Friday, February 5, 2010
It's a rainy day here in North Florida and we were without power for a few hours in Lloyd. I went to the post office and Ms. Joanne had a kerosene lamp lit which seemed about perfect for a post office in a very old train station. We lose our power here just about every time it rains and some people complain, but me? I just wonder, with all the trees we have in this county and all the storms we have, how we manage to ever have power at all.
But anyway, the lights are back on, as they used to say and so is the wireless and I have nothing in the world I have to do so here I am, ready to tell this story. I feel quite intimidated, to tell you the truth. I don't know why. I suppose because it's not MY story and although I have Jan and Jack's full permission to tell it, it still seems odd for me to do so.
But I want to.
I thought maybe I'd use different names. Jack and Jan would become Ben and Betty. Those names would suit them. But so do Jack and Jan and hell, everyone in Monticello knows the story anyway so what the hell? I'll go with Jack and Jan but I still like Ben and Betty. Don't you?
So as you may or may not know, I love to act at the Monticello Opera House. Go to that link and check the pictures if you want. You'll see images of the Opera House itself and some of the people who hang out there, who run the place, who paint the ceilings and clean the bathrooms and chair the boards and tread the boards and build the sets and a lot of those people are people I've come to know and love in the three years I've been a part of it.
The first time I auditioned for a play there I was so shy I had to take my daughter Jessie with me. It was for a terrible play called Girls of the Garden Club and I got a role and Jessie got a main role and we had so much fun, driving to rehearsals and being together and meeting new people. The director was a woman named Lisa, the co-director a guy named Jack. I met Jan, who is the director of the Opera House too and she stepped in to play the part of a garrulous old coot when the original actor had to step out because of health problems.
Jan and Jack hung out together a lot and I assumed they were a couple. I never saw them smooching or anything like that, but they just seemed to fit together. They obviously enjoyed each others company tremendously. They had that ability to know what the other was thinking, they shared smiles that indicated they were both thinking the same thing at the same time. They seemed so happy together.
And then I discovered that no, they were not a couple. They were both married to other people. And I thought, "Well. There you go."
And that was that.
We did that horrible play and despite the crap writing of it, it was fun. I met other people. Most of whom I liked, some of whom I did not. Some of that turned out to be prophetic.
I next tried out for a production of Casa Blanca. I got a role. I hardly had any lines which was terrific. This was two years ago but for some reason, I think I looked about ten years younger then. And I got to wear really beautiful dresses and be all French and dramatic and it was about as much fun as I could imagine. I met Kathleen during that production and she and I became friends, which is a hard thing to do in your fifties. Lots of life behind you to catch each other up on, so many stories to share. But we caught up. We shared. And what I learned from Kathleen about her life put me in awe. And when my friend Lynn died, Kathleen gathered me in and practically forced me to help her with sound effects for one of the old time radio shows the Opera House puts on. I went to rehearsals with my tender grief and I felt enfolded and comforted.
Jack was always especially empathetic. I don't think we ever discussed Lynn's death but I could tell I could have talked to him, if I had wanted to. He was retired from years of counseling and I just felt so comfortable with him. He and Jan had co-directed Casa Blanca and I had fallen in love with both of them during that production because of the gentle, calm way they worked together. No yelling, no screaming, no egos, just...Let's try this. Good! More of that, less of this, okay. You got it.
And I had gotten to know both of them better. I knew they were both practicing Episcopalians. They seemed to be the good kind of Christians- tolerant, open, loving, good people. People I could say FUCK around. (My true test for whether I am comfortable with someone or not.) People who said FUCK themselves. People, like Kathleen and me, who had lived through what we so lovingly call "the sixties". We had shared past experiences. We had shorthand and instant jokes and understandings.
And me, being an observant person, began to realize that Jack and Jan WERE a couple. I had heard rumors which at first I had discounted but as I spent more and more time at the Opera House, I could see that those rumors might very well be true. That my first instincts had been right. And of course part of me wondered how this worked in such a small town. If I knew, if I could see, if everyone seemed to know, how did it work? What about the spouses whom I had also gotten to know and actually liked?
But I didn't judge. I'm too old for that shit. What I saw was two people a bit older than me who had had, between them, two heart attacks and a cancer and who, when they looked at each other, could not even begin to try and hide what they felt in their hearts. Being around them always felt good and I was in more plays with them. And as time went on and politics at the Opera House got sticky because of a new faction in town, I realized that my instincts about whom I had liked and whom I had NOT liked in the production of The Girls of the Garden Club had been correct as well. That new faction had been a woman in the cast and the day I auditioned I noticed her because she brought a portfolio. With head shots. Professionally done head shots. Which got my back up for some reason. And it turned out she was from New York City and had been a professional actor, dancer, accordion player, singer, song-writer, play-writer, crocheter (yes, crocheter), editor, teacher...oh hell. I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot. Model. Yes. A model too. I saw the shots of her hands in ads. I did. She showed us.
And she started out sweet and friendly but I could tell this woman had plans. Big plans for a small town theater and this not only got my back up, it set off alarm bells.
As I grew closer and closer to Jack and Jan, I grew more and more perturbed with Professional Woman. PW pissed me off several times and then an incident occurred with pissed me off so much that I vowed she would be my mortal enemy. I have never said this in my life about anyone. But I gleefully said it about her and as she grew stronger at the Opera House (and she does have vast talents- I'm not kidding you), my alarm bells went off louder and louder.
But I could ignore that. I just didn't get involved in the productions she was in. I kept my distance.
In the meantime, Jack's wife got cancer herself, went through treatment and went into remission.
Jan's very old father came to live in Monticello and Jan had to spend any extra time she had (which is hardly any- sixteen hour days at the Opera House are not unusual for her) making sure he was being taken care of and safe and always loved. Not an easy job. Not easy at all.
And that brings us up, I suppose, to Thursday a week ago. I went to rehearsal that evening for the play I'm in now which is called Sex Please, We're Sixty! Kathleen is directing it and Jack and Jan are playing, respectively, Henry Mitchell and Mrs. Stancliff. In the play, Henry has been courting Mrs. Stancliff for twenty years without result. And my character, a romance novelist, gives Henry the words to propose to Mrs. Stancliff more successfully and oh yes, Henry, a retired chemist, comes up with a pill to help menopausal women with their libido.
Throw in a guy who calls himself Bud the Stud who "dates" every woman who checks into Mrs. Stancliff's bed and breakfast and two more women and hilarity does ensue.
It's been the most fun play I've ever been in and we are a tight, small bunch of actor-friends who, because we trust each other implicitly, are allowing ourselves to really just find tremendous joy in the play.
And there was, I have to say, a great deal of satisfaction in watching Jack and Jan get to say words onstage which they could not say out loud in real life. Jack has a term for acting which he calls fake-believe. There was no way to watch these two people play their roles and not know that what they were doing was not fake believe. No. It was real.
And so when I got to rehearsal on Thursday night a week ago, I noticed that Jack and Jan were not there. Kathleen called to me when I walked into the theater and said, "Sit down. We must discuss Henry Mitchell."
"Where IS Henry Mitchell," I asked. "And Mrs. Stancliff?"
"Well, that's the thing," Kathleen said. "I just got a call from Henry and he and Mrs. Stancliff have run away together to an undisclosed location and they are now officially a couple."
The rest of the cast and crew and I all looked at each other and the first words out of my mouth were, "God. Finally."
And instead of rehearsing that night, we all discussed the situation from every angle. I mean- we're human. We discussed marriages and how no one knows what goes on in anyone's marriage but our own. How we all knew that Jack and Jan had been in love for a very long time. How fiercely angry the spouses would be. How fierce the town's judgement would be upon them. How this could, in fact, affect the Opera House. Not to mention the play. And we all thought about the play and how they had been able to say those words in public and we all secretly wondered if that had had something to do with their decision to go public with their love as well.
But I think that all of us were secretly delighted for them, despite all the possible negative fall-out. I know that for me, the idea of them being able to at last be together, to not have to hide anything, to yes, goddammit, in the stupid romance-novel words of the play to be able to finally and at last, give in to the passion which dwelled within their breasts, to do that which up 'til now they had been afraid to whisper.
Does that make me a hopeless romantic? I don't know.
And I am not unsympathetic to the other spouses. Like I said, I've been there, baby. But, as I also said, where before there were four very unhappy people, there were now two very happy people and two people who could now reevaluate their lives in the light of the truth and make new lives. Easy to say, I know. Hard to do. I am aware of that. Hell, if Mr. Moon left me, I'd probably, well, I'm not even going to say what I'd do. But I'd have to face reality and in a way, isn't that better than living a lie?
I don't know. But I think so.
And these two people were not teenagers. They are fully grown adults who have had severe health problems, who know for a fact that life is short and goes so very fast at the end. And they knew that spending their lives married to other people who did not make them happy was in no way the way to spend the rest of their lives. And they knew too, that they would face what they called "challenges" but they proclaimed they would face them together.
And so they are.
They came back and were at rehearsal on Sunday. They were somewhat giddy, somewhat terrified, I think. But I know they did not regret what they had done. Not for one second.
And then came Monday's rehearsal. Jack and Jan walked in. Jan was crying, Jack looked disturbed. Jan had already been asked to retire from her position as director of the Opera House. The woman I call my mortal enemy and her friends had called all the big Opera House donors and "explained" the situation to them. (And let me just say here that MME is not married to her long-time boyfriend although she sometimes coyly refers to him as her husband and frankly, I think they are in the witness protection program but that's just a theory.) And when the big donors called the chairman of the Opera House board and declared their vast shock at the behavior of the director, the chairman was pretty much obliged to find a replacement for Jan who, for twelve years has worked tirelessly to make the Opera House what it is. Who has spent countless hours there, often working all day, then being there all night for one event or another and then coming back the next morning to clean up before another event. And who, for all of this work, gets paid a pittance with NO insurance or benefits. None.
And Jack is retired. And they actually have no place to live, these two lovers. For awhile they are going to make a very small nest in another undisclosed location (or at least, undisclosed by me) and they are going to figure this shit out. They are going to face the challenges. Together. The other night, as Jack was holding Jan in his arms, she said, "I don't care. As long as this is where I am, I don't care." And she looked up at Jack and he looked down at her and I knew that was true.
And the show will go on. We will get up there on that stage and we will be fifty- and sixty- and seventy-something year old people who love each other and who will be silly and who will say crazy romantic things and throw ourselves into ridiculous fake-believe situations involving a pill that helps menopausal women with their libidos (and WHY hasn't that been invented?) and Jack and Jan will say words of love to each other in public and in front of the public and we have even discussed selling tomatoes at the door for people to throw at us.
Why not? Hell. We were pushing the boundaries with this one before Jack and Jan did what they did.
Monticello will get over this one. They will. Lives will change and the Opera House will change but someone will be caught with someone else's spouse (same-sex, I'm thinking) in a public place and the riptide of public opinion will go flowing out to sea on that wave, leaving Jack and Jan safe on shore.
And we will never forget this play, those of us who are involved in it. Nope. Not a one of us.
Here are the two lovers before I met them, back when they did On Golden Pond together in 2006:
Crazy kids, that Ben and Betty!
Well. It's almost quit raining. The power has stayed on for hours. The spinach I planted yesterday is either germinating or washed away. The chickens are quiet.
I've told you the story.
I wish I could have told it better. But you know, I can only tell it through my eyes. And it's a story that has been told throughout history. Two people who fall in love, even though they shouldn't have. But did. And sometimes that love is never acted on and that's a tragedy and sometimes, it is acted on and well, that's not a tragedy but it sure can upset a lot of people.
Last night when I was talking to Jan and asking her permission to write about them, she started telling me some of the story that I didn't know. How they'd been chaste for so very long. How they hadn't wanted to hurt anyone. How as they've gotten older, they finally realized that life is too short to live one way because you're "supposed" to.
She's right. I think she's right, anyway.
As I said to them in an e-mail, I believe in truth and in love. They are now living their truth and their love. What more is there really to say? Yes, there is pain involved but I don't know how you get around that one in real life. This is not fake-believe. And sometimes, love and truth just have to be fucking lived.
Wish them luck, will you? They read this blog. And they need all the support they can get right now, those two crazy in-love kids. They've got a hard path ahead of them but they both have flashlights. Matching ones. Jan gave one to Jack. They always use them when they turn off the lights and are the last to leave the theater. Because that theater is dark and the steps and floors are not even and you got to have light to prevent yourself from stumbling in the dark.
So if you care to, send them a little more light. If you'd like. Only if you'd like.
And now don't you REALLY wish you could come see this play?
Let me just say this: Love is not just for the young. Sex Please, We're Sixty is not just the name of a play. That's reality. It ain't fake-believe.
And doesn't that sort of give you hope? Doesn't that sort of warm your heart?
It does mine.
And remember- if you HAVE love, cherish the very living daylights out of it. Those of us who do are blessed beyond belief. And if you don't, but you find it, don't be afraid to embrace it.
Happy Friday, y'all.