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Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Seven — Voice Memo III

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 31, 2017 at 12:06 pm

(Juice it! Juice it like a MANGO: start here.)

Day Seven: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 – Voice Memo III

[Sound: rustling leaves.]

I’m at the bottom of the slope, around the corner. Maybe if I stay still it will pass right by me. This building is larger than I thought.

Wait …

[Sound: distant sirens, fading]

Nope. Nothing.

So I never found the pyramid. Did I already say that?

My hands are shaking. It’s not cold. Christ.

So … looking for the pyramid. I was thinking I’d see them, their lights; we put water bottles on top of our phone lights to make water lanterns last year. Works really well.

I didn’t see any lights. But I heard voices. So I moved in the direction I thought I heard them, and there was a little deer trail off to the left. Sounded like the voices were in there, so I switched off my light and tried to sneak up on them. More fun to scare imaginative artsy types.

The voices were chanting, and the closer I got, the clearer it became that they were trying to freak me out. And it was kind of working. I think what they were saying was, “In by the Sunset, out by the Moon; Help us to find you, morning and noon; We seek you in darkness, now, under the trees – lead us to answers, please, Bess and Louise.” I think that’s accurate. I memorized it while I was crouching maybe ten feet away, trying to see their faces.

[Sound: distant high-pitched laughter, overlapped with cloth on concrete, leaves rustling, quiet footsteps under the following.
In the distance, also, jingling. You’re not certain you hear it, at first.]

Christ, it’s coming. I’m moving along this building, using it as a guide. Maybe it will lead me to a road. Keeping my phone light off. Can’t sit and wait for Dolly Jingles. Jingles the Creeper? Lurker Jingles … ?

[Sound: cloth on concrete, footsteps, leaves overlapped with the distant laughter and jingling. Then a change: the laughter segues into sing-song.]

Voice: In the darkness, now, we dance …
Tra la la, tra la la!
Do you like my poofy pants?
Tra la la, tra la la!

Edward: Okay. Okay. It’s talking now. Not great.

Voice: Gate is locked! Left or right?
Jingle-jangle, jingle-jangle!
Be my friendly, in the night?
Bingle-bangle, tingle-tangle!

Edward: Holy shit, a door.

[Sound: hand grabbing rusted steel doorknob, turning.]

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Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Seven — Voice Memo II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

(This blog is a gateway drug: start here.)

Day Seven: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 – Voice Memo II

[Sound: fumbling thud and scrabble, a muffled curse; footsteps on gravel, panting, more fumbling]

I dropped my phone. I’m … trying to catch my breath. I’ve been running. I threw a pot out a side window of the shed; that thing, whatever it is, went lurching off in the direction of the impact and I bolted from the shed but it’s dark. In the movies, there’s always ambient light in the forest. There’s no fucking ambient anything. Except darkness. I’m completely turned around.

[Sound: in the distance, Ma-MA! Ma-MAAaaaaa … !]

Okay, there’s there’s maybe a sliver of a moon tonight. Marginally helpful. I see a building ahead, I’m heading for it. I don’t have enough battery to keep this going for long.

I was talking about the pyramid. I found it on a map of the park, it seemed like an easy walk. I drove my car to the lot closest to that spot, parked, and took the right fork; according to the map, I thought it would take me to the pyramid.

[Sound: footsteps on gravel, the night breeze.]

Wait … the thing has been quiet a while. I think it’s quiet when it travels. So fucking dark. I can’t risk the flashlight on my phone.

[Sound: Ma-MAAAAAaaaaa!, far away.]

I’m not sure it’s Dolly Lurker. But it fucking sounds like Dolly Lurker. At least … I mean, after I ran away. Not at first. At first it just giggled.

I saw its face.

All white.

Like the mask.

Wait, there’s a gate here, near this building. Chain link … locked. Fuck. Okay. Okay. Up the hill to my left, trees. Probably poison oak, too, so … down the hill. Next to this building, there’s a trail. Right against the side of the building. Okay. I need to rest, I’m sitting down with my back to this wall. Nothing can sneak up on me here.

[Sound: Edward panting, but in the distance, jingles]

Oh shit.

[Sound: jingles, louder.]

It’s the other one.

[Sound: high-pitched giggling]

Time to go.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Seven — Voice Memo

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 29, 2017 at 11:52 am

(This post means nothing without context. Start here.)

Day Seven: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 – Voice Memo

There’s something outside.

It’s dark. I’m in a potting shed at a native plant nursery in Joaquin Miller Park. I have my phone on low so the light doesn’t bleed. It’s 11:45 pm, I have no idea where I am and –

[sound: gravel crunching, dragging footsteps]

It’s moving closer.

I don’t know how much time I have. I’ll try to get this out fast. Here’s what I know:

I should never have come up here. Or I should have brought someone with me.

This is important, I need to remember this: when I got to the theatre today, Joel was hosing the outside wall off next to the stage door stairs. I asked why, and he said graffiti. But it was different because it was easy to wash off, it wasn’t paint, and it was actual words. I asked what it said, because jokes, ha ha Edward you masturbatory jester. He showed me a picture he’d taken of the graffiti – graffito? – on his phone.

I have goosebumps again just thinking about it. Three words, in charcoal:

into the party

Joel said I looked like someone walked over my grave, I made a joke about cadavers and went inside. I didn’t – and still don’t – understand why those words chilled me. They’re innocuous. They mean nothing. But, combined with everything else –

Wait. I’m listening. Have I been whispering too loud? I can’t tell. There’s no sound from outside. I can’t tell if it went away or if it’s right outside the door.

[sound: rustling cloth]

I think it’s … moved off.

… I’m trying to figure out what the fuck happened …

[sound: rustling cloth]

Left leg really hurts, have to change position a lot. Sorry.

Okay, so there was a note at my station saying: “secret party after rehearsal tonight.” This is rad, there were some during Shrek last year. Clandestine weed romps in Joaquin Miller Park at night. Ghost stories, snacks, dress warmly. We’re careful about who gets invited – no buzz kills, all legal adults, no creepers.

When I left the theatre, there was a note on my windshield. It said, FIND THE PYRAMID. All caps.

[sound: thump]

Oh fuck. It’s out there.

[sound: thump, closer]

Jesus, I think it knows I’m in here.

[sound, muffled: aaaa-aaaaa …]

My phone, it’s …

[sound: thump, too close.]

… dying.

[sound: Ma-MA! Ma-MA! … Ahheeeuuurrrrrghghghhhhssssss …]

Oh. Fuck.

Woodminster: South Pacific — A Day Off

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 28, 2017 at 11:52 am

(All the cool kids are doing it: start here.)

Day Off: Monday, 24 July 2017

A day off for actors – must be fun, right?

You’d think so. We spend our lives putting on pretty costumes and gallivanting about for applause, some of us actually get paid for it, and then on our days off we go to the seaside and eat fried fishes and bonbons. Right? Life is easy for the actor, all she has to do is learn her lines and be on time. Of course. It’s not like we have three or more other jobs we work to make ends meet. It’s not as though we’re up until 2 am cramming lines so we can drive for Lyft in the morning before heading to an audition that might get us work, but will take three hours from our day. It’s not possible that, in our mid-forties, we’re still being pressured by our family to be a Chiropractor [nurse, dentist, lawyer, brain surgeon, insert pressure here] as well as (read instead of) an actor. Despite prowess. Despite awards. Despite whatever successes may arise.

My day off:

Start a load of laundry. Make the bed. Sweep, vacuum, then mop the house (hardwood floors collect dog hair like I collect random bits of paper).
Laundry into dryer, start second load. Dishes haven’t been done in a week. I’ve seen larger kitchens on sailboats. There’s a stock pot full of rotwater in the sink, several frying pans as well. Start by taking all the dishes, silverware and cups/glasses out of the sink and organizing them on the counter. This actually makes processing them much easier in the long run. For me. (Not your style? You can do my dishes any way you want.) Now that the small things are out of the sink, start on the large things.
Ah, but they’ll need a spot to dry. Push the dishes on the counter over, clean up that wine glass I’ve broken because I wasn’t careful enough, lay paper towels down and cover them with a large, dry, clean dish cloth.
Now start with the washing.
Ah, but I’m out of dish soap.
Okay. Check the bathroom.
Out of toilet paper.
What was I doing in here?
There’s the scale. How much do I weigh? 193? I was 187 last week. What did I eat? I can’t remember.
Is that a zit? Ouch. That needs to cook a while before I can get it. Try again. HOLY FUCK THAT HURTS. Okay, tea tree oil and time. I’ll get you, my pus-laden friend.
I want some coffee. Is there coffee in the kitchen?
Oh, shit. The dishes. What was I … ?
Soap! Right. Check the bathroom.
There’s … shampoo. And shower gel. Both from Trader Joe’s. Probably safe? Hmmm. Let’s give it a try.
Ah, where’s the scrubby sponge? Look under kitchen sink …
Dish soap! Holy crap. Should have looked here first. What else is under here?
Mold and mildew spray, never been used. I consider the shower, I read the label: USE IN PROPERLY VENTILATED AREA. I don’t want to pass out while I’m doing dishes. I put it back. What else do we have? Borax. Hardwood floor cleaner, unopened. A variety of spray bottles, all repurposed, with their indelibly-inked new uses crossed out like the tattoos I want on my arms for this show. How long ago did I refill each of these, and with what? Most of the labels are warped, peeling, illegible. I should open one up and pour some out to see what’s in it.
BUZZ – dryer is done. Downstairs to the basement, check the load. 80 minutes on high and it’s still wet. Okay. Reset, head upstairs.
Mailman delivers package.
Open door, take Maxwell outside. Good Lord, it’s hot. How is he so energetic in this heat? It must be 105 degrees out here. Package isn’t for me, it’s for my landlord/neighbor. Drop it off at their front door. Make the circuit with Maxwell, because he likes to migrate with his pack.
The chickens – not my chickens, my landlord/neighbor’s chickens – are literally screaming, fighting each other for my attention, trying to push their way through the wire of the coop. Their water is murky and their food is empty. I feed them, I rinse out their water thing and it refills because gravity and technology. I have chicken shit all over my slippers. I’m still in my pajamas. I leave them inside their coop because if I let them out, they will further destroy flowers and herbs in my garden. Where the hell is Maxwell?
I find him reclining in the relatively cool grass, in the shade of an arbor. He does not want to come inside. I take off my shirt to try to get some color on my pale pudge. Billis is supposed to be brown from the sun. No real time for that, but a little color wouldn’t hurt. I turn on the hose to do some watering. I’ll just water a little. I had no idea how thirsty my Mr. Lincoln was.
45 minutes later, I’m done watering. A little dizzy from the heat. Maxwell went inside long ago. I head in.
My house is dark, but the cool of the morning is almost gone, now. It’s very warm.
Fuck. The kitchen.
BUZZ – check the dryer. Still damp. Check the lint trap. A little lint. Not a lot. I cleaned it before I started this load. That’s something. Restart the dryer. Hang load in washer on lines in basement and start a new load … ? No, dishes.
Still a little dizzy from the heat. Maybe have some water. Yeah, sit down. Have some water. Check my phone.
An hour and a half later, I wonder if I turned of the water. I dash outside. I did! Yay. Back inside.
Fuck. The kitchen.

And that’s how it goes. Because there’s never time to do all of this stuff during the rest of the week, it piles up until it’s near insurmountable.

What did I intend to do with my day? Work on my lines. And I do run them via recording while I’m washing the dishes, which takes about two hours total – pots, pans, then a load of dishes. While that’s running, a second load rinsed and ready to load. But it’s not the same as sitting down with my script for several hours and working with the words right in front of me. When the second load of dishes is in the machine, I realize my clothes are wet from the sink.

I’m still wearing my pajamas.

I shower. No need to shave, not for Billis.

I look at the clock as I’m pulling my boots on. It’s 3 pm. Where did my day go?

The floors are clean, but you can’t tell because of my clutter. The bed is made, but it’s overshadowed by the avalanche of crap on my desk. The dishes are done, but the counter is still somehow a wreck. Looking at it, all I want to do is go to sleep.

I sit down with my cold coffee from the microwave.

Left low back and leg really hurt.

I open my eyes at 7 pm when Max nudges me. His tail is wagging. It’s dinner time. The house is hot and stuffy. What was I doing? Was there something I forgot to do? I should work on my lines.

I open the door to the deck and put a fan in front of it, on low. It will blow coolish air into the living room. Around 3 am, it might be 67 degrees outside. Which is better than 108, the high in Livermore today. I feed Max and sit down with my script. I’m hungry, but the kitchen is clean and I don’t want to cook. Trail mix, I tell myself, is a suitable substitute. I’m trying to focus on my lines, but I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve failed today. Netflix beckons. The Marvel Universe has untold secrets, calling to me. I need a break. I need to relax. I can work on my lines tomorrow.

This is my day off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuck. The laundry.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Six — Rehearsal

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 23, 2017 at 11:59 am

(Did the cool kids mock you again? Craving validation? Start here.)

Day Six, Rehearsal: Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Hardy Boys had it easy.

Their dad was a detective. They had their chum Chet with his jalopy. They lacked any libidinous impulses whatsoever, so they never walked into a piece of scenery because they were staring at a dancer’s ass during rehearsal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I asked my server if anyone had given her the note, and she seemed genuine in her bafflement. I looked around at everyone in the restaurant, recognizing none of them and seeing no furtive skulkery or subtle chicanery. I looked so long that some people began to get uncomfortable. I’m told I have a penetrating gaze. But I haven’t done that since college.

I headed for Woodminster, vigilant in scanning my surroundings for lurkers and observers. I saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Rehearsal began for me at 12 pm with the staging of Honey Bun. I fell off the platform, landing hard on my left leg and then my right ass cheek – kind of rocking backward onto another, perpendicular platform. This is what happens when Edward tries to learn a dance step that doesn’t belong to him. Foolish Edward, attempting the Sailor’s Hornpipe. Which sounds dirtier than it is. Speaking of getting ahead of myself. Zing! (Calm down, Perry.)

When I wasn’t onstage, I took a few hasty moments to jot down further notes and questions:

Montclair Historical Society: does not exist as a brick-and-mortar location – so how do I meet there tomorrow?
What the hell was Louella (Aughra) talking about – the girl with the eyes?
How did that card get into my pocket to begin with?
Why does Bill Weedbeard keep leaving me clues?
Who is watching me and leaving notes that arrive with my bill at restaurants?

When I was onstage, I admit that I was a little distracted: the puzzling messages, the overheard conversations. I started thinking about detectives. Holmes would be storking around, observing things with his aquiline brow perfectly smooth, fully in command of the situation. Watson would be by his side lending able assistance, steadfast and firm. Holmes would already have an idea of who Dolly Lurker really is (because in his universe it wouldn’t be anything supernatural), all based on the rolling of an actor’s cuff, the brush technique used to paint the clouds on the backdrop, or that dancer’s amazing ass.

Poirot would be asking many charming questions, his eyes all warm twinkle, his moustache perfectly waxed. He would be stepping around drifts of sawdust as Captain Hastings makes a series of social gaffes, and Judy would be Poirot’s true assistant in solving the mystery. Quick and nimble, he’d gather all his evidence; he’d pause for a revelatory tisane; then assemble everyone in the men’s dressing room for a stunning and climactic reveal based on the way this actor was staring at that dancer’s ass.

Nick Charles would send Nora off with a series of false clues to try to get her out of the way long enough that he could do some solid detection. She and Asta would see a suspicious character and inadvertently fall into the basement of Woodminster, where they’d find an abandoned distillery and the body of the man everyone thinks is the killer. But Nick would have known it wasn’t Cranky Jack the whole time, because Cranky Jack was really Rooster Carruthers, crime-boss-turned-alchemist, who gave it all up twenty years ago to turn lead to gold. Nick would stage a climactic reveal as well, with plenty of pithy commentary from Nora. And, truth be told, I’m deeply in love with Myrna Loy. So she can comment all she wants. She’d probably make a crack about me staring at things that don’t belong to me. In her incredibly fashionable but utterly impractical hat.

The Hardy Boys would be up to all good, just being clean-cut American white boys who only ever interact with other clean-cut American white kids, when they’d hear a scream from the abandoned old theatre on the hill. They’d run up there just in time to see a figure disappear into the trees, dropping a creepy doll as it ran. They are each other’s companion, but they also have their chum Chet with his trusty jalopy and unreliable fortitude. Because fat guys are weak, right, Franklin W. Dixon? Or do I mean Edward Stratemeyer? I wonder if Frank and Joe ever solved the Mystery of the Old Publishing Syndicate. Either way, you can bet that they wouldn’t have noticed anybody staring at that dancer’s ass. They’d solve the mystery sans craving.

But what is the damned mystery? There’s no body. Some girls disappeared in the 50’s, there’s a creeper with a doll, there’s a group of old hippies who like to talk about fountain pens, Louella (Aughra) drives a very nice car. But there’s nothing right now to connect the Peet’s Eager Quintet to my experiences at Woodminster. And until I know exactly what the Montclair Historical Society is, there will be no connection. For all I know, someone could have put that card in my pocket while I stood waiting to cross a street. And if I spent more time working on my lines than trying to solve this mystery, my work on stage would be a lot more solid. Almost as solid as that dancer’s amazing ass.

That’s a lot to think about. And so maybe you can see how all of these competing thoughts could easily lead a grown man to walk into a wall of the set. I think Judy saw it happen. I tried to play it off like a bit of intentional slapstick. She just stared at me, no expression, then turned to watch the scene onstage with a slight tilt of the head that said, “That’s what you get for staring. Fuckmook.”

We broke a little before 4:30 to get into costumes for program photos. I made a lot of jokes. We took a lot of photos. I was released around 5:30, I think. By the time I left, my left leg was in a lot of pain.

There is nothing sinister about Woodminster in daylight. The smell of pine dust is strong in the parking lot. Taking my keys from my back pocket, the mysterious Historical Society card fell out. I bent down to pick it up, and there, in charcoal on the curb next my driver’s door was:

get to leave

Same font, same medium: mesquite on concrete. Well, now, that seems to be the kind of connection I was lamenting earlier. I looked around for Bill Weedbeard, as he is my chief suspect in this game of smoky messages. Again I saw nothing out of the ordinary, but I had the distinct feeling I was being watched.

Getting into my car, I tossed the card into one of the cup holders in my center console, then wrote this new phrase in my notes; together, they read:

was my purpose
get to leave

More damned anagrams? Red herrings? Bad poetry?

I did a Google search and found articles about the purpose of dogs, and millennials trying to find their purpose. Useless. Until one remembers that this cast is made up mostly of millennials. Is this a cry for help? Are they all confused about their futures? Do none of them want to admit the crushing guilt they experience every day over their secret shame that they voted for Jill Stein?

There was the possibility of my seeing a performance of The Four Immigrants at Theatreworks, but I was sweaty and smeared with sunscreen. My leg hurt, and maybe my head. How I hit my head, I have no idea. But one attends the theatre only in appropriate attire. Shorts, sandals and a Hawaiian shirt are unacceptable.

I went home. Veronica was making thick-cut pork chops. There was a hot shower and cold beer. I was able to set all these thoughts aside for a time.

Just as I was falling asleep, a thought occurred to me; I wrote it in my notebook, then closed my eyes. It was this:

A good detective has a companion.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Six — The Old Firehouse

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 22, 2017 at 11:52 am

(Your confusion has a cure! Start here.)

Day Six, The Old Firehouse: Sunday, 23 July 2017

Fire has a way of finding you.

After the 1906 earthquake, there was a lot of rapid real estate development in North Berkeley. Some of those homes are still there. But not many. Because by 1923 the development had outgrown the water supply, and when a fire started in the dry grass and chaparral of Wildcat Canyon just east of Berkeley, the water mains were not up to the task of keeping it at bay. Dry and gusty northeasterly winds — the Diablo Winds — blew the fire up over the ridge and into the neighborhoods of La Loma Park and Northside. The Berkeley Fire Department found that the hydrants in that area only hissed their emptiness, and 640 structures – most of them homes – went up in possibly the first firestorm to devastate the area in recorded history.

The second – and far worse – firestorm was in 1991. I worked at the Lake Merritt Hotel at the time. By night, from the roof of the hotel, the hills above Oakland and Berkeley were a wall of fire. It looked like it was a mile away. I was standing there next to my brother, Rob, who had gotten me the job of Houseman at the hotel. (A Houseman – at least at the Lake Merritt Hotel in 1991 – is a Bellhop who cleans toilets. Or a janitor in a nice shirt who carries bags.) Rob told me that the fire’s apparent proximity was an illusion – it was still about seven miles away. According to my calculations (Google), he was correct: it’s 6.5 miles from the Lake Merritt Hotel to the neighborhoods behind the Claremont Hotel. And it was in those neighborhoods that our noble firefighters made their last stand, valiantly fighting back the hellfire breath of the Diablo Winds, saving the Claremont and – in all likelihood – much of the rest of Berkeley.

Skipping back to 1923, there are newsreels and photographs of entire neighborhoods in the smoking aftermath: chimneys and fireplaces stand like gravestones, mute sentinels broadcasting their ironic survival – while those occupants whose hands these fireplaces  once warmed in winter may well have added their own unwitting ashes to the surrounding devastation.

After the fire in 1991, driving the neighborhoods near my grandparents’ house on Proctor Avenue in the Oakland hills, I saw the same thing: a cemetery of chimneys. How many times must fires devastate these hills before adequate precautions are the norm? Certainly this question echos many voices from the time, but I’m delighted to say that my grandparents’ voices were not among them – their house was saved. This happened because of a firefighter who chose to disobey orders, staying with his team and truck to save this one house – which had caught fire near …

… wait for it …

… the chimney.

The last name of the fireman who saved their house: Burns. I kid you not.

As a result of the 1923 fire, Eldred E. Edwards of the Oakland Public Works Department designed a storybook masterpiece of a firehouse for the Montclair District. It was built on Moraga Avenue in 1927 and served the Montclair District for over 60 years – until it was closed in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Not because it was damaged in any way, but because it sits on or very close to the Hayward Fault – a fault which did not move in the quake that caused the firehouse to be shuttered. (It should be noted that the Loma Prieta quake also got a lot of attention for snapping the Bay Bridge in half, but got no attention whatsoever for leveling much of Watsonville and Santa Cruz.)

Standing just north of the Old Firehouse on Moraga Avenue, I was deeply saddened by its state of disrepair. That the City of Oakland would allow this architectural masterpiece to fall apart simply because it sits on the Hayward Fault makes me wonder what they will choose to save instead. Because it is a choice. And history is important. Highway 13 also sits on the Hayward Fault – it goes right past the Old Firehouse. They’re upgrading 13 as I write this. It’s just a road. It’s not a masterpiece. Sure, more people use it. But how many people “use” the paintings hanging in the de Young? Their only “use” is the artists’ expression of … whatever. And would anyone go anywhere near those paintings if they were left to the mercies of the elements on Moraga Avenue? Probably not. Hence the protection and restoration of great art and architecture.

Gazing at the sad building with its jolly flames at the peaks of the roofs, I was struck by the feeling that this building is also a temple, like Woodminster. It’s a temple of protection, a municipal temple where locals tithed through taxes to keep the breath of Diablo at bay. And the same could be said of any firehouse. But this one feels different. It feels special. These thoughts lead me to the following observation: between 1923 and 1991, there were no devastating fires in the Berkeley or Oakland hills. There were a couple in the 70’s and 80’s that started right around where the 1991 fire started – but they were contained in time. Only after this Old Firehouse was shut down did the Diablo Winds blow sparks to a storm of devastation again. I believe that if Montclair is to stay protected, the Old Firehouse must be restored.

If I had the money, I’d buy and restore it myself.

With that thought in mind, I bounced up street, meaning to head right up the front steps and circle the building. As I approached, I noticed that a car was parked very close to the front of the building – right in front of the firetruck garage door – three words that sound best when said in the voice of a four-year old boy. It was, if I’m not mistaken, a 1968 Citroen DS21 Pallas III. Maroon. Leather seats. A car worth getting arrested for licking.

I moved in for a closer inspection – and a possible tasting – when nearby voices distracted me.

“He shouldn’t be looking around at all, Bill!” This voice sounded familiar. Older, gravelly, female.

“It was just one poem, Louella – ” Could that be … Weedbeard? Who the hell was Louella, and why did I recognize her voice?

It sounded like they were coming down the weathered stone steps on the other side of the Old Firehouse. I hopped up the front steps, leaning back in the shade under the overgrown cypress tree.

Louella appeared – it was Aughra! She of the Very Confusing Anagram Suggestion. Weedbeard followed, slouching like a kid caught smoking weed next to the propane tank.

“Do you remember what happened last time, Bill?” Louella was near shouting, short but mighty. “The girl in the show? Her eyes, Bill. Remember her fucking eyes the next time you think about leaving clues in anyone’s coffee!”

Bill Weedbeard was fiddling with something in his right hand. His fingers were all black; it looked like a burned stick. “I just thought that maybe someone else should know about the danger before we’re all gone,” he said.

“How the almighty fuck did he find out about the Historical Society to begin with, Bill? Loose lips sink ships. We need to circle the wagons or get the hell out of Dodge!” Louella stumped around to the driver’s side of the car. “Get in, I don’t want to risk you leaving any more messages,” she said.

Bill Weedbeard dropped the stick as he opened the passenger door, saying, “Will we really be back in ten minutes?”

Five, Bill. I said five. What is wrong with you – too many blood thinners, or not enough?” Louella said.

Bill Weedbeard took out a handkerchief to wipe his fingers, and I could swear he looked right at me, winking and pointing at the stick as they drove away. When they were gone, I went down to the curb and picked up the stick.

It looked like hardwood charcoal. I sniffed it. Possibly mesquite.

What did she mean about leaving more messages?

I sprinted up the steps, turning on the flashlight on my phone the better to scan the side of the building, the front door, then ran around the back and down the other side. There wasn’t a card or note anywhere. I saw a piece of white paper sticking out of a shrub. It was an old receipt, unrelated and useless.

My fingers, black from the stick, left dark smudges on the paper.

messages … did he write messages in charcoal?

I ran up the front steps and stopped before getting halfway. There was something scrawled back down on the sidewalk to the left of the stairs. I returned to see three words, half covered by dry oak leaves; the leaves were old, the writing was new:

was my purpose

What the fuck does that mean? And why did he point at the stick?

they’ll be back in five minutes …

I wrote the phrase in my notebook and took a picture of it just in case, then did one final circuit of the Old Firehouse. Nothing.

I headed off to find a solid brunch and do some thinking, then run my lines for rehearsal.

As I was finishing my brunch, I wrote this in my notebook: Fire has a mind of its own, and fire has a way of finding you. But what of the Firehouse? Did I find it, or did it call to me, like Bali Ha’i? If I continue down this path, will I get burned? Or will I find enlightenment?

When the check came, I was thinking about another storybook house I fell in love with back in 1991, a house that burned in the fire. I lifted the check off the little plastic tray, and beneath was a note that read:

Beware the fog. Beware the night. She is coming for you.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Six — Shepherd Canyon, Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

(Do you have nipples, but no idea what’s going on in this story? Start here.)

Day Six, Shepherd Canyon: Sunday, 23 July 2017 — Part II

Returning to Fire Station No. 24 twenty-three years later, it hasn’t changed at all. It looks like a life-sized model of a child’s vintage-style firehouse, from the future. Hasbro, circa 2086.

I wasn’t quite sure how to get into the parking lot, so I drove up Shepherd Canyon a ways, safe and sane behind the wheel. Unlike my jaunt down this road all those years ago.

When I turned around to head back toward the fire station, I took a look at that now notorious embankment.

I remember the sense, back in 1994, that if I braked it would result in destruction. I saw back then that the embankment got steeper ahead; it would launch the car up, either to the left across the road or into the trees above, then back down onto its roof. Time was running out.

I don’t know where I got the presence of mind; I was only 21 at the time — but I took my foot from the accelerator and — locking my arms — firmly eased the car to the left, down onto the road. The firetruck charged past us on our left, sudden and deafening. I braked, gently, for the curve ahead. Everything was fine.

It was as I drove past that very spot today that I remembered saying to Scott, “Hey, have you ever seen the old storybook firehouse?”

I was braking to turn into the parking lot of Fire Station No. 24 when it struck me:

If storms do blow we build a pyre
Inside our vintage firehouse

I was so shocked at the revelation that I sat there like an idiot, my left-turn signal blinking, until some asstongue in a Lexus honked at me. I turned off my blinker and headed for one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in my life:

The Old Montclair Firehouse.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Six — Shepherd Canyon

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 20, 2017 at 12:06 pm

(Don’t get burned by spoilers! Start here.)

Day Six, Shepherd Canyon: Sunday, 23 July 2017

Fire has a mind of its own.

I headed out to Montclair early today, arriving around 9:00 am, heading to the fire station whose location I knew offhand: Oak Fire Station No. 24, on Shepherd Canyon Road. Why do I know where this specific fire station is? Simple: I like winding roads, and in my early 20’s, I liked to drive on them at dangerous speeds, blasting the James Bond theme on the stereo.

My friend Scott and I thought we were writing a musical. We were meeting Elsa, Scott’s girlfriend, for dinner at her sister’s house in Montclair that evening. This was … 1993? 1994? Anyway, I decided it would be fun to drive Scott up Shepherd Canyon Road at about 80 mph, blasting a special driving mix tape on the stereo: James Bond, Peter Gunn, Mission Impossible and … the Overture from Candide. One of these things is not like the others …

Scott was not at all certain that this was a good idea, but – galvanized with the armor of youthful ignorance – I rocketed up the canyon in my sister’s blue Saturn. Because of course, the best way to risk life, limb and property is in a borrowed car.

It was as we were coming back down Shepherd Canyon toward Snake road, in the last long curve to the right, that the car began to run up onto the embankment. I think we were doing 85 mph. Scott raked the air with his hands, right-left-right-left, like a cat; mouth agape, teeth bared, a grotesque sculpture: silent, the intensity of his hands increasing as we edged up toward certain doom. The car antenna whipped weeds off the embankment above us.

Sirens and the blaring horn of a firetruck: there, ahead of us, Fire Station No. 24 was being called to action.

I was not certain we could stop in time.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Five

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm

(Spoiler alert! If you prefer a fresh approach, start here.)

Day Five: Saturday, 22 July 2017

I was late to rehearsal.

Which is rare. It has no bearing on what follows, but I feel I should touch upon it in the interest of forthright documentarian whatsiwhosies: fact is, I was a total fuck-up in my early theatre days, always late and unprepared. Then, in college, one of my professors said, “You will notice that actors who are consistently late have no grasp of reality.” (Those of you who attended The Boston Conservatory will recognize the words and tone of Steve McConnell, the man who deserves the most – and wants the least – credit for the actor I am today.) I looked around the room at the people who were always late, realizing that I did not want to be counted among that group. I began to change this habit, and have learned – owing to my tendency to procrastinate – that the only way to be certain I’m on time is to always be at least one hour early. (Ladies, for the record, I’m never early in … shall we say … intimate situations. If you take my meaning. Ahem. Le wink. Flip and flutter of the fan. Bat-bat-bat of my manly eyelashes. Also, sex.)

We finished blocking Act I, then ran it. I was off book here and there. We were released at 5 pm.

It was nice to be off early, so I decided to scope out the Historical Society. Get the lay of the land in the light of day, before I go to the mysterious meeting dictated by the card I found in my pocket last night:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.

So I went out to my car – always parked in the same spot because of internet access; my phone gets no service in the theatre unless I’m on the roof or in the middle of the breezeway over the fountains. So I did a search for the location of the Montclair Historical Society. I sat there searching for maybe forty-five minutes, frustration increasing by the second. Because unless I want to drive to Montclair, New Jersey, I’m out of luck: there is no Montclair Historical Society in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA.

I headed down to Peet’s to ask an old, wealthy hippie. That is to say, a local.

I found a group of them sitting on the bench outside Peet’s: beards and long hair, four guys and a woman in their seventies looking like denim-clad variations on Obi-Wan Kenobi or Aughra.

“Excuse me, gentlemen and lady. I’m wondering if any of you know where I can find the Montclair Historical Society,” I said.

The one who looked more like Gandalf said, “Montclair, New Jersey.”

The rest of them chuckled. Aughra grunted.

Pulling the card from my wallet, I said, “This note was left for me. Any thoughts?”

The one who looked more like Obi-Wan said, “Good Lord – ”

“That’s probably a Parker 51 Special,” said the Gandalfy fellow, with a large silencing glance at Obi-Wan-point-five.

“I would have said Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938,” said the guy who looked like Treebeard’s more stoned brother. Weedbeard.

“You always think it’s a Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938, Bill,” said Dumbledore.

“You’re obsessed,” said Obi-Wan-point-five.

“So what if I am?” said Bill Weedbeard. “I’ve been searching for the Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938 for 40 years.”

“I think there’s one on E-Bay,” said Gandalf.

“It doesn’t have any value if I pay full price,” said Bill Weedbeard.

“I have to agree,” I said. “The delight of a find in a thrift store far outweighs anything I could purchase for full price.”

“Damn right!” said Bill Weedbeard. “I’m buying your coffee, young gallant. How do you take it?”

“Small, black, no room, thank you kindly,” I said.

To think I’ve walked by these guys for three summers and never stopped to talk before now.

Aughra had not yet spoken. She’d been sipping her coffee, frowning into the middle distance. Mayhaps brooding on revenges or ruminating on ingredients for potions. Vengeful potions. Vengeful, brooding potions.

“It’s an anagram,” she said, then heaved herself off the bench and stumped away down the street.

The old wizards stared after her.

“More words than she’s said in three weeks,” Obi-Wan-point-five said to the group.

Then, to me, Gandalf said, “I’d take it to heart if I were you.”

Bill Weedbeard returned with a large black coffee, no room, handing it to me with a crisp military salute, which I returned out of rehearsal habit.

Why is he saluting me? I’m not military, we’re not in uniform, does he know about the show? Social status alone would dictate that I salute him. Also, Billis is just a Seabee. So even if he does know, it doesn’t make sense.

All of the above went through my head in an instant. Obi-Wan-point-five was saying, “Well, it’s about that time.”

They all shook hands, then they shook my hand. Bill Weedbeard was the last.

“Enjoy that coffee,” he said, smiling. His eyes said, Enjoy it here, in Montclair.

They departed in separate directions. I went into Peet’s and sat with my notebook, making notes on what has happened so far, trying to pull anagrams out of Montclair Historical Society.

The first ones I did were just for Montclair; these were the most interesting:
Clam Nitro – interesting because of exploding clams.
Carol Mint – interesting because my Mom grew up very close to Montclair, and her name is Carol.
Talc Minor – interesting because Highway 13 is the Hayward Fault, and the fault is in Serpentine, a rock that when subjected to heat and friction becomes talc, which is also asbestos, which is why we don’t go into the basement at Woodminster. And when it finally moves, it will not be minor.
Actor Limn – that which highlights the actor.
Normal Tic – is there any such thing?
Cram In Lot – funny because after the 1991 fire, people who rebuilt tried to fit as much house as they could into the tiniest of lots.
Lam Tic Nor – just sounds fun to shout in a Scottish dialect. This applies to every anagram of Montclair, truth be told.
Ram Colt In – because it carries a sexual connotation I find inappropriately amusing.
Can It Lo Mr – because this seems like the best response to the last one.

Could any of these be the first part of a clue?

The anagrams for Historical Society are weirder; here are a few of the less nutty:
Chocolatey Iris Tis
Calico Shittier Soy
Socialistic Rye Tho
Achier Colitis Toys

I’m not sure I want to solve the mystery these might illuminate.

I started putting the weirdest ones together, they make for some disturbing images:
Talc Minor Theocratic Oily Sis – a polygamist initiation ritual?
Lam Tic Nor Ascetic History Oil – effete Scottish scholars avoiding Lyme Disease.
Can It Lo Mr Thoracic Yeti Soils – your Chiropractor doesn’t like Abominable Snowman poop.
Ram Colt In Achiest Clitoris Yo – seek medical attention immediately.
Normal Tic Socialise Itchy Rot – you should have sought medical attention when you had the achiest clitoris.
Cram In Lot Erotica Cosily Shit – there’s a hidden German porn enclave in Montclair.

I gave up on the anagrams and finished my coffee. Something tapped the inside of the lid of my disposable cup. I opened it. A tiny ziploc bag fell out. The kind one sees crack dealers offering on gritty crime dramas. Grimacing at the notion of icky, I picked it up.

There was a piece of paper inside. I unfolded it. Printed in neat, near-architectural letters was the following:

We do not seek the jaunting grouse
We do not taunt the dragon’s ire
Instead we joust the dragon’s heart
Before we light a jaunty fire
While there it roasts we raise a glass
Before the rains our flames can douse
If storms do blow we build a pyre
Inside our vintage

It ended there, nothing was written on the back. I looked in the cup again. Nothing beyond the final drips of Major Dickason. (You’re welcome.)

Inside their vintage … what? Wine barrels? Cars? Fountain pens?

I stared at it for a while, then headed for my car, and home. Food and comfort can unlock the brain.

In the middle of the night I sat bolt upright and wrote something on the notepad I keep on my bedside table, then fell back asleep. I completely forgot about it until I glanced at my notebook while making the bed Sunday morning. There, scrawled diagonally across the page was one word:

Firehouse.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm

(If you don’t like spoilers, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part II

“There you are!”

I jumped the jump of the guilty explorer. Judy was right outside the door to the basement stairs.

When the hell did she get there?

“What are you doing in here?” Judy stepped in and stood next to me, looking down at the basement door.

“Did you hear that?” I said.

“Hear what?” she said.

“That sound, like a broken baby doll crying,” I said.

“A broken babydoll? Reminiscing about our ex girlfriends, are we, Edward?”

“Ha! No, I mean a doll, like a doll that looks like a baby. The kind that go, ma-ma, and cry and stuff.”

Judy was silent a second. Then she said, “You heard that from down there?”

“Yep,” I said.

“That’s not good, Ed. I think you should stay away from this door. You might be tempted to go down there. That’s dangerous.”

“Why?”

“Asbestos. We never go down there anymore. That door down there’s supposed to be closed,” she said. Her voice echoed back from the darkness below. “Baby dolls in the dark. That’s creepy. Whew. Anyway Ed, Allison has something for you to try on. Let’s get away from painful death,” and she tugged at my right shoulder, pulling me out into the light.

The theatre was alive with sounds and conversation.

Where was everybody two minutes ago?

I followed Judy across the stage to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop. Allison was there with pants, shirt and boots for me to try. “These need to be worn up at the level of the navel,” she said.

“The naval navel,” I said. “Zing!”

I glanced at my phone and all jokes left my mind.

It was 5:17.

When I arrived, it was 4:30 (4:32, to be precise). My explorations of the theatre and its environs didn’t take more that fifteen minutes, but let’s say sixteen minutes in case I’m wrong. So that means it was 4:48 when I found those stairs to the basement, when I heard the broken, mechanized cry of the baby doll.

I lost time.

As far as I know, Judy spoke to me a couple seconds after I found the stairs. There’s no way I was standing there for roughly half an hour. I felt a daze settle over me as I began to gauge inner processes.

I was in a bad car accident in 2015. Whiplash plus head bang = multiple concussion points. It affected some things in my brain. I’ll keep the details to myself for now, but I can assure you: loss of time is entirely new. If anything, I’ve been more vigilant about time since the accident: I want to make sure I’m spending it in every best way after coming so close to breaking my hourglass.

“Edward? You okay? You look like you just remembered your funeral,” Allison was saying.

I laughed. “My coffin has cleared up, now all I’ve got is a runny nose.”

With a wave and a smile, I headed off to try on the pieces. They fit. I kept the boots on for rehearsal. I studied my lines, I had conversations, but all of it from a place of detached analysis.

As the evening progressed, I began to feel more normal. It was very simple: I spent more time exploring than I’d thought. It’s easy to lose track of time when engaged in mysteriousness. Nothing more than that.

As for the sound from the basement and the various sightings of Dolly Lurker, I have a clear explanation now: because I am the only one who has seen these things, I think these are random hallucinations, phantoms conjured by my brain as it’s healing. Add to that a bout of ghostly childhood trauma, and it’s quite possible that this is nothing more than a subconscious gas bubble rumbling up from the bog of my past. It will burst, it will stink, it will make me gag, but the air will clear.

I felt so relieved; I kept thinking, It’s a good thing I haven’t mentioned this to anyone.

We ran what we’d staged in Act I, continuing up to just past Younger Than Springtime.

I was getting ready to leave at the end of the night, putting my phone in my back right pocket, when I found it.

A card, high quality stock, slightly larger than a business card. A Celtic pattern embossed around the edges. A message in exquisite penmanship, from a fountain pen, in deepest indigo:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.