Episode 252: The Honesty Box


I’ve moved on to Ireland and the many beauties that await a driver around any bend on The Wild Atlantic Way. One of these is a charming custom called the Honesty Box.

After I update you on my present delights I am continuing with my tales of romance and 2002. Romeo and Juliet was next on my directing docket. I just had to get through the painful process of casting.

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Hello, hello, my friends. Welcome back. Thank you for joining me! Season Two. Very exciting. Whoo. 

I am in Ireland now. Oh, that’s exciting. I love Ireland. This is like the fourth time I’ve been here, and the second time that I’ve been to Cork, and driving around all of the beautiful, Wild Atlantic Way – the seaside coastal road that just goes near the water most of the time – and there are incredible sights to see. They just point it all out, you know: stop here, take a picture here. And so it’s all done for you. It’s wonderful. And I got so lucky to have some beautiful sunny days. I mean, when I landed here, and I went to pick up my rental car, the woman at the rental car place was like, “Well, it’s supposed to rain the whole time you’re here. But you didn’t come here for the weather, right?” And I was like, “No, of course not.” But I got lucky. I really got lucky. 

But I wanted to tell you about one of my favorite things about driving around on the roads here. It’s a thing that you encounter on the countryside roads in the British Isles, and I love it. It’s called the honesty box. And if you don’t know what that is, you’re in good company because there are Brits – like my roommate, Sophie, from the Chianti residency, who had no idea what this was. And that’s a shame. The honesty box is a charming champion of trust in a cynical world, and I think we should bring it back. And bring it back to the States. 

Here’s how it goes: You’re tootling along on some windy narrow country road lined with hedges —  Okay, ‘tootling’ might be inaccurate as this is very nerve wracking —  but the hedges now and then give way to openings where there’s a farm gate or a driveway. And occasionally, you’ll see a little stand at the end of the driveway with some sort of a box and a handwritten sign. I’ve seen these boxes range from a Rubbermaid type plastic tub with a lid, all the way to a beautifully handcrafted painted box with a latch that keeps the wind out, not to mention the foxes or the mice. The sign most often says ‘Eggs. One pound.’ 

When I first saw these, I assumed that they were like the things back home where you’d have to knock at the farmhouse door to get your fresh eggs. It was only on a walk whilst in Tenbury Wells that it came upon one as I was walking, so I ventured to open it up. Inside were small, half-dozen cartons of eggs, and a jar with a couple of one pound coins in there. I was astonished – that the coins were still there. And the eggs for that matter. I mean, back in Nyack, the coins and the eggs would have been gone on the first day. And that well-meaning backyard chicken farmer would have given up after a couple of days. But here this is common practice: take some eggs and leave your money. Sometimes it’s extra zucchini or whatever other vegetables are overflowing in the garden. 

And the other day I came upon a sign that said ‘Local honey.’ I was sure this one was one of those where you have to go up to the door, but upon lifting the lid, I found a dozen jars of honey with cute labels and the price tag of seven pounds. This time you had to put the money into a slot below the jars where only the owners could collect it, but still, there’s half a dozen jars of valuable honey totalling more than $80. That’s a good deal of honesty that they were expecting there. And they got it. I’m sure. I, for one, slipped my seven pounds into the slot and went happily away to enjoy many cups of tasty tea as a result. So am I just a cynical colonist? Or do we think that could ever work at home? I hope to see an honesty box in the states one day. 

This part of the world in general makes me quite happy. From my perspective, life seems more genuine and gentle here in a place where people still pause for a cup of tea at four o’clock. I see friends and neighbors meet in the street and inquire about their families. Maybe it happens at home too, but I guess it’s been too long and I don’t feel it from here. 

I have a wee cold today, so I’m missing the comforts of home more than I have. I think I got it because of the shocking change of temperature from Greece to here. I walked through the Cork airport in shorts and a T shirt, and my system just couldn’t cope. I’m making chicken soup and I’m drinking tea, but still the fires of home beckon. At least that tea is very much more delicious with my honesty box honey. 

Summertime seems to lend itself to blissful avoidance of reality. But with the cold weather perhaps I heard the call of home more clearly. Ironic, because it’s the cold that I dread about life in New York. And yet I’m returning to it and will be there for lots of time in the colder months. I suppose the payoffs will be all of the holiday times which bring a festive cheer. I’ll be back in time for pumpkin carving! So that’s a good place to start. 

So for now, back to 2002. There are interesting themes there involving honesty to be sure. Let’s see, I started to tell you about the Strange Bedfellows and our first show, and how my ex, Dave, met his next love, Mary, while speaking the beautiful words of Shakespeare’s lovers. It was something I wished for dearly in my own life, so I was a little jealous in that sense. Not in the least that they had found each other, but the manner in which it had come about. A couple of years before when I had been at the Shakespeare and Company intensive, (to hear more about that, you can go back to episodes 238 to 240) I had seen some beautiful love scenes, and I knew that some of those pairs of actors had also gotten together over the course of rehearsing those words together. One of these was a scene between Queen Margaret and her lover, the Duke of Suffolk from Henry the Sixth, part two. It’s an obscure play, so perhaps you haven’t had occasion to see it. So, in a nutshell: the Queen has been having an illicit affair right under the King’s nose. The stakes are high because both of them could be killed for this. But King Henry finds another reason to banish Suffolk. The scene of which I speak is therefore their final farewell. Their language is electric and urgent, despairing and passionate. I think everyone in the audience had to excuse themselves to find some private place after watching that scene, if you get my drift. 

So as soon as we started this Bedfellows project, I promised myself that I would cast myself and some future lover in that scene together if the opportunity ever arose. I just felt convinced in my heart of hearts, that my ideal match would not be found on the cold and impersonal screen, but right there in front of me – brightly lit with stage lights, and speaking rich and powerful texts that went right to my soul. After all, I was seeing this happen all around me, so why not me? 

Meanwhile, I was surrounded by divorced women, the walking wounded who were tossed out into the world after that Millennium melee. Or worse, women who were still married and wishing that they weren’t, but never arriving at that point of departure. One friend said that she and her husband had not had sex in three years, and that he had started sleeping in another room. She was afraid to be the first one to say “This isn’t working and and I don’t want this.” She kept insisting that he would cut her off without a penny. And, try as I might to convince her that this wasn’t the 1950s and there were laws against that, she was too terrified of poverty to listen. Instead, she wished aloud that someone would just have an affair with him so that she could be free. 

Now I asked you, is that a fair wish to announce in front of a single woman and a dear friend who would want nothing more than to see you happy? Especially when your husband is devastatingly handsome, and hangs around to be the last person at her party one night, insisting that they should have a nightcap. I mean, what a set-up! I sat there enjoying this drink and this gorgeous company, like a person divided in two. One part of myself watched from above and said, “Don’t do it.” 

“But, but, she said she wanted –,” said the other part of me, whose knee was just then brushing up against his as we got comfortable on the couch amidst the party debris. 

“She did not mean it,” my outside self said. 

“I need to help her,” my couch-slut self said. 

“Your friendship will not survive this,” my wiser self said. 

In the end, I was wise, and I shoved him out the door after he helped me clean up. I also stopped listening to her when she complained of him, to the point that our friendship eventually faded away, as she seemed to have little else to say. 

So I carried on with Match.com. I changed my profile pictures. I revamped my narrative. And I hope that I would eventually hit upon the magic formula for online dating success. Meanwhile, I was surrounding myself with a swirling soup of romance as I had chosen Romeo and Juliet for our fall play. And for the first time I actually had discussed my casting plans with other people, as I now had a board of directors to report to. 

We were excited about the potentials of producing this play in particular, because all the schools studied it in their English curriculums, and we felt that we could have more performances and perhaps make a bit more money on this one in order to boost the company. But we were also concerned about what would happen if Romeo or Juliet got sick, and we had to cancel? Because they kind of carry the play, right? So I resolved to double up on the lovers and cast two pairs of them, just in case. 

Casting is always fraught with huge emotions. If you’ve ever been one of those kids, waiting with sweaty palms to see the cast list for the school play go up on the wall, then you’ll know what I mean. So many expectations! I felt the huge burden of wanting to please them all. So I tried to give the kids a heads up at auditions, that they would likely get a larger part in either the fall or the spring play, and then a smaller part in the other play. And that older kids, and those who had been around for longer, would get priority, as the young ones would hopefully be around for many more plays to come. The kids accepted this outlook as they shared my vision for many happy years of Shakespeare stretching out into the future. And we always did the casting for the entire year at the same time, so kids could look forward and say, “Okay, I didn’t get a larger part of in this play, but I got a larger part in spring, and I’m really looking forward to that.” And they could plan around it. 

Parents are another story. I sent my cast list out and I waited, cringing. There were bound to be some tears. I had not cast my own kids in a lead parts and Romeo and Juliet. Both of them would get their chance to shine in the spring play of 12th Night: Savannah as Viola and Dakota as Sir Toby Belch. Part of me wanted to just get through Romeo and Juliet quickly and get on to that promised delight. Patience is not my strong suit. 

In any case, when the cast list came out, I got a phone call – from a board member! Her son was terribly disappointed, and she was hoping that we could sit and talk so that things could come to a better resolution. In short – cast her son as Romeo or nothing. I couldn’t believe my ears. So we had this meeting, and it was painfully awkward. And we resolved that we would speak to one of the kids who was playing Romeo and ask him to change for the part of Mercutio, which this other boy was playing. He ended up being just as happy to do that. And really, Mercutio is an awesome part. So the thing is that people don’t know beforehand what they’re asking. 

I always have this feeling that a part chooses an actor. And you’re meant to say those words for some reason, just like I would someday be meant to say the words of Queen Margaret, because I just had to. But I guess there wasn’t enough history yet for the kids to really trust me on that, or maybe just not for their parents to trust me. I don’t know. It was a rough precedent in any case, because the kids were confused, and it was a tough start to a beautiful play. So at the next board meeting, I told the entire assembled board of directors that I would never do such a thing again. And that casting was my province and mine alone. Sometimes you just gotta putting your foot down. Sometimes you gotta ask for what you want. 

There’s more beautiful things to tell you about Romeo and Juliet as the next episodes come out. Thank you for being here and putting up with my cough. Hope you didn’t hear it too much. Off I go for some more tea, and some more honesty box honey. See you next time.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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