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.

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