I have been thinking a lot about this subject recently, but what gave me the urge to write about it was that a few nights ago I attended a quite lovely opening night at the Hangar Theatre, invited by alums and old friends Jesse Bush and Cecelia Behar. He had a major role in the show, and she needed a “date,” so they very kindly asked me.
The strange thing is that I accepted!
Flash back several decades, to when I was piccolo. I was an Air Force brat. If you haven’t had parents in the armed services you may have no idea what that means, but those of you that were in my situation throughout your youth know precisely what it means. One year, one Air Force base, another year, another Air Force base, in another part of the country, or perhaps out of the country. Out of the country wasn’t bad because those assignments were usually for three years. Our only out of country assignment was to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska from 1956 to 1959. Alaska was a territory, not a state in ‘56, became one in ’59, thus “out of country.” It was great because we were there for the statehood celebration. There was also sledding, ice-skating, snow-ball fights – piccolo Gianni had a good time in Alaska!
He also HAD time. Three years growing up with mostly the same kids was a luxury. Elmendorf was a large base, and it had its own schools. On an air force base servicemen and their families would rotate out so that I didn’t have three full years with all the same pals, as I would have a if I had lived in the same town throughout my growing up, but many of them were in school with me all that time. Amazing! I actually got to know them! But in first grade I was in one school, in second grade another (both in the state of Virginia but in different parts of that state), in third grade yet another (Rantoul, Illinois – oi!) – fourth, fifth and sixth grades relative bliss as those were the Alaska years – seventh grade another school (Lubbock, Texas), eighth grade still another (back to Rantoul again – oi! squared) – these were all city schools, the rest of the kids had grown up together.
What does this history of my schooling have to do with why it was surprising that I accepted the Bush-Behars’ invite? More than you know. Piccolo Gianni had to fit in, to make new friends (or not) just about every year, in very different parts of the country, in very different school systems. By the way, the first three grades were spent in Roman Catholic schools, in an era during which nuns (think Sister Mary Ignatius, only worse – seriously!) thought it was fun to embarrass you if you had not completely memorized a question from the Baltimore Catechism. In my case after I had pathetically paraphrased the answer rather regurgitating it word for word (the Question was “What is the Redemption?” – why do I still remember the question??? I sure don’t remember the answer). Sister Mary in Agony or whatever her name was drew a circle on a chalk board and made me stand with my nose in the center of that circle for the rest of the class. Lovely! But I digress!
Every year Jackie and many others like him had to either move bravely into new territory, make friends, succeed (to an extent) and then move on; some were NOT able to make friends, succeed – though they still had to move on. That kind of living created extroverts (moi and others) or introverts (many others) and it set a pattern for me that I followed through many years. I got to be very good at making friends, getting elected to student office, getting into school plays (which was my primary form of acceptance), and grew confident in my ability to do so. But as I look back, while it was genuine to a point, a lot of it was acting, a performance. I HAD to be good at it, or I’d be miserable.
I had found a way in to communities, social groups, schools, whatever, and I continued to exploit it. As a young adult I was the life of the party, and threw parties all the time; had all sorts of friends, lived life as a social whirl, and kept doing so into mid-life – actors move around a lot, just as Air Force brats do – when one day I realized that my hail-fellow-well-met manner was not only somewhat inauthentic, it was also exhausting me.
After several years living (finally) in the same place, Ithaca, and living it up here as well, I executed a near perfect 180 degree maneuvre and turned myself into what I termed “The Hermit of Cayuga Heights,” where I rented for a ridiculously low price the top floor of a large house. More recently, after I was thrown down from the heights, as I like to put it, moved to the depths, a basement apartment in complex where I now reside – for ten more days, but who except for me is counting – and morphed more extremely into “The Hermit of Northwood.”
Certainly I am still social. I have not lost that need to adapt and fit in with colleagues, students, everyone. And I enjoy it, on occasion. But I have changed, probably too radically for my own good, and certainly more than others would have liked me to change. Interestingly, my main means of being social is via social networking. I have bunches of Facebook friends, I wish every one of them a happy birthday, I have started groups and fan pages – but I am in control of how much I do there – it’s a safe form of being social for an increasingly anti-social curmudgeon! To me at least, that's pretty funny!
Which is why it was a strange thing that I accepted Jesse and Cecelia’s invitation. Venturing into the intimate community of theatre aficionados in Ithaca NY was anything but safe for me. I spoke to people I’ve not seen in over a decade, I vaguely recognized many people whose names I did not remember, I never strayed from Cecelia’s side, and made a fairly quick exit. I’m still not at all sure how I felt about the evening, but I’m very happy that Cecelia and Jesse invited me! Will I do it again? Not in the near future, certainly, as I’m off in ten days (but who's counting?) to being a relative stranger on a relatively strange isle across the great pond.
Hmmm...as I look it over, this post IS about travel after all, in a way…