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Missy

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2015 at 7:42 am

I’m on The Drabble!

mother n childBy Edward Hightower

“Who’s doing wigs?”

“Missy Schwartz.”

“Thank God. The last one – ”

“Isn’t Missy your ex?”

“Define ex.”

“You know what we mean.”

“We dated. We’re on good terms.”

“You’ve got quite the reputation.”

“Do I?”

“Always coy, this one. Anyone wanna smoke?”

“Yes, let’s.”

“Okay, so we’re alone. Spill.”

“I got her sister pregnant.”

“That was you?”

“She miscarried.”

“Nope.”

“What?”

“She died. Missy adopted the kid.”

“Hi, guys!”

“Missy – ”

“Who’s that you got with you?”

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The Sound of Music: Act II, Scenes 5 – 7

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 9:16 pm

There’s a no cell phone / no tablet / no computer rule in the rehearsal space.

I broke it last night.

The reason for the rule is that it distances the cast and crew from one another; people spend all of their time buried in their devices. It’s certainly true: the cast of Spelling Bee at Berkeley Playhouse were all so connected that we didn’t necessarily connect as much as we could have. Who’s to say if we needed more in-person connection? It was a great production, one I am proud to list on my resume. But there were times backstage when, owing to my unpopularity in certain quarters of the world (home), I had no messages to respond to (or, more accurately, nobody was responding to my messages). As a result, I would accidentally begin one-sided conversations with the gentlemen in the dressing room, not realizing that they were hooked into their phones and wouldn’t be responding. This is something of which I was just as guilty when I would have some form of communication to which I could respond.

So the rule at Sierra Rep is one I fully embrace. I love it. And when I broke the rule last night, I was instantly chastised.

Here’s what happened: when I arrived, a question of trivia was raised that I could not immediately verify or refute, so I went to check Google right away, forgetting that there is no T-Mobile reception in Columbia, CA. So there it was: my phone couldn’t connect to the internet. But while I had it out, I wanted to look at the rehearsal schedule. For The Sound of Music.

“Hey, Edward? Could you put your phone away? Thanks.”

This from Scott Viets, Artistic Director of SRT and director of The Sound of Music. Utterly polite and professional.

“Oh! Of course, I apologize,” quoth I, turning the phone off and putting it away.

Boy did I feel like an assnugget. Haven’t felt that way in a while, and I’ll be honest: it stuck with me for a little bit. So I had to ask myself: why are you so stung by this? You knew the rule, you forgot, Scott was totally nice about it. What’s so special about you that you shouldn’t be reminded of the rule when it happens?

I couldn’t find an answer of any use, so I chalked it up to residual asshole on my part: the asshole who forgot the rule was still smarting from having been caught forgetting the rule. Ridiculous. Time to focus on the work. So I took my lines outside and started working on them.

Well, I started to take my lines outside. But as only those with regional reception can check their phones, everyone else is free to chat. So somewhere between the top of the stairs backstage and the stage door at the bottom of the stairs, I was shanghai’d into about ten conversations. By the time I made it outside, I had to pee. Then I was called to stage my portion of Act II, Sc. 6.

Gotta say: Act II, Sc. 6 is delicious for me. That is all.

After that was staged, I went outside and recorded my lines and blocking into my phone verbally, writing down what I’d missed as we staged it. After that, I went in to look for something and Drew asked if I’d like to run lines. So we ran his lines for a while, until he was called to stage something.

Which is when I went downstairs to find that Gretl’s dad had heard me say something about backpacking and had brought a map of the Carson-Iceberg/Emigrant & Mokelumne Wilderness Areas to show me where the best trailheads are.

He also told me where to get the map (Forest Service Office / Ranger Station), and where to find the Forest Service Office / Ranger Station (Greenley Road, Sonora).

Thus has my quest attained direction.

He even told me where there’s an awesome little cache in the woods, near a pond near a lake. That’s all I’m saying for now.

Something else splendid happened last night when I was sitting downstairs in the green room, but in order to tell you about it, I need to give a little backstory:

At the first read-through, I was sort of sitting across from Gretl. I made a joke about crocodiles. She just looked at me. Drew said to her, “You know what, I’m gonna give you a piece of advice: just don’t listen to anything he says. He’s very silly, and just about everything that comes out of his mouth is ridiculous.”

Now, that’s funny. And it might be true. But I’ve had someone tell a child actor that before, and the result was atrocious: when I played Guido in Nine, an actress said roughly the same thing to the kid playing Young Guido. So when he wouldn’t make eye contact with me AT ALL during the emotional climax / revelation of the show, I was trapped: this kid’s eyes were everywhere; floor, ceiling, wall, shoes, audience. I was trying to connect with a tiny Mad-Eye Moody, it wasn’t working, so I went to the director and asked him to talk to the kid. He said he would.

Next performance, nothing.

So before the performance after that I went to the kid and said, “Hey — did Ken talk to you?”

“About what?”

“Eye contact.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you know how in the last scene I’m singing to you about how I need to go off on my own?”

“Yeah …”

“You know what would really help me, would be if you would just look me in the eyes when I sing that.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you’re staring all over the place and you’re supposed to be my younger self, and since I’m talking to you it would really help me, as an actor, if you would just look me in the eyes — nowhere but my eyes — when I’m singing to you. Can you do that?”

“I guess so …”

“It would help a lot.”

He kind of sidled away and I crossed my fingers, but at that night’s performance he was tracking international moth competitions. I went to the director and asked if he could talk to the kid again. Turns out he’d forgotten.

Still nothing in the performance after that, so I went back to the actress who’d originally told the little shit not to listen to me. I explained the situation, and she called him over and said, “Okay, you know what? When I said that about not listening to him, I meant if he was being silly. But when he’s asking you about acting stuff, it’s important.”

Right about then, the director walked in, with his checklist. At the bottom of the list I saw, as he came over to the kid, was the kid’s name. He took him aside and reinforced everything we’d been saying, and for that performance (the final performance), the little shit looked me in the eyes. I got what I needed (emotional connection), the waterworks started, it was incredibly moving. It was the best performance, by far, of the run.

Would have been nice if he’d talked to the kid, oh, I don’t know … weeks ago.

Back to the first readthrough for SOM: Drew told Gretl to ignore me, and I said, “Wait a minute, though: if I say the building’s on fire, or watch out for that open trap door, I’m not kidding.”

“Umm, no, in those cases you should pay attention,” he said.

But it was too late. At the second rehearsal, Gretl told Marta, “Don’t listen to anything he says, Uncle Max says he’s silly.

But last night, Gretl’s dad told me she’d made a three-mile hike with him, easy. So after we staged Sc. 6 and we were all leaving the stage, I said to her, “Hey, Ruby. I hear you hiked three miles recently. That’s awesome.”

She stopped, turning, about to step off the stage onto the single-step cube that we’re using as a convenient (if unsafe) stair. “What?” she said.

“I hear you went on a three-mile hike. That’s awesome. Well done,” I said.

She just looked at me, silent, then stepped down and went to her seat. I wrote it off.

Later, however, when I was in the green room talking with her dad and the kids were on break, she walked by and whacked me on the shoulder: a single pat, almost a smack, but it was a silent greeting, a hello, an acknowledgement. It said, you’re people, I get you, I trust you, hi. No eye contact, not a word spoken. Just a whack on the shoulder as she passed, looking for her snack.

The simplest and most meaningful gesture I’ve ever experienced in my life. Probably nothing to her.

In these times it was a powerful, unexpected, reassuring moment. I’m still trying to work out why.

All I know is, I’m delighted that I wasn’t buried in my phone, cut off from the world around me. The asshole who was upset at being reminded of a rule would never have noticed that gesture.

Good rule, Scott. Thank you.

The Sound of Music: Act II, Sc. 1-4

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Last night we staged Act II, Scenes 1-4. I’m in Scene 4, at the very end, and wasn’t called until 6:30, but I rode down to Columbia with Drew and then walked around the town, playing tourist for a bit. Took some photos, as collaged below:Image

During rehearsal, there was some time when the Von Trapp children, sans Luisa, were all backstage, with little or no supervision. This is always worrisome, as there are powertools and kids are inquisitive / fearless. While I was waiting to go on, I noticed they were getting a little loud.

I step back there, “Hey, here’s a fun idea: how quiet can you be when you’re backstage?”

A three-foot blonde tornado named Grace says, “Hey! I’m as loud as I want: I’m a Sumo Wrestler, HUUUUUHHHHRRRRRRR!!!”

I ask, “Wow, is that part of your character preparation? Are you going to do that in the show?”

“Noooooo,” she laughs.

“I think you should. Opening night, you should just surprise everybody with a Sumo pas de deux.”

“Will you tell us about the Orange Juice again?” Grace says, her glasses magnifying her already large blue eyes.

“The what?”

“The Orange Juice — you come in and tell Uncle Max about the Orange Juice …”

Brigitta pipes up, “She means the Au Jus.”

“Oh, you’re talking about the Anschluss?” I say.

“Yeah!” now a bunch of the Von Trapp whelplings gather around me as Grace says, “What is that?”

“It means connection or annexation,” I say. “It’s what happened when Germany basically took over Austria. It’s the reason people start hanging Nazi flags everywhere, and it’s eventually why you guys have to leave the country.”

Chorus of informed, “Ooohhhhhh.”

Grace says, “Say it again!”

“Anschluss.”

“Orange juice, orange juice!”

“Shhh,” says Brigitta.

“Who do you play in the show?” I ask Grace.

“Marta.”

“I’m sorry, did you say you play Farta?”

“No! I play Marta! Marta, with an ‘M’!” she says, and Gretl and Brigitta gather closer.

“What’s your last name in the show?” I ask.

“Von Trapp, don’t you listen?”

“Of course I do — so … your name is Farta Von Crapp?”

Laughter, shocked eyes and whispers of, “He said a bad word …”

Grace says, “Oh yeah? Well, your new nickname is Crappy! Crappy Jenkins!”

Best. New. Nickname. Ever.

The Sound of Music at Sierra Repertory Theatre

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I’m spending the Summer of 2014 working at Sierra Repertory Theatre (SRT) in Sonora, CA. If you know my work, you know that there are two roles I would ordinarily play in this show. But I didn’t audition for it, back when they had auditions — I don’t even know when that was. This production was not on my radar. What I did do, was contact the AD about a production of Spelling Bee that they’re doing in the Autumn. Having recently — and successfully, I might add — played Panch in Spelling Bee in Berkeley, I sought to parlay that experience into being cast up here later in the year.

SRT said they’d love to see video of my stuff in the show. I said, absolutely. I asked Berkeley Playhouse if I could get some video of my audience interactions, and they said, essentially, we’ve already got video — what do you need? So I told them, and I got the video. They were lovely about it.

Sadly, my video editing skills are nil. I did not succeed at getting trimmed video clips to SRT in time, and I wrote it off as a sacrifice to the Gods of Timing. Then, some weeks ago, Scott Viets contacted me and asked if I was interested in reading for Herr Zeller in The Sound of Music (SOM).

For those of you who don’t know, Herr Zeller is the Nazi who tries to strong-arm Captain Von Trapp into joining the Nazi Navy. What Scott said he was looking for was, a real German dialect and a genuinely intimidating presence. He also said they needed a video asap — probably remembering that my other video never arrived.

Let me be clear: dialects and presence are my meat and potatoes, my cup of tea, my MO and my MA. I love dialects. I love playing the “bad guy” (I put this phrase in quotes because my villains always believe they are heroes). I love combining all of the above, and I just love playing Nazis. Reason being: is there a more immediately evil character than a Nazi? Nope. So, really, the uniform does all my work for me. All I have to do is pursue my wants with life-or-death stakes, and everything’s superb. No reason to play “evil,” and charm can be chilling.

So, one night after we got home from an A’s game (at which, it should be noted, they kicked the Angels’ collective ass), I threw on some un-summery clothes and created this little gem. I share it for amusement only. I made about ten or fifteen versions, and that’s the one with the fewest fuckups. As you can see, there are some moments when the pauses are too long and I have to fill them with schmacting, the camera angle is wrong and emphasizes my gut. I’m sure there are other problems, not least of which is the hiccup at the end. By the time I shot this one, it was after 1 am and I was tired.

Uploaded the video, submitted it to Viets at SRT, and within an hour of its arrival he called to offer me the job.

A miracle, I tell you. Couldn’t have come at a better time. Long story, there: best saved for another day.

Fast-forward over the following events: paid off outstanding fines from traffic violation, got new license, new car battery, SMOG check one [fail!], oil change, two attempted diagnoses of failed! SMOG check lead to my usual SMOG check place who — SMOG check two — PASSED! my car (they had no explanation for why the other place failed it, everything passed just fine), paid registration at DMV, got insurance and, BOOM: my car is running, insured, registered and splendid.

Sure, right now it leaks oil like a sieve.

Sure, right now it leaks steering fluid like a sieve going over Niagara. In a barrel. Made of sieves.

But it’s a 1988 Honda Accord with 134,000 miles on it. DONE! This is my forever car until I can afford a hybrid bio-diesel Honda campervan. No, those don’t exist.

Yet.

So I drove up here on Tuesday, arriving in Sonora around 10:30 am. Checked into my housing (delightful, more on that later), and attended the my first rehearsal, which was a read-through with the full company.

There is one other actor staying in the same house as me. His name is Drew Boudreau, he plays Max Dettweiler in SOM and he’s hilarious. Hire him, now. We carpooled to and from the first read, and on the way back I had to state the obvious, “You, sir, are hilarious.”

He said, “And you, sir, are fucking terrifying. I’m sitting there, as a Jew, shaking in my shoes.”

Laughing in delight, I said, “You’re Jewish?”

“Yes! And you’re asking them about their electricity and I’m having fight-or-flight reactions to the guy who’s staying in the next room.

Every time I think about this, I chuckle.

So far, things could be worse.

Spelling Bee: First Rehearsal

In Theatre, Uncategorized on April 25, 2014 at 8:06 pm

March 8, 2014
Thoughts on my first rehearsal for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Berkeley Playhouse, as dictated to my phone while moving my car during a break at rehearsal. I will include both what my phone perceived and my attempt at translation, followed by elucidation as needed. Enjoy.

“Thoughts on my first rehearsal for spelling bee Playhouse, largely based on well everything. The cast appears all to be under 30, possibly even under 25. I feel like a dinosaur. I’m wearing plaid vest red tie navy blue shirt weather double batch the next AM., is that matters is that I feel so old in this cast I think I could I’m old enough to be something simple father.”

The cast appears all to be under 30, possibly even under 25. I feel like a dinosaur. I’m wearing a charcoal plaid vest, red tie, navy blue shirt. Overdressed. Will have to slob it up over the next couple months. This is a new experience for me: I feel so old in this cast, I think I’m old enough to be their father.

“The directors very attractive.”

The director seems to be a lovely human being. That always helps. I say “seems” because I have made the mistake of believing first impressions in the past, and it did not turn out well for me. So, I’m cautious. But she really does seem to be awesome. Time will tell, and I will trust with a grain of salt.

“I’m determined to be on my best behavior in this cast, but generally that’s true of every cast I will try to come apart. At the moment always comes when I make jokes that actually, it doesn’t always come. But it could come. And since I suspect that the majority of my doctors last year for from 510, and specifically Berkeley California, then I am cautious about making jokes. So dot dot dot its tricky.”

I’m determined to be on my best behavior in this cast, but generally that’s true of every cast of which I become a part. And the moment always comes when I make jokes that upset or offend someone. It doesn’t always come, actually. But it could come. And since I suspect that the majority of my cast hail from the 510, and specifically Berkeley, California, then I am cautious about making jokes. So … it’s tricky. I always assume that Theatre People will get my jokes, will be entertained by my schtick. Apparently, however, I am an acquired taste. Having been attacked and vilified by complete strangers — in a Theatre group — on Facebook, I am cautious. I will try to stay silent, say nothing, interact with nobody. That is a very difficult challenge, because I’ve hardly left the house since last May. I feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe thrust into a garden party.

“Interesting the first two musical numbers reversed are considered group members in which I do not appear to sing it note I have spoken words with them and I suppose it was good that I was there, but. No focus is given to my aunts music is fun absolutely fine, not necessarily I’m entering the cafe close email goodbye.”

Interesting: the first two musical numbers we rehearsed are “group numbers” — in which I do not appear to sing a note. I have spoken words within one of them and I suppose it was good that I was there, but: thus far, no actual focus is given to my material in the music. Which is absolutely fine, we had a lot of material to cover. Panch does not sing anywhere within the score. I hope that we’ll get them nailed down before it gets stressful. I can already feel how peripheral I am to this production. I’m entering the cafe across the street to refresh my beverage before returning to rehearsal, so I will close this email and say goodbye.

***

Interesting to note how accurate some of this was.
As of this writing, we have two weeks left. The reviews are all stellar, and there are currently some cheap tickets available via Goldstar: http://www.goldstar.com/e/81887

NaNoWriMo WINNER!

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

As of sometime between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Wednesday, November 20, I passed the goal of 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. I did this at a blessedly quiet write-in at the Livermore Public Library. It was at this write-in that I made some other writers laugh for the first time, won a lobster (who even now is nesting in the left hand pocket of my vintage French military greatcoat), and met a NaNo who is the embodiment of the human incarnation of the Last Unicorn. I also learned that there was a write-in the following Thursday — as in, the very next night — at the Panera in Dublin, CA.

Now, everyone in my region had received messages from our NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons about these things, but sometimes an event doesn’t quite seem real until one finds others who are planning to attend. So I frothed myself up and attended the Panera Write-In the very next night.

I think I got one sentence written. It was not an evening of writing. From what I understand, these Panera Write-Ins are perhaps more dedicated earlier in the month. And apparently they’re also year-round. Since that night, I have attended one more Panera Write-In, and the majority of the group was playing Munchkin. That’s an awesome game. I was entertained as I ate a tasty sandwich.

No writing done.

Clearly this is an issue of self-discipline. I should go to these and sequester myself behind a house of cards. Perhaps adding a team of trained sea otters who will cavort at my command and distract the other writers. Blah, blah, blah. It would distract me, too. Only a few of these writers seem to have the discipline to write while a game of Munchkin is going on. I must find a way to do this. The two most obvious assistances are music and headphones; I have headphones and a superb playlist on Spotify. Unfortunately, the WiFi connection at Panera in Dublin seems spotty at best.

My computer does not like having a lot of sound files in it, as I learned when I produced an audiobook through ACX.com. So I’ll have to tinker a bit. And none of this should really matter terribly much, because I won NaNoWriMo. I still need to finish my novel and edit it, but I am a winner. In spite of the fact that of my grand plans to get a bunch of extra writing done on specific days didn’t really come to any form of juicy fruition.

Here’s why:
1) Between Day 3 and Day 4 I jumped from 8,000-ish words to 12,000-ish words; by Day 6 I was holding steady at 15,000-ish words; on Day 9 I jumped to 25,125 words.
1a) Here’s why: on November 6 I started not mowing lawns for nothing resembling a living, as well as never helping out with the cleanup and prep of a house here in Livermore that needed to be put on the market asap. So on 11/6, 7, 8 I wasn’t tearing shelving out of a garage, mowing lawns, using a leaf blower for the first time (fun!), and doing all sorts of other stuff that has blended together in my memory as a gasoline-scented montage of hunger fumes and Red Bull. So when Saturday, November 9 rolled around, with its all-day Write-In, I was at the computer by 7 am and wrote until we stopped to watch some Dr. Who around 7 pm; when the show was over and my lovely fiancée went to sleep, I wrote until just before midnight.
1b) Having lost entire days, you see, to not working outdoors and prepping that house for sale, I was very worried that I would not make my goals. So the days when I leapt forward by several thousand words were days that followed periods of exhaustion and near inactivity. Turns out I have a smidgen of self-discipline, as long as I make it clear to certain people (Maxwell and the fiancée) that I need an entire day, and that there shall be no Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on the television during that time. The leap to 25,125 words kept me well above my goals for the rest of the month. By Day 16, I was over 42,000 words. (This should have been exhilarating. However, it became clear to me at that juncture that I was not going to finish the novel by the time November 30 rolled around, and I began to freak out a little bit. I wanted to finish the novel, not just meet the goal. Alas, my story does not fit into a tidy, tiny 50,000-word format. And when I realized this, I felt like a complete failure. Ridiculous, no?)

Even though I had surpassed my goals and had the beginnings of something fabulous on my hands, I was convinced I had somehow failed. I posted embarrassing things on Facebook, along the lines of: “I’m already at 42,000 words halfway to the deadline, and there’s no way my novel will be complete by the end of the month! WAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Laughable as it is, I was seriously distraught. And the root of my distress I found buried in a box of confusion at the crossroads of the NaNoWriMo Goal and My Personal Yardstick Of Success. I was trying to write 150,000 words in 30 days. And that’s quite possible. I may have done so if I’d not been not mowing lawns. But my unemployment checks are tiny — well under Minimum Wage, if one calculates the amount of time I have been putting in to job searches [prior to NaNo] and considers the checks payment for that time, which is how I like to think of it — and without my work outdoors last month, we’d have been short my half of the rent. So the work I was doing was useful. And what I realized was this: people who are fully employed and / or in school and still manage to get 50,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 or even 5,000 words written in a month are the real winners.

An unemployed actor who occasionally doesn’t mow some lawns and has oodles of time on his hands? Meh. No big surprise.

By mid-November I was getting notices from EDD that they were going to cut off my meagre supply of money. I started putting more things up for sale on Craigslist.

Nothing sold. I stopped applying for jobs and figured I’d just keep mowing lawns and writing.

Then, sometime around 11/24-ish, I received a notice from EDD that they would still be paying me. I filled out the form and was about to put it into the envelope when I noticed an X in a box with a phrase near it, the gist of which was: bitch, you’d better offer proof that you’re applying for jobs! Because we watch, motherfucker, and you haven’t been on our shitty website searching for jobs in weeks!”

Commence frantic search of e-mails for proof of jobs applied for: company, contact info., person contacted, etc. Results: many applications, no responses. Even though in my mind I had utterly stopped, the difference was this: I had stopped signing onto CalJobs to look for work, because their website is creaky and clunky and counter-intuitive. I am pleased to have found enough applications made during November to fill in those early weeks.

However, I didn’t get any responses from several of the places to which I applied. Some of them should have been automatic, given my resume (big fish) and their overall talent pool (shallow). I’m not being conceited here, friends, this is actually something I’ve done in the past and have revived of late in order to keep my chops up: audition for small companies who can’t afford to pay me a living wage.

It may be kind of a dick move when one considers the torment to which I will possibly subject some of the directors, but here’s the thing you don’t know about theatre companies: in order to be able to survive at all, just about every established small / community theatre company has at least one person to whom they can go when they need the money for an emergency expense. If the director wants an actor badly enough, and the actor can’t do the job without a living wage, there is occasionally a secret agreement reached whereby the actor appears to take the same piddling $250 stipend as the rest of the cast, when in actuality she is getting a living wage.

This doesn’t happen everywhere. But it’s how I’ve made much of my living since 2007.  Of course, if the director is not impassioned in her argument, and if the backer is a dick, and if the theatre company is poorly managed, and if there’s a butterfly in a rain forest who hates Sondheim, I probably won’t get a living wage from the small company for which I auditioned this past Saturday.

That audition only happened because I sent a second e-mail with headshot and resume attached, along with a polite post-script inquiring about the earlier e-mail. So I have sent several similar e-mails in the past week or so, and have learned that many of the missives I sent in the early weeks of November just did not arrive.

Mercury Retrograde much? Maybe not. You’d be surprised how many butterflies hate Sondheim.

In the meantime, I am signing up for general auditions galore and looking at a local Masters Program in Holistic Psychology. We’ll see what happens. Auditions and rehearsals take time away from writing.

[Did you read this? Are you a human being? Consider commenting below. Many thanks!]

Fascinating Bots

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Every like and follow I’ve had on here seems to be a bot.

Am I wrong? Are you real?

Comment, please.

Searching for Sibley

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 7:12 am

My nephew came with my fiancee and I yesterday in search of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. In my mind, it was in Berkeley somewhere above the Lawrence Hall of Science. I don’t trust my GPS to get me to the right spot these days, so I thought I should ignore it and ask my nephew, a Berkeley High (keyword: high) alumnus. He said he knew how to get there. So we went to Berkeley, took a right on Claremont and climbed the tiny, winding, steep streets in the fiancee’s 2010 Honda Civic until the nephew deemed it appropriate to turn left. This initial left turning was at the intersection of Claremont Avenue, Fish Ranch Road and Grizzly Peak Blvd.

Locals will know that we were wrong. Chuckle at our expense as you read further: it seemed to me that we were headed in the right direction. However, at the moment when the nephew said to turn right and we’d be there, I couldn’t help but notice that we were driving into Tilden. Not Sibley.

My first clue came from the sign that said STEAM TRAINS, before we even reached the official entrance. There is only one park with Steam Trains in the East Bay Hills: Tilden. We drove toward the golf course, ended up back on Grizzly Peak Blvd., and I realized that we were indeed in the wrong region. “Take Grizzly Peak,” I said. “Back toward that crossroads where we left Claremont. I know where to go, now.”

The fiancee did just that. I followed our progress on the GPS. It told me, eventually, that we were inside Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. I watched us drive over the double red lines of the Caldecott Tunnel. Right around the time that we reached the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Skyline, I became frustrated and re-set the GPS to take us to Sibley. Following its instructions, we then took a circuitous, labyrinthine course through the residential streets below Grizzly Peak and Skyline, eventually ending up back on Grizzly Peak, heading back to the first crossroads of Claremont, Fish Ranch and Grizzly Peak. This time, still following the GPS instructions, we turned right on Fish Ranch Road. It took us down the back side of the ridge to the Orinda side of the Caldecott Tunnel, over the tunnel to … a creepy back entrance to the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. We followed the road a little further past a parking area on what I have since learned was the eastern approach of the original tunnel, known variously as the Kennedy Tunnel, the Inter-County Tunnel or the Broadway Tunnel. Before seeing that road and getting curious about it, I had been told — and believed — that this tunnel was originally part of the pre-BART Key System.

The Key System, for those of you who don’t know, was a system of electronic trains and streetcars that served the East Bay and, to the best of my knowledge, connected with various other local electric streetcars and trains in the greater Bay Area (I’ll update this as I learn more). The lower deck of the Bay Bridge originally had two railroad tracks on the south side for this specific purpose. (My mother used to take those trains to San Francisco with her friend Barbara. They smoked cigarettes and were tres tres chic.) GM pulled some major shenanigans in the late 1950’s, basically buying the Key System through a front company, replacing its board of directors with GM cronies, and cutting back service until they’d replaced everything with buses. For a more detailed history, check here. Guess who fought this transition? Every city council in the East Bay. Guess who won?

If you’re the kind of person who likes moving pictures (and if I have whetted your appetite with all these words of electric trains), you might enjoy this short film.

So: the old tunnel is said to have been open to pedestrians after the Caldecott Tunnel opened in 1937, but closed in 1947 for safety reasons. This is fascinating to me, because I know that my older brothers were exploring the old tunnel as recently as the early 1970’s. Apparently the western end has been completely sealed — we drove right past it in our GPS-led wild goose chase — but the exact condition of the eastern end of the old tunnel remains, as of this writing, a mystery.

Attentive readers will ask the question, “How is it a mystery if you were on the eastern side of the ridge, on Old Tunnel Road?” Thank you for being attentive, attentive readers. The answer is simple: the approach to the tunnel is fenced off, as that area is controlled by the East Bay Regional Parks District. And since the original purpose of our quest was to explore the Sibley Volcanic Preserve, we parked near that back entrance and started walking up a very well-paved road.

Friends, sometimes I have trouble breathing. This was the case a ways up that road, so we turned back to the car and I talked the nephew and the fiancee into indulging me: “You have to pee, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet, let’s find the entrance I was actually looking for.” By the time we reached the Skyline Boulevard entrance to Sibley, my lungs were doing just fine. Here’s the kicker: when I reverted to the GPS for directions at the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Skyline an hour or so before, we were literally a couple hundred yards from the Skyline entrance to Sibley. Annoyed as I was at having chased the wild goose via my fuckmook GPS, I now know many things of which I was previously unaware. Thanks, Garmin! You suck, but it’s educational.

I felt amazing after our sunset hike, but the entire reason that I wanted to go to Sibley was to do some research for Notes From The Future. There is a specific entry that uses Sibley, but I had never actually been there before yesterday. I had used the Interwebs to get a view of Mt. Diablo from the Berkeley / Oakland hills, and thanks to our friends at Google Maps, I was able to get a general idea of how things would look.

Specificity is preferable to generalization. And, while we made quite a nice bit of progress into Sibley, we were forced to return to the car when the sun had set. I was unable to reach the spot I sought, thanks in large part to the educational tour led by our GPS. So I will be heading back there this week, with plenty of water for Maxwell and a camera for tasty goodness. Any local geologists care to join me? I’m just a little bit obsessed with geology and volcanology and will make you talk for hours.

[Update: Apparently there is a separate tunnel, known as the Train Tunnel, somewhere on or near Pinehurst Road. I have yet to see or even approach either end of that tunnel, but will make a point of exploring a bit next time I’m in the vicinity. Perhaps that was the tunnel my brothers explored. From what I understand, it is just as thoroughly sealed as the Kennedy Tunnel.]

Specific Exploration

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

It’s a warm early October day here in Livermore. My nephew came out here from Oakland yesterday and spent the night. We’ve been drinking espresso and eating breakfast and discussing new Magic decks while listening to John Lewis’ J.S. Bach: Preludes and Fugues. Various obligations we’ve had for the day have evaporated and as of now (1:08 pm), it seems that all of our horizons are clear and we are free to do whatever we please. It’s a bit of a shock, actually. The general consensus is, “Now what?”

I have something I want to do, and my plan is to talk the fiancee and the nephew into it. The main obstacle is the price of gas. Getting the fiancee to commit to any leisure activity that requires major expenditures for gasoline is problematic, at best. I can’t use the argument that it’s research for my blog — which it definitely is — because I don’t earn any money from the blog. You would think, with over sixteen thousand pageviews, I could earn some money. But Google hath decreed that my blog is adult in nature (because my characters and I all swear a great deal), and that I am therefore ineligible for monetization of the blog. So that argument is not going to work. I’ll have to come up with something else.

What I want to do is go for a drive. On a very specific road, South of Livermore. It’s an incredibly beautiful drive, and I’d be able to take some pictures for reference. Maybe that’s the argument. I could also show her some spots of which I’ve spoken to her in the past, places she’s never seen, on a road branching off of the main road. I can honestly tell you that she will not be terribly interested in these things. Maybe I can convince her to let me take the nephew on this journey of discovery. That might be just the tactic, but it again involves gas, which means money. Right now, things are tight.

The fiancee never wants me to write about our financial status. It makes her very angry. I’m supposed to “just not mention it,” even though it is absolutely central to every single thing we do, central to my decision to turn down every theatrical job I’m offered that doesn’t pay a living wage (which is all of them), central to every moment of our lives. It’s the source of the tension which causes her to grind her teeth in her sleep, the source of the tension which has wound around our relationship like a creeping, choking vine — strangling light, happiness, comfort and overall pleasant demeanor. She broods about money. Broods about it. I’ve always felt that a positive attitude will get one further than dark, angry obsessing. Perhaps I’m wrong. But she has yet to embrace my approach, and I always manage to pull money out of a hat at the last possible moment when we’re desperate.

I’ve got some writing plans that could expand into other areas of late, but of course they require attention and completion. Getting these sorts of things done can be tricky while socializing. I’ve begun to feel that I am losing too much time during the day if I’m not writing something. (I have this time right now because the nephew is in the shower.) There was a time when I would meet three days a week with some filmmaker cohorts, but since they moved in together we basically never meet. And since many of those meetings ended up being nothing more than pleasant, coffee-fueled debates, I look back on them with the distinct feeling of opportunity missed.

To be clear: I do not begrudge the nephew or the fiancee or anyone else my social time. I simply ache to get something written, to get at least 2,000 words of fiction saved, before I go and do something else. I also understand that balance is essential — one needs to get out of the house and do other things. I have been the charismatic housebound introvert for months, now. Perhaps a day simply out and about is all I need.

Here’s an idea: I’ll record the day. An audio recording to be transcribed and fictionalized, adapted to one or more 2,000 word short stories. Then it’s totally justifiable. Which, ah, now opens my mind to the possibilities I’d forgotten in these last months: every social interaction is a possible short story. I’ve been holed up here in front of this computer or my typewriter since May. It hasn’t been healthy, but it has occasionally been productive.

I need to go to some parties. Preferably raging topless bacchanalia. I’ll add that to the shopping list.

 

My Other Blog

In Uncategorized on October 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm

So I have another blog, on another site. That blog is made up of three things:

1. The remnants of my MySpace blog which, for obvious reasons, I am no longer writing.

2. Pieces about Theatre, be they fictionalized or embarrassingly specific.

3. Notes From The Future (NFTF), a novel I’ve been sharing episodically since April, 2012.

Here’s where you can find my blog: http://ewhightower.blogspot.com

I write about this here because the whole reason I started a WordPress blog was so that I could transfer NFTF to what I feel is a better platform. (If you follow the link at the bottom of the first episode of Notes From The Future on my home page, you will find the rest of the series. Be warned: they are interspersed with further musings on theatre and art and such.) The logical question at this point is: why haven’t I transferred NFTF here, yet?

There are a couple of reasons, both centered around laziness. The first is that I’m lazy, and the second is that I’m almost finished with what I would call Part I of NFTF, and it is my intention, once finished, to remove NFTF from the Interwebs and sing a juicy song as I edit it for actual printed novel form. Editing = rewriting, and having to cut and paste the whole thing into WordPress and then take it down to rewrite seems like a large task this late in the game. Essentially, laziness strikes again.

I’m keeping this note brief so that I can focus on finishing Part I (I have four episodes to go! Woo-hoo!), but I welcome your thoughts, O Readers: where would you put your energy at this point? Do you have anything tasty to sip that you’d like to bring over and brew up for me while I write? Are you OCD and would you clean my house just for the privilege of listening to me type all day? Do you think I’m a talentless fuck who should keep applying for day jobs and stop writing this instant? (If that’s so, you’re wrong and can fuck off. Ha. I’m laughing at you fucking off.) Should I just have more sex and forget about writing or employment?

Okay, my Sparklies. Back to work.

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