Friday, March 20, 2009

A story and an endorsement

Good Lord! I haven't updated this blog in months. Have I been that busy? Well... yes, actually, but that tale can wait. As for right now, I'm waiting on a script to finish running on my computer, so I'll post this little story:

On December 6th, 1985 I was in an auto accident in the UK. I remember the date vividly, as this was the opening night of Guys and Dolls, and I was in one of the lead roles, Nathan Detroit. I was driving a Pontiac T-1000 (basically a Chevette. It was similar to the photo shown here, but with the optional "European styling package" consisting of an air dam and spiffy hubcaps.), and I hit a long patch of black ice on the A43 south of Brackley.

The funny thing about this sort of accident is that you've got time enough to plot the Great American Novel in your head, but you don't have time to react to anything. Your muscles simply don't move as fast as the millions of synapses that all activate in your brain under stress. I hit the brakes, which promptly locked up. There was no ABS on that car. I tried steering onto the verge with no luck, as I'd already lost traction completely. There was no airbag on that car, either. The only thing left to do was brace for impact as I approached the rear of another car and wonder how my wife and parents were going to react to my imminent death, for I was fairly certain I was about to die.

I didn't die, obviously. But both of my legs went through the plastic dashboard, which shattered, ripping large gashes my knees through which you could see the kneecaps. This happened, of course, in slow motion, and it was excruciatingly painful.

As a result of this accident I learned exactly how much better made a Mercedes is than a Pontiac T-1000. The car I impacted wasn't damaged. At all. My car was a total loss, as were the trousers I was wearing. I pushed my car to the side of the road and continued into town on foot. (No. The other driver did not offer me a lift.)

Did I mention this was opening night, and I was playing the lead? Good. Did I mention there was no understudy? Well, there wasn't. So I smeared some petroleum jelly in my wounds, wrapped my knees up in Ace bandages, and called someone to come get me. I was determined to do the show, then go to the hospital. The show started late (not my fault... we were waiting on the pianist), and the curtain went up.

Now, what I'd forgotten in my noble adoption of the maxim "the show must go on" is that there is a moment in the play where Nathan Detroit (that's me) begs for the forgiveness of his fiancee of 14 years, Adelaide (played by Deston Lee). It was completely out of my head until I dropped to my knees to deliver the line "Adelaide! I'm on my knees!". Imagine if you will three-foot long hot skewers pummeled into your knees with a large mallet. Imagine they're inserted lengthwise through your femur, all the way up your thighs (both of them), and that they continue all the way up to your armpits. Imagine all of the fluid displaced by these skewers erupting from your tear ducts in twin geysers of saline. I didn't expect that!

Nevertheless, I dutifully bawled out my line and waited for the reaction. Deston turned toward me, and the look on her face was something not easily forgotten. Though this was not the line, written clearly on her shocked expression was "Oh, you poor man, of COURSE I'll come back to you!" Then she visibly overcame that impulse and continued with her lines, totally appropriate and in character. To this, my internal reaction was, "Wow, she really can act!"

We finished the show, and I went to the hospital, and was told that all the dancing and movement was probably the best thing I could have done to retain my mobility. I didn't tell them the part about dropping to my knees. To this day I've got some rather incredible scars to remind me of the story.

Another reminder comes from the fact that I recently spoke with Deston's husband Bill Lee, who directed this play and who played Inspector Brannigan in some of the performances. As you can read on my drama pages, this was an ambitious production. We started with borrowed facilities, no costumes, no sets, and no budget. That didn't deter Bill in the slightest. The production was done mainly through the force of Bill's will. Not only that, but we took it on the road and performed it to benefit local causes in the Midlands. One of the things I learned in the course of that production is that William Lee can get things done. This is a man who has never looked to someone else to solve his problems. And he has a positive, practical, effective approach to any task he faces. There are real, long term problems that this country is facing right now, and to solve them we need people like Bill to get involved.

That's why I'm glad to hear that Bill is running for the position of US Senator from Illinois in 2014. That sounds like a long way away, but when you're starting from ground floor you need to plan ahead. If you're in Illinois and you're reading this, read Bill's blog, contact him, talk to him, look for his speaking engagements, and support him. You'll be glad you did.

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