|This puzzle is a birthday tribute to FRED_ROMAGNOLO, who is a Facebook friend that I first made as a followup to his occasional posts on the Rex Parker crossword blog. On November 17, 2015, Fred celebrated his 84th birthday, while his adopted son Joseph Sorensen concurrently celebrated his 44th birthday. Fred and I subsequently communicated via e-mail, and I learned several fascinating things about him [and found a surprising degree of overlap between his interests and mine.]
In the next few paragraphs, I've edited/annotated what Fred wrote (italicized) in a manner that might make the puzzle's marquee answers and/or clues more clear to those who do not know him. Answer words that I was able to work into the puzzle are capitalized and non-italicized. By way of explaining the puzzle's title, Fred's senior dog is named after the great silent film era comedian Buster Keaton, and Fred is a big fan of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, whose star catcher is Buster Posey.
"I live in San Francisco, where I was born, with 3 dogs and a cat. My teaching career spanned 6th grade through graduate school. Mostly I taught history, political sciemce, and humanities, but when called upon to do so, also English, middle school science, economics, 8th grade math, beginning Latin (9th grade), American freshmen in Europe, teaching techniques at San Francisco State University at the graduate level, and acting techniques in local repertory groups.
My roles have been various: from Shaw, a Christian in "Androcles," a fop in "Heartbreak House," the title role in "Arms and the Man," both Don Juan and The DEVIL in "Man and Superman;" Molière's IMAGINARY_INVALID (in 4 separate productions, my signature role!); Jonson's Volpone; the Inquisitor in Giraudoux's "Ondine;" Creon in Sophocles' "Antigone," and various roles in Children's Theater. The few actors left with whom I have worked over the years get together once a month, and we do readings just to keep our hand in. As you can imagine, our ranks get smaller and smaller. I've directed Shakespeare: Richard II, and something I created as a labor of love, trimming "The Merry Wives of Windsor" to BOITO's libretto of Verdi's "Falstaff" called "Falstaff and THE_MERRY_WIVES."
Dogs: in order of seniority—Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and Myrna LOY; cat: Claude Rains (or clawed reigns). I met my boy when he was eleven. He came to live with me upon graduating from high school when he was 17. He's the one who got me to do crosswords, through him I discovered Merl [Reagle]; before that I was an Acrostics snob. I still look forward to the NYT magazine acrostic every other week. FYI, I don't mind using reference sources in my solving, but consider googling only as a last resort. I'm pretty weak on the rap and modern culture front, but do O. K. on the general cultural clues."
Notice how I put OPERA into the grid, and not just any opera, but Mefistofele, a reworking of the Faust legend for which BOITO wrote both the music and the libretto. I've linked to the final 3 minutes or so of a San Francisco Opera company production starring the great Samuel Ramey, and it brings back memories of watching the great Norman Treigle cavorting around the stage of the New York City Opera the first time I saw this masterpiece (a little-known tenor named Placido Domingo was also in that production). Plus, I included my all-time personal favorite clue for ARIA at 30-Down ... "Casta Diva" for a diva, e.g.
It was also sheer dumb luck to be able to work the legendary columnist HERB_CAEN into the puzzle, and clue him with respect to his moniker "Mr. San Francisco." Those of you who don't remember pitcher Jesse OROSCO may have your memories refreshed by this recent appreciation and this iconic photograph. I do hope that you'll find other little surprises in the answer words and the clues; if there are specific ones you believe require further elaboration in the "midrash," please send me an e-mail.