Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Praise of Mentors

I was about thirty years old, a green pea stage hand at the San Francisco Opera working in the carpentry department. I was hungry for extra work to feed my little family. I had heard if the union office called looking for extra men to take evening calls around the city of stage shows, ice shows, rock shows or whatever - you did not turn them down. If you turned them down it would be a long while before they asked you again.

So the union called this day around 1PM in the afternoon and all of us extra men lined up at the payphone in the hall. One by one, luck of the draw, my turn and "Could I run a follow-spot?" I said, very stupidly and much too fast, "Sure."

The dispatcher said, "Good, be at the Masonic Temple tonight by 7:30 half hour before curtain. Wear a tie." I passed the phone on to the next guy and it sunk in that I had just stepped in it up to my chin. There was no way I could do it. I didn't even know how to turn the darn thing on.

I was walking away down the hall and here comes the Moose. Now Moose at that time was around sixty plus. He was an institution within an institution. He had been the sound man when the United Nations first convened at the Opera House and he was a legend.

I had been assigned to Moose my first day at the opera. I was to go everywhere he went, "learn" the building, listen to everything he said, and anything he asked me to. I was to literally learn the ropes; knot tying, cable splicing, counter weights and on and on. God bless him, he kept me alive and learning in an oftentimes dangerous and ever changing environment, sometimes in utter darkness.

Once a giant, hence the name Moose, now his knees were shot and he walked with a lumbering painful gate, always dragged down by a ton of tools he carried on his body.

So Moose clanks up to me and says something like, "What the hell happened to you? Your dog die?" I told him what happened on the phone and that I had really screwed up big.

He said, "Come on." He got someone to cover for me and we went down to the bowels of the building and he began to draw on a wall with chalk. He drew a diagram of a carbon arc light and its wiring system. Then he drew a cut-away version of what it looked like inside the lamp. Then a top view of where the colored gel frames and focus handles were. Next came a diagram of the lens housing and how they focused the light. He told me of the extra high voltage and the certain danger if the two carbon rods fused and the proper way to go inside the unit and change the rods. He must have kept me at it for an hour. Questioning me over and over.

He left me after a while to study by myself. At five o'clock as I was leaving he asked how I was doing. I said, probably without too much enthusiasm, that I'd "give it my best shot."

He said, "Oh, and wear a jacket and tie, you have to go through the audience to climb up to your booth." And I watched him hobble off, his legs paining him after a long day.

I got to the Masonic Temple at around 6:45 that night, found out which booth I was assigned to, climbed up the ladder, pushed open the heavy trap door to enter and there, sitting on a stool, was the Moose.

He said, "Let's get to work." Can you imagine what I felt?

How he had got up that ladder I'll never know. But he had made the climb and was there for me. He took me through it all one more time but this time it was the actual huge spot-light with all it's handles and switches and gears. He said, "I forgot to tell you about the little knurl knob on the lamp...that's why I'm here."

Well, of course he had told me about it, several times in fact, but that was how he was. He understood my plight. He wanted to help me succeed. His gift to me and to my family that night, while I know he was in pain, will never be forgotten. I later found out he was an unsung man of great service to many, many men in difficult circumstances.

With that sweet old memory clear in my mind I lift up the name of Thomas "Moose" Edwards...teacher, mentor and friend.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Love Comes Quietly

We are awakened through poetry.
We are affirmed through ritual.
We are fulfilled through music.

Robert Creeley wrote an exquisite poem on love...

Love Comes Quietly

Love comes quietly,
drops around me,
on me,
in the old way.

What did I know,
thinking myself
able to go alone
all the way.

Some years ago, after I spoke the poem aloud a few times...the words seem to take on their own if the poem demanded to be sung. So I did. And so I do. And love is still coming quietly on every note.