2004 Jan-June

*** Jan 1 ***

I’m too beat tonight (New Year’s Eve) to write much but just wanted to say hi, hello, and happy holidays to everyone. I was in New York all last week & took some fun photos (I’ll post ‘em soon), saw my mom & two sisters, my wonderful brother-in-law Jeff, and of course my darling niece, Hadley. I also had to completely switch my bio clock around from night to day, West coast to East, and then flip it back again upon my return, so right now I’m a bit of a wreck.

Bear with me - I’ll be back soon with a proper entry. Until then, everybody have fun and keep safe.


*** Jan 27 ***

Longish time since I’ve added anything here. Well, it’s been a slow winter since the holidays. Although ‘winter’ is an odd word, still, here in Los Angeles. You know it’s winter here because it rains two or three times, and in the afternoon it’s in the seventies, not the eighties. Sheesh.

Actually, right now is the calm before the storm in some ways. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing sound cues for two productions here in town: Macbeth at the Odyssey, and Ourselves Alone here in Hollywood. Both will be challenging, and almost certainly time-consuming. I may not add anything here again until April! Best to enjoy the peace while I can.

Right now I go to work, then come home and sleep or doodle. I’m also (still) trying to get my photos from Xmas ship-shape so that I can post them here, but several are large panoramas and they’re quite spectacular, but need a lot of work before they’re finished, so I’m slogging through that. Trust me, though, when you see them you’ll know what I’m talking about: Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York, where we spent the holidays, is one of the most scenic and beautiful hotel-getaways I’ve ever seen. Simply breathtaking. And something about it being mid-winter, with the brown grass and bare trees, gave it an even more pretty look. I can’t wait to show you. It won’t be long, I promise.

While I was on the East Coast this past December I had planned to make a little pilgrimage to places associated with Linda, but then, when I finally got there I found I didn’t have the heart. I had vaguely thought that I might wander by her old apartment, say, and maybe even buzz the super to see if I could look inside. Or perhaps go by our old apartment on East Third Street, or even look up some old friends of ours from our married days and perhaps talk over old times. But in the end none of this happened. When I got there I simply fell into the much more pleasant, and less grief-obsessed, mode of being on vacation with my beloved family. So there you go: let the dead bury the dead, as the Bible says. Instead I visited Ann and saw Mary and Mom, and played with Hadley, and enjoyed so much seeing Jeff again. It’s a great little family we have, and everyone in it is so remarkable. You can’t help but have fun. I did. It was a lovely time.


*** March 13 ***

Another long time since the last entry. Things have been rather hellishly busy. First there was sound for Ourselves Alone and Macbeth, which took two weeks of 16-hour days, and then right after that, without a pause, my regular job amped up for tax season. For all of March now it’s been 10-14 hour days and now I’m simply getting fried. I can’t believe there’s another two weeks of this to go (at work our ‘hell’ period ends at the end of March). I haven’t been this pooped since university days. At least I’m making money.

Or was. Damn it all, though, my car chose now to blow up, and it’s going to be expensive. For work I drove down to San Diego last week, and on the way back I must have sprung a water leak, but it was on the freeway so the engine was cooled a little by the wind and I didn’t smell boiling water. But when I got back I noticed it was running rough and hot. Turns out it had been nearly dry of water for hours, and now the radiator was cracked & needed replacing and then, a few days later, the head gaskets blew. All told I’m putting about $1,000 into the engine to fix it up, and there goes most of my overtime. Sigh.

It’s very frustrating. I was actually getting excited there for a while because I’ve been hoping to use the money I’m making this month to pay for lasik. That and starting an exercise program are the next two things on my life to-do list. Oh well, guess I’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Had a weird dream last night with Linda in it and it’s still affecting me now. We were in some run-down part of New York City in a ratty apartment. We were dating again, but not living together, and on this day at least we weren’t getting along; in fact a lot of the latter part of the dream was us arguing about something. But I can’t remember what. I know at one point we had to go to a pawn shop where, of all things, we dropped off one of my old motorcycles for cash. Linda was scowling the whole time. Very odd.

When I have dreams about Linda I pay attention because she had powerful dreams herself, dreams that seemed to guide her. So I always half-wonder if any dream with her in it is in fact her trying to reach me.

In fact, my whole relationship with Linda started with a dream, in a way. After working together on Phone Calls to J.D. Salinger back in 1980 I called her up one day and asked her if she'd like to go see Jean Anouilh's "The Lark" at the St. Lawrence Centre (with Kenneth Pogue and Lynne Griffin; a lovely production). Linda at first said, no, I'm sorry, I can't make it. It was pretty clear to me that the message was, no thanks, Paul, not interested in dating. So okay, I hung up. And I figured I'd never see her again. End of story.

Except it wasn't. Linda phoned me the next day and said, Hey Paul, it turns out I'm free that night after all and I'd really love to go see the show, is the offer still open? I said, hey, sure. And so we went.

Months and months later, when we were living together and engaged, we were lying in bed one night talking about this and that, and the subject of our first date came up. And Linda wanted to explain what changed her mind. She said, "At first when you called me it just didn't feel right. I'd been through a bad previous relationship and I wasn't ready for another one. So I said no.

"But then I went home that night and I had a dream. I dreamed I was going with you to see 'The Lark,' but when we started getting near the theatre I suddenly got cold feet and I turned to you and said, 'I'm sorry, but I have to go home to be with my mother.' And I left you there at the turnstile and I went home. But as I got near home I could suddenly see that our house had burned to the ground. There was nothing left but smoke and ruins and ashes, and nobody was there. And I suddenly realized that I had made a terrible mistake - that there was nothing for me here anymore. I ran back to the theatre to try to find you. But when I got to the turnstile you had already gone in. I couldn't follow you. And then the dream ended.

“There was this real feeling of ‘you had your chance, and you blew it.’ So when I woke up I knew I had to call you right away and say yes."

Of course I’m paraphrasing Linda’s dialogue, but that’s the gist of what she told me. Over the years I’ve never forgotten this story. I particularly remember her mother, the fire, and that turnstile for some reason. When I first heard it, I remember thinking, wow, saved by a dream. But that’s how it is when you’re young and in love. If a meteor shower fell the night you became engaged you’d think it was perfectly natural that the universe was celebrating you. New love feels very holy and magical. At least, ours did.

And I wonder what’s in store for me? I’ve been single for years now, and most of the time it’s okay, but the other night I had a different dream. I was in Amsterdam (where I’ve never been), sitting on a canal boat in the middle of town, looking at children playing in a park. Somebody else was nearer, in the foreground, telling a story. It was sunny, and the side of my face felt warm. Then I noticed that my neck was warm too, but it wasn’t the sun, it was because a girl - my girlfriend, I knew - was kissing me there. I turned to look at her, and she at me. She smiled, and everything was in that smile. She was happy to be here too, in this wonderful city, on this wonderful sunny day. But I knew she was happier still because I was with her, and I felt the same way towards her, and it was - those words again - magic and wonderful. She said something, I don’t know what, with an English accent. She had almond-shaped eyes, round cheeks, a dutch-boy haircut. I felt like I’d known her all my life. We kissed.

And I woke up and went to work! Full of that sweet image and that feeling of love and belonging.

I don’t moon around about this. I don’t have dreams like that every night. Most days are great, and I’m just fine. There are marvelous things about being alone in life and I’m not ready to give them up just yet. But dreams like this come along from time to time and remind me what love is like. Oh yes, my soul then goes. That. I’d like some of that, please. Like a whiff of something delicious from an open restaurant door that makes you suddenly hungry. Mmm, you go. Yes. I must have some of that. Fairly soon.


*** April 19 ***

Macbeth closed at the Odyssey today. They were having a barbecue in the afternoon but I had to miss it; I was home feeling queasy, lying down (had food poisoning last week and I’m still recovering - blech). I wonder how it went.

It would have been fun to go but on the other hand it would have been rueful too. Most of the people I know who were in that show (and, frankly, most of the people I know who saw it) found it disappointing. And yet everyone tried their hardest, and there was no shortage of talent in the company. That’s the thing about Macbeth. I think it’s one of the finest plays Shakespeare ever wrote, yet it seems to be, also, one of the easiest to get wrong. I’ve never seen a good production of it yet. In my life. Ever. The first I ever saw was in Toronto years and years ago, and it was so dreadful it was actually laugh-out-loud bad. I didn’t know then that that was not the exception. Indeed, it would set the tone for all the rest to follow.

This time around it wasn’t flat-out bad, but still the show resisted every effort to make it gloriously theatrical, simple, human, and affecting. Jack Stehlin and the set were the two things I thought the most solid; all the rest suffered from a plague of missteps. And not little missteps either, but the big thumping kind. I thought my sound, for instance, was fine for the most part - except a few key moments when it was so horribly overdone I actually squirmed with embarrassment. Same with the lights, and the video, and the costumes: when things worked they were great, but once or twice, when they didn’t, they were disastrous. Even the cast caught the same disease. Some people were quite good, but others were completely idiotic.

Well, you know, there isn’t a single play in the world that can take all that abuse and come out watchable. In fact, most sink well before the third blow. It’s a sort of perverse law of theatre that while it takes a lot of things to make a play work, it only takes one or two to wreck one, and this time around Macbeth had far more than one or two. The night I saw it the first half contained much that was promising; but alas, it also presented just enough instances of overwrought sound, overdramatic lights, peculiar clothes, weird movement, and just plain bad acting that you could feel the audience slowly sit back and give up. I couldn’t blame them.

Oh, well. One of the reasons I’ve always loved theatre is that it’s a very honest profession. The audience will be more than happy to inform you if you’ve achieved anything worthwhile; and while success is fun it’s often much less informative than a little failure. So - better luck to all of us next time! It was still a very talented cast and company. There are great things in store for a lot of these people.

Otherwise, things are purring along in my life slow but steady. I have a new cell phone now, so those who are used to my old echo-plagued piece of crap are experiencing relief. I’m poised to get a new exercise machine too. (I was going to buy one this weekend, in fact, but have put that on hold because I’m still feeling queasy post-food-poisoning). Other than these plans I’ve just been knocking around, reading my books, paying my taxes, fixing my car, and being a good little citizen. It’s cool. It’s peaceful. Sometimes peace is just what the doctor ordered.


*** May 23 ***

Spent the whole weekend playing “Railroad Tycoon 3” which is a wonderful game - I highly recommend it. You are presented with a world of towns and industries, and you have to hook them up in ways that both make a successful company for yourself and benefit the world at large. You do this by building trains and laying track, but also by buying industries, playing the stock market - even trying to sink your rival tycoons with dirty financial tricks. It’s quite a challenge, and I’ve only been playing at the easiest level so far so I can’t wait to see what comes next. But even as a beginner it amazes me what good, childish fun it is to lay down track and have trains start choo-chooing along them. What is it with guys and trains? I love this stuff!

When I first moved to Los Angeles I was wandering around in Griffith Park one day when I came across something called Travel Town. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sitting right there in the open, with no fences, inviting you to come in and explore and even climb on board, were four or five old steam engines plus a vintage caboose, passenger car, and more. I was in heaven; I practically ran over to this stuff and then clambered happily all over everything for hours. (This, mind you, when I was already in my early thirties and ostensibly a grownup.) Something in trains brings out the kid in me. It’s something about travel, adventure, distant places ... I can’t quite define it. But it’s very real.

traveltownTravel Town is still there, by the way, though lately it’s been fenced in and there’s a small admission charge now. But no wonder; they have to keep those babies painted and in good shape and the money’s got to come from somewhere. If you ever get a chance go have a look. I plan to go back myself sometime soon and spend another delighted afternoon.

Meantime it’s finally slowed down at work. I hear tell it’s going to stay this way pretty much through the summer too, which is a relief - the fast pace of the past few months has been tough on everybody. It’s nice to see a few happy smiles around the office again.

In a few days it’ll be the 24th of May. When I was a kid that was the weekend where my family all piled in the car and drove to Sauble Beach and opened up our summer cottage. I’d see my old friend Pat Watson again. Cars would be all over the place, and the sound of loud music from car radios in the afternoons. Other times you had a chance to get used to other sounds: waves, trampolines, sea gulls, penny arcades; the wind in the dune grass; the sproi-i-ing and then ka-slam of spring-hinged screen doors. There’d be a big dance on Saturday night at the Pavilion, and in the daytime sun and swimming and sand in your shoes and hair and everything else. Barbecue, of course, in the back yard in the afternoon. Sometimes cousins and aunts and uncles would show up, making things more exciting and fun. We’d play frisbee or baseball in the Pavilion parking lot, or down on the beach.

We’d dig out old bathing suits stiff from disuse from our dressers and try them on and wonder if they’d make it another year, then tread down to the water through the weeds and grasses on tender feet that hadn’t been gravel-hardened yet. The waves would be loud and the water cold, until you got in, then warm and wonderful. There might be a wind, which meant somebody’d be flying a kite, or it might be still, so that the water would be placid. On days like that you might see a rare and wonderful sight: Lake Huron, smooth as glass, perfectly mirroring the sky - like a still pond improbably stretching all the way to the horizon.

It would be both familiar and strange those first few days, since we hadn’t been to the cottage for a year and yet we’d been going there every summer all my life. I’d explore my bedroom, just off the kitchen, and would always find things I’d forgotten all about - a comic book, say, whose title had been in the back of my mind all year though I didn’t know why. Or a model plane I’d made and then discarded but half-remembered. It was as if I had a spirit twin who haunted the edges of my existence, someone I never met but who was always leaving traces of me behind.

Later I would lie on the bed and stretch out with a wonderful sense of a whole summer lying ahead. No schedule to follow but my own, and hidden adventures that I couldn’t yet foresee or imagine but knew were out there anyway. Dad, a public school principal, had the whole summer off too, so there was nothing to tie us or draw us prematurely back to our city existence. From early June to Labor Day we were all sandpipers at Sauble. Three whole months by the shore. Pure magic.


*** June 9 ***

Battling a giant cold right now, which is crazy because it’s spring and warm weather and a cold just seems all wrong, but so be it. A couple of weeks ago I put in all kinds of overtime at work; then a few days later somebody came to work snuffling and sniffling. I should have been on the defensive, but I couldn’t be bothered. Now I’m paying the price: I’m muzzy-headed and sore-throated and all stuffed up and my overtime pay is all for naught because I’ve taken three days off work to lie at home and sleep. Oh well. Nature has its agenda, and sometimes you have to bow to it. Salaam.

One cool thing about having a cold is it’s fun to sleep for 18 hours at a stretch. For me, I always end up having very long, colorful, vivid dreams that can get so real they start seeming like visitations, or even astral travel. In the past few days I feel like I’ve been to New York, and my home town, and even that I’ve nipped back through time and visited Sauble Beach in the early seventies. Linda was there sometimes. So was Mo Gaffney. Makes me smile.

Needless to say, I haven’t been terribly productive. About the only thing I’ve done of any note lately was to go to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and add my picture to my decidedly scrawny list of credits. (You can see my page by clicking here.) That and do a lot of moping about being an actor who’s not acting at the moment (again). But maybe that’s understandable. The Tony Awards were held on Sunday night, and I went over to Fred Molina’s house to watch them from his couch with Christina Burck, who’s house-sitting for Fred & Jill while they, of course, are in New York during Fred’s run in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Watching all that talent and fun on the screen was delightful but it also made me a bit rueful. Sigh. I sometimes worry for my poor muses, I really do. They found me out here in the middle of the lonely ocean of life and, like colorful birds, alighted on my masts and gave my life joy and purpose and changed me forever. But what have I done to repay them? Some days I feel like a very slow, leaky vessel indeed.

Oh, stop it. I’m supposed to go to the Odyssey tonight to see “Things We Do For Love” by Alan Ayckbourn, featuring Greg Mullavey who was, of course, in “The Cherry Orchard” with me many moons ago. I’ve already seen it once - I went with Allison Marich a couple of weeks ago - but this time it’s a chance to see it with Stephanie Zimbalist and Christina Burck, both also “Cherry Orchard” alumnae. But this cough of mine, I don’t know ... it’s pretty bad. I’d hate to sit there and be a distraction for the whole house. I’ll decide later ... after I sleep all day.

What else? D-Day’s 60th anniversary was this past weekend. Ronald Reagan died on Saturday (to the man rest in peace; to the politician good riddance). It was my father’s birthday the same day, June 5. Monday (yesterday) I went out for coffee with Vanessa Hopkins to chat about a script she’s found that she wants to workshop, then develop, then produce. She’s so beautiful that I really hope it’s good. (She’s going to drop off a copy later today.) Meanwhile Tori King’s computer has crashed and if I could get five minutes with my head off the pillow I could probably help her fix it, but so far I haven’t been able to (just going for coffee with Vanessa wiped me out). Jonathan Brent has sent me an email for a scene night he’s in and I think I’m going to try to go. My web site crashed on my home computer, but after a few days I recovered it (phew). I’ve made a ton of music CDs for my old friend Dean Merriman but haven’t mailed them yet - I’m waiting until I get back to work so I can use some of their bubble wrap. Oh, and last week I took the personality test on eHarmony.com and loved it, but now they’re starting to match me up with women and it’s got me a little bit nervous. I mean, maybe this is just a typical Virgo-perfectionist talking, but I feel so unfinished and imperfect these days it almost seems like false pretenses to date. Yet I’d really like to start going out again. I miss it.

I keep planning to take some used books over to the bookstore to trade ‘em for something new, but never quite do it. So now I’m flat out of reading material and I’m combing my shelves for anything worth re-reading. The thing is, I’ve already hauled most of my books down to the car, so there’s only slim pickings left. Brilliant pickings, though - stuff I really want to keep, like Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The March of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman. But I’ve been through all these fairly recently, and I don’t need to go back to them again for a while. Sigh. What I need is a Pink Dot for books. Something where I can phone up and have a few good volumes brought to my door in thirty minutes.



*** June 13 ***

Sunday June 13, Christina Burck’s birthday, and I just begged off going to the party because this cold is still hanging around. It’s definitely better, but I’m coughing a lot and I don’t feel like hanging out with a bunch of people. So I’ll just cool it today.

Been home all week though and have had lots of time on my hands, so I’ve fallen upon my website with restless energy. I’ve been reorganizing some pages, and adding new others. Today I restructured this weblog section, for instance, so now it’s simpler for me to add to - and also simpler for you to read. (I used to have all the entries in one long scroll-page, which was getting to be a pain. Now each entry is on its own page, and you can click through them rapidly. Of course, this doesn’t make me any more profound or interesting, but at least I’m well organized!)

I also got *very* ambitious and I’ve added new graphics to my Writing page, and then I launched a whole new project there devoted to the Sauble Beach Pavilion.

1956-Pavilion-thmThe ‘Pav,’ if you don’t know, was a dance hall (no longer in existence) that my parents ran on the shores of Lake Huron at Sauble Beach, Ontario, during the summer months from 1948 through the late 1970s - a stretch that includes my entire child- and teenager-hood. Back on May 23 I got reminiscing about the place a little, and as I was I started thinking that it would be nice to have a place to *really* write about it. The Pavilion, and the whole world of Sauble Beach around it, are the source of a million vivid memories for me - some of them poignant, all of them colorful. My very first kiss and very first girlfriend were at Sauble. I learned to drive in the Pavilion parking lot. My first job was there. I began writing songs at the Pavilion’s battered, out-of-tune piano. I learned to be an actor hawking tickets at the Pavilion’s weekly bingo. This sequence of summers from 1960 to 1978 isn’t just a little Sunday reminiscence for me. It’s a profound part of my life and something I still feel the influence of nearly twenty-five years later. The Pavilion shaped me in some ways that I still haven’t lost. It is also where I discovered truths about myself that still haven’t changed.

But why should you find any of this interesting? Because - you’ll just have to take my word for it - the stories are great. The Pavilion wasn’t just some family shack singsong that my parents put on for the neighborhood; it was a big, public entertainment venue - and a popular one - that thrived for nearly four decades in the heart of Ontario’s vacation district. From 1950 to 1975 it was virtually the only local entertainment center at Sauble Beach - “Canada’s Malibu,” as they once advertised it - and in the succession of rock bands, country bands, traveling salesmen, motorcycle gangsters, wacky employees, and rambunctious crowds that proceeded through the front doors there are dozens of memorable characters and tales. Even if you never heard of the Pav you could have fun with this stuff.

But, as I am constantly reminded, there’s actually a very good chance that you *do* know the Pav. Because the place really was pretty famous in its day. Not world famous, no, but famous throughout Southern Ontario which is a fair accomplishment. And one that, because I was so young at the time, I took for granted. Now, years later, it’s still surprising for me to find evidence of the Pavilion’s afterlife. There’s a short story by Alice Munro that mentions it. There’s a whole book out there, in fact, called “Lake Huron’s Summer Dance Pavilions” by a fellow named Peter Young that has a picture of the Pavilion right on the cover. (You can find it at Alibris.) And there are all kinds of former patrons and performers who write to me from time to time. The Pavilion isn’t wholly a self-absorbed project on my part, then. I may actually entertain a few like-minded people along the way.

So I’ve decided to write about the Pavilion. If you’re interested, go have a look. A word in advance, though - this is very much a rough work in progress right now, and I plan for it to take a very long time to approach anything like smoothness and/or completion. There are dozens of photographs I’d like to include, for example, but they’re all back at my mom’s house in Canada and I won’t really have a chance to go through them until the next time I visit her, which may not be for a year or two. So this thing is going to take time. And also, this - I almost said “thing” again - this book or scrapbook or whatever it is - is meant to be fun, not a chore, so I don’t promise polished writing. I’m going to just shoot from the hip and try to get my memories down as they come to me. I’ll buff things up later.

But for all that, I think it’ll still be fun. Check it out from time to time. And please send me an email and let me know what you think.


*** June 27 ***

You know, being a late-night third-shift kind of guy is sometimes cool, but sometimes it’s also just plain weird. Case in point: I was rather tired after Friday’s shift at work, so I came home and slept a long time. Normally I’d wake up around 4 or 5 pm, but this time I woke up at 9pm. (That is, Saturday night.) I was having wonderful dreams so I didn’t mind too much; but still, I wake up, and now by the time I’ve had a little juice and washed my face and gotten dressed and other things it’s 10pm. That’s too late to phone most people I know, any definitely too late to phone anyone in my family who all live back east, several time zones away. So I sit down at the computer instead and putter away. Play a game. Do my email. Then I go outside and pick up the real mail. Then I have a bite to eat. Now I’m back at the computer and it’s midnight. Now what?

There’s no movie I can go out to see, nobody I can visit. So instead I do a bit of writing, then putter on a few other projects here and there, nothing terribly material (I assure you). Around 4am or so I remember I have unseen movies from Netflix, so I pop one in: “The Usual Suspects.“ (I find it well-written but annoyingly overacted in places.) Then, not being sated, with the dawn now coming on I put in movie number two, “Black Sunday.” I enjoy this film more. (It has its own flaws but it’s absorbing because of all that obviously-real Super Bowl footage from the early 1970s and the fact that you know the blimp isn’t CGI.) That wraps up around 8am, and I’m still not sleepy, so I decide to update my friend Tori King’s web site, and then I give myself a haircut. Now it’s 10:15 and I’m finally getting a bit dozy. So I’m writing this weblog entry, and then, as the birds chirp and the world hums outside, I’ll crawl into bed.

And my point is, this isn’t some coffee-induced all-nighter. This is a normal kind of weekend night for me.

How weird.

I understand intellectually that it’s just a thing I’m doing right now. This is temporary. I’m working this job to make money to move towards my life goals. I know all this. And I often take comfort from having a sense of purpose; the thought that I’m on a lonely quest in the name of bettering my life and that this is a good thing. But it doesn’t always work. Some days I just feel like a forgotten piece of human jetsam washed up on some remote island of insomniacs. Sometimes, in a word, this schedule sucks - and I miss being in synch with everyone else in the world. Outside my window there’s a Sunday happening right now. People are having lunch and rollerblading and sailing boats and going for picnics, and I’m going to miss it. I’m going to sleep. This vaguely annoys me.

At least I got a haircut out of the deal. :-)

I enjoy cutting my own hair. I’ve got it down to a science now. First I put on an old t-shit, affixing a binder clip to hold the neck tightly closed around my neck. Then I get my electric clippers and set the automatic level-guide at three. I move into the bathtub now, then turn on the clippers and begin stroking them over my head. I go front to back, then back to front, then side to side, covering the same ground again and again so I can be sure I’ve gotten all stray curls and wisps. At first great tufts of hair fall and it’s fun. Then it’s just bristle. When finally nothing more is falling I then step over to the bathroom mirror to examine the result, and spend a few more minutes clipping those strands that have somehow escaped. Then I take scissors and trim the final strays, also going carefully around my ears and trimming my sideburns. When I’m done, the result is a fairly respectable haircut that only took fifteen minutes and that didn’t cost me a penny.

The only problem with this whole system is, I don’t have a second mirror to check the back of my head, so I have to rely on touch. Ha! I could be bald back there and never know! I always tell my friends when I’ve just cut my hair, “If you see anything weird just grab a scissors and fix it for me, will you?” My haircuts are sometimes quite the community effort.

* * *

In other news, I’m in deeply ambivalent emotional ground at the moment and I don’t know yet what to do about it. I don’t even know what I want.

It started a couple of weeks ago when I went to eHarmony.com on a whim and took their free personality test. It turned out to be longer than I expected, and also much more challenging, which intrigued me. I guess I had nothing better to do that day, so I slogged through the entire test in one sitting and then read, fascinated, the resulting report. This was not a little one- or two-page affair designed to make me feel good about myself. It was an eight- or nine-page thing full of interesting and, I have to say, very illuminating comments. I was amazed. This sure didn’t seem like the typical dating-site feel-good fodder. In fact, the report was so detailed and so long that I’ve had to go back several times since to re-read it. I’m not one for excessive self-reflection, but this has been an interesting process.

So far so good, but what I didn’t know was how much I was already also emotionally investing in eHarmony. It sneaks up on you. You answer all these questions, which takes time, and even if you’re “just there for the test” as the minutes and hours pass you can’t help but reflect in some remote part of your mind on the opposite sex. And in reflecting, you gradually become accustomed to the idea of maybe-perhaps-sort-of dating again. At the end of the test they ask you whether or not you’d like eHarmony to find matches for you. If they had asked me this at the beginning I would have said no. But now I found myself thinking, well, what’s the harm in trying.

(Unlike other dating services you don’t actively search for partners yourself on eHarmony: instead, you fill out your profile and then wait for them to notify you that they have found a match for you. It’s like having a matchmaker. Maybe they should call it eAnnatevka.)

But already, ambivalence. Was I really ready to start dating again? After nearly five years of being a bachelor? I wasn’t so sure. Is finding a partner really that big a priority in my life right now? If not, what business do I have playing with real people’s lives and feelings? I couldn’t answer these questions to my satisfaction - so in the end I took the middle ground. I figured I’d let eHarmony find me some matches and I’d just see what they were like. If it felt right, then after that I’d actually join the service and move forward. And if not, then I could just forget the whole thing. Easy.

Well, the matches started coming. I received emails that began: “Dear Paul and Jane,” “Dear Paul and Lauren,” etc. I went to eHarmony and looked at my Match Page. Four names! I clicked on each and read what these women had to say about themselves. Some had pictures, and they were nice. Some of their words made me smile. One actually interested me. I felt like I wanted to know more about her ... but ... I couldn’t unless I joined!

I was hooked. Suddenly it wasn’t easy or straightforward. Everything felt more urgent somehow. Suddenly it was, Wait a minute. They’ve matched me up using their super-duper (patented) profiling program. These names are here for a reason. Part of me was saying, you knew this would happen. But the other part kept nagging: Yeah, but ... so what? What if the love of my life is slipping away?

So I joined the service. Paid a hundred bucks for six months. Now, as an eHarmony member, I could talk freely to my matches. Or could I? I discovered that, in fact, eHarmony makes you proceed through their four-step ‘controlled communication’ process. First you submit simple questions to your match (chosen from a list), and receive answers. Then you answer similar questions. Next you get to write more detailed questions, and again, you have to write more detailed answers. It’s a pleasant four-step process that keeps things low-pressure and gives you lots of time to consider whether you really find this person interesting or not. It’s safe too, which is a natural concern when you’re meeting new people. If you don’t like a match, or don’t like how your communication is developing with them, you simply ‘close’ it for good. When that happens you disappear from their match list immediately and they can’t see or talk to you anymore.

I haven’t been “closed” yet after starting the communication process, which I’m relieved about, though I don’t precisely know why. Maybe in my mind it would be like going on an e-date and then getting rejected. But I get “closed” all the time in the initial pre-talk phase of things, which doesn’t bother me in the least. Each of us eHarmonizers has an “About Me” page where we post a photo and describe ourselves. If somebody closes me right off the bat, it’s because they’ve read this page and don’t like what they see. Fair enough. I certainly don’t want to date someone who feels that way. Obviously I want somebody who reads my bill of goods and thinks it’s wonderful.

So anyway, in one sense you could say that I’m enjoying playing the eHarmony game so far. I’ve enjoyed getting my personal profile, and I’ve enjoyed being matched up with all these women I’ve never met, and reading about them, imagining meeting them. But here’s the rub: it’s not just a game. At a certain juncture, this field of potential partners narrows, quite naturally, down to one or two individuals who you are actually talking to on an individual basis. Suddenly these women aren’t questionnaires anymore but real people living out there in the real world, with the expectation of meeting you. Perhaps even in the near future. And as this has dawned on me I’ve noticed a shift in my feelings about this whole thing. In two words, I’m having an attack of cold feet.

It’s not personal. There’s no doubt that the two women I’m talking to via eHarmony are very nice so far. I’ve seen their pictures, I’ve read their profiles, and they both seem like wonderful souls. I’ve written email directly to one and I’m on the point of that with the second. And at this point, I can sense that eHarmony really is a useful introduction service: I seem to have a lot in common with both of these people and feel like we’d probably enjoy ourselves if we went out. But now I find myself hesitating. Why? The best I can tell is it’s two things.

First, it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve dated. (My last girlfriend and I met when I was just past thirty, and we lasted eight years. Since then there’s been nobody.) I haven’t had to look at myself, then, for a fairly long time as potential boyfriend material. Now that I am, I’m not overwhelmed. Only last month I was a happily unreconstructed bachelor, possibly a little seedy at the edges but also at least unself-conscious and happy. Now I’m suddenly noticing that my breath isn’t fresh, my clothes aren’t crisp, I’m doughy around the middle, and my teeth need a good dentist. My apartment is a disaster area, my car has a crack in the windshield, and I don’t even act in the theatre anymore - which at least used to give my life some sort of redemption value. Looking into the bathroom mirror lately has gotten downright depressing. What’s that bump doing there on my forehead? Where did those lines come from around my eyes? Why are my lips so dry all the time? Is that dandruff on my collar?

Then there’s my whole lifestyle, which just seems to invite problems all by itself. I’m a graveyard shift kind of person, as I’ve said. I rise at 4pm and go to work at 9:30. I return at dawn and fall asleep. I do this every day. What kind of partner is that? I can’t take a girl out for lunch, or an afternoon at a museum. I have a little window of time every evening when I can meet up; but then I have to dash away just after nine to go work. What fun is that?

So I’m starting to think this maybe wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I need to wait a year or two before I try dating again. A year during which I can lose a few pounds, and get my teeth fixed, and start acting again, and be working a more normal - or at least compatible - schedule. That is, be a little more me, not me-in-transition. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being a Virgo-perfectionist and I’m too harsh on myself. But I feel so unfinished at the moment. So un-Paul in many ways. I’m torn about it. I’m not sure whether it’s honest to go forward or not. Whether I’d be dating under false pretenses, because there are so many things about my life right now that I want to be different.