Every year the process seems to get a little easier to bear, maybe it's just a consequence of everyone getting older, but this year, with only a slight exception, things were downright somnabulant.
I elected to drive down to my mom's this year, instead of taking the train, since the trade-off between cost (driving actually costs more) versus the possibility of having to wait for a train that comes late, if at all (as was the case last year), was heavily weighted in favor of convenience. It's not a long drive; I can generally do it in under 2 1/2 hours non-stop, but I frequently like to take side trips, get off the beaten path so-to-speak, although usually I save the meandering for the return trip.
I only get down once or twice a year, at most, and I'm never really there long enough to completely adjust to the change of pace, which is considerable. This part of my family just moves so much sloooooowwwwwwweeeeerrr than my norm. After the second day of sitting for literally hours on my mother's living room sofa, with little to do aside from count the passing seconds, which thanks to the ticking made a small clock proceed at a measurable pace. It sort of becomes a Zen thing, just sitting, trying to operate on a minimal amount of stimulus, and willing yourself to move at a speed that would make glaciation seem jaunty by comparison.
Sure, I could have read a book, or taken a walk, but the whole point of coming down is to BE with the family, and tuning them out to even that extent just seems anti-social. So, you sit, and wait for the occasional smatterings of conversation to engage you, while everyone grows older by the second.
That's the toughest part of the experience for me: I can deal fairly well with my own impending mortality, but the point really gets hammered home watching my mother, her new husband (yep), my older aunts and uncles and my two grandmothers. Everybody is winding down; you can see it in the rice-paper brittleness of their skin, in the lapses of memory and struggles to recall names and events; in the frequent need to sleep, like cats, even for just a few minutes, in order to get through the next few hours. Everybody is going bald - even the women. Limbs tremble, joints make audible noises when in-use, balance teeters between wobbly unsteadiness and the inevitable giving way to the stronger force of gravity, when even falling down has life-threatening consequences. Disease of one kind or another is rampant; the body is in an almost constant state of breaking down, like an old car with too many miles on it, yet not quite completely to the point where a new part here, or some aggressive maintenance there can't keep it on the road for just one more trip down the coast. An aunt has hypertension; one grandmother isn't allowed to drive anymore; the other is recovering from a broken hip; my new stepfather is battling Leukemia, while everyone else is just plain getting old, including myself.
I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining, this is just the reality, one so different from my own day-to-day existence, it's like visiting a distant planet. On this world, everyone drives a pickup truck; everyone hunts and fishes; vegetables are a rare and questionable food source; flannel shirts, blue jeans and heavy boots are the uniform of choice for the men, who spend their leisure time sitting around and staring slackly at football on television, while the women, adorned in holiday themed sweaters bustle about in the kitchen, preparing trays of cold-cuts-and-cheese, salmon balls, smoked oysters and shrimp platters, waiting for the frozen lasagna to cook. Even the younger ones in our midst seem unduly affected by the lethargy: 20 year-olds just out of high school suddenly take on the aspect of their elders, lacking only thinning hairlines and thickening ankles to make their transformation from vibrant youth to solemn age complete. There's a kind of peacefulness to the proceedings, as we sit around my mother's mother's tiny, tidy home, but it's the peacefulness of people who seem otherwise profoundly tired.
My mother and I made a brief trek to Portland on Saturday to visit my other grandmother, 91 and still going strong, although she too is struggling with the infirmities incumbent on her age. She broke a hip a couple of months ago falling off a chair, but seems well on-the-mend, enough that she was released from the care facility where she was staying, and was allowed to go back to her retirment complex. But, she's unsteady on her feet, and is adjusting to the idea of needing a walker. Also, she has cataracts and macular degeneration, so her sight is not so great either. But, she's a sharp contrast to the other side of my family: she's always been active, social, and energetic, and even at her advanced age the difference is startling; always up on the latest family news, a funny story at-the-ready, able to start up a conversation with just about anyone she encounters, she's the total obverse side of the coin from my other relatives, and she gives me hope, not just that I've got a good genetic makeup to double my current life-span, but perhaps more importantly, that even age and infirmity can be overcome if one truly desires a measureable quality of life. It was good to see her again.
Going off-the-interwebby shortly, and probably won't be able to check messages until Monday. Have a great Christmas, happy last day of Hannukah, merry Kwanza, (missed you Solstice reverlers!), etc., etc. Drive safe, don't drink too much egg nog, and remember to recycle your wrapping paper.
And for those of you travelling by air - life sucks. Bring a good, LONG book, and energy bars. Lots of energy bars.
If you were unfortunate enough to live in Seattle, AND you missed the "Half Brothers Holiday Show" last night at Theatre Off Jackson (and there were many of you who did), you should commence with the self butt-kicking right about -- now, and pray - on your knees - that they elect to turn this into an annual holiday tradition, because if this was really a "once in a lifetime event", you are going to need to be doing the kicking for quite a while to atone for your transgression.
I'm not sure exactly how the "brothers" - local theatre musical (as opposed to musical theatre - very different sort of beast) guitar stalwart Rick Miller, along with "Awesome" band-mates John Ackermann (mandolin) and Dr. David Nixon, PhD. (banjo) - characterize themselves, but for my money "punk bluegrass in a humorous vein" seems only marginally adequate. With a style rooted in traditional bluegrass arrangements, yet fractured by a quirky sensibility (I mean, Bill Monroe or Ricky Skaggs, or heck, even Allison Kraus are just not about to do covers of Hall & Oates or Pink Floyd tunes, are they?) these guys have the technical chops no question, so you just know that anybody who can straight-facedly use the word, "bioluminescence" in a song lyric (while at the same time their audience is howling with laughter) is going to have a pretty unique take on the classic American musical genre.
And last night's show was made even more memorable by the addition of several "special guests", not the least of which being fellow "Awesome" member John Osebold, who contributed a solo set consisting of a typically ideosynchratic retrospective of his musical oeuvre. Also featured were Harvey Danger frontman, and ex-Long Winters vocalist (not to mention seemingly ubiquitous music/theatre - again NOT the same as "musical theatre" - bon vivant) Sean Nelson, "Miss Mamie Lavona" herself, Amber Wolf, a tap-dancing Val Moseley, along with cameos by Kirk Anderson, Rob Witmer, Sarah Roberts, and someone in a bear suit.
I spent most of the evening with a decidedly stupid, shit-eating grin on my face, while the thought periodically entered my brain that, "Dang, I hang out with some amazingly talented folks! I am so LUCKY!" Of course, the beer probably contributed slightly to the feeling of euphoria, but regardless, it was one of those moments when you just know, way down in the deepest chambers of your coronary muscle, that the world is truly a Good And Wonderful Place, inhabited by Angels In Human Form.
On a brighter note, I FINALLY received a call from the insurance adjustor regarding the disposition of poor Little Nellie. You remember Nellie, don't you? The nifty little scooter I owned for about four months before being rear-ended by an uninsured hit-and-run driver all of two full months ago? Yeah, her. Well, after a series of mix-ups, miscommunications, fumbles and FUBAR's the insurance company has finally agreed to cough up the cost for repairs - minus my large deductible, of course - and the check should be on the way to the credit union as of this afternoon (crossing my fingers, NOT holding my breath).
As soon as the shop gets the check, however that's supposed to happen - I'm not quite sure about that part of the process yet - they'll order the parts. Which means, with luck, Little Nellie could be back in fighting shape sometime after the first of the year.
I suppose, looking at all of this from a "glass half full" perspective, I really couldn't have picked a better time of year to have Nellie sitting broken and battered, but in a nice warm dry place for the duration. And hopefully, by the time she's fully recovered the weather will have settled down to something that won't make riding her feel like I'm taking my life into my hands - again.
Things Are Breaking Up Out There High Water Everywhere
Just a quick note to let those of you not in the immediate Upper Left Hand know I'm okay. It was a nasty night, with winds clocking in at near hurricane-level gusts (69 mph top speed at Sea-Tac Airport - a new record), but I've come through unscraped. Lost a couple of large tree limbs from the tall pine in the front yard, but no damage. The boat came through fine; luckily, because of the SW wind direction, I stayed perfectly in the marina building's wind shadow and only lost a small seat cushion. Power went out at the apartment sometime early this morning, but I was prepared with my watch alarm and a flashlight on the bedstand, so aside from missing my morning shower, things were pretty normal.
There's still a lot of flooding in the lower levels of the city. The 520 bridge, one of the main east-west arterials across Lake Washington, connnecting Seattle with the Eastside suburbs was closed for the morning commute. There's tremendous wind damage: as of this morning, more than one million businesses and households in the region were without power, and we've been told not to expect service to residential areas to be restored anytime soon. Traffic lights are out all over the place, making driving conditions unmanageable in some places, and there are downed trees and utility poles, and damaged buildings being reported throughout the region. Cars were abandoned in droves at locations where the rapidly rising water made passage impossible, and I've seen photos taken in the early evening last night showing some vehicles nearly underwater in low-lying underpasses. Unfortunately, my office was unaffected, so here I am at work.
Oh yeah, and the Seahawks totally failed to secure their Western Conference playoff berth by rolling over to the second place 49'ers last night.
Also unfortunately, a lot of other folks weren't quite as lucky. Our SAG Exec lost a tree in her front yard of the house she purchased just three weeks ago, that fortunately fell toward the street. Our receptionist's son had a tree come down on his house and through his kitchen, but luckily there were no injuries.
So far there have been four deaths attributed to the storm, including one woman, Kate Fleming, a member of the local theatre community and voice-over artist, who drowned when a room in her basement flooded and she was trapped inside, unable to open the door against the water pressure before the FD could cut a hole through the floor above. My condolences go out to her family, friends, and colleagues.
So, my friend Teri calls me up at around 4:30 yesterday afternoon. She's just taken on a new volunteer gig as Managing Director for a local fringe theatre.
T: "Hey, remember a couple years back, when you wrote that review of The Twilight Zones?" (This theatre has permission from the Late Mr. Serling's estate to produce live theatrical versions of the original series scripts).
Me: "Um, yeah..."
T: "Remember how you said you hated the direction the shows were going, and wanted to see them go back to how they'd been done originally?"
T: "Well, how'd you like to put your money where your mouth is?"
Which was her pointed way of asking me if I'd like to direct the next round of episodes. Who could pass up that kind of challenge?
But, of course, I did have a few questions:
Me: "Um, when do these open?"
T: "January 26th."
Me: "Okaaaay, and rehearsals would need to start - ?"
T: "Right after the New Year."
Me: "Yeah, so that means I need to schedule auditions for - "
T: "Um, next Sunday would be good."
Me: "Right. So, all I need to do between now and then is figure out which ones to do, develop a cast breakdown, send out an audition announcement, and maybe set up a rehearsal schedule and find a design and tech staff."
T: "Oh, we can help with some of that."
Me: "Thanks, I was hoping that's what you'd say."
Actually, it's not quite as crazy as it sounds: picking the scripts, and casting will be the toughest, most hectic decision-points, but the rehearsal scheduling should be fairly smooth, since I know I'll get at least three days/evenings a week in the theatre, and I have access to a space at my office that would suffice for other days.
Still, it would have been NICE to have gotten the call a couple of weeks ago.