Read more about the article You Can Go Home Again
The Prodigal

You Can Go Home Again

I never thought I would see this day. I did not even dream about it or hope that it might happen. It just happened. I did not try to make it happen; no strings were pulled; no favors called in; no money exchanged. It just happened. This is not some random act of stars aligning. Dare I say it, but this might be something ordained, and it took fifty years to get here.

Bright Star

When I walked out onto the stage of Collins Auditorium to perform in Beki Baker’s (Chair of the theatre department at Lipscomb University) production of “Bright Star” in the role of Josiah Dobbs, I felt a powerful moment of coming home. At the age of twenty I did the role of Biff Loman in Jerry Henderson’s production of “Death of a Salesman” on this very same stage.

Chip as Biff Loman and Sharon Farmer as “The Woman”

To say that my relationship with the school was tumultuous would be an understatement. In high school after numerous infractions, I had been invited to seek education elsewhere, and when allowed to attend the college a couple of years later, I had to agree to be placed on all probation’s with the exception of “Short Skirt” probation. Yes, that was a thing. Any infraction of any probation and it was sayonara.  (A Japanese term used in situations where you will either not see the person for a long time, or ever again.) Quite a tightrope to walk for a rebel like me. We parted ways shortly after “Death of a Salesman,” shaking the dust from our feet and with a “good riddance” on our lips. I do not blame the school. I was a handful during my high school years and for those few semesters I attended the University. We were not well-matched, and it took time and distance to bring us back together.

My father taught music and drama at Lipscomb University for over thirty years, plus he was the worship leader for the chapel services. During my period as a prodigal the a strain on the father/son relationship was evident. But in time we were reconciled, yea verily; more than just reconciled. We took joy in our relationship and worked together in countless productions. That was a miracle I attribute to divine Providence; I needed the miracle of repentance while Dad needed the miracle of patience.

Way back in the 1990’s I was touring the country with some one-man shows I had created. Dad invited me to perform a shorten version of one of these shows for the chapel service he led at Lipscomb. This was followed by an invitation from the powers-that-be to do a full show for the University’s annual “High School Day” where kids came from all over the country to spend a weekend on the campus and get the spiel for why Lipscomb University was a great choice for their college career after graduating high school. I was to perform my show on that Saturday night. The Collins Auditorium was packed with high school seniors. I mean every seat in the house was occupied. My dad sat up in the audience-right balcony. His guest that night was a recovering alcoholic, someone he was mentoring. That was so Dad.

Let me just say it. I played a few high schools back in the day and I hated it. That night was no exception, but it was a gig. I was pacing backstage, waiting for the house lights to go out, and listening to the hubbub of 1,500 rowdy kids on the opposite side of the curtain. I believe in the principal of “aesthetic distance” (a degree of detachment between actor and audience), and this crowd was way too close. I kept wondering how in the world did I get here, how could I get out of here, and where was the quickest exit.

Then something happened in my heart. I’ll never forget it. I made a bargain with God. Yeah, you read that right. I had never done that before, and I have not done it since. In general, my advice would be to never negotiate a deal with God using terms you lay out, but for some reason this heavy conviction came upon me and I said, “God, if these kids give me a standing ovation at the curtain call, then I will confess my past life and new faith in front of them.” Why did I do that? Just imagine me hitting my forehead with the heel of my hand and repeating “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.” I mean that bargain just flew out of my mouth before I had time to think about it or put it back…back where, I don’t know. The words were in the air, and words are powerful, and they would not return void no matter how much I regretted saying them.

You guessed it. Those kids sat still for over an hour, laughing when appropriate and quiet and attentive when the story turned somber. At the blackout at the end of the show, I kept saying to myself, “Please don’t stand. Please don’t stand.” But when the lights came up for the curtain call the audience was already on its feet. They had not waited for the lights. Can you hear the laughter in heaven? There was no “aesthetic distance” now. There was no soaking in the adoration. It was confession time, and I asked them to be seated.

I told them that in the not-so-long-ago I used to be them, and that during a dark period of my life I had embraced a waywardness I regretted. And then I pointed to my father up in the balcony and said that he was the reason I was here tonight; my earthly and my heavenly fathers had enabled me to be forgiven, to be justified, and to stand. The kids weren’t really sure what to make of this. I guess the moment wasn’t really for them anyway. But I thanked them for their kind attention and made my exit.

So now when I enter Collins Auditorium to get ready for the show, I walk past the wall outside the Buddy and Bernie Arnold Rehearsal Hall and see dozens of pictures of past moments in my parent’s history with Lipscomb University. And on my way to the dressing room, I touch some of those pictures as I pass by like a mezuzah nailed to the doorpost to receive the blessing of a godly heritage.

From left to right: Chip Arnold, Hatty Ryan King, Annika Burley, Reese Twilla, and Connor Tarpley
Chip Arnold as Josiah Dobbs and Easton Curtis as Jimmy Ray Dobbs

And when the lights go up for each performance of “Bright Star,” I get to go on stage with a talented group of kids that I have watched throughout the rehearsal process achieve a greatness in their roles. I get to work with a director, and the artistic staff and backstage crew that have been professional in every way beyond what I ever expected. When Dad did music and theatre for the University, he was the department. Now the department is an overflowing cup of talented faculty and staff that would make him so proud. It makes me proud to be on that stage, to walk the boards he walked, to stand where he stood, leading worship and directing plays. Maybe that bargain with God wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Henry O. “Buddy” Arnold II


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Read more about the article Bodies of Broken Bones
The Seven Works of Mercy

Bodies of Broken Bones

I love the stark realism the words of this title bring to mind. It comes from a phrase in “Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton: “As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is a resetting of a body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.”

Thomes Merton

This spiritual image affords us a super power. We have a potential to have x-ray vision. We can look at other human beings and see the broken bones concealed inside their flesh. They too can see the cracked and fractured bones in our body. One can’t live in this fallen world and not carry inside us a broken nature. Surely, we try to conceal it from the world with all manner of disguises, but it is not hidden for long.


One of my favorite painters is Michelangelo Caravaggio. He lived and painted in the late Renaissance period and is considered the first artist to bring realism to painting. He was a wild man; some even considered him mentally ill. Who knows? He captured a dramatic truth in his paintings that, when viewed, can bore through your soul much like his frequent use of a shaft of light onto the principal subject made more poignant by the vale of blackness around it. Whether Caravaggio fully understood what he was doing or not, so many of the subjects in his paintings are captured in a moment of brokenness. He never sketched before painting. The final version just poured out of him straight onto the canvas in a burst of impetuous fire.

Merton’s “body of broken bones” and Caravaggio’s painting of “The Seven Acts of Mercy” (one of his last paintings) are beautiful reminders of who we are as human beings and how we have opportunities to “reset one another’s bones” in love to paraphrase Merton. All of the images crammed into this painting are the artist’s reflection of Jesus’ admonition in the gospel of Matthew of how we might show mercy to someone: (1 & 2) a woman visits an imprisoned man and gives him milk from her breast; 3) a pilgrim asks for shelter; 4) a saint gives half his robe to a naked beggar; 5) a saint comforts a beggar; 6) Samson drinks from the jawbone of an ass; and 7) two men honor the dead with a respectful burial (the seventh act of mercy was added to this list in the Middle Ages).

The Seven Works of Mercy

All of us should be using our “super power” to see one another’s broken bones, and then pouring ourselves into acts of mercy like Caravaggio poured himself into his paintings. His vision and unbridled passion went straight onto the canvass. So in this painting, Caravaggio had a vision of the brokenness of humanity and re-imagined it through acts of mercy. He had his vision and applied the paint to make it real. It was not real until the brush spread the paint and shaped the images. Our mercy should come without hesitation, without thinking too much about the cost or consequences (sometimes it may be costly, or at the very least, inconvenient). Caravaggio set about staging his models and then brushing the startling images onto the canvass without sketches. It was his mysterious second-nature at work. For most of us acts of mercy are not second-nature. They require developing our x-ray vision, and then an act of will to respond with mercy whenever a human need gives us the opportunity.

We should be clear-eyed and clear-headed about our acts of mercy. They will require something of us, from us. They can be burdensome. They can even be traumatic. Each act will be permanently etched onto our hearts and minds; the more burdensome the act, the heavier the weight of impression onto our souls and the deeper the memory. But our acts of mercy today get handed down to the next generation, and when the next generation sees such actions, they tend to repeat them. These acts of mercy toward others make the best stories…eternal stories. It reveals the best of human connection. It leaves behind the best historical records. It is an act of transference and ritual that can engage the imagination without it being a sentimental response for one’s self-satisfaction. If self-satisfaction is the sole value of your act of mercy, then don’t bother. Just mail in a Hallmark Card.

Flannery O’Connor

I recently came across this Flannery O’Connor quote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, down-right repulsive…witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.” She wrote this some fifty plus years ago. Imagine her reaction to the “dark night” of our world today.

But before we point an accusing finger to the culprits of the present chaos in our world and its collective disregard of truth, we must recognize our own dark hearts and the lies we choose to embrace. Truth may be lying on the ground in a pool of blood but it is still breathing and it is still truth. Just because we might choose to exchange the truth for a lie and attach our personal biases to that lie, does not mean that truth is dead. It does not even mean that the truth is dead in one’s own heart. The faint pulse of eternal truth still beats deep down inside. We must have ears to hear and eyes to see truth. If indeed “the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul,” then what better time to bring the true light into our world by the transforming acts of mercy? Let it be born from an extravagant love, a creative, unconditional love, a foolish love, that can’t be explained but can be quantified. It is that type of mercy God has offered for our broken bones.

Cover Art: Sette opera di Misericordia; Caravaggio; 1607

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Don’t Be The Bunny

I have delayed my monthly story because I’ve been a little preoccupied ruling the world and “snuffing out popular resistance as if it were a naughty baby bunny.” It really is exhausting. There are just so many decisions to make—when your decisions are the only ones that matter, and there are so many people to keep in line—these people insist on having opinions contrary to my own. So yes, I have been busy playing a character that has created his own evil empire in a production of “Urinetown.”

Me as Caldwell B. Cladwell singing “Don’t Be The Bunny;” photo by Dalton Hamilton

I have played bad guys before, but to give me an idea of the nuances of this particular role, Jason Tucker, the director of Nashville Repertory Theatre’s production of this hysterical musical, summed it up in a one-sentence character description: “Caldwell B. Cladwell is as comfortable on the dance floor as he is in the board room.” Now I can do evil, however, singing-and-dancing evil is a stretch for me. But I’m an actor with a job to do, so I have to make the audience believe the evil while singing and dancing along the way.

I have to confess when a character requires me to sing and dance on stage it puts the fear of God in me. All those who asked what I did for my summer vacation, I have told them that I spent it learning music and lyrics, working on character development, and doing my “slow-drip” process of absorbing the dialogue of the character into my system. Kay was so ready for me to start rehearsals and get me out of the house. If she had to listen to me sing “Don’t Be The Bunny” one more time, she threatened to lock me in the shed.

Medea: Jack Ashley is Jason, Larry Craig and Chip Arnold are Jason’s sons

This brings me to the real reason for writing this brief opinion piece. I have had a career in the theatre since 1970. Well, actually my first time on stage was in 1955 in a production of “Medea” playing one of the sons of Jason and Medea. It was an easy gig; just look cute, and then play dead. I was a natural. So after a fifteen year gap between jobs, I got the role of Paco, the Muleteer in the musical “Man of La Mancha.” My dad played the role of Don Quixote. I never looked back after that. I was hooked. An actor I would be, for better or for worse.

For the last few decades I have had the great good fortune to work with the professional theatres in Nashville in a variety of roles. People have asked me why I never went to New York. When I reflected on what a privilege it has been to work in Nashville, it dawned on me that New York came to me. Kay and I have seen a lot of theatre in our married life, and in some of the finest theatres in the world. And yes, while we can say we have been wowed from time to time by what we’ve experienced; we can also say that we have been equally wowed by the productions we have seen in this city.

Urinetown cast; Megan Murphy Chambers as Mzzzz Pennywise; photo by Michael Scott Evans

I’ve got a few shows under my belt, so I know what it takes to mount a production. It takes a community, all with one mindset in service to the story. Theatre artists are storytellers. When civilizations first gathered around those campfires, there were storytellers and there were those who wanted to be told a good story. During rehearsals of “Urinetown” over these last four weeks I have been astounded at the professionalism of the cast, the designers, the running crew, and the management of this team of artists as we prepared. From the youngest in the cast to the oldest (yes, that would be me), I never saw signs of false choices or laziness or being uncooperative or flagging interest. I have rarely seen that among the theatre artists in Nashville. Those few who might try to skate through the rehearsal and performance process do not remain long. The consistency of the theatre artists’ commitment in the pursuit of a great story is exemplary of the Nashville theatre community. From the people who put on the shows, to the company management who promote the shows, to the media who covers and reviews the shows, there is this bond of fellowship all centered around telling our audiences a wonderful story and telling it well.

Urinetown cast; Mitchell Ryan Miller as Bobby Strong; photo by Michael Scott Evans

Under the leadership of great directors and in partnership with actors and designers, I have been privileged to work on stories that not only entertain, but have illuminated the souls of both artist and audience alike. I personally did not need to go to New York, and I own that choice. It should not be everyone’s choice, but what I have found over all these years is that while New York might get the big production budgets, the big promotional machines, the big names to put the butts in the seats, it does not automatically mean that the productions are of any better quality. The distinction of Nashville productions can compete, and Nashville audiences have been fortunate to have these experiences given them by such dedicated local theatre artists. Sure, go on your tours to New York and London and catch your shows on Broadway and the West End, but when you come home, you will find theatrical gems right under your noses.

I have observed something unique about the theatre artists I have worked with in Nashville over the years…we care. We care about the work, and we care about each other. We want our work to be exquisite, and our professional relationships to function with harmony. Personal egos submit to the unity of making art together, telling a story well to the audience, and bringing light to a dark world. There is nothing I enjoy more than to be in a rehearsal hall or a dressing room or on stage or around a dinner table with a bunch of theatre artists. There is an energy that exudes when two or more theatre artists are gathered together. When there is a room full of us, watch out. Stories fill the atmosphere, for we make the best storytellers.

I will be blunt: you should be so lucky to see “Urinetown.” Don’t let the title fool you. While there is humorous fun made of this bodily function, there is a powerful theme in this story about our human condition and the health of societies. And isn’t that what a good story is supposed to do? Give us insight into who we are and how we treat each other?

Urinetown Cast; photo by Dalton Hamilton

Kay attended opening night, and since then she has repeated her critique to anyone willing to listen, “I could not help but smile from the beginning all the way through to the end.” So be glad she didn’t lock me in the shed. You have multiple opportunities to see “Urinetown.” Go to Nashville Repertory Theatre’s website for all the details. I dare you to be entertained, and should you take my dare, I dare you not to smile.

Cover Photo of Urinetown Choir under the direction of Bobby Strong; photo by Michael Scott Evans


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Reservations in Heaven

I was raised in an era when our particular church persuasion believed that we were the only ones going to heaven, and only then if you behaved according to the rules and had done enough “good works” to get in, and if not, well too bad. My own heart knew that I would never be good enough or do enough to qualify. It took me awhile to ask the question that if our church affiliation was so unsure about its future hopes of heaven how then could they be so sure that anyone from another denomination had no chance of making it? But if you were from the “true” church and you did make it, then you were part of a very exclusive club.

Saint Peter by Sir Anthony van Dyck

There is an old joke about St. Peter leading a group of new arrivals on a tour of heaven. When they get to a certain neighborhood in the heavenly city, St. Peter asks the group to remain silent as they pass by, “Because these people think they are the only ones here and we don’t want them to know any different.”

This notion of theological exclusivity is nothing new. The Catholics developed it into an art form, from indulgences to the Inquisition, and the Protestants co-opted their distinctive takes on salvation as the Reformation movement dissolved into splintered factions. This belief of being right on all points is designed to make the ones who believe they are right to feel superior and create human structures where oppression of others is allowed to thrive.

The same oppressive result happens among people groups whose tribal instincts encourage one race to feel superior to another. Bad things happen when that instinct is allowed to run rampant. I remember my parents facing down family members and others in their church community who held to beliefs of superiority in religion and race. It was a brave thing for a son and daughter of the south to declare that such beliefs were racist and wrong. They taught their offspring by example.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well in Sychar
The Good Samaritan

Jesus got into trouble when he embraced the outsiders of society; those who were marginalized because of race, economics, politics, gender, and even physical disabilities. He faced great opposition from the powerful elite and even from his closest circle of friends. The Samaritans were considered an inferior race in those days, and brothers James and John, dubbed the “sons of thunder,” were soundly rebuked when they offered “to call down fire from heaven” upon a Samaritan village for not showing the proper welcome to their leader. Such a story would be laughable were it not for the racial bias exposed in the passage and the arrogant, misuse of power the brothers’ thought they possessed. On another occasion, Jesus exposed their bigotry by treating the Samaritan woman he met at the village well with respect. When Jesus tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan, he is asking us to get over ourselves and embrace the other with love regardless of skin color or social status or religiously and politically incompatible beliefs.

Noli Me Tangere (Do Not Touch Me) by Giotto Di Bondone

Add sexism to the list of no-no’s Jesus kiboshed. He elevated the status of women in his respectful treatment of them. The fact that he entrusted the news of his resurrection to a woman was mind-boggling for that day and age. Mary Magdalene preached the first post-resurrection sermon in the history of the church—“He is risen. Go tell the others”—and she wasn’t believed by her male counterparts.

Peter and Paul by El Greco

Then there was the apostle Paul who records in his letter to the Galatians about a time when he confronted Peter and those of his entourage who separated from the local members of the church in Antioch because of differences in race and theology: these were people of other nationalities who were uncircumcised. Paul went so far as to say that those “agitators” who insisted on the exclusive theology of circumcision if one was to be a “true” follower of Christ should just “go the whole way and castrate themselves.”  Ouch! Paul could have done the polite thing and just called them hypocrites, but no. To castrate in Greek means the same in English. We can’t spin this into a spiritual metaphor.

So what do we do? Admit the truth. We are all guilty of racism either overtly or hidden in the heart. Whether we espouse a faith in God or hold to secular values, we are all guilty of feelings of superiority. When we look down on those who are different in any way, it is the action of a corrupt human heart. This corrupt condition starts in very subtle ways: telling lies, nursing grudges, refusing to forgive, revenging wrongs, selfish ambitions, societal and individual narcissism, sowing discord, being greedy, envious, or jealous. Every action we take reveals the condition of our hearts. How we treat others, how we act out our politics, how we conduct our business, the way we serve. Do we take a certain action for personal profit and advancement, or do make a thoughtful, compassionate decision for the benefit of others? Do I seek out only those who look, think, believe, and act the way I do? If you believe that God only likes the things you like and agrees with you one hundred percent of the time, then your god is you.

There is nothing new under the sun. Race and religion have always been hot-button issues. When hostile words fly through the air, when fingers of blame are pointed in every direction, good and innocent people suffer and die when this rancor is unchecked and turns to violence. One can place one’s hopes in some guru, teacher, politician, philosophy, capitalism, governmental systems, or your personal self-improvement/self-centric set of rules and try to follow any of these options to the best of your ability. The hard truth is, none of these options will have lasting effect, and when your hopes in others or in yourself fall short, you end up being your own judge, jury, and jailer imprisoned by a set of rules and expectations that failed.

I submit that we don’t need to find the best example to follow, and yes, I include Jesus in that list. He did not come into creation to just be a good example. No one can come close to his example, and the Sermon on the Mount alone proves he is impossible to follow. Jesus came as a substitute to stand in the gap for our corruptible human natures. He invites us all into the embrace of his love, and his willing sacrifice distinguishes him from any other great teacher, philosophy, or human system in the long history of the world. That is an eternal status not achieved by human effort. What a mercy. What an act of grace.

St. John on Patmos by Juan Ribalta

At the end of his life while living in exile on the island of Patmos, St John had a vision of heaven. He saw those celebrating around the throne of God “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So if you are clinging to the false hope that your skin color or stanch beliefs make you superior to everyone else and that you expect your future mansion in heaven to be located in a neighborhood of like-minded, like-colored, and like-nationality as you, I suggest you go ahead and cancel your reservations. And should you find yourself in a different location after shuffling off this mortal coil, I leave you with this final thought from my niece, Erin Gurley: “Even there you will still find people who don’t look like you.”

Cover Art: Hieronymus Bosch; Ascent of the Blessed

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You Gotta Love This Woman

We received a call recently from concerned parents worried about my wife’s influence on their children. The concerned parents were our daughter Lauren and son-in-law, Erik, and the children in question were our grand children. This was not an easy thing to accept. The complaint had to do with Kay’s lullaby catalog sung to the grand kids when she puts them to bed at night. I had long since been banned from lullaby duty. When I would pinch-hit for Kay in her absence all I came up with was “Purple Haze,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whipping Post,” and “Born to be Wild;” lullabies that were good enough to sing to my own girls when they were growing up, but now were somehow deemed questionable. I blame the “parenting” craze for that. “The times they are a changin’.”

Beer Wall; photo by Christin Hume

What precipitated the call was when Lauren and Erik were in the car with the kids a few weeks ago and began to hear their children singing in the backseat, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” The lyric the grand kids were singing began with the number ten and not the compulsory number in the title (I hope there will be no copyright infringement suits after this story goes public). Just to confirm what they heard, the parents listened for a few more musical rounds until the number dropped to seven. Husband and wife first inquired of each other if one of them had taught that song to the kids, but both denied it with an emphatic “no.” Then they turned around and asked the cherubs in the backseat.

“Guys, where did you learn that song?” asked both parents in unison.

The singing stopped and there was a brief pause from the backseat. By the tone of the inquisition, the cherubs suspected they might be in trouble.

“Kayme!” came the unison reply.

The horror. The horror. And straight to the speed dial number for Kayme did the parents go.

Girl on a Bird; artwork by Lucy Campbell

The third degree started as soon as Kay answered. The interrogation did not last long. Kay laughingly confessed. When we are with the grand kids, bedtime unfolds in two acts: they all pile in our bed and I read them a couple of books. Afterwards, I will carry them to their beds (this practice of “carry me, carry me” will either end by middle school or when my back gives out). Once tucked between the sheets, I exit, Kay enters, and the lullabies begin. She sings the standards, but on this particular night while the parents were out on a date, the kids were more amped up than usual. I get blamed often for being the catalyst for this rowdy behavior and must plead guilty. Kay had come to the end of her play list, but those crazy kids wanted more. So Kay reached back into her long ago, and “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” started spilling out of her mouth; this from the grandmother who has never consumed a bottle of beer in her life. Now the song has a fixed place in Kay’s lullaby repertoire. Of late, it is usually the first request.

Father’s Day, 2019; photo by Lauren Zilen

On this last Father’s Day we met Lauren, Erik, and the kids at the Fiery Gizzard trail-head for a day of hiking and swimming in Sycamore Falls. When we returned to the parking lot that afternoon, Kay collapsed her retractable walking sticks and took one in her right hand and began to twirl it. The grand kids were in awe by the level of expertise flaunted by their grandmother and shouted, “Look, Kayme’s a twirler.”

Betty Boop

“I’m not a twirler,” she replied, stone-faced and with a stone-edged vocal tone. She continued to twirl that stick right down her fingers and back again. It was a nimble display of manus digitus. She finished with a flourish and then stated, “But I have friends who are twirlers.”

Yeah. I know. It makes no sense, and her grandchildren stood dumbfounded at hearing their Kayme deny she was a twirler and yet showing off the very talent she disclaimed. Their confusion was heartbreaking. It is a good thing Kay is a mental health professional. She will be able to provide our grand kids the proper therapies to recover from such emotional traumas.

Using the rule of the comic triple, I offer my final complicated reason why I gotta love this woman.

On a recent drive into Nashville we had come to the point along the Interstate where it goes from two lanes to four. A gray pickup truck was two lanes over and slightly ahead of us. Kay was about to overtake him when suddenly the driver floored the accelerator, and with an explosive gust of power, he left us in a black plume of ozone-killing diesel fumes as he zoom-zoomed down the highway.

Ozone Killer

“That guy has to be going over 100 mph,” Kay said.

“And how would we (royal “we”) know this?” I asked.

“Well, if I was going 90, it might feel something like this. And he is going much faster than us.”

I just hung my head knowing that “if” our guardian angels were paying attention, they had long since abandoned us back where the speed limit sign had said 70 mph. My wife needs Wyoming highways, not these restrictive citified roadways.

When I told her that I was going to include this moment in my next blog installment she asked with only a hint of remorse, “Why don’t you say 80 mph instead of 90?”

“Sorry, Babes,” I told her. “I don’t report fake news.”

So you see what I have to live with, but I admit, you gotta love this woman. And I do. I want to grow old with her, and if she doesn’t kill us on some highway, I just might get to do that.

Kay and Chip hiking the Virgin River that runs through the slot canyon in Zion National Park

Cover Photograph: Kay on top of “Angel’s Landing” in Zion National Park. One of our two daughters took this shot because I was too chicken to make the summit with them.

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Read more about the article The Glory of Sons
Man of La Mancha: Henry II is sword-wielding Don Quixote and Henry III is behind him whispering, "That's my old man."

The Glory of Sons

One can find countless quotes on what it means to become a man from the humorous and profane to the solemn and profound. In my opinion, becoming a man is a process of making fewer and fewer stupid choices and putting more and more distance between each stupid choice. St. Paul said it best, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Transitioning from “childish” mode to “manhood” mode is not the simple flip of a switch. There is no magic age to mark manhood that come with frameable “Manhood Achievement” certificates. We get to drive a car at sixteen. We can vote and join the military at eighteen; smoke and drink at twenty-one; get an education and secure employment shortly after; eventually find a mate. None of those chronological milestones assure manhood, and the mix-messages we boys and men get from the DNA of our genealogy, culture, media, social milieu, and bad theology can end up piecing us together like an abstract painting: visually beautiful on the outside, bewildered and lost on the inside.

Illustration by William Blake

My long slog resembles Pilgrim in “Pilgrim’s Progress”; many foolish choices and wrong turns landing me in dark places with no sense of direction and no sightings of even a flicker of light. I needed rescue, and as I look back on that phase in my life, I didn’t even recognize my need for rescue. My father did. I believe rescuing came so natural to him that he was not even aware when he activated the impulse. He probably could not articulate how he came by such an ingrained virtue of his soul, and then would deny it if you attributed that positive feature to him.

We were estranged at the time my rescue began. In my underdeveloped, idiot brain, Dad’s coolness factor was low, which shows how little I was paying attention to him and to my own foundering in the “slough of despond.” As clueless as I was about my plight, I was equally clueless as to what was happening to me when the lifeline was cast.

Dad as Don Quixote and Rubin Ruskin as Sancho

Dad was offered the role of Don Quixote in the musical “Man of La Mancha.” I was not aware of it, but my father had asked the director to give me a chance at a role, which the director agreed to as long as I went through the audition process. If I weren’t embarrassingly awful, then I would be given a shot. The bar they set was very low, but I did land the role of a muleteer, one that was a named character with a handful of lines, and not just a part of the mob. My character’s name was Paco, and I latched onto Paco as if my life depended upon it. It probably did. I showed up for every rehearsal. I was even an understudy for the role of the Barber. After my one and only understudy rehearsal, the actor originally cast in the role informed me not to get my hopes up. He had no intention of getting sick or dying in an accident during the run of the show. I took this as a compliment.

Man of La Mancha program

In the program section of “Who’s Who” in the cast, after my name and the name of my role, my bio read: “…making his Theatre Nashville as well as his acting debut…Hillsboro High School graduate…life guard this summer at Cascade Plunge.” My father’s bio was a little more fleshed out. I will only give you the first line of his paragraph. After his name and the name of his role, his bio read: “…where do we start?” I had a long way to go to catch up. When it came to the theatre, the “like father/like son” comparison would not become a reality for a long time.

Cast of Man of La Mancha

In rehearsals I watched how my father took direction, how he paid attention to what was going on around him, how he reacted to what other actors gave him, how he made manifest his physical, vocal, and interpretive choices for his character. He was gradually transforming, and though I did not understand what was going on, I remember that I was fascinated by this process. In a minor way, I was experiencing my own transformation with Paco, the Muleteer. I was becoming someone else, and I was with a company of other actors who were also experiencing a similar alteration. My father was spinning a magic, leading others into a dream, into an “impossible” dream of the possible.

Dad as Don Quixote and Rubin Ruskin as Sancho

It was not until we moved from rehearsal hall into the theatre where all the elements of production came into place for final dress that my eyes were opened to the possibility of transformation. There is nothing like the lights and sets and music and costumes and finally, the audience, that make an actor come to life and for art to happen right before your eyes. It was in this brief and mysterious set of circumstances I began to realize the power and importance of observation, of just paying attention. Night-after-night I saw my father transform from Henry Arnold to Miguel de Cervantes, and then into Don Quixote as he followed his beautiful quest jousting against evil, seeing the beauty in all things and in all people, even his enemies, until his eventual death.

When I was a child of four, I was traumatized when I saw my father plunge a knife into his chest as Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel” and die. This time I was not traumatized by my father’s death. I was in awe, in awe of my father’s skill as an artist, one who used his imagination to create a moment of transcendence. That was almost fifty years ago now, and that may have been my first experience of the power of art to transcend space and time and flesh and blood. It was my father who had led all of us, cast, crew, and audience, into that sublime moment of truth and beauty. If you are inclined, you may listen to Dad sing “The Impossible Dream” from that production back in 1970 by clicking the play button below. The dialogue exchange leading up to the solo is between Dad as Don Quixote and Pam Martin in the role of Aldonza. Special thanks to long-time friend, Alan Nelson, for providing this excerpt from the musical:

Illustration by William Blake

Dad’s subconscious “impossible dream” for this father/son/“Man of La Mancha” experience might have been that his son reestablish the filial bond, and if I wanted to give this story a happy ending, that is what I would write. It did not happen that way. Estrangement continued and any semblance of my manhood eluded me for years to come. Some of us are not easily rescued. For some, the lifeline for rescue must be a long rope; miles and years of coiled threads stretched to the limit. But whether I knew it or not, it was in that brief time with my father when I took hold of that lifeline cast to me, and it began the slow molting of my “childish ways.”

Dad as Don Quixote and Rubin Ruskin as Sancho

Up until his death, Dad and I did so many creative things together. I could begin that list with the same phrase as his bio for “Man of La Mancha,” “…where do we start…” One thing I do know, I will never grow tired of hearing people say to me after seeing me perform in a show, “You are so much like your Dad,” or “I saw Buddy up there tonight.” I hope I am like my dad in all respects. I hope they see “Buddy” in all my performances. I hope that transformation of father and son can be complete not just in the magic of theatre, but in life as well. I do know that in the case of my father, I agree with Solomon who wrote in Proverbs 17:6 that “…the glory of sons is their fathers.”

Father and Son

Cover Art: Dad as Don Quixote threatening a villain with me as Paco in the background.

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Read more about the article The Marriage of True Minds

The Marriage of True Minds

Around the time I turned twelve, I had an early and shocking coming-of-age moment of discovery. The whole family was at the drive-in to see “Geronimo” starring Chuck Connors, and no, the shock was not that white men, albeit, well-tanned ones, could play Indians in Hollywood movies. The recognition of that incongruity of casting would come later. The disturbance in the force was to learn that my father had drawn a line of distinction between his kids and his wife. “I love your mother more than I love you kids.” Imagine in my little mind the sound effect of screeching tires and the smell of burning rubber. The horror. The horror. The movie must not have been very good if Dad and I were having such a discussion.

Chuck Connors as Geronimo in “Geronimo”

I may have set myself up for this distress by foolishly and perhaps smugly asking Dad to merit his love between wife and children. I was shattered, my footing lost, my foundation crumbling. Dad tried to explain that it was a “different kind of love.” How could love be different? Love is love; one size fits all, no dissimilarities or categories to my twelve-year-old mind. I was distraught, but if Dad’s analogy was true, I could only take comfort in the fact that I was the first-born. Perhaps he loved me more than my siblings or at least he had loved me longer. I could not grasp how this “different kind of love” would be applied to any perspective wife I might meet in the future. “When you fall in love, son, then you will understand,” Dad explained.

In George Axelrod’s play “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1955), a character explains, “Dear boy, the beginning of a movie is childishly simple. The boy and girl meet. The only important thing to remember is that—in a movie—the boy and the girl must meet in some cute way. They cannot…meet like normal people at, perhaps, a cocktail party or some other social function. No. It is terribly important that they meet cute.” A pretty stupid formula, however, romantic comedies have held to that standard for decades. The way Kay and I met was anything but cute. It was on a frozen pond playing broom hockey with a bunch of singles from church, and I knocked her on her butt going for the ball. Prior to that fortuitous moment, we had spied each other a few times “across a crowded room” (thank you Richard Rodgers), on different social occasions, but the broom hockey encounter stands out as “meet-uncouth” or “meet-boorish” or “meet-insufferable.” It was anything but Hollywood genteel.

I know it is hard to image me as insufferably boorish. Years later, Kay would write of that moment, “For heaven’s sake, it was an ice hockey game on a cold Sunday afternoon among friends on a Tennessee pond; it was not the playoffs for the National Hockey League. All participants were only mildly competitive, and not to win but to have fun. Chip came to win. I was not impressed with his intensity or lack of awareness of the socially obvious friendly rules of the game: polite competition, laughter, no injuries. From the moment Chip arrived on the scene, I certainly noticed him as he plowed through almost everyone on the ice including me. This was a perfect example of our different approaches to the world…bulldozer meets bashful babe.”

Don Quixote by Salvador Dali

I, the bulldozer, accomplished two things that afternoon on the frozen pond: 1) her attention was captured, and 2) the current competition for her affection was put on notice. I quote one of my favorite characters in all fiction, “Love and war are all one. It is lawful to use sleights and stratagems to attain the wished end.” Don Quixote had it right. Kay was my “wished end,” and I would use any means necessary to win her over. When she accepted an offer for a first date, and then a second, and kept on accepting my requests for her company, I was smitten. I admit, I was the first to fall. From that early stage of love, I made the connection from Dad’s drive-in confession to loving Mom more than us kids, to my own falling in love with Kay. So this was what Dad was talking about…and unto me the light began to dawn and illumination filled my Cro-Magnon brain.

I know the experts can pooh pooh this idea of falling in love. I’ve heard sermons, listened to marriage specialists, read articles and books, seen the movies, etc., etc., pointing out the warning signs of the irrational attributes of falling in love and how it never lasts. I give these professionals their props, and would never contradict their warnings of the unrealistic expectations of the act of falling in love. When the bliss of the “fall” begins to melt away, without a principled and ethical foundation most of us panic and take flight leaving behind a bewildering morass of painful emotions. But in observing my parent’s forty-eight years of marriage, I saw up-close-and-personal their continual falling in love with each other. It was a perpetual courtship, a perpetual love affair, a perpetual choice where both insisted that romance was a vital component to daily life. That took work and commitment. That took overlooking each other’s human flaws and seeing each personality as a representation of God.

Kay and I could not be more different. The whole “opposites attract” dynamic was and is in full force with our marriage. I dance on tables and Kay sits at the table resetting the flower arrangement that I have knocked over. We realized long ago that forcing the other to conform into the other’s image of what a partner ought to be was doomed to fail. From bar stools to church pews, any place “two or three are gathered together,” Homo sapiens are in search of true love. The Culture has perpetuated the idea that one’s soul mate is just waiting to be discovered. However, a soul mate does not appear by conjuration or a “meet-cute.” A soul mate is made. As J.J.R. Tolkien said, “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”

Dana Carvey as the Church Lady

There were a few who were skeptical about our pairing. One vocal Church Lady confronted Kay at church—thus the moniker—telling her she did not approve (I don’t recall us ever seeking her approval); that I was a big mistake (“He’s an actor,” stated to mean that my chosen profession and therefore my character were unreliable), that Kay would regret her decision, and the marriage was doomed to fail; false prophesies all around. The right people did approve: Kay’s family and mine, and, in the end, even the Church Lady received a wedding invitation, if only for her to witness our defiance.

The term used most often to describe the dissolution of a marriage is “irreconcilable differences.” When a couple reaches that point, the marriage is treated like a cadaver spread out on a cold, metal slab with mediators, judges, and lawyers carving up the remains. Kay and I have certainly faced our own troubles, decade’s worth, and our opposite personalities that were the source of the initial attraction have given cause for much grief. But those irreconcilable traits that have driven us crazy over the years have also proven to be keys to a more fulfilling marriage. Dad was right in word and deed when it came to falling in love with Mom, and I followed their example. I fell in love with Kay, I keep falling in love with her, and I’m committed to falling in love with her to infinity and beyond.

Kay’s fierce independence kept her skittish of my overt adoration for a little longer than I had hoped, but finally, my “wished end” walked down the aisle escorted by her two brothers, and we exchanged our vows on May 12th, Anno Domini, 1979. You do the math.

William Shakespeare

And so “to the edge of doom,” my love, I bear with you. William Shakespeare could not have versed it better:

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov’d

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Sonnet 116

…Chip and Kay now
Chip and Kay then…










Cover Art: Dance at Bougival by Auguste Renoir; 1883

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Read more about the article Unexpected Pockets of Beauty
Pen and Ink drawing by Paul Geissler; 1951

Unexpected Pockets of Beauty

The early years of the six-member Arnold household were lean. Mom was a genius at devising recipes with hamburger. There was no disposable income. There were no luxuries. The bank account was like the proverbial turnip from which no monetary blood could be squeezed. Vacations were never to the beach or mountains or theme parks. Our vacation was a trip to my paternal grandparents’ home in Richmond, Virginia.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The journey from Nashville to Richmond began in the predawn hours and ended well after dark. This was before the Interstate system, and two-lane highways on the map led through cities and towns and twisting through the Blue Ridge Mountains. If we got stuck behind an eighteen-wheeler, we would almost be asphyxiated by the diesel fumes before being able to pass. The fast-food industry had not yet popped up like gastronomic weeds, so Mom would prepare snacks and full meals for the drive. Our favorite was her roast beef and vegetables wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Dad would secure it on top of the manifold of the engine where it would slow cook until we got to Bristol, and we would stop at a roadside picnic area and feast.

Arnold Grand parent’s house in Richmond, VA

My parent’s oft repeated mantra uttered in weary sighs was, “It’s hard to get to Richmond.” But once we pulled into the driveway, our exhaustion soon dissipated. The Arnold grandparent’s home was a place of magic and mystery. A two-story house built in the 1830’s, on a couple of acres, with an expansive backyard devoted to a beautiful flower and lush vegetable garden. There was a huge oak tree in the front yard, so tall that its thick leafy crown was visible for several miles in every direction. Even holding hands and stretching our arms, the Arnold kids could not gird the circumference of the tree. At the base of the tree were several Civil War era cannonballs; the house served as a field post for a brief stint during that time. We played with the unexploded ordinance without ever worrying about its potential lethality.

In the reverie of youth, I had no appreciation for the beauty of the garden or that my grandmother was a master gardener, a gift she handed down to her only child, my father. The “green fingers” or “green thumb” expression came into existence in the 1930’s and would apply to both mother and son. Their ability to grow varieties of flora or foodstuffs wherever they dug their trowel into the earth was uncanny. But planting and growing was more than a utilitarian exercise. Just as an architect would dream of spaces of beauty, so the creative natures of my father and grandmother would design unexpected pockets of beauty spaced throughout their miniature landscapes. I say “unexpected” because both mother and son enjoyed the element of surprise when they rounded a corner and came upon a beautiful cluster of blooms they had planted earlier now exuberant with color and shape.

Garden Gate from Richmond

The Richmond garden had a main path running down the middle from one end of the backyard to the other. On either side of the main path were floral neighborhoods each with its extravagant variety of specie. At the south end was the garden house and beside it, a mound of compost. A kid could almost scale it were it not for the slippery substance of decay. I made my share of trips to the compost pile carrying an overflowing colander of kitchen biodegrades. My paternal kin were survivors of the Great Depression in rural Virginia and nothing was wasted. They took from the earth and gave back to it in vegetable scraps and wilted flowers.

The north end opened onto a grassy square with a bordered edge of berry and butterfly shrubs; a haven for birds, squirrels, rabbits, and a kaleidoscope of butterflies. I became a collector of butterflies and moths over a summer we spent in Richmond while Dad worked on a construction crew to bring in the extra money needed for the family. His teaching job did not offer employment from June through August, so a summer was spent in Richmond. The varieties of butterflies and moths I did not find expired on the ground or in the bushes, I captured with a homemade butterfly net crafted by my grandmother with a broken broom handle, a coat hanger redesigned and attached to one end, its circular shape covered in old, cut-to-fit stockings, and then gently “put to sleep.” I bagged enough species to fill several shadowbox glass frames that the grandparents displayed on the wall. Their oohs and aahs of admiration made me feel like an artist, yet one with a mild guilty conscience for how a few captives had sacrificed their lives for my exhibit.

In one corner of this grassy square was a large stone fireplace. It had a tall chimney framed by giant boxwood on either side. When we entered the north end of this space it was as if coming upon the altar of some extinct tribe. This wonderland fevered my imagination. In the reverie of creative adventures with my siblings, I did not know or care about unaffordable vacations to beaches, mountains, or theme parks.

In the case of my grandmother, the romantic mythology of one having “green fingers” did not apply. The fingers of my grandmother were rough and dirty from digging in the earth, planting, pruning, and harvesting her produce. She washed her hands before meal preparation, but hers’ were not green by any stretch of the imagination. Even when scrubbed, her hands bore the dark stains of soil and plant.

Dad’s water pond; angel cherub sits in Kay’s herb garden.

It was the same for Dad. Once my parents got their children educated, employed, and married off, there was money to invest in the yard. I did not appreciate Dad’s gift until much later in my life. I would drop by and find him in the backyard, on his hands and knees digging, planting, or harvesting, his body wet with sweat, his hands and fingers dirt caked, always eager to give me a tour and pick a bouquet for me to take home to Kay. Years ago, I cast Dad as the Gardner in a production of “The Secret Garden” for Nightingale Theatre. The show ran for two weeks at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Perfect casting. Perfect location.

In early June of 2002, Dad’s garden was in peak bloom, a result of weeks of labor. He wanted to put the eagle weather vane from Richmond on top of his garden house. He was not feeling well at the time, and he had our daughter, Lauren, climb up the ladder to the roof. It was a tricky job, so Dad followed after her, and together they mounted the weather vane on top of the faux chimney. A few days later, Dad shuffled off his mortal coil. I hope when I go to meet my Creator I am in the middle of some creative project like my father.

Dad’s Loch Ness driftwood captured from the banks of the Harpeth River with St. Francis; the statue now relocated in our garden.

This spring as Kay and I work up our garden—she is head gardener, and I her head weed-puller—and I bump into the artifacts inherited from my Richmond grandmother and my father, and as I hear the squeals of pleasure from my grandchildren running along the garden paths or playing in the fountain or chasing after the butterflies (we employ a capture and release program now), I watch with joy as they marvel in wonder at the magic spin-wheel cups on the weather vane catching the wind and twirling through the sculpted holes of eternity or as they jump from rock to rock with an occasional misstep that draws blood and tears and requires band aides and comforting words in the embrace of a parent or grandparent, or listen to them conversing with the statue of St. Francis, or traversing the stone border wall as if it were a balance beam, or racing their bicycles like daredevils down the ramp they have constructed from the large stone steps, I ponder what rich and fertile memories they are storing up, and I remember my own childhood adventures in the gardens of my grandmother. I am confident that the memories of our two daughters are chockfull of wonderful moments of time spent in their grandfather’s garden. And now our grandchildren are creating their memories in our garden of delights. This is a blessing handed down to the third and fourth generation.

The Master Gardener Himself

Cover Art: Pen and Ink Drawing by Paul Geissler; 1951

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Broke in Malibu or How I Met Angelina Jolie

In the early 1970’s both my sister and I heeded the call to “head west.” I was fleeing multiple failures in my attempts at higher education; a hippie lifestyle did not make for academic discipline or offer much professional opportunity unless you were a rock star or a cannabis farmer. I was neither. Most of my peers were closing in on a college degree by the time I was just getting started. My sister’s reason for fleeing was less complicated…a bad boyfriend. Pepperdine University had recently opened its Malibu campus, and through family connections, Nan and I had received music scholarships. My scholarship was based solely on the connections. Nan’s was that, but also merit-based. In that coming year, she sang in operas, musicals, choirs, an ensemble group, and for private fund-raising events. I schlepped choral risers, moved pianos, and drove the truck.

Pepperdine’s spanking new Malibu campus in 1972

We boarded the plane to L.A., wiser for our failures, and with the immigrant’s heart for a new start in a new land. Once we reached cruising altitude, I ordered bourbon on the rocks. At some point while sipping my drink, Nan asked me for the time. I turned my wrist, the one wrapped with the watch, and yes, the same one connected to the hand holding the bourbon, and spilled the drink into my lap. I was not then nor am now a sophisticate. But from that moment on we began to laugh, and we did not stop laughing the entire academic year.

Nan and I had some money saved from different acting and performing gigs that we were able to take with us for “extras.” Our parents had little money to send, so pennies were counted and purchases were scrutinized. On Sunday nights the school cafeteria was closed and we had to adjust. At home, the Arnold’s followed specific traditions after returning from church on Sunday nights: sandwiches made of the leftover roast beef from lunch, a tray of raw veggies, tea punch, pickles, and chips…Charles Chips, of course; we ate the cheaper brands during the week and saved the Charles Chips for Sunday night. And for entertainment it was Ed Sullivan, Bonanza, and Mission Impossible. There was no way to carry on that tradition at Pepperdine, so Nan and I improvised. We would borrow a vehicle from a fellow student (they were never invited to join us), and we would head into Malibu to a burger joint for takeout sandwiches and chips, poor substitutes indeed from the culinary bounty of our Sunday night leftovers, and then go to the drugstore to buy a couple of cheap cigars. We would drive Pacific Coast Highway to a spot on the beach, eat, smoke our stogies, and laugh, always laugh.

The boys were falling over themselves for Nan’s attention. One guy gave her an opal necklace in hopes of turning her head. However, Nan saw the gift as an economic opportunity. We went to a pawnshop in Santa Monica, and Nan asked the owner how much it was worth, but he only told her how much he would give for it. Our collective experience in the art of negotiation at pawnshops was limited, and after a few rounds of “How much is this necklace worth/I’ll give you twenty dollars for it,” the pawnshop owner threw us out for being idiots.

“Deliverance” poster; Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

Most of the time our desire for cultural experience exceeded our economic grasp, and so, we learned to wing it. One day Jon Voight came to the campus to talk to the students. His film “Deliverance” had just come out, and as our family was “of the theatre” as well as being white-water enthusiasts at the time, Nan and I had to meet him. We waited for the right moment after his presentation before we approached, and the timing could not have been better. We were able to walk him to his car sharing our theatrical background and canoeing stories along the way. He then told us that he was soon going into production for “A Street Car Named Desire,” at the Ahmanson Theatre with Faye Dunaway, and we should come and see the show. Here was a dilemma: we were now BFF’s with Jon Voight, with a personal invitation to see his show, however, we were economically unable to commit to such an expensive event. So the hustle and flow of creative alternatives to find a way around the quandary began stirring in our imaginations.

Cover Art by Thomas Hart Benton

Borrow a car…check. Park for free a long distance from the theatre and walk…check. Squirrel away extra food for dinner from lunch at the school cafeteria…check. But purchasing two tickets to the show…not so fast. Even by pooling our money we could only afford one ticket, and even that was a student ticket. If only our pawnshop negotiation skills had been fine-tuned we might have afforded a second ticket from the sale of the opal necklace.

And here was where our criminal minds kicked into gear. There were multiple entrances into the theatre, and the night we attended, we scoped out which entrance was most clogged with patrons. We spied a bottleneck at one entrance, and Nan squeezed herself into the middle of it, and the next thing I knew, she was waving at me through the glass window from inside the lobby. I used the one ticket to get inside, and then gave Nan the stub for the legit seat while I waited for the houselights to go to half before I slipped into the theatre. Of course, I was stopped by an usher, but I explained that my sister had the ticket, and I would sit on the empty back row and join her later never specifying how much later. That was sufficient, and I took my seat in the back as the houselights went dark and the stage lights came up.

After the show we went outside to the stage door entrance and slipped in when no one was looking. We explained to the one guard at the security desk that we were here to see Mr. Voight, and Nan flashed the ticket stub for good measure. He pointed down the hall to the dressing rooms and said that “Mr. Voight’s name is on the door.”

Oh yeah, “Mr. Voight” on the door, and we knocked, a polite knock, and, oh yeah, Mr. Voight opened the door. And while he was a bit surprised to see the brother/sister duo, his new best friends and fellow thespians from Pepperdine University, he “acted” like he remembered us, invited us into the room, and introduced us to Mrs. Voight sitting in a corner, feet propped on a chair, her hands perched atop her rounded tummy. She was with child. She indulged us with a smile and patted her belly that housed the future Ms. Angelina Jolie.

The Man

Since our scheme worked so well, we repeated the exact same one-ticket artifice for “The Crucible” starring Mr. Charlton Heston. The only difference was that when he answered our polite knock on the door of his dressing room after the show, he appeared in a blue bathrobe with a shade of irritable impatience on his lips that might have passed for a smile if we had been the people he must have expected and not total strangers. We apologized for the intrusion on his privacy and complimented his performance, and then slowly backed away hoping not to be struck down by the one who had parted the Red Sea. If Mr. Heston had just invited us into his dressing room, I’m sure we would have hit it off. I mean, we could have introduced him to Mr. Voight, and then we all could have been BFF’s.

Nan and I thought it wise not to continue our one-ticket connivance for fear that wanted posters with the brother/sister mug shots would soon appear alongside the production posters that hung in the lobby of the Ahmanson. Do not judge us for our unlawful past. Brother and sister turned out fine…well, at least one of us did. But lawbreaking was in our DNA. When our mother was a college student, she secretly rode the trolley to the old Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville and smoked cigarettes behind the potted palms near the women’s bathroom. During that same time period, as a student at the same college, our father would go swimming after dark in the privately owned Radnor Lake; a strictly prohibited activity then as now. Though short-lived, skirting the edges of the criminal underworld was inevitable for the offspring of Bud and Bernie Arnold.

Bernie as Katharine and Bud as Petruchio in “Kiss Me, Kate”

At the end of that year in Malibu, Nan tripped off to Abilene University where she met the good boyfriend who became the good husband. I went from the sun and surf of the Malibu campus to Pepperdine’s L.A. campus located just a few blocks from the remains of many charred buildings set ablaze during the Watts riots of 1965. The University was in transition from downtown to Malibu, but the theatre department at the L.A. campus had some excellent acting coaches. When the head of the theatre bumped up my scholarship money, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Backstage sibling shenanigans
Now that’s more like it

Before that year in Malibu, my sister (Ms. Nan Gurley), and I had yet to work together on stage. Forty-five plus years later, we have been in so many shows that it would be impossible for me to count them. Our fleeing to the west coast resulted in creating lifelong memories that never cease to bring a smile. And even today when we are together and happen to remember a “Malibu” experience, you guessed it, we burst out laughing.

Cover Art: Photo by Bud Arnold taken with his Kodak Brownie

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Read more about the article Often Wrong; Never in Doubt
French political cartoon; Henri Meyer, Illustrator; 1898

Often Wrong; Never in Doubt

A few Thanksgivings ago the Arnold clan made up of the four families, plus guests (no we’re not a part of the southern mafia), gathered under one roof to celebrate the day. The weather was mild enough to enjoy being outside, so when not feasting around the tables, many folks chose to move outdoors. The patio fire pit was blazing and many of us clustered around it. I was standing in close proximity to the fire when someone in the crowd asked the question, “What is Boxing Day?” A smug look of “I got this” came over my face, and I proceeded to offer an explanation. I did sprinkle my history lesson with a little humility by interjecting that I was not sure of all the facts, but I believed Boxing Day to be a celebration of an uprising of Chinese nationalists against colonialism at the turn of the 20th century. That was about as far as I got before my youngest brother began to laugh and said, “You are such an idiot.”

Major powers plan to cut up China for themselves; cartoon in “Punch” magazine; Aug 22, 1899 by J.S. Pughe
The Boxer rebels

Right uprising/wrong holiday. Many Western countries including America and Japan wanted to reconfigure China, slicing up pieces of the country for themselves. These greedy nations referred to the Chinese militants as Boxers since many of the rebels practiced Chinese martial arts.

I should know never to argue with or pontificate before my Mensa Society, big-brained, youngest brother whose encyclopedic knowledge of history, both foreign and domestic, is worthy of a professorship in the Ivy-Leagues. It was the perfect setup. I lobbed him an easy softball pitch and he knocked it out of the park. Now mind you up to that point, I had the crowd in the palm of my hand with my assured answer to the Boxing Day question. My confidence was worthy of a contestant on the game show, “What’s My Line”, where celebrity panelists question three contestants to determine which one was the true professional, thus the title, “What’s my line…of work?” That Thanksgiving Day for a fleeting moment, I proved my acting ability was superior to my historical knowledge.

What’s My Line panelists in 1952

I embraced the family motto, “Often wrong, but never in doubt,” years ago. Facts? Truth? Who needs facts and truth? Facts and truth, as Twain said, should never get in the way of a good story. And while I attribute Mark Twain with that proverb, if truth is what you want, then there are no reliable sources that solidifies the maxim to him. However, if Twain didn’t say it, he should have said it.

I guess the Downton Abbeyers are checking the boxes before giving them to the servants

I ought to have known the Boxing Day origins and purpose. I had to sit through enough episodes of “Downton Abbey” with Kay. While some of the storylines held my attention, after the car wreck that killed off the character of Matthew Crawly so the actor could pursue fatter paychecks from Hollywood, my interest waned. I don’t blame Mr. Dan Stevens who played Crawly for seeking greener pastures; an actor’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.

Boxing Day. What a terrible name for a holiday. It is so pedestrian, so anticlimactic, so void of any Incarnate significance. And something only the aristocrats (1%’ers) would come up with to appease a limited conscience: make the servants wait on you Christmas Day and then give them the following day off with a “box” of treats, a little cash, and my favorite, leftover food. What the servants served their masters the day before, hot off the grille; they got the privilege of eating cold the next day. I hope the cooks were smart enough not to spit in the gravy before they served it to the lords and ladies.

But I don’t just prove the family motto with my slippery command of history. I can be “often wrong, but never in doubt,” in a present day setting. This last Christmas at my middle brother’s house I was so confident in my accusation that he had misplaced the gifts I had brought in from the car, I made a public declaration to that effect before the entire family as we searched the house. When the hunt proved futile, Kay suggested I go back to our car for a second look. You guessed it. I should have snuck back into the house and slipped them under the tree and then acted surprised to have found them in so obvious a place. “Oh, there they are.” Now I could have acted that one brilliantly, but no, the truth was brought to light, and the middle brother got his last laugh.

I have been the self-imposed victim of such public ignominy, before audiences large and small, for years. I’ve become so accustomed to those moments that I am no longer embarrassed by them. I just quote the family motto and take a bow. I know how to take a bow. I get paid to take bows, but only after a job well done, and I can do mortification well. It just goes to prove that we all need fact checkers. My siblings, my wife, my daughters and sons-in-law, my fellow actors, yea verily, the majority of my entire community have done the honors of busting my “never in doubt” bloviations with the facts. It always brings laughter and pleasure.

Oliver Sacks; photo by Luigi Novi; Brooklyn Book Festival; 2009

Dr. Oliver Sacks once wrote of a panel he was on where the topic of discussion was information and communication in the twenty-first century. An internet pioneer was proud of the fact that people, including his daughter, had access to information no one could have imagined a few decades before. Sacks said that while one might be “…stocked with wide-ranging information, that was different from knowledge.” And I would add that such knowledge and information does not guarantee a gaining of wisdom.

We humans are easily bewitched. We prefer perceptions over facts and truth. St. Paul wrote how we will gather around us a great number of teachers to say what our “itching ears want to hear.” And how we humans “will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

The Apostle Paul; Rembrandt; 1635

I know took a somber turn there, but I am reminded by my numerous “often wrong, but never in doubt” blunders epitomized in this family motto that I want people around me to tell me the truth, speak truth into my heart and mind, even when it is painful to hear and perhaps more painful to correct. An ancient Hebrew proverb says it best, “Better an open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” The impermanence of life is all around us, and at the end of the day what we are left with are memories. May our memories be full of truth, truth that corresponds with reality and honest relationships, truth that provides a balm to our soul and gladness to our heart.

Cover Art: French political cartoon; Henri Meyer, Illustrator; 1898

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