Monday, September 24, 2012

The Diamond Lil' Revue

     “Well,” one of the kids said. “We had been wanting to paint the ceiling black, right?”
     I blinked in surprise at the jokey attitude, but the students of the Baldwin High School drama guild were dealing with it as best they could. Their drama room had burned overnight. An arsonist had set fire to it. The damage was extensive but it wasn’t a total loss. They were in a middle of a show's run, The Second Annual Diamond Lil’ Revue. Baldwin Theatre Guild was able to move the venue to the playhouse of another local community theater. The temporary loss of the drama room was devastating as well as the shock of the assault on each person who held that place dear.
     But as loved as that room seemed, it wasn’t the walls and ceiling and the clutter of props and costumes that provided the magic. It was the kids, the alumnus and the adults who put so much of their lives and souls into the theater program there. I have never seen such talent in my life. For such a little island as Maui, there seemed to be a lot of burgeoning talents. Several have moved on to professional carriers in theater and film and music.
     And there amongst all the drama on and off stage, the teen angst drama, the students in some of the most decisive and confusing times of their lives, were the adults. The drama teacher, Ms. Loudon, was like a mother, lion tamer, mentor and teacher of all things theater.  Now retired, never replaced. Ms. Loudon is the type of person who comes along so rarely and touches so many lives that no amount of gratitude would ever match the love she showed. Other adults at the theater were local theater buffs, school alumnus, even kids from other high schools that didn’t have a good theater program. (That was me.)
     I saw parents dressing in outlandish costumes and yucking it up or acting down the house. But one parent in particular was the one who played Diamond Lil in the Diamond Lil’ Revue. If you only saw her onstage and didn’t know her as a person you would be hard pressed to believe this. But stage presence and talent were completely outshone by a full heart of gold in Rita.  Her energy onstage was only surpassed by her aloha offstage.
I was privileged to get to see the first few Diamond Lil’ Revues. They were formed as a royalty-free type of show full of song and dance strung together with a plotline. Rita hosted the shows as the title character. The first year set the tone for the rest. It was an old western dance hall. There was bar, a jail and of course a big stage with musical numbers, dance and a melodrama. The show was well received and they did it again the next year set on the Mason-Dixon line. That was the year of the fire. But the show went on. And the next year was a riverboat theme.
I got to perform for two of the three weeks for that 1985 show. And that was one of the quirky things about those shows. They would run two or three weekends for maybe 9 or 10 shows. No two were ever quite the same. Some acts were rotated to give more kids a chance to perform. Sometimes new acts were added in. Inevitably there was a lot of improvisation onstage.
The next year was a speakeasy. I only got to watch that one when I came home from college. Actually one night my friend let me take his part and be Elliot Ness at the end.
The next year was a Broadway showcase. I helped develop the plot for that show and then did the first weekend as a janitor and a magician. Then I went back to college for the spring. The cast of the show bought me a plane ticket to come do the last weekend with them. I will never forget that.
I missed the next couple of shows. They had a Christmas theme. When I moved back to Maui after college, Desert Storm was on everyone’s mind. I helped develop the plot for the next Diamond Lil’ which was a USO canteen theme. And for the next three shows I had the thrill of working alongside Rita as Eugene Toro, clipboard wielding assistant to Diamond Lil’. We did two USO shows. In 1994, Diamond Lil’ Revue had a theme that some folks had wanted since the very beginning.  With the blessing of Ms. Loudon, a bunch of guys finally sat down and wrote out the plot and setting for what turned out to be one of my favorites, the science fiction themed Restaurant at the End of the Universe show. We had a blast.
We did one more USO show. Then I did my last Diamond Lil’ in 1996. It was a Nashville/Hillbilly theme, still full of talent and friends. At the close of the show I was waiting word to see if I would be going to Hungary to teach.
I came back to Maui two years later but was not able to participate in Diamond Lil’ that year. I sat in the audience with a severely sprained ankle. (That wasn’t what kept me offstage)and I wished I could be up there. It was the last show I saw on Maui.
And all that was just my experiences. So many others were able to do more. It was a wonderful part of growing up that went on into my adult years. For one USO show Ms. Loudon, (you didn’t call her Sue even when you grew up) asked me to write a letter for a girl to read onstage. The show had her as a movie star reading a letter from parents to their son on the radio. I wrote the letter and was very pleased with it. Then Ms Loudon lost it so I wrote another that I thought was better. She lost that too and I wrote an even better one. Today I wonder if she kept tossing them away, knowing that I could do better. That was what it was all about. We rarely ran the show fully through until opening night. Kids were challenged to do their best and have tremendous faith in themselves and in others. And today the world is a better place. Not just for that room that burned on night in 1985, but for the passion and life that no flame could quench.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Did I just say that?

     If you say something regarding something that someone passionately believes in then you run the risk of upsetting them. There are people rioting and even people dying because of alleged slanderous or libelous rhetoric. There are political parties with supporters of every degree of sincerity about how they feel things ought to be. Don’t bother to mention politics or religion on any social network group. Social Justice, equality, tolerance and intolerance, free speech and a plethora of other seditious subjects are all over the media, social and mainstream. And I would like to promise that my blog will remain free of inflammatory proselytizing. Early in the Roadwalker Blog’s postings I went out and spoke my beliefs, as if to get them out of the way. So what am I doing scattering two-dollar words out and hinting at current events?
     I want to confess. I have not only been in distribution of unkind words, I have reacted badly to their reception too. I am saying that I understand how sometimes just the wrong words can get someone’s knickers in a knot to the point where they want to be violent. I remember decades ago, and with my weird memory I can still hear the spoken words. I must have been in the fifth grade. I had a few friends and I was very much into Star Wars. Back then it wasn’t all that cool to like it as much as I did. While most kids listened to disco music I went home and played my John Williams soundtrack. I lived and breathed Star Wars. And one day one of the kids I hung out with discovered a way to infuriate me. They laughed at my reaction as I charged at them trying to undo what they said. They just repeated the same two words and enraged me more. The two words they spoke: “Star Bores”.
     How could they? How could anyone disrespect the greatest thing that I had ever seen? Of course I took it personally. I loved Star Wars so much I had prayed it would win best picture. Saying that movie’s name incorrectly and implying that it was anything less than perfect was unimaginable. It couldn’t be allowed. 
     It sounds pretty trivial now. Thank God I eventually got over that.
     When I worked with juvenile offenders at the boy’s placement facility I saw something similar. Boys would take their neighborhoods so seriously that they felt compelled to fight someone just for a simple insult. You could precede the name of their street with the word “boom”, (as if you were blowing it up or shooting it) and that was enough to get a death threat.
     The boy's 'hoods were how they defined themselves. Now I’m getting closer to current events. Now I am running the risk of stating my opinion. I understand that there are some people who are hungry for power and will use others to feed that hunger by stoking hate and violence. I understand that there are a billion or so people who practice their religion peacefully and are brought down by a few radical splinters. And I understand that there will always be people on the outside who use crises like this to further their own agenda.
     I seem to claim to be understanding quite a lot today. I don’t really. I don’t have a solution at least. In fact I just want to state my view and move on and drink my coffee. One of the things I claimed to at least have a slight understanding of is how it feels to have your beliefs attacked. And I really just wish that the attackers here, the propagators of the inflammatory communication, would just sit on it. Oh yes, we have free speech and God bless America for not stopping this at their level. But who could say they didn’t know what the reaction would be to things like this? Is this doing anybody any good besides the few power-hungry leaders of splinter factions?
     Yes, I’m a rather conservative Christian who takes John 14:6 literally. But I don’t think that means that Christ Followers should be doing things that lead to stirring up hate and violence.
     There, I did it. I got up on my soapbox again. I try to stay off it, really. And it’s mostly as a courtesy to others. But lately it’s just what I’m thinking about. Sometimes I want to blog just what I'm thinking about. Rest assured, I have only one other blog in mind about the presidential race and I won't post it next week and it will be somewhat flippant. Unless I start thinking about anything serious, next week will be a cheerful blog, long overdue. Now,I’ll just kick that soapbox under the deck now and finish my coffee.


Monday, September 10, 2012

When frightning things are in the front Yard

     I thought I had phantosmia for awhile once. I had to look it up to see what it was called. Phantosmia is the name for olfactory hallucinations, or to quit using two-dollar words first thing on a Monday morning, smelling something that isn’t there. I was cleaning offices at a job I had previous to the one I have now. One particular office always had a strong odor or something intended to be agreeable and calming, but it was overpowering. And for hours or even a day or so after I kept thinking I would still be smelling it. I looked up olfactory hallucinations, two awesome words and learned an even cooler one.
Phantosmia it turns out is usually the result of a head injury and not schizophrenia so I was somewhat relieved. But a little disappointed too, that my dull life in church facilities wasn’t to be stirred up with excitement and fuss. I realize of course that serious afflictions are not to be longed for, deep down I’m sure that I didn’t want to be diagnosed with any serious illness. I just wanted a little excitement.
Last Monday I was in my back yard while my youngest son played in a pool. I sat in an old lawn chair holding a broken umbrella over me to keep off the harsh morning sun. I heard an impact from the street and turned around. Then a car appeared in front of our house skidding fast, taking out our front fence. Then it struck a tree and stopped. I was on my feet and hurrying through the house to the front yard right away. I told Prajna that there had been a car accident and to call 911, then I was out the door and to the wrecked car.
The car was against a tree and surrounded by low-hanging branches. A passerby helped me clear them and I saw through the driver’s window. Someone was looking out at me with huge, frightened eyes. And I saw blood. I also saw the inside of the car filled with the cloudy gas from the airbags.
“Stay in the car,” I ordered. I opened the door and the smoky gas began to drift out. The driver was a woman in her 30’s. Her face was injured from the airbag. Then the smell hit me. The car was a late model BMW with several airbags that had all deployed. The inside of the car was still filled with the airbag propellant, and the smell was like nothing I had ever smelled before. Other people who had stopped opened up the rest of the car doors. I looked and there were no other passengers.
I talked to the driver. She stared back at me mutely as if just waking up from a deep sleep, but with wide, puzzled eyes. I told her she had been in a car accident and that she would be okay. I told her my name and asked hers, she didn’t answer. She held up her right arm and looked from it to me. It was also injured probably from the airbag. Then a policeman arrived. I stood back up and told him what I knew, single occupant, conscious but not responding and no sign of any serious injury. Then I backed off to let him do his job.
The police see things like this every day. They are prepared to deal with the victims but don’t need to mind the witnesses who don’t see this every day. I kept wishing there was more I could do, but I knew better than to get in the way and spend most of the rest of the morning watching. I gave a report of everything I saw to the police later on as well as a reporter from the local newspaper.
For the rest of the day I was discombobulated. I knew that I was flying on an adrenaline high. My pulse raced and I had trouble sitting still. I kept seeing the injured driver with blood on her face and mouth. Most of all I couldn’t stop smelling the airbag propellant, that sweet-burnt chemical smell. I used to always associate the smell of hot engine coolant with car accidents, now I had a new smell for that.
I felt ashamed to be having this post traumatic stress. I thought that I should have just gotten over it. But I kept thinking “what if” questions. What if the car had burst into flame? What if the driver had compound fractures or not been breathing? What if there had been children in the car? What if she had hit a pedestrian? What if it had been a time that my kids were walking to church and she had left the road on the other side of my house where my kids walk? And along with the questions I could still smell the airbag propellant.
First responders like police and fire and soldiers can struggle with PTSD, I felt I had no right to. And after a few days I was able to calm down. Now it’s been a week and I can only smell the airbag gas if I imagine it first. I feel like I’ve gotten over it almost where writing about it is just re-hashing a tired subject already.
The last thing I keep turning over in my head is this difficult question: Did I wish for the incident to be more serious? How selfish is it of me to wish for that? Did I want more excitement? It feels similar to when I wished I did have some weird affliction making me smell things that weren't there. Did I want to be a hero and pull the victim from a burning car while the news photographer took pictures? 
Did I?
Of course I didn’t want someone to be more hurt. And I’ve shared some thoughts I feel like I should be ashamed of. I am truly glad that the driver was not seriously hurt. I think I know better than to wish for something more horrific in my front yard, there is enough of it in the rest of the world. It took less than a week for me to get over it and I want to be thankful that it was all that happened. Drive carefully everyone.



Monday, September 3, 2012

Rest assured, we're okay.

     The first grade classroom was quiet as usual when Mrs. Tavashi stood up at the front to address the class. It was early in the day still. I was sitting on the left near the front. One aisle over in the front row was Kiralee, who was probably the smallest student in the class, but talked more to make up for it. Mrs. Tavashi was sternly lecturing about something I’m sure when a noise interrupted. An audible squeak, gag and splatter sound. Mrs. Tavashi put her hand to hear heart dramatically and murmured: “oh my.”
Kiralee had thrown up on the floor.  
     I thought she had probably thrown up because she was so little. Back then at the age of 6 or 7, I made solid and sure conclusions about things however inaccurate they may have been. And I considered myself an expert on vomiting since not only had I seen my sister do it all over the backseat of our van, I myself had succumbed to throwing up before. I wasn’t prone to motion sickness. I was more the middle of the night type and had twice woken up my parents with my own incidents.
My dad urged me to use the family bathroom if I ever needed to barf at night again and not the master bathroom accessed through their bedroom. It made sense to me only at night to turn away from the family bathroom just outside my room and walk all the way to their room. My mom was always reassuring. Before my sister got carsick she complained of a bellyache and felt terrible. Once she hurled all over the backseat and started crying my mom gently declared, well there’s your stomachache.
So I learned that this potentially scary gastronomic expulsion was a good thing. It provided relief from pain and discomfort and meant that you were on the mend. When Kiralee got sick on the classroom’s wooden floor that morning it was a tribute to Mrs. Tavashi and her classroom management that everyone stayed seated and calm. Kiralee was sent home but Mrs. Tavashi seemed rattled the rest of the day. I thought she seemed worried for the poor little girl and so I followed after my teacher and reassured her.
“Mrs. Tavashi, she’s going to be okay,” I told her. It didn’t matter to me that she might know more than me being a 1st grade teacher and everything. The poor distressed woman didn’t realize that when someone threw up it was a good sign. Today I think that that the teacher just didn’t appreciate having the disruption and that may be why she looked a little stressed the rest of the day.
But I also reflect back and wonder if Mrs. Tavashi realized what a nice mom I must have had. There was a reason I went into my parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night to share the experience of nighttime emesis. Kiralee was a funny little girl who talked a lot. I may have even believed that barfing on the classroom floor would cure her of being so chatty. Because if my mom said that throwing up made you better, than that was truth. I felt I must share it.
It’s amazing and scary how a parent can create a culture and belief in a child. Even as a 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Tavashi was able to skillfully create a culture of respect and obedience. My home had a culture of love and safety. It was so rich that I took it to school.
Prajna and I tend to agree on a culture to foster in our home. Even if we don’t always succeed we try to keep things loving and safe. And I don’t mean safe as in outlet covers and padded walls. Safe can mean that the kids can mess up or throw up and still be loved. And I am by no means saying that anyone has found a secret to parenting. Of all the kids I’ve known throughout my life and kids I’ve worked with in my adult life, I can see the kids who get that at home.  Sometimes the media saturates the public with bad news of individuals gone bad and wrecking havoc and terror. But it’s encouraging to know that there still are good families and good kids out there. To a first grader, barfing on the floor should be the scariest thing imaginable. And you know what? Sometimes it is.