I was one of those annoying kids who was always showing off. I put on plays for my parents, forcing my little sister to be incidental characters. I think I cast her as a dog once.
In high school I had lead roles in both senior plays. Before that I was cast as a 16 year old Ebeneezer Scrooge in a Sacramento Parks & Recreation teen workshop production of A Christmas Carol.
As an adult I’ve acted in and directed dozens of plays and in the process I came to write a few.
That’s where my friend Florin found me.
Florin Piersic Jr. read my first play, Brothers!, and liked it so much he produced, directed and starred in its first professional staging at the National Theatre in Timisoara, Romania, three months ago — 17 years after he first read it.
I flew to Romania to attend the opening. The show was magical even though I didn’t understand a word of my own dialogue.
Florin brought me onto the stage for the curtain call. We hugged in the spotlight, our first in-person meeting after swapping emails for nearly two decades.
Florin is a wonderful actor, a ruggedly handsome man, gentle and soft-spoken off stage; fearless before his audience.
Tonight he’s in Hollywood for the premier of an Amazon Prime TV production, Comrade Detective, in which he costars with Channing Tatum, who lends his voice to Florin’s bold on-camera performance.
Comrade Detective exhibits Florin’s physical acting skills while withholding his perfectly nuanced vocal delivery.
You can’t spring this much talent on America all at once.
Rupe un picior, prietene, Florin!
Break a leg, my friend.
(PS. After publishing this I was informed by another Romanian friend that there is no such expression as "break a leg", meaning "good luck", in the Romanian language. What I said here was apparently a sincere and friendly wish that Florin should literally break a leg...and not necessarily his own! This is why I love words.)
Three weeks ago today I awoke in Timisoara, Romania, feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.
It was the night I had traveled for and dreamed of: opening night of the first professional performance of my first play, BROTHERS!
This play was written from a concept borne of a half-drunken conversation with my friends at Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse in Sacramento.
Now, twenty years later, I awoke in Timisoara after losing my smart phone (and therefore half my brain) and turning a seven hour drive into twelve with a brief stop to explain my American ignorance of Romanian road signs to a couple of very nice police officers in the Carpathian Mountains. They told me I was speeding. I told them I was sorry and lost. They let me go, pointing me thataway, admonishing me to turn left before I wandered into Hungary.
I thanked them profusely and did as I was told.
Stumbling into Timisoara several hours later than planned, I met my first Romanian friend, Vlad Arimia, and we had a lovely dinner.
Despite my long and confusing day I slept well that night and awoke the next morning unconcerned about the play. I thought it was stupid. Always have. The Sacramento Bee reviewer of its Stagedoor world premiere disparaged it as, “…an alcohol-fueled testosterone festival.”
She was right, of course. That’s what it was meant to be. It was Dumb and Dumber before that movie came out and made the concept cool and profitable.
Now, twenty years later, here I was in Eastern Europe at the Romanian National Theatre preparing for the professional debut of BROTHERS! directed by and starring Florin Piersic Jr., one of the biggest stars in Europe.
I wasn’t worried about the play. It was what it was: dumb (and dumber). I was just excited to meet Florin and to pick his brain. He obviously saw something in my work that still eludes me.
The show that night was amazing. The acting, the sets, lighting, special effects and all the theatrical dressings of the evening gave me a new appreciation for how high theater craft masters can elevate even a piece of silly nonsense.
The audience gave the cast three standing ovations and though I hadn’t understood a word of my own play, I leapt to my feet in joyous agreement. Whatever had happened on that stage for nearly three hours was magical in its performances.
After we finally met and hugged for the first time Florin told me, apparently sincerely, “I don’t understand why this play isn’t on Broadway.”
“Because it’s a cheesy piece of shit,” I told him, more than once.
We both laughed but didn’t have the time to explore what we were missing.
I can’t say for sure but I think Florin and I are both doubting our own judgment. I sure am.
On the off chance that he found something deeper in my play that I never had the insight to intend, I’m now writing its sequel while thinking fondly of the Romanians I met and the beauty of the Carpathian Mountains I never intended to visit.
With apologies to the Bard out of context —
The play isn’t the thing. It really isn’t.
People are the thing.
I miss my new Brother, Florin, and his wonderful costars, Matei Chioariu, Calin Stanciu jr. and Marko Adžic. I wish very much I had left time in my schedule to visit with them longer than a few minutes after Opening Night.
I also miss the Romanian countryside: the canola fields and sheep crossings, the scenic villages of Transylvania, the towns of Sinaia, Brasov and the many convenience store clerks who tried in broken English to guide me back to my proper path.
I even miss the military official at the Serbian border who spoke sternly, yet kindly, about my directional stupidity as he sent me back to Timisoara to restart a day’s journey exactly where I had begun six hours earlier.
Carolann and I just returned to Dallas from a one week visit with our families in California. We had a wonderful time with our sons and daughters-in-law, our grandsons, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers and assorted others.
That’s what family reunions are all about. We return home for the first time in years and laugh about old times. We share a bit about our current lives, embellish our common past and commiserate over how old and fat we’ve all become.
We can’t believe how big the kids have gotten.
We take pictures, have another drink and laugh some more.
We pay tribute to those of us who have died and when we finally say our goodbyes we share sincere hugs, promising we’ll do this again soon.
Sometimes we know that won’t be possible.
When I was a boy my mother was my queen and goddess. She was there when I woke up and tucked me in when I went to bed. She sang Doris Day songs while doing housework.
Que sera, sera…
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see.
Que sera, sera…
What will be, will be.
She cooked, she cleaned and she sang after making sure that I started each day with a single thought:
“This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s all up to you.”
— Nancy Webster-Williams
She kissed me good morning, fixed my breakfast and lunch and kissed me goodbye.
Last Saturday, April 22, 2017, twenty of us – her children, grand children, great-grand children, siblings and extended family — gathered in a social room at her retirement home. Together again for the first time in many years we laughed and chattered and took a thousand pictures. We promised each other we’d do it again sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day when I hugged and kissed my mother goodbye she looked deeply into my eyes. No longer fuzzy headed, slightly confused or overwhelmed by the attention and the noise she said earnestly, “Take care of yourself, David. I love you.”
She said it twice for emphasis.
She looked at me again and I looked at her. I’m 65 now but I was seeing my mommy of 60 years ago.
We both knew that it would be for the last time.
I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think so. I think we both know and we’re fine. We had a proper goodbye with just the love and none of the tears.
I’ll phone her more often now and I’ll spend less time talking about myself. I’ll talk about us.
I’ll ask her, maybe for the first time ever, to tell me about her life, her thoughts and feelings.
I don’t really care. I’m the least busy person I know.
Everybody still says we’ll all lose an hour’s sleep Saturday night. Not me. I go to bed when I’m tired on Saturday and wake up Sunday morning when I’m finished sleeping. The clock says whatever it says, I don’t care.
The only time changing the clock became a personal issue is when I was working on the air at radio stations on the Fall Back all night shift. I would slog through the 1-2 a.m. hour and then, presto time change-o!, it was 1 a.m. again! That kinda sucked.
If you do have to awaken at a particular time on Sunday and you’re afraid losing an hour’s sleep will kick your butt I have two suggestions: go to bed earlier or change your plans.
Seriously, why is this a big deal?
It’s exactly the same as when you fly into a different time zone that’s one hour ahead. Does that wreak havoc in your life for as much as five days as they keep telling us in the news? I don’t think so.
Lately we’ve been treated to sensationalized news stories telling us how changing the clocks one hour leads to more highway deaths for sleepy drivers and more heart attacks and strokes for people who have trouble adjusting their bodies to the arbitrary numbers we call time.
I don’t mean to be a jerk but if you have a heart attack because of Daylight Saving Time I’m guessing that your heart was in critical distress before you changed the clock.
We’ve all been taught that the goal of Daylight Saving Time was to give farmers an extra hour of daylight. Farmers, being much smarter than the rest of us, call that a big pile of horse hockey. The sun rises and sets on its own schedule all year ’round. Farmers adjust their work to the actual hours of daylight, not clocks.
And, by the way, there really are more hours of daylight in the summer. We don’t need to extend them artificially by changing our clocks.
One summer Carolann and I drove to the Canadian Rockies. It didn’t get dark until 10:30 P.M.! The Canadians seem to be just fine with it.
The only thing I find remotely interesting in all of this is the history of keeping time in the United States.
Until 1883 clocks were set at noon when the sun was straight overhead no matter where you happened to be. This made sense except that a town fifty miles east or west would set their clocks to noon when the sun was straight overhead a few minutes earlier or later.
That was no big deal until the railroads came along and started moving people great distances faster than the speed of the overhead sun. The availability of pocket watches made the problem suddenly obvious: your watch said 2:30 but the clock at the railroad station where you just arrived might say it was 3:15.
Imagine flying into an airport today and needing to change planes. Say it only takes you five minutes to walk from one terminal to another but when you get there you’ve mysteriously lost half an hour and missed your connecting flight.
That’s how railroads worked until 1883. There were literally hundreds of “time zones” in the U.S.
But then the government got involved and, as usual, made everything work smoothly.
But here’s the good news: if we insist on maintaining this silly tradition we’re darned close to living in a world where all clocks change themselves. Your computers, tablets and phones already do this. Watches, clocks on stoves and in cars can’t be far behind.
And you know what that means? Blessedly, nothing.
We’ll never notice anything except that it suddenly stays light an hour longer.
“Hmm. I guess the time changed last night.”
That’s all we’ll say.
If TV and radio stop beating us over the head with stuff to worry about we’ll all be fine.
I love Saturday mornings. Instead of lurching awake at 2:45AM to go to work I come to slowly between 6 and 7 to fix coffee, feed the dogs and then I just sit and think.
Well, sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.
Here are some of the thoughts I’ve thunk this Saturday morning:
— I’m hungry but not enough to walk six steps into the kitchen for a banana, a bowl of cereal or to fix eggs, bacon and pancakes. I suppose a lot of people in the world would not think of this as being hungry.
— Why do people say “more and more”? No matter how many “mores” you add it’s still just more.
— We have “pet peeves”. Makes no sense. I like my pets.
— A minor peeve: when people leave trash in the grocery shopping cart. (I refuse to use that cart. I insist on one that’s totally empty.)
— Speaking of empty, my coffee mug is empty but the dogs are sleeping on my lap and footstool. I’ll just have to suffer.
— There’s something about sitting in front of the TV without turning it on that makes me puff up my chest with pride!
— What’s with people who have the TV on all the time even though nobody is watching it? (My dad used to yell about the waste of expensive electricity. I just think it’s sad that so many people accept constant noise in their lives.)
— And how about when you’re riding in someone’s car and they have the radio on but turn it down so you can talk? It’s not OFF, just down low enough to be background noise. (This is also a serious annoyance for those of us who talk in the radio.)
— I don’t talk ON the radio, I talk IN it.
— Wouldn’t it be funny if our ears were on our hips? We’d have to pull down our pants at concerts.
— Who first came up with the idea of picking berries off a bush, drying them in the sun, crushing them, pouring hot water over them and drinking it? Seems nutty but it was a seriously great idea!
— Who first decided to crush some dried leaves, wrap more leaves around them, light one end and inhale the smoke? This is just stupid. (Ponder this for a moment. It’s an absolutely ridiculous idea and yet is probably the most enduring habit in all of human history!)
My Saturday morning brain wanders from one silly notion to another. But this stuff is important to me because it means I’m still exploring the world and allowing my mind to explore itself.
Getting older is like getting fatter. You don’t notice because it happens gradually.
One thing you do notice is suddenly being ignored. You notice because it seems to happen overnight. One day you’re a vital part of society and respected leader in your industry; the next day people merely nod at you with a perfunctory smile as if you were a greeter at Walmart.
This only happens with people who didn’t know you when you were young. Unfortunately, over time that seems to be most people.
Several years ago I mentioned this to my son’s mother-in-law, Gloria, a dear friend who is a bit older and very wise. I told her I was frustrated because my experience and knowledge of my business had always been sought by my colleagues but suddenly nobody seems to have any interest in what I think.
“You’ve reached the age of irrelevance,” she explained matter-of-factly.
I had to let that sink in for a moment:
The age of irrelevance.
Gloria could see I was stunned.
“It happens to all of us,” she said gently. “I used to be the person my managers turned to for ideas. Then one day they weren’t interested in any of my observations or suggestions.”
I didn’t know what to say. It made no sense and yet this is exactly what I was experiencing.
“It’s like when your kids are growing up,” Gloria continued. “They rely on you for everything and then one day they suddenly don’t need you at all. You’re irrelevant.”
Nobody ever warned me this would happen. I don’t like it but I’ve come to accept it philosophically, if not quite emotionally. It still hurts a bit. I feel kind of useless.
It’s been a few years since Gloria explained to me this particularly jarring bump. I’m getting used to it and so will you.
I just thought someone should give you a heads up.
My friend and blogging partner, Anita, shares her thoughts on her revelation here: Anita’s Blog.
(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)
It’s a lifelong disease. There is no cure that I know of, but then I’ve never known anybody who wanted to be cured.
Though Western America is now a Happy Meal collection of fast food franchises and big box stores there is still a lot of heart to be found in the Heartland if you know where to look.
You look in small towns away from major cities and highways, in out of the way places where ordinary people live extraordinary lives.
You look by just wanting to find American treasures of passion and goodness boiled down to old fashioned common sense in very uncommon people. And by not being in a hurry to get where you’re going. So much the better if you’re not going anywhere in particular.
My friend, Chuck Woodbury, has lived the life of a motor home vagabond for nigh on to 40 years and has managed to earn a living and buy gas writing about his adventures, the oddball places he has discovered and the people he has met. Inevitably, all of Chuck’s stories are wonderful in their uniqueness and astonishing in their consistency.
Americans everywhere are all the same. When you peel off the layers of anxiety, necessity and pretense we all just want to enjoy our lives with our families, our friends, and most importantly, ourselves.
My father, Don Williams, surely wasn’t the first person who ever said this but he was the first who said it to me:
“Until you learn to know and love yourself, you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”
Like Dad, I found myself on the road.
Chuck Woodbury’s Roadside Journal can be found and enjoyed here: http://roadsidejournal.rvtravel.com/
I just took my wife of 27 years to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport and sent her on her way.
Carolann Conley is going home for the first time.
I’ve always called her Feisty One. Her Irish roots are strong and obvious. She dances with joyous abandon, lives in the moment, loves ferociously, laughs like a free angel and cries only for puppies and children, never for herself.
Her emerald eyes sparkle one minute and then cloud over the next, with the dangerous darkness of a storm borne of the cold Irish Sea.
She’s a handful, for sure, but not this week. She’s on her own now, to find her ancestral roots in the green hills of her old country. I expect Carolann to return to me with breathless stories of her Ireland and a heart filled with discovery.
This is how we grow into ourselves and learn to appreciate the thousands of lives before ours that loved us into existence.
Have you heard about the new TV show called Transparent? The Hollywood crowd is abuzz with excitement. Here’s how the producers of the show describe it:
An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone to spill their secrets.
In the industry that’s called a “logline”, a one-sentence show description designed to hook the reader into wanting more. This one strikes me as pretty bland but the critics are raving about the show and the industry insiders are fawning and fussing over themselves for being so brilliantly progressive as to create this wall-shattering, breathtaking cinematic experience.
CarolAnn and I were curious so we watched three episodes last night. They’re only a half hour each. The show is labeled as comedy.
Transparent is about a 70-ish family patriarch cross dresser coming out of the closet to his adult children and admitting he is a long suffering woman trapped in a man’s body. (“Trans”-“parent”, get it?) It’s filled with nudity, including full frontal, and people running around having sex with people they’re not supposed to be having sex with, including two happily married soccer moms having a fling together at their long repressed lesbianism and a drug addled caucasian female who arranges a ménage à trois with two African American men and explains to them that when they are finished with her she wants to watch them “do” each other. That’s when they throw her out of the house.
They have their principles.
I’m not making this up. I honestly don’t believe I could if I tried and I’m kind of proud of that.
As you might imagine there is a lot of yelling and swearing and tears in all of this but, oddly, no comedy at all, not a single chuckle or even a smile and I honestly can’t see where any was intended.
My wife and I are old enough that none of this shocks us. We’re not particularly offended by language and we don’t even lament the loss of cultural dignity and decency as much as we used to because, frankly, that train left the station long ago. We’ve sort of gotten used to it. We’re just tired of TV shows with no likable characters, no reason to care and nothing to smile about.
And, we’re tired of being told that depravity is normal and there is no such thing as a lie when it serves our own selfish desperation.
This is what passes for comedy now. It’s what we celebrate.
Because it’s easier to lower our standards than to raise our expectations.