Friday, July 22, 2011

Next Stop, the Twilight Zone

It all started when we were leaving Bobby's ophthalmologist's office this afternoon. We'd been there since nine. While waiting for the doctor in an examination room, a torrential downpour had deluged the city and flooded the streets around the Touro complex. Now we were leaving to grab a late lunch and pick up a new prescription of eye drops.

We had reached the door of the reception room. As I opened it, a woman caught my eye and held my attention. She seemed to know me. Something about her seemed familiar to me, as well. She did not speak, though, only smiled. She never took her eyes off me.

The corridor outside the doctor's office was empty. So was the elevator we rode to the floor from which we could reach the parking garage. At our destination, as the metal doors slid open to release us, a lady about to enter the elevator blinked at me in some semblance of recognition. She seemed about to speak, but didn't, only watched me as I walked away.

I had decided to treat Bobby to a Chinese lunch at the August Moon a few blocks from Touro Infirmary on Prytania. I like the August Moon. The staff is courteous and friendly. The food is good. Our greeter seated us at a table for two at a window on the avenue.

There was a lady seated at the table next to us. She seemed to take no notice of us nor pay any attention to me. I felt a vague unease begin to lift from round my shoulders. But five minutes could not have passed before she leapt up from her seat to greet an old friend who had just swept into the restaurant to join her. I glanced up at the commotion and locked eyes on another pair boring into me, the eyes of her friend.

Who was he? I could have sworn I knew him but could not locate him in time or place.

I averted my gaze to look out onto the sidewalk activities beyond my window. A young man was passing by. A doctor, perhaps. He was intently talking on a cell phone as he moved by me. Then his eye wandered and he saw me looking at him. His face softened as he looked back at me. He seemed as familiar to me at that moment as I must have seemed to him.

I turned my attention to Bobby and lunch. I tried to convince myself I was imagining things. I kept myself from looking around the restaurant or out the window while we ate.

Finally, the meal was done. As I asked our server for the check, I could see beyond her, seated at a center table, a lady cop and her companion, a paraplegic man, looking in my direction, both of them smiling in faint recognition.

Yes, they looked familiar to me, but my mind would not name them as it had not named any of the others who had smiled at me today.

My breathing was becoming strained as I paid the bill and hurried Bobby out of the August Moon and into the damp of that earlier downpour.

The prescription could wait. I needed to get home, to lock myself behind strong doors, and settle myself down in a safe place where there would be no eyes to bore into me. No one from my misty or imagined past needing me, demanding a response from me.

People say a rainfall clears the air.

Not always.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I belong to Facebook.

Wait a minute. I don't like that sentence. I don't "belong" to anything or anybody. I am my own man. I make my own way down those mean streets ... and so on.

No, sometime back, I joined Facebook. I joined it in an act of surrender. All my friends belonged to it and were no longer taking the time and great effort to pick up a phone or compose an email. They told me it was the current state-of-the-art standard for networking.

I don't network.

I no longer work for a living, so I don't have to spend my morning hours arranging my face into a confident, sincere arrangement with which to confront other people I want to sell something to.

But still ...

I run a couple of blogs. I do theatre. Those things, by their nature, imply a desire for an audience; and, I confess, I do desire an audience. I wouldn't be maintaining these things if I didn't want people to stumble upon them every now and then and enjoy themselves for a moment or two.

Facebook turned out to be a pretty quick and easy way to advertise these projects, so I started to use it, and I use it still. And every now and then, Facebook pays me back for my participation.

Like on my birthday.

Facebook actually announces your birthday. It displays that information for all your Facebook friends to see when they log on. They no longer have the excuse of running into you and confessing, "Oh, it was your birthday last week? I'm so sorry I missed it. I hope you had a wonderful day."

Well, yesterday, thanks to Facebook, I did.

I must have spent three-quarters of the day and a good part of this morning responding to all the messages from my Facebook friends and acquaintances, thanking them for their extravagant well-wishes. The effect of this outpouring of regard had me beaming with a palpable glow which pulsates around me still.

It does one good to know people care.

I may start having birthdays every other month.

I'll be the world's oldest living man in no time that way. I'll be feted, flown around the world, get paid six-figure sums for interviews with Dianne Sawyer and Matt Lauer. News people will be shoving cameras and microphones in my face, exclaiming, "But you look so young!" and demanding to know, "How do you do it?"

And I'll say, "Clean living, kind thoughts, and maybe just a tiny glass of red wine every week or ten days or so. Oh, and God, of course."

That would be nice.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Passing Through the Dark

Time was, I was doing a lot of plays, one right after the other, not all of them plays I was particularly interested in doing, but I did them anyway. It was good practice. Now that I'm both producing and directing, I have more of a say in the scripts I work with.

That's a good thing - and a bad thing, too. A good thing because it's rewarding in ways hard to imagine. A bad thing because I end up scared and worried the production won't work for my audiences.

This play I'm working on now, Hugging the Shoulder, means a lot to me. It's an original work, never been published, and it speaks to me in ways not many plays do. It's a story about brothers - and my own blood family is only my two brothers and me now - and it's a story about guilt and loneliness and the journey through darkness toward a hoped-for day of reconciliation. I love the beautiful, wounded losers whose story the playwright, Jerrod Bogard, tells. We're all of us wounded in some way, after all.

I love, too, the fact that Jerrod has built his play out of bricks. It's structurally sound and built to withstand the weather.

I'm working with a gifted cast. The first couple of weeks of rehearsal were awkward for me as I tried to learn their languages. I've made some progress there, and we are beginning to cohere. Like stone and mortar maybe? They're good, and it's apparent they have as much regard for the play as I do.

If you happen to come across these words sometime, Jerrod, I'm just trying to say, "Thanks."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Everybody Ought to Have a Kid

By "kid," however, I do not mean a goat. Nor am I referring to a child, one of those cuddly miracles from a sentimental God who routinely reduce the rational adults around them to states of mewling immaturity until they enter their terrible twos or, worse, their treacherous teens.

No, I'm talking about those young people who have survived into their own callow adulthoods and have begun packing on the density of maturity.

"Kids," as I mean to use the term, are not hippies or punks. They've outgrown those impulses and are beginning to consider things like salaries and commitments. They're like you or me before life burned us out and jaded us. They're somewhat serious-minded and sincere without yet comprehending the need for an IRA, much less what one is. They're still fresh.

And when they're respectful and considerate and don't keep you awake too late, they help to keep you young. Or, at least, on your toes. So kids have their place. My advice is, if you've still got any stamina left, you should get yourself a few.

You need to treat them right, however. Don't impose on them or be too mean, and they'll come when you call. They'll pick up the Cheetos you dropped on the floor. They'll even pour you glasses of wine from the bottle they pulled off your rack in the kitchen. They'll make you laugh and forget why you were pitying yourself a few hours ago. And they'll make you feel wise and important when you spout off about the good old days like you know what you're talking about.

With any luck they might even visit you in the hospital when everybody else you know has already died ahead of you. Hell, they might even drive you home after your bypass. You never know.

The kids I have are pretty cool. Of course, they're already taken, so you'll have to find your own.

It's not that hard.

You don't want to appear too needy at first. That generally scares them off. You have to take your time. Sit still for a while so they won't think you're on the attack. Gradually, you can start leaving scraps of food around. They'll begin to trust you then. Not long after that, they'll start coming up to you on their own when you're resting on that bench in the park; and in no time at all, they're domesticated; and they're yours for life.

Until the day comes when it's time to put 'em down.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nest Building

I puttered out into the back patio early today for coffee and a little morning reading. From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a swooping shadow. I heard a flutter of wings against the air. On the white-rocked bed of our garden lit a dove.

She was shopping for twigs. She wandered the length of the flowerbed, rejecting this one, that one, another, before selecting one she determined to be the very right one for her current need. Grasping it in her beak, she hopped onto the brick-top railing of the garden's border, then launched herself up into the air. She paused for breath a moment on the top of the patio's far wall before she winged away around the corner to some secret place where she'd begun weaving her new nest.

She would repeat her routine of swooping, selecting, and soaring away home throughout the time I remained in the garden, as indifferent to my presence as I had become to my own world.

I watched her, wondering at her determination and the patience she owned to build, one twig at a time, that safe and sturdy place she would soon require. Hers was not a sweet maternal deed, but, rather, an insensate act devoid of feeling, thought, or possibilities. Instinct planted in her genes and timed to go off like a ringing clock when the time and need arrived.

Can we, too, be controlled by such ancestral DNA that we go on when sense, desires, hopes have nestled down in some cold mist, out of sight around the corner?

The classic mystics of the Christian church wrote tellingly of the joys and solace found in the presence of God, but they did not later lie and try to shield His wantonness toward them by refusing to reveal His seeming betrayal when He inevitably departed from their lives, leaving them alone to cope without His sureties, in doubt and emptiness.

What they did was they went on. They prayed the pointless prayers, persisted with the good works and the acts of mercy, continued in the habits that had been prescribed by spiritual progenitors. One day, they would discover all the early consolations they'd enjoyed had really only been like the rewards we press into the muzzles of dogs to teach them how to fetch, to heel, to sit. The true and real presence of God was in His hiddenness, his other-where-ness, when He crouched low in some cold, cold mist, unseen by them, unfindable.

The thing to do, then, is to do; forgo the questions that will not be answered now or maybe ever, but, like the nesting dove, search earnestly among the rocks for just the one right twig to carry home and fit into just the one right place, then do it, fit it in - then go away again to scratch for just the one right next one and the right one after that and the other one until what was meant to be built is well and truly built, and finished.
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