Thursday, July 9, 2015

To the future(ish) patrons of the theatre

I just heard about yet another instance of an actor reprimanding an audience member. In this case, Ms. Patti LuPone grabbed a cell phone from a patron on her way out of a scene in Lincoln Center. And while I snickered (and admittedly reposted, because it’s hell-yes fabulous), I fear the forest will be missed for the trees once again.

We need audiences. Without them, there is no theatre. Sure, people are living beings and will move and make noise, that’s part of the magic of live theatre. But mutual respect between the stage and the house is the goal. Everyone being on the same team, involved in the same experience. Nobody wants to break character and take away from the integrity of the show to be a babysitter. That’s why there are preshow announcements and notes in the program reminding us all to behave. So let me be clear: yes, it’s a glorious moment of schadenfreude to see someone get their comeuppance for behaving badly.  However, if you don’t already feel as if you’ve embarrassed yourself by having a cell phone light in your face through whole scene in your $90 seat, or by walking on set to charge your phone in a fake outlet, I don’t see a real lesson being learned beyond spectacle and Twitter-flogging. And it scares the hell out of me that people will go to a show subconsciously hoping to leave with an anecdote about a patron getting schooled.

The first play I ever saw in Chicago was ‘The Drawer Boy’ at Steppenwolf with John Mahoney, Frank Galati, and Johnny Galecki in 2001. I was still in college in Ohio, and had come along as moral support for my friend who was auditioning for an MFA program. We scored rush tickets, pushing back our six hour drive home to the middle of the night because if we had the chance to see these three onstage, it was worth drinking our weight in coffee and pulling an all-nighter. I was enthralled. The intimacy of the main stage, the technique of the actors, the naturalistic style. To a college theatre student, it was mind blowing. 

At one point, John Mahoney's character had a long monologue, and as I was staring at him like a puppy, I heard a cell phone ring. And ring. And ring. We were up in one of the small balconies, and I heard it like it was next to me, it was so loud. I couldn’t believe it. And then, John Mahoney stopped talking, and looked down at his hands. It was a pause that would make Shatner blush, and it was excruciating. Holy shit, is John Mahoney going to yell at someone? Didn’t Brian Dennehey just do that at the Goodman? Did he lose his lines? What is happening?  When the ringing stopped, he played it off and resumed where he left off. It was incredibly professional, and a good lesson for a green actor to learn. He never broke character for a second. Not a twitch.

But there was a small part of me that was disappointed. I wanted him to tell this person to turn off their goddamn phone. I couldn’t help it. And that is unnerving. But at that moment, I wasn't wondering what was going to happen to the two brothers in the story, I was wondering if an actor was going to kick some ass. He didn't break character, but it was broken for him anyway. That is what I remember most about that show, a cell phone during a monologue. That was fourteen years ago, and while our phones have improved a thousand times over, we’ve just gotten worse. 

It is not ok that this keeps happening. It is not funny that this keeps happening. 

I work in theatre, but more often, I’m an audience member. And what I want most is to be lost in a show. What I do not want is to be put in the awkward position of either having to ask, or get house management to ask, another patron to stop talking/stop eating/stop texting, or sit in passive silence and try to block them out. You have put the responsibility of your tact on me, and anyone around you. And that is not fair; especially if she drove in from another city to be there, or he scrimped and saved to take his child who begged for tickets for months. If they rescheduled a night of work, or are injured and in pain, but really want to be there. If this is her daughter’s first lighting design gig, or he’s seeing his son’s professional acting debut after years of worrying he’d never get a job after scraping to put him through school. If this is her big night on the town before she starts treatment, or they just wanted to try something new and didn’t know anything about the show beforehand.  No matter what the scenario, if it is impossible to find a way to justify paying full attention to a live show with live performers and live production staff, at least respect your fellow patrons. You never know what this night means to them, or what it really cost for them to be there.

Ultimately, I would prefer the momentary distraction of you leaving if you’re not into it, to watching you get owned for being bored, or worse, hoping that you do. I would rather leave with the story I came to see than another anecdote.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The 5 Stages of Runner's Grief

So, I started running again in July.

Whether you're a seasoned runner, or a kind of runner, you know one thing: it's a li'l different from any other sort of exercising; not necessarily harder or easier, just...different. I knew this. I used to run quite a bit. I ran cross country, ran track (well, jumped, technically). In the off-season, I would tend to disappear for long periods of time, not understanding my parents' dismay that a teenage girl was running in a valley by a creek alone, like ya do. My dad would come looking for me in his car, and ask casually if I wanted a ride as his tactic. NO, dad. I'm not GOING anywhere. This is the point, GOD! (I'll just run past this stretch of uninhabited land with trees that would effortlessly conceal my dead body and roll my eyes that you were, like, worried).

This tapered off in college, when I was bein' all exercise-y in classes. When I first moved to Chicago, I used to run around Wrigley Field. Oh, I'm SO CHICAGO!!! This means I live here now, my jogging around landmarks! Then, at some point I stopped. Just...didn't like it anymore. Like a shirt you've kept way too long, kinda still wear, then suddenly use to dust furniture.

But, ANYWAY, I tried every now and again, the emphasis on every now and again. Months, years apart, and it had been a year since the last attempt. I had been trying to exercise more. Well, exercise again, let's be honest. My recent history is spotty. When you walk around all day as part of your regular, city-dweller routine, I guess you fake yourself out into thinking that counts. Other than that, I'd probably been the least active I've ever been. Then one day this summer, for no particular reason, I got my ass into my running shorts and shoes and went for a jog. As anyone who has started running, either again or for the first time, as an adult, you will understand the following. For anyone thinking of doing this, it is my duty to prepare you for the process. Either way, you know you are not alone.

1. Denial

You walk to wherever the start point is, stretch a bit. Resolve to start slow and just see what happens. Hey, if it sucks, just stop, right? Just get into my groove, it's not a race!!!! Lalalalaaaa. Hey...this... ain't so bad! Pick it up a bit...oh, hello, squirrels! Just enjoying nature, like you! Hi, other joggers! We're all in this together!! Look at you and your game face! I can make that face, too! 

You begin to think you've got this in the bag. You imagine that your stride appears determined, yet graceful. You are a gazelle in New Balances.

I am a runner! This is great! I don't know WHY I put this off for so long? This AIR! AHH! You're the best. AROOOOUUUND. Nothinsgonnaeverkeepyadown...I only know the refrain... uuuhhhh... YOU'RE THE BEST! AROOOOUND.....

This lasts for roughly 90 seconds.

2. Anger

Not from you, from your body. Your legs start to burn a bit, gradually doubling in mass. Your lungs start to realize what's going on. Heeeeey, are we running or something...? Your face senses danger, and knows no other tactic than to play dead. The rest of your skin follows suit. Your ears begin to communicate the dismay of the others by punctuating every thud.

And then, it's sudden full-on panic from everywhere.

YOU SAID WE WERE GOING TO THE PARK!!! YOU LIED! WHERE ARE YOU TAKING US?! HELP! WE ARE BEING HELD AGAINST OUR WILL!!! It is pure fight or flight. Your quads try to escape through your skin; like they're trapped in a well with an aversion to Jergen's, and will not give up clawing their way out until they get your dog in the bucket.

Your heart realizes it's terrible in a crisis situation and freaks out.Your lungs are smart enough to know they can't escape, but they are vengeful. If they're going down, they're taking EVERYTHING down with them, like the fire demon in Lord of the Rings. They also really want to just throw out everything you ever gave them, so...they just do both. Because fuck you, that's why!

Your feet become useless. Limply protesting. They are two Wendys from The Shining. Your arms are mildly uncomfortable, struggling with survivor's guilt. Are we even really doing anything? She's not even moving us that much. Hands? Hey, hands? Just play dead like the face. Your eyelids hear this, and follow suit in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the south.

You realize your gazelle days are over. You look less like a leaping animal, and more like something that's trampling a small village, hut by hut, and all that is heard are screams and everything's on fire.

3. Bargaining

Your brain decides to play good cop/bad cop. Shut up, you weaklings! This is for your own good! We are not stopping! Hey, Chris? If we just stop and walk a minute, everyone will be a whole lot happier and maybe work more effectively. We are not stopping! This is ridiculous! We are making it to at least a full mile! Ok, if we make a mile, we'll walk, ok? Ok? A mile's not so ba-...ok, how about just run for 5 straight minutes. Let's just do that, and then we walk, ok? Everyone promises to be good, right guys?

In the meantime, every time it leaves the interrogation room, it's making side deals. If you can just tell me why, WHY, this is happening, I'll get you a plea bargain. I promise, I will handle everyone, and you can still walk away from this. Just tell me who's responsible.

Then eventually, it becomes desperate. I'll give you anything you want! ANYTHING! Please? I can't take this any more. The lambs are still screaming! 

4. Depression

You are in worse shape than you thought. You will never amount to anything. If the phrase "Life is a marathon, not a sprint" is accurate, then you doubly suck at life. You will die on this trail and be found next week under a tree by a kid retrieving his ultimate frisbee. He will be scarred for life, and never go near a tree again. He will be a broken man, walking out of his way one day to not see trees, and be run over by an H-3, and it will be all. Your. Fault. You are a murderer who can't even run a mile without stopping. I just hope you're happy with yourself.

5. Acceptance

You realize that it's just gonna suck the first time. You accept this level of suck.

You run as long as you can, and then you walk. And then you run again, and it sucks .1% less. Your body now has Stockholm Syndrome. Oh, it's okaaaaaaaay. You were just doing what you had to do. We understand. Let us help you. And then you walk. You make it home alive, having just gotten the first one out of the way, and it can only get less sucky from here. (You've forgotten that, actually, the third run, while not humiliating, is the worst. The second one is so much easier, that you think the third will be even better. But you forget that hamstrings believe that revenge is a dish best served cold. They lie in wait, like Michael Corleone, smiling to your face, just biding time...).

You realize it will take a few weeks, and then are genuinely surprised and pleased that that's true. You accept that, hey, sometimes you're just gonna swallow some bugs; who are you to deny extra protein?

And maybe you keep it up. Maybe because you like it again, or maybe out of resolve, or fear of losing your relationships with your lungs and quads permanently. I...I've never seen you guys that angry before. I felt like I didn't even know who you were. Maybe because you know that some things just take time, and now you have the patience. Which means you've grown as a person, so your brain was clearly full of shit with that guilt trip. But you forgive it, because you are not a heartless hamstring.

You still avoid clearings ideal for frisbee. Just in case.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Public Statement from The Department of Italian Moms

Hello, 'nice kids!'

This is the email and attached Word doc I got from my mom last night. (I love that she called it an 'article', so I had to include that in my 'bog.')

Take it away, Jayne:

Hi Honey,

Finally got time to write my thanks to your friends for their response to your article.
Hope it's ok. I could have written more but I think it says it all.
Love Mom

I want to thank all of you who answered my daughter Christine’s plea to help me get out of the “dumps” after my unexpected trauma.

The first day I received a package marked “Jayne Conley’s Book Club," I thought Oh no, I’m into something I did not order. When I realized what was going on and why, I was overwhelmed by the time, effort and expense that was put into this project by some pretty wonderful people. Some I knew and some I did not.

I received some pretty good “stuff” including cards and notes telling me why they picked a particular book along with get well wishes and prayers. I separated them all and kept the cards and notes attached to the 50 some books I received and the CD that was made by Liz of California.

I am happy to report I am all better and doing fine. I was released for work and am back to the real world. I have all your names in my heart and will never forget you generosity and kindness that made this situation a lot better.

Love to All
Jayne Conley

Friday, February 10, 2012

That One From That One Time

So.....I was reading comments, and noticed that I had a blogging I apparently wrote 2 years ago in the drafts folder thingy, and it was so good, I immediately forgot about it and never posted it. ANYWAY, I actually do remember this stupid day in history (just not, ya know....typing about it a whole lot) and it amused me *twist moustache*. So, what the hell. Here's some blog I found from a manic trip home for Christmas, written December 30, 2009. Enjoy.

I was flying out at the crack of dawn on Christmas Eve, so I figured it would be a good idea to go ahead and have 4 seconds of free time in the days preceding to, you know, buy all my Christmas presents and pack clothes to wear that matched. But, everything was packed. Coffee maker was set. I had my boarding pass. I'll just get up at 3:30am, it's only, what, 1 am now? Pssshaw. Grab a quick shower, zip the suitcase big enough to hold a body, and be on my way. La la la, right?

4:15am: wake up to light from phone with ringer off (d'oh!) as the cab company called. Twice. Merry clusterfuck to me!

I am not processing rational thought at this point. Chris, go outside immediately and tell the nice man you're coming. Put clothes on. Drink coffee- wait, no. But it's made, I have to- NONONO! Put it down. What are you doing?! PUT IT DOWN! I run outside and I'm off to the airport, as the cabbie regales me with the rivetting tale of how he was 20 min early because he passed up fares. I love when they do that. You're gonna get tipped, buddy. Christ. If you think you're the first guy to sit in front of my house for no reason, you're wrong. Let's get past this.

I get to the airport, and all is well. Except for my poor friend's flight being delayed. (I had serendipitously ended up in the seat next to my friend on his connecting flight to Pittsburgh from LA, and we were going to ride into town together. Not so much.) I'm heading to security for concourse C, aka: Siberia, and all is clear. Until I round the corner. No worries, iPod is engaged. Here's the thing, I tend to be unaware of the fact that I kinda start dancing when I zone out in line/on the train/on the street/etc. Amy Winehouse was a dark period of time for me in public. It's fairly harmless, but it's hard to explain when you're broken from your reverie by a security guard berrading you for not bringing plasic bags for your potentially dangerous lipgloss. What?! I'm sorry, I can't hear you over this sick ass beat?! I love when airport employees talk to you like you're 4. And for the record, O'Hare is the only airport in the universe that actually enforces the baggie thing, which makes me believe they're just assholes. "O-kaaaay, but next time you have to put everything in a plastic bag, or it'll be taken away." I just offer a sheepish apology and try to look like it's my first time at the rodeo, as I shuffle through security. But the hate burns bright in my chest. I don't think so, missy. Do you think I haven't mastered the art of passive carry-on success? You killed my mot- ok, you didn't. But the the pain of helplessly watching someone in ill-fitting pants absorb my schadenfreude as they throw away my brand new, discontinued Banana Republic body spray will forever be burned in my memory. It has taught me to master the savviness needed to skate by you. It has hardened me. You-1, Me-493. Revenge, it is sweet.

I shake my way to the tunnel to C. If you've never been to O'Hare, this is the techno tunnel. There are random, squiggly, multi-colored lights on the ceiling that mesmerize you as you gently glide through on the moving walkway. I usually underscore accordingly (Thome Yorke's Black Swan is an excellent choice). For a delirious kid like me at 5am, it was divine. Unce! Unce! Unce! Unce! At some point, I figure it's safe to call Pittsburgh and get someone to pick my ass up. I'm not confident in the fact that mother will remember this call ever took place, but I remain hopeful. I'm conscious for about 3 minutes on the plane, then it's curtains until I'm gently lulled awake by a screaming child. I drag myself through the breezeway and head to the tram, taking in the familiar sights with a familiar grain of salt-laden smile. I'm fairly certain the Pittsburgh Intl. Airport is the only place on earth where a statue of Franco Harris and George Washington are next to eachother, signifying equal importance. Immaculate Reception/First President of the United States. Tomato/tomahto, apparently. Directly below them is a skeleton of a Tyrannasauraus Rex. Where the hell am I? After a series of nonsensical attempts at communication, it is determined that my brother just woke up, and I was stuck with the dinosaur and General Washington and a guy that looked like Santa in a tan plaid shirt (again, could've been hallucinating) until he got his shit together. Brilliant. Guess I'll shop.

I thought I was having a bad day, until I saw the chick that has to run The Body Shop kiosk next to baggage claim at 8:30am. Burn. I took pity, and picked out some sympathy hand cream. Upon inquring about the price, I'm told, and I quote, "Well, everything is 50% off with a $5 donation to help stop Somalian sex trafficking!!!"

That is not what I expected to come out of the sincere face of a 90 lbs chick in an elf hat. I stared at her a minute, wondering if, in my delirium, I had possibly misheard her. I had not.

"Do you have to say that all day?"


"Oh. Ok, I'll take it."

I walk away just a bit stunned by the bizarreness of my recent exchange. For the price of a latte, you can save 45 illegal vaginas! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! So, mouth agape and head cocked, I do what comes naturally: relay it immediately to choice sick friends. I'd like to share some noteworthy responses:

"Nice. So what's for breakfast?"

"Tough choice- save half off or shut down your pet project..."

"But if they stop sex trafficking, what is Santa gonna bring me for Christmas?"

"Hey, underage prostitutes have to follow the rules of the road, too. I'm glad Somalia is taking its traffic problem seriously."

"What did you buy? And do Somalian sex slaves know it's Christmastime at all?"

"No more Somalian ho ho ho's..."

ANYWAY, after determining that I've just witnessed the worst job in the world, and assuring my cousin I'm bringing her a Somalian prostitute named Nya for Christmas, I'm finally retrieved from the airport. Franco and Washington and sex slaves, Oh my!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ode to Jack

I don't really have a clever way to start, so I'll just start. Friday, we found out that the biopsy my dad had last week came back positive. If I've learned anything from this, it's that people say really stupid things when they get bad news. I don't know what I said, but I remember thinking, 'just shut up.' I had been waiting for the call, and preparing for either answer. The biopsy had been scheduled for over a month, and was like a little black cloud. One thing I knew was that, 'I'm sorry' was not going to be the first thing I said. Not to my dad. My dad doesn't do pity. The bitch of it was that all that morning, I was envisioning good news. And I knew I'd cry, and that would be ok, because it would be relief. Chicks do that. He'd make fun of me, and all would be fine. So, when he called me back and said, 'Well, it wasn't what I wanted to hear...' I was stunned. He was not. And he already made up his mind: no exploring of options, just get it out. My dad's a fixer, it's black and white. Even when it comes to invasive surgery.

Apparently, if you have your choice at a cancer buffet, you want to pick prostate cancer. It's very slow moving, and highly curable if caught early. His is early, from what the doctors can tell. So, I guess the bad news is you have cancer, but the good news is that you have the best one! After discussing what can be discussed at this point, we talked about cars, because that's what dudes do when they're nervous. There's going to be a car show in Chicago in the fall, and somehow it came up that my dad used to take what is now the Metra to the city when he was stationed at Great Lakes for the Navy. It struck me that I didn't know that he had spent that much time here; that there was a lot I didn't know about the 32 years he was around before my brother and I crashed. And then I had to get off the phone. Because I know how my dad gets when I sad cry. And while I'm trying to get off the phone, he tells me that 'everything is going to be fine, ok? So I don't want you to worry.' And that broke my heart a little. Finally, I feel enough time has passed to say, 'I'm sorry that you have to go through this, dad.' The response was a token phrase: 'It's just like constipation, it'll work itself out.'- Deep Thoughts, by Jack Conley.

My family has been through a lot, and if there's one thing that can be said about them it's that, while they're loud, they are not melodramatic. I think when you've experienced what would be your biggest fears over and over, you realize that you can come out on the other side. Among other things, my mom's been in remission for 6 years. They've been down this road before. Life is life, and it's never the wrong time to joke. When the P.A. was on the phone, she told my dad that she could schedule his next appointment for Valentines Day, and he said, 'Well, I guess we'll get to the heart of the matter.' He was miffed that it went over her head. Maybe she's, oh, I don't know, not used to a patient cracking jokes minutes after being told they have cancer? Just an observation.

I know it may be self-indulgent to vent about feelings that millions of people have or have had, but that's how I work it out. (Well, that and holing myself up with Downton Abbey for two days. Don't judge me.) I hate that I'm not there with him now, but I can't really whine about it. I haven't been kidnapped, I moved. And that's that. My dad's had lots of surgeries in his life (he was thrown by his horse, Vegas, while on duty as a police officer in the woods alone and shattered his arm. He's had something like 14 surgeries because of it. He also walked around with a broken back for close to a year, and just had his second back surgery.). But the thought of him sick is a totally different animal. He's a man's man. The kind of guy that builds shit. The kind of guy that owns his own Sawzall. The kind of guy that has been known to punch doors because he's furious, but would never hurt anyone. The kind of guy that says he'll race you down Edmund street on the way to school, then totally smokes your nine year old self before you even start running. The kind of guy that will save a man's life on a golf course performing CPR until the paramedics come. He's also the kind of guy that always buys my mom multiple cards on holidays, so she gets a sappy one and a funny one; who you can call in the middle of the night to take his screaming toddler niece to the emergency room, and who will then not only not get mad, but leave in hysterical laughter when that child, miraculously recovered, looks at the doctor and says, 'I fawted.' The kind of guy that, after his accident, still takes his kids to the stable and explains that it wasn't the horse's fault as he pets his nose when his kids have put 2 and 2 together and are afraid of it. The kind of dad that will oblige his asshole daughter's request when he's lost his voice and say, 'I didn't know until today that it was Barzini all along' as she cracks up. And whenever I make a disgusting joke, and in the short pause wonder if I've finally gone too far, realize he was just taking in a breath to laugh his ass off. Chuck Norris ain't got shit on my dad.

I'm not saying we've always been on the same page. I was a teenager, after all. I was, and am, stubborn. Shit went down. It wasn't until I was an adult and had a fraction of the responsibilities that he had, that I started to understand how strong my dad has always been. But no matter what was going on, no matter how bad, I never doubted that my parents loved me and would be there for me. I am lucky, because when you have that, whether you realize it or not, it makes you brave, just knowing that you always have people who love you. Successful and unsuccessful, stupid and smart, I couldn't have had the balls to try half the things I have if I didn't always have their support. My whole family rules. And they're lots of fun.

The amazing thing to me is that I truly believe that my father, while aware that he's relied on, has no idea how much he means to people. Before my aunt passed away last year, she was in and out of the hospital that my dad works for. My cousin had told me several times that it was so nice that he would come and visit and make her laugh, so I told him once. 'Me? I didn't do anything.' 'Yes, you did. You showed up. You make her feel better.' Jeez. He's like George fucking Bailey. He just got back to work, and now he's about to go through something all over again. But he's about to see that it's our turn to be strong for him, and we want to be. Because when you're the kind of person who loves people no matter what, they love you back, whether you like it or not.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It gets better, families!

I've been watching all of the videos for the Trevor Project, and am amazed and humbled by the outpouring of goodwill toward young gays. But the Trevor Project is also an amazing resource for families and teachers. I'd like to be a part of this, but I'm much better at writing than attempting a video in which I would almost definitely ramble on and on. And on. So here goes my story:

I was raised in a blue collar, Republican, Irish/Italian, Catholic household with a twin brother. We both went to the same schools at the same time; had the same parents, same family, the same doctors, ate the same food, etc. We even had the same lisp (why is there an 's' in that word?!) and went to the same speech therapist. One of us is gay, and one is not. And that's just the way it is.

We both had periods of time when we were bullied. Mine was in grade school. I was skinny, had braces, a huge nose, and a tic (seriously. I would blink incessantly). I was teased mercilessly by the older girls. I dreaded going to basketball practice. Even my coach made fun of me. It really sucked. I felt totally worthless and ugly, and that it was never, ever going to end. But I was wrong. It did pass, and eventually we moved to the 'burbs, anyway. Things were lookin' up. Not so much for my brother.

Ever since I can remember, some kid would end up calling him a fag. Mostly because kids are not creative when it comes to insults, and that word seems to be the all encompassing one. However, no matter what grade we were in, it came up. Jim was always a little different. A little awkward, I guess. I had defended his honor a few times in school whenever some little shit would mess with him. (I threw Danny Bell into the coat rack during a fire drill in good ol' Immaculate Conception. I couldn't help myself. It was brilliant.) But this wasn't often. I should have stuck up for him more. A lot of the teasing he endured alone. It did get better for him, and he found his talents and made more friends and had some girlfriends.We went to separate colleges, but remained close. We talked all the time, and told each other everything. Or so I thought.

I had asked Jim multiple times if he was gay. Because I didn't care. I just wanted to know. He knew half of my friends were gay, and that I was the last person on earth that would judge him. But he denied it so much, that I believed him. I didn't see any reason why he would lie about it to me, of all people. He didn't come out to me until we were 21 years old. I learned then just how difficult it is to tell your family. This is a person that I had known, literally, since I was just a few cells, and he still felt he couldn't tell me until then.

He told my mother a few months later, and asked her not to tell my father. My parents have had problems, but they've always communicated with each other and raised us very much together. It was the first time my mother kept anything from him. Of course, Jim told me when he told her, and I waited for the inevitable phone call from her, as she always told me anything of importance within nanoseconds of its occurrence. I waited. And waited. I gave it 2 days, then I called her. She was very quiet (my mother's Italian, and never quiet) and short with me. And then she cried. Like I've never heard her cry before or since. And all I could do was sit there and listen while my mom's heart broke. And right when I was starting to think that she'd never get past this, and that this would be the divide between the kids and the parents, she started talking, and began to prove once again that she is a wonderful mother. Her fears were for him, not of him. She was afraid that his life would be more difficult, and that other people would hurt him. She felt that she had failed him, not because he turned out to be gay, but because she wasn't there for him when he was a teenager struggling with his identity. She wondered what she could have done differently, and how much pain he must have faced alone. And, of course, she worried for his health.

The only other gay person in my family had been her cousin Joey. I didn't meet him until I was 10, and I adored him instantly (of course). He had returned to Pittsburgh after up and moving to San Francisco 25 years earlier. He had called off his wedding and skipped town. No one really talked about the fact that he was gay, but everyone knew. He died from complications of AIDS when I was 15. Even as a kid, it wasn't difficult to figure out why he had left and why he had come back, and I was sad for him. On his chart in the hospital, he had listed the origin as IV drug use, to save his family embarrassment. Even as a 15 year old, I couldn't see the logic in that. But some people could. Because he had tried to be 'normal', a girl got her heart broken, and he moved clear across the country. And I'm proud of him for coming to his senses when he did. It was a different time and a different country, and it couldn't have been easy. None of that had to happen, and it wasn't going to happen again.

So, yes, my mom had a hard time at first. She thought it might pass, that if he met the right girl, etc. It took time. But she tried to understand, and eventually, she did. Over time, the rest of the family found out. And you know what? No one really fucking cared. It was just the way he was. Of course they made jokes, I made jokes, he made jokes. That's how we deal with things. It really wasn't that big of a deal. But he still didn't tell my dad for 8 more years. Honestly, a lot of things went down with my brother that had nothing to do with him being gay. There never seemed to be a 'good' time to tell my father, who is also a staunch Conservative, Irish Catholic retired cop who served in the Navy and has a temper. My dad's reaction: "I'm not thrilled about it, but you're my kid, and I'm gonna love you no matter what." He really didn't understand why he hadn't been told. He took it as his failing in some way. "Am I that bad?" he had asked my mom. When she explained that the timing was always tricky, and they didn't know how he'd take it, he said simply, "He's my kid." Exactly. 8 years of carrying that weight, and it was unnecessary.

So, kids, if you can learn anything from my family, it's this: give the people who love you the chance to love you to the fullest extent. Don't underestimate them or their ability to prove what unconditional really means. And families, it may not be easy at first, but all change is painful. You're not a bad parent for having questions, or for being upset. And even the most open minded household can have a problem with what's under their own roof. But we have a choice, the gay kids don't. We can choose to accept them, and to educate ourselves and them. This should not be the most difficult thing they ever have to tell you.

Kids, we are born into families, but we can make our own, as well. If for some reason you are in the unfortunate situation in which you are absolutely not accepted at home, you still have options. I truly feel sorry for anyone who does not at least try to change their perspective. Ignorance is not bliss. If anything, maybe they can learn from your strength, when you set out on your own and make a better life for yourself.

To both families and kids, THIS IS NOT THE END OF YOUR LIFE. It is just the end of your life as you've known it. And who says that has to be a bad thing?

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Part II: The Empire Strikes Rack

For as long as I can remember, it has been my goal in life to have an MRI with GAD (dye contrast). As a child, I would lie awake at night, praying that someday, no matter what, I would annoy my way into getting one of my very own.

None of that is true.

For starters, the only thing I lied awake at night praying for was Kyle (Michael Biehn) from Terminator. I also have documented proof by way an unfortunate kindergarten art project, that my earliest career aspiration was to be a babysitter and a cheerleader. Always the multi-tasker. The only possible defense I have for this is that I must have misunderstood the assignment as 'Who I Want To Beat Up When I Grow Up.' Either way, I am periodically reminded of this low setting of the bar, which has taught me a very important lesson: never leave a paper trail. While my parents’ amusement is genuine, I feel it's peppered with a bit of sadness, as I'm sure that for a short time, they were assured that college tuition would be a burden they would never have to face. Unfortunately, life has clearly hardened me since I was 5. My goals progressed into somehow ousting Alyssa Milano as Arnold Schwarzenegger's daughter, should there ever be a sequel to Commando, while simultaneously acting as Ripley's sidekick in Aliens. I could go on. And on. The point is, while my goals may have been varied and ludicrous, being the lucky recipient of an MRI has never been one of them.

But it's certainly beginning to feel that way.

Since last we spoke on this here blog, I have been approved to have an MRI....after 2 weeks. Guess they were playing hard to get, and I'm ashamed to admit that, hot damn, it worked. I was waiting by the phone. Anyway, I get the OK late in the day on a Monday, with a reminder that I have to have this completed by July 21st. Or, what? They turn into pumpkins? So I call the scheduling department the next day, thinking all I have to do now is schedule the thing. Silly Rabbit. First, I'm told to call my doctor's office to get the insurance authorization number, which seems to somehow be missing from the order they faxed. OK...? Oh, and would I mind asking them if I'm supposed to have a dye contrast? Thanks! What? What does that even mean? So, I call, get the info, then call the hospital back, where I meet Kathy, in all her Midwestern-accented glory, who asks to call me back, as they are slammed. Is this Wendy's? Fine. She calls me back, and halfway through, puts me on hold. She returns with, "OK, now what you have to do is call your doctor..." WHY? The doctor put in an order for a standard MRI (one side), with directions to reference the order from the radiologist, who ordered a bilateral (both sides) MRI with GAD.

Looks like my doctor and the radiologist are thinking two different MRI's, which is daunting to someone who had no idea until 4 seconds before that there were different kinds of MRI's. Basically, one's saying to just check one tire, and the other's saying to check all the tires, fluids, emissions, brakes, transmission, etc. Nice. Until both orders match, I'm not permitted to even make an appointment. Yougottabefuckingkiddingme. So, I'm to call my doctor and tell her what to do. In what world does this make sense? I call the doctor's office again. I can’t help but feel that this would be a much more efficient process if they would just be proactive enough to pop up around me in boxes with Kathy on one side, and the multiple nurses from my doctor's office on the other. What's the story, Morning Glory? What's the WORD, Hummingbird? This continues through a 16 hour day of 2 jobs. And not once did they have the decency to break into song.

The next morning, I get a call around 8:30 from my doctor herself. "So, now, vat is zis? I'm supposed to send zis order for bilateral?" I inform her of what I've been told, and explain that I spoke with Kathy. The silence is icy. "Oh, yes. She ees problem. I know zis woman very well," she says, with the bored disdain of a Bond villian. She would be a perfect one, too; tall, blond, accent. The thing is, Kathy's a talker. She is, literally, a Chatty Kathy. We all know the type, the kind you ask for directions to Kmart and 45 minutes later you know the history of the people who owned the store that used to be where the Kmart is. You can tell she is a thorn in her side. A hapless hero, of sorts, that messes things up for the better. Though I now fear for Kathy's life, I suggest that the offices discuss this amongst themselves and let me know when we're all on the same page. Kathy calls me later just to assure me that "I haven't forgotten about you!" which is nice. Almost makes me want to warn her that my doctor is most likely unreachable because she's propelling herself from the ceiling to crack her windpipe without breaking a nail.

After several calls and ridiculous but necessary questions: Do I weigh more than 350lbs? Am I allergic to shellfish? (Why? Are there hors d'ouvres?) Am I claustrophobic? And my favorite, do I have implants? (This one sent me into hysterical laughter. "No, but thank you." "Well, it looks like it from here." WHOOOAAAAH! Looks like we got a spitfire in the scheduling department.) Somewhere out there, there's a 500lbs woman with an aversion to shrimp and enclosed spaces, who will one day regret spending her savings on those double D's. After all is said and done, I get the final kick in the balls in the form of, "Now you have to check with your insurance to make sure the code will cover a different MRI before we can schedule you." It took 2 weeks to get to this stage of idiocy, and now I have to possibly start over?

As a wise man once said, "All this aggravation ain't satisfactionin' me.”

At this point, it's been 3 weeks since my first appointment, and I feel like I've been trapped in Who's on First? for the majority of 2 days. I'm convinced I've spent more time on the phone than my entire sophomore year of high school, and am totally frustrated. If this is all standard and nothing’s wrong, then why are 2 people asking for totally different tests? All I want to do is get it over with and move along. The fact that I have been at work since 8am, after working a stupidly long day before, is not helping. I am spent, and do what any rational adult would do in times of trial: I run crying to my mommy.

Big mistake.

I don’t cry often, so when I do, my mom is always mildly stunned. She answers the phone, and is met with the 'trying not to cry, but clearly crying' technique. You know, the kind usually reserved for Lifetime Television heroines, as they explain to their concerned neighbor why they stay with their husband who just threw them down the stairs for the umpteenth time? Lots of pauses, breathing, pulling it together, etc. The desired effect is a quiet struggle to keep some dignity, but…they just end up looking like stupid bitches who want sympathy for being just that. Well this time, that stupid bitch was me. Take that, Ms. Baxter-Birney! She hears me out, saying such reassuring things as, "Well, if she's a specialist, then she should know better!!" Hard to argue with that logic. Suddenly, she's eerily calm.

"What's your doctor's name?"

"It's Doctor W-" Waaaaaait a minute. "I'm not telling you that."


Because I know she knows how to use the internet now, that's why. And she is Mom Incarnate. I’ll be 50 and still getting phone calls asking what I ate that day. Couple that with Google and the woman is virtually unstoppable. She may be 5' tall, but she has the mouth of 10 men. The thought of her going behind my back to have a verbal Hulk out with my doctor’s office is my worst nightmare realized. "Hello, this is Jayne Conley, Chrissy's mother? Well, I just thought you should know that you’ve made my daughter cry, and you should all be very ashamed of yourselves. Can you get your head outta your ass long enough to tell me who seems to be in charge here? I mean, she’s CRYING. Yes, I’ll hold. And you be sure to tell her she’s crying!" (Incidentally, I passed this little event on to my friend, Christina, who, after 14 years of friendship, is well-schooled in the ways of Jayne. She felt it would actually go down more like Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. "GIIIVE MY DAUGHTER THE MRIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" Both are strong possibilities.)

"I am 31 years old. You are not calling my doctor."

"FINE!" Busted. You almost had me, but your flippancy was clearly forced. Nice try, grasshopper.

"You listen to ME, sweetie," the mominator continues, "I've been doing this a LOT longer than you have, and I have been dealing with this for FIIIIVE YEARS!"

If assaulting vowels were a misdemeanor, my mom would've been in prison on multiple counts years ago. Her vocal chords are built in such a way that even the most endearing of pet names can be instantly converted to a shiv. My full name is Christine, and after years of hearing it yelled in various stages of anger, I’ve learned to fear that second syllable. If I had my choice between a dark alley and the long 'e', I’d take a dark alley any day. That 'sweetie' was merely a thin candy coating for the 'you unbelievable dumbass' that lay beneath. (Go ahead, insert it into the sentence. It totally works.) I have no one but myself to blame. I triggered her primal instinct with my distress, only to foil her scheme. She also played the C-card with that ‘this.’ I knew I had to disarm the situation with a brilliant response.

"I know."

Yeah. I don't think the UN will be calling me in to mediate anything anytime soon.

I somehow assure her that I am a functioning adult, and get her back in her cage. At some point Thursday, day 3 of the Three Stooges Phone Marathon, I get an appointment set for the 20th. Three more weeks. Fine. Whatever. All good, right? Wrong. During, and since, this crapfest, I've received all kinds of mail from the hospital and insurance company, which I suppose is nice, as I’ve always wanted a pen pal. One letter informed me that the results from the mammogram and ultrasound warrant further investigation via MRI. Really? Get OUT?! I got two more stating that the company received insufficient information from my doctor’s office, a bill for $0, a bill for partial payment, and last, but not least, another saying that my insurance company is unable to cover any of it now until I provide adequate 'Accident Information.' As I don’t seem to recall falling from a 10-story window and landing in a mammography machine, you see my confusion. But, hey, at least they thanked me for my assistance ‘in resolving this matter.’ (If you ever want to see my head explode, be condescendingly polite to me.) Christina’s response to this last tidbit: “I think it’s time for your mom to call…and may God help them.”

As of this morning, all seems to be normal. Well, as normal as it can be to anyone with half a brain. I was informed by the claims rep that this clusterf*ck of paper is due to my being insured with them for less than a year. As of August, the hijinks will stop. 'Accident' really means the date of my original appointment (which is already in the co-pay information, but hey, what do I know?) to verify that this is not a pre-existing condition…that I waited 11 months to see a doctor about…? (I would bang my head against the wall, but I’m afraid I’ll have to go to the hospital). So, basically, I’m a rookie and am being hazed to prove I’m not a lunatic. Hopefully, they have the good sense to let me climb out of the MRI before dumping Gatorade on me.

Ironically, in the month since this all began, a friend of mine's dog, Jack, began having seizures. Luckily, he has pet insurance. Jack has had a battery of tests, including an MRI, and the resulting surgery, all in the time that I, a human, have been waiting for permission to get half as far. Huh. Maybe I've been looking at this thing all wrong. I should really take all of this hassle as a huge compliment to my demeanor. Clearly, I'm not a bitch. If I were, I'd have better insurance.