The Boy Who Plays The Piano With His Elbows

◆ by Willis Barnstone

During the civil war in Greece, in one of the villages in Epiros at the foot of the Pindos Mountains, there is a boy musician who plays the piano with his elbows. He lost his hands and forearms on a hike near the Albanian border. There was not much action in the northern mountains, but somehow he stepped on a land mine. Soon after he came back from the hospital in Yannina, he took up the piano again, now with artificial fingers attached to the stumps where his elbows should have connected with the forearms. He no longer plays classical music in which he was a prodigy. Rather, he makes the piano sound like the Greek clarinet in the soprano trilling tunes of the tsamiko, the Greek mountain music. He uses a small portable piano, made in and donated from Athens, and he plays it with the local musicians whenever there is a baptism or wedding or a saints day party. When the older singer is too busy, he sings his heart out. No one sings like the boy musician.

These are cruel days. When the andartes (Communist guerrillas) are captured by government forces, they are routinely executed. In the areas where the andartes come in, even for a few days, they execute the mayor, the schoolteacher and the priest. Then in late 1947 Markos, the leader of the andartes, enacts a policy of abducting Greek children, taking them to the socialist countries where the dream is that they will be trained to return when they are older as dedicated officials of a Greece run benevolently by Papa Joe Stalin. They will be the new Janissaries. It is not a practice that wins friends among the mutilated families. Yanni, the child musician, is among the boys abducted.

Boy PIanoThey take Yanni away one night. His captors, making the rounds of a village fallen that very afternoon, seize the boy and his sister Xanthí, without realizing that the boy has no hands. Xanthí manages to escape. They see her run off but are reluctant to fire on her, and she is gone. Before long a fighter from another unit hears about the boy without arms, and informs his comrades that he has a special instrument so he can play the piano like an angel. And that he also sings. He is called, they hear, the boy with the voice of gold. But he won’t sing for the andartes or play their pianos. It is not the politics. Without his friends, his family, his own mountains, he has no desire to sing.

Since he won’t cooperate with them, they more or less abandon him, not sending him to one of the sanctuary countries across the border, nor giving him indoctrination of their own. It is not specifically a punishment. In time of war why waste energy on a mutilated child musician, who won’t even sing? They give him food, but ignore him, and he hangs around the village like a stray animal. And that is fine, for Yanni determines to make friends again, on his own, and away from the andartes.

At night he slips away from the village, follows a rocky goat path into the fields, and there, in the scant light from overhead, sits down among the thistles and herbs and sings alone. Soon animals came near. His songs have no words. They are scarcely songs of a human voice. At first his main audiences are stray dogs and cats. Soon every beast and bird knows he is there. When he sings the bats are disoriented and the love star Aphrodite never sets. He learns the voices of wild pigs and silent hare. He detects the melodies of every wild brook in the region, and those waters enter his voice. But one morning when he has stayed out all night, a foolish soldier takes out his belt and whips him brutally. The next evening he goes out and doesn’t come back.

There is no piano in the woods. Yet there are hollow trees, trees rotted out, which are perfect drums on which he strikes with his wooden forearms attached to his stumps. While earlier he played melodies with his artificial fingers, now, without a keyboard and piano, he makes the forest his percussion instrument. When the moon comes up like goat cheese in Artemis’s bowl, he gives his concerts. He sings and sings and leaves the animals dazed.

The writer Dante woke one day in a dark savage wood, and was visited by fearful animals. The forests on the Pindos Mountains, which run into obscure Albania, are also wild, but they are not very dark during the day, since Greece hardly has dense mountain forests, even in green Epiros, and except for the occasional explosion of mortars and rifle shots when the war drifts near, the region is not at all fearful. In fact, with the amazing singing of the boy, even on a rare starless and moonless night there is illumination for all the animals. It comes to the speechless beasts in the lake of the heart.

Getting food, however, is not easy. The boy lives on herbs, acorns, nuts, berries, even chamomile and wild orchids. He uses his stumps like chopsticks to gather, eat and store, with full dexterity. It is fine during the Greek summer, but with the first snows of winter—and there is much snow in the Pindos—he begins to starve. He can’t eat the meat of animals who are companions. Even if he found a dead rabbit or deer and found some way to consume it, it would have been a form of cannibalism. As snows begins to cover much of the forest, even the places where he has stored supplies of nuts and now frozen berries and honeycombs are emptied, and he begins to eat bark, some of which has a sticky sweet taste, and he survives. But barely. He is now so thin when he sings in the freezing evenings, his voice is not much more than a remote birdcall, but it is, nevertheless, exceedingly poignant. It pierces the wind, and reaches the ears of fellow beasts, including the vultures, who are not friends.

Yanni is in trouble. Unless he does something to change his existence in the mountains, he will die. He tries to eat what bigger and smaller animals ate, but grass, rodents, insects are impossible, even for the handless boy, though he has no pride of human habit. It is only bark now and frozen water, and he get weaker by the day.

Finally, he lies down and schemes. The andartes are gone. There are no thuds of bombs or rattling guns. For all he knows the war was over. He will go back. By now he almost talks to the beasts. Early in the morning they go with him as far as they dare, to fields bordering a small village in the lower mountains. Yanni can make out the Turkish‑style balconies of stone houses, the Byzantine dome on a small church, a ramshackle building, half‑destroyed, that seem to be the town hall. Smoke rises from the stone houses. There must be food and heat. He doesn’t want to leave his forest companions. The beasts lick his face and arms, and he stumbles toward the village.

Piano Elbows

When he get to within sixty meters of a granite block wall along the road climbing to the village center, he rests. And he sings a dirge, very quietly. Not a human but an animal song and his words are also the words of beasts. He lies quite a while in the field, and though flat on his back he holds his arms straight up, hoping he might be spotted. He even dozes off — these days he is not always fully awake — remembering long ago, or so it seems, the special piano, and wonders if someone in the village has some old instrument. He can stand on a stool, as he did before they gave him that special low keyboard from Athens, and start again to play. It will be a good life. But his immediate thoughts are how to be found and taken to some hearth, with bread and fire. He is ready.

As the boy musician lies there with his bare arm stumps raised like two crosses into the almost spring‑thawing air — he’s almost made it through the winter — a villager catches sight of the strange creature moving down below in the frozen wheat field. Several villagers gather. These are good people, mainly old peasants. The young are in the armies or gone to Yannina or Athens for jobs. They might be back for a few weeks in the summer. Peace has come. The village has been wrecked by both sides. As for children, there are none. This is a village from which the children were taken, and none has returned. At least near the Yugoslav frontier, most came back. The old peasants are bitter. The politicians are making a lot of noise on the radio, and the Albanian Greeks, in the more popular demotic Greek, are broadcasting horror stories, not about themselves, but about the Greek rightist troops and officials who are hard‑hearted and corrupt, or so they claim. The old people hear the anger from both sides of the Pindos Mountains, but anyway there is peace, at least, and food, though not very much.

But then the creature. It makes a strange noise, and is bigger than a dog. It can be a starving deer, with its legs in the air. Yet deer never howl. Deer are beasts of silent dream, and a staple of the local diet. Yanni, weary and beginning to freeze, abandons hope of immediate rescue, ceases to sing and tries to get up. They can’t find him, so he must go to them. He reaches upward as if the air is a post. But he falls down. He tries again. And as he almost gets back on his feet, the best shot among the older hunters in the village, takes aim at the rising animal, rubs the wet icy trigger, the cold metal trigger, and fires.

[The Boy Who Played the Piano with his Elbows previously appeared in the South Carolina Review. Author Willis Barnstone, born in Lewiston, Maine, and educated at Bowdoin, the Sorbonne, Columbia and Yale, taught in Greece at end of civil war (1949-51), in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War, and in China during Cultural Revolution, where he was later a Fulbright Professor in Beijing (1984-85) A Guggenheim fellow, he has received the NEA/NEH/Emily Dickinson Award of the PSA, Auden Award of NY Council on the Arts, Midland Authors Award, four Book of the Month selections, four Pulitzer nominations. His work has appeared in APR, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, Paris Review, Poetry, New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement. Author of seventy books, recent volumes are Dawn Café in Paris (Sheep Meadow, 2011), The Poems of Jesus Christ (Norton, 2012), Borges at Eighty (New Directions Press, 2013). He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Indiana University.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

Bloomington Blue

The Forgotten History of Porn at Indiana University ◆ by Sean Smalley

Though it may not have been Times Square, from the late 1970s to mid-1980s screenings of hardcore films became a contentious fixture of campus life at Indiana University. By the time student groups and dorms started screening 70s hardcore classics such as Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones, Behind the Green Door, and Insatiable, the allure of porno chic had already started to dissipate. The simultaneous rise of the religious right and anti-porn feminism at the end of the 1970s rolled back the ground of mainstream acceptability pornography had gained in the wake of Deep Throat. The fight over pornography was one of the most visible battles of the culture wars and university records show that this battle was especially heated at IU in the 1980s, leading to protests, bans and eventually prosecution.

This history is documented primarily in the Arbutus yearbooks, which are accessible through the Indiana Daily Student website. The Arbutus from 1977 is the first to reference a screening of an X-rated film on campus. The screenings were opportunities for the dorms to raise money for recreational activities such as Intramural sports and Little 500. Though they screened mostly mainstream, non-pornographic films such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and The Exorcist, they made the greatest profits with screenings of Deep Throat. University administration debated whether allowing a screening of Deep Throat would tarnish the respectability of the university or not. The administration allowed the film to be shown to avoid being charged with suppressing free speech or acting as censors. The screening went on to gross close to $2300 for the Parkes House. Because the screening was such a financial success more hardcore films followed.

Movie Poster

By the time students began screening hardcore films at IU the porno chic period was already coming to an end. No hardcore film had received the kind of mainstream coverage that Deep Throat did, and no hardcore film has been able to repeat Deep Throat’s accomplishment. The attention that the press gave to Deep Throat made it one of the most profitable films of all time. The film did run into censorship issues in various cities across the country, but the grosses were so high that it led to an increase in film production. Not only were producers of hardcore films intent of riding the wave of popular interest, but they would do it with higher production values and a greater interest in building coherent narratives. A film like The Opening of Misty Beethoven owed as much to art cinema as it did to porn films. Deep Throat’s director, Gerard Damiano, even expressed hopes that his film would open Hollywood up to making more sexually explicit pictures. And given the high profile visibility of Deep Throat, they came close. Even President Nixon’s commission on pornography returned a report concluding that sexually explicit material did not have a harmful effect on those who consume it. This general goodwill towards hardcore films would eventually die down as the political winds began to change in the late 1970s.

There is little information about what took place from 1978 to 1983, but by 1984 the university administration felt prompted to re-open the issue. The administration seemed apprehensive about the fundraising methods and likely received complaints from students. However, regulating screenings became increasingly difficult by the end of the 1970s into the early 1980s. When Deep Throat played at the Parkes House in 1977 it was shown on film. However, the screenings were so successful that by 1979 the student groups could afford to furnish the common areas with playback machines for multiple video formats. In his history of home video, Lucas Hilderbrand noted that X and XXX-rated films were extremely popular, with the adult film industry reporting 950,000 tapes sold in 1979 and 1.3 million tapes sold the following year. Perhaps this explains part of the sudden urgency with which the administration responded to the issue in the mid-80s. The ease of showing films on VHS or Beta instead of 16mm would make it much more difficult for the University to monitor and regulate future screenings.

Meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees in 1984 shows that multiple groups filed complaints against the screenings and wanted the administration to encourage alternatives to hardcore for student group and dorm fundraisers (Indiana University Board of Trustees, October 6 1985). The IU Student Association was successful in passing a resolution in opposition to advertising and displaying pornographic material on campus. IU Dean of Students, Michael Gordon, saw this as the perfect opportunity to put an end to the X-rated events. He placed a moratorium on all screenings of hardcore films. Gordon’s moratorium did not last very long. Students, citing violation of their free speech rights, protested the ban and enlisted the Indiana Civil Liberties Union to help fight the administration. The threat of legal action prompted the administration to lift the ban. Once the ban was lifted the university took a different approach to managing pornography.


Linda Lovelace

The debates over pornography before the emergence of anti-porn feminism were centered on notions of taste and the perceived negative influence of obscene material on society. While the arguments of anti-porn feminism had inherited many assumptions on taste, cultural value, and moral corruption from the religious right, they attacked hardcore pornography as dehumanizing to women. While the porn wars were raging at IU, Deep Throat’s star, Linda Lovelace, was touring the talk show circuit to give the Reagan administration and the anti-porn feminists the ammunition they had desired: women who appeared in hardcore films, she claimed, were being manipulated and abused behind the scenes and raped on camera. Lovelace even testified under oath that the adult film industry had been in the business of producing snuff, though no instances of snuff films have ever turned up. So, by the time the university administration opened up the discussion about how to handle the “porn problem” it was largely framed in a way that would avoid direct censorship, but acknowledge the way it “frequently denigrates women” (Indiana University Board of Trustees, May 1985). With the embarrassment of the ban fresh in their memory, they encouraged student groups opposed to the screenings to distribute literature about the harmful affect pornography has on women. Instead of banning films, they would “educate” the larger student population into ending the screenings.

This approach had little impact on the events. The controversy over pornography at IU spilled into the community in 1986 when the Monroe County prosecutor, Ron Waicukauski, received public complaints and filed a civil suit against IU student David Henderson on obscenity charges for organizing a screening of the Marilyn Chambers film Insatiable. On the day of the second screening the police obtained a warrant through Waicukauski’s request and seized the film, effectively shutting down the event and costing Henderson and the student activities group in his building at least $700. Waicukauski argued that IU events (the Insatiable screening was open only to students, staff, and faculty) were not exempt from the laws of the community. Waicukauski also stated that he would prosecute other students who planned show X-rated films in the future. Henderson faced up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine.


Porn & Advertising Icon Marilyn Chambers

The attempt to prosecute an IU student outside of the university was likely the deciding factor in the end of X-rated screenings in the dorms. With pressure from inside and outside, such screenings were no longer feasible. And as VCRs continued to drop in price throughout the 1980s it became more common for students to hold smaller, unpublicized screenings in communal and private spaces. The documents seem to beg other questions about these screenings. For example, how did those who participate react to the films? Where these screenings treated earnestly? Were they treated as participatory midnight-style screenings? It is difficult to gage from what is given. Also, the gender makeup of the screenings is never addressed. Historians of hardcore have shown that the appeal of these films extended beyond the typical heterosexual male, especially as pornography shifted from theatrical space to the home. Sadly, very little is mentioned about the gender breakdown. One could speculate based on the titles that were shown, but only a few of those are on record. What is on record, however, sketches an outline that reveals a fascinating synchronicity between the local and national that is rare.

The Ryder

Exploding The Senses

Crossing Into The Unknown with Wine, Cheese and Music ◆ by Brenda McNellen and Kristen Strandberg

In the past, high-end restaurants like Eleven Madison Park in New York City have encouraged the transcendence that can come from focusing on one sense at a time; fully engaging with the spirit of the food by isolating it from the realm of the everyday. Its menu was a model for controlled experiences: a minimalist grid that looks almost like a periodic table, isolating each ingredient of a meal. The diners would select four elements they wanted and the chef would prepare a meal incorporating these as the center of each course. This mindfulness about food spread to other parts of the diner’s experience—serious diners would limit the amount of conversation during meals in order to focus on the food. Classical music resided in a similar realm—during the late 18th century a hush descended upon audiences when the culture of listening changed to include expectations of absolute quiet during performances and restricting applause to the correct places in a performance in order to avoid breaks in focus.  In many classical performances today, this tradition of a purely musical focus continues: consider the outburst of anger by the New York Philharmonic’s audience members and conductor, who stopped a 2012 performance when a patron’s cell phone rang during Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

Demand for multi-sensory experiences however, is increasing, even in the realms of classical music and food.  This past August, the Cincinnati Symphony performed a free outdoor concert with images and 3D animation projected onto the front of its home building, accompanied with music by Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Strauss. In a move that shocked the restaurant world, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park announced in 2012 that the restaurant would be doing away with its grid menu in favor of a four-hour narrated meal encompassing the history of New York and including visuals such as a cheese course hidden inside a picnic basket, and a magic trick predicting the dessert. There was a lot of buzz about this change. Would Eleven Madison Park stay in business if diners had to commit to a four-hour meal experience? Would patrons see this change as a kitschy degradation of the dining experience? Would its ranking as number 10 in the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list be jeopardized?

As with Eleven Madison Park’s announcement, most of these changes, sometimes couched in terms of attracting a new generation to participate, are often met with a good deal of skepticism. What could happen if experiences become meaningless because of all this sensory overload? In an April Fool’s day post about the Jacobs School of Music from 2009, the school is (falsely) reported to have hired popular violinist Andre Rieu and installed in the Musical Arts Center a “new jewel-studded shell, incorporating festive colors, over 5,000 energy-efficient twinkling LED lights, and several dozen miniature mirrors with gilded Rococo frames,  . . . [and] a mechanized chandelier, capable of ascending and descending in under seven seconds.”

But what if these combinations can actually enhance or reframe our experiences? In Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks (which made New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani’s 10 Favorite Books of 2012), the author discusses sensory deprivation as an aid to altering experience, but also includes the epiphanies produced by experiences in combination. He mentions being unable to remember how the color indigo really looked to him until it reappeared to him at a musical concert in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “a Monteverdi piece was performed, and I was utterly transported. I had taken no drugs, but I felt a glorious river of music, four hundred years long, flowing from Monteverdi’s mind into my own. In this ecstatic mood, I wandered out during the intermission and looked at the ancient Egyptian objects on display—lapis lazuli amulets, jewelry, and so forth—and I was enchanted to see glints of indigo. I thought: Thank God, it really exists!” (Sacks, 110-111)

In a quest to find out how those around us felt about multisensory experience in the realms of taste and music, we interviewed some well-known Bloomingtonians that were likely candidates for immersion in these types of experiences. We wanted to know whether the mingling of senses was a distraction for them or an integral part of broadening the mind and remembering experiences.

Patricia Stiles, IU Jacobs School of Music professor and renowned opera singer who has performed in the Kennedy Center and opera houses across Europe, describes how for her, as a performing opera singer, music was almost never experienced in isolation from touch, smell, and taste.  As a performer, Stiles said, the tactile experience of singing in an opera–the smells and feelings of being onstage—were inseparably linked to her experience of the music.  “That’s the thing about opera,” she says, “it’s everything at once.  Even the smell–there are a lot of different smells you would like to forget from the other people who have worn the costume, the sweat . . . and that’s part of the experience.”  She recalls love scenes in which the singer opposite her was drenched in sweat, and says that this changes the experience of the music for her, and becomes a part of her sensory experience as a whole.  Costumes bring a similar tactile element to the production.  She says that “the sensory feeling of the costumes and the whole look of the stage goes a lot with music for me.  The physical feeling of the costumes . . . [provide] a tactile sensation, and even the rustling sound when you move . . . it has a life of its own.”

One of Stiles’s most memorable costumes was that of a tree/human hybrid in a production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold in Germany.  She describes a bizarre ensemble that included fake tree limbs with leaves on her arms and head, high heels, and very realistic fake bare breasts.  She says that felt very odd, but was also liberating and fun to have such a bizarre costume that so drastically changed her appearance. She felt that she was transformed by the costume when onstage and will always remember the shift in perception that came from the feeling of wearing that costume in combination with performing the role of Erda, goddess of the earth.

For Jeffery Schauss, who is married to Patricia Stiles and also a wine buyer for Sahara Mart, analogous experiences like tasting wine and listening to music inform how we think about and describe them. Within both tasting and listening experiences there are layers of complexity. Individual wine tasters may focus on texture, flavor notes, or unexpected combinations of tastes that change from moment to moment as music listeners may focus on rhythms, harmony, sudden key or chord changes, or repeated patterns in music.

Schauss looks for balance in pairing wine with food or music, as he recommends that one sense not overpower another when layering sensory elements, even within a single sensory experience.  Cheaper wines, he says, possess one “note” or category of flavor that often takes over the taste of the wine, such as fruity, floral, or nutty.  By contrast, a higher-end wine “is like a symphony,” says Schauss, “it just keeps working,” as the taste evolves and changes over time.  Along with the taste itself, texture also plays a role in Schauss’s experience with wine.  While acknowledging that each person’s experience will be different, he says: “My mind goes more to that symphony . . . [or] to that velvet–not so much red raspberry or black cherry.”  Schauss considers texture, complexity, and layers, while sometimes describing the wine to customers in tactile or aural terms.

Dmitri Vietze, the director of Rock Paper Scissors, a Bloomington company that nationally markets and publicizes world music ensembles, feels that music and food are each accessible introductions to different types of people and cultures. He says, “People are trying to get a sense of who they are through understanding who other people are, and also expand the horizons of their own identity by experiencing other tastes, whether it’s musically or culinarily . . . it’s that diversity of options and opportunity that marks the era that we live in.” Similar to the complex wines referenced by Schauss, one of the main attractions of world music is its combination of familiar musical elements with unexpected sounds, rhythms and patterns that grab the attention of listeners.  The most frequent tactile sense associated with music, says Vietze, is not the taste of food or wine, but the feel of dance, including a heartbeat and moving body along with “the nervousness and the sexuality . . . the relationships, and the happiness” when music and dance are combined.

For Vietze as well as Stiles, a combination of sensory elements is what distinguishes unforgettable memories. One of his own most vivid memories stems from the day of his daughter’s birth.  “It was raining when my wife went into labor so there was the smell of rain. We played music in the early stages of labor . . . by Ayub Ogada, a Kenyan singer who also plays a little traditional lyre and taps his feet with jingles on his ankles.”  Vietze says that whenever he hears that music, “the rain, the smell, the music, the new hope and innocence of a new baby come right back to me.”

But is it possible to deliberately create these unforgettable memories for people with different sensory preferences by combining smell/taste/touch, and hearing/sight, in the way of Eleven Madison Park? Christine Buras, opera singer from the Jacobs School of Music and wine and cheese buyer for Bloomingfoods, thinks that while focus on certain aspects of the tasting experience are important, multi-sensory experiences can and should be constructed to deepen our enjoyment and understanding.

Buras remarks that getting customers to try a type of cheese may often entail convincing them to favor one sense over another. “Cheese doesn’t taste the way it smells. One of the smelliest cheeses we have is Taleggio, which is an Italian cow’s milk, soft-rind cheese, and it’s a pink, washed-rind cheese, cured in beer or wine. When you think of smelly, ugly cheeses, this is definitely in that category—it has green and white mold all over it normally, but the cheese inside is very mild, milky, clean and delicious. We don’t advise that people eat the rind. You would have to close your mind to the look and the smell of the outside, and open it to the taste of the cheese inside.” Very often, however, the texture of a cheese will complement the taste—people who know a lot about cheese will come in and ask for an aged cheddar or gouda with more granularity, which makes it crumbly.

As someone whose life revolves around wine, cheese, and music, Buras naturally thinks of ways to bring the three together. We asked her how she might create a beginning-to-end-of-evening experience with these three elements and she created a specific plan.  She would start with something “light and playful and spontaneous,” with a white wine, as moving from lighter to heavier is a good rule of thumb.  She would pair the wine with a fresh goat cheese or Saint-André, a French triple-crème cheese.  Buras suggests the piano music of French composer Erik Satie for this course, as it is fun and quirky without being intrusive.

For a second course of cheese, wine, and music, Buras recommends a full-bodied red wine such as a Malbec with Old Amsterdam (an aged Gouda), or an aged Cheddar or Gruyère.  The aged Gruyère, she notes, is something “we don’t see a lot of in Bloomington, but it’s worth finding.”  As an after dinner course, Stilton is often paired with Port. Some Stiltons have holes drilled in them and are then soaked in a ruby port. “By the time you get to that you’re fully into British culture,” says Buras, so she would pair it with Howells organ music, Elgar, Vaughn Williams— “something with really lush chords.”  For the wine, she recommends a fruity red such as a Zinfandel or Port.

While we may be losing the intensity of focus on one sense in realms like classical music and food (that have often tried to keep these experiences pure at their most elite levels), the trend of creating indelible memories by experimenting with new combinations of sensory experiences will probably be too great for most customers to ignore. What happened to Eleven Madison Park after their change to a four-hour experience menu? They jumped from number ten to number five on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and business is booming.  The World’s 50 Best Restaurants website calls it “a dining experience that is as delightful as it is engaging.”  Perhaps an “engaging” experience is just what diners and concert-goers are looking for, as multi-sensory stimulation is becoming the norm, creating new experiences with innovative combinations of existing elements.  Can’t afford the trip to New York and the $200 meal at Eleven Madison Park?  We hope that you take inspiration from them by experimenting with your own memorable combinations.

The Ryder ◆ November 2013


Falling In Love, With Panache

From salsa to hiphop, local dance studio celebrates five years of mad moves ◆ by Rachael Himsel

Tom Slater’s first time happened after watching Saturday Night Fever.

He was 16, and he got hooked on the hustle. After watching John Travolta’s gyrations, Tom danced his own first dance, and will never forget his intro to dance: that first Latin hustle class, that fake ID, that first trip to a nightclub in Boston to try out his new moves.

Today, Tom is a World Exhibition Champion with a host of dancing, teaching and judging credits to his name; he’s toured cross-country and internationally, appeared in national commercials, and coached movie stars. Now, he spends much of his time at the dance studio he’s been with since the doors opened: Panache Dance.

Age 16 is considered a late entry into the art – but one of the key messages at Panache is that it’s never too late to learn to dance – and that anyone can dance.

And no one knows that better than Scott and Sandy. The two were in their mid-twenties when they discovered dance, after attending a free dance lesson in Fort Wayne. They fell in love with dance, and when they moved to Bloomington, they sought out a similar studio but had trouble finding one. They spent hours driving back to Fort Wayne and to Indianapolis to keep up their dance chops. They realized there was a need for an inclusive, fun dance studio in Bloomington and decided to build one.

That was five years ago. Today, Panache Dance Studio is home to over a dozen series dance classes and dance fitness classes every week. It is a place for people to lose their dance virginity, or deepen existing relationships with movement to music.

From the Pulitzer to Paris

Douglas Hofstadter’s first time was in Paris.

“It was 2010, and I was on sabbatical from IU and working very hard on a book on analogies. I started attending group classes in Cuban salsa twice a week at ‘Paris Mambo’…I loved salsa music and the astounding sensual grace of it, but I was a total beginner and, I must say, a rather slow learner. But I stuck with it and hung in there and in those eight months I learned quite a bit,” said Doug, the  Pulitzer-prize winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (GEB), renowned academic in the world of cognitive science, and Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University.

But even Pulitzer Prize winners have their fears. Before he discovered the Parisian dance studio, Doug described the idea of dancing as terrifying. “I can’t say exactly why, but watching good dancers made me feel both very inferior and very jealous. Graceful dancing is just so beautiful and so natural that seeing people who could do it well always used to make me feel as if I was missing out on the true secret of what life is all about, and that sense of profound loss was a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling.”

“The aching yearning that I felt to be able to do that kind of thing myself is almost indescribable. In Paris, though, I finally screwed up my courage and bit the bullet. I took the first steps toward changing that sad frame of mind.”

When Doug returned from Paris, he felt he had to continue his salsa lessons, and found two excellent possibilities – Ritmos Latinos on campus, and Panache Dance. 
At Ritmos, Doug continued Cuban salsa, while at Panache he started learning LA-style salsa with Sandy, and cha-cha with Tom. “Both my Ritmos and Panache classes were inspiring to me and wound up having lasting impacts on my life, especially the classes at Panache.”

Lasting impact for Doug came in the form of Baofen Lin, a woman in Tom Slater’s cha-cha class.

“I had a crush on her from the very first time I spied her – but I didn’t know her name or a thing about her. Luckily, in Tom’s class, we had to rotate partners every few minutes, so I got to dance with this mysterious Chinese beauty every so often…I was a bit unsure of myself, so when we danced – and I was holding her in my arms! – we hardly exchanged any words at all. And it didn’t hurt that she was also one of the best dancers in the class, so that I had not just one, but two reasons for looking forward to her coming around to me every 20 minutes or so.”

One evening after Tom’s class Doug and Baofen began talking about their mutual interest in foreign languages, and walked down to Subway for tea and discussed having a ‘language exchange’ – what Doug says was, “A thinly-veiled way of saying, ‘Let’s get to know each other.’” A few days later, they had a real date at the Runcible Spoon, and soon “one thing led to another.”

Baofen and Doug were married on September 1st, 2012, at Deer Park Manor. To start the evening’s festivities, the couple performed an elaborate dance routine, beginning with the cha-cha (of course), then moving into a lively Cuban salsa “rueda”, a circle made up of the bride, groom and five other couples (including Sandy and Scott) in which everyone constantly changes partners. “That evening, was amazing for me – not only getting married to someone terrific, but also dancing up a storm, doing cha-cha and salsa and swing and a bit of rumba and fox trot,” remembers Doug. “I was nothing like the toe-tied teen-ager I’d been in Geneva, nothing like the guy who for so many decades was terrified to death of dancing of any sort at all. It was like I was a completely reborn person! What a revolution in my life!”

The Myers’ quickly discovered another need they could fill – dancing for fitness. The term ‘dance fitness’ includes a variety of styles – from hip hop to Zumba to Bollywood. Panache instructors are also known to take two styles and meld them together, creating unique dance fusions that are both fun and challenging for students.

One instructor, Darrelyn Valdez, has created several new dance classes. “That’s one aspect that I love about Panache. Sandy and Scott allow us to be as creative as we want. We have done some crazy fusion stuff!”

Darrelyn has been a driving force behind creating a class called Triple Threat, which gives several teachers the chance to lead dance numbers. At least four or five teachers lead songs in the 50-minute class, and as many as nine teachers have participated.

Besides Triple Threat, Darrelyn teaches Bollywood classes at Panache, and other dance fitness classes for IU, Monroe County Community School Corporation, and St. Marks Church, for a total of about 15 classes per week – all while juggling being a mom and working for MCCSC.

“I truly believe in everybody moving – that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they’re moving. It’s about having fun and not worrying about whether you’re getting it right or not.”

A dance studio for the rest of us.

The fear of ‘getting it right’ is what holds many people back from walking into a dance studio, a worry that Donna Macri Stevens understands well. Mix in a busy schedule – Donna is Director of HR at IU’s School of Education and a mom – and it’s a small miracle Donna and her husband Phil made it to Panache. “I had wanted to take lessons for years, but couldn’t seem to find time for lessons in our busy schedules. Plus, all kinds of fears jumped to the surface – would we make fools of ourselves? Would we meet anyone our own age? Would it be all work and no play? Would people laugh at us as we stepped on one another’s toes?”

Donna and Phil were thrilled to discover their fears were unfounded. “The instructors helped us feel comfortable from day one, and all our fears melted away as we learned new moves and began to dance! Dancing at Panache was fun, and we found ourselves both comforted by others who were also just learning, and inspired by those who had been taking lessons for longer. Both groups of dancers, as well as the instructors, helped us to know that we had nothing to fear and inspired us to want to learn more…we’ve now made time for dance every week since.”

Donna and her husband Phil have taken classes in waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, mambo, salsa, East and West Coast swing, and the hustle. Like Doug, Donna also feels that she has found deep personal relationships at this little dance studio: “Through our lessons at Panache, we’ve developed lasting friendships with a wide variety of people, and we now have a fun and healthy hobby that brings us closer together and gets us out and about a bit more with a new group of friends. Panache is not only a dance and fitness studio – it’s also a family.” This family is made up of all genders, sizes, and sexuality. Many same-sex couples have come to Panache because of its welcoming reputation.

“Bloomington offers lots of opportunities to be a passive participant in the arts scene….you can go to the opera, take in a show, attend a gallery opening or hear a local singer songwriter perform. But there are few opportunities for the rest of us to be a more active participant in the arts scene,” Donna pointed out. “Dance is one way that each of us can actively participate, and it’s something that is accessible to people of all ages, from the very young to the very old. Panache helps provide a way to bring more people into the world of social dancing, making dancing a possibility for us all.”

Whether falling in love with the beautiful woman whose name you don’t yet know, or falling in love with your husband all over again after thirty years together, the power of dance is immense. Most of us remember our first time dancing – whether feeling a hot, sweaty post-dance buzz or gazing into your partner’s eyes, we experience dance in our muscles, in our bones, and in our souls. And here in Bloomington, Scott and Sandy Myers have created a safe haven for anyone wanting to be more physical, meet new people, hear new music, or maybe – just maybe – fall in love, one dance step at a time.

[Author’s Note: This month, Panache Dance Studio celebrates its fifth anniversary. As she looks to the future, co-owner Sandy Myers plans to continue creating an all-inclusive yet family-like feeling at Panache, while bringing in new clients: “I want to include more people in our community. I want more people to know what we’re about and come try it out. We are always growing, always learning.”] [Editor’s Note: Panache students will show what they have learned at their semi-annual showcase, a weekend of performances that lets Panache dancers of all skill levels share their talents: November 1st and 2nd @ 7:30 pm 
$15 adults, $12 students with valid school ID, $8 children 12 and under. Live band and dancing after the Saturday show at Panache Dance Studio, 325 E Winslow Rd.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

Bobbing For Credibility

Bobcat Goldthwait reinvents himself as a writer/director ◆ by Craig J. Clark

“If I had any goals, I really hope I can just keep making small movies. You know, I have a body of work that I’m pretty embarrassed of, so if I could just keep making small movies that appeal to a small group of people, I’d be very happy.” — Bobcat Goldthwait on the commentary for Sleeping Dogs Lie

Of all the standup comedians who entered the public eye in the mid-’80s, Bobcat Goldthwait may be the last one anyone expected to have serious filmmaking ambitions. An early fixture of the Police Academy series (in which he played street punk-turned-cop Zed), he soon graduated to the ensemble of Savage Steve Holland’s One Crazy Summer in 1986, played supporting roles in vehicles for Whoopi Goldberg (1987’s Burglar) and Bill Murray (1988’s Scrooged), and landed one of his own in the stock-picking talking horse movie Hot to Trot (also 1988). After that, the next logical step was behind the camera. The result was 1991’s Shakes the Clown.

"Shakes the Clown"


On its painted face, Shakes seems like a film that can be encapsulated and dismissed in the same breath since it’s centered on the exploits of a foul-mouthed, alcoholic party clown (who is nevertheless capable of bringing joy to children and winning over their parents with his surprising professionalism). All one has to do is sit down and watch it, though, to see that there’s a profound strangeness at this Clown’s core that isn’t even hinted at by its surface trappings or even what is arguably its most famous scene, in which Goldthwait and his fellow greasepaint enthusiasts beat up a group of mimes (their mortal enemies).

For starters, the story takes place within the city limits of Palukaville (“The Nation’s Leader in Lard Production”), which has turned clowning into a cottage industry with businesses – including a clown bar called The Twisted Balloon – that cater directly to them. Naturally, Goldthwait’s Shakes spends a lot of his downtime between birthday parties hanging out at The Balloon with his clown friends (one of whom is played by a pre-fame Adam Sandler) and hitting on his barmaid girlfriend (Julie Brown), who dreams of being a professional bowler. As for Shakes, he hopes to succeed the retiring Peppy the Clown as host of the Big Time Cartoon Circus, but that job goes instead to first-rate asshole and drug fiend Binky (Tom Kenny, later to gain fame as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants).

What little there is of the plot kicks into gear when Shakes is framed for murder by a coked-up Binky, who’s in the middle of a drug deal with a couple of rodeo clowns (yes, the film also has rodeo clowns) when his boss (Paul Dooley) walks in on them. Forced to go into hiding as a mime, Shakes attends a class taught by an abusive taskmaster (Robin Williams, who’s credited as Marty Fromage) and eventually convinces his friends to help him clear his name.

Like its unreliable protagonist, Shakes the Clown doesn’t work 100% of the time, and Goldthwait could have stood to explore Palukaville’s odder corners a little more. (A visit to a rodeo clown bar is a real wasted opportunity since we never go inside.) We don’t even find out where he met single mother Florence Henderson, who comes to in the opening scene with makeup smeared on her face after a one-night stand with Shakes. (“You’re my first clown,” she says, without much conviction.) All told, it would be another decade before he stepped behind the camera again. I guess he figured he had more to learn about his craft.

When Goldthwait decided to get back into the directing game in the early ’00s, he started small with segments of Comedy Central’s The Man Show, Crank Yankers and Chappelle’s Show. This led to him taking the reins of the 2003 TV movie Windy City Heat, which is essentially a feature-length practical joke on aspiring actor/comedian Perry Caravello, who’s impossible to feel sorry for since he’s loud, abrasive, anti-Semitic, homophobic and – worst of all – untalented. Of course, even if he did have some acting chops, it would be difficult for him to show them off with chuckleheads Don Barris and “Mole” (Tony Barbieri) tripping him up at every opportunity.

In addition to directing the film, Goldthwait also plays the director of the film-within-the-film, which is also called Windy City Heat and is about a “sports private eye” named Stone Fury, a part Caravello is right to believe was tailor-made for him. First, though, he has to ace his audition with casting agent “Roman Polanski” (Dane Cook) and beat out his main rival for the role, Carson Daly (playing himself). Once he does and the filming commences, Caravello suffers numerous indignities, as well as a series of petty pranks that Barris and Barbieri play on him, culminating in the myriad delays that make them late for the film’s only public screening.

One’s enjoyment of the final product will depend greatly on how much patience you have for the tiresome antics of Barris, Barbieri and Caravello (and the less said about Tom Kenny’s turn as a gay costume designer, the better). Goldthwait picks up the slack, though, with his directorial affectations, including his insistence on speaking through a bullhorn at all times, even when not on the set, and the boots and jodhpurs he wears as part of his ensemble. Also amusing is his absent producer’s demand that he “get cracking or you’ll be out on the street shooting Hot to Trot 2.” Considering how Windy City Heat turned out – both versions – that may have been preferable.

A solid argument for the belief that nobody can – or should – know everything about their loved ones, Goldthwait’s 2006 feature Sleeping Dogs Lie is about a grade-school teacher (Melinda Page Hamilton) who frets about whether to tell her boyfriend (Bryce Johnson) her deepest, darkest secret after he proposes marriage. And she has every reason to tread carefully since she performed fellatio on her dog when she was a bored undergrad. (This we’re told right at the top of the film, with Hamilton narrating the whole story, so it’s not like it’s a big secret to us.) Even if it was a one-time thing that she immediately regretted, she intuitively understands it’s the sort of thing that can fundamentally change the way a person thinks of you.

Hamilton is still conflicted when she and Johnson head up to her parents’ for a visit, allowing Goldthwait to switch gears and observe how being around her conservative parents (Geoff Pierson and Bonita Friedericy) and bitter brother (Jack Plotnick) throws her even further off her game. Because there wouldn’t be much of a movie if Hamilton never owned up, she eventually does, and her revelation floors Johnson and gives Plotnick ammo to use against her – and he doesn’t hesitate to. Frozen out by her family and ultimately rejected by Johnson, Hamilton gets her own place and goes on the rebound with a fellow teacher (Colby French) who’s curious about her past but doesn’t push her too hard about it. Still, every interaction with her ex or her family is fraught with tension since any one of them could drop the bomb at any moment. That’s when it becomes crystal clear why some pooches should be allowed to slumber.

As dark as Sleeping Dogs Lie sometimes gets, it was a mere warm-up for Goldthwait’s 2009 film World’s Greatest Dad, which stars Robin Williams as a frustrated novelist who ghostwrites an eloquent suicide note for his douchebag of a teenage son (a sullen Daryl Sabara) when he accidentally asphyxiates himself while masturbating. What Williams doesn’t anticipate is the way this simple act will transform his preternaturally unpopular offspring (who was considered a crude, homophobic bully) into a tragically misunderstood martyr – and alter his own life in the process.


This change is most readily reflected in Williams’s relationship with fellow teacher Alexie Gilmore, who seems to be on the verge of dumping him when things turn around for him. On top of that, his poorly attended poetry class is suddenly filled to the brim with eager students hanging on his every word, and the school’s grief counselor is hot to publish Sabara’s journal (which Williams has to forge as well). The only fly in the ointment is Sabara’s sole friend (Evan Martin), who’s well aware of Williams’s deception and could blow the whistle at any moment. That’s really a call for Williams to make, though – just not before he gets his moment in the sun on The Dr. Dana Show, where he nearly loses it on air. In all honesty, it would have saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of bother if he had.

Since Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad established him as a director to watch, Goldthwait has periodically returned to television to work on such shows as Comedy Central’s Important Things with Demetri Martin and FX’s Maron, starring Marc Maron. The project he really poured his heart and soul into, however, was the 2011 satire God Bless America, which proves that as a writer/director he has a lot to say about the culture we live in.

The action revolves around fed-up divorcé Joel Murray (who previously had a walk-on in Shakes the Clown), a man who has had his fill of his inconsiderate neighbors, the braying jackasses clogging up the airwaves, and his undiscriminating co-workers who parrot it back at him, inciting him to rail against society’s ills. He also has to contend with an ex-wife (Sleeping Dogs Lie’s Melinda Page Hamilton) who’s getting remarried and a daughter (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) who doesn’t want to visit with him. On top of all that, he suffers from severe migraines, so after he’s unjustly fired from his soul-sucking insurance job he goes to the doctor and is told that he has a brain tumor, which gives him the chance to do some Ikiru-style soul searching. Instead, he teams up with a young rebel (Tara Lynne Barr) who convinces him that he can do a lot more good by killing others who don’t deserve to live.

To Goldthwait’s credit, it’s really hard to take issue with any of the targets they choose (although the scene where they pick off the people talking and texting in a movie theater can be somewhat uncomfortable to sit through). And Murray is vigilant about drawing the line, which extends to his refusal to sexualize the underage Barr. He’s also cognizant of the need to pick the right time and place to take his final stand against the culture that got him up in arms in the first place. After all, if you have a message for the nation, you want to make sure the nation is actually listening.

That brings us to Goldthwait’s latest, Willow Creek, a found-footage horror film about a couple (played by Alexie Gilmore from World’s Greatest Dad and Bryce Johnson from Sleeping Dogs Lie) who venture into the woods in search of Bigfoot. The true nature of what happens to them is shrouded in mystery, but if his past work is anything to go by, whatever they find (and capture on their ever-present video camera) will surely be worth talking about.

[Bobcat Goldthwait introduces his films God Bless America and Willow Creek at the IU Cinema on October 31st and appears at the Comedy Attic on November 1st and 2nd.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013




Once known for his screechy-voiced stand-up persona, over the past few years Bobcat Goldthwait has been carving himself a niche as a writer/director of darkly humorous independent films.



Bobcat Goldthwait as the title character of his misunderstood directorial debut, Shakes the Clown.



Bobcat Goldthwait, in his unbilled cameo as a limo driver, commiserates with Robin Williams in World’s Greatest Dad.



Tara Lynne Barr and Joel Murray take aim at an increasingly intolerable society in God Bless America.


The Not-So-Comic Art Of Chris Ware

A Master of the Graphic Novel visits Bloomington ◆ by Ivan Kreilkamp

[Graphic novelist Chris Ware gave a public lecture November 12, 2013, at the IU Cinema. His visit was co-sponsored by the College Arts and Humanities Institute, the Ruth N. Halls Fund, and IU’s Themester 2013: Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World.]

Canons are made to be argued about, but the work of Chris Ware would be included in virtually anyone’s list of the most essential modern graphic novels or long-form works of comic art. Ever since Art Spiegelman’s Maus: a Survivor’s Tale won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, graphic novels have been gradually working their way into broad recognition and respectability, increasingly accepted as potentially as aesthetically complex, emotionally resonant, and culturally significant as novels or films. But the number of true crossover texts in this genre – prize-winning, non-super-hero books of comic art that have been widely reviewed, taught, and read by followers of contemporary literature who don’t identify themselves as comics fans – remains small.  Among the most obvious candidates for such a canon would be Maus and Maus II, Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World (1997), Alan Moore’s From Hell (1999), Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003), Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home (2006)—and at least two of Chris Ware’s books, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) and last year’s Building Stories (2012).  Indeed, one could easily make the case that with the one exception of Art Spiegelman himself, who virtually invented the genre and shepherded it into existence, no contemporary comics artist or graphic novelist has achieved greater national and international acclaim than Ware.

Ware in 2009

Chris Ware

At a time when graphic novels were still often ignored by the mainstream press, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth became Maus’s first genuine successor in terms of wide acclaim and broad success. It was given “book of the year” distinctions by TIME, The Village Voice Literary Supplement, and Entertainment Weekly, and was also awarded a 2001 Guardian First Book Award and an American Book Award, “distinctions previously awarded,” as Ware puts it in a characteristically ironic author bio, “only to authors who could not draw.”  Comics critic and historian Doug Wolk has described the book as “a history of a family’s pathetic fantasies and painful realities, rendered in a style whose maniacally precise, composed, geometrical frostiness counterbalanced the story’s emotional brutality.” Jimmy Corrigan comes across as some kind of improbable cross between Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons and a work of contemporary fiction of the most austere variety: say, a Thomas Bernhard or Peter Handke novel. If one model for graphic novel cross-over success has been that of gripping memoir or personal history – Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home all fall into this category, stories of personal-cultural trauma or crisis and breakthrough – Jimmy Corrigan is a much less emotionally accessible narrative.  It tells a complexly interwoven story of two different father-son relationships, each marked by abandonment and regret: in present day Chicago, Jimmy Corrigan, a Charlie Brown (or Bartleby)-ish middle-aged office drudge, and the father he barely knows; and 80 years previously, Jimmy’s grandfather James, and his own father.  Ware describes Jimmy Corrigan in the book’s afterward as his attempt to grapple with his relationship with his own absent father.  After rereading the text for a final edit, he explains, “it occurred to me… that the four or five hours it took to read is almost exactly the total time I ever spent with my father, either in person or on the telephone.”  He also observes that the book itself turned out to be about the same size as the urn in which his father’s ashes were interred.

So Jimmy Corrigan is, in effect, a tombstone for Ware’s own father. Yet for all its bleakness, the book somehow also manages to be altogether pleasurable to read and a delight to look at, in part because Ware is such an exquisitely skillful and dedicated visual artist and craftsman whose work cites a dizzying array of 20th century graphic conventions from magazine and comic book advertisements, children’s books, and any number of additional forms of paper and print ephemera.  Following the success of Jimmy Corrigan, Ware’s work was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial of American Art, and he is deeply respected by comic geeks for his skills in the lettering, coloring, and fanatically-obsessive production of his books.

Last year Ware topped his own success with Building Stories, a still-more original creation that was named by Time, Newsday, and the New York Times as one of its ten best books of the year. Building Stories is in some ways less a book than a slightly mad assemblage that can simultaneously bring to mind artist Joseph Cornell’s famous surrealist boxes, and a container for treasures stored under the bed of a pack-rat 11-year-old boy.  Building Stories comes in (and also is) a sturdy, approximately 16” by 12” box that is itself elaborately inscribed, and which contains fourteen distinct mini-books and other items: a fold-out newspaper, a thick cardboard game board, several comic books of various sizes, a mock children’s “Little Golden Book,” several posters and broadsides, etc., each designed and constructed with unbelievable care.  These 14 items, which can be read in any order, don’t narrate a single coherent story, although they do, in aggregate, offer a multifaceted examination of the lives led by a number of inhabitants of a single apartment building in Chicago (including one lascivious bee), with a particular focus on an unnamed young female protagonist.  This woman, a former art student with a prosthetic leg whom we see pass through a lonely early adulthood and young motherhood, is this book’s version of Jimmy Corrigan, a partial proxy for the artist himself.

Building Stories has qualities that invite comparison to contemporary post-modern, hyper-textual fictions.  It is non-linear, fragmented, a collection more than a narrative.  Yet is other ways, it is thoroughly and even perversely old-fashioned and backward-looking: it weighs a ton, would almost need to be its own carry-on item for a plane trip, and is unimaginable as an e-book (or even as a paperback). It clarifies Chris Ware’s status as one of the most original and compelling contemporary artists and authors in any genre.

Ivan Kreilkamp is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Indiana University.

 The Ryder ◆ November 2013


An original rock score by the Bloomington band M enlivens F.W. Murnau’s silent vampire thriller ◆ by Stephen Simms
[Stephen Simms is a founding member of the legendary, mid-90s Bloomington band, M. In a rare comeback appearance, they will perform their original score to F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Nosferatu at the IU Cinema on Sunday, October 27th at 6:30 pm. The film and performance are a co-presentation of the Cinema and The Ryder.]

My father is a very patient man and when I was 13, he agreed to take me and some of my geeky friends to the first science fiction convention held in Indianapolis in 1981. As part of the convention, science fiction films were shown on the televisions in every room. It was around midnight, hopped up on Coca-cola that I first saw F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Even though it was on a tiny Trinatron and I was a maturing lad, it pretty well scared the hell out of me. I loved the shadows and the exaggerated facial expressions. Nosferatu was very different than the vampires I had seen on television. He wasn’t sexy and well dressed like Lugosi or Christopher Lee. He was an alternate dark portrait of uncontrolled id – base, ugly, and frightening.

While the special effects are nothing by today’s ridiculously CGI heavy standards, they still give me shivers. From a crazed coach ride to the Count’s castle to the ghostly Nosferatu materializing to a sickly sailor who later walks through a wall carrying his coffin, I was and still am mesmerized. Max Schreck played the towering, hook-nosed, vampire. It wasn’t until later I learned that the word schreck meant fright – very appropriate.

From "Nosferatu"

Fast forward to 1988. I was studying electronic composition at Roosevelt University and living in the Herman Crown Center, a downtown dormitory shared by Columbia College, Roosevelt University, and the School for the Art Institute of Chicago. The basement of the 17-story building contained a snack bar and a practice space that you could reserve for a few hours at a time. One night while out for a soda I saw a light on in the practice space (a rarity) and peering through the window I saw a young guy in a comb-over mohawk tearing into a massive set of drums with a level of energy that I had never seen. The fusion of quartz clock timing with wild polyrhythmic drum fills made my composer-self quite excited.

I stared through the window in amazement as I heard him play along with Neil Peart, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, and others. I had no idea then that we would be periodically making music together for the next 24 years. We became fast friends, eventually sharing space together in a tiny closet that the administration called a room. We challenged one another musically, often waking up in the morning to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Noonward Race” or “Crisis” by Jaco Pastorius. At this time I was a serviceable rhythm guitar player, a mediocre pianist, and a terrible trumpet player who longed to play the bass.

I had music and musical ideas in my head, but I was frustrated that I didn’t have a fluid musical voice the way that Bennett did. During the summer of 1989, I moved briefly to Bloomington to take some additional music classes and almost fail a French reading course. I met some of the members of the unique and amazing Bloomington band, The Belgian Waffles. I loved those guys right away because the musical ideas were as important if not more important than the notes (something that I had been trying to learn in Chicago). The Waffles did it all: harnessing sounds from a shortwave radio, playing plumbing diagrams, writing a song about the Star Trek episode in which Kirk fights the Gorn. They relied in many cases only on their ears and minds to spontaneously guide the size and shape of their musical improvisations.

Later I graduated from Roosevelt with a Master’s in Composition and moved to Bloomington to study music theory, hoping to better my compositions through an exploration of the ideas behind music.

I bought a bass and reconnected with the Waffles who were getting musicians of all sorts together to improvise and drink bourbon on Thursday nights in Tony Woolard’s large basement. The group ended up being known as the Torture Chamber Ensemble. It was a fitting name because the one rule these long jam sessions had was that nobody could play their primary instrument. These sessions were all about listening to one another and trying to make something musical from what you had been dealt. I played saxophone for the first time in Tony’s basement. I still have fond memories crashing and playing in the 4th of July parade, proudly sliding a trombone up Walnut street using a small cymbal as a wah-wah occasionally slapping it against the bell for emphasis.

It was during these experiences that I met a thoughtful religious studies major, with incredible ears and a masterful melodic sensibility which he executed with what seemed like ease on his Paul Reed Smith guitar. His name was Jason Bivins. Occasionally between basement sessions, Jason and I would revert back to our primary instruments and improvise. He was crazy talented and had a lot of experience playing in bands, blending hard rock and avant-jazz. I had only played the bass in public two or three times at this point and was flattered that he wanted to make music with me. Someone remarked that the melodic parts of our improvisations reminded them of Baroque music. Even now, I am not entirely sure what to make of that remark, but when Jason sent me email in the Spring of 1995, asking if I wanted to hang out and play, I was excited and keen to see where it would go. We met a couple of times playing quietly and fleshing out melodic bits we thought were interesting. It was agreed that it would be much more interesting if we could find a drummer. The quiet dynamic we had established was to change radically.

As luck would have it, Bennett was working as an X-ray tech in Colorado and having a miserable time his then-girlfriend. I told him that I was living in a 5-bedroom place with only 2 roommates and that he should come to Bloomington, move in with us, and start a band. A few days later Bennett arrived and I realized that I was going to need a more powerful amplifier.

On June 14th, 1995 Bennett, Jason, and I played together for the first time and we liked it. Sitting on the porch, we knew we had a band. I managed to convince them that we should just call the band M, a name that was innocuous and open for interpretation: the wonderful Fritz Lang film, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Mozart, Motorhead, Mental Masturbation, Mute, Music. Perhaps the tipping point was when we noted that in Star Trek all habitable planets were of class M. We decided that when people asked what the M stood for, we would give a different response each time. That sounded like fun, so everyone was on board.

With the support and assistance of the Waffles and local therapist, poet, and musician, Eric Rensberger, we had our first gig at the what is now known as the Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center and were off to the races. A young composer friend said that our music was what happens when math rock and free improvisation have a baby. We played regularly at Second Story, the Bluebird, and a wonderful record store in Louisville called Ground Zero.

Late in the Summer of 1995, I started working on a shot-by-shot examination of Nosferatu using techniques I had learned from music theorist David Neumeyer. I mostly focused on what characters were in the shot and what the action was like that connected shots together.

David had also introduced me to Erno Lendvai, a music theorist who studied Bela Bartok’s music extensively. He had some interesting ideas about the golden mean and its presence in Bartok’s music, particularly in his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. If you have an evening to waste sometime, ask me about this (a personal hobby horse of mine). Lendvai’s other contribution to Bartok scholarship was the articulation of what’s called a tonal axis system. Lendvai divides the octave in half mathematically claiming that Bartok used a tonal system based on that division. For example, Lendvai says that in the key of A, both the chord A and Eb could serve a tonic function and that a secondary tonal axis (perpendicularly crossing the line between A and Eb on a diagram of the circle of 5ths) exists connecting the keys of C and F#. Our happy-go-lucky protagonist, Hutter, got the key of A while the evil Nosferatu received the other side of the axis, Eb. The key of C is equidistant from A and Eb, a minor third apart from each, so I assigned that to Ellen, married to Hutter but seemingly drawn to the repulsive Nosferatu. So, we had keys assigned to characters, more or less, and needed melodic ideas to tie things together.

Earlier that summer, I found a Bruno Ventura guitar strung with nylon strings sitting on the curb waiting for the trash. It had a hole in it where the back had become detached and was covered in white latex paint. I was raised not to take anything from someone else’s trash bin without asking. Hilariously, the owner of the house decided that he wanted to sell the guitar. He asked for $5.00 and I wouldn’t offer more than $4.50 wanting to feel like I got a deal of sorts. Jason and I wrote the melodies for our score by passing that acoustic guitar back and forth while watching the film over and over again.

Once we had a tonal framework with melodies, Jason and I brought Bennett onboard to fill in the gaps and to give some rhythmic character to what we had done. Bennett’s bowed cymbal in conjunction with Jason’s delay pedal made for some eerie listening and was just what I had hoped for. We spent hours in my big kitchen rehearsing, our eyes transfixed to the tiny TV atop my rolling kitchen island.

We needed a film, a projector, and a venue. I rented a 16mm print of Nosferatu from a fellow in NYC and rented the Monroe County Public Library’s auditorium. All we needed to do then was to keep practicing, promote, and hope that someone showed up.

My friend Chuck offered to be our projectionist and helped us get things set up the day of the performance. Once all the gear was in place we were ready for a practice run-through. The film started to roll. We played for about a minute and realized that the print we received was running at a much higher rate of speed than the one we had been rehearsing to. We were nothing short of freaked out and were going to have to speed things up somehow. At this point we had an hour or so to play with the print and were able to make a game plan – cut impulses to repeat things and watch one another with a higher than our already high degree of attention. We made it through somehow and the audience seemed to really like what we had done. We actually made some money much to our amazement.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this again, but not have to worry about renting the film or the hall? Enter Peter LoPilato and The Ryder film series. I was an adoring fan of The Ryder even before I moved to Bloomington. While attending Wabash College in Crawfordsville, I would occasionally drive to Bloomington to check out something wonderful – Swimming to Cambodia with Spalding Gray or Home of the Brave by Laurie Anderson (neither of which are on DVD – a terrible shame). Peter offered us a chance to play several dates in late October as part of the film series… for four wonderful years. Our last show and the last time I played publically as a member of M was for The Ryder in early November of 1999.
Jason moved away to North Carolina where he has become a tenured professor of religious studies. Bennett is now a high school science teacher that drums professionally on evenings and weekends. I gave up music theory for a career in IT, working on the high performance storage system that backs the Big Red II supercomputer.

Over the years Peter would suggest that “the lads get back together.” It was a tempting idea, but reuniting would prove difficult. Years became a decade and then some. But as I’ve said, my father taught me to be patient. And then the IU Cinema opened. Jon Vickers, director of the Cinema, has done so much in his role to provide members of the Bloomington community with truly amazing cinematic experiences. I had no idea that we would have a chance to play at the IU Cinema, but I sent mail to Peter and slipped Jon a DVD document of one of our 1999 performances. I was both surprised and elated to hear that Jon and Peter were interested in scheduling us for this fall. This was an offer that our geographically challenged band could not refuse. So I hope you’ll come to see us perform our score for Nosferatu on October 27th at the IU Cinema. We’re not sexy and well-dressed like other bands but we’ve got big ears and know how to rock.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

FILM: Sirius Matters

◆ by Jeff Becker

[The Ryder Film Series will screen Sirius on October 18, 19 & 20. Jeff Becker will introduce the film and  answer questions after the screenings.]

Work on our documentary, Sirius, was well underway when an unthinkable tragedy happened: a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple killing six people. Among them was Satwant Singh Kaleka, director  Amardeep Kaleka’s father. Kaleka went to Wisconsin to be with his family and friends. He appeared on national news shows on all of the major networks. He said that the FBI told him his father attacked the shooter in the lobby, resulting in a “blood struggle.” He fought to the very end and suffered gunshot wounds while trying to take down the gunman. “It’s an amazing act of heroism, but it’s also exactly who he was,” Amardeep Kaleka told a CNN reporter. “There was no way in God’s green Earth that he would allow somebody to come in and do that without trying his best to stop it.” Work on Sirius could easily have ended with this tragedy, but after a short break to help organize relief efforts for the other temple victims, Kaleka returned to finish the film.

"Sirius" Poster

I flew out to visit my friend Marta (not her real name). A mutual friend had introduced us almosta year ago because she had questions about night vision equipment and he had seen my night vision videos. I found out that Marta was having ongoing up close and personal experiences with extraterrestrial (ET) beings. She is an artist and has drawn pictures of the various ET beings she has seen and made a sculpture of one who has visited more regularly.

Marta and I watched several of my night vision videos, then Marta left the room for a moment. When she returned, she mentioned that she had just heard on odd noise whizzing by her ear, a noise that she associated with ET communications. It wasn’t long after that we heard the “thump thump thump” of a low-flying helicopter. We rushed outside to see a dark green helicopter moving away from a position directly over her house. Marta said helicopters often showed up after her encounters, and that they weren’t supposed to be flying low over residential areas.

Since she lived next to multiple military bases, one could chalk this up to coincidence. If I hadn’t had similar experiences myself, and heard of many others, I would be skeptical. The fact is, the US military and intelligence services have a serious interest in the extraterrestrial presence, one that is thoroughly documented yet vigorously denied. This cover-up and the reasons for it are among the many subjects related to UFOs touched on in Sirius. I was in Los Angeles for the world premiere held on April 22nd.

Although I’ve been interested in space travel and the possibility of other intelligent life “out there” most of my life, it wasn’t until 2007, the year my wife and I moved to Bloomington from the Denver area, that my interest in UFOs, extraterrestrial intelligence, and all that implies, became almost an obsession.

In the fall of 2008, I decided to check out a project called CSETI (Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence), founded by Dr. Steven Greer, that claimed to teach people how to contact ETs and become “Ambassadors to the Universe.” His contact techniques work! Most of the odd and interesting images and video clips in Sirius are from CSETI expeditions.


Stephen Greer

I was so inspired by my experiences with CSETI that in the spring of 2009 I met up with some other people in Bloomington with CSETI experience and organized a contact group. The group has been meeting regularly ever since. I’ve had many mind blowing experiences that have changed the way I think about the universe. I’ve documented these experiences and the experiences of my contact group as one chapter of my book Paths to Contact: True Stories from the Contact Underground.

Amardeep Kaleka decided to make Sirius after a meeting with Dr. Greer and learning about the information he had collected over the last 30 years. There is a culture of ridicule around this subject, and being labeled a “UFO nut” is not the best way to advance one’s career. From statements he made just before the Sirius premiere, it was clear that Kaleka’s belief in the importance of this subject outweighed any such risk. As the Emmy award-winning director documented in Sirius, the science and technology behind how UFOs work have the potential to change everything, making all existing energy sources obsolete, revolutionizing transportation, and changing how we view our place in the universe. Vested interests have a lot to lose.

Because of the subject matter of the documentary, it was decided early on that conventional ways of funding and distributing Sirius would not work. A crowdfunding approach was used, and Kickstarter was used as the primary means of attracting donations. Credits in the movie were among the incentives offered for donations. I have a “Producer” credit by virtue of my financial support for the project; I was not directly involved in production of the movie. Sirius attained its goal of over $250,000 in donations, making it the top crowdfunded documentary film to date, according to Sirius producer J.D. Seraphine.

While there is some presentation of evidence that UFOs exist, that’s not really the goal of this movie so much as its starting point. As Professor Ted Loder says, it’s time for scientists to accept this reality, get over it, and start investigating the obvious questions: Given that UFOs exist and are visiting the earth, how are they getting here? What does that mean as far as our understanding of physics? How can they possibly move the way they do, intangibly. What are they using for energy sources? Why the cover up?

Some of the answers are not easy to take. This movie pulls no punches. You will hear from military men, and government officials who have seen recorded evidence of UFOs and experienced the cover up in action. You will learn about secret projects that are beyond government control, operating above the law. You will learn about people who have been “silenced” for getting too close to the truth, and about new energy technologies that have been suppressed for undermining vested interests. On the positive side, you will see inventors demonstrate a magnetic device that reduces the force of gravity, something the current laws of physics don’t predict. You will learn about the results of DNA analysis of an odd little creature that leave scientists still pondering just what it is. And lots more.

If you want to know more, watch Sirius. Then look up at the sky and ask our friends from the stars to send you a greeting. Maybe you will see something you’ve never seen before.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Swanberg Takes The Stares

A Sampling Of The Microbudget Maven’s Work ◆ by Craig J. Clark

[Joe Swanberg will introduce his new film, Drinking Buddies, on October 24 at the IU Cinema.]

No matter what anyone thinks of his work, the last thing Joe Swanberg could be accused of is laziness. The auteur behind the new comedy/drama Drinking Buddies, Swanberg has spent the past decade turning out films at a pace unheard of since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s heyday. In the past three years alone he has written and directed ten features, many of which he also photographed, edited and acted in. In between he contributed a short to the horror anthology V/H/S and has acted in at least ten other films, including Adam Wingard’s home-invasion horror film You’re Next (which, like Drinking Buddies, will be screening at the IU Cinema in October). When he was just starting out, though, Swanberg kept to the much saner schedule of one film per year, the earliest of which dates back to 2005. That was when he co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed and edited Kissing on the Mouth, in which he also played one of the four leads. That’s a lot of hats for a first-timer to wear, but if there’s any filmmaker who embodies the D.I.Y. spirit, it’s Swanberg.


Joe Swanberg

Not yet 24 at the time of his debut, Swanberg cast himself as the roommate of rudderless college graduate Kate Winterich, who drifts into a physical relationship with her photographer ex-boyfriend (Kevin Pittman) but has no plans to get back into a relationship-relationship with him. This we know because she confides in her best friend (Kris Williams, soon to become Mrs. Swanberg), who lets slip that they’ve been seeing a lot of each other. As a matter of fact, we get to see quite a lot of everybody in the cast since Swanberg has something of a no-nonsense approach when it comes to shooting sex scenes. The result is a film that feels incredibly voyeuristic and even borderline pornographic at times, but that’s one way for a low-budget independent to stand out in a crowd.

From "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson In “Drinking Buddies”

For his follow-up, Joe Swanberg co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed, edited and starred in LOL (2006), a film about the myriad ways modern technology can sabotage a relationship. Among its case studies are Kevin Bewersdorf, a musician who books a nonexistent tour of the Midwest so he can attempt to hook up with a girl he’s only talked to online, his friend Swanberg, who finds it next to impossible to end a conversation on the phone or online, and his friend C. Mason Wells, who’s visiting from out of town and fields a number of calls from his absent girlfriend. The women in their lives (who in most cases would be justified in wringing their necks) are Brigid Reagan, who is becoming disenchanted with Swanberg because he pays more attention to his computer than he does to her (he doesn’t even notice when she undresses right in front of him), Wells’s off-screen girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who is only heard over the phone and seen in grainy camera phone pictures, and Tipper Newton, a girl who meets Bewersdorf at a party and unwittingly facilitates his Internet hook-up. I expect it goes without saying that few love connections result from these interactions.

After playing a marginal role in LOL, Greta Gerwig vaulted into the lead with Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007), which the two of them co-wrote with Kent Osborne. In it, she stars as a recent college graduate and aspiring playwright who’s marking time by interning at a Chicago-based production company. At the start of the film she’s seeing an aimless slacker and frustrated musician (Mark Duplass, a director in his own right), but it isn’t long before they’re broken up and she’s on the rebound. Rather unwisely, she rebounds with one of the company’s in-house writers (Andrew Bujalski, also a director), whose potential book deal for his personal blog is distracting him from the television pilot he’s supposed to be writing with Osborne. Then the chronically dissatisfied Gerwig drops Bujalski and takes up with Osborne, which is where the film leaves her, but there’s no guarantee that their relationship is going to be any more lasting.

From "Hannah Takes the Stairs"

Greta Gerwig With Mark Duplass In “Hannah Takes The Stairs”

Next up for Swanberg and Gerwig was Nights and Weekends (2008), which is pretty much the definition of a two-hander since they not only co-wrote and directed it, but save for a handful of scenes, they’re just about the only actors who appear onscreen. To some, that might seem like the height of narcissism, but they don’t exactly show themselves off in the most flattering light. A couple in a long-distance relationship, they’re floundering because they don’t get to spend enough time together and when they are in the same time zone there’s tremendous pressure on them to make what little time they have count. Minor disagreements blow up into major arguments and moments of intimacy are reminders of how much really separates them. Anybody who’s been in that situation should be able to see the writing on the wall long before they do.

While Gerwig moved on to supporting roles in Ti West’s The House of the Devil and Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, Swanberg stayed in his groove, writing, directing, photographing and editing Alexander the Last (2009), his fifth feature in five years and one that was actually produced by Baumbach. It’s about a married actress (Teeth’s Jess Weixler) who’s cast in a provocative play opposite a hunky actor from Tennessee (Barlow Jacobs) who makes her think about straying from her musician husband (Justin Rice) while he’s away on a tour. She sets Jacobs up with her photographer sister (Amy Seimetz), possibly in the hopes that it will make him unavailable, but their director (Jane Adams) and playwright (Josh Hamilton) seem intent on making rehearsals as uncomfortable as possible for all of them.

Uncharacteristically, 2010 came and went without a new film from Swanberg, but he made up for it in a big way by releasing six in 2011 (some of which are easier to track down than others). The first one out of the gate was Uncle Kent, which he wrote and produced by Kent Osborne, who essentially stars as himself. An unattached animator (his actual credits include such shows as Adventure Time and Spongebob SquarePants) who’s just turned 40 and has trouble maintaining relationships, a typical day for Osborne is spent hanging around with his musician friend Kevin Bewersdorf, playing with his cat, smoking pot, and talking to strangers on Chatroulette. He breaks his routine, though, when he plays host to a visiting journalist half his age that he met online.

Ostensibly in town for a meeting, which she has extended to an entire weekend hanging out with Osborne, visitor Jennifer Prediger has no illusions about their chances of hitting it off as a couple since she already has a boyfriend back in New York, but that doesn’t prevent her from doing things with him that could be construed as leading him on. Starting with a kiss, which they only do for the benefit of an anonymous guy playing with himself on Chatroulette, they soon progress to comparing their masturbation techniques and responding to a Craiglist ad posted by a woman looking for a three-way (Josephine Decker). It’s when he tries to get some two-way action going that Osborne gets shut out, much to his frustration.

2011 also saw the completion of Swanberg’s long-gestating Silver Bullets, which was an unusually protracted production for him. Shooting began in late 2008, and he didn’t complete the film until just before it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. Furthermore, he essentially shot and edited two different versions of the film before settling on a story that satisfied him, a sure sign of artistic growth. Instead of being the straightforward werewolf film that its title suggests, though, it revolves around a young actress who gets cast in one.

Kate Lyn Sheil stars as the actress in question, who’s thrilled to be playing the younger version of Jane Adams, an insecure actress who shares the prologue – and her worries about putting on weight – with Larry Fessenden (who later auditions for a role in the werewolf film). For her part, Sheil’s relationship with her boyfriend (Swanberg, playing a frustrated filmmaker) deteriorates after he casts her best friend (Amy Seimetz, also the film’s producer) as his girlfriend in the low-budget drama he’s shooting concurrently with her film. Meanwhile, Sheil’s director (Ti West, essentially playing himself) clumsily puts the moves on her, which she’s slow to rebuff. Even if they go no further than a little kissing on the mouth, the damage has been done.

If Silver Bullets is relatively chaste by Swanberg’s standards, he went in the complete opposite direction with Autoerotic (2011), which may very well go down as his most sex-obsessed film yet. Co-directed with Adam Wingard, the film is broken up into four parts, which Wingard, Swanberg and their co-writer Simon Barrett populate with couples with all kinds of emotional baggage and sexual hang-ups. In the first, Lane Hughes plays a guy who’s so fixated on the size of his penis – which, for the record, is fine by girlfriend Amy Seimetz – that he sends away for enlargement pills and is so happy with the results that he abruptly breaks things off with her so he can play the field. Next up, Swanberg plays a guy who has very specific ideas about how sex with his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) should go, which may or may not have anything to do with her subsequent overwhelming urge to masturbate constantly. When she confides in a friend (Chris Hilleke), she recommends autoerotic asphyxiation, which doesn’t seem like the safest solution, but at that point Sheil is game for anything.

Being game is also at the heart of the third segment, in which a very pregnant Kris Swanberg finds she can no longer achieve orgasm, which makes her husband (Frank V. Ross) feel inadequate. When a girlfriend (Josephine Decker) offers to help out, Ross thinks he’s in for a three-way, but the girls have other plans. Then, in the final segment, Wingard plays a sleaze who masturbates furiously to the sex tapes he made with his ex-girlfriend (Rosemary Plain), who calls him up out of the blue so she can pick up the last of her stuff, but what she really wants is for him to delete “those movies” since she’s getting married. Wingard isn’t inclined to do anything so selfless, though.

The anthology format carries over to the found-footage horror fest V/H/S (2012), which exposed Swanberg to an entirely new audience (his roles in Ti West’s Cabin Fever sequel and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die notwithstanding). It helps that he contributes to two of the segments, first as an actor in West’s “Second Honeymoon,” in which he and his wife (Sophia Takal) videotape themselves on a tour of the West and have some scary nocturnal encounters with a masked stalker. He then takes the reins of “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which is presented as a series of Skype video chats between a young woman (Helen Rogers) who worries that her apartment is haunted and her boyfriend (Daniel Kaufman), who worries when she starts acting erratically and tries to keep her calm until he can come visit. Apart from its unnecessary twist ending, “The Sick Thing” is one of the best parts of V/H/S, leading one to imagine what Swanberg could produce if he tried his hand at a full-on horror feature. It’s certainly something he should ponder the next time he’s out drinking with his buddies.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Lucy & Cricket

Service Dogs Give Young People with Disabilities a New “Leash” on Life ◆ by Adria Nassim

I remember the day very well. The sun beat down on the paved road that snaked through my parents’ expansive southern Indiana subdivision. It was midday Easter weekend of 2010 and I carried a thick text of famous plays in my hand. I was home from college for break and thought I’d go do some assigned reading by the lake since the weather was so nice, but I soon forgot about this. I realized I was lost. Lost in my own neighborhood at age 24, with no idea how to get back home.

I stood there a while trying to think of the best thing to do but the more I thought, the more anxious I became so finally I resigned myself to simply standing there in hopes of someone finding me. After waiting for about twenty minutes a jogger came by.

“Hey,” he said. “I’ve seen you standing there. What are you doing? Waiting on a friend or something? Going to babysit somewhere?”

“That’s a pretty big book for a little kid like you,” he said changing the subject. “Do you go to Highland Hills?” he asked, referring to the local middle school.

“No sir, I’m home from college for break actually.”

“Oh.” long silence. So, you going somewhere then?”

I decided it was best not to skate around the issue any longer. As I opened my mouth, I threw up a silent prayer: “Please don’t judge me.”

I took a deep breath… “Sir, how much do you know about autism and learning disabilities?”

That night, my parents and I would sit down to have the discussion that would change my future. “Adria,” my mother said, “I think it’s time we get you a dog.”

Enter Lucy, now a three-year old yellow Lab privately trained by John Senac of Bloomington’s Canine Companions, to assist with disorientation due to severe nonverbal learning disability and  anxiety disorder. She finds the house when given a verbal cue as well as assists in fostering social connections and acting as a social bridge in the community due to difficulties posed by mild autism.

Before I had Lucy I, like many people with autism had very few friends and had difficulty carrying on conversations with others. Now, I have so many friends I can’t even count them all. For the first time in my life, I’m faced with having to choose one social outing over the other because my calendar is so full.

Senac said the best part of training a service dog is “always seeing the gratification the owner has in the final results.”  Normally, a service dog will come pre-trained to his or her partner through either a national service dog agency or a service dog school. But in Lucy’s case, Senac said, “I got to see both you and Lucy develop together. The hardest part has been the small setbacks of the handler doing the training. When I train a dog every day, I know each little miss and mistake that needs more work or improvement, but I only had weekly meetings with you to both teach you technique and new tasks and also try to tackle mistakes. We have come a long way from the puppy who chewed on something in my car to the dog that can have a field trip of kids bombard her and not even flinch.”

There are several different types of service dogs. Common breeds trained for service work include: German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and even Standard Poodles and Dobermans. Senac said, “there are a lot of breeds that can be service dogs, but it all comes down to can they do the work and do they have the drive to do it. Most dogs are evaluated on health and temperament as they are young and training. Plain and simple, the dog has to be healthy enough to be in public and perform the task at hand. From a temperament perspective you can’t have aggression, timidity, anxieties, fears, etc. and from a drive perspective, a dog has to want to do or enjoy certain things. For example, if a dog has no drive at all to retrieve, he may not be the best helper dog for picking things up and returning them to his owner.” Most service dogs are fully trained between the ages of 24 and 36 months depending on how highly involved their task requirements are.

In order to qualify for a service dog, the disability does not have to be visible to the naked eye. It simply must be documented by a medical professional and significantly interfere with the individual’s ability to function on a daily basis and lead an independent life. The first guide dog school in America, The Seeing Eye, opened in 1929 followed by Canine Companions for Independence in 1975, which is still active today in several parts of the country and provides hearing alert and mobility service dogs to children and adults with disabilities.

In 1990, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act granted full public access to individuals accompanied by service animals, recognizing that these dogs undergo rigorous training and are not pet dogs. They are trained on specific work or tasks that assist their handlers to better cope with a disability or medical condition.  Dogs can also be trained to anticipate an oncoming seizures detect low blood sugar due to diabetes, assist with flashbacks and nightmares caused by post traumatic stress disorder, or, in the case of former IU student Michelle Lazar, provide balance and stability while walking due to a brain injury. All of these diagnoses are invisible, and yet every day, dogs are being trained to better the lives of the people who live with them.


Michelle Lazar & Cricket

Michelle was in her sophomore year at IU in the fall of 2011 studying neurological rehabilitation when she suddenly collapsed at her internship at Bloomington Hospital. Doctors discovered an arteriovenus malformation, (AVM) or a tangle of blood vessels within the brain that diverts blood supply from the brain tissue directly to the veins. Michelle suffered a stoke and missed the spring semester. “I was in the hospital for six months,” she said, “and I had to have my mom do everything for me, which was really annoying. I knew I wanted to get back to IU and we didn’t even know if that was going to be possible, but I knew I had to try. I knew I had to push myself, so, my doctors recommended getting a service dog.”

Michelle’s next-door neighbor’s cousins train service dogs for people with mobility issues. Lazar applied to My Angel With Paws and later flew to Deland, Florida to meet Cricket, a golden retriever specifically trained for walking assistance and to provide stability for Michelle on stairs. She and Cricket were matched in May of 2012 and went through a two-week training camp together at the facility and then went back to IU in August.

“My experience at IU was really great. Cricket made it easier for me to be social because people would see her and then automatically start talking to me.”

Michelle’s, who, before she was initially matched with Cricket was using a cane to get around said, “I didn’t have that many friends at IU from the summer and there would be fire alarms in the middle of the night at Smallwood and I would have to get myself out and down those stairs all by myself.” But she says once Cricket came into her life things became “so much easier. She gave me back my independence by helping me to get back to Indiana. Cricket never leaves my side. She makes me feel safe. I know I’m not alone anymore.”

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

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