Airing Family Laundry on Public Radio

Written By: Michael  Mackey

WPPB RADIO TBT 9/25/2014

Today, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Broadway’s sixteenth longest running show ever we celebrate tradition. For is there anyone listening who has not appeared in, or been involved with, or at least seen a live production of Fiddler on the Roof? With music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by East Hampton’s own Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, this world famous tribute to life – l’chaim!  – is based on the Yiddish story Tevye and his 5 Daughters. The patriarch scrambles day and night to sustain his family and Jewish religious traditions while imperial persecution and societal changes challenge his family’s survival and heritage. Through 5 decades, one season following another, the show’s words of wisdom, laden with happiness and tears have connected generations across the globe; continually convincing us that Tevye, although he has to work hard, is a wealthy man.

My most intimate experience with Fiddler came in summer 1974 during an outdoor production at Bay Shore’s South Shore Mall. Lean, mean 22 year old me was brought in to play a Cossack. My mother {who bore 6 sons and owned nearby Dot Mackey School of Dance} was hired as the group’s choreographer. Mom also took another challenging role in the show; the fiddler himself. Adjacent to Macy’s west wall, perched precariously high on a roof NOT built by theater union carpenters – scared stiff she tells me now – Mom stood her spot stoically while shaking in the night sky above audience and stage before carefully climbing down to dance in a couple of scene change numbers. Asked why she stayed up there when it was so dangerous Mom answers, “It isn’t easy. Every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck.” OK. Mom didn’t say that. Tevye did. But, that’s the way my mother continues to live.

When Dot Mackey became a homeowner at Greenwood Village in Manorville nearly 20 years ago her presence powerfully transformed the retirement complex. Actively organizing theatrical productions and revues among neighbors who had never met before in their long lives, insisting everybody ready and willing is youthful enough to learn, Mom gave her too young to die new friends a fresh sense of community; a bonding adventure that never gets old.  For all the meds prescribed Greenwood Villagers few have yielded healthier results than the fun and friendship dispensed through Mom’s Manorville shows.

Today at age 85, battling the initially insidious and now frequently debilitating impact of Parkinson’s Disease upon her dancer lithe body – shaking involuntarily one moment then suddenly stiffly immobile the next – Mother sustains her dignity while managing to perform her multiple matriarchal roles from a scary and precarious perch. Yet ever so boldly, bravely, our matriarch guides us with grace and good humor. How does she keep her balance you ask? Tradition. The show must go on. Home and family first. Tradition. Then and now. Tradition.

WPPB TBT / October 2, 2014

Today we salute my family’s favorite playa . For Sunday Uncle Don celebrates birthday #83. Healthy as a young buck, my father’s little bro stays that way by following his doctor’s simple orders, “Keep on doing whatever you’re doing.”  A 21st century resident of Mattituck, Donald J. Mackey first commanded the spotlight as a basketball and baseball star at John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Queens. Touted as a serious big league baseball prospect, Red, as he was popularly known, inadvertently slipped past the local pro scout who wanted to sign him and signed instead with Uncle Sam. His star shined even brighter overseas. Stationed on the U.S.S. Adirondack in the Mediterranean Don soon became famous as an American sailor playing in the fledgling Basketball Association of Italy. In Napoli where love is king fans sang and cheered with molto amore, praising their charismatic hero, an Irish New Yorker, with glorious Italian passion. As a child watching his softball games, I proudly determined that Uncle Donny was invariably the best player on the field. His superb skill set on defense featured an impressive throwing arm. He ran the bases with speed and grace. At the plate he stood a slender 6′ 2″; his quick wristed bat speed generating remarkable power. When he was age 30, I saw him hit 4 homers in a single game. 35 years later Red struck terror into his “Over 60 League” opponents. Literally. The ball still jumping off his bat with such action and velocity that fielders and base runners faced bodily harm. Some suffered serious injury – and indignity – as a result of Red’s lethal rips. Upon turning 70 he was banned from that age limited league and told to stay with the 60 year olds…or better yet go play with your 8 kids.

Red’s renowned talent for sport and carpentry is surpassed by his legendary building of lifelong friendships. From Red Hook, Brooklyn to the North Fork, folks remain eager to share space with my octogenarian Godfather; a patriarch of whom we are not merely being kind but speaking to truth when calling him 83 years young.

WPPB TBT / November 20, 2014

I have grave news to report this week. My wife suffers from a pulled or torn muscle in the lower neck and upper back area severely compromising her mobility. The pain so excruciating that per doctor’s orders she must shut it down for several days. No going to work or performing any of her customary household duties, either. Thus, I would ask you now my dear listeners with deep devotion to offer up your heart felt prayers…for ME! Oh, horror, horror, horror! This is beyond words and a royal pain in the ass, too. Inspired by the current Guild Hall production, today’s presentation promised to be a brilliantly insightful throwback to William Shakespeare’s classic, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, including more things in Heaven and Earth than have been dreamt of in 400 years. Now my words fly up, my thoughts remain below, and it’s one errand after another. Once the mother of 5, my empty nest wife has recently taken to treating me like an only child…spoiling thee to the core. Yet out of respect I give pause to my own selfish pursuits and grunt and sweat these few days in my angels stead because conscience doth make cowards of us all; or in my case a bloody servant. Since it is temporary {I pray} and brevity is the soul of this witless fool I shall but share one sorry story as I unpack my heart with words.

Last night my angel beckons that upon traveling home might I be so kind as to pick up dog pads? “Of course I will my sweet,” holding my tongue even as I despise this duty. For while the requested item is indeed for Aurora, our cute canine of 17 years, the merchandise itself is a Rite Aid product for humans who have had too much of water and require a layer of protection. I always casually mention when making this purchase that they are not for me…yet. Ha Ha. This time though slipping the bonds of embarrassment is foiled by a too too helpful pharmacist; another indication that the devil hath power to assume a pleasing countenance. The trouble here is our local Rite Aid has undergone a transformation. “Damn” I say. “This place is out of joint—O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right.” So, the reluctant, disoriented shopper whose mind is in Elsinore not Southampton must approach the pharmacy counter and seek assistance. In a whisper I ask, “Where do I find the underpads strong enough for overnight use Joe?” “Uh. I’m not sure Mike. We just finished reorganizing. I’ll step out and help you.” “No. No. That’s OK. I’ll find it.” Too late. Joe’s on the hunt and now it’s a race for discretion and dignity I fear destined to lose. And then I hear dreaded words shouted loud enough for all Denmark to hear, “Mr. Mackey. I found what you’re looking for. It’s in the incontinence section. Aisle 10 on our protective underwear rack.”  Would that Joe had heeded Polonius advice,   “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”

Oh well. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and take arms against a sea of troubles large and small. Yet what dreams may come before we have shuffled off this mortal coil is the thrill of being. Or not being. That’s the question isn’t it? I doth protest too much methinks. “Coming my fair nymph. Yes. The wash is done and dried. Yes. There is something rotten in our kitchen. To the garbage I shall attend forthwith.”  Oh my lady, once so express and admirable in action, should you soon again fly like an angel. That I may seek my spoil-ed rest of yore.