Monday, October 28, 2013

The Favor Part Two: A Myopic View


            The play is over. The sets are being dismantled and the entire cast and crew have gone their separate ways. True, some of the people will keep in touch and even see each other on a weekly basis, but this fact won’t hold true for me. You see, the play, if you don’t remember from last weeks blog was held at a church. A church I am not a member of nor have I ever sat through h a service there. I am and will most likely be an outsider to most of the people whom I’ve come into contact with over the past few months.
            I don’t mind this fact. As a matter of fact it is my belief that the less you know me, the more you are liable to actually not be disappointed in who I am. I did meet some very nice people and enjoyed my time doing this favor for my buddy. After all, it really didn’t cost me anything but a little time and energy. But you know, through this whole endeavor people kept saying to me “Skip, you are going to miss these people when this is all over. I know I do.” I poo-pooed these sentiments, simply because I don’t really know the people with whom I was interacting with.
            I do consider myself fortunate for being able to be a part of the play and I did enjoy myself. But to say I will miss them… I don’t know. I can’t really say for now. But I will say this, I did tell the folks in charge that if they needed me next year, feel free to call upon me.
            Now, on to the meat of the blog.
            As I’ve stated, we practiced and practice and practiced for a couple months on our scene. And by our scene I mean scene three, it was only on the last night of the play that I found out there were actually eight scenes in all. Meaning I was one of eight Sean’s. There were also eight Katies and eight Bobby’s along with several scores of extras. Oh, and there seemed to be eight Satan’s as well, but only one Jesus. I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of people who were in the support crew. From the ladies and gentlemen in the craft services who cooked ungodly amounts of pork bar-b-que, cavatina, hamburgers, hot dogs, cookies, brownies, French fries, tea, lemonade, banana pudding, cookies, salads and I’m sure some treats I’m forgetting. Even the volunteers who managed the parking lots and the group escorts and security personnel had to number into the mid-double digits.
            What I’m getting at is; I just didn’t realize from the small room I was practicing in with a dozen people for months that there had been put into place a support group of people made up of individuals who believed in what we were doing despite my reluctance to participate in the first place. I don’t know why I didn’t realize the enormity of the detail I had inadvertently become a part of. But I’m a bit glad I was a part of it.
            I guess, looking back now, I started to get an inkling of the size of this evolution began on my second night of acting. I was sitting down at a table with five other people who were involved in the play. While I didn’t know what their individual tasks were, I knew that they were there for a reason simply because they were wearing the uniform t-shirts of the play. T-shirts that were only handed out to cast and crew, at that table, no one asked me what my part in the play was nor why I was there. They just accepted me as one of them. An odd feeling truly. These were people whom I had never met nor had any contact with in my life and yet they just accepted me, my long hair, my leather jacket and my motorcycle helmet at face value.
            While we were sitting there, me in silence and listening to the chatter of my tablemates, a man walked by and handed me a sheet of paper which I set on the table next to my food. I was about to read the paper when an elderly lady walked by and handed me a dish of sherbert. I quickly forgot about the paper and ate my frozen treat before it melted. Then, I threw my trash away, gathered up my belongings and folded the paper and put it in my pocket where it was quickly forgotten about.
            I made my way to the room where my scene was and stored my gear and relaxed before the rush of attendees started the night rolling in an endless series of repetition on me and my fellow actors. By the end of the night I overheard some of my fellow thespians talking about the paper I had so easily tucked into my pocket. I pulled the paper out and began to read it. The paper consisted of numbers of the previous night’s attendees and quotes by some of the people who had walked through the play.
            This moment was a bit of a revelation to me but one I was na├»ve enough to believe was just a platitude to make us, the cast and crew, feel as if we were part of something larger. I read the words, shrugged my shoulders and tucked the sheet of paper back into my pocket, donned my riding gear and headed out the door. I was too tired to realize what was going on around me.
            Over the course of those six nights of acting, more sheets followed, I really didn’t read them, I had no need to. The director of our scene or someone else would read the sheet aloud to us all in that cramped room. During those times, I found myself going over my lines in my head and ignoring the pandemonium of the extras and the incessant babble of the other actors around me. I was trying to be as professional as I could be by making sure I knew when my cues were and exactly how I was supposed to portray my character.
            On the last night, this past Sunday night, my view changed. It all came when someone from the dining area said to a table mate “I think we may have two thousand visitors this year.” Now, as I’ve stated in a previous blog, I try to not look at any of the people who come to see us perform, simply because everything I have ever read about acting states that a person’s performance should never be influenced by who is observing them. You are supposed to be portraying a character who believes they are not being observed.
            I took that to heart. Sure, I peeked at the shoes the people were wearing as they entered the room but only so that I could give a sign to the gentleman who was in charge of the lights when everyone had entered the room. But to look at the people’s faces, nope, I refused to attempt that slight sin of the theatre.
            But, when I heard the careless comment about the number of attendees, my mind reeled a bit. I never kept track of the amount of times we performed each night and I had no desire to. I tried to approach this task as professionally as I could and be as faithful to my character as possible. You know, like I do with all my jobs.
            That night though, Sunday night, I found myself sitting on the floor of the room, my back against the wall, wondering exactly what I was doing and whether or not I was doing the right thing. Heartfelt words from people I know who had seen the play already filled my mind. One comment which I received second hand stood out in particular “If I didn’t know Skip better, I would have to say he really is an atheist.” When I first heard that comment I laughed and shrugged it off. I had to, simply because I know what I believe in and I also know I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve. I keep my faith close, like a second skin and I try to never allow any one get close enough to me to see it. Sure, close, very close friends know where I stand, but to the public at large, I’m sure they have no clue where I stand. Which is okay with me.
            But as I looked at the sheet of paper with the previous night’s numbers and the tally for the run of the play up to that night, I found myself in a situation I don’t normally find myself. I was surprised. Surprised that there were people out there who took to heart something I and my fellow cast was doing. Surprised that what we did actually spoke something into them that they needed to hear and then they acted upon it. We had made a connection to them simply by having them observing something we were doing. That, to me, is very powerful.
            People’s lives had changed and I played a small part in that. I was a bit overwhelmed and I still am. So overwhelmed that at the end of the night I told my director that if he needed me again for next year’s performance that he should feel free to call me. I even informed the writer of the play my intentions, which is extremely unlike my character.
            In summary, I’m glad my buddy and his mother hounded me to perform. I’m glad I was able to participate in something that was much larger than I ever believed it could be and I’m comforted by all the good things that have seemed to come out of this endeavor. Lastly, and this is a bit of a secret so don’t tell anyone, I look forward to getting a phone call next year.

            Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Renewed Effort


           The air is cooler now and the hours of light are shorter. In the mornings, whether I’m walking to my motorcycle or walking away from her, my feet inevitably send up to my ears the crunching sounds of dried leaves and now broken acorns. Autumn is finally here. True, we had a pretty mild summer. Dry and tepid weather were the norm for me. Instead of wearing just my work shirt on my ride to work I now wear a heavy leather jacket, and occasionally gloves.
            Gone are the seemingly endless days of sunshine and my yearn for taking a two wheel lunch has waned. Instead, I take my lunch breaks and sit at my desk and answer emails or voicemails. Nowadays, much like most of the year, my days are filled with preparations for Christmas. Any preparations for any other holiday are put securely on the back-burner of life. No Halloween decorations, no Thanksgiving decorations, no horror movie marathons or even some of my favorite cartoons that seem to be on constant replay on the television.
            A co-worker of mine said the other day “Only when you have lost all feeling towards Christmas will you no longer be a Padwan.” We all laughed. But his words struck a chord in me that made me review my blogs during this season over the past three years. What I read did not disturb me so much as it showed me that I’ve really lost my wonderment of the upcoming holiday season. So much so that I don’t even decorate my house for Christmas anymore.
            As to the reason I don’t decorate, it’s simple, I spend an average of five weeks decorating an entire building, inside and out for Christmas. All the while working a part time job. I’m exhausted when I get home and on my days off, there is usually a list of chores I need to get to, which I ignore for the selfish reason of relaxing and letting my weary body the opportunity to unwind the pent up tension of my seventy plus hours of work.
            I don’t like that.
            I don’t like that I’ve become tarnished by the enormity of Christmas holiday at work that I’ve lost my own wonder for the season. Yes, I still love Halloween. It has always been one of my favorite holidays. What’s not to like, free candy, creepy movies, refreshing brisk air and crunchy leaves under foot? Not to mention all the excitement that comes from celebrating the death of summer and the fact that your loved ones want to spend more time cuddled up in your arms than in the sultry, humid days of summer.
            So, where does this leave me? A man who has not felt any excitement for the joint Pagan and Christian celebration has waned to an almost extinguished ember on the lone prairie of life. Well, my dear reader, it leaves me sitting on my porch smoking a cigar and wondering whether I should make a concerted effort to regain my excitement or should I just get a bucket of water and extinguish that dying ember permanently.
            I vote for the former rather than the later.
            In the past, whether I was sitting alone on my ship while serving in the Navy on Christmas day or surrounded by loved ones eating too much food, opening too many presents and dozing off to whatever football game was on television, I was always grateful for where I was or what I was doing during that season. I want to recapture that misguided, crazy, manic kid of my youth and the wonderment he had of the season of sharing and joy. I believe I will try, extremely hard, this year to not be the sour-pus I’ve been in the past. Instead, I shall try and shrug the chains of disillusionment and be a bit kinder towards my fellow man. I will also make a concerted effort to pay attention to the small wonders that come across my path. Like the joy from a child who is seeing the work me and my co-workers have spent all year working on and the amazed look of the adults who’ve spent an entire lifetime observing the work of my predecessors and the work we’ve done.
            So, if you see me walking down the street with a scowl on my face or if you see one of my tweets or facebook posts that is a bit morose about the season, please, for my sake and the sake of my inner lost child, tell me a positive memory of your holiday season or better yet, just call me out on my Scrooge-like behavior.
            Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Favor


           A few months ago I was approached by a friend for a favor. I declined. Then, my friend and his mother approached me and once again I declined. Then they both approached me a third time, this time, they didn’t take no for an answer. All of my reasons for not doing this favor were tossed aside and they assured me that my work schedule would not be infringed upon too much and they would make considerations for not being able to commit to being at the designated place and time every week. (That sounds almost clandestine, but it really is not.)
            They favor they asked? Oh, sorry, they wanted me to be in a play and not just as a filler role but as one of the main characters. The play in question is called “Judgment House” and the best way that I can describe it is that it is a Christian Horror House. Sort of. You see, there are four scenes and each scene has a set of actors in it, I’m in scene three and my characters name is Sean. I have a wife, Katie and we are sitting in an airport waiting to get on a plane. Now, in the other three scenes there are a Sean and a Katie played by different actors. The attendees of the play actually move between scenes instead of sitting in comfortable chairs and having the scenes change behind curtains.
            This is the first time I’ve been in a play since High School. Upon my arrival for the first table reading I asked the director about my character and motives. He proceeded to give me line readings. I waited patiently for him to finish and then asked him, “What sort of emotions do you want from me? What is the motivation for my character?” he promptly replied “Frustrated, angry atheist.”
            That was all I needed to hear. I can tap into my frustration and anger probably too easy. Which is why I think my buddy and his mom wanted me for the play, not that I can’t tap into my other emotions readily but I seem to have developed a reputation for being frustrated and angry. Which keeps most people at arm’s length from me, I’m comfortable with that. But I digress.
            The first few practices I kept my mouth shut with the exception of the lines I needed to read. After all, I only knew three people out of a cast of over thirty not to mention all the support staff. Eventually, I opened up to a few people, made some friends and now, as I sit here on my porch writing this after our last dress rehearsal and preview attendees I think that my buddy and his mother knew what they were doing. Everyone seems happy with my performance and I’ve been complimented on how I play my character.
            Now, if you are in the Greater Tidewater area and want to come see me act like a total buffoon in front of hundreds of people you are more than welcome to come out and see the play. The best part, it’s free. It won’t cost you a dime but it will cost you some time. The play is located at Pinecrest Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. The church is on the corner of Felton Road and Pinecrest Drive. The play will have multiple showings Friday the 18th of October, Saturday the 19th of October and Sunday the 20th of October. Show times start at six pm on Friday and Saturday and five pm on Sundays. Now, if you can’t make it this weekend they also have shows on Friday the 25th of October, Saturday the 26th of October and Sunday the 27th of October. The times are the same for that weekend as they are for this weekend. However, if you do come out on Saturday the 19th, I won’t be there. That is the one night I have off. So if you do come out that night, you won’t get to see me make a fool of myself.
            Now, and I have to say this, if you do come out, I probably won’t see you in the audience. Simply because I don’t look at the audience, it is not because I don’t want to, it is because that is not what I would feel comfortable doing. I don’t like being the center of attention or even a member of a party that is the center of attention. So instead, I live in my head and that of the character I am portraying. However if you do come out and see me, drop me a line on facebook, or text me that you did come out. It would be really cool to hear from you.
            As for the entire play and my feelings towards it, I can’t really say. I have not read the whole thing, just my part. And as far as me seeing the whole thing, meaning the other scenes, I have not done that either. I don’t want to. Simply because I don’t want the other actors who are portraying my character to influence the way I play my character. But I do know from what I’ve overheard that everyone has done an amazing job. From the set builders to the make-up artist to the security guards that keep people moving from one scene to the next.
            So, now I have another feather to put into my already overflowing hat. Actor.
            Have a great week.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Not a Week off.


Welcome back. No I did not take a week off. Instead I spent in in deep introspective thought. You see, my offspring turns fourteen in just a few short hours and as I write this I am listening not to the voices in my head but instead to the wonderful, head-banging music of Motorhead. Why? Simple, I’m trying to drown out all the thought of my daughter becoming a second year teenager.
            My daughter, the light of my life and the progeny of my loins, I love her more than I love my cigars and riding my Harley for endless hours down twisting and turning roads as the leaves of the trees fall gently to the ground. It seems that with each passing summer for the past few years my life seems to become more and more worrisome as I ponder what direction she will take. Will she rebel like I did or will she follow a more complacent course of life? I don’t know. I know from our brief conversations she has a slight rebellious streak towards teachers and maybe even authority. But does this mean she will turn out to be an outcast or just a free thinker?
            I don’t know but I hope it is the latter and not the former. Free thinking is a good thing but blind following is a bad thing. I hope she has the balance between the two. Especially since her mother and I are opposites in so many ways. I hope she received the best from the both of us and not any of the worst. Of course, I want her to succeed in whatever it is she decides to do with her life but I also do not want her to believe that complacent acceptance is an acceptable course of life.
            As of right now, my home is filled with screaming, giggling teenagers who think running rampantly through all the rooms is a fine past time. I can’t blame them. I yearn for that sort of innocence and bravery. Yes, she is, at least in my mind, still full of innocence and bravery. Although from what I know from my youth and of course from speaking with her, that is not necessarily true. But, I think that as a parent, lying to yourself, comes with the territory. I’m not saying I lie to myself about her actions and what she does, I just like to think that over the years her mother and I have instilled in her a decent respect for herself and the people she comes into contact with.
            But, I digress.
            I love my child and I would never wish for another. I only want what is best for her and for her to be truly happy in whatever endeavor that draws her attention in the future. I just wish she had a better taste in music, but then again, don’t all parents want that for their children?
            Bragging time.
            First, and foremost, my daughter has rarely let anything stop her from doing something she wants to do. She is a cheerleader and last year, before the new principal of her school shut down the Student Council, she was a member of said Student Council. She has also stepped out of her comfort zone to go above and beyond in school projects, sometimes at the ridicule of her classmates. She has a passion for helping others and rarely have I seen her turn a blind eye of someone whom she could help. Even if the person in question has hurt her in the past. When her feelings are hurt, by a friend or even a parent, she cries and then communicates easily as to why her feelings were hurt in the first place. She has a passion for reading and learning and if she doesn’t understand something she seeks out the answer in whatever form that may take.
            These qualities, leadership, empathy, bravery, inquisitiveness and communication are all skills that I am proud of. Oh, and I forgot one other thing, she is a cheerleader and in dance class, which those skills she must have gotten from her mother because I couldn’t dance my way out of a wet paper bag let alone would I ever be caught, as a teen that is, at an organized sporting event cheering for people I had no connection with.
            Yes, I am proud of her and I love her with every cell in this corporeal body I have. And for her fourteenth birthday I wish her the happiest of times with friends she loves and cares for.

            Happy Birthday Goose, you will never cease to amaze me and you have been my true North since the day you were born.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Squirrel Thoughts



            A loud thump on the roof of my porch outside my bedroom window startled me and I jumped out of bed. I didn’t know what to expect when I peeked between the blinds, it was only the end of September, too early for Biker-Claus to deliver my Vance and Hines Short Shot pipes for my motorcycle and it was too late in the year for anyone to be launching fireworks. So I was a bit startled when I saw a squirrel with only half a tail running back and forth three feet from me as if his world was just about to end.
            He ran to my left, right up to the edge of the roof and placed his front paws on the gutter and stared at a Dogwood tree ten feet from where he was. Then he looked over his shoulder to the right edge of the roof and took a small step back and then stopped and looked at the Dogwood again. He became very still, it seemed to me as if he were pondering trying to make the leap to the far away tree, then he shook his head again and moved back to the right side of the roof where the cable wires come into the house. But he didn’t jump onto the cable wires; instead he turned back around and ran as fast as his small squirrel legs could carry him towards the edge of the roof nearest the Dogwood. He didn’t jump, instead he stopped a few feet short and slid into a fallen branch that has been sitting on that corner of the roof for a month or two now.
            Once again he became still, once again I thought he was pondering trying to jump. Instead, he turned and slowly walked back to the cable wires, jumped onto them and made his way over my front yard and the street I live on. He then climbed down the telephone pole face first and sprinted across the street and up the Dogwood. I lost sight of him in the branches for a moment but then I saw the short tailed tree rodent sitting on a branch and staring into my front yard. A yard that on the previous morning had once contained a forty foot tall Oak tree but thanks to some good people the dying, oxygen producing, once proud tree had been felled, chopped and hauled away.
            Now my front lawn held a large mulch filled hole in the middle where the tree once stood and I stood in my bedroom watching as the squirrel tried to figure out where one of his favorite hangouts had gone. That is when I realized we humans are not the only ones who become habitually addicted to routine. It seems habits are universal.
            No, I’m not a scientist, biologist or even a psychologist. If anything, I am an observist, if there is such a word and according to my word crunching program, there is not so I shall claim it here and now. The squirrels reaction to the change in his environment brought forth memories of my own responses to sudden changes I have experienced. Those thoughts mainly drifted through the passages of time in my life to a world without internet, cell phones and instant communication. A time when I was just a kid running the streets of Green Bay with my pals and trying act like I was older than I really was.
            Times spent at parties when my folks thought I was sleeping at a friend’s house, time spent in the back seat of cars with a girl I had met only a few hours earlier as we both tried to shed our youthful awkwardness in the hopes of discovering something more in the street lit world of hidden agendas and blatant lies. Memories of hanging out under bridges fishing, smoking and drinking with buddies I’ll never see again and I know if I go back, those bridges are gone like the branches of the tree the short tailed squirrel used to get from one tree to the next. Thoughts of the ever changing landscape of my adopted home town where restaurants have been closed and torn down, places where my wife and I went when we were dating are now empty lots or in one case a public library.
            I don’t think the squirrel or many animals of this world understand the word nostalgia, and I think it is a blessing for them. They can’t mourn the loss of something that once was a daily part of their lives. Not like us humans do. Why else do we have a written and oral history? It is to keep the past alive. Animals don’t do that or if they did, wouldn’t we all want to listen in on what they have to say to each other? Just imagine what a conversation with some buffalo would be like or better yet Galapagos Tortoise. I know I would want to hear their history and what has occurred in their genealogy.
            Nope, they can’t but we can and do. So now when I sit on my porch with my computer on my lap, my cigar burning slowly into the night and the white pages of my word crunching program open in front of me I can’t be amused by the creatures in the tree. Gone are the fighting squirrels, singing birds and cicadas I listened to throughout the day. Also gone is the incessant sap that seemed to find its way onto my motorcycle and the ever increasing number of limbs that seemed to fall into the yard and onto the house anytime the wind blew.
            I will miss that old dying Oak longer than the squirrels and birds will. I will miss the shade it provided and I will miss the life it brought to my yard but if it had stayed much longer, I am sure it would have wound up crashing through my roof and into my bedroom and the squirrels I am sure would have loved that.

Have a great week.