see we were with friends, and did not disturb us.

Our friends Kim and Mary had come over from Buffalo, and along with Abbie and her boyfriend Ryan, we went to the Fair that evening to see the Goo Goo Dolls. Kim is a producer at a studio where I have done most of my radio spots. The Goo Goo Dolls have been rehearsing and recording at the studio for 15 years, and Robby, the bass player, was my “young male” voice whenever I needed one for a spot. He became rich and famous but, bless him, he has not forgotten the little people.

We arrived at the Fair at dusk, in time to see sunburned families, broke, dazed and dusty, trudging up the Trail of Tears to the parking lot. The concert was wonderful, and afterwards we produced our secret blue backstage passes and were whisked into the presence of 100 or so family members and friends of the band. Abbie and Ryan collected autographs and photos like squirrels transported to a virgin grove of macadamia.

Using their silver pen, journeyman guitarist Nathan December added a nose ring to the photo of a girl in the Dizzy Up the Girl CD notes, smiling and saying, “Johnny hates it when I do this.”

Johnny Rzeznik, the lead guitarist, has excellent tattoos, a beautifully tinted version of Picasso’s “Dream” on his right arm and a Saul Steinberg drawing of a man pondering a question mark on the left.

But it was most wonderful to see Robby again, barefoot, purple hair, a wild look in his eye. Abbie will think that I am cool for days. A rock star hugged her father. I introduced Abbie to Robby, and Ryan said, “And I’m the boyfriend.” To which Robby replied, “God bless the boyfriend.”

It was fun too to watch Robby talk to his parents, a nice white-haired couple in shorts and Goo Goo Dolls t-shirts. Robby wants them to change their phone number so callers won’t bother them, but his mother said, “I’ve had that number for 30 years; I’m not going to change it just because you’ve become some rock star.” I can’t forget the picture of their parting, of the neat, older man smiling at the barefoot, purple-haired wild man saying, “Goodbye, son.”

Monday afternoon, we watched the Labor Day Parade roll by. The bagpipers were terrific, and the gorilla in the miniature car was an added bonus. And then in the evening, we watched the fireworks from the porch.

I’m fairly sure nothing more will happen here for several months.

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