9 feb 1999  

175,320 (part one)

I often think back to that moment, that brief instant when I looked right instead of left. My girlfriend and I had just come out of a supermarket and were walking back to our apartment when I glanced up at a flyer that was stapled to a pillar outside the store.

"Develop the skills of 'Theater Of The Mind'", it read. The poster went on to say I could "acquire a working knowledge of radio and TV, and expand awareness of... everyday media." It was an adult ed class, and it was conveniently located at the elementary school across the street. Why not give it a shot?

For a long time, people had told me I was funny. This, I thought, coupled with the mellifluous tones that emanate naturally from my golden throat, could be my ticket out of Palookaville. All I had to do was learn a little bit about the biz and then bingo, I'm DJ-boy with mounds of sounds and stacks of wax all designed with you in mind.

The guy who taught the class lived in a trailer behind the school, a condition my girlfriend saw as a red flag, but, ever the adventurer, I plunged ahead and enrolled.

The class was a joke. It consisted basically of seven or eight local boys who couldn't make it into college and were looking for their own tickets out of Palookaville. To these guys, vocabulary and pronunciation were big words they couldn't get their mouths around. The instructor, and I use the term loosely, was a passionate man, picture a large Danny DeVito, who used the time to tell us stories about his radio days in between showing us how to cue up a record, how to turn knobs, and how to point to imaginary engineers on the other side of imaginary glass. He handed out old news copy and had us read it like we were real newsmen. It was fun in that it was a place to go at night where we could all pretend we had futures.

One night, toward the end of the session, the instructor, oh let's call him Ralph, announced that he'd just finished writing a play and he was looking for actors for the first reading to be held the following week. I was not an actor, had never given a thought to theater, other than "theater of the mind" of course, but I said I'd attend. It was probably my newfound confidence in having the only mellifluous tones in the class that allowed me to take this bold step.

On the night of the reading, I walked across the street to the school, not knowing what to expect. It was just one night in a whole mess of nights that filled a period of my life when my expectations were few, not so much out of a sense of defeat, but more out of a kind of letting go. I'd just gotten into my twenties, an enchanted time for a male living in a California beach town, college town, a town stuck in the 60's. While letting go was a theme common to the community, I was also trying to attach myself to something. I was open for anything. I'd had some interesting dreams die on me, not always by my own hand, and my faith in commitments to the future had waned.

Paradoxically, I was in the middle of a relationship with a woman I'd known since seventh grade. Here we were with our apartment by the beach, she went up the hill to the university while I worked at Intel across town. For each of us it was the first stab at domestic tranquility, close to bus, shopping, school.

In the darkness of February 7, 1979, I crossed the gravel driveway of the school, found the only room with lights on, and entered the world of theater people.

The play was called "Root Rock", a fifties musical that the author dreamed would take him on a Greasy coattail ride through community theater and into Hollywood. The main characters were members of a four-part harmony à cappella singing group, and I read the part of the tall lanky one who sang bass, the "depressed intellectual". As I read the part, mining the dialogue for timing and laughs, I became aware of one of the other voices, a female voice. She was reading the female lead, and she had such a command of the character, such a sense of timing and inflection and nuance and femininity that I started to get tunnel-hearing. Whenever I could, I'd look up from the script to glance at this woman. Oh man. Soon all I wanted to do was listen to her and watch her. Auburn hair down past her shoulders, pulled back into a loose ponytail, and that voice, what kind of crazy funny world did that come from, where did it live to make it sound so humorously beckoning?

Sometime during all this, the play ended. The actors did that après-reading chit-chat that makes civilians like me cringe and wonder if perhaps there is some benefit after all to genetic engineering, and I said my thanks and goodnight to Ralph.

Then I walked out the door of the classroom, looked up at the moon, and actually said out loud, "I'm going to marry that woman."

to be continued...

today's music:

"I Thought About You" -- Joey De Francesco -- WHERE WERE YOU?


today's wisdom:

"I want to seize fate by the throat."

- Ludwig von Beethoven