2005

*** February 14 ***

Just got back from a three-week trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. The company I work for (Merrill Corp) sent me to be trained in a new system which they’re going to start using company-wide later this year. It was fun. I don’t get to travel much, so when I do it feels like an adventure. I like staying in a hotel, watching TV, ordering room service. I guess I’m easy to please. It was also fun to meet some new people, although I’ve known many of them by voice over the phone for a couple of years. I told someone at one point that it was like going to a live event for a radio station that you’ve been listening to a long time. Finally you get to see faces for all these voices that you know.

At the same time it was a weird trip, too. Death seemed to be the sub-theme. The day I arrived in St. Paul I turned on the TV in the hotel and, bang, there was Johnny Carson - dead. The day before leaving to come home I turned on the TV again and, bang, there was Arthur Miller - dead. How strange.

And even weirder, in between these bookends there was actually a death right in St. Paul, among the members of our training class.

Merrill had brought together about fifteen people from all around the country for this training session. Besides me there were people from Chicago, New York and Seattle. Most of us were in St. Paul to learn the new system because we’d be using it on a daily basis when we got back to our home sites. But a couple of the students - Jerome and Eric - were managers. They were there to familiarize themselves with the system not so much so they could use it, but so they’d know which end was up when it rolls out later this year.

That’s actually a good idea, and more companies could use that sort of common sense. But anyway, in the classroom it really didn’t matter who had what title. The atmosphere was fun and casual. After the first day we were loosening up, and by the end of the second day we were already getting to know one another, and in some cases becoming new friends.

Then, just seven days ago, we all showed up at work on Monday morning and Jerome for some reason wasn’t there. Because he’s a manager at first we all thought maybe he had some kind of meeting that we didn’t know about. But he was supposed to give Sergei a ride to work and hadn’t called or showed up for that - and that was very unlike him. So we tried calling him, but he didn’t answer his cell or his room phone at the hotel. By 10 o’clock we were really worried, so we called the hotel and explained the situation, and asked someone to enter his room and check on him. They called back and said he was in his bed sleeping. We said this wasn’t possible, he never overslept a day in his life. The police were now called, and for a second time his room was entered. This time they could see he wasn’t sleeping. He was dead.

jeromeJerome Kantorowicz was just 46 years old, and he was about the nicest fellow I’ve met in a long time. (This picture really doesn’t do him justice, but it’s all I have.) Though I’d only known him for two weeks, I was very shocked by all this. Jerome was a very friendly, energetic fellow. He loved to laugh and had a very all-round positive attitude about life. Jerome was about the last person you would think of as in any way close to death. Just the opposite, he seemed buoyant and positively hale. If you lined him up with the rest of us in that class you would have said he was about in the best-looking shape of all of us. What a strange thing, then, for him to fall asleep and simply ... not wake up.

From his Chicago teammates I have since also learned that Jerome was something of a saint within his own family. Though he’d had a marriage that went bust some years ago, instead of getting bitter about life Jerome shouldered his disappointments and was now helping to put several nieces and nephews through college. Each day after class, in fact, Jerome would shoot out the door on the way to meeting up with another brother or sister or cousin (he was originally from St. Paul, so they all lived nearby). It’s perhaps the only blessing in this whole situation that, if he were going to die so suddenly, at least he did it after two weeks of being in close touch with a family he clearly loved so much.

It must be a tremendous loss for them now that he’s gone. How do you replace a bright light like that?

We need more people in the world like Jerome, not less. I’m sad he’s gone, and I won’t soon forget him.

* * *

Today is Sunday and I feel totally at loose ends today. Just sort of kicking around, not sure what to do with the time. Maybe I’ll watch a DVD later? Who knows.

Tomorrow when I wake up the first thing I’m going to do is phone USC Dental School and get a new appointment (you can go to the clinic way cheaper than going to a commercial dentist). Then maybe I’ll swing by Merrill and do my expense reports for the trip, so they get into the works as soon as possible. Maybe one of the reasons I feel up in the air is the fact that I’m scheduled to return to St. Paul in two weeks’ time. So it almost feels as though I live there, and I’m on vacation here.

SpamMuseumOh yes, laundry, mustn’t forget that either. I have to wash, among other things, my new Spam t-shirt, which I obtained when Eric and Larry and Nancy and I drove south for an hour out of Minneapolis to the world’s only Spam Museum, situated in beautiful Austin, Minnesota. It was actually a lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it if you find yourself in central Minnesota sometime and looking for an interesting byway. They have the history of Spam, of course, and little known Spam facts. There’s the wall of Spam cans, and the Spam quiz show, and the mock factory where you can put on a hard hat, white coat, and can your own Spam. The whole thing is done with tongue firmly in cheek and, yes, it even includes a section devoted to Monty Python. After that it’s a trip to the gift shop where you’ll find Spam shirts, hats, pants, ties, key rings, footballs, earrings, and such a variety of other things that you’ll probably be a little dazzled, as I was. Well, take your time. It’s not like you do this sort of thing every day.

That was a fun trip because, on the way back to St. Paul, we passed by another Minnesota landmark, Cabela’s, the “World’s Foremost Outfitter” for hunting, fishing, and the great outdoors. Fascinating place. The store is utterly huge: you walk in and feel like you’ve entered an indoor baseball stadium, one that was somehow done in varnished timber. But then you look around at the walls and spy - I’m not kidding - at least a thousand deer heads, all looking down in a continuous row - one that circles the entire store. Slack-jawed, I stared at all those deer until my eye came to something else odd at the back of the store. It looked like a mountain. It was a mountain, in fact. A huge diorama of a snowy mountaintop covered with deer, foxes, wolves, ox, and all sorts of other animals, mounted in dynamic poses. Amazing! It was something like a museum, except of course you could turn left or right and buy all the stuff necessary to kill all the animals you were looking at, which felt strange. After this I moseyed around, looked at crossbows, then hunting guns, and then finally came upon something called the Antique Gun Museum. This was a room where I found, to my delight, that you could pick up and cradle all sorts of antique rifles and pistols, including a Winchester right out of the wild west, a Colt repeater, and a beautiful World War II German Luger. My day was made. I was sorry about all those the deer outside ... but antique guns are like bits of living history to me. Holding them, I felt like I was going back in time.

 

*** March 26 ***

I’ve had such a crazy spring that it’s been weeks since I’ve added to my log here. Mostly things have been topsy-turvy because I’ve spent six weeks in St. Paul, Minnesota (for work). But also it’s because - also at work - March is ‘peak’ month, and between the two I’ve hardly had any semblance of a normal life.

I actually got back from St. Paul, after eight weeks on the road, last weekend, but it’s taken until now for me to feel halfway normal again. I still have email to answer and bills to pay but I’m slowly catching up. There are all sorts of friends who must think I’ve dropped off the edge of the planet. Well, it sure felt like it. It’s amazing how tiresome room service and movies-on-demand can get after a while. You just want your own bed again. Your own refrigerator. Your own life.

* * *

Newspapers are full of Terri Schiavo right now. It’s such a shame, this whole mess. I feel for the parents but I also feel that the courts were quite right to give her husband the final say. I think Michael Schiavo has a more balanced take on Terri’s life than her folks do. There’s a kind of insanity that comes with parenthood which is normally a good thing, but in this case has kind of blossomed into a terrible orchid - they seem determined to keep her alive no matter how many times sensible experts determine that she’s just not there anymore. Terri died fifteen years ago. But her body, like a faulty car engine, is still spluttering. It needs to be shut off.

And really, these considerations are none of the public’s business. I’m ashamed at the circus this family tragedy has become. We all need to realize that it doesn’t matter what you or I think: the courts have decided that Terri is brain dead and that Michael, her husband, is the one to decide whether the shell that remains should stay on life-support or not. He says that she would have said no. I don’t believe that was easy for him. I believe his decision should be respected.

One thing that I hope doesn’t get lost in all this is that we need more humane right-to-die laws. Terri is forced to suffer starvation and dehydration because that’s the only way that the law currently permits her irretreivably broken body to be released into death. Who does this policy serve, exactly? Wouldn’t it be much more kind if we could feed her chemicals which would end her unhappy state in minutes? I hope this point doesn’t get lost in days and weeks to come. The lesson of Terri Schiavo’s death is not that life must be preserved at all costs. It’s that life must be treated sanely or else we simply bring unnecessary pain down on everyone. And that means that if I roll my car one day and wind up in the hospital a vegetable then my loved ones should have the right, not to mention the duty, to follow my wishes and end my suffering. Without government or society-at-large butting in.

I know that’s what I’d want.

* * *

Also in the news a lot is that school shooting in Minnesota. Ten people dead, more wounded. As usual, the newspapers and TV are full of op-ed pieces along the lines of “Why did this happen?”

Is that really such a mystery?

Jeff Weise was a kid who had been branded an ‘outsider’ in his high school. He was tormented and called names by his fellow students. In time, he became a moody loner who took refuge (and solace) in revenge fantasies. This is wholly natural; revenge fantasies are common among kids - and grownups - who find themselves in similar situations.

In Jeff’s case, the fact of his youth meant he had no common sense, and no world experience, to pull these fantasies back to the ground alone. He needed help. But being a loner, unhappy at home, and male, reaching out for help didn’t seem like an option. So the fantasies naturally became a stronger refuge for him than most. Eventually he wondered if he could really do it. And the answer was: with his grandfather’s guns and bulletproof vest and police car, yes, he could.

To get your brain around Jeff Weise’s it’s necessary to remember the pain, the real pain, the massive stress, that are part of adolescence. When I was writing in my Scrapbook/Timeline a year or two ago about my own experiences in high school I was startled by a flood of unexpected memories that came rushing back to me - reminding me how vividly awful a time high school could be. We adults tend to forget, I think, this nasty side because most of us get through with only a few bumps and years later it’s more pleasant to remember the good things than the bad. But there are plenty of bad things all the same, and they are not minor or amusing when you’re going through them.

In fact, the trials of teenagerhood are terrible - and made all the worse, I submit (not too originally) because we’re terribly naive about it all. If we were more worldly before entering grade 9 we might laugh, say, at our own warbly voices, our changing bodies, the unpredictability of the opposite sex. But since we have no context, the issues we face seem all-encompassing, and we are dominated by them for years. For the lucky majority, that’s okay - the stress ultimately matures us. But for an unlucky few, the burden crushes.

When I was in high school I ran into trouble in my very first year with a raffle that was being held that Christmas. I took a book of tickets for this thing in September and promised to sell them, wanting to show good school spirit. But then I forgot all about the matter until, one day several months later, I was asked by one of the teachers if I’d sold any tickets yet because the deadline was in one week. Yikes! Not wanting to look like a slacker I panicked and said, “Of course. I’ve sold them all.” “That’s wonderful,” said the teacher. “That comes to $75. You can bring in the money on Friday.”

This nightmare soon grew to epic proportions for me, dominating my days and nights as nothing else. $75 was an astronomical amount of money for me at that time; I had no way of getting it, and no one to ask for help. This led to a social crisis of the first order. I certainly couldn’t bear to face the double-confession of telling school authorities that I had lied. And I couldn’t tell anyone else for fear of what might happen. So I kept it to myself and prayed that the dilemma would somehow go away. For weeks and months on end I slunk through the halls of my high school literally tingling with fear. If I saw someone on the raffle ticket committee I’d flee in the other direction or duck into a classroom. At night I’d lie in bed sleepless, thinking about it all, desperate for a way out. It perhaps sounds silly now, but at the time my existence had become a living hell and I really didn’t know how it would end. And there were definitely days when, if I’d had easy access to a gun, I might have seriously considered blowning my brains out rather than facing another day under what felt like nothing less than the shadow of doom.

And mind you, this was just a bunch of damn raffle tickets. Eventually (to my great relief) the raffle came and went and the ticket issue was forgotten. But what if things hadn’t been that simple? What if my fear and misery had come from something more systemic and longer-lasting? What if I had lived day after day in fear and misery because I was an ostracized outsider? Banished from the society of pretty girls and handsome boys? With no letup for months and years, and no sign of relief ahead?

And what if, further, I had no talent for letting these feelings out? No skill as a poet, no knack for painting or songwriting? Nor a friend to turn to? Nowhere to go to pick up a few shreds of self-worth?

It doesn’t take much to imagine that in the right circumstances a teenager beset by stresses like this might soon feel his life was in a free fall toward destruction. You and I might smile at this world view but again, you and I are grownups. We’re settled people. We have experience. We know better. Teenagers don’t. A month passes where they have a disastrous date, a bad experience in sports, a tough time in the classroom, and they start worrying that they’re failures. Six months like this goes by and they start thinking about death. In the middle of my raffle ticket nightmare I was so desperate for an end to it all I began thinking seriously about running away from home or killing myself, just to make it stop. What if things had been different? What if it hadn’t stopped? Who knows what I might have done?

So here’s what I think.

All over this country each day millions of teenagers wake up. Of these, thousands are in the midst of chronic, terrible misery and pain. For most of these this pain is fortunately temporary and they’ll survive; but for a few the situation is chronic, the pain becoming critical. They are rapidly reaching a point where they can see no end, no way out, and death is starting to seem like a good alternative.

Of these, some will walk up to the very brink or crisis and then pull themselves back: they’ll find a release in a book, a good friend, or in something else that jars them off the rails of disaster. But there will still always be a few left who have no such luck. Those who start seeing suicide as not just an option, but as their last chance to take control; a beloved idea that, perhaps because of the very abhorrence society attaches to it, appeals to them, who now feel so cut off from the world. Whatever the case, at a certain point they will consider actual details, form a plan, and then, if their bad luck holds and nothing intervenes, one day or night they will take up a gun or a knife or a bottle of pills and actually kill themselves.

But for an even smaller group, this won’t be enough, because the suicide alone is too passive-aggressive. This is why I believe it’s been boys, so far, who go the last mile and turn suicide into a school shooting. They’re thinking: If I just kill myself nobody else has been made to pay. The people who caused me all this pain still get to go on living. There’s no justice in that. They’ve got to die too.

If I’m going down, I’m taking those assholes with me.

And that’s where the unique, tragic die is finally cast. All the rest - the homemade videotapes, the bravado in private journals, the flirting with Nazi or other paraphenalia, or any other lurid stuff that the media inevitably turns up later - is all rehearsal. Or rather, it’s evidence of just the sort of dysfunctional self-therapy you’d expect from a teenage boy whose view of the world is limited by inexperience and whose soul is twisted by unhappiness.

A boy in desperate pain will, at some point, grasp at anything that helps - and will not let social opinion stop him. Especially if society is, in his mind, a big part of the problem. In fact, in time in a tormented boy’s mind it can come to seem positively heroic to confront his tormentor. No wonder, then, that witnesses in Minnesota describe Jeff Weise as smiling as he walked through the halls of Red Lake High School shooting people. He had every right to be happy, for he was (finally) facing down his demons. And if we’re ever going to understand this sort of thing, and prevent it from happening again, we need to remember those demons ourselves. And confront them shoulder to shoulder with our young boys and girls - who now all too often must face them alone.

 

*** April 6 ***

The Pope is dead. Terri Schiavo is dead. Saul Bellow is dead. And Peter Jennings has lung cancer. Suddenly mortality is everywhere. Weird.

Of the above one is on the news 24/7 it seems. But I’m sorry ... I just can’t get excited about the Pope. I know, I know, John Paul II was a nice guy, funny, traveled a lot. He spread messages of peace (yawn). He was there at the demise of the Soviet Union. He reigned for 26 years. Etc., etc. This is all Forrest Gump territory if you ask me. Gee, he was there for all those neat things that we remember ... he must have been a profound, wonderful guy. Proximity is rewarded, as if it were accomplishment. But it seems to me that, in fact, he didn’t make nearly as big an impact on the world’s stage as he might.

For this Pope was also, if I may be permitted, the leader of a religion that still denies basic human rights to women all over the world. A church whose backward practices foster sexual deviancy in its priesthood, then covers up same. A cult that is anti-homosexual, anti-divorce, and anti-countless other commonsense things mostly because it refuses to admit that its interpretation of the Bible is just that - an interpretation. A man who, in sum, has had one foot firmly planted in religious conservatism these past twenty years during a time in human history when blind dogma is the last thing the world needs. If you ask me, the Pope was a big disappointment, a man who rarely rose above the more backward limits of his world view. I’m sorry the man has died ... but to me, the religion he headed couldn’t die fast enough.

* * * *

My words should carry especial gravity these days because I’ve recently become an ordained minister myself. :-) That’s right - it’s Rev. Paul Robertson from now on, people, and I’ll be passing the collection plate shortly. My church? None other than the deeply hallowed Universal Life Church of internet-instant-minister fame. It’s all signed and sealed. I’m just waiting for my ID card in the mail.

Why did I take such a step, you may ask? Had the state of the world thrown me into a spiritual crisis? Did I finally find myself - as it were - gasping on the battered shores of doubt, battered by the treacherous shoals of spiritual tumult, ready to admit that the safe harbor and steady rudder of sacred doctrine was just the thing I needed to put a little divine wind back in my sails?

Nah. I did it ‘cause my friend Tori King is getting married and she wants me to perform the ceremony. What a great idea. So it’s going to be Rev. Robertson at the helm this October 1 when Tori and Ron walk up the aisle. I only hope I can remember my lines. This is definitely one play whose script I’d better remember!

Turns out I have a robe, too. Leftover from The Lark when I played Cauchon. I’ll even be in the right costume. Yeah!

Teeth, teeth, teeth. I had no idea one’s teeth could be such a large part of one’s life. No, I take that back - when you have a toothache it’s obvious how big a deal teeth can suddenly be. But other than that you kind of forget about ‘em. At least I do. Which is precisely the problem. In forgetting about ‘em these past two score and five years they’ve fallen apart on me, the little bastards. Now I’m basically having them all removed and a nice, comfy set of dentures made. It’s a lot of work though. So these days I measure time between dental appointments, mark the calendar by what stage we’re at (extraction, impression, etc.) In the end I’ll have a nice white grille suitable for framing (or, more to the point, filming). But meantime, what a process.

Teeth and work, that’s my life right now. Wake up, bash around on my computer, then go to work. Come home, bash around a little more, go to sleep. Rinse. Repeat. Punctuate at intervals with dentist. What a life. The glamor ... the thrills ... stop, I can’t take any more.

 

*** May 26 ***

I dreamed yesterday that I was in the back yard of my folks’ house in Galt, Ontario, and it was early summer. There were a bunch of kids there, and we were trying to clean up the lawn (for some reason there were lots of dead leaves) so we could set out card tables for a picnic. Although it sounds cheery, I was actually depressed, because I wished I were back in Los Angeles and pursuing my acting career. What are you doing here in Galt? I kept thinking. You’re not on your life’s path. Why are you wasting your time back here?

After a short interval Sean Connery, of all people, arrived and was wandering around. The look on his face was both puzzled and annoyed - you could tell that he, too, was wondering what he was doing so far from home. I went up to him and wanted to ask him how we could get out of here together and back to our lives. What’s the way, Sean? You must know. What do we do? But he was sulky and didn’t want to talk to me. He seemed to feel that I was part of the problem. I was surprised by this, then felt deeply embarrassed.

Then I woke up.

Usually my mom and dad’s house back in Cambridge represents an idyll for me. When I go there in dreams I’m happy and when I leave it’s with a great sense of loss. (Our summer cottage and the Sauble Beach Pavilion often figure in my dreams too, very much with the sense of ‘a magic and wonderful place.’) But it’s not hard to pin down the source of my feelings this time around. I’ve been lying in bed like a useless blob for the past few days, snuffling and sneezing. Meanwhile, last week, in an ego-annihilating doctor’s visit, I found that my blood pressure is normal (good news) but also that my weight has become a higher number than I ever expected to hear - a truly depressing shock. I also have no teeth right now because I’m waiting until I can get to the dentist to have the final fitting for my dentures. (I don’t mean that phrase figuratively. I’m serious: I have no teeth.) Oh, and meanwhile, my email in-box is full because all my friends are dropping a line right now to let me know they’re living life and having fun and acting in plays and having babies and getting married - would I like to come to the fundraiser, the shower, the party, the opening night? Phooey. No wonder I’m having a bad-dream week. I don’t mind a few physical challenges, but does everyone else need to go around sparkling so goddam much while I do?

Ecce homo means ‘behold the man.’ I say it sourly because right now I’d rather not. I’m feeling, if I may whine a little, kind of like a loser-freak these days. Not acting. Fat. No teeth. Socially isolated. I probably just need to get over this cold and back into the world again. But for the moment everyone can go to hell. I hope their damn theatres all collapse. I hope their damn baby showers get rained on.

*  *  *

My one point of interest right now is that I’m reading “A Life” by Elia Kazan. In fact, I’m almost always reading a book of one kind or another but I don’t mention them here because they’re not normally all that special. But this one is. It’s really remarkable.

In fact, it’s probably the best and most honest autobiography I’ve ever read of a show business personality, and I’ve read quite a few. I used to think that Shelley Winters’s books (there are three of them I believe) took the cake. Shelley has a delightful gift for anecdote and detail, and often paints herself in less than heroic colors, which all makes for a very funny and delightful read. Recently I’ve also read Marlon Brando’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which also conveys a lot of the author’s magnetism and charm, so again has made for a very nice way to spend one’s time.

But books like these are in a completely different league from Kazan’s. To begin with, Kazan (here’s his page at IMDB) seems to lack an actor’s self-consciousness in telling his own tale. Or maybe he has it, but he simply refuses to be swayed by it. By which I mean, in Brando’s book and in Shelley’s books the subject of sex is there, but is danced around. Brando says he has “an affair” with Marilyn Monroe, not much more. Shelley Winters mentions sleeping with various partners in the same sideways manner. Not Kazan. Kazan moves his sex life - not front and center, but up to the same level of detail as just about anything else he chooses to talk about. At first this has a slightly uncomfortable effect, as if you’re a guest in his house and have suddenly blundered into a room and seen dirty underwear that maybe you shouldn’t. But then you realize he isn’t telling this stuff to titillate you. He’s telling it because, in the sex, there lies a part of his story that can’t be told otherwise. Once you realize this, it becomes an amazing part of the book, and one you’re very grateful that the author had the courage to include.

My big beef about sex scenes in books and movies has always been that they’re usually painfully extraneous to the plot. If you make a study of movie scripts, even a cursory one, one of the first rules of thumb you learn is that everything has to be there for a reason. There should be no fat in a script. You write to tell a story, illuminate character, and every shot, every spoken word, should do this. But then along come sex scenes and all this film-writing wisdom suddenly gets tossed out the window. Two nice-looking actors fuck while the rest of us watch. And why? Does it advance the story? Does it add to the plot. No. It’s plain titillation. Pure box office.

In Kazan’s book the exact opposite happens. He takes a girl to bed and the scene continues, unblinking, as they interact, have dialogue, make love. Kazan’s unblushing eye for detail isn’t closed here; he recounts things he remembers about different women’s bodies, their temperaments, things they blurt out. But these scenes also have the effect of illuminating his character in a way that otherwise would not have been possible. When he tells how he and one lover used to pull the bedsheets over themselves, making a ‘tent’ so the rest of the world would disappear, it’s a poignant and unforgettable image. When later he describes this tent as also feeling claustrophobic, like a trap, it’s a insight. When he visits the Pacific during World War II and, in a muddy jungle, sees wounded men being operated on, he comments that his girl-worries back in Hollywood suddenly seem embarrasingly decadent and feeble. He says that the doctors he’s watching are in “a different kind of tent.” It’s an unexpected connection, and one that resonates movingly.

But sex is just one thing. Kazan, in his book, actually emerges as a writer of considerable gifts. He was a novelist during the last third of his life, but in his own life-story this has not, thank God, translated into glibness or a sense of how to keep things shallowly moving-right-along. Just the opposite: it most delightfully emerges as a knack for knowing when to slow down and spend time on a character. I’ve never thought much about Darryl F. Zanuck, for instance, the owner and mogul of 20th Century Fox during Hollywood’s golden age, but now thanks to Kazan I have an indelible picture of him in my mind. I believe in my mind’s eye I can see him walking and talking. I believe I’ve acquired a sense of his taste and energy. I believe I’ve gotten an essential grasp of the man. All not simply because of Kazan’s eye for detail, but also because he took the time in his book to make a portrait that would stick.

The same can be said of Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg, of Stella and Luther Adler, of Marlon Brando and Tallulah Bankhead, and dozens of other names which you’ll either find interesting or you won’t. For me, these people are the Ur-generation of American theatre; the people who founded the style of realism which remains dominant in American TV and movies and on the American stage today. Before them American drama was in a terrible doldrum: it was all formula-acting with lots of posturing, affected speech, broad as a billboard and two inches deep. After Kazan’s generation, however, acting became real, quirky, surprising, lifelike. Much like what we have today. So to me, these people are interesting. They founded the era that modern actors still live in.

So I’ve been fascinated by this book and I can’t recommend it more highly.

(Here is a link to it at Amazon.com.)

 

*** June 10 ***

Got an email recently from somebody I’m no longer close to but who’s obviously been reading my weblogs. He says the reason I’m feeling a little in the dumps these days is because ... Biblical end times are coming and it’s now time to consult my Bible for guidance. He even gave me a chapter and verse to refer to. Armageddon, I’m assured, is just around the corner. Time to brace for impact.

Sigh.

I no longer reply to emails from this person, but I felt like replying to the spirit of the email, so here’s what I have to say in public:

The Bible has some thoughtful passages - but nine-tenths of it is crap, and anyone who takes it literally is credulous beyond all patience. Whatever one thinks of God, the Bible is a deeply defective man-made book whose commentary on coming days, end times, heaven, hell, and all the rest is about as relevant as fishwrap in preparing for the future. If you want to subscribe to fairy tales go right ahead, but please stop foisting them on me. It’s distracting and annoying.

People have a hard enough time navigating the crazy shoals of life without being pestered by a fat volume of loony prophecy. Just because the Bible is old and revered does not mean it’s right: cattle-worship and female castration are also old and revered. I do not believe that God created the world per se, but if (s)he did, I also do not believe that (s)he would supply an owner’s manual as badly written, confusing, turgid, and just plain stupid as the Bible is to go along with it. The sublime creator of the universe would, I suspect, be more clever. And deep down I know (s)he is. If you want to find the owner’s manual to Life on Earth, you need look no farther than the human spirit. A happy, loving soul and an open, active mind are all you need to thrive in God’s universe. Anything other so-called ‘requirement’ is a lie - propagated by a deeply misguided priest class and the dogmatists who cater to them. They’ve taken the Bible - an impressionist, poetic spiritual painting - and turned it into a circuit-board guide to the rules of life. They deserve pity, I supposed. But I feel mostly contempt for them.

I say here and now that Lucifer smiles every time a Bible is pompously thumped, waved, quoted, pointed-to or trembled-about in this world. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but it’s been signposted by Bible-worshipping ’scholars’ who parse and promulgate chapter and verse. Instead of seeking, and espousing, love.

Wake up. Put down the damn book and pick up the world.

God will be very pleased that you did.

Okay, I’m done.

Note to my one-time friend: you’ve been kill-filtered. I won’t even see any email you send in the future.

. . . . .

I got my teeth! Yep - had ‘em just over ten days now - a full upper plate. Okay, so it’s half of my teeth - but it’s the top half and it lets me smile and look normal again, and you know something, I feel a thousand times better! Amazing how that works. I like to think I’m not a vain person, that looks are secondary to the spirit, etc., etc. But I have to admit having no teeth for the past month and a half has been more of a drain than I realized. Now suddenly my smile is ... well, I find it rather beautiful, to tell the truth. Wow! I’m a human being once again!

First day I got ‘em I wanted to dance down the street!

So that’s been wonderful. And what’s one of the first things I did? I started getting social again. Met up with Christina Burck last Saturday, and we went together to see our mutual friend Gigi Bermingham in a production of Brecht’s “Mother Courage” at the Antaeus Company in North Hollywood. Gigi was simply marvelous as Yvette, a whore and camp follower of Mother Courage who ends up marrying an ancient colonel and coming out of the thirty years’ war richer than everybody else. It was also great to see this show again*, especially in a brilliant production like this. Unfortunately the run’s almost over, if not ended by now, so I can’t recommend you go and see it. But my God, it was marvelous. This is a group I want to get involved with in the future.

(* - I was in “Mother Courage” back in my days at the U of Waterloo.)

Christina’s so nice. We went out afterward for dinner & caught up. A lot’s been happening in her life the past year. She left her job as Production Manager at the Odyssey Theatre here in Los Angeles and is now wearing the same hat at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. This is a terrific move up for her, and a well-deserved one too. I never get tired of repeating that Christina is probably the best stage manager I’ve ever worked with in my life: this because she does everything - and I mean everything - right and because she’s a sweet, good-natured person that it’s lovely to be around. There were always several stage managers at the Odyssey Theatre in my time there, and whenever we started a new show it was always a question which one we’d get. I can tell you, there was an audible breath of happiness in the rehearsal hall whenever it was announced that Christina would be running our show. She’s that good.

I promised to come up and visit her as soon as I can, and we made a prospective date to go see the Ventura County Fair together this year.

To tell you the truth, I get torn often when I think about Christina. I have a crush on her, and I just don’t know what to do about it. She’s awfully pretty, extremely nice, and we have very similar temperaments and values. We always have a lot of fun when we’re together, and I think she’s rather sexy. In other words, in just about every possible way I can think of she’s attractive to me ... so why don’t I ask her out? I’ll tell you why, because she’s nearly twenty years younger than me. I’m 45 going on 46 this year; while at her next birthday Christina turns 28. That’s a gap of eighteen years, which just seems impossible to me. I mean, it’s just not fair, is it? I’m a middle-aged man and she’s a twentysomething woman. We’re at very different points in our life-arc. Surely dating is a bad idea?

I just don’t know. I don’t find any of my arguments especially persuasive. When I go on about it in my head, listing all the sensible reasons why I should leave her alone, I also get this gnawing feeling deep down that I’m over-intellectualizing. I feel that life has brought me into the company of an absolute gem of a woman and that what I should really do is shut up, stop arguing, be grateful, and ask her out. But then my head steps in again and says, no, no, that’s an illusion. You don’t want a twentysomething partner, Paul, you want a peer, a lovely woman your own age that you can talk to from a similar place along life’s path. You want a fortysomething Christina, and if you will just be patient, she’ll come.

Sigh. Back and forth I go. Can’t seem to get my feelings solid one way or the other. What to do? I haven’t a clue.

 

*** June 24 ***

Wow, things can change pretty fast around here.

Overnight, here’s the news: I’m moving out of Los Angeles and am going to be living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, from mid-July onward. This isn’t a summer sublet or some kind of vacation. It’s a permanent move until further notice.

I’m doing it because the company where I work has offered me a great new job in their central office ... a job that comes with a substantial raise in pay.

When I look back on my old weblogs here, it’s obvious that for the past three years I’ve tried to keep a stiff upper lip about what I call “re-tooling” my life. But (if you haven’t been bored to tears by the repetition) it is perhaps also clear that it hasn’t always been easy. The fact is, friends, I’m a cowboy at heart. I want life to be simple: no more complicated than a horse, a packsack, and the open range. When it does get more complicated I kind of get cranky. Or even a little crazy.

Years ago, when I moved to LA determined to become a big-time actor, I was faced with all sorts of new things. I had to get a car for the first time in my life. I had to get a job, and then begin making showbiz contacts, in a city where I knew nobody, repeat nobody. At the time I was particularly prickly about what I considered to be “distractions.” I didn’t want anything to distract me from my purpose. Like a salmon, all I wanted to know was that my destiny was upstream. So ... car insurance? Distraction. Driver’s license? Distraction. Filing with the IRS each year? Distraction. Anything I considered to be a distraction I simply ignored. Fall behind on the rent, and now the landlord is chasing me for the money? Fuck him - another distraction. It’s a stupid way to live, and one that led me, ultimately, into a real mire. Now, years and years later, I’m still paying off bills and debts and court judgments from this stupid time in my life. If I’d only known then what I know now.

And so, as you perhaps know, three years ago my life finally kind of blew up and I had to take drastic action. Ignoring the “distractions” wasn’t working anymore; they were moving in on me and real consequences were about to make themselves felt. As a result I actually had to leave a play for the first time in my life: “The Cherry Orchard” at the Odyssey. I departed two weeks before closing night so I could commence training as a third-shift typesetter at Merrill, Corp - a full-time job for the first time in years. At the time I was so shell-shocked by life-instability and craziness that I embraced the new gig with open arms. And in time it’s a choice I’ve been happy with. This job, which I’ve been at for three years now, snatched me out of the jaws of defeat in the nick of time. Instead of having my life crash and burn I was able to get a stable living situation, get a car, a phone, start paying off my old debts ... and even, God help me, commence a few new life-projects, like having my teeth fixed. Amazing! So I’m very grateful, to God or fate, for arranging things this way. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Still ... there is a catch. And the catch is, it’s been slow going. Sure, I’m happy to have a job. And sure, I’m happy to be paying down old debt and taking care of old business ... but the pace is positively glacial. I was hoping to be able to get back to acting long before now. When I left “Cherry Orchard” I thought, well, I’ll take this job for a year or two, get stable, and then get back on stage. But it’s now been three years, and the end is still not in sight. Or rather, it’s in sight, but it’s depressingly far off.

It’s starting to make me a little crazy.

And so that’s why I took the job in Saint Paul. More money. Plus, it’s much cheaper to live in St. Paul - my current rent is $825 for a one bedroom in Hollywood, whereas in St. Paul I see internet listings for 2-bedrooms starting around $700. Wow! When all is said and done, I’ll be earning more money, paying less for rent, and this will make a different of hundreds of bucks a month. You see how I’m thinking now? Maybe now the end will come into sight within a reasonable amount of time. Maybe now I’ll be able to get back to acting before I go completely nuts.

So ... into the water I go. Splash!

Yesterday, Wednesday, was my last day of working the night shift in downtown Los Angeles. Now I have an eerily quiet period before I actually hit the road. I’m still considering move-options, but I think what I’ll probably do is rent a U-Haul trailer & hitch it to the back of my station wagon. Between the two I should have no trouble moving everything I need. And the U-Haul website is remarkably easy to use, so I’ve got a good idea what equipment I’ll need (i.e. trailer, trailer hitch, padlock, etc.) There’s a U-Haul yard not far away, over on Hollywood Blvd. near Silverlake. I’m going to visit them tomorrow and see about getting a hitch put on my car, plus reserving the trailer. Then my life becomes all about boxes and packing.

On Mapquest the route from LA to St. Paul is about 1,900 miles. About a 30-hour drive. But they have me going through Las Vegas, which I don’t really want to do - too hot (especially at this time of year - well over 100 many days - a real sun-blasted desert). I think I’ll try some other way, not sure yet what. Maybe due East to Flagstaff then Northeast from there. It adds a few hundred miles but I’d really rather see pretty sights than go fast through Vegas.

Maybe what I’ll do is go to AAA and get some good maps, then have some fun one night planning the route. Anyhoo, I’m giving the trip four days, and I’m going to do it just the way I did when I drove to Los Angeles from New York back in 1990: stick to the interstates; start driving at dawn; and no hotel reservations ... just pull over at sunset and follow a “Food/Gas/Lodging” sign to a Motel 6 or some such. It’s a great way to go. (Sad I won’t have Tom the Cat to share the trip with this time, though. Sigh.)

To-do list:

  • Go to garage, have new shocks & brake pads put on car, and tires rotated; also have ‘em look at hoses, belts, etc. (I’ve already had all fluids changed)
  • Go to U-Haul and examine potential trailer; if I like it, reserve one & have trailer hitch installed;
  • Get boxes & start packing them;
  • Go to AAA & get maps;
  • Change of address and/or account cancellation to DWP, Comcast, AAA, IRS, Aetna, Infinity, So Cal Gas Company, Verizon
  • Post Office hold/forward mail (this is tricky because I don’t have an apartment in St. Paul yet ... not sure what to do. What would be ideal is if they could hold my mail here until I have an address there, & then forward it to that. Do they do that? Must find out or come up with Plan B.)

That list isn’t too bad. I won’t be a crazy man.

Meantime, I’m also going to be hooking up with a few friends in the next week or two, for lunch or dinner or coffee. To say goodbye-for-now. I’ve also sent out a mass email with the news, about a week ago. I got a ton of replies. And every single one of them was full of encouragement and support and very kind words. What friends I have! Amazing people.

More anon. The adventure continues!

 

*** August 13 ***

Well, here I am in glorious St. Paul, Minnesota, catching my breath and feeling a little more at home each day. Last night I woke near midnight to brilliant flashes of lightning and booming thunder raging just outside my window. Now, later in the early dawn, I can look outside and see green trees and grass, and smell the cool air. This is a magical place, and a very pretty one too. Yesterday while walking to my car from work I heard cicadas buzzing in the grass. I feel like I’ve come home.

The trip here was fun, but not as much of a full-out adventure as my drive to Los Angeles from New York back in 1990. Maybe I’m older now and more sedate; or maybe I just knew more what to expect. In any case, it was still enjoyable, but there was also that sense of “I’ve done this before” which made it less scary.

I finished packing my belongings on Tuesday morning, July 12. I had backed my car and a U-Haul 4x8 trailer into the driveway of 6317 Willoughby the previous day, and ever since had been stuffing it with boxes and bags and bits of furniture and all sorts of other life-stuff. It was quite wearing work, actually; the boxes were heavy, and lugging them down the stairs pooped me out pretty fast. So I’d do some packing, then take a break, then do more packing, then take another break. Good thing I had started packing boxes on the previous Friday! By Tuesday morning, at this sedate but steady pace, all that was left was to break down my computer & the table it rests on, then stuff that plus my last clothes into the car. Then hitch car and trailer together and hit the road!

Interestingly, leaving Los Angeles was nothing like leaving New York fifteen years ago. When I pulled away from Willoughby I kept waiting for an emotional moment like the tears that rolled down my cheeks when I hit the Holland Tunnel way back in November, 1990. But this time, nada. In fact, I felt perfectly content to leave Hollywood as I putted along Santa Monica Boulevard, on the way to the freeway. Aplomb? Nerves of steel? I’m not sure what it was. Have I gotten less emotional over the years? Or (more likely) is it just that I’ve always been much more ambivalent about living in Los Angeles? After all, for me pretty much the only redeeming thing about L.A. has been the friends I’ve made there. As for the place itself ... I’ve often said this ... Los Angeles is an archipelago: a city where little distinct islands of coolness are surrounded by vast oceans of bleah. So it’s not like, as I bid the town farewell, I felt I was departing some great nexus of wonderment. It was more like I was saying good riddance to an exasperating relative. Ending a visit that, for both of us, has gone on a bit too long.

Road-Trip-#1

Day 1: Los Angeles, California to Ash Fork, Arizona.

Okay, so, I pulled onto the 10 Freeway and headed East, then took the 15 Northeast towards Barstow. At this point I had two options. I could keep going Northeast through Las Vegas and, ultimately, Denver Colorado on the way to St. Paul - that would have been the most direct route. Or I could keep to a more southerly passage, thus avoiding the Rocky Mountains. Why would I want to avoid the Rockies, you ask? Because my car is ten years old and hauling a 1,800-pound trailer, and I wasn’t sure if it would give up the ghost or not on all those long, steep climbs. So the southern route it was. I got to Barstow and made a right, bearing east along Interstate 40, headed for Flagstaff, Arizona.

My God, it was hot. One hour out of L.A. the temperature must have been 110 degrees, and I’m sure it hit 115 later. East of Barstow is the great American southwest desert for hundreds of miles - the kind of parched land you see in old western movies where the wagon train is dying of thirst and cattle skulls are only landmark. It was relentlessly, blazingly hot, and though I had all the windows open in the car and was going 80 mph it barely brought any relief at all. In fact it just felt like I was in a high-power convection oven. I lay splayed behind the steering wheel in a stupor, cruise control on, one hand making minor adjustments to the wheel, otherwise completely motionless, towel nearby, eyes squinting in the harsh light, sweating on every surface not directly hit by wind. Soft drinks purchased at the last gas stop were on the seat beside me; they’d gotten hot within thirty minutes. From one o’clock until five o’clock in the afternoon it stayed like this, an awful dream you couldn’t snap out of. My God, I thought, was it like this for the settlers 150 years ago? If it was this unbearable at 80 miles an hour, what must it have been like in a wagon train making 20 miles a day?

On both the maps above and below Flagstaff, Arizona would be right between the ‘s’ and ‘h’ in “Ash.” I was hoping to get at least that far on day one, but I simply ran out of steam, so Ash Fork it was. A nice little town in a kind of piney woodland, with an odd arrangement of main streets. One is one-way going the length of the town, and the other, a block over, is one-way back. This got confusing when I went for dinner, but I made it back safe and sound.

When I checked in to the Ash Fork Inn I noticed that a day on the road had left my left ‘window’ arm badly sunburned, so I asked if there was a store nearby where I could get something for it. I was directed to a KOA camp just across the street. When I opened the door in the Canteen, I found a fortyish woman and her early-teenage daughter minding the shop. We chatted a bit while the girl directed me to the Solarcaine. Turned out they had moved here from California themselves, just a few years before, and were thoroughly enjoying their new adventure. The whole scene pleasantly reminded me of all those years ago, when our family ran the Sauble Beach Pavilion. The pinewood shop, the mother and daughter in shorts, the slow pace, the coming on of evening. It was suddenly like my trip to Saint Paul had suddenly taken a little side-trip through my own past, and I left the store feeling very happy.

Road-Trip-#2

Day 2: Ash Fork, Arizona to Vega, Texas.

The next day I continued East, trying for Amarillo, Texas. With the trailer on the car I found I was making about 180-90 miles to the 11-gallon tank of gas, or about 14 miles a gallon. Cruise control, as I said, worked just fine, which I was grateful for since in the desert roads are straight and reasonably flat and the speed limit is 75. Traffic was surprisingly light on this stretch, so my routine became fill ‘er up, get on the freeway, push a few buttons, then steer straight until I needed gas again.

Although driving long distances might seem kind of monotonous, I didn't get bored at all. The landscape was always evolving, and I found the slow changes from scrub to brush, brush to trees, trees to mountainous elk country, beautiful and often very poignant. Also, I found the road traffic itself interesting. A mixture of long-haul trucks, farm vehicles, and cars of every description, all whisking along at high speed. I was interested to discover that there are clear rules of politeness out on the freeways of heartland America (which may be news to my friends back in Southern California). Slower traffic really *does* keep right, and if you want to pass all you need do is get in the left lane and go. If you pull up on someone's tail, they‘ll actually move aside for you. Amazing. Do the authorities know about this? Shouldn’t something be done?

Heartland America wasn’t without surprises, however. Somewhere prior to the Texas border, I pulled over for gas at a little one-horse pit stop in the middle of hot, flat nowhere. There was a handwritten sign on the pump which said: "Dear Customer - Due to our old pump system there is frequently extra air pressure in the lines. Please try not to get gas all over yourself." I looked at this and thought, What am I supposed to do? So I put my credit card in the auto-pay, then chose my grade and took the handle. I put it in the tank and gingerly squeezed it a little. Nothing. Squeezed a little more. Still nothing. I figured, well, maybe the sign only applies to certain times of day or something. So now I squeezed normally ... and a second later a FOUNTAINING GEYSER OF GAS erupted from the tank and covered me from head to foot in 90-octane fuel. I'm not kidding, it was like taking a shower in the stuff ... my hair and shirt and shorts and legs were completely drenched. If someone'd had a match at that moment I’d've been a goner.

Needless to say, I’ve never had something like that happen before, and it took me a few seconds to form a plan. I squeezed the pump again ... and now it was acting normally. So I locked it in the ‘on’ position, and then turned and went inside, muttering, to wash myself off in the men's room. When I got there ... there was somebody else doing the same thing. And while we both were there, a third guy came in, spluttering and cussing. When I was done I went back to the car, but despite my completely soaking and wringing out my shirt in the sink, it was starting to burn my skin. So I had to dive into the back seat and retrieve another from my suitcase.

Pulled over for the night in Vega, TX, and this time went to a Comfort Inn for a treat. It was a beautiful room, and I was settling down in front of the cable TV when it occurred to me that I was hungry. There was a little truck stop store across the street that had sandwiches, so I went. A gal behind the counter was smoking a cig and complaining of having hot flashes. "Oh, lordy, I need me a fan right here!" A guy nearby was writing out a check for gasoline for his big rig. He was saying to another guy, “I’ve already put three hundred dollars into her today.”

I went back to the hotel with a hot dog and a BBQ sandwich and after I ate I didn’t have the energy to face the shower. So even though I no doubt still smelled faintly like a gas can I just flopped in bed, watched TV a little more, and then conked out.

Road-Trip-#3

Day 3: Vega, Texas to Emporia, Kansas.

Day three it finally started getting cooler. After a wonderful shower I got in the car and headed east, through Amarillo, until I hit Oklahoma City. Here I finally bid farewell to my old friend the I-40 which had carried me all the way from California, and bore north towards Kansas. There was a lot more traffic suddenly. I suppose I was finally leaving the open spaces of the west.

Up, up, through Oklahoma, into Kansas. Pretty countryside. I looked out my window and the landscape was rolling but flat. Then it got flatter, and I thought, wow, this must be what they talk about when they say how flat Kansas is. But I didn’t know. In about twenty miles it suddenly got unbelievably flat, flat as a pool table, flat as ... I don't know what. Flat, with no trees anywhere, like you were suddenly driving on the Moon but it was covered in grass. There was one tree way, way off, 20 miles away, pale blue on the horizon. And the other way a single farm. The rest in between was a vast green football field without the slightest feature but, now and then, the odd puny-looking dirt road or utility pole. Phew. It was kind of breathtaking, and a little unnerving too. A landscape like that looked like it could swallow you.

By now I was getting tired of all the driving so I decided to make Day #3 an easy one. I would just putt along for 6-7 hours and then pull over early and have myself a nice dinner somewhere. The first two days I had been obsessed with speed, but I was feeling worn out now, and I also sensed that I was missing some beautiful countryside. When you’re going 70 mph you can look around, but when you’re doing 90 you’d better keep your eyes on the road. So I decided no more of that. Whether I arrived in St. Paul on Friday or Saturday wasn’t important anymore. What was important was having a little fun and not killing myself.

So I kept the car around 65 all day and pulled over in Emporia, Kansas, for the night. I freely admit I was influenced by a billboard which showed a baby snoozing in a crib, and said “Eat Like a King, Sleep Like a Baby in Emporia.” That’s for me. I pulled off the Kansas Turnpike and into the first decent hotel I saw, a Best Western. After dropping my bags I moseyed over to the restaurant for dinner. Ordered meat loaf, and was presently served, not a slice of meat, but a gravy-covered square object the size of medium-sized shoebox. I mean, this thing was enormous. Two truck drivers at the next table were also having the meat loaf, and it was so remarkable we all started talking about it. The essence of the joke was that we could have all three split one of these things. But what the hell ... I still had “Eat Like a King” on the brain, so I ate my portion with deliberate industry. After which I was in a stupor, and had to immediately go to bed.

Road-Trip-#4

Day 4: Emporia, Kansas to Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I thought the next day would be my second-last day, but as it turned out the driving was exceptionally smooth and steady and so I ended up finishing the whole trip. Started off in Emporia, took I-35 to Kansas City (I kept singing "Kansas City" as I was approaching). Then I had the only real navigational glitch of the whole trip. My freeway's bridge over the Mississippi River was closed! Detour Ahead! Agh. Ten minutes later I was on the city streets of Kansas City, following little signs that came at long intervals, making a right turn here, a left there, then passing through an industrial strip. I was getting more and more convinced that I was lost, but suddenly, in a couple of turns, I was over the Mississippi and back on the freeway again. Talk about relieved. I’m sure Kansas City is a wonderful place, but for a moment or two I thought I’d be there indefinitely.

On up through Kansas into Missouri (briefly) and then Iowa, and then, finally, Minnesota. And you know something? Right around the end of the trip I found myself thinking, "Gee ... this sure is pretty countryside, I wonder what state I’m in?” Turned out I was well into my new home state. It really is gorgeous here; even from the freeway you can see it - 2005-07-15-Minnesota-Fish-tthe rolling landscape, the lakes and rivers and streams, the dense woods abutting tilled fields. But not without local color too. My last gas station pull-over was a small place graced by this marquee - a giant largemouth bass at least 10 feet high. I smiled and laughed and then drew a contented sigh. Home.

I checked into the Sheraton in Saint Paul, and within a week found a nice apartment. My search took me all over the city, and once again I found myself thinking it sure is lovely here. I guess maybe the biggest difference from Los Angeles is all the water everywhere. In L.A. water is a scarcity; here it positively seems to rise up out of the ground, forming ponds, streams, marshland, lakes, rivulets, channels, not to mention the headwaters of the Mississippi itself. You could wear out a phrasebook trying to describe all this water and you still wouldn’t come close to capturing the prettiness of it all. What a gorgeous place to live! I feel so lucky!

It’s also nice to have weather again. There have been several rainstorms since I’ve moved here, and they’re simply wonderful. The crash-boom of thunder and a downpouring deluge, soaking everything in sight, leaving everything green and lush after. People keep warning me about the winter, but heck, I’m from Ontario; I’m not worried. I’m looking forward to something, anything, besides the endless sunshine of Hollywood. Living there is like eating a nonstop diet of candy bars. It’s pretty weather when you’re in the mood but, like so many other things about L.A., there’s no food for the soul in it at all.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’ve told about the trip. More anon.

 

*** Nov 9 ***

2005-10-29-Paul-01-thmGot bored one day so I got out my camera and took some pictures around the apartment. Wound up in the bathroom and snapped this one in the mirror.

After writing my last weblog entry many weeks ago I sort of dove off the deep end into the St. Paul pool work-wise. Immediately there were classes to be taught (I work in the training department now, remember). Obviously I wasn’t handed a class of my own at the outset; but I was definitely expected to be there and participate while other trainers took students through their paces. It was fun! But also very demanding. So I really haven’t had a spare moment to sit here and write.

Oh, not to mention the fact that I also had a visitor. My dear old friend Brian Van Norman, who I mention many times on this website, drove all the way from Kitchener, Ontario to see me. He made the trip in his little Volkswagen Passat with a diesel engine, and for the whole trip (1,200 miles) he used a tank and a half of gas. Incredible. That’s about 100 miles to the gallon easily. Hell, I’m getting me a Passat when I get a new car. I can’t think of a better advertisement.

But anyway, so I was working like mad, and then Brian came ... and then, wouldn’t you know, the week Brian arrived was also the very week when they finally handed me a class of my own to teach here. So suddenly I was doing all sorts of prep work and teaching all day long and visiting with Brian in the evenings. But who cares? It was a lot of fun. We went out to some nice dinners, drank some nice scotch, visited Fort Snelling on one day and the Mall of America another. (Both were exhausting; we walked around the entire Mall of America on all three levels, which must easily be a total of five miles.)

The Mall of America, by the way, has a very cool aquarium. It’s down in the lower level and features one of those glass-covered walkways where you actually feel like you’re strolling along the bottom of the ocean. There’s a weird lensing effect from the curved glass too, which, I kid you not, makes it seem sometimes like the fish are hanging in midair just a few inches from your head. This is very nerve-wracking when it’s a shark, believe me. You can’t help but flinch a few times, before finally you get used to it.

Brian and I also simply drove around, or sat at home in my apartment and drank and talked over old times and new. Naturally we hashed over theatre stuff. He’s becoming quite the sought-after adjudicator, now, throughout Ontario, and makes a reasonable living (he’s retired from teaching, remember) at it. He’s also on the board of Theatre Ontario now, and is in charge, I believe, of programs aimed at education. And he still remains a writer at heart; he mentioned that he’s revising one of his old novels for a new publisher who may be interested. Brian’s a very creative man, and he works at it continuously. I think now that he’s in his mid-fifties and he’s finally got the time he may come out with his best work. We’ll see. I can’t wait to hear what happens for him next.

Now, with Brian gone and my class over it feels positively quiet around here these days, but that’s just as well. It’s time for me to settle down and bring home the bacon. And take care of other things. I just realized the other day that I still have a lot of unused money in my Flexible Spending account ... money that’s been deducted from my paycheck and must be used for medical expenses before December 31 or, by IRS rules, I forfeit it. Yow! So I’m getting cracking (no pun intended) forthwith on my teeth. Not to go on at boring length, but just to recap: my upper teeth have mostly been replaced now by a denture which looks and feels great; but before leaving L.A. I didn’t have time to have my bottom teeth worked on, so they’re still a shambles. Now it’s time to get off the fence. So I’ve been to see a dentist here and explained the situation, and she took a full set of x-rays, etc. I’m going back to meet her next Tuesday, and then we’ll decide on a plan of action. A plate for the bottom? Implants? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, there’s a brief respite at work, but not for much longer. In late November we start teaching another class, and then there’s yet another in early January. I’m not the leading trainer for December, but I may very well be for January, which means a whole new round of preparation has to be started fairly soon.

And so, with all this stuff going on, I just sent emails to Mary and Ann the other day saying I was probably not going to be able to travel anywhere for Xmas this year. Not even Cambridge. I simply don’t have the time. I’m going to be going to the dentist every chance I get, plus working on training stuff. And last but not least, there’s simply being ‘on call’ at work. The training department is expected to have at least one person available at all times during holidays to handle any emergencies that may crop up. Since I’m the new guy, that means I get the least desirable schedule. So in the coming two months I’ll probably be working on Thanksgiving, plus the day after Xmas, and perhaps even the day before Xmas as well. Oh well. It’s not really to be helped. I knew this was a demanding job going in.

But I’ll be sorry not to see the gang. I really enjoy visiting with Ann and Jeff and Hadley and Mary and Mom. We have a very happy (even slightly loony at times) family, and it’s such a delight to go spend time with them. I really admire Ann and Mary, they’re such wonderful women and they’ve made such terrific successes of themselves. And Jeff ... what can I say? My brother-in-law is a remarkable man: gentle, intelligent, artistic, thoughtful, yet with a hidden restless streak that I also respect. And Mom ... I simply love Mom. She’s the best. She’s funny, down to earth, sensible, and loves nothing more than a good laugh at anything, including herself. Can you feel me smiling like a fool as I write this stuff? I really do stop sometimes in wonder when I think of my family. I just think they’re unusually incredible people.

With Brian gone my days are fairly quiet, as I said. So here’s what I do: I wake up and make my bed, then take a shower, shave, get dressed for work. I have a cup of coffee. While I’m doing all this, I’m padding around my 2-bedroom 2-bathroom apartment in my slippers, enjoying the space and the peace and quiet. Even though it’s far from furnished yet, it still already feels like home.

I drive off to work a 7:30 and I’m there by 8am or so. Then I spend the day working on various projects. (Right now, for instance, I’m trying to finish grading all the students from the last class.) Around noon I go have lunch at one of the various nice little places around the office. Often I ask one of the fellow trainers - Eva, Nkauj, Michael or Mika - to go with me. Whenever they say yes I ask them to pick the spot, so I can learn a new restaurant. But it’s not always fancy. Often I just whip down the street to Taco Bell.

When I get home around 6 I change into comfy clothes and check my email. Then I either watch TV, read, play a computer game, listen to music, or work on whatever home projects I’ve cooked up for myself. Recently, for instance, I took out all sorts of old negatives that I’ve had lying around in a box since the eighties (at least) and began scanning them. It was amazing! I was seeing pictures I haven’t seen (in some cases) for 20 years. I plan to get all these organized on my computer. It’s fun revisiting these old snapshots. Poignant too, of course, because Linda’s in so many of them.

I’ll probably add more than a few of these snapshots to my online Photo Album or to other parts of this website. Stay tuned: I’ll let you know when they’ve arrived.

By the way, I said that I ‘watch TV’ ... but I don’t really own a TV set. What I mean is, I download TV shows from Usenet newsgroups and then decode them and watch them on my PC. If you don’t know what Usenet newsgroups are, here is an article at Wikipedia.com that makes an attempt to explain. The nice thing about doing it this way is it’s sort of like the ultimate TIVO. I can surf Usenet for shows I like, download them, and then watch them on my own schedule ... completely free of advertising. Of course, it’s not perfect. You have to pretty much take whatever they’re offering that week. So sometimes people are posting a lot of CSI or Mythbusters (yay), but other times it’s all Lost and Desperate Housewives (puke). If you’re patient, though, and persistent, over time you can get a backlog of interesting things to watch.

I’ve been doing this for several years now, and I’ve really enjoyed some shows I’ve discovered. There’s a British archaeology show I love called Time Team... but wouldn’t you know it, just when I became addicted to it they stopped posting it. Sigh. Too bad, because it’s a marvelous show with wonderful presenters. Then there’s Bullshit, Penn & Teller’s sacred-cow-busting program on Showtime. I also really like (as I said) CSI and Mythbusters, plus The Simpsons, Rome, The Daily Show and The Comeback (brilliant). Others I’ve seen but not been completely enamored of include Boston Legal (I find it over the top), Over There (cool visuals but awfully melodramatic), and, of course, Desperate Housewives (a complete cartoon; it beats me why this show is the slightest bit popular - but then again, it’s hot females on display, isn’t it? nothing new under the sun).

I thought Medium was a nice attempt at something newish, but ultimately I find it too repetitive. How many times do we have to watch the sa-a-ame old subplot (hubby is not happy holding the family bag alone) being expressed the sa-a-ame old way?

All in all, a lot of recent television is fun in a way, but it’s also, you know, cotton candy and you just can’t take a steady diet of that kind of stuff without going a little gaga. So I’m happy, in that sense, for my Usenet-limited TV watching. It allows me to pick and choose. But I’d be curious sometime to hear from anybody reading this what their favorite shows are? And why? I often see titles flash by on Usenet and I have no idea what they are, and just don’t have the time to pursue them. What else is good that’s on right now? What do you think?

 

*** Nov 25 ***

Every once in a while I still have a dream like this one.

I was somewhere in London, England. I’m a romantic about London, so whenever I’m there in my dreams it always makes me very happy. Never having lived there, I can populate it in my imagination with nothing but lovely people, occupying a city at once exotic and mysterious and beautiful.

So here I am, in my fantasy London, and Linda is there. We're in a big dark limousine on the way to something. A theatre performance of some kind, I realize. We're not talking, but there's a glow of happiness in the car; we're very happy to be together.

You know how you ‘just know’ things in dreams. It begins to dawn on me, as the car bumps along the road, that Linda and I are a couple again. We've somehow reunited. Or maybe we're just starting to reunite, because it also all feels very new and tentative. But it’s very wonderful. She's looking out her window, and I'm looking out mine, but we're both glowing with this happy kind of puppy-love feeling. Then I notice the car has stopped, and then suddenly we're inside an old building of some kind that feels like part of a college campus, old bricks, ivy walls, heavy glass windows with thick stone casements. Inside, we're in a vast room with beautiful wood floors that creak slightly. Everything’s in a pale yellow light.

We're sitting in two chairs, and nearby are Elmar Maripuu and Heli Leesement. Elmar and Heli are a couple Linda and I used to know fairly well back in our Toronto days, and then also in New York. Elmar is a gifted, very witty writer (see the lyrics to "The Estonian Wedding Song") and Heli is a very talented actress. They did several fun, crazy shows at a small space Linda and I ran in a church basement in lower Manhattan back in the eighties. Well, now, miracle of miracles, here they are again, in London of all places, and they've got something prepared for us to see. Elmar - who always looked a little like the guitar player Richard Thompson to me - is hovering nearby; he won't be performing. Heli is dressed in a long flowing white robe, almost like a sheet. She begins talking, but I can’t quite tell what she’s saying because there’s also another voice speaking. I look around, and there is Tiina Aleman, another friend from our New York days.

So now Linda and I are sitting in this room while Tiina is reading a poem and Heli is declaiming something else. And even as I think this, Heli walks over to me and puts her face right into mine. "I should call you sir I suppose!?" she says in a very arch voice. (It's part of the play.) And then she struts away again.

I begin to smile. This is precisely the kind of wacky, in-your-face thing I enjoyed so much back in the old days. Linda clearly agrees with me, because she is grinning too. Then she starts to snicker, and so do I. We’re trying not to make too much noise, but what can we do? It’s not that the play is strange and slightly absurd, though it is; it’s also that it’s just so much darn fun that we’re suddenly experiencing. The day, London, our old friends, the play. It all goes to our head like an exhilarating cocktail, and the feeling is overflowing us. We stop snickering and hold hands, and then the play ... maybe it’s just a rehearsal? ... there’s no other audience than us, after all. Well, whatever’s going on, it just stops. Then Linda and I are alone.

We’re still smiling, still happy. Now Linda leans over to me and we put our heads together, not to talk, just to nuzzle. And ... I swear I’m not making this up for extra pathos ... now I say to her, "Linda, I'm so happy. I was so afraid. They told me you were dead, and I believed them. I missed you so much."

And then - I'm not making this up either - the alarm clock went off.

And now I’ve been in a kind of funk for two days, two steps from tears the whole time. Why do I keep doing this to myself? Why do I seem to need to keep replaying losing Linda? My God, that dream completely knocked the wind out of my sails. Why can’t I just remember the good times in a kind of rosy glow? Instead of inventing new ways in my head to suffer?

 

*** December 5 ***

I’ve started a list of what I think is the best Christmas stuff. What I’ve got so far is here.

xmas-lights-houseIf you have broadband and feel like seeing a delightful little Christmasy home movie, click here (or on the picture at right) (file size is about 5mb).

Or if you choose, you can right-click on either link and then choose “Save Target As,” if you’d like to copy the file to your own computer.

My copy of the file comes from Snopes.com:

    “This display was the work of Carson Williams of Mason, Ohio, who spent about three hours sequencing the 88 Light-O-Rama channels that control the 16,000 Christmas lights in his 2004 holiday lighting spectacular. The musical accompaniment is broadcast over a low-power radio station so that it is only audible to visitors tuned in to the correct frequency and doesn't disturb the neighbors.

    “The rough quality of the video has led some viewers to believe it was put together in stop-action form from still photographs, but that is an artifact of the high compression used in the clip circulated via e-mail. Mr. Williams has posted instructions for recreating his "Wizard in Winter" sequencing, and another of his choreographed Christmas light music shows can be viewed here.”

“Wizard in Winter” is a track by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, taken from their album The Lost Christmas Eve. I have to admit I was never a big fan of TSO, I generally find their music to be a bit over-pop-ish. But watching the lights on this house dance I forget all reservations completely. Have fun! It’s a blast!

*

Just went to the dentist today and had yet more work done. That’s why I can sit home on a Thursday and take a little time to peck away at my blog. I’m sitting here with aching teeth, sipping coffee, tapping away. No work until tomorrow.

Christmas is in the air, and you can sure tell it if you look out my window. St. Paul is wrapped in a white blanket already and more snow is falling as we speak. It’s the best kind too, fat white flakes that barely have enough weight to fall, so they hover and twist and twirl on the way down. I call it “Hollywood snow” because it’s the kind any movie director would give an arm for.

And I live here! :-)

This weekend I’ve given myself a little project to work on. Just a few days ago I received, by FedEx, an item I purchased from an internet pawnshop whose real-world address is Las Vegas, Nevada. The item in question is a Panasonic cassette tape deck of some 20+ years’ vintage.

What am I up to? Well, the reason I bought the deck is because it has DBX noise reduction technology, which happens to be the same noise reduction I used when I was mastering much (in fact, all) of the 4-track tapes I recorded at home all those years ago (and have posted more recently on my Music page). Back in the old days DBX was a popular alternative to Dolby for reducing cassette tape hiss, in some ways even superior. So after finishing a song on the 4-track I would always master it onto what was then the best technology I could afford: a 3-head Teac cassette deck using metal tapes and DBX noise reduction. The result was usually quite good.

The only problem with DBX is that it used a unique compression system which meant that tapes recorded with DBX didn’t sound very good when played back on a deck without DBX. In fact, they sounded extremely weird. Oh, and one other problem: the fact that DBX has unfortunately not flourished as a home format over the years, meaning it’s become hard to find. Like, impossible.

So I’ve been frustrated. Sitting there on my shelf are all the best-quality versions of my (and others’) old songs, and I can’t dub them onto my computer because I have no tape deck that will play them. The best I’ve been able to do so far is dub 2nd-generation copies ... that is, tapes that were copied from these master tapes ... in order to make the MP3s that appear on my Music page. They sound okay, but I’d really like to get the best quality, if possible.

Hence the deck from the Pawn Shop.

So we’ll see what happens. I’m excited. Of course, this may all be premature. I don’t even know if the darn machine works yet! Well, I’m crossing my fingers.

I'll keep you posted.

** December 11 **

Turns out the darn tape deck doesn’t work at all. I can’t tell if it was banged up in transit or it never worked in the first place. Whatever. It’s a piece of junk.

So I won’t be able to get the Xmas tapes online this year. Too bad. They’re amazingly good and a lot of fun. Well, stay tuned. Next year for sure.

What I’ll probably end up doing is buying a newish Tascam 4-track cassette deck and using that to make the dubs. They’re amazingly cheap now, and they come with variable speed settings so you can play normal tapes back through them. More important, they have DBX, so I can play my masters on them. The only problem is, all my masters are ‘metal’ tapes and most 4-tracks don’t accept metal tapes. So the tapes will sometimes have the wrong bias setting, resulting in slight distortion. Oh well. It’s obvious I’ll have to compromise one way or another or I’ll simply never get this project done, so if I have to do it with the wrong bias settings, so be it.

Speaking of tech, about a week ago I decided I needed more storage on my home computer so I went ... as I always do ... to Froogle to find something. Ended up buying two 300GB hard drives and two external enclosures for them. They’ve since arrived, and are now attached to my PC and running just fine. To my amazement, the addition of these drives now gives me 1,200GB of drive space on my home PC. That’s 1.2 Terabytes, people, which is a hell of a lot. I’m used to thinking of terabytes as the domain of science fiction. I can’t believe I’ve got a PC that actually holds that much.

But I’m sure I’ll fill it up again - eventually!

Otherwise it’s been a slow weekend. I put together some sound cues for my good pal Casey Biggs, who is currently directing a production of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” ... well, somewhere. I actually don’t know where. I’m sending him the CDs in the mail tomorrow. This is all the sound and music, etc., that I originally created in 2001 for our production of the same play at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. It was fun revisiting these old cues again - the accordion music, the march, the wintery wind, a distant gunshot. Great stuff. And I’m grateful to find that I’m a pack rat; I backed up all the old cues when I was done with them, recording not just the finished sound files but also all of my working versions onto a couple of CDs. That meant I could pull out all this old stuff now and even tweak a few cues that I was never happy with before sending them off.

Frankly, though, I feel like I’ve kind of slumped a little lately. After the excitement of moving here to St. Paul I’ve been more of a homebody these past few weeks, not really wanting to go out and meet people after work, or do much of anything, really, but stay home and either read books or tinker on my computer. I suppose it’s only natural to feel this way after a period of excitement; all that furniture-buying and apartment-decorating was fun, but after all, things can’t stay that way or you’d be frazzled. So maybe I’m kind of balancing out right now? I don’t know.

Well, whatever the case, I’m kind of low-key these days. Content to watch a DVD, or play a computer game, or tinker here, in my blog. Or go to work and forget that the outside world exists at all. Forget anything like an acting career ever existed. Just putter along. And who knows, maybe that’s how you do it in Minnesota in the wintertime? After all, you’re not exactly going to be burning up the town when the snowdrifts are several feet high and the temperature is hovering around 0. Maybe the key right now is just taking it cool and easy. Wear a sweater, relax with a good book, and wait for spring to arrive.

Sounds like hibernation. And well, why not?