Sunday, June 19, 2005

Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?

This past weekend, it was a busy Celebration Sunday for my husband and I. First, we finally got around to attending church. I've been wanting to do that ever since we made the move, but up until now, our weekend laziness has prevailed. We know several people who attend the Presbyterian church in town, and there is an 11 a.m. service to accommodate late sleepers like us. This Sunday, we managed to drag our carcasses out of bed, dress ourselves in a semi-civilized manner, and make it downtown on time.

I know that the church is rather casual, but I still insisted that we dress up a bit. This meant black pants, a golf shirt, and "good" sneakers for my husband and a sun dress for me. As people arrived for the service, my husband kept poking me and complaining, "Look! Those people are wearing shorts! Look! There are lots of people wearing sandals! Why did you make me dress up?" But I wanted us to appear at least halfway God-fearing and respectful for our first visit; next time, I know he'll insist on dressing down.

The Presbyterian church is the oldest in Celebration; it started out in the AMC movie theater before moving into its permanent church building on Celebration Avenue. The 11:00 a.m. service is "blended," meaning that there is a mix of modern music and traditional hymns. I enjoyed that quite a bit, and I also liked how the sermon had a practical theme that could be tied into everyday life. Quite a pleasant change from the fire-and-brimstone, you're-all-going-to-hell lectures of my youth.

Even better, there was a movie clip from "What Women Want" to illustrate the theme. Any church that shows Mel Gibson clips wins extra points from me (Harrison Ford and Johnny Depp would be fine, too).

It's been a while since I've been to church, so it was nice to have a booster shot of spirituality. When my husband and I bought our Chicago condo, I never sought out a local church there. I'm a Catholic by birth, although I attended several years of Baptist and Pentecostal Sunday School. Rather than attending church regularly, my husband and I continued to support the Catholic church/retreat house near our old home and to visit it intermittantly. When I was completing my Masters degree, I did my internship at a Catholic social services agency. I've always been a believer in doing rather than saying...after all, that's the example that Jesus set.

I always intended to find a church in Celebration once we made the permanent move; our schedules were just too hectic while we were commuting. Now that Florida is our primary home, we can renounce our temporary heathenism and become God-fearing once again. There are a number of churchs in town, and they seem to have some excellent programs.

Despite my Catholic background, I am not tied into any particular faith. I personally practice my own brand of Christianity, as I just can't buy that whole Pope-is-God's-messenger concept, and it seems that the Vatican's wealth would be put to better use feeding the poor and taking care of the sick rather than gathering dust in a vault. I think I got disillusioned watching places like the retreat house and the social services agency running on a shoestring, manned by elderly nuns who work miracles with a total lack of funds, while Church bigwigs live in luxury. I felt more spirtuality in those places, were God's work on earth was really taking place, than in any fancy church.

The good thing about the Presbyterian church is that because it was the first in Celebration, it attracted people from a variety of religious backgrounds. That includes plenty of Catholics, since there was no official Catholic parish in Celebration until very recently. I don't buy the concept that there is only one path to Heaven, and I believe in inclusiveness. Also, they support many charitable programs. As a matter of fact, the day we attended was "Undie Sunday," where parishioners brought new socks and underwear for the needy. I really liked the atmosphere at the church: a good blend of contemporary and traditional, with a message that can be practically applied.

After church, we joined some friends for lunch at Carrabba's Italian Grill. I am not a big Italian food fan, but my husband absolutely loves it. I eat inordinate amounts of garlic, so even though Italian is not my first choice, I can always find something to please my palate if they have a good menu.

Carrabba's is a chain, but they were definitely several notches above Olive Garden. I don't dislike Olive Garden as such, but I consider it the "Taco Bell," or maybe the "Chi Chi's," of Italian cuisine. Passable, with some tasty items, but not really authentic. Carrabba's reminded me more of Macaroni Grill, or perhaps Luigi's House (most people have probably never heard of the latter, but for you Chicagoans, it's owned by the Portillo's chain).

The oil for the bread was godly, and the house salad dressing was sensational. After filling up on bread and salad, I barely had room for my chicken trio plate. My husband ordered some sort of enormous pasta dish that was plentiful enough to fill him up for lunch, with enough leftovers to provide a dinner rerun.

After the meal, our friends asked if we wanted to see "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.," which was being presented by the Celebration Players. I'd been mulling it over all weekend, and the 2 p.m. Sunday show was the last performance. Barring any major traffic jams, we'd have just enough time to make it to Celebration High School, where the show was being held.

My husband groused about needing to work, but I knew that he was just crabby about having to fly back to Chicago the next morning. I twisted his arm, and we all headed off in a caravan to the theater.

If you are a child of the 1970s, you'll recognize "Schoolhouse Rock" for the pop culture icon that it is to late Baby Boomers/early Gen-Xers. Ever since Disney bought ABC, they've been merchandising the daylights out of it (I personally believe that, contrary to the old cliche, Michael Eisner could squeeze at least a pint of blood out of a turnip). But before that happened, when ABC was still independent, "Schoolhouse Rock" lay dormant for years until a troupe of performers from Chicago took it out of cold storage.

In the mid 1990s, they put together a play called "Schoolhouse Rock Live!," that was basically a musical revue of the most popular SHR songs. I immediately dragged my husband to see it and went into fits of glee when they did my favorite, "Rufus Xavier Saspirilla" (because saying all those pronouns over and over can really wear you down).

We purchased "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" sweatshirts (remember, this was long before Disney starting selling just about any sort of SHR shirt imaginable), and the effect of those sweatshirts was stunning. Total strangers would run up to us, exclaiming, "Wow! Where did you get those?!" as though they were refugees from the "Interjections" song. People would spontaneously start humming the preamble to the Constitution (I, like virtually everyone else in my generation, passed my Constitution exam thanks to SHR).

One day, at Disney MGM Studio, we were waiting to enter the now-defunct (and sorely missed) Superstar Television show, where members of the audience were blue-screened into television programs. The host selected us to participate, and we marched backstage to await our instructions in our sequence with the Golden Girls. During a break, the host came rushing back and said, "I just HAD to tell you how much I love those shirts! The entire crew is humming 'Conjunction Junction' now."

Now, of course, SHR shirts are easy to obtain, and a whole new generation is enjoying the ultimate in edutainment thanks to the miracle of DVDs. Rest assured, I own the whole series, and watching them is a guilty pleasure.

"Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr." is an offshoot of the original play. It's shorter, and the cast is made up entirely of children and teens. I had seen the high school's production of "Little Shop of Horrors," which was quite well done, but this was my first "Celebration Players" show.

Overall, it was quite impressive. The story is a "Herman's Head" sort of thing, in which a new teacher frets about his first day in front of a classroom. Various parts of his mind appear in the flesh to show him that being a good teacher is not so hard, as long as you make learning fun.

The sets were simple but well-done (I especially liked seeing the figure of "Bill," everyone's favorite law-to-be). The kids put on a great, energetic performance, and the hour just flew by. I had to restrain myself from swaying in my seat and humming along with those old, familiar tunes. There was just one thing I couldn't help but wonder: "Interplanet Janet" was one of the the heck did they pick the poor kid who ended up playing Uranus?

I only had two disappointments: 1) That the music was not live. The high school's "Little Shop of Horrors" had a live band, but for SHR, the music was pre-recorded. I'm not sure if the Celebration Players usually have a band; perhaps the recorded tunes were just for this particular show. 2) That Rufus Xavier Sasparilla was not included. Of course, that had nothing to do with this particular production; it just doesn't happen to be included in the "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr." script.

I don't know why the "Pronouns" ditty has always been my favorite. It's always been a dark horse among more popular choices such as "I'm Just a Bill," "Interjections," and of course the perennial favorite, "Conjunction Junction." The tale of Rufus is actually sung by the same performer as "Conjunction Junction," but the melody is very heavy on piano (probably one of the reasons that I favor it). Ever since I was a kid, the saga of the aardvark, kangaroo, and rhinoerous has always been my #1.

As I listened to "Elbow Room," I reflected on just how politically incorrect the concept of Manifest Destiny has become ("Sure, we killed all those Indians and took their land, but God told us to do it. What, we're not supposed to listen to God?!"). I'm surprised that some of the SHR songs weren't edited or left off the DVD. After all, the Mouse is well known for his PC altering of history (think "Pocahontas").

But in all fairness, Disney is damned if they do and damned if they don't. They were castigated for wanting to build a theme park that would have "glossed over" slavery. But when they had a movie at California Adventure that showed some harsh truths about CA's history (most notably a Chinese man and his son getting blown up on a worksite), the outcry forced them to edit out the parts that were too realistic.

To their credit, they have left SHR alone, and it stands as a perfect slice of 1970s nostalgia/kitsch. Still, I couldn't help reflect on how the lyrics might go if they were written in the new millenium. For example, take this verse of "Interjections":

Though Geraldine played hard to get, (uh huh)
Geraldo knew he'd woo her yet.
He showed his affection,
Despite her objections,
And Geraldine hollered some interjections:

Well! You've got some nerve!
Oh! I've never been so insulted in all my life!
Hey! You're kinda cute!

Nowadays, Geraldine would be saying, "Well! You're making me uncomfortable." "Oh! You're stalking me." Hey! Back off! I've got a restraining order."

At "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.", "Interjections" was the grand finale...fitting, since its last line is the famous, "Darn! That's the end." It had gone by so quickly that I shared the sentiment...I could easily have sat through an extension of my 1970s childhood flashback. But I'm sure the kids were exhausted, as they had put a phenomenal amount of energy and talent into the show.

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