A Snail gets mugged in the park.
The police interview him to get a description.
He says “ I don’t know. It all happened so fast.”
That’s how I feel.
No, I haven’t been mugged but Time has really done a number on me.
I find myself back in San Diego after a seven year hiatus from the San Diego Theatre scene. I’m at North Coast Repertory Theatre rehearsing Shipwrecked! An Entertainment. The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (As Told by Himself) by Pulitzer Prize winning Donald Margulies. I'm playing Louis De Rougemont.
Set in the late 1800’s, Shipwrecked! Is a kind of re-creation of the real Louis de Rougemont's attempt to clear his name in which he recounts an incredible seafaring saga of giant squids and cannibals, whirlpools and wonders. After his best selling tale was debunked, he traveled the country telling his story, hiring actors to play all the other parts. In our version we have the vivacious Yetide Bataki and the irrepressible David McBean. Under the watchful and exacting eye of the estimable Yale School of Drama trained Matthew Wiener, the Artistic Director of The Actor’s Theatre of Phoenix. We have been rehearsing for three weeks.
Rehearsing. Now there’s an interesting word. If “Hearsing” means what I think it does; Putting something in a hearse, like a coffin, then “Rehearsing” means doing it again. So we kill a story or play by squeezing all the spontaneity out of it, stick it in a box (the theatre) and rehearse and rehearse until it’s “ready”. Hmm.
I went to the San Diego Drama Critic’s Circle Awards the other night and I realized seven years is the perfect amount of time to be away. It’s too long to easily summarize what you’ve been up to- so you don’t even bother- and it’s long enough that you are genuinely glad to see the older yet familiar faces.
It’s been seven years since I performed in San Diego. There was a time I did three or four shows a year down here. As I cruise past the familiar haunts of my past which have either been torn down, spruced up or replaced entirely, the sheer fact of time passing hits me squarely in the solar plexus like a ton of photo albums dropped from the crane that towers over the construction site that is now where my favorite pulled pork sandwich place used to be.
“What happened to Goldfinch Avenue?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It all happened so fast.”
But it’s great to be back here. There’s something about it down here that begs the question:
Where else but La Jolla, California can you see a fender bender between a Maserati and a Mini Cooper?
Where else do the sunsets come sliding in at this angle? Each one expressing a separate category of wistfulness?
Where else can you say the breeze doesn’t blow here, it caresses the spaces between things?
Where else can you see a kid riding a skate board down a perfectly paved beach access road with a surfboard under his arm in February?
Where else can one say for every freckle faced kid making a sand castle on Solano Beach there’s a homeless guy in a windbreaker scouring the dumpster behind some overpriced bistro looking for a piece of barely nibbled croudite?
Where else is it true that for every gristly old-timer barking out tired tirades from the end of the bar at Rock Bottom there’s an eyebrow plucked tummy tucked soccer mom tapping her french tips on the dashboard of her Escalade while screaming fashion advice into the designer cell phone receiver dangling from her perfect ear?
Where else does the ghost of plien aire painter Edgar Payne lurk in the purple shadows of a toll road underpass and you can still hear, on warm summer nights, with the top down and the radio off, a chorus of bullfrogs throbbing in the darkness off Jimmy Durante Drive?
Where else can you watch 50 year old health nuts cultivate melanoma patches the size of sand dollars while they suck their stomachs in for the passing waitresses, fresh out of high school, scurrying to work in their starched white shirts and food stained black aprons?
Where else can you see trophy wives with bodies as bulbous as the Hummers they drive to Whole Foods to pick up their organic Bok Choy, while they balance genetically altered miniature Lahsa Apsos against the two flesh covered synthetic bags that bobble obscenely like Macy’s parade balloons where their breasts should be?
Where else can you see the rows of identical townhouses that stand like gravestones along the stoic ridges above the Camino Real, gated communities where gigantic Buicks and Lincolns scrape against each other in cafeteria parking lots driven by ancient, desiccated zombies with glaucoma clotted eyeballs shrouded in sunglasses with enough UV protection to view an A-bomb test?
Where else can you drive recklessly down Carmel Valley Road, your tires flicking gravel at the easels of the lousy painters that litter the roadside every weekend in their four hundred-dollar goddess-wear smocks? Painters whose talent, if collected in the asshole of a gnat would rattle around like lima beans in an oil tanker.
And where else does my morning walk down the sidewalk get accompanied by the wet squish of snails underfoot, each one on some desperate sortie to get from one patch of ivy to another, their life interrupted by my carelessness?
“My God, Morrie. Your house is completely crushed! This Southern California sun will dry you to a crisp by noon. What happened?”
“I don’t know. It all happened so fast.”