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Archive for December, 2007

In search of a meaningful life

There are many days that I wake wondering about the meaning of life, and how one should engage in making their life a meaningful one. In particular, is my life meaningful, if so is it meaningful enough, if not how can I make it meaningful. Today was one of those days.

As I drove the 30 minutes outside of Fairbanks to a meeting, taking in the low light, pink skies, and endless vistas of a beautiful mid-winter Fairbanks day, I had the opportunity to contemplate this eternal question. Like many before me, and many more to come, I was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

That doesn’t mean my internal discourse was not worthwhile.

Certainly of immeasurable value in my life is the contribution I make to my children, their self-esteem, happiness, and ability to achieve their dreams. I can’t think of anything more meaningful than ensuring that they have these gifts.

Yet, there is an emptiness within me that isn’t sated by parental achievement. This void leaves me feeling guilty, saddened by my own need for more. Really, what more can a parent ask for than the happiness of their children? But the emptiness remains, nagging, pushing, asking for more.

I’ve struggled with this dilemma, should I be giving up my own ambitions to nurture my children’s future? Should I keep a job I’m unhappy with, pursue a career I’m tired of, to ensure that bills are paid, children are well-dressed, and we can keep our suburban home?

And what about the void, the emptiness, the hunger that remains inside me, that longs to leave the desktop behind and spend my days as a person of the earth, running my hands through the soil, the rich smell of plant and decay lingering in my nose, wearing jeans dark with the color of soil, waking to the sunrise, resting when it sets.

What of life? Meaningful life?

Where one spends their day building shelter, then inhabiting it. Planting a seed, then watching it grow, blossom, and fruit. Harvesting a life, celebrating life in death, an active participant in a cycle as old as life itself.

Oh, how I envy the farmer, the fisherman, the carpenter; whose hands know the feel of cold and wet, wood and stone, fire and earth. They breathe reality, and live. I breathe the artificial, and drown.

Instead I find myself driving to work, separated from reality by a pane of tempered glass and the heat of a combustion engine, ancient sunlight burning bright, destined to spend my days searching for meaning seemingly beyond the reach of modern life.

So tonight I turn to words to fill the void, to span the distance between paycheck and ambition, bills and desire.

With each word my mood lightens, my inner artist becoming sated, the world becomes less hopeless.

Tomorrow is another day, with meaning waiting to be defined once again.

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Janie, my wife, and I have a running battle about my refusal to buy used books. She buys used books to read; shares used books; and even sells her new and used books to the used book store. She has no problem being intimate with these books, using them for her own pleasure than passing them on like a, like a, well I really don’t know. Maybe a used car. Or toothbrush.

But, to be blunt, she doesn’t mind her books being promiscuous.

I, on the other hand, like my books unblemished. I don’t want any dog-eared corners (unless I made them), no notes in the margins (unless I wrote them), coffee stains throughout (unless I spilled it) and definitely no broken backs (unless I broke them, of course). And those are just the cosmetic concerns.

When it comes right down to it, I struggle with the thought of reading a book someone else has had a relationship with. I develop a relationship with the book (even I if don’t like it) that is intimate and very personal.

Which may be one reason why my wife and I never read the same books, as documented in Book Wars. I just can’t handle cozying up to a book that has slept with my wife.

An intuitive mind might suggest that I like my books to be virgins, untouched and unblemished by any previous relationships.

They would probably be right. (Interpret that, Dr. Freud.)

Oh sure, I know books from the bookstore are not untouched. But a little experimentation is ok. A peak at the inside of a book jacket, a little stroke down the spine, maybe even a peek at the first chapter is the equivalent of a little innocent teenage necking. (Remember, I’m talking about books.) It should be expected but not condoned. And it sure is a lot different than going all the way with someone.

I mean, can you imagine curling up in bed with a book that has been around.

I can, and it’s not pretty.

Don’t you worry about BTD’s (book transmitted diseases)? I mean, BTD’s have to exist; there is a disease for sharing anything else. Combs have head lice, beds have bed bugs, food can transmit the flu, computers have viruses, jocks have jock itch, shoes have athlete’s foot, and mosquitos have West Nile, Malaria, and who know what else. (Note: we share mosquitoes in Alaska, even though there are plenty to go around.)

Come on, where are the public service announcements on BTD’s. We could be on the verge of an epidemic!

And it gets worse.

The other day I was browsing the web and came across an article on www.bookcrossing.com. Now, I knew this sort of thing existed, but I didn’t expect to find it right out in the open. This is the equivalent of a swinger’s club for books.

If you don’t know, people (perverts, I say) leave these books out in public places for strangers to pick up, then post where they left them on the web so that the johns can find the book. They track where they have been by a sticker in the front cover.

These people are the equivalent of pimps. Book pimps.

And when the Centers for Disease Control finally start tracking BTD’s, all they’ll have to do is look up bookcrossing.com to trace where those books have been to find the source of the disease. Disgusting.

So, next time you think about visiting the used book store, or see a book left unsuspecting on a park bench, think about this blog, and BTD’s, and go get yourself a virgin, book that is.

And if you know me, and see me, don’t mention this article, my face goes beet red at any mention of anything sexual- which this article is definitely not. It is all about books.

And Janie, keep those used books on your side of the bed, I don’t want any BTD’s getting into my harem, ahem, I mean stack, of virgins, ack, I mean, new books.

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After a busy week, I’ve finally set aside some time to complete my 2007 Nutcracker series of essays. This is the grand finale, my first turn as an audience member for the ballet (after a couple turns behind the scenes), and my chance to watch my “little mouse” perform.

We arrived before the show about a ½ hour early, both to get seats and to get Jolie back stage to get moused up. There was a good crowd, and long lines for tickets, but we were able to slip by (a friend holding our tickets for us) and go straight to the theater doors. My in-laws, Jim and Judy (who have been visiting us), Ali, Jane, and I were attending together. Judy remained by the door, as Jane hadn’t caught up with us after handing over our mouse backstage.

Another friend, Janet, was to catch up and join us as well.

We chose seats about a third of the way up from the bottom of the theater, and, appropriately so, on the left side of the theater. Had we been a bit earlier, we may have gotten into the center seats, but as it was the seats were good- and close enough to the stage to get a good view.

While waiting for Jane and Janet to catch-up, I was privy to best acting performance of the night. A women in a red coat, with a cane, and two sons arrived at the row in front of me, where there was a lady sitting alone next to the aisle in a great seat. The seated lady held a rose, presumably for one of the performers. The acting for this scene was so outstanding; it would be inexcusable for me not to share it with you.

The handicapped lady woman (I’ll call her that because her behavior clearly indicated she is handicapped, though not in the way she wants us to believe) began to ask the seated lady if she would move to allow for her and her sons to sit there on the aisle. The seated lady politely refused, obviously having arrived early and picking a seat to give her a great view.

The h.w. went on to explain how she was handicapped, pleading for the s.l. to move, all the while leaning more heavily on her shortest and presumably youngest son in a show of physical exhaustion. There were three empty seats immediately to the left of the s.l., but it was clear the h.w. wanted the aisle seat and had planned on bullying her way into it, using her cane figuratively (I was worried for a moment she might use it literally) as a prop to get her the seat she wanted. All the while, she leaned more heavily on her son and breathed more heavily, accentuating her frail physical state. Oh, the drama.

Of course, there were lots of empty seats, on the aisle, just further from the stage.

H.w.; ” Please let us sit here, I can’t stand much longer (gasp, wheeze, a small cough then a little shudder for effect, leans heavily on small son whose shoulder is conveniently at her arm’s height). I just want to sit together with my kids.” Again s.l. politely refused.

By this time, it was clear h.w. had tried to bully the wrong person. S.l. was not going to give up her seat despite the commotion being raised by h.w. H.w.’s face turned red, and she stomped back up the aisle, leaving us all with a new Christmas greeting to explain to our kids, ” You f#@%%*# b#@#$!!!, you @@$$@###@$@!$@$#@!$!!!!$!@!$!!$.” All 50 little kids sitting within earshot sat up and took notes.

I fully expect Ali to quote h.w. next time Jolie swipes her seat at the dinner table.

If any of us innocent bystanders had any doubts about h.w.’s tact before this, or any sympathy, it quickly evaporated at her outburst; which was completely inexcusable at a holiday showing of the Nutcracker.

A few minutes later she returned part-way down the aisle with a Nutcracker volunteer. They didn’t make it as far as s.l. before turning around and heading back up the aisle. There were still seats available all over, some of them on the aisle. If she was truly suffering as much as she was showing, I would have expected her to take one of them. Eventually, Jane and Janet arrived so I quit watching to see where she ended up, though later Jane mentioned she had witnessed h.w. accosting a little teenage girl who was a volunteer usher.

Anyways, back to the purpose of our being there at all, the Nutcracker.

Regarding our seating, Janet sat to my right, Jane to my left, with Jim, Judy, and Ali left of that. The seats at the end were empty, at least until our coats landed there. Ali sat on Mimmy’s (Judy’s) lap during the first act. She re-entered the show during the second act, when she decided to move to mine.

Soon the lights went down and the ballet began.

As the curtain rose, the first thing that grabbed me was how good the stage looked. From up close, working on the props, you see all the dust, the frayed canvas, the seams that don’t quite line up. But from the audience, with the lighting, all those inaccuracies aren’t noticeable. In any case, the scene of the house, the window (where I knew someone was sitting, just out of sight), the stairs and the backdrop, all looked wonderful.

The second discovery was that I knew very little of what took place during that first scene until then. The father, the mother, the maid, and the children playing all were unknown to me until I had the chance to see it from the audience. Of course, this is because during the rehearsals I was always ½ of the dead weight on the back of the window prop.

Last, and most surprising, was after having worked backstage is how one-sided my view was. One might say my view was decidedly from the left (most people who know me wouldn’t expect anything less). Having worked only on left stage, and not being able to watch any of the early scenes, there were characters I was completely unaware of. It would be like covering half of the movie screen for a movie. While you might get the overall story, there are going to be events left unknown.

Take the maid for example, she never shows up backstage at stage left, at least behind the window. I didn’t know she existed, or that her role was so significant in providing humor to the early scenes. Likewise, I didn’t expect the dollhouse scene. It enters from stage right, as do the dolls. I had no idea that scene occurred (during my backstage stints I was probably removing snow during this time).

It was to my delight and surprise that I didn’t always know what to expect. It was fun to watch and witness the characters and scenes unfold, some of which came as a complete surprise despite my having been backstage.

The prop removal went off without a hitch, at least from my viewpoint in the audience. The window, stairs, and fireplace all rolled offstage quickly and smoothly. Soon, we were anticipating seeing our little mouse in action. During this time, I was watching stage left, knowing Jolie would come from that direction. Fortunately, Jane caught me and corrected my gaze, because Jolie actually came on stage from the right. During the dress rehearsal, all the mice had come from the left, and during the earlier performance I had been wrapping up my covert snow removal at that time.

Soon, the little mice were taking turns, a couple at a time, roaming the stage. Our little mouse, I can say unequivocally, was the best. (Actually, I had no idea which one she was during most of the performance.) I do think she was the smallest or the small mice, and she had a tendancy to hunch over a little more, making her a little more mouse like than the other rodents on stage. And, given how tired she was, and how her attitude had been deteriorating at home, I suspected she might be a little rabid.

All that aside, the mouse scenes were wonderful, the fight with the nutcracker, the little mice shuttling off presents, the agonizing death of the mouse king, and the mice pulling his carcass off stage. During some of this scene, Jolie lost a heel on a slipper. She was able to nonchalantly pull it back on when they were off to the side of the stage, but still visible, before they had another series of action. She did wonderfully, and we are very proud of her. And watching her made all the volunteer time worthwhile, maybe even her rabid attitude.

The first act wrapped up, and we all took off to stretch our legs and look for restrooms. Jane went and got Jolie, as this was her chance to watch the second act from the audience. I found a rose and bought it, then let Ali give it to Jolie when she got to us.

The second act is primarily dancing, some of which I had witnessed from stage left during the dress rehearsal. It was all wonderfully performed and fun to watch. Given the majority of the dancers are high school students; it is really a privilege to see such a good performance in Fairbanks. The professional dancers, from Atlanta I believe, managed to keep from freezing up (reference to the temperature in Fairbanks in December, not their performance) and wowed us all with their routines. What a great thing for the local community and especially the young dancers to get to witness.

Midway through the second act, Ali began asking me for candy she knew I had in my coat. She pretty much disconnected from the performance, and began putting on her own. Up until that time, she had been watching, clapping and in general keeping up with the story. When I said no, maybe for the 4th or 5th time, she entered her classic Ali pout scowl, lips out, brow furrowed, arms crossed, nose wrinkled up. It was the second or third best act of the day, somewhere right after h.w. and our little rabid mouse.

The show concluded, we wrapped up our tired kids and headed home. I even dug the candy out of my coat and gave it to Ali.

It had been a long week, or weeks. But, to my surprise I’ve discovered a new level of pride in watching a child do new things. As a parent, watching Jolie mature (I know- she is only eight) this year has been a surprising and endearing experience, different from the pride and joy one feels when a baby learns to walk, etc. Perhaps it is that she has chosen to take on something and persevered in doing so, maybe it’s something else.

I can’t quite pin it down, but it threatens to pop the buttons off of my shirt.

This first-time Nutcracker Dad is thankful to have been involved, happy to have learned something new, but also glad it is over. Until next year.

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My final volunteer responsibility for the 2007 Nutcracker season began at 1:30pm on Saturday.  There are two shows Saturday, both with cast B.  I was working as stage crew for the first show.  Later, during the evening show and for the first time ever, I would watch the Nutcracker.  It would also be Jolie’s last performance of the season.

Jolie and I arrived at Hering Auditorium at 1:30pm, with the show slated for a 2:00pm start.  She headed downstairs to become a little mouse, I went to look for Scott (beret guy).  I found him on stage left, where he was busy running the headset while John (stage general) took a break.  I recognized Fred, whom I worked with during the hail-in, and said hello to him and another fellow Dad, whose name I believe was Dave.  They were the rest of the stage crew on stage left.

We divvied up responsibilities, Fred and I taking responsibility for the window unit and covert snow removal, Dave taking charge of the stairs with help from Scott.  Everything was ready for the show, so the three of us and Scott had a chance to ponder improvements to the props.  Both Fred and I felt some cushion on the back of the window, where we have to recline to hold the prop in place (keeping our heads out of site of course) would be nice.  Eventually we decided a flat screen TV would be a nice feature for the 10-15 minutes we spend on the back of the prop.

The TV option got voted down; we couldn’t agree on who would hold the remote.

The ballet began, and Fred and I took our positions behind the window.  While lying there, I had time to ponder the size and location a pair of moose antlers would need to be in order to appear realistically outside the window.  Moose hunting next fall has taken on new meaning, not only will I be working to find a moose in the first place, but now I’ll have to judge any bulls on their scale, balance, and ability to fill out the space outside the window at the Nutcracker.

No, I haven’t run this by anybody in charge, nor figured out how to sneak the antlers in without getting caught.  But I do have a full year to figure it out, provided the secret doesn’t get out.  Don’t tell anybody.

About this time I started to nod off, and quickly realized why pillows or cushions weren’t on the back of the window prop.  At some point Scott would signal the window be removed, or signal for the snow removal operation to begin, only to find half his stage crew dozing on the back of the window unit.

While resting, the fake snow fell around me.  I’d guess about a 1/2 inch accumulation- not enough for skiing.  Of course I collected fake snow in my hair.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t melt away like real snow.  I looked like a candidate to be the Head and Shoulder’ s spokesman.  Hours later, Jane was still be picking fake snow flakes out of my hair.

The covert snow removal operation occurred without incident, and with no casualties.  The snow was swept to the vacuum, and sucked away to wherever fake snow goes.

The prop removal went smoothly, we got the window rolled offstage without being seen- I think.  And the stairs came off without hanging up on the side curtains, much better than the dress rehearsal on Wednesday night.

Midway through the second act, mother ginger had just entered the stage, my phone rang (yes I wisely had it on vibrate).  It was time to grab Jolie and sneak away to Ali’s preschool Christmas party, then maybe dinner before returning to the Nutcracker one last time this year, this time as a member of the audience.

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Recently we got an e-mail from someone ranting about the dangers of the movie The Golden Compass, based on the book of the same name by Philip Pullman.  For those that don’t know, Pullman is an admitted atheist/agnostic.  The letter warned us about the dangers of subverting our children by allowing them to watch a movie authored by a heathen, etc., and so on.  It didn’t say what we were subverting them to.

We responded nicely to the e-mail, stating we would give our children the tools to decide for themselves.  The reply to the reply was that they would rather give their money to the lord.  (I wonder if they actually write their checks to Jesus Christ.  I bet not, and suspect the intermediary takes a big cut before Jesus sees any of it if he ever does.)

Unknown to the e-mail sender, I had already read the book and I intend on reading the next two in the series, before seeing the movie.  My daughter is reading a children’s book by Pullman, and is enjoying it immensely, though on occasion her head rotates 360 degrees and she spits up pea soup.

The e-mail sender has not read the book, nor screened the movie.  Their judgment is based upon what they have heard or been told, and certainly some religious leaders have condemned the work.  Not to mention it was written by an AETHIST, the most evil of beings.  What more needs said?

Recollecting on the story, the only concern I can see a religious leader having is that the bad things that happen in the book bear an uncanny resemblance to the bad things that religion can do and does in real life.  Perhaps it’s like studying their own imperfections in a mirror?

What concerns me about all this, really, isn’t the belief of other people.  It is what appears to be a mass willingness to replace thought with blind belief.  It is as though people want to be told what to do, who to vote for, what movie to see; rather than decide for themselves.

If god had intended for us to believe, not think, he would have placed a bible between our ears instead of a brain.

Or perhaps the pope.

Or a pastor.

A cleric.

A politician.

Or a TV pundit.

Maybe even Bill O’Reilly.

But god didn’t, he gave us each a brain and the ability to reason, and, at least in this country and at this time, the freedom to use it without fear of persecution and punishment.

That is not to say there are not consequences for free thinking in this country, it is just that they aren’t, for the most part, state sponsored.

What freedoms have, and are, our soldiers defending and dying for if not the freedom to think for yourself?

It amazes me that so many Americans give up that right without a moment’s hesitation, when people died to get it.  To concede what I consider god’s greatest gift, the ability to think and to reason.  You could get more use out of their head by cutting it in half and using it as a candy dish.

Of course, that would prove fatal.  But hey, if you are willing to let someone else fill up your head, why not let it be me?  And I promise whatever goes in will be sweet, tasteful, and generously shared.

And most certainly more palatable than dogmatic belief.

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Wednesday night marked the second installment of my Nutcracker volunteerism, this time as a stage hand for a dress rehearsal.  Jolie was in this rehearsal, so she and I would go to Hering Auditorium together.

Before I go into the evening’s events, let me hit a few highlights of Wednesday first.  I got up early, to get some work done.  I got a call for a lunch meeting, so quickly made arrangements for Ali to get to school via another parent.  Then, as Ali and I got into my truck to drive to town, the truck wouldn’t change gears.  I think the clutch went out.  So, I ground it into reverse, backed up out of the driveway, then ground it into 1st and headed to town grinding gears every time I needed to shift.

Fortunately, we made it to town, Ali got to school, and I made it to my meeting.  Immediately afterward, I coaxed the truck to Jane’s workplace, where I left it and drove home (there may be a pattern here).  At home, I took a few minutes to check my e-mail, etc, then collected Jane’s parents and drove back to town so that we could pick Jolie up from school and then attend the Holiday Open House at Jane’s workplace.  From there we took the truck to the mechanic, picked Ali up from creative movement class, ran a couple miscellaneous errands for Jane’s Dad, and finally picked up Jane after 5:00pm.

By this time, I was considering painting the van yellow and putting a meter on it.  Maybe I could pick up some spare passengers and charge them for the ride.

We headed home (do you see the pattern), stopping off at the McDonald’s Drive-thru in Fanchorage for supper so Jolie and I could eat in the van.  At home, Jolie quickly got her dance stuff on, I unloaded stuff from the van, and then she and I piled back in the van and barely made it to the rehearsal on time at 6:30.

At rehearsal, on stage, I ran into two other stage hands.  Chris Todd, who I believe is a doctor whom I met while working on the design for the Interior Neighborhood Health Clinic, and Gary, who was the other stage hand for the night.  One other fellow would show up, but I can’t recall his name.

Eventually beret guy, who once again was wearing the red beret with cargo pants (blue this time), came over and introduced himself.  His name is Scott, and he directed the stage crew during the rehearsal.  From here on out, I will call him Scott, because he was kind enough to explain stage lingo and stage hand responsibilities to me throughout the evening.

First lesson was to understand locations on the stage.  While I had figured out left stage and right stage on Saturday, down and up stage still had me stumped.  But, Scott pointed out down stage is towards the crowd, up is towards the rear of the stage, or away from the crowd.  The terminology has its history for when the seating was flat, or people stood, and the stage was sloped from front to back in order that the crowd could see the whole stage.  After a day of breakdowns and people shuttling, it was nice to learn something that won’t cost me money (unlike learning whatever the truck repair will cost).

Eventually, the stage hands were split up.  Gary and Chris ended up on stage right; name unknown father, Scott, and I on stage left.  Chris appeared disappointed, as his past experience was the covert fake snow sweeping and vacuuming operation which is based out of stage left.

Soon, the rehearsal was underway.  The first task for me and the nameless dad was to lie on the back side of the window prop.  We do this because otherwise the prop will roll when dancer’s step on it.  The tricks to this job are to not cramp up while you sit or lay there, so that you can move when the scene is over, and to keep your head down lest the audience see you.  Characters walk by you, appearing to be “outside” from the audience, and fake snow is falling on them.

I’m considering wearing a nylon stocking over my head for Saturday’s show, so if I stick my head up I look like a burglar.  Better yet, and more appropriate for Alaska, moose antlers attached to my back.  Once the scene is over, a stage hand, in this case it was me, crawls around “outside” the wind sweeping fake snow to the vacuum while keeping out of view.  As I said, it is a covert fake snow removal operation.

If I had moose antlers attached to my back while sweeping snow it would look like a moose browsing outside the window…. How much more Alaskan could it get?

I doubt my sense of humor would get me invited back.  But then again, if you don’t want to be asked to do a job more than once, screw it up, and do a good job of screwing it up.  Take laundry, for example.  I don’t do laundry at our house anymore.  And for good reason; reasons that I won’t go into here lest I reopen old wounds best forgotten.

Following the covert fake snow removal, we had to hide behind props and roll them off of stage as cued.  I’ll just say I hope it goes better during the shows.  If you come, sit back a few rows, it’ll help fuel the illusion.

Jolie showed up during act 1, looking very cute as a rat, oops mouse.  Other than her continually squeaking “Dad, Dad, Dad” she was unrecognizable in the mouse costume due to the darkness at the sides of the stage.  I’ve always warned if she wasn’t careful she would grow a tail, it seems she finally has, and it is a tail to be proud of.

After that, work was pretty light.  We swept up the stage during the intermission and placed a few more props, but the stage is mostly empty for the dancing to take place.

The mice throw the presents to stage left, and we have to catch and stack them out of the way.  This was a period of complete chaos, as presents are flying, mice were running around, tails were getting stepped on, too many people were trying to help.  As I said, sit back from the stage a bit lest you be hit by a flying gift.

During the second act the primary responsibility was to prepare Mother Ginger.  Mother Ginger is…… how can I say this and remain politically correct?  Generously proportioned?  Proportionally challenged?  Flipping huge?  You could take up residence using her for shelter, and it appears some have.  If that doesn’t paint a picture for you, come see the ballet.

During all of this activity, the stage general, who is named John, who technically I think is the stage manager for the performance, sat at a dimly lit podium at stage left talking on a head set to folks controlling the music, lights, and curtains (I assume).  It is possible the stage king was on a headset elsewhere, he was there but I only say him once.  Perhaps that is why John always seems so serious.

Essentially, that was it for the job of stage crew.  Not bad, kind of funny, and certainly interesting to watch the ballet from that side.  Having never seen it, I’m anxious to get through my next stage hand gig and get into the audience for the second performance on Saturday.  Hope to see you there!

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I began my volunteer time at the Nutcracker this past Saturday.  At 8:00am, while the rest of the family was enjoying sleeping in, I snuck out of the house and headed to Hering Auditorium to loan my back to the “haul-in” of props and equipment.

It was a beautiful Fairbanks winter morning, cold and clear, dark skies, stars, a waning moon just past its halfway point, reflecting just enough light back onto the earth’s surface for the birch trees to cast shadows.  I started the truck, and quietly crept out of the drive.

The stillness of mornings like this set my mood and rhythm for the day, peaceful and thoughtful, introspective and focused; for me, high spirits.

Arriving at Hering Auditorium, in Alaska’s daytime darkness, I was fortunate enough to see a crack of light escape the stage door as it opened and closed, revealing to me the previously unknown back access to the stage.  Once inside I immediately ran into Pete, who has a son in the Nutcracker, so I knew I was in the right place.

I know Pete through the Farmer’s Market and his farm, Spinach Creek Farm.  They are known throughout Fairbanks for their carrots, which are unusually sweet and are a bit like eating candy.  Every year, during the Farmer’s Market Bazaar held in early December, the longest line at the bazaar is for Pete’s carrots, which usually sell out before everyone get’s theirs.  The carrots are without a doubt the best in Fairbanks, more than likely Alaska, and quite possibly the states.  It’s even rumored that there have been more than a few sightings of Bugs Bunny near their farm, where it is said that the hare has taken up permanent residence.  All of which has absolutely nothing to do with the Nutcracker.

After a few minutes, a fellow dressed in artist or beatnik garb; a red beret, green cargo pants, and long hair pulled back into a pony-tail, came over and spoke to the group of Dads that had gathered.  Personally, I like my Fairbanks winter hat to cover my ears, but I didn’t hold that against him.   We got our instructions for the day, and an explanation of who would direct our efforts.

We then loaded up in trucks and drove off to the connex (steel container used for barging or trucking, but commonly used for storage in Alaska) where the stage equipment was stored.  Fortunately it was a mild Fairbanks morning, somewhere between 0 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  We had a good group of guys, maybe ten, and it only took 20-30 minutes to load up the U-Haul and head back to Hering.

Have you ever walked into a place, usually small, where the person in charge has an inflated sense of their own importance in the whole scheme of things?  Like a tiny elementary school library that the librarian runs like the National Archives; or a small-town fire marshal who won’t let the kid’s put Christmas lights on a Christmas tree in the schoolhouse (though there is no code against it); or the college professor that belittles his class for not knowing his favorite subject “Underwater Basket Weaving” though it is completely irrelevant to 99.9% of them.

If you understand what I’m getting at, then I don’t need to describe the behavior of the stage manager any more than that.  If you don’t, let me go off.  Basically the guy, who as I understand it is under contract or employed by the borough to manage the auditorium (and thus probably the only person getting paid for giving up their Saturday morning) spent his morning gruffly ordering volunteers about whilst belittling the guy up on the catwalk that was adding weights to the backdrops.

Clearly, the stage at Hering Auditorium is his world. His fiefdom, if you will.  For that reason from here on out I’ll refer to him as the Stage King, or king.  For those of the rest of us who have a different perspective on where Hering Auditorium falls into the world order, world peace and electing a president with an IQ higher than my 4-year old can count can remain our priority.

I only got barked at once by the king, but it raised my volunteer hackles enough that I stayed away from him the rest of the morning.  It isn’t that I can’t hack it, I’ve worked enough construction jobs to tolerate barking, but it usually had to do with safety or some task that needed done immediately, said over the sound of construction equipment and always with the promise of a paycheck when the job was done.

On a Saturday morning when I’m volunteering for setting up a children’s ballet performance I had hoped for a lighter mood, more sugar, and less vinegar.  Fortunately I understand the king is retiring.  Maybe there will be a new monarch next year, possibly even a benevolent dictator.

As we hauled in equipment, a volunteer with experience in many Nutcracker campaigns pointed out where to put the props.  I’ll call him the stage general.

The general, “Stage left!”

“Where’d it go?”  (I told you didn’t know anything about the stage.)

The general, “Take that down stage.”

Me, “Hey general, I think the stage looks pretty level to me.”

Slowly I came to understand some locations, though I still don’t have any idea where down or up stage are.

It is comical that the king and general would think that a group of Fairbanks, Alaska Dads might know anything about the stage (assuming I wasn’t the only Dad without a clue).  Being locals themselves you would think they’d know better.  Of course, they may have forgotten what it is like to be stage ignorant.

Following the haul-in of the props, we began their assembly.  Again, it went relatively quickly.  At some point I began suggesting we put them together on the floor, then tip them up.  The general soundly refused my suggestion (it’s never been done that way before).

Something I’ve learned working with contractors and on job-sites, it is always better to put things together on the ground and minimize the time people spend on ladders or lifts, both from a safety and speed standpoint.  Apparently, that doesn’t hold true in the theater.

Then again, what do I know?  I’m used to real buildings, not fake ones.

I did quickly recognize that I didn’t want to insist on trying it my way.  One, because the general has volunteered for years and is due some respect for that; and two, any showing of expertise on my part might ensnare me into further volunteering.

Needless to say, given I’m already a quiet person, nobody heard much out of me the rest of the morning.

By 11:30 we had everything pretty much together except for that one brace we needed a lift to install but should have assembled on the ground.  I grabbed a bottle of water and a donut and hit the road, allowing some other volunteer to ride the lift.

Nutcracker Dad volunteer effort number one over and done with.

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