Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hey....Where's Perry?

I was reading the Detroit Free Press this morning, and learned that Jerry Abu El Hawa died suddenly earlier this week.

I didn't know Jerry personally, of course; there are a lot of people in Detroit I don't know.  But I've probably seen Jerry from time to time, given that he was a kind of permanent fixture at American Coney Island on Lafayette in Detroit; and I've been there a couple of times and probably saw him.

His picture looked friendly.

And it got me thinking about a guy named Perry Fezat.

When I was but a pup, making my way across the great world, I found myself in a strange land called Yooperland; and I made my way from wide eyed Freshman to closed eyed Senior in the theatre building at Northern Mitten University.

It was a good place to play, the Forest Roberts Theatre; a womb-like building that nursed and encouraged young artists, many who have gone on to Hollywood and Broadway careers....and one that became the guru of all things organizational.  There were people to look up to; people to fight with; people to compete with; and at the end of the day the flags were furled and the bar stools were occupied and the drink flowed as well as the mirth.

At the end of the day, we were all members of the last, lost tribe.  Or, if you're into cartoons, we were the sheepdog and the coyote at the end of the day, punching out and getting a drink together.

And there were constants through those years of change; Dr. P of the bouncing cigarette (he's long since given them up, of course) would in the same breath compliment and condemn you, but with the foreknowledge that he was fond of you....and would at your darkest hour appear with an invitation to dine; Vic of the scene shop who was easy to laugh and slow to anger and always made you work hard and rewarded that work with a kind of appreciation I've rarely felt since; and Ms. S, who was the first professorial type to make me cry....and she cried as she did it.

They're still there, by the way.  And they remember most of it.  And they're always surprised when I show up. 

Secretly, I think they're surprised I'm still alive.  But that's to be expected.

But one of the other constants was a guy named Perry Fezat. 

He was a big bear of a man, large of body, small of head, and bald as a gear shift lever.  I remember he had this somewhat strange voice, kind of gravelly, but once he saw you more than once, he knew your name and was as friendly as all get-out.

He was the custodian of the Fine Arts Department; he fixed it, he cleaned it, he polished it and he took care of it...and when necessary, he took care of the people IN the department as well.

There were many late nights in that building; rehearsals didn't have an expiration time; photo calls could go into the wee hours.  Preparing for juries had people staking out square feet of space all over the building, muttering monologues and perfecting dialect and singing to themselves like the inmates of a Hahahacienda.  And Perry was liberal with his access; allowing us into the theatre after hours, coming down into the catacombs late to make sure all was well.....and small snacks and cups of coffee magically appearing to bolster our artistic strengths....

Oh, but if you didn't belong there, he was adamant in his requests that you leave.

Everybody knew Perry; the Freshmen were invariably introduced to him by the Upper Classmen.  I remember meeting him; he shook my hand and I swear to GOD he powdered several of the smaller bones in the demonstration.  The next time we met, he called me by name....and my FIRST name, which pretty much never happened in those days.

The last time I saw Perry, he was in the catacombs below the stage, making sure my then-girlfriend was secure in the costume shop; we were about to open a play and it was "crunch time."  We said goodnight to Perry, and then to each other, and I went home to get some sleep for the week of techs and dress rehearsals and such.

The next morning, I was comforting the girl, for she had found Perry in the elevator later that early morning; he was in the elevator when that big heart of his just gave up. 

It was weird in the building for a couple of weeks after that.  It was an alien place for us that knew him.....and we learned so much about him after he was gone.  Apparently, he was a decorated soldier in WWII, who avoided the crowds welcoming back to town upon his discharge by getting off the train a stop early and walking the rest of the way.....and later, when the University awarded him a watch for thirty years of service, he didn't show up for the ceremony.

So....he was brave, and dedicated and above all, humble.  He didn't want a fuss made.

I'm assuming that passing away in such a public place must have been embarrassing for him.

But the story doesn't end there; does it ever?

According to a couple of websites, as well as a group at Northern Mitten University that specializes in Paranormal Activity....Perry is still around.  By several accounts, he closes doors and rattles trashcans and will unceremoniously push you out the door if you're not supposed to be there.  Several people have gotten into the habit of saying, "Hello, Perry" when entering the building.

By all accounts, he has never appeared in the elevator.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Inside jokes and inside responses.

Do you remember that sense of absolute hilarity that you often felt as a younger person?  That feeling of laughing so hard you might just stop breathing?

There are moments I can distinctly recall; and the thought of them brings that strange grin to my face, and I can feel, ever so slightly, that hilarity must behind my face, daring me to look away for just one minute so that it can burst forth and remind me that such things are possible.

If I'm alone, I'll let some of the laughter slip.  But if I'm not alone, I find that it's far too difficult to explain, so I let it go.

But I treasure it like the last bite of that brownie pie, consumed in a corner table of that quiet little bar in KY.

"Big hair; Little Richard."

That one gets me, every time.

It was a conversation in a small house a long time ago; those conversations always seemed to get away from us, somehow....and the results of that freedom was

I don't get those conversations anymore.  And I can satisfy myself, 23 hours of a day, that I had my fill and it was a good run, and I have the memory of those laughter filled evenings, and that's good enough.

But in that one hour......that one hour when I let the Wild Rumpus Start......I get very angry that I no longer have that outlet, and the alleged reasons behind it.

It's often called, in those times, as the feeling of the loss of nameless things.  And if I were less cynical, and less used to disappointment, I assume I could weep.  But I do not.

I dream.

And wait for that next hour to come.

I have replaced Orwell's Two Minutes Hate with a Lost Hour of Laughter.

Friday, June 7, 2013

My life is filled with random meetings......

When I arrived here in the Northern State back in '06, I took a month off from work.  It was truly the first and (so far) only long stretch of unemployment I had ever been through.  And it was okay, because we got out of the Golden State just before the bust, and we had a little extra lying around, so it wasn't necessary for me to work.

Except I was new in this area; and I didn't know anybody.  And I didn't know anything about the place except that it took me driving constantly for about 38 hours to get here.  And I was pretty sure it would snow.  So, the time off was pretty unbearable after about....well.....four days.

So, I went looking for a job, and eventually found one in the airline industry.

I was one of those guys you see when you look out the window of the aircraft, putting your luggage in the plane, driving those carts around, waving those lighted wands about to signal the plane to go and come back and such.

Remind me to tell you the story of attempting to load a plane when the temperature was -30 and the wind was howling at around 40 mph.  You learn how to dress for conditions.  And yes, you do wind up looking a little like the Michelin Man.

But that's not the story.

About five months after I joined the airline, the Government called.  And since it was better pay and indoors, I jumped at it.  I put on a uniform and learned to do stuff and I treated people with respect and most of the time they gave it back.

I was one of the guys behind the machine that looks in your bags and waves a wand around you to hear it go "beep."

I answered a lot of questions about a lot of beeps.  And no, I never caught a terrorist.  But I did find several knives, some bullets, and a gun.

Remind me to tell you just how many times somebody says that they forgot the loaded gun was in their bag, when it was right on top; the LAST thing they would have put in the bag before bringing it to the airport.

Also remind me to tell you about my Security Motto:  I don't care if you're building a bomb in your garage, just don't bring it with you to the airport.

But that's not what I was going to talk about, either.

I want to talk about a guy named Bill Carns.

He flew regularly out of our little Northern State Capitol Airport; and he was a very nice fellow in a lot of obvious pain.  He was in a wheelchair; he couldn't use the left side of his body, and his speech was a little slurred.  But he was very friendly as I approached him to do some screening.

He said, unbidden, "I was Richard Ramirez' last victim."

In 1985, the Night Stalker serial killer broke into his California house, killed his girlfriend and shot him in the head, leaving him for dead.  That very evening, a keen-eyed teenager caught a license plate number, and shortly thereafter, Ramirez was captured.  He was tried, and sentenced to death.

And he sat on Death Row from 1986 until his death from reasonably natural causes last night.

I heard the news this morning, and thought of my first encounter with Mr. Carns; how easily he talked about his ordeal, and the scars he carried with him with not even a hint of "why me?"  I thought about how he would take the news, how he would react to the death of the monster that rearranged his life so horribly, so completely.....

But if there was a just God in Heaven, Mr. Carns would have miraculously regained the use of his body, and all his faculties, as Mr. Ramirez began his long awaited trip to Hell.

But the only justice here is that Mr. Carns unwilling sacrifices brought about the end of this monster's spree, and saved lives.

Good wishes to you, Bill Carns.  Thank you for sharing your story.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

There was cake, and Stroh's, and laughter. Lots of laughter.

I walked through the town of my young manhood, looking for the concrete remnants of an ethereal past.

Because when you go back to your boyhood home, you're not looking for your home; you're looking for your boyhood.

I found myself in the Lake Town on a Sunday evening; the sun was just so in the western sky, and although it was deep summer, the air was cool as I walked along the Great Lake.

I hoped, somehow, that all those voices and all those people would magically come out of the woods or the woodwork, changed not in the least, and take me down the road to a clearing where we could all play kick the can and Rod Serling would make us young again.

Actually, I was hoping to see one familiar face; and terrified at the same time that I would.

So, I walked.

I found myself on the high end of town, somewhere between Town and Gown.  The shadows were getting longer as I walked what was once a familiar path down the street to the house on the corner of Avenue and Street.....the intersection between past and present.

The site of my first marriage.

Now, before you jump out of your skin, let me finish my story........

When I was a young man, in the Fall of Eightysomething, I played a scratcher game in the Mitten Lottery and won a sizable amount of money.  I can remember the night clearly; I bought the thing at a place called The Sunshine Stop, and was scratching it as the a very attractive girl drove us down the street toward my rented abode.  When I finally counted up all the numbers, I was shocked to find out just how much I had in my hand.

I mean, I would have settled for a hundred.  Or even a thousand.

This was waaaaay more than that.

And I announced it, quite loudly, in the car.

The very attractive girl's response was unforgettable: "No, you didn't."

So, in that moment, it became more important to convince her of my veracity than it was to actually enjoy holding the golden ticket in my hand.

After a while, she believed it.

And on we went to my rented abode.  But not for what you may think; that came later and is a much longer story.....

We eventually wound up at a party the house at the corner of Avenue and Street; and as I came into the room, there was an announcement (thought not by me) that the room was in the presence of a reasonably wealthy guy.....

The next thing was a blur.

Literally, a blur:  a petite blonde girl apparently launched herself at me.  I distinctly remember her knees hitting me in the chest, knocking me flat with the petite blonde girl on my chest, screaming a proposal of marriage at me as if I was the finish line of some long dreamt-of race.

Did I mention she was petite and blonde?  And I was a guy?

Flash forward a few months, when the winds began to blow and the rain began to fall and the frost began to was time for a party.....

So, the petite blonde and myself put together a wedding; well, more to the point, it was a reception, followed by, perhaps, if we got around to it, a ceremony where we would betroth ourselves to each other for.....well, it turned out to be quite a long time.

For we are married to other people, and we live in different parts of the continent, and we have not set eyes upon each other since about nineteen eightysomething.....but we still refer to each other as "first husband" and "first wife."

It was a party for the ages.  And I went home alone; which was okay.  For the blonde girl meant much more to me at that time than could be measured by any intimate conclusion to the evening.

Flash forward several decades........and I'm standing in front of the house.  We are both much changed.  And I can hear, distinctly, the sounds of the house at full tilt......and I can see the faces of those people, all spread to the four winds now......replaced by a whole generation of new faces and new experiences in that old house.

I don't stand there very long; I don't want to be mistaken for a peeper or a stalker...I continue the walk, back to the Lake shore, back to life in the present......

Those are the moments you wonder why people don't just ask you why you're grinning like an idiot.