Theater Ghost Stories

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would recount my interactions with theater ghosts throughout my career.  First off, I am a believer that some forms of ghosts do exist.  All you have to do is sit in a church or a theater and feel the energy from the crowd to know that emotional energy is very tangible.  And since they say energy cannot be destroyed, I don’t think it is farfetched to believe that some form of that energy remains in a place and can sometimes be experienced physically.

When I was young and working at the Sacramento Music Circus tent theater, we were doing a production of Camelot.  Since it was summer stock with “star” casting, John Gray was King Arthur, Anne Jeffreys was Guinevere and Harve Presnell was Lancelot.  Even though this was a long time ago, it was still probably the oldest cast to ever play those roles!

There is a scene in the show when Lancelot supposedly brings a fallen knight back to life.  Now Harve Presnell was known best for playing light-hearted roles, but one evening when I was standing at the rear of the audience’s seats and Harve played that scene I swear I could feel the waves of emotion pouring from the audience.  It was as real and physical as if I was in the ocean feeling the waves roll over me.  It was really something.

Another time when I was stage managing Juliet Prowse’s show, we were on tour in Australia.  One evening we were loading into a beautiful, hundred year old opera house in either Adelaide or Melbourne.  I wanted to check out the acoustics of the house so I worked my way from backstage through the dressing rooms up to the top balcony.  It was pretty cool how well I could hear the crew’s voices all the way up in the rear of that balcony.

As I worked my way from the balcony, I went down the front stair cases through the theater lobbies.  Most of the lights were out but I was able to feel my way along with the help of the hand rails.  Off to the side of one lobby I saw the lights on in a room and the shadows of a crew cleaning up in a kitchen.  Along with that I heard the typical sounds of a kitchen clean up – the clanging of trays, voices and the sound of glasses being put away.

I called out a “hello” and suddenly the sounds ceased and the shadows disappeared.  All of the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I hustled the rest of the way back to the stage.  When I got to the stage, I mentioned to some of the crew that I saw the catering kitchen off the lobby.  They all looked strangely at me and said what was I talking about?  There was no kitchen up there.  Yeesh!  They must have thought “just another crazy Yank.”

I also worked for thirteen years at the Wells Theatre, a beautiful one hundred and five year old theater in Norfolk, VA.  Over the years I heard many credible stories of the five different ghosts who haunt that theater.  While I never personally experienced any of them specifically, there were many times when I was in there alone and I could definitely feel their presence.

Boo!

Living Your Life Thirty Days at a Time

Most cancer patients who are undergoing treatments know that “see you in thirty days” is usually the time between doctor appointments.  You have thirty days to worry if the other shoe is going to drop or you can try to live your life.  Learning how to live your life in thirty day increments is a process and it takes a while to get to the point where you can accept your situation and strive to make the best of it.

It all sounds well and good when you write it down or repeat it to yourself, but it can sometimes be a real struggle to keep the “what if” thoughts from pushing their way from the back of your head to the fore front of your thoughts.

I have been very lucky in beating back my Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) and more recently my Leukemia.  But the odds of the Leukemia coming back are not at all in my favor.  They say that only twenty-five percent of the patients in my age group survive for five years or more, with the vast majority of recurrences happening within the first two years.  Being on the younger end of the patient spectrum is definitely in my favor, but still I am now a year and seven months from my stem cell transplant so I definitely feel the clock ticking.

I wish I was smart enough to give folks a magic formula on how to keep the clock’s ticking sound from drowning out everything else.  All I know is to keep myself busy and keep reminding myself to truly appreciate every day and all the good things that I have in my life right now.

And those good things all start with my family – my amazing wife Nancy, my three great kids and two daughters-in-law (who are like two of my own kids) and my two wonderful grand kids (with #3 on the way!).  From there the ripples of gratitude quickly extend out to my folks and the rest of my huge extended family and all of my dear friends on both the West and East coasts – and Europe come to think of it.  I am a very, very fortunate man, cancer be damned!

Count Your Blessings

Sometimes my own stupidity amazes me.  Lately I have been bogged down with “why aren’t things going better for me right now?” type of questions.    Without a doubt I have been given a second chance on my life and here I am wasting my time and emotional energy on negative, self-pitying thoughts.

I know it is normal human nature to have these kinds of thoughts, but come on!  I should know better than that.  Could some things be going better? Of course!  But I need to remember what I have been through and how few people have actually made it through the same battles and are here to talk about it.

I am humbled by this realization and am so very grateful for everything I have.  And it really is an incredibly long list of things I am so lucky to have, starting with my amazing wife Nancy.  I don’t know how I have been able to fool her these past thirty-five years into loving and caring for me as much as she does, but I will gratefully take it.

Then there are my three great kids and their wonderful spouses, who I love as if they were my own kids.  Then of course there are Anne and Porter, my grandchildren, and Three, who is due in early December.  I had always been told how great it is to be a grandparent, but the truth is it is ten times better than anything I was ever told.  As far as I’m concerned these kids can be pooping out gold bricks!

And I am so fortunate that both of my parents are still with us and doing as well as they are.  And of course all of my great brothers and sisters, their spouses, their kids, my aunts and uncles and their kids and their kids’ kids, my in-laws and their families, the list goes on and on.

I have read in several places that when men are on their deathbeds, they usually express the same regrets: they wish they hadn’t spent so much time at work and that they had kept in better contact with their friends.

I realize how lucky I am to still have three very dear friends from my days at Servite, the all-boys Catholic high school forty-five years ago.  Jeff Stehly, Mark McCallick, Tim Boulger and I were all on the football teams together, which explains part of our close bond but they are also just great guys.  While we now live on opposite coasts, I still stay in touch with them and I count my blessings for their friendship.

I can only hope that everyone else is as lucky as I truly am.

Broadway Joe

Having spent most of my life in Show Business, I have gotten to do a lot of fun things.  One of them was when I was a young, twenty-two year old stage manager at the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera which back then about an hour and a half drive east of Los Angeles.  The production was of the not-so-well-known musical Li’l Abner, of the comic strip fame.  However, the production starred the VERY well-known Joe Namath in the title role.

I believe he was about thirty-eight years old at the time and he had done a couple of other musicals in the Midwest prior to our production.  While he may not have been called “Broadway Joe” for his musical theater talents, he was decent in the role and he sure packed in the audience.

He was also one of the nicest guys you would ever want to work with.  He respected the business and everyone else in the show, even the actress who had to carry around a little pig at every performance.  Show Business – go figure!

Every time I would go into his dressing room after the show, he had his feet up and ice packs on his knees.  But we would talk through the show in detail because he was always striving to improve his performance.

And I will never forget seeing the line of women outside the stage door after every performance, just wanting to see Joe and get his autograph.  Broadway Joe comes to San Bernardino.

Next!!

My oncologist in Norfolk is part of a large practice called Virginia Oncology.  I’m not sure, but I think they are part of a national chain of oncology practices.  I don’t think there is anything worse on your nerves than going to an oncology office, especially for the first time.  The fear of the unknown combined with the feeling like the waiting room is a crowded bus terminal can be pretty overwhelming.

All of that being said, I am extremely happy with my oncologist and his level of expertise in the field.  Even though he really knows his stuff and stays current with all of the advancements in my types of cancer, he has never hesitated to suggest I get second opinions or even have complicated procedures performed at the Duke Cancer Center, which is only a three hour drive away.  I realize how lucky I am to have such a great doctor and I know that not everyone in my circumstance can say the same thing.

If you are going through cancer treatments, DO NOT settle for care that you don’t feel good about.  Just because they are the ones wearing the white coats doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to the care and treatment that you deserve.  This includes talking with you in language you can understand and spending time with you until you fully understand what is going on.

If you need to find a doctor near you who specializes in Multiple Myeloma or Leukemia, these websites can be a great help:

The International Myeloma Foundation:  https://www.myeloma.org/are-you-newly-diagnosed

The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation:  https://themmrf.org/multiple-myeloma/resources/

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society:  http://www.lls.org/

I cannot stress it enough, DO NOT settle for insufficient care.  We really don’t get second chances with our situations, so you have to be your own best advocate!