Category: Reviews

The Ramona Pageant

Back in 1884, the author Helen Hunt Jackson penned the novel, Ramona, while touring various locales in Southern California. It became a popular American classic, has enjoyed more than 300 printings, and has been adapted for film five times. Ramona has also been adapted for several plays, and one such play has been performed outdoors, in April and May, nearly every year since 1923.

[SPOILER ALERT! If you plan to read the book, don’t read these captions!]
Ramona is twice an orphan. Her parents died when she was a baby, and later her foster mother dies. But while the foster mother is on her deathbed, she is promised by her sister, Señora Gonzaga Moreno, that she will take good care of Ramona. The play begins with Ramona as a teenager who lives on Señora Moreno’s huge rancho, in the Mexican territory of Alta California.

This play is called The Ramona Pageant. The Ramona Pageant is considered to be the longest running outdoor play in the United States. It takes place in Hemet, California at the Ramona Bowl. This is a natural amphitheater, nestled in a small valley near the site of a former Indian village. Actors perform on a steep hillside and valley floor, while the audience observes from stands located on the opposite hillside.

Early into the play, the United States conquers California, during the Mexican War, and now Moreno finds her claim to her ranch being disputed by Americans. They carve it up and take much of her land away from her.

The Ramona Pageant has only missed being performed in the years 1933 (due to the Great Depression), 1942 (at the onset of our involvement in World War II), and in 2020 (due to Covid-19 restrictions). It is California’s official State Outdoor Play, and is a celebrated tradition of Southern California. My grandfather performed in this play back in the 1930s. I’ve seen a photo of him posing as an Indian, in the rocks of the steep hillside.

Angry about losing her ranchland, Señora Moreno (right) hates Americans. But she’s a bitter woman anyway, who does not love her foster daughter, Ramona (left), and who treats her harshly.

Several notable actors have starred in The Ramona Pageant, including Victor Jory, as Alessandro, from 1933-1937, alongside his wife, actress Jean Inness, who played Ramona.

An Indian named Alessandro, from the nearby Temecula tribe, falls in love with Ramona and wins her heart. They want to get married, but Señora Moreno forbids the marriage. And she threatens to kick Ramona off the rancho if she ever catches her with Alessandro again.

Raquel Tejada played Ramona in 1959, at age 18. She married her high school sweetheart, James Welch, within days after her final performance. The marriage didn’t last, but Raquel Welch’s love for show business has lingered for a lifetime.

Ramona protests being forbidden from seeing Alessandro, and this is when Moreno confesses that she hates Indians, and that she has hated them ever since one of her children died as the result of an Indian attack. And then she reveals that Ramona, herself, is half-Indian and half-Scottish. This comes as a surprise to Ramona, who had always thought she was of Spanish descent.

Actress Anne Archer also broke into show business, with her role as Ramona, in 1969. But there are many other’s who’ve gone unsung, performing at this spectacular. The cast and crew are populated by 375 members, most of whom are local residents of the Hemet area. Also, many horses and mules appear in the play. And a family of traditional Mexican musicians, the Arias Troubadours, have provided the sound track for the play since 1924.

Ramona realizes that her foster mother’s bitterness and prejudice against Indians is why she has been treated so harshly by her. So she decides to elope with Alessandro. She and Alessandro marry and have two children, but they find themselves driven off Indian lands by white settlers. Finally they move into a mountain cabin, and are happy for awhile, until their baby gets sick.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I traveled to Hemet and watched the play for our first time. It was the 99th anniversary of The Ramona Pageant’s first performance. My sister, River, assisted as a stage hand, and a friend of hers was a member of the cast. But we sat well away from this action, way up in the comfortable shade of box seats.

Alessandro steals a horse so that he can find a doctor to care for their sick baby. But the doctor arrives too late, and the baby dies. Soon after, a posse with the owner of the horse that Alessandro stole, tracks Alessandro down and shoots him dead.

We loved it. It was fun being part of an audience that cheered for the heroes and booed at the villains. Next year will be the pageant’s 100th anniversary, and my sister has volunteered to be a cast member. At age 69, she will be the one who rides onto center stage, sweeps someone up onto the back of her horse, and gallops away. So naturally we’ll have to go again, in order to watch all this horsing around. Who knows, perhaps like Raquel, this will bring her big break in show business.

Now widowed, Ramona returns to the rancho of her childhood, with her remaining daughter, who is also named Ramona. She discovers that Señora Moreno has died, and that Moreno’s son, Felipe, now owns the rancho. But Felipe has always loved Ramona, and he proposes marriage. She agrees. They have several children, but their daughter Ramona remains their favorite. They all live happily ever after at their rancho, in the beautiful new state of California.

The Animal Kingdom of Oceanside

I have 13 different hometowns. That’s because when I grew up my family moved a lot. We weren’t military, we were just vagabonds. My mother and stepfather were always chasing new opportunities while staying a step ahead of bill collectors and the law.

But one of my hometowns does happen to be a military town. In fact, it’s my hometown three times, as that’s how many times we moved back and forth to it. I spent a cumulative six years of my childhood growing up in Oceanside, California, which is next door to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Those six years makes Oceanside qualify as the homiest of all my hometowns.


I visited Oceanside a few weeks ago. This house on 1022 S. Tait Street is where I lived for three-and-a-half years, during the early 1970s. It’s only one block from the ocean, and about a mile from the Oceanside Pier. It was an old house then, and rent was $210/month. But today, according to Zillow, this ancient, 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1,200 square foot house is valued at $1.8 million, and rents for $3,969/month. Damn, I guess I’ll never live here again.

Recently I was browsing through the cornucopia of television offerings created by our hyperactive world of entertainment, when I encountered a show called, Animal Kingdom. It was not the nature show the title might lead one to believe.

Animal Kingdom is a TV series based on a 2010 Australian movie of the same name. But unlike the movie, the series is purely American. It’s about a family of criminals residing in a California beach community. It looked mildly interesting, so I thought I’d try watching the first episode of the first season, to see if it could draw me in.

I lived in this house, also. It fronts Myers Street, almost directly behind my other house on 1022 Tait. The garage has a loft where, in 1969, we harbored a couple of Marines who had deserted the Vietnam War. You can read more about that by clicking this link.

It didn’t take long before I felt a tickle from the barb of a hook. Then, about halfway in, there were scenes that embedded the hook deep within the flesh of my soul. I came to realize that the setting of this TV series was none other than my hometown of Oceanside.

Scenes of surfers, and the Oceanside Pier triggered some old memories in me. I walked to this pier from my house quite a few times when I was a kid.

There was a scene of a long, straight road leading downslope toward the ocean in the distance. This was much like a road I’d ridden my bicycle up and down, many times. And then there were unmistakable scenes of the Oceanside Municipal Pier, and The Strand. This was my purlieu where I had often perambulated as a kid.

The Strand, where beach homes can sell for about $5 million. The rocks were put in place after I moved away from Oceanside. Before that time, homeowners on The Strand fought a constant battle against the surf, and often lost during high tides on stormy days.

And there’s even a character in this series who reminds me of my childhood. Deran resembles a tough guy named Leroy, who my sister, River, married. She met Leroy in Oceanside, and he was as much a criminal as Deran. And he too, belonged to a family of thugs that engaged in shady business.

Deran’s bar, called the Killfish in the TV series. It’s located at 314 Wisconsin Avenue, less than a half-mile from my home at 1022 Tait Street. In real life, this seems to be a vacant building, or a small warehouse for storing plumbing supplies. The front entrance area is littered with rubbish, most likely from homeless people.

Deran Cody, played by Jake Weary, is the youngest of the brothers in the “Cody” family. The Cody family is run by a matriarch nicknamed “Smurf,” played by Ellen Barkin. There are four brothers altogether in this family, named Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Baz (Scott Speedman), Craig (Ben Robson), and Deran. They are Smurf’s children, and are all from different fathers. Also, there’s one grandson of Smurf’s, named Joshua, or “J” (Finn Cole).

This beach house on The Strand is often seen on Animal Kingdom. It’s the fictional home of Baz and Craig Cody, and uses the alias address number of 427. In real life it seems to be a vacation rental. Zillow values it at about $2.7 million, with a rent estimate of $8,789/month.

Smurf does her best to run the family and control her children, but she encounters constant resistance and suspicion from them. She plans, or helps plan, “jobs” for her kids, and then they go out and rob and steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash or goods, in these heists.

One of Smurf’s challenges is to launder the booty, then dole it out to her children. This leads to a lot of infighting, because her kids suspect she’s skimming and holding out on them. Smurf handles this by being a master at pitting her kids against each other, in order to distract them from going after her.

But her grandson, “J,” is the smartest of the bunch. Smurf is in danger of having met her match, dealing with him. But that’s all I’m telling you. I won’t go into the plot any further, or I might spoil it for anyone who wants to watch this series.

The Wisconsin Market is featured in one scene of Animal Kingdom, where a couple of punk teenagers ask Craig Cody to buy some beer for them. It’s only a few blocks away from where I lived on Tait Street. And for a few months, I lived in an apartment on Myers Street, directly behind this market. I frequented this store as a child, where I shopped for candy, soda pop, cigars, and chewing tobacco. I also engaged in occasional shoplifting, until that infamous time when I was caught. And I sold sand candles with a buddy of mine, on the corner.

My wife and I like a good crime-flavored TV series. We loved The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Dexter, and would rate all three of them a 10. We kind of like Ozark (about a 6). But we hated Peaky Blinders (1). We rate Animal Kingdom as better than Ozark, but not quite as good as The Sopranos. I give it a 9, because it’s set in my hometown, but my wife rates it an 8.

Animal Kingdom episodes initially broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT). Then they become available on Amazon Prime. The first four seasons are available free on Prime. That’s how Amazon gets you hooked, like a drug slinger on a street corner. Then, to watch Seasons 5 and 6 you have to pay $24.95 apiece. We’ve paid for our fix, by buying Season 5. Season 6 will be the final season, but it won’t be available until 2022.

The first season has 10 episodes, with 13 episodes in all the following seasons.

Oceanside Harbor can be spotted in some of the scenes of Animal Kingdom. I’ve been up in that lighthouse when I was a kid, but it seems to be closed, now. The two-story restaurant next to it was once called, The Poop Deck. Of course that name appealed to my puerile sense of humor, and inspired many a wise crack.

I’m surprised that Animal Kingdom hasn’t received much publicity or recognition. It debuted on TNT in 2016, but I’d never heard of it until a few months ago. In 2016 and 2017 it was nominated for a Saturn Award (whatever that is), as the Best Action-Thriller Television Series. However, it lost to Riverdale and Better Call Saul, respectively.

I think it deserves much better recognition than that, so I hereby nominate and award Animal Kingdom with the Tippy Gnu Golden Unicorn for best Television Series, Depicting Bitter, Infighting Members of a Crime Family.

The Oceanside Pier at sunset. It’s such a clear evening that you can see Catalina Island on the horizon to the right. This is a very rare sight, from Oceanside.

Man’s Search for Meaning

A Meaningful Book Review

Available at Amazon.com

Lightness Traveling, at Luminous Aether, recommended this book to me a few weeks ago. I rarely follow anyone’s book recommendations, because I hate to read. But the moon was in its 7th House, and Jupiter was aligned with Mars, so I went ahead and ordered this disquisition from Amazon, for a mere $10.

I bought the paperback version, for that fresh, printed smell, as my doctor has advised me that sniffing glue has damaged my health. But for those who prefer it, Amazon does offer a Kindle edition.

I thought it was a good read, worthy of the long, meaningful review that follows. But if you hate to read as much as me, I’ve broken it up into sections, to be consumed in digestible bits and pieces.

First Impressions

Man’s Search for Meaning is a self-help book translated and published for America in the 1950s, and authored by famed Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl. I’ve wondered if Lightness Traveling thinks I need a psychiatrist. I can’t argue, so everyday after my conversation with the tree in our front yard, and my morning toe-twiddling exercises, I opened up this book, seeking the counsel of Dr. Frankl.

Surviving the Holocaust

Frankl was a concentration camp survivor, of World War II. The first 60% of his book details his two-and-a-half years in Auschwitz, and a few other camps. It describes how he and a small percentage of other inmates managed to survive, and explains why most other prisoners perished.

This makes it an unusual recounting of the Holocaust. Most accounts get into all the general horrors, of which we’re already very much aware. But Frankl details the everyday experience of camp life. The little things that contributed to both misery and relief. And most importantly, he gets into the mindset needed in order to survive the hell of life in a concentration camp.

He recommends this mindset for all occasions, and not just the dire circumstances of his camp life. And this is why his book is a self-help book. He maintains that his methods for surviving Auschwitz can be transferred to any situation.

According to Frankl, the mindset needed for survival is that of meaning. When one has found a meaning for their life, one has the motivation to face the brutal challenges life may throw at them, and slog it out day after day, with happy determination, in order to fulfill their goal in life.

And speaking of happiness, Frankl contends that happiness is something that cannot be found by those seeking after it. He argues that happiness must ensue, rather than be pursued. And he claims it ensues naturally, when we pursue a cause greater than ourselves, rather than by directly pursuing happiness for ourselves.

Logotherapy

The final 40% of the book covers the subject of Logotherapy. This is a form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Frankl for the treatment of neuroses. Basically, Frankl believes that all neuroses can be traced to an inadequate response to our need for meaning. Logotherapy aims to direct patients toward finding meaning to their lives, and a meaning that is adequate to survive any crisis.

Not knowing one’s meaning for life is not the cause of neurosis, according to Frankl. In fact, he asserts that it is very natural to search for meaning, while not yet knowing what the meaning is. It’s when we formulate our meaning around things that can be easily lost, or when we abandon the search for meaning altogether, that neurosis and self-destructive behavior begins.

Frankl observed that most prisoners in his concentration camp languished over the loss of their status, families, careers, and possessions. All of these things had given their lives meaning, and the loss of these things left them devastated and dispirited. Those who were unable to find new meaning, especially meaning to the loss and suffering they were currently experiencing, were those most likely to give up on life, and quickly succumb.

But if you are dedicated to a cause larger than yourself, something that cannot be stripped from you by Nazis, misfortune, or any other external force, then you will not lose spirit. You will fight on with passion in your heart and determination in your soul. This will not only afford you the best chance for survival, but even if you perish, you will perish with dignity, satisfaction, and peace, knowing that you tried your hardest and gave your best effort.

My Assessment

I agree with much of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy. He presented this therapy as counterpoise to Freud’s psychoanalysis, and Adler’s psychodynamic therapy. Although he held these two psychologists in high regard, he offered an approach to neurosis that was very different from their approaches.

To me, it’s refreshing to have such a choice. Crazy as I may be, I’ve never tried any of these therapeutic routes. But if I thought I needed one, or more likely, was forced to choose one, I’d first seek out a psychiatrist who practices Logotherapy. That’s because, according to Dr. Frankl, many of his patients exhibited significant improvement within just a few sessions.

On the other hand, psychoanalysis can require decades of weekly therapeutic sessions, and thus can be extremely expensive. Psychodynamic therapy can also be time-consuming and expensive. And I’m an impatient, cheap bastard. So I’d try Logotherapy first, just for the savings in time and money.

But also, Logotherapy dovetails with my own philosophy of Unikonics, Unicorniks, Chasing Unicorns, or whatever the hell I call it. Logotherapy asserts that happiness ensues from the pursuit of something other than happiness, such as a cause greater than oneself.

I say something similar. When you chase unicorns, you’re not chasing happiness. Instead, you’re chasing unique experiences. Happiness ensues from this chase, especially if you catch the damned, elusive, one-horned creature. But it ensues as an automatic by-product. Happiness isn’t the object of your pursuit, but it ensues as a result of your pursuit.

There are many ways to chase uniqueness, including reading a book like Frankl’s, going to the theater, taking a vacation to a far-off land, hearing a good joke, shopping for something new, caring for an exotic houseplant, reading the news, going on a hike, and dining out. That’s just to name a few examples. There are zillions more.

Arguably, many of these pursuits do not seem to be for causes bigger than oneself. For instance, how can going to the theater be a cause bigger than you? Thus, although it can leave one feeling happy, it’s usually only for a brief time. That’s because unique experiences can only remain unique for a short period of time, before the newness wears off.

And so, one must go off and chase more unicorns, if one wants to continue being happy. The good thing about this is that there will always be new unicorns to chase. And that’s because life is constantly changing. Life involves a continuous cycle of new replacing old. Or to put it another way, unicorns are horny creatures, constantly breeding and multiplying.

Viewed from that perspective, the chasing of unicorns really is a cause bigger than oneself. After all, the changeable nature of our universe is much bigger than the individual. Enjoying the change and uniqueness it constantly has to offer, helps us to live full lives. And the fuller we live our lives, the more we have to offer everyone else.

So in my view, Frankl and I have similar philosophies. We’re birds of a feather. Peas in a pod. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum.

Parting Ways

But not entirely. Rollo May was a famous psychologist who was also one of Frankl’s biggest critics. He argued that Frankl’s plain solution to all of life’s problems, undermined the complexity of human life.

I have to agree. Here I part ways with Frankl, and side with the May way. So long, Tweedle-dee!

Life is very complex. Adhering to a meaning of life that you might cook up, or that someone might suggest to you, leaves you limited and inflexible. It oversimplifies the way we find happiness, and prevents us from adjusting and adapting to the complex ways that our lives constantly change.

Uniqueness, including the uniqueness of a great cause, can’t be pursued in the same way every time. We have to mix it up. We have to keep our minds open to new possibilities. We must be willing to explore, and seek unique each and every day, from all the complex opportunities available to us.

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Viktor, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

For instance, when we dedicate ourselves to a cause bigger than ourselves, there is a danger that the cause will deteriorate into the bland, stultifying torture of duty and obligation. It’s like being hired onto a new job. At first the job may be very exciting, and every day we may be motivated to go to work with a beginner’s eagerness to learn and explore. Our work ethic becomes impeccable.

But after awhile the job becomes old hat. We grow bored. And then the only reason we show up to work is to fulfill our duty to put in our time, and then pay our bills responsibly.

I believe duty and obligation to causes bigger than us, are not all they’re cracked up to be. Not when taken to extreme. Consider this:

Frankl had a golden opportunity to flee his native Austria, before being arrested by the Nazis. A visa awaited him at the American Consulate in Vienna. But he turned down this opportunity, because he wanted to follow the biblical commandment of honoring his father and mother. A cause greater than himself. He did not want to leave them alone, at the mercy of the Nazis.

And yet, his parents were overjoyed that this visa was being offered. They wanted to see their son escape and have the opportunity for a long life. Why dampen their joy? Why not let them go to their inevitable deaths in the concentration camps with the happy thought that their son was safe? After all, there was nothing he could have done to save them.

Not only that, but his pregnant wife was also arrested. She could have escaped to America with him, but instead was immediately sent to the crematoriums of Bergen-Belsen. Thus, his decision to follow this “cause greater than himself” cost the lives of his wife and unborn child, and nearly cost him his own life.

This is the disaster of duty and obligation, when taken to an extreme. It becomes an odious burden that endangers not only oneself, but others. Our ability to survive in this world depends upon the same thing as our ability to be happy. We must keep our minds open wide to change, and new ways of thinking. We must be willing to forsake a cause greater than ourselves for new causes greater than ourselves, that make more sense and lead ourselves and others away from harm, rather than toward it.

And so, when we find our meaning of life–our motivation to fulfill a cause bigger than ourselves–it’s helpful to pursue this cause with the understanding that the happiness or safety derived from it will only be temporary. And after the luster wears off, or after it becomes unsafe, it’s wise to move on to a new cause. Or at the very least, modify the cause, to find new ways to enjoy it, and to survive it.

Conclusion

Frankl’s book ends with a Postscript entitled, The Case for a Tragic Optimism. It is 18 pages long, beginning with page 141, and is based upon a lecture he gave in 1983. On page 144, the words turned into “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I fell asleep. It was all a lot of intellectual psychobabble, as far as I was concerned.

I woke up in the Afterword, so actually the Postscript was just the beginning of the end. The Afterword included some stats about the book, and a short biography of Frankl’s life, which I found interesting.

Man’s Search for Meaning was a groundbreaking book in the field of psychology, back in the 1950s, changing psychology forever. And many people welcomed this change, because by 2006 the book had sold more than 12 million copies and had been translated into 24 different languages. It’s a very popular book, an enduring classic that has stood the test of time.

Quite a few readers have reported being cured from their neuroses, simply by reading the book. Frankl coined this as “autobibliotherapy.” It speaks to the power this book possesses in potentially changing a reader’s life. I recommend it to anyone who is going through difficult times, or who is seeking a way out of the depression and misery that comes from perceiving life as meaningless.

I also recommend this book for those interested in the Holocaust, or who enjoy World War II history. I found it fascinating to learn the everyday details and psychology of life in a concentration camp.

Viktor Frankl died in 1997, at the age of 92. I think he lived such a long life, due to both his healthy psychological outlook, as well as to a great deal of luck. And I think it can be argued that in spite of his years, or partly even because of his years in a concentration camp, his was a rich and full life. He figured out how to make the most of his experience while a prisoner, and also of his life after his liberation.

There is no doubt in my mind that his life was meaningful.

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