Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Brake For Lemonade Stands

I absolutely have been having the best time this Christmas season, not exactly sure why (although I have generally felt extremely good this whole year), but I think it may have something to do with my having put up a Christmas tree.

This, honestly, is the first time I have ever gotten my own tree. For most of my Christmases, I had gone to my parents’ house, which continued every Christmas (with few exceptions) as long as they were alive. This took me far into my adulthood.

For those few exceptions, I have lived in apartments that were too small to fit any but the smallest (artificial) tree, which sort of counts, but not really.

For the past couple of years, I have been spending the few days immediately surrounding Christmas at the house of my brother and his wife. But they do not decorate for Christmas (but my brother’s wife does the most marvelous COOKING, plus they are a blast to visit, so I am definitely NOT complaining!) I think my brother had his fill of Christmas decorating, because the brunt of that effort our mother put HIM to, mainly because he was always able to get to their house many days before the rest of us were able to make it (remember that our mother had multiple sclerosis which made her bed-ridden, so she could no longer do the decorating herself, which she sorely wanted to do). So HE was one who assembled their large (artificial) Christmas tree, put on all the lights and decorations, and did all sorts of other decorating until the rest of us got there to help. I swear, our mother wanted every inch of their house decorated for Christmas, right down to things hanging on every doorknob, dozens of needle-pointed Christmas theme pillows on all the furniture, and Christmas-oriented hand towels in the all the bathrooms. There wasn’t a square foot of wall space that didn’t have something Christmasy hanging there. And, oh yes, there were Christmas coasters and Christmas barware (you drank VERY well at our parents’ house…my father seemed to stay planted at the bar the whole season, and you WILL partake! Hey, my arm doesn’t need twisting; and if you were a friend of theirs, yours didn’t, either!).

I don’t want to make it look like the rest of us were slackers…at least, not me, anyway, because since our brother was the one who had put most of it all up, the rest of us were the ones who had the job of taking it all DOWN. I think I would rather decorate than undecorate, but that’s how it was and I’m not complaining…I wish we could still do it, parents and all (but if they have a way of checking in on me, they already know that they are thoroughly IN me).

But lately I have felt that something was missing Christmas-spirit-wise and realized that now that I live in a place large enough to easily fit a full-sized, cut Christmas tree, that was what I wanted. And I’ve been able to enjoy it ever since Thanksgiving, and will continue to do so up to New Year’s.

I pretty much knew where I would go buy my tree, a place that is normally a strawberry farm near where I live, one of the very few farms still remaining in the San Fernando Valley (which, once upon a time, was completely agricultural, but Los Angeles spread and spread and spread). They always fill up an immense lot with beautiful trees.

Since I figured I’d have to somehow get it home, myself, and I really wasn’t into getting involved with tying it onto the roof of my car or some such (guaranteed that it would slip off before I got to the next block), I felt that I’d have to get one small enough that it would either fit into the trunk of my car, or maybe my backseat (uh oh, tree needle city!).

However, fortunately, they had signs everywhere on the lot advertising that they would deliver (for a reasonable fee), and when I checked on it, I learned that they would actually deliver whatever tree I bought that very day (THAT sold me)! Good thing, too, because I saw that the four-foot trees just weren’t going to cut it, I wanted something at least my height or it wouldn’t satisfy my desires.

The truth was that every single tree they had was full and beautiful and perfectly shaped. They were all lined up in perfect rows by the species, starting with the least expensive ones, the Douglas Firs, and going up from there to the most expensive, which were Noble something…but I actually liked the Douglas Firs the best, so I picked out a 6 ½ foot one that seemed to call out my name (like a puppy in a pet shop), so that’s the one I bought. The woman who rang up my sale was a jolly elf, laughing and full of cheer and so happy that I was happy, so the entire purchasing experience was a delight.

And the delivery occurred without a hitch, with two people who carried my tree up to my apartment on the third floor and set it down in my living room right where I wanted it. Immediately, the whole house smelled like I was camping in an evergreen forest (which I now have a yearning to go do some weekend!), a feeling that has not diminished. It is such a grand atmosphere to come home to after work.

I had in my storage unit (sadly, not yet emptied out…one of the projects I hope to work on this winter break) some Christmas decorations that I got from my mother’s collection after both parents had died (most of which she had made), but that storage unit is so solidly packed that I was unable to find that box or those boxes; it would have required emptying the whole thing out, and I had neither the room nor the time to deal with that. So I realized that I had to buy some new decorations and strings of lights, with the idea of leaving some room my mother’s things for NEXT year. (Didn’t quite work out that way…it was hard to estimate and what I bought was enough to fill up my whole tree.)

Shopping for Christmas decorations (at Target) was another joy. Families were there in all of the aisles and I could hear the excited voices of children that filled up my heart. “Oh Mommy, look at THIS, can we buy this, can we, please?” So sweet. Of course, I loved buying things for my own tree, but I truly loved being there among the families who were buying things for THEIR tree. I kind of feel like I am with them, even if I am not. But I would share in the fun with them and would laugh and joke with them, and everybody seemed to enjoy this sense of shared happiness. Why not do that?

Back at home, I put on some good music that I could sing along with as I worked, and I truly did have a blast decorating the tree, which ended up requiring four strings of lights (I had to go back to buy two more strings; two just wasn’t enough!). My heart just soared. I knew that probably no one else was ever going to see this (my apartment really isn’t quite yet ready for “prime time”, as I say, so I have not yet gotten into entertaining mode), but it is actually okay to simply treat ones self, in fact, that is now one of the main lessons that I like to share (to whomever will listen to me if the subject comes up)…you MUST treat yourself and not deny yourself because “it is only you”. So, please, do things for YOU. Yes, do things for others, but don’t leave yourself out. Make your life beautiful.

Here are some pictures of my tree, which I realize probably looks pretty pedestrian as Christmas trees go, I guess, and pardon some of the nearby junk (more winter break projects!), but I love it, and it looks so pretty in the evening when the white lights buried in among the feathery green branches are twinkling (hard to properly photograph THAT effect), so it’s all good.




And now that “I am participating”, I have been appreciating the Christmas decorations that everybody else has done, some of which is mind-blowingly spectacular, and some of which is simple yet still wonderful, and I am thankful for their efforts since it seems that they are communicating a certain feeling out to the general public (I, too, have some external decorations, a garland of purple lights along my balcony railing along with a Christmas snowman wind sock blowing in the breeze out there; for some reason, I am the only one in this immense apartment complex who has any external decorations). Much fewer people out in the community compared to previous years have decorated, though, which is troublesome (Increased unemployment? Continuing economic crisis?). I think there was more decorating for HALLOWE’EN (which I also did, mostly as an advertisement to the kids out there on the street that there was candy to be gotten at my house; that’s where the purple lights came from, which I bought at a Hallowe’en store—I figured I could use purple for Christmas, too, which I couldn’t do with orange as that would obviously be left over from Hallowe’en; those were the only colors sold at the Hallowe’en store. But purple is good.).

Decorating has been very sparse at work, too (absolutely nothing in the school’s reception lobby). This year, there was no “Secret Angel” festivities (gift-giving that would go on for a whole week and that usually garnered ever-increasing office decorating), but the woman who normally organized that didn’t want to do it this year, and another person who volunteered to take her place lived, according to many complaining people, “too far away” (okay, so she wasn’t a five minute drive down the hill...!). The kind woman who volunteered ended up with only six participants besides herself (with me being one of them), so she said “Let’s just do a simple gift-exchange and pot luck lunch here at work” (not a whole week of giving like we’d do when Secret Angel had twenty or thirty people participating), the kind where the first person opens their choice of wrapped gifts (NOT white elephant gifts, but something new that cost under $30), and then the second person can steal their gift or open a wrapped gift, etc. Some people hate that game (the “stealing” part), others really love it. But with us having so few people, there really wasn’t much stealing go on, but I think everybody ended up with something that they liked. Anything that anybody bought was worth having, so there really was no reason to take something from somebody else.

So that was fun, but the offices didn’t look much like Christmas (or any of the other winter season holidays).

I felt like there was a lot of generous gift-giving from our school’s parents and from some of the employees, though; I ended up with way more than I had ever gotten before (boy that sounds materialistic, but that’s not what I meant; what I mean is that suddenly at the last moment, a “lot of Christmas” came out).

I couldn’t possibly afford to give gifts to every employee (there are more than a hundred), and my administrative position doesn’t really “allow” me to choose favorites, so I had started the habit of giving gifts to those who chose to give gifts to me. Again, in a way, there’s something not quite right about that, but I honestly haven’t figured out a way around it, because I am constitutionally unable to simply receive gifts without giving anything in return. Fortunately, it’s usually the same people who give to me each year, so I already put them on my shopping list at the beginning of the season. However, there are often surprises; this year there were five surprises. I had prepared for these surprises by already having on hand something nice but generic to give in those cases, but some people fooled me by not giving me a small loaf of homemade nut bread or something like that, but really giving me something amazing and that took specific thought. So THEN I really had to SCRAMBLE to get them something somewhat equal in thought to what they had given me, which can be extremely hard to do at the last minute. Thursday evening, I spent several hours at Pier 1, which was an appropriate store for one of those who had given me a spectacular gift and which I figured might have something good for the others. I kept finding things that I wanted for myself, actually, but for the most part I stuck to my plan of finding things for the people who had surprised me.

While I was at Pier 1, a woman came over to me and said, “You are a man, I would like you to answer a question for which I want an honest answer.” Uh oh. While I am always quite pleased to be a “stand in” for my gender, I sometimes wonder if I am “man enough” to do so! But anyway, she stated her problem; she had to buy several gifts for some teenage boys and some grown men, all of whom live in France, so her task was to give them gifts that they would like but that didn’t cost a huge amount of money, and that would not be very expensive to SHIP. She said that she had spent several hundred dollars just in shipping costs alone, last year, and she just couldn’t do that again. I understand her problem, because I used to give gifts to people overseas and the shipping costs killed me, so I simply stopped doing it. She then went on say that the girls and women were EASY, and she proceeded to point out dozens of things right in the vicinity of where we were standing that would work for the females, but, obviously, none of that would work for the males (and she was right about that).

Well, she gave me quite a challenge, but one that I was internally ADAMANT that I had to solve for her. It’s not often that I get to speak for all male-kind, and FRENCH ones, to boot! But gee, surely I ought to be able to figure that one out. But before she spoke, she outlined all the things she had already done BEFORE, thus instantly wiping out every idea that had immediately come to my mind. So now that I was tapped out, I kind of just stood there hemming and hawing to the extent that she decided that I was going to be no help and so thanked me for my willingness, but conceded that the task was impossible.

But it is NOT impossible, but give me some TIME, okay? I asked her if she was going to be in the store for a while longer, and she said “Yes”, that she still have some other shopping to do there, for the GIRLS.

I said, “Okay, I have to do some more shopping here, too, so let me think about it as I look around and if I come up with some good ideas, I go find you.”

She answered that that was a good idea, although I could hear the sigh in her voice that meant she never expected to see me again.

However, as it turned out, I had gotten only about two aisles away from her, when I got my answers that I was going to share with her. Fortunately, I found her nearby.

I told her that it was almost certain that the teenage boys were into video or computer games and that there would be no limit to their capacity to absorb and enjoy those. All she would have to do would be to find out from their mother (or mothers) what system they used, Playstation, X-Box, Microsoft, or whatever, because a game for the wrong system would be useless, and while she was at it, maybe she could find out what KIND of game each one liked, such as role-playing, battle games, life simulation games, building games, travelling games, violent fighting games, “Car Theft” games, sports games (basketball, football, hockey, etc.). I said that fortunately with computer games, the software standards are international, unlike, say, movie DVDs, which have to conform to a regional standard in order to be playable.

Also, computer games come on a disc, so they would be very light and inexpensive to ship.

She LOVED that idea and said that it would be snap to find out from their mothers the right system and type of game. She also seemed to know where she could find these games (I would have suggested the two places that I knew, WalMart and Fry’s Electronics, but she seemed okay on that score). I had given her THE acceptable and useful answer for the teenage boys.

As to the adult men, I said that EVERYBODY likes music, and CDs, of course, are as light and inexpensive to ship as the video games would be. Now, she might not know what taste these men have in music, or what music they may already have and what they may want, but I had a solution for that, too. I told her to go home and get on her computer and do a search for “Concord Records” (actually, when I checked it out at home afterwards, the right spot is “Concord Music Group”, but Google would send her to the right place). Concord Records would be a supplier of rare, collector, or unique artist retrospective CDS or CD sets that those in France (and in the US, as well) might not be in a position to be familiar with. I know all about Concord Records, as Hal Gaba the OWNER of that company, was on the Board of our school’s Trustees and was someone whom I personally knew (unfortunately, he died a few years ago of cancer). He, and television producer Norman Lear (his partner in that venture) bought up some languishing record companies that happened to own an incredible treasure house of classic jazz studio tapes, material that HAD NEVER EVER BEEN MADE AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC, by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Theloneous Monk, John Coltrane, and dozens of others. This is stuff you really can’t get elsewhere.

I said that, stereotypically, the French have very serious artistic tastes and the French have always welcomed jazz; in fact, in the early portions of the 20th century, black jazz artists from America found a powerful welcome in France, where they did not suffer discrimination, so even if these men didn’t specifically like jazz, they would still appreciate having one of these CDs, which maybe even would open up for them an appreciation of this high quality level of jazz.

Okay, so this woman now was really excited, first the video games, and now this, yes, yes, these were the answers, and she was going home right away and search for and then log on to Concord Records. I had solved her male-gift-giving-problem! Wow, I was so happy to help!

Now, here’s something else that happened that same Thursday evening. I had left work to take to the post office some very important mailings that had to be postmarked that day (December 15 was the deadline). Instead of taking my normal route home, I took a road that went down the hill to a spot that would take me quite close to the post office that I was going to use. It was already quite a dark evening anyway, but it had been a cold, rainy day, which deepened the sense of darkness.

Just as I came to a curve in the road, I saw a bright, “glow in the dark” hand-lettered sign that said “Write Your Teacher’s Name, Unique Christmas Gifts Here!” and a young boy and his mother sitting in front of their house at a table covered with what looked like a collection of small potted plants. Now, you remember the bumper sticker that people used to have, “I Brake For Small Animals”? I think maybe there was another one that said, “I Brake For Garage Sales”. I ought to have one made for me that says, “I Brake For Lemonade Stands”, and by that I mean, generically, anything that a child or a group of children have enterprisingly got together to sell, I will pull over for and buy from them. First of all, it is such a pleasure to deal with excited children, but also, I like to support what they are doing, which I think is a valuable help for their future. I want them to know that what they are offering will have an appeal to people, even though probably a discouraging quantity of cars will simply drive on by. So, in the past, I have bought lemonade dozens of times, large pink grapefruits that kids had grown in their yard, cleverly-carved miniature pumpkins that kids were selling prior to Hallowe’en one year, and more high school car washes than I can count.

Well, I WAS on my way to buy gifts at Pier 1 (described above) after going to the post office, so this one was in all ways a no-brainer. I had to find a place to turn around, and then wound my way back to the house, and since it was a busy road with a curve, the only reasonable place to park was in their driveway, which I did. I said it was quite a dark evening, but when that boy and his mother saw me enter their driveway, it was as if a spotlight had turned on. They were so HAPPY…and remember, they HAD been sitting out in the RAIN to do this (but at the moment, the rain had blessedly stopped).

What they had for sale were potted Christmas cactuses (that’s a smart idea right there), but they were better than simply one plant potted. The boy (whose whole idea this was), had put together little artistically arranged miniature gardens with several sizes of Christmas cactuses, some of which were blooming red and some of which were going to bloom soon, and also what his mother called “Thanksgiving cactuses” that were soon to bloom white, all set with beautiful stones in a way that was what I would call “casually zen-like” (if “zen” even CAN be casual…). Also, the boy had painted the perimeter of the flower pots below the lip or rim with blackboard paint, and had “planted” in the cactus garden a nicely-made brass “wire” that held up a piece of white chalk that was inside of a carefully spiraled loop. The idea of this was that you give this gift to your teacher, for example, and you could write her name on the blackboard portion of the pot, “#1 Teacher”, or whatever you wanted, or one could write and erase their own messages, just like writing on a blackboard.

And the prices were reasonable ($10, $15, or $20 depending upon the size) and intelligently set in that they didn’t require messy change-giving. I would have bought one of them regardless, simply to support the boy’s effort, but honestly, I LOVED them, and bought one in the $15 size that already had a really nice red bloom going on and several white ones that they told me would open in about a week. At the time I figured this would be a good “generic” gift to give to someone who had surprised me on the last day of school (Friday), but honestly, once I got it home and saw it clearly in the light of my kitchen, I realized that I liked this so much that I decided to keep it for myself. Up until now, I hadn’t had any plants in my apartment, but my Christmas tree (even though it was cut and will have to be thrown out after Christmas) seems to have risen within me the desire to have a plant in the house.

It ends up that while the boy goes to a different private school from the one where I work, the mother said that they knew a family whose children had gone there, and she told me the name and I knew who they were. Also, the woman told me that her mother’s best friend is the mother of one of our substitute teachers, whom, when she told me her name, I described as “a goddess”, and absolutely IS the first substitute teacher that any teacher of ours calls when they are sick, and, in fact, that teacher is basically there on our campus every single day. So that was fun, having those connections, and I am sure the mother will mention me to those people and say that I bought one of the boy’s cactus gardens. But I hope that he sells a lot, as he should. When I told one of my friends about this at work, she loved the idea of it, especially the idea of being able to write a message on the pot, so she told me she would go down there after work to buy one, too, which I hope she did.

I had to research on-line how to take care of this cactus, and found out that unlike most cacti, this kind comes from the JUNGLE, not the desert, so it doesn’t require, or like, hot sun baking down on it, which means that it doesn’t have to be outside, but can live quite well indoors (it does like LIGHT, though). Perfect.

This morning, as I was making my breakfast, I saw that beautiful red bloom with those waiting white buds, so perfect for Christmas, and instantly this blog entry was written in my mind, so here it is, now, all ready for you.

I hope you have a glorious Christmas, and may you thoroughly enjoy the joyfulness of the season.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ghosts

On Thanksgiving day during my Thanksgiving break (the family celebration of the holiday was going to take place on Saturday), I took a day trip up to Nevada County, where I had lived between the years of 1988 and 1993, and it had been a significant five years of my life. I had been back there one time again for a short while in 1996, for another, but quite different significant chapter in my life, but until yesterday, I had not been back there since.

I had no idea what to expect, but while there, I observed a typical phenomenon of my life, how just the sight of a road, or a building, or of anything, really, would immediately bring to mind something that I had done in that spot, even insignificant things, and this occurs even if some major details are no longer the same (such as whole blocks were razed and new buildings put in their place). It is clear to me that every single thing is recorded in memory (or perhaps stored in some kind of a spiritual cloud), the address of which for finding again actually IS an “address”, that is to say, an actual geographical location that one sees again. This tells me that the physical dimension, and the experiences there (since so strongly remembered and so easily recalled upon stimulation), are extremely important in a way that I might not have understood or appreciated before.

It is clear that these recallings ARE memories which may have no correlation with the present reality of the location. For example, I was somewhat horrified to see the house where I had lived, which had been mutated not only in appearance but also in spiritual atmosphere to the extent that I almost missed it entirely. It feels to me that after I and my particular energy moved away from there, nothing but low-life people moved in (perhaps a stream of them), and the place had become a place of an almost sickening misery. The house had been externally remodeled in an inexpert way, strictly for appearance’s sake, so that a structure that had once been almost beautiful due to its simplicity and honesty, now looked like a face that had undergone a hideously botched plastic surgery. Also, the place looked abandoned, and possibly even vandalized, so that I considered parking and actually walking into the grounds and looking around the property and peeping into windows. There was a real estate sign out front, so it might have been safe for me to do so. However, I wasn’t completely sure that there weren’t people currently living in there, so I was reluctant to invade what might be their privacy; that, coupled with a whole feeling of evil (or, at least, “neurosis”) about the place, convinced me to leave it alone and do whatever research I wanted on-line via the house’s real estate listing (which I did do later back at the hotel, and I saw that they had performed even more useless alteration and had expressed even more tastelessness on the interior of the house. Low-life, absolutely, and from driving on the mountain country road in this area, I felt that this area to me now looked like what maybe could be called “California’s Appalachia” and I wondered just what it had been that had drawn me to live in such a place at the time. I certainly had absolutely no interest in any of it now other than that I had had a past there; it for sure was NOT “me” any more, if it ever had been. It was, maybe, a detour in my own road and it might be valuable to analyze if anything that HAD been developed of me while I lived there is, any more, a genuine part of me, or should be.

Being way out in the middle of nowhere there, and on Thanksgiving Day when so many commercial enterprises are closed, I developed the need to go to the bathroom, in addition to which I was hungry, so I now headed back into the town areas of Nevada City and Grass Valley where I hoped to find a restaurant that was open in which I could satisfy both needs.

I decided my best bet would be “Lyons”, in a business area half-way between Nevada City and Grass Valley, which had the further value of having been a 24-hour coffee shop in which I had had many, many meals and wonderful experiences. In “those days” when I lived there, Lyons was a hang-out for Nevada County’s “theatre set”, of which I was a part. After rehearsals and performances, whole groups of us would head over to Lyons for a late-night meal and for me it was wonderful to have friends to do something like that with. And, even better, I was working on an unlikely relationship with a nineteen-year-old actor of remarkable beauty and talent, one who, surprisingly, responded back to me at every turn, who ended up moving in with me, and who remains to this day the only relationship with a male I ever had in which the loved one ever told me that he loved me, and when he volunteered this information to me (as he held and kissed my hand lovingly), I could absolutely feel it and clearly understand why he did. I could see through him the me that someone like him genuinely WOULD love, which is a very special and empowering experience. He and I, upon occasion before he moved in, would go to Lyons after a show, have dinner, and continue talking there until morning, at which time we would then have breakfast; pulling “two meal all-nighters” at Lyons. Due to this, Lyons had become one of our own special love-havens.

But as I drove down the hill on the freeway from Nevada City, I saw that “Lyons” was now no longer called that, but was “Lumberjack’s”, instead, and all redecorated in a split-wood, log-cabin type motif. Well, my bathroom needs had become even more urgent, so “Lumberjack’s” it was going to be.

After I finished in the bathroom and came out to be seated, the hostess seemed to be confused, for some reason, as to where she could seat me, which section was available (although the restaurant was far from crowded). But then suddenly appeared on the scene a beautiful young man, probably quite recently graduated from high school, who directed her to seat me in the section that was his. He was one of those whose very appearance washes away all other considerations or practicalities…his beauty becomes the only reality, and deeper than that, the only truth that matters. At first what I saw of him was only the perfection of the shape of his torso as it pressed against his shirt, although I was also subtly aware of his take-charge, solve-the-problems attitude. It also vaguely seemed to me that he very much wanted to have me in his section, which is something that now I feel quite strongly had been the case. He definitely had had the chance to have me seated in another section. Of course, one could say that the only “wanting” regarding that was mine, ME wanting to be in HIS section, but he had already been in the motion of insisting that I be placed in his before I had even seen him.

Where he had the hostess seat me was in the very first booth, the one closest to the hostess’s station, but on the other side of a wall that separated the booths from the area where people sat to be seated when the restaurant was crowded. Interestingly, the effect of that was that whenever he came into view, it was always a sudden appearance from behind me that I would see out of the corner of my eye. It also had the apparent effect of him coming onto a stage from the wing on the left, so there was no gradual fading of him in and out, or with longer views of him from a distance. He was either RIGHT THERE at my table, or else only a few tables beyond me. If this were a stage, I was sitting in the first row.

The hostess had given me a menu, one I had never seen before, of course, whereas I imagine that diners in that town already know the menu by heart. (When it was Lyon’s, I had known everything on THEIR menu.) But here I had hardly even opened the menu when he was there to take my order. I explained that I needed a few minutes, as I had never been there before. But this gave me a good excuse to say, “How long has this been ‘Lumberjack’s’? I remember when it was Lyon’s, which may be ancient history.” (I felt like adding, “Which was probably before you were born,” but I did not.) My main impulse, though, was not that I wanted to obtain information (although I was legitimately curious), but that I wanted to talk with him; I wanted to have more of an involvement with him than just giving him a food order.

He flashed me a glorious smile and he had devastating dimples that twinkled, and he answered, “Oh yes, I remember. It has been Lumberjack’s since September 5, 2010, but the restaurant has gone through several changes.” He began to tell me what name had followed Lyon’s, which I could now see had been pretty soon after I had moved away, and then the name after that. The name after that, I think he said, was “Sweet Pea,” but then in 2010 it became Lumberjack’s. While it wasn’t clear from his list of names whether these were all the restaurant’s changing hands (Lyon’s was, or had been, a chain, and upon later looking up Lumberjack’s on-line, I saw that it is a chain, also), but there was something magical about the WAY he said all the different names, in that from his manner in saying each of them, I could feel what their decorative atmospheres had been, what kind of clientele they had been designed to appeal to. He wasn’t TELLING me the names so much as he was vocally INTERPRETING them. His was an artistic answer, not a “business” or “financial” atmosphere.

And he seemed well-pleased to be telling me these things, and responsive to me being more than a customer who is unaware of or uncaring about the history of places and little design details and touches; in other words, he seemed to be glad that I was someone who fully experiences the experience, which, he, at the moment, was the main significant part of THIS one.

He then left to give me a chance to study the menu.

The restaurant, while not crowded, certainly seemed quite busy, at least in his section, and he seemed to be doing a good job of keeping everybody satisfied. He was quite occupied by bringing large plates of food to the various booths, and the people in each booth kept filling him with further requests, so for a while, all of his “on and off stage” movements involved him carrying things in either direction for the other diners. But finally, he suddenly materialized at my table (from behind me, of course) with his order book in hand, thanking me quite profusely for my patience. I indicated that I hadn’t suffered the least bit, but had appreciated having the time to look at all the appealing offerings that were on their menu. He very graciously received “my reprieve,” if that’s what it was, and I noticed that it was true that he genuinely was very beautiful in how he looked, the musical and poetic way that he spoke, the grace with which he moved, and the manner in which he operated, which I think I would describe as “compassionately extroverted and responsibly self-reliant.”

A person like that I can’t just leave alone, and by that I mean I had do something more than simply be someone who orders a meal and then moves on. But, as Juliet said to Romeo that first night on the balcony, “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” I didn’t live there in town. It was highly likely that I would never see that guy again. And what could I possible be to him, anyway? To HIM, all I was was a customer. Maybe slightly more interesting or pleasant to work with than the normal, but that’s all.

I thought of so many things I could say to him, something funny, for example. In keeping with the theme of the place, they had running on the video screen (that so many restaurants feel that they need to have, these days) a lumberjack “Olympics”, in which Paul Bunyan-type guys were racing to chop their way through immense tree trunks. The way the guys were violently wielding those axes, it was like Bruce Lee crossed with an Ax Murderer coupled with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Next time that waiter suddenly manifested at my table with his dimples flashing, I was going say, indicating the video, “I’d hate to make one of those guys mad, the way they’d tear into me, I’d need plastic surgery from head to toe”! Believe me, it WOULD have been funny, except the waiter had gotten into a little drama from making a mistake with the order of the couple in the booth in front of me. He had gloriously arrived with two immense platters piled high with delicious-looking food, presenting to them with a flourish, “Two turkey platters” (remember, this was on Thanksgiving Day), but neither the man nor the woman moved a muscle, freezing the waiter in mid-flourish. “Wrong order,” said the woman. Flashing dimples gone. The self-reliant, graceful waiter was for a moment confused, but then remembered, and said, “Ah yes, prime rib and tilapia, not two turkey platters, I remember!” and off he was again, exit stage left. No stopping by MY table to hear funny comments about the ax-wielding lumberjacks.

Then the ax-cutting contest ended and now it was pairs of behemoth guys pulling saws back and forth, cutting logs the diameter of my rental car, making my hoped-for comment no longer appropriate, or funny.

Next out of the corner of my eye, the waiter RUNS like Wiley Coyote, and brakes to a stop at the mistaken table, this time laden with prime rib and tilapia platters, each one studded by a full miniature loaf of sourdough bread with the explanation, “Since you had to wait, I’m giving you each full loaves.” This seemed to be something he had taken upon himself to do for them, which I thought was respectable (although please don’t do that for me, I can’t even have the half-loaf). But the way he had RUN to them was magical. Again, he communicated so well with his entire body.

He then quickly exited the stage again, since he still had more plates to deliver. By now the whole lumberjack contest video had ended and there was nothing left but a slide advertising chainsaws from a local hardware store remaining on the screen. No appropriate comment occurred to me, now.

But thinking about how he had run by with those plates of food and how he had jerked to a perfect stop at those people’s table, I heard in my mind my asking him if he had ever performed on stage there. Here was the perfect leading man, physically gorgeous, and also a character actor for the funny parts. Anyone as expressive with movement as that, with such great diction and vocal interpretation, plus his perfect looks, he’d be the town STAR in no time. And for sure, no crippling stage fright for him!

I began to have a couple of fantasies…one was that he was currently acting on stage there, and was, in fact, already a star, and would be able to trot out some names of directors or theater owners or performing companies that he had worked with, whom I can say that I had known, or worked with when I lived there before, and it would have pleased him very much to have his qualities recognized by such a stranger seeing him out of context. This would be bound to make him feel good.

The other fantasy was that he was not performing in local theatrics there, but had wanted to and all he needed was just a tiny little push, such as the suggestion by a stranger that he do so. I couldn’t imagine that a guy who was like him DIDN’T have that desire, if he wasn’t already pursuing it.

Either way, this would give me the opportunity to do something for him, give him some gift that might have some positive impact on his life, and just the thought that maybe I could do that would be the satisfaction that I could obtain.

I did wonder, though, if what I was seeing in him was genuine, or was I being affected by the ghosts of all the performers who had filled these tables in the past. And was this still an acting town, where audiences would come from Sacramento, and maybe even the San Francisco Bay Area, to see plays in the oldest theater in California, or was all that, too, something from the past?

Had I just become a semi-senile “old man”, confusing a cute boy with the one I had courted and loved and who had wanted me, too, and who told me that he loved me several decades ago, the only one who had ever said it, and probably the only who ever would?

A good time to ask him my question, give him my verbal gift, would be when he comes to refill my coffee. However, when he did come, he didn’t have a coffee pot in his hand, but was there, instead, to tell those of us who were in his section that he was now having to leave to go to a family dinner and that he was turning his tables over to the waitress whose name he gave, but which I didn’t store my head. So, there was not going to be any time for any kind of humorous repartee, he wasn’t even going to finish the basic job of being my waiter for one meal. Still, despite this not being the best moment, I heard myself ask him my question.

He didn’t answer immediately, so I got embarrassed and said, “Not that I am recruiting or casting or anything, but I just thought that with your great expressive diction and appealing, extroverted mannerisms, and leading man looks, that you would be a natural for the stage.”

He then smiled that sunrise smile, and with comfort and ease canted his hips into a position of relaxation, and said that he had never been on stage, but that he had been politically active, had started an anti-litter campaign called “Super Hero” (“Be a Super Hero by keeping the environment clean) for the county that was meant to be directed at school children, in which he made county-wide presentations wearing a Super Hero costume and had been interviewed on the radio (the same radio station that had interviewed me about a play that I had directed) and he had become known for the character that he had created and played, and that he hoped to use his political experience in other helpful ways, as well. He than apologized profusely for having to leave, but assured me that I was in good hands with the waitress whose name I didn’t store, and that he hoped to see me there again, and then he moved on to the couple whose order he had messed up, and he apologized to them again for originally messing up their order, but they said that he had nothing to apologize for, he was a “Super Hero” to them, and he went on down the line of booths repeating that he had to leave but that he would be back in the restaurant that evening, and woman in the last booth he spoke to was very concerned that he wasn’t going to get the tip that she wanted to give him (which had I had been concerned about, as well, but I figured the take-over waitress would share the tips with him), but he assured her that he WOULD get his share and all was well.

And then he quickly walked out of there and then through the large picture windows of the restaurant I saw him run as fast as he could over to his black pick-up truck, and I had every expectation of seeing him speed that truck with a squeal out of the parking lot and down the street, but no, he drove at a very respectable, sedate, safe pace, the all-around great guy that he was.

Driving back down to my hotel in Sacramento after my day trip to Nevada County, I couldn’t get him out of my mind and I thought about his answer to my question. Politics? What did his answer mean? Was he saying to me, “No, I am using the qualities that you observed for genuine ACTION, not fantasy; I am using them for making a difference, not for simply telling a story or providing entertainment.” Was he, in a way, saying, “Thank you for your observations, but I am way ahead of you, already doing something else that I think is better”?

DO I think the “action” of politics is better?

Well, no, I do not, nor am I sure that that is the best use of his qualities. I never thought of politicians as beautiful, although I guess they could be. Who was the last good-looking politician that I could think of? President Kennedy, maybe. Mostly I just think of them as ugly, corrupt old men.

An actor on stage can create any of an infinite variety of characters all bringing to life a meaningful story that adds to the culture and enhances the growth of the individual who can open to the meaning of the story and apply its lessons to his own life. Being a “politician” is just ONE type of character, and I don’t think the waters run very deep, nor is the effect very positive.

In order for him to give me the answer that he did, he had to hear what I was saying, extract from it what the qualities were that he had used, and enumerated for me how every one of them he had used, similar to how he had had enumerated for me the name of every incarnation of the restaurant where he now worked. While he had never performed on a theatrical stage, he DID apply himself to a public arena in a different venue, even right down to his choice of wearing the costume of a Super Hero, and it was his body that had been the first thing of him that I had noticed, and he had been interviewed on the radio, where his only instrument would be his voice. So his answer was, in fact, a perfect and appropriate response to my question.

If a person actually hears what you say and is able to apply what you have observed of them into real examples from their life, then that means that you two have made a connection. So what he experienced that day was that he had been really SEEN, and what I gave him was the gift of that. If he wants to continue with political actions, then he has received further affirmation of the rightness of that path. If he has other desires, then his having been seen will also have been beneficial in ways that his genuine self will understand.

And it wasn’t the ghosts of performers from the past who distorted by vision. My vision was perfectly clear.

But the fact that THIS is the restaurant where he is making his living, makes me think that the ghosts have had a pull, after all. Perhaps they drew him there, and have made him feel right at home among them. We can rarely know the impact that we might have on people, but if we are willing to give the gifts of our positive, supportive observations, some good, either small or great, is bound to come in the lives of others we meet and are drawn to; it is making love.