Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Own Way Forward

I'm at the point in life where you can no longer jump into a project on a whim. There has to be real planning, or at least a little mulling over. It should be because of the vast experience I've gleaned, but it's more to do with running out of time. I'm not that old, but there's just no time to waste anymore. False starts are still okay but, please, no more wrong turns.

When I think about my decision-making as a youth it just seems sweet and stupid now. I'd literally travel thousands of miles for the slightest reason. Even if the goal was solid the selection process usually lasted a couple of minutes. I didn't see that as rash. In fact, I had faith in doing it that way.

Here's an example. I had a roommate my first year in boarding school whose mother was a jazz singer in Berlin. He told me her stage name, and I said that maybe I'd travel through Berlin on one of my trips back and forth to Arabia and say hello to her for him. That was it - the extent of the decision-making process.

It led to one of the great adventures of my young life, and included the first time I ever had a drink. On the way back to the States for the next school year, my friend Walker and I went to Germany and searched the wild nightclubs of Berlin looking for my roommate's mother, just to say hello. We were 16. We saw many crazy things in the bars and clubs of Berlin - there were sailors dressed as women, and women dressed as male sailors. Many shocking sights were observed, but we couldn't find the jazz singer. After several nights we gave up.

The trip hadn't been a complete loss. We had taken a bus tour behind the Iron Curtain through the Berlin Wall to the other side. What a drab place the other half of the city was. One side produced Mercedes and the other produced cartoon cars. It was a great chance to see life under capitalism next to life under communism, like a big experiment. Guess what? Communism sucks. Same people, same city, two different systems. That part was fascinating.

As we were walking back to the hotel on the last night, we looked up a side street and saw one final nightclub. It was downstairs and there in a glass case full of pictures, was a photograph of the woman we were searching for - my roommate's Mom.

We called her, but she was working that night and we were leaving the next morning. Not a problem. We said goodbye to her and proceeded to have a blow-out celebration, at the rooftop bar, that featured us dancing with these wild adult women, and ended when Walker - who was mocking the goosestep at the time - collapsed into a group of potted plants. We were both thrown out. There was a rich industrialist there with his Swedish "girlfriend" and they invited us back to their suite. More drinks were consumed. Walker was talking to the guy about conditions in the Soviet Union. The guy kept saying, "Shocking" with a weird accent, and that went right into our lexicon from then onwards.

Meanwhile, the beautiful Swedish woman in the black velvet jumpsuit was sitting next to me on the sofa. Here I was 16, the first night I ever got drunk, and suddenly years of shyness and repression were gone. What began to happen next really was shocking.

Just then, Walker suddenly passed out and became ill. The guy was furious, throwing Walker out first. I wanted to stay. I was now in love with the Swedish babe from heaven. I was also tossed out so I headed back to the room a few minutes after Walker. There was a slight bend in the hallway and I was literally bouncing off the walls from side to side. Everything seemed so clear and funny. It was obvious that this alcohol molecule and I were destined to encounter each other, and for the next 14 years, before I quit at 30, I was an enthusiastic drinker.

When I got to the bend in the hallway, I could see Walker face-down outside the door to our room with the key in his hand. His arm was extended towards the door. This was extraordinarily funny to me at the time. I dragged him into the room and before we both passed out, Walker gave a long speech about various girlfriends of his, and life in general. This diatribe was absolutely hilarious. To me, in my drunken state, it was like listening to the funniest comedian ever.

We woke up with just enough time to make the plane. The only problem was we went to the wrong airport. This led to another night in Berlin where we finally met up with the jazz singer. She took us to a club where she said the musicians liked to go. All the waitresses were topless and there was an elaborate striptease stage show. The next day we flew on. I returned to boarding school and told my ex-roommate that I had seen his mother and everything was good with her. The plan had been accomplished, and it was all based on one comment.

Decisions don't happen like that for me anymore. I spend days ruminating about what to do - the next project. After a couple of weeks of chasing a bad lead, I now know what's next. My scripts have gone a long way before being rejected, and it's time to write another one. I have lived a fairly crazy life. It wasn't chance - I sought out most of it. Sadly, the days of the sudden scheme are over. These things appeared wild and random but they were actually cultivated under my watchful eye. It is now harvest time.


At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

improv ...from ONLY basic, raw knowledge of musical USUALLY the greatest...

Even pros..'HATE a second take' in a sucks...

Louis Armstrong ...when asked if he could read music.. said ... "not enough to get in the way"

my point:
Planning is more common as we age... and is disastrous... for creativity....


so you are very right...planning is a little stilting...

"not too much please"

Bill ... thanks for injecting a note about Diabetes.

my friend ..the most brilliant man I ever knew ..was washed down-stream with this...

he and I used to plan(second guess) the actions of the world..
we saw into everyone's mind..
he is gone now.. but he SHOULD be here..

can we spend 7 trillion $$ on these issues ....instead of war..

war is a dramatic increase in entropy.. lost resources... wasted energy..

keep your blog going...
someone has to speak out....


At 5:01 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Thanks for your comment, TommyLee.
Another time Louis Armstrong took a musical question about a flatted 5th and made it into a joke about drinking.

At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Daoud said...

Louis was once asked by some over-educated ivy league music major, "Mr. Armstrong, what is jazz?"
His response: "If you have to ask, you'll never know."
If that story isn't true, it should be.
Wasn't George Harrison about 16 when the Beatles played in the sleazy nightclubs of Germany?


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