Day Seven: Cold … Hot … Cold

Late afternoon, I was walking towards Times Square when the world turned. A blast of cold air fell upon us (probably down from some strange place like Canada!). I was ready – toque, hood over toque, Arctic mitts, three coats including a down jobbie. A few folks semi-ran by me with nothing on their noggins, and their necks open to the blast. How can you do that and stay alive? Most people, though, were reasonably bundled up like me.

I’ve made it a spiritual practice to cross at an intersection only when I have the walk light. It gets my ego out of the way … no pushing forward, just letting go. New Yorkers feel otherwise. Red or green – if there’s no cars coming, it’s a go. Waiting as the stream of humanity flows by is good for me, but I can feel my heartrate surging, especially as the cold invades my eyes.

The snow started. In my mind, that’s supposed to mean it’s warming up, but not so yesterday. A whole bunch of white folks (irrespective of their skin colour) turned it up a notch. I had a bit of face skin open to the elements but that was it. There began a desperation and I started searching for an inviting door. What seemed like “finally” showed up, and just like that I was perched at the bar of an Irish pub. Thank God.

Then there was Bryan Cranston. He’s the star of Network, a Broadway play at the Belasco Theatre, and I got to go. Bryan played Howard Beale, a TV news anchor who’s losing it. The world has gone to **** and he’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”. The guy’s unravelling into madness and we’re right there with him, yelling from the audience. Corruption, sleasiness, violence … it’s all smashing Howard in the face. A Type-A network executive sees only ratings before her eyes and wants the man to implode on the 6 o’clock news. He’s happy to oblige.

The intensity was astonishing. I really wasn’t pissed off at the powers-that-be in the world but nevertheless I was swept up in the dizziness of it all.

At the end, there were video snips of a series of US presidents taking the oath of office – all the way back to Gerald Ford, I think. The same words but such different souls. When George W. Bush was onscreen, we were silent. I knew who was coming next, and when Barack’s gentle face appeared, we the people cheered. I trust him so.

We filed out into the night, scarves and gloves firmly in place, knowing that we had been in the presence of greatness. The frigid evening came calling and I rushed to the subway. At the other end, I prayed for a quick M14A bus. Alas, no. Three M14D ones came by as my body stiffened. “Not fair”, I wailed. But still a little smile emerged. “Don’t worry, Bruce. You’ll survive nicely.” And I did. A half hour later, the covers caressed me as I pulled them up to my chin.

On the Trail And At The Play

Went splorin’ yesterday afternoon in Belleville.  Gord, my host at the B&B, suggested that I walk the trail beside the Bay of Quinte, so off I went.

Near the water I came upon a semi-circular path done with small paving stones.  And there were messages of love on many of the stones, to the dearly departed.  One stone expressed love for a family member, and the one below it said, “P.S.  I miss you.”  Lovely.  The stones breathed affection, appreciation and sadness, and I got to be there, watching.

I strolled eastward on the asphalt path, enjoying the bay, the trees, the cattails and the birds.  Most people responded smilingly to my “Hi”.  It all felt good.  I walked so slowly.  I love doing that.  One time Jody and I were staying at the Riu Tequila Hotel on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico.  The grounds were festooned with flowering bushes.  We dipsydoodled along.  Around day three, I announced to my dear wife that I had a goal: for us to be the slowest couple at the resort.  All was going well until one day I spied two elderly folks ahead of us.  We were catching up!  Darn.  Lots of smiles as we passed them at a moderate pace.  Oh well.  I looked at Jody and said, “you’re my little runner up”.  (Okay, that last sentence was a lie.  Seems to me that it’s some quote from a magnificent play, full of magnificent performances, that I saw awhile ago.)

Now, where was I?  Oh yes, the Belleville waterfront.  At one point the paved track ended, but I saw a short length of chain link fence ahead.  Beyond was a dirt path, cradled by bushes on either side.  Around the fence I went, and so began at least two miles of adventure.  Soon I beheld a huge weeping willow to my left, adorned with the light green beginnings of leaves.  I went over and stood under.  Jody was right beside me.  “I am this tree, Bruce.  I shelter you.  I protect you.”  Familiar words.  I cried for my wife.

Farther along was a big marsh, again to the left.  I came past some bushes and came face-to-face with a white swan, who was paddling and dipping.  We talked a bit.  And then said goodbye.

Later things opened into a meadow, where I noticed a white thing on the ground.  Turns out it was a plastic sheet, and a big one, maybe fitting a queen bed.  “Well, we can’t have that sitting there among the beauty.”  So I picked it up and kept walking.  Soon I came upon “a good industrial landscape” (a quote from David Francey, a Canadian singer-songwriter).  There was a large cement foundation but only one wall standing.  And the top of the wall wasn’t a horizontal line, but instead the broken shape of a rounded mountain.  Sticking out of the top were long pieces of rebar, flowing every which way, like the arms of a dancer.  Cool.

I found an old road and followed to the left.  There was traffic ahead.  It was the east part of Dundas St.  As I got closer, I saw that my way was blocked by more chain link, supplemented by barbed wire.  My heart moved higher.  As worry started to take over, I glanced to the right and saw a dirt path that took me to the highway.  Gosh, I think that someone is looking after me.  Always.

I hauled my white blob across Dundas, wondering where I would deposit the sheet.  But my answer was right in front of me – a pink garbage can by the vacuum station of a self-serve car wash.  In she went.  Across the street was Mr. Convenience.  I was ready for food.  I went inside and picked up representatives of Canada’s four major food groups – SmartFood cheesy popcorn, honey peanuts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Gatorade.  Yum.  I sat down facing some old cattails and ate meditatively.  I was having fun.

Heading back towards downtown, I strolled into McDonalds.  Since Canada’s fifth food group is Smarties McFlurries, I decided to participate.  I sat beside a couple who looked pretty down-and-out.  She hadn’t taken care of herself over the years and dearly missed her deceased parents.  We had a good talk.  At one point, I looked out at the parking lot.  And there was a young woman, sitting on a low cement barrier, head down, crying.  Then she lay down, still crying.  A woman came over and sat beside her.  Sometimes she talked to the girl, and sometimes just sat with her.  It was very beautiful to see.  But the crying continued.  I had finished my ice cream and told my new friends that I was going to walk out there and see if there was anything I could do.  They told me that I shouldn’t get involved, that the girl might hurt me.  I smiled, but I knew I was going over there.

First I phoned 911, worried that the girl might hurt herself.  The dispatcher told me that she was well known to police, was mentally unstable, and often didn’t take her meds.  She wasn’t a danger to herself or others.  “A lost soul.”  Well, lost souls deserve to be found.  I walked over as the Good Samaritan was getting ready to leave.  We talked a bit.  And then I asked the girl if I could sit down beside her.  I didn’t sense any response through the tears, either positive or negative.  So I sat down.  I tried saying a few things to her, and then realized that wasn’t it.  My meditation practice has taught me that the most powerful giving is “being with”, without judgment, and without speaking.  So we sat together for about twenty minutes.  I wasn’t pushing love out to her, but love was flowing.  At the end of that time, she asked for some money.  I gave her some.  She got up and walked over to Subway.  Fare thee well, my dear.

***

Wow, that’s a lot of words, and I haven’t even told you about Jake’s Women.  I enjoyed the second night as much as the first.  Seeing Bill play Jake on night one, I had questioned my ability to do the job he was doing, to memorize all those lines and to wander with such grace through the emotional spectrum that is Jake.  Last night, I let that go.  I sat there enjoying the story and celebrating the actor and actresses who made their characters real – human beings that I’ve met in my life.  I realized that I can be Jake.

There were some scenes that may bring me to tears onstage.  Is it okay for an actor to cry?  What if I can’t stop the tears when I’m supposed to deliver a funny line?  Lots of I don’t knows.

Jody and I didn’t have kids.  We decided to focus on travel.  That decision is one of only two things I regret in my life.  The other is that Jody died so early, at age 54, and that we can’t hold hands anymore.  As for the kids, my favourite scene in Jake’s Women comes at the end of Act 1.  His wife Maggie has just left him, wanting a six-month separation.  Jake sits on the couch, head down.  And along come two versions of his daughter Molly, one at age 12, and the current Molly, age 21.  They sit beside him.  The love they all share is front and centre.  Jake puts his right arm around young Molly and his left one around older Molly.  They sit quietly … and fade to black.  Oh my.  I have so much wanted a daughter.

In Act 2, there’s a scene in which Julie (Jake’s wife who died in a car accident) and Jake kiss.  “Goodbye, Jake.”  Oh my again.  Thinking of my darling Jody, how can I not cry?  I miss her so.

At the end of the evening, I got to meet the cast.  Wow!  I’m running out of writing oomph here, so I’ll save that story for tomorrow morning.  It’s a lovely one.

One of the cast members asked me if I would write a review of the play and their performances.  Sure, I’ll do that.  Also tomorrow morning.

As for today, it’s more walking, a beer at the Red Lion Pub, and a rendezvous with a love story.

On The Stage

I went to a workshop yesterday for beginning actors.  I wasn’t nervous at all as I walked in.  I talked to a few people in the foyer, put on my nametag, and then took a chair by myself.  Gabbing and not gabbing … both were okay.

For the first hour-and-a-half, our leader did a lot of teaching, and then it was time for coffee.  I started talking to a woman whose nametag said “Gladys”, but other people laughed when I called her that.  Shirley liked having fun with nametags.  And so do I.  I asked her if we could switch.  She was all for it.  For the rest of the day, I had my moments of confusion, as I heard my fellow participants referring to “Bruce”.  Not the me I know.  I was enjoying being Gladys, that’s for sure.

Our improv group of three decided to be uptight bank robbers brandishing guns at a teller.  Little did we know that she was an undercover cop.  Such fun.  And I got to dress up in a fancy black suit jacket and a floppy hat.  I felt quite nasty for close to an hour, as we watched other groups perform and then did our thing.

Next on the menu, we sat in a big circle on the stage.  One person suggested a topic and would give us a sentence about it, starting with the letter A.  The next improv-er got to continue, beginning with a word that started with B.  And so on.  On one go-round I got Z, and was very pleased to come up with “Zowie!”  After a complete circuit of the alphabet, we debriefed.  I mentioned that I didn’t like it when someone was struggling to create a sentence beginning with a certain letter, and others would chime in with suggestions.  Duly noted by the group.  When we began again, with the topic slowly morphing into a discussion about pets, it was my turn with the letter K.  And I couldn’t think of a darn thing.  Naturally nobody helped me, and the silence deepened.  The tension rolled through me for at least thirty seconds, until I blurted out, “Killing pets is really not a good idea.”

So I got to sit with my fear.  And I realized that drawing a blank was all right.  I didn’t die on the spot.  Oh, drama, what a teacher you are!

Later in the day, our groups of three each put on the same ten-page play, holding our scripts as we told the story.  Partway through, I got really confused about where I was supposed to be standing, and how I was supposed to kiss a woman without blocking her from the audience, and in general about all the stage directions written in the script in italics.  Out of the corner of my head, I heard silence hanging in the air, and finally found the highlighted line that I was supposed to say seconds earlier.  Humbled again.  Totally out of character, I smacked myself in the head.  At least I got a laugh doing that.

I survived this faux pas as well, and learned one more time to laugh at my imperfections.  Later, I would have a third opportunity to eat humble pie.  Quite delicious, actually.  The workshop was over and I had gone to a restaurant in St. Thomas.  I sat at the bar and watched big screen sports.  Had a good conversation with the bartender.  After a generous helping of nachos, and a sinful brownie, ice cream and whipped cream combo,  I checked my shirt to see if I had blobbed stuff there.  Nope, I was fine.  But there was a piece of paper stuck to my chest.  It said “Gladys”.  My friend behind the bar said he hadn’t spoken up about it since it was none of his business.  I told him the switcheroo story.  I think he understood.  If not, it was another rich life experience within the world of dramatic arts.

Acting – Part 1

I did it a long time ago … once.  In the summer of 1976, I was Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  Gosh, I loved being Snoopy.

I feel every now and then that I’ve gotta bite someone
I know every now and then what I wanna be
A fierce jungle animal crouched on the limb of a tree

I’d stay very, very still till I see a victim come 
I’d wait, knowing very well every second counts 
And then, like the fierce jungle creature I am 
I would pounce!

Pouncing was so much fun.  So was having kids come up to me at the end of the evening, wanting to hang out with Snoopy.  My only real problem with the play was turning Snoopy off afterwards.  I couldn’t do it.  Between performances and for a week or two after the run was done, I was Snoopy.  A bit pathological, perhaps, but I remember not thinking so.  I was just waiting for Suppertime.  Suppertime.  Supp supp suppertime.

Now its 39 years later.  I went to a play at the Princess Avenue Playhouse in St. Thomas two weeks ago, and a found out about a beginning acting workshop to be held all day on Saturday, March 21.  I signed up for it, just like that.  Today there was an “Art Crawl” in town, with 30 or so artists spread over 12 venues.  Back to the playhouse I went, to see photographs and paintings.  Welcoming me at the door, with passport dabber in hand, was Lesley, one of the main cogs in the Elgin Theatre Guild wheel.  Plus she’s the workshop leader.  We talked.  I reminisced about Snoopy, and Lesley told me that life in amateur theatre is like “family”.  With Jody no longer with me physically, I could use a little family.

I blabbed on about the three-month meditation retreat I’m starting in September.  She thought that would be about relationship too.  And she’s right.  I asked about next year’s playbill.  If I was to act again, aiming at the April-May play next year sounded like a good plan.  It’s going to be Calendar Girls.  From Lesley’s description, it sounded okay.

Gosh, who knows?  I’d be auditioning, but would I get a part?  The future is such a mystery.  On a whim, I asked about the February, 2016 production.  It’s to be Jake’s Women by Neil Simon, the story of an agonized writer who gets visited by lots of women from his life, past and present.

“Lesley, when would rehearsals for that play start?”

“Right after Christmas.”

“Oh.”  I get back from my long retreat around December 10.

More reflections on my future tomorrow.