Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ghost Story

I think it's time I recorded this for posterity.  Back when I was an actor, one of my first jobs was with a group called The Everyman Players.  Every summer, they performed an outdoor drama based on The Book of Job in a natural amphitheater outside of Pineville, Kentucky.  At some point there was talk of moving the play to San Antonio, Texas.  I forget why; I think there was some maneuvering going on by the local officials to use the amphitheater for something else.  In any event, the Junior League of San Antonio was considering bringing in "The Book of Job" as a classy alternative to the usual crop of summer "outdoor dramas," which generally focus on local history.  I guess they thought a nightly reenactment of the Battle of the Alamo was out of the question.

So one weekend, on their dime, we packed up our costumes, our makeup and ourselves and flew to San Antonio.  We put on the show for the potential investors and then attended the obligatory "enjoyed it!" after-party.  Then we were divided up among the Junior Leaguers who were putting us up in twos and threes for the night before getting us to the airport for the flight home the next morning.

Myself, a married couple, and another single woman were sent off with a Junior League member whose father had been ambassador to India under a recent Democratic president.  We were put up in an old carriage house that had been converted into a guest cottage.  There were three upstairs bedrooms that looked down into a living area over a central balcony -- the hole through which hay had been lowered from the hayloft down to the carriage stalls back in the old days.  You could now reach the hayloft by way of a beautiful cast iron spiral staircase which had been installed as part of the renovation.  We admired the beautiful architecture; then we had a last glass of wine with our hosts, and they bid us good night -- and on their way out, they told us not to worry about any noises we might hear during the night; it was just the ghost.

Excuse me?  Did you just say, "ghost?"

Oh, yeah, they said, but it's nothing to worry about.  In 1917, one of the female servants was in love with one of the stable boys.  He went off to fight in World War I and was killed in the trenches.  When she heard the news, she committed suicide in the carriage house and her ghost had been known to make the odd noise.  No big deal.


Our hosts went off to the main house, we went up the spiral staircase, and went to our individual rooms. Now, not to get all Dave Barry on you or anything, but I swear this is true:  Not fifteen minutes after turning off the lights, we began to hear footsteps going up and down the iron staircase.  Of course each of us assumed that it was one of us at first.  When it didn't stop, I called out asking that they keep it down and the chorus of "it wasn't me!" that followed really freaked us all out when we realized that none of us had been making the trips up and down the stairs.  We looked around, saw nothing, and went back to bed.

Things settled down and I had just fallen asleep when I heard the sounds of breaking glass coming from downstairs in the living area.  It sounded for all the world as though someone was in the kitchen deliberately throwing wine glasses and plates against the wall, one after another.  The breaking crockery was followed by loud sobbing.  Then the footsteps ran up the stairs again.  That's when the lights began turning on all by themselves.

By now the two women in our party were crying and the other guy was busy trying to calm his wife down.  I remember calling out something to the effect that I was sure that something was terribly upsetting you, whoever you are, but we had nothing to do with it.  "I am very, very sorry for your pain, but we have had a very long and terrible day ourselves," I said, "and we have to get up very early and do it all over again tomorrow.  Could you please, please, please let us get some sleep?"

There was a wall-mounted light over my bed that you could easily turn on or off while lying there.  I was quite alone in my room.  This light turned itself on for about as long as it takes to count to three, and then it turned itself off.  The carriage house was in complete darkness.  I heard the footsteps go down the staircase one last time, and then ... nothing.

The rest of the night passed without anything else happening.

We took a good look around the next morning.  There were no broken dishes or glasses.  Everything was exactly as we had left it the night before.  I took a look at the staircase to see if there was any way we could have been victimized by some kind of bizarre joke -- although why you would play such an elaborate and cruel joke on complete strangers escapes me.  There was no way the sound could have been made artificially on the staircase -- and there is no doubt in my mind that it was coming from the cast iron spiral staircase; I heard it distinctly enough to know the direction and even whether the footsteps were going up or down -- and there was nothing there.  No wires, no way to conceal any kind of a speaker.  I have been a sound designer and know a little bit about sound and special effects.  The cast iron was in a Victorian lace pattern and simply could not conceal any kind of speaker, at least not with the technology available to us in the 1970's.  The sound and lights could, I suppose, have been managed from some kind of control room elsewhere, but it was the staircase that clinched things for me:  I have to conclude that I was present at something which had no natural explanation.

We told our hosts about it the next morning.  They were quite surprised that the ghost was so active.  According to them, there hadn't been such a spectacular outburst from her in decades.  We had breakfast in the main house, met up with the rest of the troupe, and loaded up for the airport and the flight back to Kentucky.

The show never did make the move to San Antonio, nor did it stay in Pineville, Kentucky.  It wound up as part of our repertory and when we couldn't book a gig at a school for one of our children's plays, we tried to sell "Job" to a church group or synagogue to round out the tour.  We never heard from the San Antonio Junior League again, and I never found out any more about the haunted carriage house.  But everything happened that night exactly as I have described it.

As an atheist, I have no belief in the afterlife.  But I do believe that the energy we make in life can imprint itself on our surroundings if it is sufficiently intense.  And something happened that night which I have never been able to satisfactorily explain.

True story.

Monday, July 26, 2010


This past Saturday the city of Harrisburg hosted its Fifth Annual Gay Pride parade and Pridefest, and my daughter Olivia and I both marched as part of a contingent from our church, the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  Unitarian-Universalism's first tenet is the affirmation of the worth and dignity of every human being, and supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people everywhere is part of that affirmation.  We could have just marched behind a banner and showed our support to the GLBT community in that way, but instead, we marched as a marching band.  We call ourselves the Flaming Chalices, after the symbol of Unitarian-Universalism, and yes, the double entendre of the first word is entirely intentional.  The band consists of percussionists, some brass, some plastic lung-powered keyboards, and lots of flag twirlers.  The odd kazoo has also been known to put in an appearance.  I myself play coconut shells.

In spite of the deadly heat and my latest wave of Crohn's complications, we made it to the parade, finished the march, and my daughter went on to volunteer at Pridefest for the next several hours, in record heat, selling wristbands and helping in the children's area of the festival.

This year I was given the honor of being asked to come up with something for the band to chant in between performances of "Y.M.C.A." and "Over the Rainbow."  I came up with the following call-and-response cadence call, in the form of a "Jody Call."  I think people liked it OK.  If you have occasion to use it when marching for the rights of our GLBT sisters and brothers, please, feel free to do so with my blessing, and make whatever changes you feel are appropriate to your event:

I don't know what you've been told --
     I don't know what you've been told --
Discrimination's gettin' old!
     Discrimination's gettin' old!

I don't know just what you've heard --
     I don't know just what you've heard --
Prejudice is for the birds!
     Prejudice is for the birds!

There is something you should know:
     There is something you should know:
A brand new wind is gonna blow!
     A brand new wind is gonna blow!

Gay and straight, LGBT
     Gay and straight, LGBT
Pride Fest is the place for me!
     Pride Fest is the place for me!

Count off -- One Two
Count off -- Three Four
Count off -- One Two Three Four
     Three!  Four!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some Like It Hot...

...but not me.  The weather here in central Pennsylvania has been insanely, unseasonably hot.  Normal temperatures here are in the low eighties Fahrenheit; we have been in the range of upper nineties to lower hundreds.  For my friends in the rest of the normal, metric world, we are talking forty degrees C.  Hot.  Too damned hot.

Today we were once again well into the nineties F.  The weather is, if nothing else, playing havoc with my Crohn's Disease.  I had thought I could finally taper off the prednisone -- and I still plan to try -- but shortly after cutting the dose essentially in half as of two days ago, the pain started again; feeling like somebody was holding my small intestines closed with hot pliers.  I had really, really hoped that the last surgery meant the end of feeling like that for perhaps the rest of my life.  It is, I fear, not to be.

I have already tried increasing the immunosuppressants; I'm maxed out on the same drugs that they give to heart transplantees.  (Since Crohn's is an autoimmune disease, there is usually good success with immunosuppressants in the stubborn cases.)  My body, in its infinite stupidity, is figuring out ways around the immunosuppressant's effects and doing an end-run back into pain.

All this, and I get to be really hot, too.

Forecast is for 90 or so degrees (33-35º C.) for the rest of the week.

I will try to contain my enthusiasm for this summer's weather.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Watching the broken white line stream toward the windshield
like bolts of some strange energy
as my mind wanders into a place
where I am so much younger
so much lighter
and I can dance
and my nose is a bit smaller
and my chin is a bit stronger
and my hair is dark and thick again.
Oh I am dancing with her
in romantic darkness
she is young and lovely
and smitten
with long tan legs
and lovely blue eyes
and a light dusting of freckles on her nose
smiling the most beautiful smile I have seen this side of my wedding day
and then I have to come back to the wheel
where I am old and heavy again
and dancing is just the memory
of a fantasy
as I drive along home.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


We are just back from three days at the University of Pittsburgh, where Pitt held tours and information panels for prospective freshmen.  We all just fell in love with the place.  It's a big school with a small school feel, in an urban setting that feels more like a village.  If I had reservations about issues of safety, they have been wiped away.  The campus felt very safe, even after dark, and as long as one uses a modicum of common sense, there is little to be concerned about regarding security, even from this admittedly overprotective dad.

Of course Olivia still has to be accepted, but she really likes the school.  The people were all as delightful as we could hope.  The students who ran the unsupervised, unmonitored, and uncensored "Why Pitt?" panel were honest, open, and genuinely in love with the place, warts and all.  Even the tour in 102º F. weather (and ending in a torrential downpour) was a delight, thanks to our "Pitt Pathfinder" Amanda Washington.  Amanda is an incoming senior from Houston, Texas, and gave us an informative tour of the undergrad campus, peppered with lots of humor and good, solid answers for all of our questions.  Olivia can pursue biology there and still have room to pursue art.  She can even take up to three credit hours at any of the other colleges in Pittsburgh, including Carnegie Mellon University, as part of her Pitt curriculum and for no additional tuition.  It really seems to be a good fit.

We are still going to be looking at the other schools on Olivia's short list, but this was a very promising start.  We even learned that there's a vibrant Unitarian church within a few blocks of the Pitt campus, so assuming she has time, she can at least enjoy the company of like-minded folks every week.

Next up will be the Rochester Institute of Technology, assuming that they can answer our questions about venues for pursuing fine arts along with their excellent biology curriculum.  Fingers crossed that we have another great experience up in New York!!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Heat Wave

So the reason this week's blog post is a little late is nothing less than the heat wave that's been gripping the entire eastern U.S. for days and days.  Not sure what the Harrisburg official temperature has been, but it's hit 40º C. (or 104º Fahrenheit for my metric-impaired countrymen) for the past two days according to my kitchen thermometer.  That's the temperature in the shade.  Since we recently had several thousand dollars' worth of landscaping done, I have been outside every tolerable moment watering, watering, watering.  Thankfully, we are in the middle of just a heat wave, not a drought.  But it takes quite literally hours to get it all soaked, and then twelve hours later everything is drooping and wilting again.  The hydrangea and the new cherry tree are particularly worrisome.  All we can do is water and water, though, so we are doing it.

At least until tomorrow.  Friday the landscaping is in Mother Nature's hands, so I'm hoping for that long-promised thunderstorm.  The reason?  We are taking a brief trip to Pittsburgh for a campus visit to the University of the same name, aka Pitt.  My daughter Olivia is extremely interested in their biology and fine arts programs, and is intrigued by the idea of city life in the 'Burgh.  So we are checking it out.  Several hours of prospective-freshman programming for her, prospective-parents-of-freshman programming for us, tours, class auditing, and interviews with admissions and financial aid people.

This is the first of our campus visits.  It's starting, folks.  By this time next year, we will know where she is going to be, how much it's going to cost, and all of our lives will be in turmoil as we prepare for the next phases in them.  I have all the usual parental ambivalence; proud that of the job we did as parents preparing a child for the world; sorry to see her enter that world as we say goodbye to what has been such a huge part and focus of our very existence.

I hope she is excited in Pittsburgh.  I hope I am too. 

It's really starting.