Thursday, November 14, 2019

A moment in the day: fog


I'm pulling up to work on the first day of the impeachment inquiry hearings, and I don't want to turn off the car. I linger a bit at the curb with the radio on, listening.

I want to say I think this process will make a difference, but I tend to be a pessimist and if the last three years have taught me anything, it's to be even more pessimistic. This man feels completely unstoppable, like those hallucinogenic brooms in the movie Fantasia, but brooms are for cleaning things up, not making messes, and my metaphor is clearly not working, and anyway, it's unsettling to see Mickey Mouse chopping up anything that has hands.

Through my window, fog sits in the hills above the industrial area of Portland where I work. I want to say I think this process will make a difference, but if the last three years have taught me anything, it's that half the country will turn a blind eye on any number of truths. As I was driving in this morning, listening to the opening statements, there seemed to be no fog at all on the east side, but then, ahead, a sudden cloud lay across the Broadway Bridge. Driving onto the bridge, I drove right into it, white all around me, out over the water, and the world disappeared into it. It was like the river was the dividing line. Half of the city clear, half  the city socked in. That's not a metaphor, it's just weird science.

I've got to stop listening. I've got to get in there and get on the clock.

I turn off the motor and let things go quiet.

As I grab my bag and get out of the car, a bicycle rides by, white head lamp lighting up silver in the fog. I hear the voices again, loud. The same exact voices. The bicyclist flashes by, listening to the hearings as he goes.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

a moment in the day: pages


We're at the literary event, and they're about to announce my name. When they do, I'll get up and take these pages in my lap to where the microphone is, and I'll read my piece.

Tomorrow we've got an event that's even more involved, one Stephen will be singing in, one he's been making a beautiful, intricate costume for. Which he hasn't finished yet. In the car on the way over tonight, we were talking about events and how you can still get stressed after all these years.

"And why?" he said. "It's supposed to be fun!"

"I know!" I said. "I mean, I may mess up, but who cares? I've messed up before, and it's been fine. All that matters is that we get out there and we have a good time."

And we do. Even with the stressing, it's always fun. This is the thing we tend to forget when we're busy worrying over will we get there on time will the costume be done will I stumble over my words will I lose my place will I drive around twenty minutes looking for parking will I read poorly will no one laugh at the funny parts will someone come up to talk to me and I won't remember their name will I trip on my way to the microphone and fall on my face will my pants fall down.

That never happens. Your pants never fall down.

And here's the thing. If you have fun no matter what goes wrong, what can go wrong?

At the front of the room, now, the co-host calls out my name. As the audience applauds, I head on up.

She hands me the mic and I turn to the audience. Big grin on my face.

"Hi!" I say. I hold up my small stack of pages: the lifeline and security blanket of every writer. "So, before we get started, does anyone have my first page?"

Friday, November 1, 2019

a moment in the day: knife


As I get out of the car, home from work, Stephen is just behind the fence in the backyard, and calls to me to come around back. It's only fourish in the afternoon. I had an early day, off at three, to come home and catch some quick early dinner before heading off to the opera, to our makeup calls, on this, the second-to-last performance of the run. It's also Halloween. We have a load of candy ready, and a bowl, and I'm hoping to see a trick-or-treater or two before we have to head out and leave the bowl on the porch.

I haul my bags out of the car and come around front, heading to the backyard. Then pause.

I say, "I'm just going to take care of this right now."

The tiny pocket knife sitting on the second-to-top step to our front porch.

It's been sitting there since the middle of January when we came home from an evening at the theater and found it.

I don't know where it came from. I don't know why we left it. At first it seemed like an evil omen to me and I didn't want to touch it. But it soon became this thing Stephen and I both were oddly possessive of, always wanting to make sure it was still there. For me, this was partly habit. It was there so it should stay there. It was also weird, and I like things that are weird.

That weird little knife hooked up with the part of my brain that loves story. I often wonder, how will it end? All stories have ends, so this one must, too. Will we just come home one day and it's gone? Back in the summer that happened, actually. I walked up the steps and—blink—it wasn't there. I felt sad. But I also felt like, OK, there's the end of the story. Now it's a completed thing.

Then I was weeding in the yard over the weekend and found it lying in the middle of the grass.

I put it back on the second-to-top step again and made sure it was set at a slant, just like always.

Last week we had fierce winds in Portland. I wondered if that would be the end to this little knife story. Whether we'd take it down so that it didn't fly off into the night. Whether we'd leave it and it would do just that. I thought about mentioning it to Stephen but then figured I'd let fate decide. And wind whipped the trees all day and all night and the knife didn't budge.

But you don't leave a knife on your porch when it's Halloween.

Hey, kids, we're away, but help yourselves. We have Whoppers. Milk Duds. Concealable weapons.

I round the front of the car and grab the picket knife from the step. It's so small and light in my hand.

Perhaps this will be where the story ends. Perhaps I'll get it back to Stephen at the back fence, and he'll say, maybe it's time...

He holds the gate open for me and I walk through. He points to the place where the fence ends at the corner of our house near the back door.

"Put it there," he says. "It can guard our house from here."

I put the knife on the edge of the fence, and Stephen turns it a little to make sure it's slanty, just like always.



Wednesday, October 30, 2019

a moment in the day: rice


The music swells, as music tends to do at the opera, and I'm standing on stage with the Admiral and our lady companion watching Cio-Cio San and Lieutenant Pinkerton get married. Matchmaker Goro sings, "Lo sposo" and then "Poi la sposa," and the young new spouses sign the 1904 Japanese equivalent of a marriage certificate. As the photographer steps in with an old fashioned camera to take his shot of bride and groom, I have my reticule ready, filled with the rice I'm going to throw.

There were various notes from the director taped outside people's dressing rooms after Wednesday night's dress rehearsal. Mine said, "Super American Ladies: Can you throw a little less rice? A little goes a long way." So tonight, opening night, I'm trying to remind myself. Don't throw three handfuls, just two.

I've been supering with the Portland Opera on and off for, my god, over ten years. Sharing a dressing room at fifty is very different than sharing a dressing room at thirty-eight. Especially when all your fellow female supers are thirty-eight or far, far younger. There's nowhere to hide with all those dressing room bulb lights on you.

Youth. When I was young and having rice thrown on me at my first wedding—or it was probably birdseed at that point—I was probably prettier than I knew, but I also didn't have a very good relationship with myself. Even on a wedding day in a shower of rice, or birdseed, I assumed that deep down self-hatred I'd carried since being bullied in grade school would always be there. It was, for decades. I think most of what it took to get rid of that—or mostly get rid of that—was age. Simply, finally growing up a bit. And maybe doing things like this. And public readings. Allowing people to see me no matter how awkward I feel in the world. Even in the unforgiving blast of dressing room lights.

Downstage, the photographer flashes his camera. Cio-Cio San and Lieutenant Pinkerton embrace. I reach into my reticule and remind myself: don't throw three handfuls, just two.

Grabbing my first handful, I grab, also, the bottom of the reticule, turning the thing inside out. Rice showers down.

I make a lame toss with what remains in my hand, to half-reach the bride and groom. My lady companion throws her two healthy handfuls, but the rest of my allotment is on the Admiral's shoe.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

a moment in the day: bustle


The opera super women's dressing room for Madama Butterfly is small and crowded. I'm pinned between the counter and the wardrobe rack with a concrete wall to my back and three other super women and our dresser crammed in front of me, and I love the bustle of it all. From the little speaker mounted by the ceiling come the sounds of the goings-on down on stage, including various commands from our stage director as we lead up to the Piano Dress Rehearsal.

"Chorus Men to your places."

I'm almost ready—makeup done, wig and hat on, stockings and shoes on. Petticoat. Skirt. The funny, little bustle that will help me look like a turn-of-the-last-century lady once this whole getup is in place. It's a pillow of white cotton fabric that poofs out over my backside, with extra padding over my hips to create the illusion that I'm wearing a corset. There's a strip of white ruffle at the edge that I guess is used to keep the transition from body to bustle smooth, and white laces sewn in at the sides, which I've tied across my middle to hold the thing in place, but as my dresser comes to help me on with my blouse, she examines my look and says the bustle is too high.

"Can you undo it and then retie it lower?" she asks.

I try to pull it open but it's stuck. "Shoot. I did it in a double bow." I pick at the loops and the knot in the center.

The dresser tries to help me get it loose.

"I was afraid it'd come undone in the middle of the performance," I say.

Laura, the other woman who plays an American wedding guest, with matching bustle, leans in to us. "If you want to drop something on stage, it might as well be your booty."

Thursday, October 17, 2019

a moment in the day: share


It's opera rehearsal day five, at least for Stephen and me. We're partially-costumed—Stephen in his opera shoes and military hat, me in my opera shoes and with my petticoat over my jeans—standing on a riser on the practice stage. I have my reticule, hung from my wrist, and a brown, wooden dowel rod that acts as a stand-in for the parasol I'll eventually get.

He is "the Admiral," and I'm "the Admiral's wife." It's 1904. Nagasaki, Japan. The Admiral and I are guests at the wedding of Cio-Cio San and US Naval Officer Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton.

And we're doing what background performers do a lot, which is hanging out and talking to each other, quietly, behind the action. While Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton sing downstage, the Admiral and I pretend to carry on a conversation with Laura (a fellow wedding guest) and the opera singer who plays Sharpless, the American Consul. This fake-talking thing seems like such an easy way to insinuate yourself into showbiz—you don't have to sing; you're just part of the action—but I still find it a little stressful. Like being at a party with people you don't really know. Trying to think of things to say.

Now Stephen, I mean the Admiral, does what he always does at this point in the production, and goes to talk to the young Naval officers positioned on a platform behind us.

I say, "Well, the Admiral's left me again."

Sharpless says, "Maybe he's arranging to get you a fifteen-year-old husband." A reference to Cio-Cio San, who's about to become Pinkerton's fifteen-year-old wife.

Scattered across the practice stage around us, the chorus sings in Italian. Back when I was in high school drama class, someone told me that when people in the theater act like they're talking at once, they're all just saying, "Peas and carrots, peas and carrots," over and over.

When the Admiral comes back, I say, "Did you get me a fifteen-year-old husband?"

"No," he says, "I thought the husband was for me."

Laura, with a petticoat over her clothes and a dowel rod in her hand but poised with the perfect elegance for an early-twentieth-century lady, leans in and suggests that maybe we can share.

I say, "I like to share."

Sharpless says, "I like Cher!"

We all agree. We all like Cher.

The chorus sings beautiful harmony.

Sharpless turns to Laura and says, gentlemanly: "Do you believe in life after love?"

She considers this. She nods sagely and answers in the affirmative, with one condition: "If I could turn back time."

Monday, October 14, 2019

a moment in the day: a romance


It's the first day of opera rehearsal for Madama Butterfly, and I sit in a chair on a riser on the practice stage wearing a white petticoat over my jeans. We're at a break in the action. The director is explaining something to a group of choristers off to my right while the rest of the actors scattered across the opera studio room relax on their marks and chat quietly.

Before me, in the area that would be downstage if the stage were more than just a floor, the stars of the show are half-sitting, half-lying, together. She is Cio-Cio San, a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl. He is US Naval Officer Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, who has just leased a house in Nagasaki that comes with, among other things, Cio-Cio San as a wife.

Pinkerton thinks this marriage thing could be a bit of a lark. Cio-Cio San, on the other hand, is so smitten that she's given up her religion and become Christian in order to be faithful to him.

Tragedy, of course, is just around the corner. This is the opera, after all.

But in the meantime, Cio-Cio San and her BFF Pinkerton smile, lean back across the practice stage, taking a selfie with Pinkerton's phone.