Sunday, June 19, 2016

They Didn't Have So Much As A Parking Ticket

"Orlando" has happened. I find myself using the word "again" to describe the act of one person, armed with one or more guns, firing said weapons into a crowd of unsuspecting bystanders, killing in a high, high ratio.

This time (holy merde, this time) it's scores dead, scores wounded - over a hundred people involved in this act taken by one guy.

I remember how hard it was to accept that one guy could shoot and kill one sitting President, and the conspiracy theories still abound to this day - but it's happening over and over again with huge loses of life at this point. Right now, we appear to be in the midst of a syndrome - guy gets gun, guy has issues, guy shoots a whole mess of people who don't even see him coming. Men, women, children. Hell, a whole elementary school full of children - it hasn't mattered.

One guy, with guns. And issues. Blammo, people dead.

I find myself thinking of my mother. I do that often, comparing the challenges I face with what I know she dealt with. And she had, believe me.

Mom, first off, was a nurse. She went through nurse's training during WWII, 1941 when you couldn't even be married. She was, of course. She'd married Dad on a three-day pass in Kansas City, and she went back to school under her maiden name and nobody knew. She kept it a secret for two years, even from her parents. Mom wanted to be a nurse. Mom wanted to be married. In her mind, the two weren't incompatible. It was just what other people thought that was the problem.

If they didn't know, it didn't matter.

So she didn't tell anyone. And voila, she was both! Hadn't hurt a soul, and it turned out to be a good decision. Mom was true to herself, at the expense of being honest - a fair trade.

That appears to have been the case through most of her life. Mom was a GI Generation, 110% Danish-American, "Where's Mine?" health care worker. (That made life an interesting place when AIDS showed up, believe me. "Mom, they're talking about putting people in concentration camps!" "They'd better not - I'll be the first one through the gates!" "MOM!") I can remember hearing table talk between her and some of her co-worker friends about topics leading from contraception (Roe v. Wade happened when I was still in elementary school), motorcycles (you didn't say that word around her, Mom worked ICU at a district hospital before California had a mandatory helmet law on the books) to homosexuality. Yup. Even before Roe v. Wade, I got an education about being gay, but I seriously doubt you're in the ballpark about how.

Mom worked nights - 11:00 to 7:30 AM, getting home in time to see us kids off to school (it started at 8:00 or so, if I remember right). If something bad happened, she was late getting home. We had overnight sitters at that point (Dad had died in 1967, Mom went back to work full time in 1968 and wouldn't retire until the mid naughties in her seventies), and about 1972 or so (it's hard to place, nobody but me remembers it anymore), Mom was late getting home. And she was livid and heartbroken in the same breath, and it was one of those mornings that stay with you forever.

My sister, being the year older, was really good at getting to the heart of the matter quickly - what happened, Mom? Why did they do that? She was good at getting explanations out of Mom, but that morning it was as if she'd given Mom permission to tell. Tell everything, because it was so wrong.

She was late because she'd had to make arrangements for a funeral. A 67-year old man had to have help making arrangements because his 64 year-old partner had died suddenly and there was no legal next of kin he could call in to do it. At that point, neither of them had any family still speaking to them and there was nobody to call in to help. I suspect Mom had even had to call more than one mortuary before someone would take him. This is all before AIDS, mind you. This is even before herpes showed up. There's no risk of contracting a disease, no risk of being "turned" this way or that, nobody (at least us kids, then) really discussed being attracted to member of your own gender. You had friends, you had best friends and you fell in love and sometimes, you did all three with someone of the opposite gender. The idea of doing that with someone of your own gender was a new one for me - but why was it wrong?

"It's not," I remember hearing Mom say. "They did nothing wrong. They didn't have so much as a parking ticket!"

But Mom had to make the arrangements. People had found out, you see. They could then do whatever they liked to those poor souls, and Mom was livid. They had done nothing wrong.

It wasn't that they were wrong for being gay. It was what the world did to them, could do to them - that was what Mom objected to the most, and it was what she guarded us from as much as she could.

Don't marry outside your race. Are you having sex with that boy? No? Are you gay? No?

It wasn't what I was doing. It was what the world would do to me when it found out - if I was something the world objected to. Mom knew.

Mom had known the value of keeping your true self hidden. There was safety there. You got a lot for passing - take you pick what, in her day it was everything from marital status on down.

Today, we tell. We express our genders, we come out, we take pride - use whatever language you want. We are visible and we let those freak flags fly loud and proud and I couldn't be happier to see it. When has any of us been less than perfect, less that totally in line with the CW of the day? Wear those colors that clash, mismatch the shoes, skirts or pants - who cares? Love as you will, as you can, deeply and fully and who among us can say no? It's wonderful, and wild and amazing. Also - no threat to anyone. No danger whatsoever.

But we haven't come that far when the world can still do what it wants to those it doesn't accept. It only takes one guy, when they can get a weapon that makes them lethal far out of ratio to the population they live in.

This is what Mom feared for us. Homosexuality, race, ethnicity, religious belief - none of it - was either right or wrong - it was what the world would do to us. Being a different race. A different faith.

Somewhere in the world, there's someone who will do awful things because. Just, because. They found out.

(God just doesn't do enough for these guys - God doesn't zot people, after all. If there was ever proof that God loved unconditionally, it was in the face of doing absolutely nothing when we hate each other so vehemently, we're willing to kill over it. God doesn't take sides, but remains when we come to our senses, in my honest opinion. Those folks that have a wind-up God they point at other people when they need a reason - I don't get it.)

God won't end Them - well, then. Go get a weapon and do it yourself.

This is where the work needs to go - not in the tolerances, the acceptances, the coming outs and demonstrations. We need to go after the world that does things to people it can't accept existing. They are coming in ones, these days. Handfuls. Maybe.

You out them. And you call them wrong.

The world that would eliminate those it disagreed with for existing hasn't gotten the same attention, and now it has to.

People are different. Tell. It's wrong to fear the world. It's an incredible place, and we get so much more out of it when we rejoice in its diversity. Find those singular people who hate, and out them. It's right to live and let live, and it is wrong to deny people that right. And tell - by the way. Tell, with no fear. We will have come a long way beyond my mother's day when that happens.

And that's what I remember.

For the record, I'm not qualified to speak to race, being as very, very White as I am. You want to speak to race, speak to a person of color and listen up. I can speak to knowing that only when you can pass, you can be safe and that shit's gotta end. End the idea that if you don't like it, it has to go instead of your fool notions about it. So there. Nyah.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I'm not a private person.

And that might not come as a shock, reading this blog entry on the internet – and I’ll probably cross post this a number of places including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, having a number of choices to choose from, either to opt-in or out. The hits will likely be under the thousand mark, at least initially and if anyone actually sees this, it will be because I dragged them over here.

I’m not paying for a service to “lead people to my site,” I don’t make money by selling ads or hoping to increase my internet presence by doing this and there generally is little motivation for doing this other than just putting the words down because to me – they matter. If I get paid in any currency for this, it’s for the simple pleasure of knowing someone liked what I wrote enough to get to the end of post.

I get paid money to do other things, for other people. It includes writing, but there it’s a means to an end. I do it well, I do it consistently and people are grateful for it.

But I don’t come over here and throw words down every day, hoping to get attention. That does not mean I’m a private person who never speaks out – quite the opposite.

I grew up under some very specific conditions, and it left marks.

Ever been inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles? The capacity for that venue is over 18,000 seats, hovering around 20,000 with the high water mark being 20,820 people in one place, at once time.

To find that many people in or near the town I was born in, you would have had to cull a radius of over 500 miles – and that is every man, woman and child. Put them in one place. That’s the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco, laid out in one long line. You’d have to search that far to find as many people as you would find one night at the Staples Center, near me while I growing up.

I was born in a very small town, so small we didn’t even have a McDonald’s in it until I was in high school. So small there was only one school district, one junior high school, one high school. There was one junior college, and the nearest university was over thirty miles away. The only radio signal you could pick up was AM radio, and that rather badly – so I didn’t have much access to contemporary music, and completely floored people when I didn’t know much about progressive rock until I was in college. I know a ton about big band music – but very little about heavy metal. Cable television didn’t happen at all until I was out of elementary school, and satellites belonged to NASA and that’s all the access (ie, NONE) I’d have to them.

Very few people were my age too. In high school, the median age was 65. (Today, it’s 39.) Growing up, people upwards of 75 were still behind cash registers, shopping in the grocery stores, running small businesses and driving on the roads (ghad help us). They were the majority then, and I did mention my depth in big band music? I listened to as many 78rpm discs as I did 45rpm ones, my musical introduction was equal parts Beatles and George Gershwin. Baby boom? Not as far as I knew.

There was no internet. Ham radio was the stuff of dreams, being out of reach for a single parent family with four children – long distance phone calls were made very rarely, only at need and never by you. I remember when I discovered I could call information for free and get phone numbers for people in other states, and as a teenager that meant I was actually talking to operators living near them. I remember listening for the first time to people speaking with mid-Atlantic, Southern accents and being absolutely rapt. I couldn’t find enough addresses fast enough. Was I actually able to call anyone? Nope.

But I was actually able to talk to someone who didn’t live next door to me, and that was huge.

That, plus a professor in my first years of college who insisted I develop a “nose for news” practically ensured I would never be bored with people. New people? More people? That meant new perspectives, experiences and interests. Maybe someone who was a little more like me, who couldn’t get enough science fiction (but really never got Star Wars). I was the only Star Trek fan I knew until a copy of Star Trek Lives! fell into my hands in high school, and I contacted the Star Trek Welcommittee. I found other people, all over the world and I could write to them (and they would write back!). I started corresponding with other writers, found someone who lived near me willing to take me with them to conventions. This tiny little place I’d lived in finally got bigger than the ten square miles I could cover on foot or with my bicycle.

Well prepared for nobody to be like me. That was fine! Who are you, and what are you like?

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was the saving of me.

And being immersed in science fiction first – this is the community of the mid to late seventies, in full flower of the sexual revolution, speculative and as far out there as possible. If I wanted a place to experiment with a different point of view, there weren’t many places that would have encouraged that, insisted on it frankly, than that one.

I doubt I noticed. To me, these were the people I knew and the person my mother trusted with my teenage person had recently been a Catholic nun. I had been schooled on what One Didn’t Do with strangers by no other than Marion Zimmer Bradley (and that’s a story for another day) – if I’d been sheltered, I certainly didn’t stay that way past sixteen.

Who are you. What are you interested in. Share? Is okay?

And this is what I think. You?

I had no reason to keep anything hidden. One, I had nothing to hide and two, you don’t ask (or state your position), you don’t get anything back.

Today, this combination gets me in dutch on social media like nobody’s business. See, I really love people. And I have no reluctance to discuss anything. New people are like grab bags to me – you can’t tell what’s inside until you open them up, and while you might not love everything you get, you never know what you’re going to get, and that’s fun. Real fun. If you’re willing to deal with whatever you find, it’s no gamble at all. Imagine the possibilities.

Politically, I’m a moderate. I probably have the reputation over on Facebook of being that person who never bans or stops trolls from being…well, trolls. Frankly, most of the time I report or share something over there just to see what discussion develops. (But I do use those moderator tools, you might just not see it. You start out with epithets, you are likely going to get deleted.)

I am grateful unto death for Facebook, frankly. I have found so many people I thought I’d lost forever.

I’ve been called out “why did you SAY that?” and the best I can offer is a blank stare. I said it because I wanted to air it, open the floor for discussion, take your pick. But never specific to a person, unless to go “hey, look – did you see this?”

Somebody told me this sort of thing can be taken as public shaming. I’m afraid that kind of intent wouldn’t be accidental on my part, and who does that anyway? I guess you could try that on me, but I’m well aware that any opinion held by someone else about me – is really more about them than me to begin with. More so, nobody can insult or shame me without my permission – and calling me names on Facebook only gets your post deleted. Eh.

Public shaming. One can person can do that. You gotta be kidding me, but okay – taken under consideration.

I am not a private person, I guess. I have no trouble talking about anything, and really – I want to talk about everything, even the things I don’t agree with. How else will I ever gain an understanding for what’s behind it?

When I think of things that went unsaid, the things kept hidden and the secrets kept over the years, it only firms my resolve to have as little of them as possible now and in the future. I come from a background littered with addicts, remember. There’s no safety in silence. Lotta crazy there, but little safety.

I’ve never gotten anything good by keeping my mouth shut. I have gotten everything good, beneficial and amazing in my life by opening my mouth and saying what was on my mind. You’re not going to take that away from me.

I have a mad, passionate love affair with the whole world out there, the same way I loved my kid before he was born. I didn’t know who he was, and didn’t care. I wanted to see what was under the hood, what he’ll show me as time passes and take my chances on the outcome. He may hate my guts – that’s fine! Can you imagine what else might come to pass?

How am I ever going to know if I’m not willing to listen? And to listen, I have to speak up.

When someone tells me not to discuss a thing in public, I recall I have my family, my friends and my way of life(which is damn sweet, by the way) by engaging people in public spaces – everything good that’s ever happened to me. And you’re telling me I’m wrong – baby, that rage is genuine. I really feel sorry for you if you think any of that is intended for any other reason, including punitive ones.

And that’s what I’ll remember.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Once Upon A Time, I sang “Happy Birthday” to A Bad Boy

Today’s my birthday! Yup, today I celebrate 54 years, and if being that old that seems a long way into the future for you – great, you’re probably right. But let me tell you something about living in the future – you are going to LOVE it when you get here. Promise – everyone thinks you can do anything! You’re old enough! (What, you don’t know how create cold fusion on your desktop? Get on that shit – move it!)

 But I share my birthday with someone, and I want to stop and tell you about him. Because nobody talks about him anymore, and when they do – they call him a monster. 

The one time I had a bona fide industry job, I was a writer’s secretary to Clifton Campbell and Jonathan Lemkin, two really fine people writing for 21 Jump Street over at Stephen Cannell Productions and I was there between 1987 and the Writer’s Strike of 1988, a year I fondly refer to as “The Year of the Raisin Danish.” (I’ll let you find out what that’s about – Go Go Google It.)

This was both the best job I ever had, and the worst one. Best, because as the aspiring writer I am (and had the college education and internship to back it up), this was one of the best environments I’d ever landed in to observe, learn from and maybe, just maybe, break into myself. Plus, some of the most memorable people I ever met? I got to work with them. Best. Job. Ever.

Worst, because for 80% of the time or more, they were not in the office at all but up in Vancouver where the show shot. 21 Jump Street was the first of their shows to actually get Canadian winter-weight show jackets – up to that point, the “shooting up there” was still something of an experiment. I still have mine – it’s too heavy to wear, even during the winter here in Los Angeles.

So, for most of the time I worked there? I was babysitting a phone and reading books at my desk, alone except for the other secretary seated in the desk next to me. She was sweet, very smart but also very single (I was married) and we didn’t spend much time talking to each other.

I was very lonely, and very bored to be blunt.

I went through Shogun in a week. And then did it again. Went down the street to the used book store and bought more books to read at my desk. The HR department had made it very clear when they hired me – they were not hiring writers to be secretaries. If I was caught writing, I’d be fired. So there was that. The offices were lovely, Cannell’s Dad had been a carpenter, in the furniture business and the desk I sat at was absolutely the most beautiful thing in the world.

 I spent a lot of time at it listening to the secretary at the desk next to mine watch television at hers – we often would be the only ones in the entire wing we sat in. The wing had five offices in it – two were my guys, a third belonged to a fellow who rarely came into the office and the other two belonged to writers who worked on Wiseguy.

And in 1987, Ray Sharkey came into the offices on his birthday - November 14th - and was introduced to me, after meeting with one of those writers. When I found out it was his birthday, I told him it was mine as well and tried – tried, mind you – to get him to sing Happy Birthday with me.

Okay, so I sang it to him, while he stood there and just glowed. I can’t sing worth beans, but he stood there and let me make a fool of myself like it was the best thing that ever happened to him. I guess maybe that year – it was. People in the office were talking about him, there were concerns – as there might be, with Cannell hiring a guy four days after leaving rehab for heroin to come work for him. But that was also Stephen Cannell – he did things like that. He was definitely a big believer in the “if your heart is heavy, get your hands busy” school. I can remember a lot of people showing up to discuss projects with him – Ben Vereen comes to mind, after one of his children died in a car accident that year (I think that work ended up on Sonny Spoon). There were others – but that year, Ray Sharkey got a second chance. And Wiseguy was a show then everybody loved, and people talked about how incredibly good their bad guy was.
All I know was this guy standing in front of me shared my birthday, listened very politely to me sing to him with his hands folded neatly over themselves, his head slightly cocked to one side, smiling just a little and gave me 110% of his attention. There was a lot going on, people rushing around because he was a really big deal and he was actually in the office there – but he only stood and gave me his undivided attention.

I’ll never forget that – he was the kind of guy who when he paid attention to you? You were the only thing in the room and the ambient temperature raised at least five degrees. You were IT.

But when everybody else I met there shook hands with me when introduced – he didn’t. I thought it was odd at the time, but in hindsight it makes complete sense.

 I didn’t think for a second he’d even remember me after that. I was wrong. In the months following, every time he came into the office, I would find myself being startled by a warm voice asking “Hello, Donna.”

Asking if I was well. Looking up, there would be that focus, that guy giving me his undivided attention until I responded. Flattered? Oh honey.

 Let’s be blunt – in that job? I was furniture. Very few people even noticed I was there, and even fewer had any reason to care. I was nobody, completely and absolutely nobody. Best job ever/worst job ever. All alone at the end of the hallway, away from the offices and people he was there to see. Not even working on the same show I was. But he always greeted me, and asked how I was. I adored him for that.

 People talked. Said he hadn’t gotten away from the IV drug use in time – he’d caught something, but was denying it. This was 1987, remember. AIDS was a “gay disease” and being gay then? Often the assumption was you were a pedophile, particularly if you were male (prevailing assumption was you’d been turned gay and perverted after someone had raped you as a child, no joke). AIDS was a “dirty” disease you got from sexually promiscuous individuals who were doing it wrong – denial in the face of ignorance. People didn’t know the transmission vectors, there was no really good way to test yet to see if you had it or had been exposed to it. You got it, you got a year and a half to put your life in order and that was that - hope you could find someone to care for you. We knew activists who were attending five to seven funerals a month, often two or more a week then.

Sharkey had gotten a second chance. But I remember how very careful he was about touching anyone. He didn’t. I never once thought that man would ever harm me, either deliberately or by accident – he was never anything but good to me, for no reason at all I could tell.

The Writer’s Strike in the spring of 1988 closed the offices I worked in. I spent most of that year temping, hoping to return after the strike was over but a position opened up with Coca-Cola that did two things – paid twice as much, and exposed me to database report writing as a skill that would eventually lead me to the job description I have now. I couldn’t go back, not with a diabetic husband who needed health insurance (and couldn’t stay employed because he was seen as a liability).

In 1991, all avenues here in the States to keep my husband working exhausted, we went to Switzerland where his uncle manufactured a job for him. We returned in 1992, wiser for the experience but it would be nine months before husband would secure another position of any kind. I was the only one who could find a job, and I never stopped working. (Unless they found out I had a diabetic husband, and then suddenly things just didn’t work out anymore, and I had to find another gig.)

Working at whatever I could find – but not as a writer – I did bang on a number of doors trying to find my way back to the entertainment industry, and did end up hanging out in the production offices of Quantum Leap for a time. (It didn't hurt it was a great show, and the people were nice to be around.) When I found out Ray Sharkey had passed away at the age of 40 from complications from AIDS in June of 1993 I tried to tell people about this guy who had been so kind to me.

I was told he was a monster who had taken over a hundred people with him and they said he did it on purpose. “Did you know him too?” “No – “

 I did. I knew a guy who’d had just enough self-acceptance to get sober, but to accept AIDS? Couldn’t do it – it’s clear from the stories he told when asked.

So that’s a monster. I can’t say – the people he took with him were very real, and it was just as awful for them as it gets. He didn’t fight the legal challenges, he was found guilty after he was dead with nothing left in his estate to pay reparations.

What else is there to say?  This was a survival-level error.   His life may be a terrible lesson, but he was no monster. I think he did the best he could. I think he always did the best he could, even if that was trying to make everything look better than it was.  Was it impossible for him to know he'd knowingly taken those people he loved with him?  The civil courts certainly seemed to think so and it's matter of public record at this point.  If he infected others, he himself was infected by someone - was it just timing that makes him a monster and not a victim?  Or just - both?

To me, that's important.  Because to me, it's very clear - here was someone who did something heinous in denial, juxtaposed with what he did do right at the same time.  What was the wrong?  He had AIDS and his behavior transmitted the disease to others.  The courts decided after his death that he knew at the time.  The people who knew him best believe that he knew it at the time.  Reasonable thought insists he had to know it.

Does that negate everything else about him?  Do we deny that to balance it all out?  Two wrongs won't make this right - it remains what it is. 

Did you know him? Today’s his birthday. He would have been 62. If you want to remember anything about him in addition to what you can Google up on him – I’d appreciate it if you would think of the small kindnesses he was capable of, the warmth and focus he could bring to bear and the incredible heart he brought to the roles he did.

He was good to me, that’s all I can say for certain. As I always add when I talk about Ray Sharkey, I have the privilege of not being one of the people he hurt.  I can speak of him fondly when I remember him, never forgetting he was an addict, that it killed him and he took others with him.

But he was good.  That also is true.

Good people do stupid things.  Good people make mistakes that do bad things to other people and denial is a scary, scary phenomenon that makes monsters out of them - that's why society steps in between people in denial and the rest of us.

One, do your best. Be prepared, know your stuff and give it your all.

Two, if you make a mess, clean it up. 

Three, never forget that anything you do, whatever decision you make, it's going to hit everyone you know - and likely, a ton of people you don't know. Decide carefully, and think about it - okay?

That's the lesson of Ray Sharkey -

And that's what I remember.

This story has a postscript, as you might expect one like it to have - that conversation in 1993? Ended abruptly when I stared a hole through somebody.

"Oh, him? He's just like that guy in the Chaplin movie - what's his name? You know what they're saying about that guy, right? He's going to be amazing if he doesn't kill himself first."

And then invited me to go watch a screening of Chaplin at the studio there, it was still running. Like it was no big thing to tell me a friend who had just died was a monster, then slammed some poor slob I'd never heard of with the same epithet - praised him at the same time - and then slammed him again. "Do you know him? Anybody every met him?" "No - "

 You know who that was, do I have to tell you?

My family is littered with addicts - at least four generations, and there is only one male in any of them that escaped it. In 1993, I'd just found out my father had not died of the flu when I was six - that had been the truth, but not the whole story. The whole truth was he'd died of a Seconal overdose, and had been using a year and half before he died. My mother had been too ashamed to tell me, too wrapped up in keeping up appearances for my sake. 31 years old, when the man had died when I was 6. I'd been terrified of the man and relieved when he'd died - now I knew why.

Mom had an alcoholic brother who got sober in the fifties - a real rascal, from all reports. Rode the rails from Iowa during the Depression to Hollywood to seek his fortune, did middling well (I think) between getting sick, nearly starved to death before WWII where he was drafted and sent to England. Married an English girl - also an alcoholic - had two kids, marriage failed and he came back to live with Mom and us, got sober and I got the benefit of him for those years.

He was wonderful. Kind, generous, thoughtful, tolerant - and the best audience. You needed someone to watch you do your thing, he was right there in the front row. Patient, and if I'm wise - he's the reason. An artist - ended up a commercial artist designing packaging for OXY Petroleum before he died of a heart attack (just like his brother and his father) at 59.

 Mom never drank so much as a glass of wine without looking at it twice while we kids were growing up - he, Dad and probably her father-in-law were why. We knew we were at risk - I can't recall a time I didn't know it. That doesn't stop it from happening. I have the younger brother who went to jail, and got clean there in the late 90's. How's he doing? He's magnificent, thanks for asking. I have a sister whose addictions have shown up in some spectacularly bizarre ways, most of them completely legal and above board - but just as devastating.

I know better than to have a WoW account. And I don't do psych drugs. Reasons.

 It's not being generous or liberal to hold out help for an addict to take it from you. What you get back when they make it out is so worth it. My conservationist self knows you don't throw anything away - and that includes people. Wasteful.  And if you do throw people out, they have just as much reason to bump your ass on the sidewalk as well.  Pick a reason.  It's better to stay in the conversation if you can.

But reaching recovery?  They have to do it, it's not something you can insist on or shame anyone into. Trust me on this. For the ones who made it to recovery, I have twice as many or more to show you who didn't.  It's a disease process, a chronic one - and its hallmark is relapse.  So you set boundaries, keep your head on your shoulders, and have a plan (what am I going to do if is how mine begins).  It's family, it's people.  *shrug*

So there's that working in that office back in 1993. You're going to believe what you've heard, act on something third or fourth hand and make a judgement call on someone you've never even met - Nope. Not while I'm around. I won't do it. I think also that was what aghast really felt like. I was speechless, but I have my mother's eyes and when she was angry at us? All she had to do was look at us and we got the message.

The person I was speaking to stopped talking mid-sentence and it got very quiet there for a few moments. Then she changed the subject and the conversation went on to other things.

1993, and I never forgot that poor slob. I would later make a very conscious effort not to pay attention to "news" reports because it felt like being handed a personal possession someone had stolen from him. I'm peculiar? Okay. What I need to know is what anyone would know about me on being introduced - you recognize me, know my name and maybe my job description. That's it. I don't need pictures, I don't need gossip - you know that guy? You met him? No? Shaddup already, I can't do anything with it.  I didn't get it from the person you're talking about themself, so it's none of my business to begin with.  And we're talking about someone not in the room, why?  That's rude.  You're fictionalizing a real person - stop that.

When I started seeing the movies getting made, the "shows what you know" was strong with this one. Smug, oh you bet.

Doesn't matter if I think he's good or not. Never met the man.

 If he's a good man, I believe that - I knew Ray Sharkey.

 I know that's possible. In spite of "what they all say."

Happy Birthday.  It's going to be the best day ever.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams - July 21, 1951 - August 11, 2014

Robin Williams found dead today, from an apparent suicide.

When I was a fresh out of high school, first semester in college - junior college, no less - journalism student, working on the school newspaper staff, I remember vividly the first time I saw Robin Williams work.

I had the task of writing stories for the paper to publish, that's what you did back then, you wrote on sheets of brown paper taped together, 80 characters across, double-spaced, the pages taped together and if you made a mistake, you used old copy editing marks to indicate where you had omitted a word, rewrote a bit (or struck it out and wrote STET above it) and heaven forbid you missed spelling something correctly. Dr. Helene Sand required a dictionary as part of the text books for her courses, and you had better use it. That A grade of yours can drop to a C in two words, if you don't catch the creative spelling before she does.

That story reviewed the first episode of Mork & Mindy - as well as that incredible flash in the pan, the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Pages of brown paper. Lines and lines of text. I could hardly believe what I'd seen.

I'd never seen anything like it. He was so fast I could hardly keep up, so intuitive and smart my jaw dropped open until I covered it with a hand, laughing so hard I cried. But I wiped my eyes instead of indulging in those tears, for fear I was going to miss something.

I'd never seen anything like it.

Like discovering a color, a flavor, a fragrance - never seen, tasted or smelled before. It was speculative fiction, comedy and stand up schtick all tossed together and whipped into a froth. Very physical comedy, but the delivery was so fast you hardly believed you had heard that joke before it was gone and another one, just as good, was going across.

So fast. So very smart. With so much heart, you cried. I was instantly in love.

I remember writing the words "keep an eye out for this guy, you're going to hear a lot from him. And the sooner, the better." My great and glorious nineteen years of age, but I've never been wrong on that account.

I remember waiting for the first movie he would make. Okay, it was Popeye, screenplay by Jules Feiffer (yes, yes it was), but there were others right behind it and I remember being so happy to see Moscow On The Hudson because I could point and say "Look! See? When he does serious stuff, he only gets better. Watch out - the next one will be just as good, just you wait."

Not everything was my cup of tea, and many times the movies made me cry harder than I wanted to. Awakenings still jerks sobs out of me at the end, and Bicentennial Man is watched when I need a lesson in how to smile with tears falling down the back of my throat.

It never looked easy.

He was interviewed often, being so popular. I don't think I can recall an interview where everything was smooth sailing, coming up just roses - because there were always thorns. An only child, attributing his talent to entertaining himself first, then others to be kept company. A marriage with one child that ended when he fell in love with his son's nanny...and trying like hell to find a way through that with therapy, trying to find a way for it not to ruin the people he loved. Being the survivor of the night John Belushi died of a drug overdose - and being very candid about how easily could have been him as well. Two more children, rehab and depression. Movies, concert tours, Comic Relief, television shows - you only knew he was completely unable to work when something new was not coming out.

If I get a chance to say anything to a performer I admire, one of the first things I do is thank them for staying in the business of being a performer - because while I get the benefit of their hard work, they have to put up with a job description that isn't always kicks and giggles. For the days you're the favorite, there are months and years of when you are not - but few people remember that, let alone see or acknowledge it.

I'd lost track, but was always happy to see those movies get made. Peter Pan? Amazing. Patch Adams? Great choice! Dead Poets Society? Nice turn, very different. Good Will Hunting? Wow. What Dreams May Come? Came out the year my late husband passed away, still afraid to watch it because I might not stop crying once I start.

The character pieces like Mrs. Doubtfire - see, didn't I tell you he was amazing?

But I can't recall a time when I was certain he was happy and content, and in the past year or so - I was certain something was wrong. The media thrives on that sort of thing, and I try to not to look at the train wrecks, but there's a story, and there's a photograph and there's a thud in the pit of your stomach. What can you do with that information? It's not actionable. Everyone loved him, but nobody bothered him - you see that over and over.

I think I might have risked getting my head bit off, given the opportunity. I'm on Twitter, and I remember him doing a calendar as a fund raiser for an animal rescue group up in Walnut Creek - and thanking him for the tip, they're a great bunch of folks. His daughter is on Twitter as well, and is a total gem of a person - Zelda, named after the game because her Dad loved it so. I think he enjoyed being a Dad, and it had to be a challenge to parent under the circumstances he was in. But they were a reason to be sober - it's not like you can throw up on the kids, they're supposed to throw up on you, doncha know.

You wanted to reach out and reassure - today not so good? It's just one day. Tomorrow, everything is new again. There have been many of those kinds of days, remember? Tell you what, I can remember how happy you made me when I had days like yours - let me return the favor? Or just sit next to me and let me ramble, read short stories and breathe room air together with you.

Loving that guy when he worked was as easy as taking a deep breath, it took no thought or expectation. I see so many people speaking up today about just how deeply he moved them, filled their hearts with light and laughter...when in truth, very few of us actually said it with anything more than the gesture we would be happy to see more from him. Come back again - even though the talent was so intimidating, you would never dream of cracking wise around him.

Depression is such a liar.

Please stop looking at the floor.

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe your life belongs to you - first and foremost. You must be free to make the best decisions you can for yourself, and if that means you can't take one more day? Okay, let's sit together for those 24 hours and it we make it to 25, can we think about one more and see how it goes? But if the answer is no, it's no.

Only ten years older than me, and 63 is not even nearly finished when you realize up to forty years could have laid ahead. (How old are you? You're younger than thirty-five, forty, that's your entire life up to this point without ever looking back. This is a huge loss. Huge.) Older, things change and there are few guidelines to follow that don't lead you down a path reminding you that you are no longer 21, have no memories to speak of and nothing to regret. And an industry that seems stuck redoing twenty-something over and over, and thirty-something is really getting up there (never mind that the minds in charge are in their seventies and eighties, oh no, don't mention that ever), and if everything isn't successful? When the work doesn't make it all better anymore - it's no help.

There were eyes on him, and I'm just as certain if this was a suicide, it was a particularly deadly one with no margin for survival. It's something I'll remember.

He tried. He worked harder than anyone I've ever seen, just to put one foot in front of the other - and that was the only thing that looked easy.

I will miss him so much, all the surprises and quirks and unexpected twists and turns. The wry perspective, the reluctance to let stupidity off the hook.

I tend to break things down into threes, and one of them is the quick and dirty "three rules to life" (hey, keep it easy so you don't forget anything). One, do your best. Be prepared, know your stuff and give it your all. Two, if you make a mess, clean it up. And three, never forget that anything you do, whatever decision you make, it's going to hit everyone you know - and likely, a ton of people you don't know. Decide carefully, and think about it - okay?

I can't believe this incredible experience has ended - and like this. Gods, he worked so hard. I am so grateful he did.

And that, in the end, is what I'll remember.