Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Company Window

In the land of keys, the janitor is king. He has a key to everything from the Chief Executive's office to the dumpster padlock. 

Y’all know I work at a large theatre in a small town, a theatre to which I rarely, if ever, refer to by name in these pages.  It is That Which Shall Not Be Named because – I don’t really know why.  I guess I don’t want patrons or co-workers to Google the theatre’s name and find this blog. It's a final fig leaf of privacy - for a woman who keeps a public journal on the internet. Right. Don’t come here looking for consistency. 

Anyway, on the main public street that brings people into the heart of the performing arts campus, right on the sidewalk where the crowds walk up the hill to reach the theatres, there’s a nondescript door in the side of the building through which, at one time or another, almost every member of the company passes. I should say passed, as in past-tense; more on that in a bit.  It’s called the company door, and it's the entrance to the company window where employees pick up their play tickets. It also leads upstairs to the administrative offices where payroll is processed and keys are issued. If you work for this theatre, sooner or later you pass through this door.  

My office is in the same building, so I enter through this door every day. We who work in administration rarely wander around backstage in the theatres and we don’t have keys to the production buildings where sets and costumes are built.  Conversely, actors, artists and technicians don’t have keys to the administrators' offices and don't wander through our work spaces.  But everybody has a key to the company door.

It’s an unprepossessing entrance, absolutely nothing special. There’s no awning, sign, or shelter. It really doesn’t look like anything at all.  The lock has always made a strangely distinctive sound. It opens with an electronic card key, but even back when we opened it with a metal key, the lock has always made this hollow “chunk” noise when it releases.  There is something strangely pleasing to me about walking up the hill in a midsummer crowd of vacationing patrons, swiveling right, swiping my card, hearing the “chunk” and vanishing into the building before those around me have noticed. I magically disappear from their midst; now you see me...

We so love our perks and privileges, don’t we? The backstage pass, the security clearance, the right set of keys.

I worked at the company window in 1997, my first summer back in Ashland, the summer we left Portland and were living in a teepee down by Cottonwood Creek (which is an entry for another day.) I rotated through a variety of jobs in the box office and the company window was my favorite. It was a great way to meet everyone in the company, from the executive director to the ushers. Actors, directors, carpenters, electricians, stitchers, accountants, everybody in the organization visited the company window. Admittedly, the artistic director rarely stopped at the window (she had people for that), but she passed by frequently on her way to her office, trailing minions in her wake. 

Theatre is not a high-paying profession; well, at least not for me. Not for most of us.  Comp tickets are a significant part of the compensation package.  Even employees who don’t particularly like theatre have a neighbor or  an out-of-town-guest who wants to see a play.  In the bad old days before policies were tightened, some of my colleagues who shall remain nameless bartered comps for hair cuts and chiropractic adjustments. When it was slow, I would process mail and answer the phones, but usually there was a steady stream of my co-workers dropping by to pick up tickets. The company was small enough back then that there was often time for a quick chat with whomever I was serving. They were getting something for nothing, so they were almost always in a good mood. I was the keeper of computer codes, the printer of the passes, and I was lightening fast. I could process a ticket order before there was a chance to catch up on the latest gossip. It was a low stress/high satisfaction job. 

The new regime has decided to close the company window. Company members will order their comps through the box office's fickle online ticketing system and pick them up at the public box office window.  I have a feeling that will go over with the acting company like a lead balloon. The last thing most of them want to do is to stand in line with the masses and have to listen to their gushing or endure their quizzing. The new regime says this move will save money. I hope it does, although I don’t see how, but mine is not to question why. 

I still enter by the same door. It still makes the same satisfying “chunk." Work continues, and life goes on, but the company window is dark.  And so it goes.

Letter to a Lost Friend

There must be a Russian word to describe what has happened
between us, like ostyt, which can be used
for a cup of  tea that is too hot, but after you walk to the next room,
and return, it is too cool; or perekhotet,
which is to want something so much over months
and even years that when you get it, you have lost
the desire. Pushkin said, when he saw his portrait by Kiprensky,
“It is like looking into a mirror, but one that flatters me.”
What is the word for someone who looks into her friend’s face
and sees once smooth skin gone like a train that has left
the station in Petersburg with its wide avenues and nights
at the Stray Dog Cafe, sex with the wrong men,
who looked so right by candlelight, when everyone was young
and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, painted or wrote
all night but nothing good, drank too much vodka, and woke
in the painful daylight with skin like fresh cream, books
everywhere, Lorca on Gogol, Tolstoy under Madame de Sévigné,
so that now, on a train in the taiga of  Siberia,
I see what she sees — all my books alphabetized and on shelves,
feet misshapen, hands ribbed with raised veins,
neck crumpled like last week’s newspaper, while her friends
are young, their skin pimply and eyes bright as puppies’,
and who can blame her, for how lucky we are to be loved
for even a moment, though I can’t help but feel like Pushkin,
a rough ball of  lead lodged in his gut, looking at his books
and saying, “Goodbye, my dear friends,” as those volumes
close and turn back into oblong blocks, dust clouding
the gold leaf that once shimmered on their spines.

Barbara Hamby

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sick and Sad and Stormy Weather

I'm not sick, I refuse to be sick, I can't be sick, but I'll say this: I've felt better.  I have been fighting back a headache all day, my nose isn't quite running, but it's walking briskly. I'm buried so deep at work I don't know if I'll ever dig out. One of my closest colleagues and grant collaborators collapsed in her office last week.  Brain bleed, just like killed my mother. My colleague and I are quite similar in that we both work like field hands and we take our work seriously. Luckily, she also has a wicked and subversive sense of humor, which is why I enjoy working with her. The EMTs carried her out of building on a gurney and rushed her to the hospital in Medford. From there she was airlifted to Portland. That was the last I heard and it can't be good.

Here's what I know for damn sure: I do not want to drop dead in the office. I do not want to work myself to death. 

As is probably obvious by now, my health is not all that's bothering me. 55 years old and I still let what people do or say (or, don't do or say) get so deep under my skin that it keeps me awake all night long. I walk the floors, fretting, ruminating, writing sad bastard songs that no-one will ever hear:

    Such a fine line we walk
    Such a lot of nonsense we talk
    Till my head is reeling
    With excess of feeling
    The words you withhold cut me to the bone
    Wish that I'd left well enough alone

Will I ever reach a place of calm acceptance, of complete detachment?  Will I ever grow the fuck up? Born and bred in the briar patch, B'rer Fox. Born and bred in the briar patch.

In honor of my crappy mood, here's Ethel Waters singing Stormy Weather. Lena Horne's version is better known, but I loves me some Ethel:

   Can't go on
   All I have in life is gone
   Stormy weather
   Since my man and I ain't together
   Keeps raining all the time.

No, it's not quite that bad, but you get my drift.

And, since I'm in such a sad bastard state of mind: 

   And I find it kind of funny
   I find it kind of sad
   The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
   I find it hard to tell you
   I find it hard to take
   When people run in circles it's a very very
   mad world
   mad world.

It's been a long time since I've dreamed of dying, or flying, or anything at all. You have to sleep to dream. 

   ...To sleep, perchance to dream. 
   Ay there's the rub
   For in that sleep of death
   What dreams may come...

Never you mind Hamlet. I'm in no great rush to shuffle off this mortal coil. But, I'd very much like to feel better. I'm tired of feeling bad.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Winter started with an arctic blast, a hard fast freeze that came out of nowhere and fell like an executor's axe. No rain to slake the thirsty earth, just styrofoam snow and knives of ice that quickly evaporated in the frozen bone dry. Now fog fills the valley to the brim and we wander cold, chapped and thirsty. It's January and California is burning. Signs and wonders my friend.

That just about sums up the last couple of weeks for me. How are you?

We float in this fragile bubble of water vapor, this amniotic sac of atmosphere. We poison our mother from within the womb.

 A reckoning is coming. It must, it will,  it always has. Each of us must face the reaper, of that there is no doubt. And, no-one knows what lies beyond the wall. Some say they know, believe it as a bedrock fundamental fact. I know this: not everyone can be right The Christians think the Jews are going to hell, the Jews think the Muslims are going to hell and ad infinitum. The Hindus say we're in for endless rounds of reincarnation, the Buddhists say that all is illusion.  If one of the major religions is right, everybody else is wrong.  Either most of them or all of them are in for a surprise.

I believe what I see. Is there a world beyond my senses, a reality that my puny human consciousness can't comprehend? Probably. Should I aspire to comprehend?  Maybe.

I aspire to comprehend that which I see, touch experience,  that which I can affect. My senses, my experiences, my body, brain and heart, these are the tools I was given and they are too good to squandor. 

The sky doesn't care if I worship Jesus or study quantum physics. The pitiless sun rises in the south. The long hot summer's coming, bringing drought,  famine,  pestilence.What was that fourth horseman again? Oh right: war.

Can we reconcile our petty differences while there's still time?

Will I see you again before the end of the world?

Monday, January 13, 2014

This Year

I was sorry to hear of Tom Mallon's death last week, far too soon, far too soon. Tom played with and produced American Music Club, the soundtrack to my early adulthood. I knew the words of every song on Restless Stranger, Engine, California and Everclear. At home, in the car, in the shower, I sang harmonies to Mark Eitzel's melodies.  Tom produced the first three, probably had his hand in the fourth, before he and the band "broke up" over - what? Who knows.

Why do we nurse our petty grudges until it's too late?

Some day, I'll write  about following Danny Pearson around to AMC shows.  Danny is a good brother. He was always kind and loving to my daughters, he used his air miles to give Sequoia and me a trip to England, he brought me backstage at some amazing venues. How I loved walking up to the door and saying, "I'm with the band."  I stood in front of many stages mouthing the words to every song while watching Eitzel sweat and moan.  But, when I went backstage I always hung back, kept my mouth shut and my head down.  Danny ran with the cool kids. I was the only mother in the room, overweight and over-young. I definitely was not cool and didn't want to embarrass him.

I know now they were as self-conscious and self-loathing as me.  I should have spoken up. Should have, but didn't; so many shoulds in this life.

Tom Mallon created beauty and meaning. That was his gift to the world, that's what he will be remembered for.  Love is the most beautiful killer of them all.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Amiri Baraka

He was a hard poet to love, a hard man no doubt. His words were confrontational, often offensive, sometimes hateful, but always powerful.


(For Blues People)
In the south, sleeping against
the drugstore, growling under   
the trucks and stoves, stumbling   
through and over the cluttered eyes   
of early mysterious night. Frowning   
drunk waving moving a hand or lash.   
Dancing kneeling reaching out, letting   
a hand rest in shadows. Squatting   
to drink or pee. Stretching to climb   
pulling themselves onto horses near   
where there was sea (the old songs   
lead you to believe). Riding out   
from this town, to another, where   
it is also black. Down a road
where people are asleep. Towards   
the moon or the shadows of houses.   
Towards the songs’ pretended sea.