Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Virginia: And the clouds parted...

It occurs to me that I have devoted much of this space to my divorce. And while that is sad, I must state that my former spouse and I have remained friends. Good friends, actually. So with that statement made, I offer one of my most favorite memories of all time.

Our wedding day was shaping up to be a typical March day in DC: chilly with a side of cloudy. We both knew the odds, being natives had inoculated us to any disappointment regarding the weather. We were polar opposites when it came to temperature: she preferred the sweltering heat and humidity of DC Summers while I preferred the chill of Fall sliding into Winter. With those facts in hand, it was easy to plot a temperate month to have our wedding. March seemed as good as October to us.

We assembled at the Lyon Village Community Center, a quaint little structure on the grounds of a park. It felt very similar to a Quaker Meeting House, solemn but in a non-denominational sort of way. While friends decorated the hearth with greenery snatched from outside, I cooled my heels in an upstairs room. My Father-in-Law to be and I chuckled over the whole "you can't see the Bride until you are at the altar" thing and I looked out the window. There were kids playing in the park, despite the chill and the clouds. I remembered that a couple who was interested in using the space for their wedding was going to drop by and stand in the back to watch the proceedings. No, this didn't bother us at all we told them. I don't think I even noticed them.

So, our "Wedding Dictator" (a position created by the woman who named it in my honor, since I performed the same function for her two years earlier) called me down and arranged us in our processional order. We filed in, the Ushers beaming and the Minister (Unitarian, natch) awaited me and my Best Man. The Bride entered with her Father, who only paused so he could place his white cowboy hat on an empty chair before proceeding down the aisle. (I still get a bit misty thinking about that moment.)

We joined hands and listened to the sermon and the readings and the music. Then it came time for the vows. As the Minister began, I noticed that Sweetie was tearing up. So I reached for one of the three handkerchiefs I carried with me that day to hand to her. As I was doing so, I was temporarily struck blind.

Tears? No.

Adrenaline rush? Nope.

The sun had come out.

And it filled the room with such a soft golden light that there were a few gasps from the audience. (One of our theatrical friends complimented Sweetie on pulling off such a difficult lighting cue.) The room warmed, we looked at each other, and smiled. Then kissed. And then we were married.

It really was a perfect moment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Notes

Just a couple of personal notes from a rather historic day:

I was working from home and I got my problematic wireless network back up and running for my work laptop. So I curled up in front of the TV machine and settled in for the ceremony. When a certain pastor stepped up to the podium, I snapped this picture:

Yes, that's me turning my back upon Pastor Rick Warren. Hey, it's the least I could do, right? And I didn't even boo or raise my fist in anger when the former administration was introduced. I was too happy to protest any harder.

When it came time for Obama to take the oath of office, I decided to test something. I noticed that I could hear the Fourth of July fireworks on the Mall from my porch. Faint little pops instead of the sonic booms, but the sound was unmistakable. So I stepped onto my porch and listened. And there came a low rumble, more vibration than sound, punctuated by the artillery fire right after he completed the oath.

Hope never sounded so good!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

By the time this post reaches your retinas, it will be Inauguration Day. I spent the eve of this day by watching the latest film to arrive via Netflix: a documentary on the Iraq war and occupation called "No End in Sight". I almost didn't watch it, didn't want to bum myself out. But then I thought it important to review what had come before as I welcome what is to come.

So I made dinner and watched it.

And I did get angry all over again. 

In particular, the looting of the museums and libraries made my blood pressure rise. An entire country's history and culture snatched away in the lawlessness that we condoned. "Stuff happens," to quote Secretary Rumsfeld.

But I'm still hopeful, despite the grim assessment of the people who tried to get things right and were thwarted by an administration focused on politics instead of results. Perhaps after eight years of living in fear fomented by the Bush administration, we can believe again in our collective capacity to do the right thing.

Happy Inauguration day, everybody!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Minnesota: Navigating by ten year old maps

This memory begins in a state already covered: Iowa. I did a stint of summer stock theater in East Central Iowa and I didn't have a whole lot of free time. Just one day, in fact: Monday. That was the only day when we interns were not spending 12+ hours inside a theater of some sort. That precluded the possibility of any serious day-tripping, although some folks did get to Chicago and back for a few hours of shopping.

I had been to Chicago many times so that held little appeal. But another city did: Minneapolis. I had never set foot in Minnesota before but I figured if the people were half as nice as they were in Iowa then I would be OK. The immediate problem was how to navigate once I got there. I was earning $50/week and board, so buying a big ole driver's atlas was out of the question. So I went to the company office and asked if they had anything I could borrow for the day. The secretary pulled out a ten year old map of the Twin Cities and wished me luck. Her parting comment was encouraging: "Nothing much has changed up there, anyway. The roads should still be where they say they are."

I set out early Monday morning, pointing the nose of my red Ford Fairmont station wagon North. As I approached the city, I began to eye the ten year old map on my passenger seat. I pulled over to a rest area and parked. I unfolded it and began to plot my approach. There were a few stops on my itinerary (a Thai restaurant, a bookstore, a museum, and a park), so I plotted the best course I could based on location and cross-streets.

I folded the map as strategically as I could and resumed the journey.

And yes, I navigated that city like a pro. There were some changes, to be sure, but like most Midwestern cities, Minneapolis was laid out like a grid. So if I missed a street, all I had to do was "box the compass" to get back to a starting point and then make the turn. I had a grand day, saw some pretty art, ate some wonderful food, picked up a novel or two. The park was out, it began to storm while I was there and continued on my way back home. But that was the only setback to an otherwise wonderful day.

I haven't gotten seriously lost since. That was the biggest gift of the day: navigational confidence.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Texas: Nine hours I would like back

I've done a fair amount of traveling for business over my career. When you first take a business trip, it's fun. Kinda like a field trip except you get to eat out and drink and maybe even go to a club and have fun when you're not working. I adapted pretty well and came to enjoy traveling on my own. I had a whole system worked out so that my trips were almost always trouble-free:

  1. Check in at the hotel and find out if they have a Concierge.
  2. Introduce yourself to the Concierge, or the cute girl at the Reception Desk, and inform them that you are in town in business and want to know the good places to eat and enjoy one's self.
  3. Tip them at least $5 on your way up to your room.
  4. Come down for dinner after unpacking and meet the Concierge. By this time, they should have several dinner options, directions, or (if you're lucky!) a cab waiting to take you to the best BBQ place in the city. (The latter only happened to me once, but it was cool!)
So you get the idea. It's a great system, but it doesn't work on the worst kind of business trip: the Day Trip.

You aren't going to stay there, so there is no reason to try to find the best places to eat. You'll only get two meals at best, and one of them is going to be at the airport!

My only time in Texas was on one of these Day Trips. I wish I could report something memorable or unique or interesting. I can't -- the suburb of Dallas where we spent the day looked like Springfiled, VA. There were only three things that told me I was even in Texas: 
  1. The accents.
  2. The Western Style Suits with cowboy boots that most of the men favored.
  3. The awesome Mexican food we had for lunch.
That's it. Not much of a memory, I realize. I'm sure by the time I get to Austin my opinions about Texas will change. But for now, I'm left with an empty feeling whenever I think about Texas.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

8 and 41

So I turned 41 last week. Had a great birthday week, actually. Lots of shout-outs on Facebook, cards, cupcakes, a great steak dinner, a happy hour the next day to celebrate along with a coworker (whose birthday was the day after mine). All in all, a good deal.

And then today rolls around: the eighth anniversary of my Mom's passing.

I felt a tad melancholy when I glanced at the clock on my phone at 10 AM*. But then I always feel a tad melancholy when I do that. My grief has certainly evolved from the times when I could not talk about it at all, despite all the pleasant and supportive urging from my wife. At the time, my Sister thought I wasn't really mourning Mom, or at least not mourning in the proper way. I'm usually much more effusive with my emotions, so my reticence was surprising to me. I think that part of me, the part I got from Mom, needed to hunker down and ride out the artillery barrage, just like in All Quiet on the Western Front. After a while, the ground no longer shook from the explosions of the falling shells.

Now I just miss her. I miss her council, her humor, her zest for life. I know I'll always carry those things within me and I use them most every day. That's the best thing I can do for her today. Especially today.

*We used to call each other at work at 10 AM every morning. Silly conversations mostly. But I miss them most of all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Things That Bother Me: A New Series

NOTE: The title should say it all. I stole the idea from a friend. No, I'm not telling you who. She prefers to remain anonymous. That's it. No more questions.

Common Courtesy #1

I've noticed this a lot on pundit shows and it is driving me slowly mad. 

OK, kids, pop quiz! How do you respond to someone when they say "Thank you"?

A. Thank you.

B. No, thank you.

C. My pleasure.

D. You're welcome.

E. None of the above.

Time's up! Pencils down!

Give up? Can't decide?

There are two correct answers: C and D

Never thank someone who is in the act of thanking you. I know that it sounds like a nice reciprocal gesture, but all you have done is negated their expression of gratitude. "No, thank you" is kind of like saying "Fuck you! My expression of gratitude is far more important than your expression of gratitude. In fact, it's so important that I am going to make sure I get the last word in this exchange."

I prefer to use "My pleasure" in more personal and/or intimate situations. "You're welcome" is always the most polite way to go.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Maryland: "Homicide" Auditions

1995 was probably the peak of my professional acting career. It was not my primary source of income for I had begun my Technical Writing career that same year. But I went on many auditions and got lots of callbacks, and, as a result, a few jobs. Some stage, some voice-over, some local advertisements. But the highlights of that year were two separate auditions for "Homicide: Life on the Street".

They say that you can't be a working actor in NYC without having worked on at least one of the many "Law & Order" franchises. During the early 1990s, "Homicide" was the Baltimore/Washington area's version. Most of my professional friends had been on in an extra or small supporting role. One of my grad school colleagues had a recurring role as a reporter throughout most of the show's run. Between the acting opportunities, scores of other businesses made it through those tough economic times by working with the show.

Almost all of it was filmed out of a single building in the Fells Point area of Baltimore. The production offices were also located in the building because it was so large, so that's where you went if you were called to audition. The first time I went I was just awed by being there -- have I mentioned that I was a HUGE fan of the show? -- so I don't remember too much about the experience. I know I read with a production assistant for a witness role. I didn't get the part, but I was far from disappointed. Just being about ten feet from the desk of Det. Frank Pembleton was a thrill for me.

The second audition was much more fun. I was called for the role of the copy-cat sniper in the second part of a two-part episode called "Sniper". The only detail I remember from the audition is that I got to perform my callback in "The Box", the interrogation room set. My god, that was so freakin' cool! The only other thing that occurs to me is that I really got into the whole claustrophobic nature of the being in "The Box".

Didn't get the part, but it is one of my favorite acting memories nevertheless.

P.S. There is a post-script to this story, but it occurs in another state.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Iowa: The Great Fireworks Mishap of 1976

NOTE: Consult this post for an explanation of TRP's writing project. I won't follow his rules except trying to post one state-related memory every week. I haven't visited all 50 states, so there may be multiple memories per state. Some of the memories may contain sexual content. Nothing graphic, but very probably sensual. I'll give y'all a fair warning if you don't want to read those.

The Bicentennial Year featured my first summer trip to Iowa, the state of my Mom's birth. Clear Lake, Iowa, became forever stamped in my mind as the idyllic model for small-town American life. Friendly people, a cottage by the lake, a carnival (complete with a freak show!), a parade, and fireworks!

Fireworks are launched from a barge floating on the lake, so the entire community can have a great view of the spectacle.

After dinner, we all assembled on the dock to watch the show. My uncle gave me a pair of binoculars to watch the shells as they were launched from the barge. He crouched down beside me on the dock and scanned the far shoreline. "There it is, Tommy," he said. He handed me the binoculars and pointed me in the right direction. Sure enough, I could see the barge, a dark smudge against the far shoreline.

Minutes passed and the appointed moment arrived. The gathered began to look heavenward to see the first beautiful star bursts of the evening. I refocused my binoculars and concentrated on the barges, hoping to see the trails of the shells.

I only saw one flash -- and it went in a horizontal rather than a vertical direction. Then there was nothing. I told everyone what I saw and my uncle snatched the binoculars out of my hand. He scanned the shoreline and could see nothing.

In the morning, the paper told the awful truth: one of the shells misfired and punched a hole in the barge. The entire thing sank very quickly, and one of the pyrotechnicians came very close to injury as he lept from the stricken barge. We were all bummed by the lack of fireworks, but grateful that nobody was hurt.

That was one of the first times in my life that I remember putting the lives of others ahead of my own pleasure.