Life As I Know It

2015: A Quick Summary

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I don’t usually do these year end summary things but someone said they liked reading them and it seemed a particularly eventful year for me, so without thinking about it too much, here is a quick summary.

  • Had $4000 worth of work done to my car.
  • While that car was in the shop, got rear ended so hard it totaled the borrowed car I was in, spun me 180 degrees into an intersection, and I didn’t remember anything for a few minutes.
  • Elly moved in with me while the condo she bought was being renovated.
  • Got to use my acting and musical talents in the great original play, 100 Heartbreaks, which I loved with a passion. So much so, I’m pretty sure the director hates me because of my impassioned opinions.
  • We then both moved into the super sweet renovated condo which we love so much.
  • On the 4th of July, narrowly avoided getting hit by a truck that was t-boned and flew right at me landeing inches from me on its side as detailed here.
    crash photo

    My view of the crash that nearly included me.

  • About 45 minutes later as also detailed above, I was hit by an oncoming swerving car that luckily hit my back left side, causing me to swerve across the oncoming lane, through a ditch and fence and stopping in a field, totaling that car which had just had $4000 worth of work done earlier in the year.
  • My grandfather, Dr. James F. Cooper died. He was a amazing man and beloved figure in the community and the tributes from all over including so many former patients, friends, etc. (such as this one), really drove home what an impact he made. It also inspired this post from me.

    On Thursday, I paid tribute to the life of Dr. James Cooper on the House floor. Dr. Cooper was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, a physician, and an active VFW member .Posted by Rep. Bill Flores on Saturday, October 3, 2015

  • The day after my grandfather’s funeral, I went to visit my dying father for what would be the last time. On September 16 he died from pancreatic cancer and I wrote this eulogy for him.
  • I played many gigs with 3 different bands, one of which I’ve been with since 1994.
  • I had the pleasure of acting in many different films, commercials, plays, projects, etc. and work alongside many amazing people including a short film with Lance Henrikson!
  • Got out and auditioned (and was cast in) Control Issues, an amazing improv show at The Hideout with some of the best people you could ask to perform with.
  • I started a new journey with a new agent, Jason at Acclaim Talent is the best!
  • I made my living doing only what I love with no day job.
  • I battled a lot of frustration, depression, envy, negativity, etc. as we all do.
  • I started up my yoga practice again and am on 564 consecutive days of meditation practice.
  • I tried my best to find gratitude in every day for all the things in my life.
  • I was lucky enough to have the best, most supportive, amazing partner through every day of highs, lows and all the in betweens. Everything is better and easier with a team, even if you sometimes feel like it’s just two of you against the world.
  • I continued the incremental (sometimes imperceivable) progress in my career and in my lifelong journey to be the best me I can be. And I look forward to the journey never ending.

I love you all and wish you all happiness in the new year. Thanks to those who love me back regardless of my flaws, May we all enrich each others’ lives and the world at large together. Light and love will always prevail even if it sometimes feels otherwise. Happy New Year!

My Thoughts On Depression

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Up until recently, if you asked me “Are you depressed?” I would have said “Absolutely not. We all have our ups and downs but I’m not depressed.”

The more I’ve learned about depression, the more I’ve realized that maybe I am. The thing is, it’s such a vague word. There’s so many levels at which it can exist. And, unfortunately, it’s kind of a dirty word. Most of don’t want to say it, especially in relation to ourselves. We think of it as this huge thing. Like if you’re “depressed,” that a big, giant, serious issue. That’s not to say that it isn’t, necessarily, but not always. It can be insidiously subtle.

I just thought I was lazy. Uninspired. That I have no willpower to do the things I know I need to do. I’m unproductive. I’m in the worst shape I’ve been in in over a decade. My career isn’t what I’d like it to be. And yet, I often act counter-productively. there’s things I know I could do, that I need to do, and I don’t, or feel that I can’t. I continue to eat crap and want to sleep a lot.

One day Elly (who battles depression herself) said “I think you might be depressed,” and my gut reaction was to resist. I’m not depressed! I’m just in a slump, or lazy, or tired, or just down this week.

The point of this post is not to get comfort or reassurance or virtual hugs or support. The point of this post is to let everyone else out there know, you’re not alone. More people than you know are probably in the same boat. It’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to admit. Every time I thought about making this post, it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to talk about it. Or admit it. Or be seen or judged as a “depressed” person. Or be a depressed person.

Now I’m lucky in that my depression (if that’s what it is) is fairly mild and just makes me think I’m a lazy person with absolutely no willpower or discipline (which may be true as well). I truly am, in general, a very happy, silly person with a wonderful life and tons of gratitude for all that I have. That’s not a mask or a front. And that’s what makes it complicated. How can that co-exist with any form of depression, no matter what the “level”? We are complex beings, my friends.

So if you are or have ever been depressed, let me assure you, you are not broken, you are not a freak and it’s not a dirty word never to be spoken. You are in the company of some of the best, brightest, most talented people in the world and throughout history. It does not devalue you as a person. There are so many people fighting battles you know nothing about. Be assured that we are all a community. We are all on our individual journeys but also a collective journey together. Stay strong friends and always remember this: The opposite of Love isn’t Hate, it’s Fear. Love is light. Love is always the answer. Love is my religion. Well that and Jedi. Love Jedi.

Sounds like a band. Or a really bad movie.

Paul Eugene Allyn, December 19, 1951 – September 16, 2015

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My father, Paul Allyn, died peacefully today after a brief battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

My mother, Kathie, and my father met and married at 16 and 18, respectively. They had me at 17 and 19. I don’t have many memories of my father actually being part of my daily life as my parents split up when I was around 3, I believe (I’m sure mom will correct me on any facts I get wrong…I’ve never been good with dates).

Heath and Paul

Dad gives me my first microphone at 6 months old.

Not too long after that he moved back to New Jersey, where he’d grown up. Growing up, I rarely saw him. We would fly up to visit every so often, and we would always talk on holidays and such, but for the first 30 years of my life or so, I probably only actually saw him in person enough times to be counted on one hand. I think this typifies the unconventional relationship that we always had which was that we were never “estranged” or anything but sometimes years might pass with minimal communication as we all get wrapped up in life and time flies faster than we realize, but we would always remain close and pick back up like no time had passed. We had a very low maintenance, guilt free but great relationship. After a visit when I around 16 (I think), I wouldn’t see him again for another 13 years or so, and yet somehow there was nothing “weird” about this.

Paul was born in Japan (his father was Art, an American soldier, his mother Aiko, a Japanese woman). From a very early age he became involved in all manner of martial arts. 002 By the end of his life, he was a recognized master in many of them at a level akin to his idol, Bruce Lee. He even had devised his own system, Sento Kunren Ho, or “combat training method.” The family would eventually move to New Jersey. After his stint in Texas where he met mom and had me, he returned to New Jersey where he eventually became a police officer which amused many of his acquaintances back in Texas since, at least as I’ve heard it, he had a bit of a reputation as a hell raiser. I have no idea how much is true and how much is “fishing stories” embellished by time, but I’ve heard he used to like to walk into bars and start trouble just so these rednecks could be surprised at the ass whipping delivered from this 5’7″ lithe man. Back in NJ, he got married a second time to Cathi and had 3 more kids, Kymberlea, Karlea and A.J. He eventually retired early as a Lieutenant, separated from Cathi and moved to Florida to be near his parents.

NJ visit

One of my childhood visits to NJ.

Of my visits to NJ, I remember loving Great Adventure, a Six flags type amusement park. I remember all of us going to a haunted house once, and I got too scared not very far in and a worker had to radio for someone to come escort me back out the entrance while the rest of the family finished going through. I remember a trip to the boardwalk where the smell of the sea air accompanied attempts at carnival games. In one of my earlier visits, I remember a TV with no channel knob where they had to use a pair of pliers to change the channel. I remember a martial arts competition, where for some reason they also had a Garfield mirror for sale that I took home. Donut shops (sometimes stereotypes happen for a reason). I remember at least 3 of their residences and his workout room in his house. I remember him buying me a shoge (a very cool martial arts weapon) that my uncle Jim would later end up breaking. I remember playing my new Duran Duran record on the record player in Kym’s room where I was staying in the spare bed.

Paul was also a musician. In his younger years he played guitar and sang in many bands both in NJ and Texas. In fact, he played with Donnie Wilson who I would later meet in community theatre and jam with in my own youth, and then many years even later than that, I would end up in a band with that we have now been in for over 20 years. In his adulthood he let all his musical pursuits fade away. Then around 2000, a big family reunion was brewing down in Florida so we made plans for me to come visit and see everyone for the first time in far too many years. He asked me to pick out a good acoustic guitar for him and bring it along so he could pick it back up. I brought him a decent Alvarez acoustic and he picked it up like he had never stopped playing. We were jamming Beatles together in no time at all. I don’t think I saw him again until 2009.

Heath and Paul in 2000

Dad sitting on my lap at the 2000 reunion.

We had kept up our periodic phone calls during that time and one day I’m at a band gig back in my hometown of College Station when he calls me to say hi. There’s something suspicious about the conversation which leads me to believe he is here for a surprise visit. This suspicion is confirmed when he slips up and misspeaks about something I can’t remember, but says something about “here” instead of there. I let it pass without calling him on it to not ruin the surprise. Sure enough he makes a surprise appearance at our gig. It’s his first time back in Texas since he left almost 30 years prior. This begins a new renaissance in our relationship. For the next several years, calls and even visits are very frequent. I find it so amusing how alike we are in certain ways despite him never being an active part of my life. It really drives home the effect of genetics. We talk on the phone like friends, not just father and son. Amusingly, I find myself taking the role of wisdom dispenser most of the time. It’s like our roles have flipped. When he would visit, we would play acoustic guitars together, harmonize on Beatle songs (“No Reply” was a favorite), and just hang out. We would walk to Torchy’s tacos which he repeatedly mispronounced “Torky’s.”

Dad at gig.

Dad visiting with me and Donnie Wilson before one of our gigs.

Then there was another summer night in 2009 when after one of my gigs, a woman came up to me and told me that her friend wanted to talk to me but was really nervous. Why? Because apparently my dad was also her dad. I told her there was no reason to be nervous and I spent some time talking to the half sister I didn’t know I had. Apparently her mother had told her about her real dad because I was a local around the same age playing in bands around town and so her mother wanted to make sure that if we ever met, we didn’t start dating or something. The next day, I was filming a short film and started messaging dad to break this news to him. He had known of the possible existence of this daughter but had never known for sure. We all met up and instantly took each other into our respective families. She visited dad in his final days as well.

In 2010, his parents had a joint 80th birthday party. Obasan (what I’d always called hi mother) had requested, half jokingly, that I write her a song. Not just any song, but one where I sing by myself and then people can sing along on the choruses. One night during my visit, I took some (really crappy) cell phone video of Obasan and Dad singing together (videos here and here). During this visit when they were playing some of her favorite music, I learned of two songs in particular that I took note of. Then, because I’m a horrible procrastinator, the day before the big party, I sat down to finally write a song for her detailing her history with my Grandfather. And since that wasn’t enough work on my plate, I also set out to learn these two songs that were among her favorites. I got the lyrics to my freshly composed song to my uncle Marc to put on the overhead projector so people could sing along on the choruses. Here was the result:

We then stumbled through the other two songs I’d learned for her, “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto, and “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin. All in all, I’d say it went over very well.

Dad with band

I got dad to get up and sing and play a tune or two with my band (Beatles, naturally).

My dad was always one of my biggest fans, sharing my songs, commercials, movies, etc., beaming with pride (as does mom…I’m lucky to have such proud and supportive parents). He would be the first to tell you about the flaws he had, especially as a younger man. He never wanted to bother you with his problems. Which is why our communication was less frequent after he was diagnosed with COPD, a degenerative lung condition. He had always been a very active and fit guy but a lifetime of smoking had irrevocably damaged his lungs and now with COPD, he found himself with no energy and short of breath all the time. When I would call, I could hear how it had sucked the vitality from him, but he just kind of kept to himself and didn’t call much because that was his way when he was less than great. So I’d make sure to check in frequently and I could tell he enjoyed the outlet though he would never initiate it. I did my best to just be a positive light. Once I called and he casually remarked “You know I was in the hospital, right?” No, I had not known he was in the hospital. In his last couple of years with COPD, he wasn’t up for travel any more so the frequent visits had ceased. In the years since I’d seen him, his father had also died.

Disney ears

One of my favorite pictures of us being goofy with Disney mouse ears during a visit to Florida.

This last August, Obasan was preparing for her yearly trip to NJ to visit her other children, Dori and Marc. On a whim, my dad asked if she had room for him and off they went for a family visit. While he was there, he started not feeling well. Thinking it was probably related to the COPD, they took him to the hospital. He was shockingly diagnosed with stage 4 umbilical pancreatic cancer. They explored the options, but pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates and in his weakened state, chemo wasn’t even an option. It was at this point that it was decided to put him on hospice to make his final weeks as comfortable as possible. Dori and her wife, Laurie had a spare bedroom that had been used when another friend had spent their final days there as well, so I believe it was already fairly well equipped (like an adjustable bed and such). Dori and Laurie are two of the most amazing people on the planet, and took such good care of him, as well as any visiting family, and this despite the fact that Dori is on crutches after foot surgery! Obasan stayed there the whole time as well. In line with my dad’s nature, he chose to keep it pretty low key as he “didn’t want a bunch of drama over it.”

Marc paul and Heath

Me, Dad and Uncle Marc (Dad’s brother) goofing during a visit.

The day after my Grandfather’s funeral (on my mom’s side), I flew up for a 4 day visit to see my dad for what I knew would be the last time. He was frail and bedridden. He had aged more in the last 2 years than in the previous 60. Most of his time was spent sleeping and just trying to be comfortable. Most of my time was spent on the couch in the living room with Dori, Laurie and Obasan. When it was time for his meds every 3 hours, I would go in and say hi and then if he remained awake, I would stay for as long as it seemed feasible just chatting and spending time with him. At night, I’d borrow Dori’s car and head to my hotel 6 miles away just to sleep. It was an odd time, being that we both knew he was basically just waiting to die, but a good one that also had moments of humor and conversation and just good time together.

When I learned of his last minute whim to travel to NJ with Obasan, I asked him “So, do you think maybe you knew something that you didn’t know you knew?”

“Maybe,” he said. I still wonder if something told him to go back to his home turd where he spent most of his life. Obasan also commented on what a blessing it was that it happened there with netter doctors and with Dori, Laurie around and Marc and Kem in driving distance. She thought it would have been much worse in many ways had it happened back in Florida. On my last night there, I sat on the bed beside him watching a baseball game that was still going into the 12th inning. Just like dad.

The next morning, I went back over to wait for my ride to the airport. When it was about 5 minutes away, I went in to say goodbye. It’s a very uniquely strange feeling to say a farewell with such finality. Dad had his eyes closed. I told him I had to go.

He asked “Go where?”

“Back to Texas,” I said.

I’ll never forget that moment when his eyes suddenly filled with an urgency and desperation, realizing I was leaving. though moving was hard for him, he rolled up to hug me and I hugged him back. Tears were shed but always through a smile. I told him that my body may be leaving but that my mind, heart and soul were there with him 24/7.

“As they always have been,” he said. He told me that when he got to the gate, he’d tell them to save a special place for one hell of a guitar player someday. He told me that if I wanted to, I could always go by his place in Florida to see if there was anything I wanted as a keepsake.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Dad,” I said as I squeezed his hand, a tear rolling down my cheek. “You’re still here now.” I left a glow-in-the-dark alien guitar pick on his night stand. We exchanged “I love you” and I left my father for the last time. As I waited for my plane in the Newark airport, it was actually familiar and I could remember being there with him and Cathi

He held on a lot longer than most thought he would, but it wasn’t much of a life towards the end. At least not one I know he’d want to live, so I knew he was ready to be at peace. Today, I decided to change my Facebook cover photo to a tribute to him. About 20 minutes later, someone inquired how he was doing, and we got the word that he had passed peacefully about 10 minutes previously.

You’ve all probably heard me say it a thousand times by now, but in times like these, I always take great comfort from the scientific Law of Conservation of Energy that states energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change forms. We are all made, quite literally of stardust, and when our bodies are returned to and recycled by the universe, our energy, including whatever energy makes up our “souls,” or the synapses in our brain or anything else can only change forms. It is not destroyed. Dad and I were very similar spiritually. We tried to concentrate on the positive and would never want to burden anyone. I know he wouldn’t want anyone being sad or devastated by his passing (but would also understand that it’s inevitable to varying degrees).

I always choose to celebrate a life rather than mourn a death, and while many would say 63 is far too young, my father still lived a hell of a life full of love and many wonderful adventures. This is the closest death has ever hit me (I mean I guess you don’t get much closer than the source of half your DNA) but I am at peace, as I am happy that he is as well. Please save any condolences and instead hug your loved ones and celebrate life. Do something that brings a smile to your face and try to bring as many smiles to others as you can. You don’t have to be sorry for my loss, for my heart is full of everything I gained from my father. I hesitate to stop writing this, as I’m sure time will bring a million more things to mind that I wanted to say but for the moment I’ll just say, “until later.”

Golden Slumbers, Dad.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”
-The Beatles “The End”

Paul and Heath

Living Your Dash

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Yesterday, in one of the eulogies at my grandfather’s funeral, I heard a term I had never heard before: living the dash. Meaning that in the end, there will be your birthday and the date you die, and in between them is your dash. And how you live your dash is the most important.

This also got me thinking about perspective. There seems to be a lot of really bad mojo going on at the moment for a whole lot of people. I often hear people curse a particular year for being so horrible. However I truly think that if you look very closely, there’s always just as much good to be found. Sometimes you’re so focused on the negative that you blind yourself to all the good.

Let me use my own life as an example. You could look at my 2015 and see this: 2 automobile accidents, one totaling a friend’s car, one totaling my car. I’m in the worst shape I’ve been in for the last 12 years. I’m frustrated at some of my career obstacles. My grandfather died. My father is on hospice with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I could probably find a lot more to bitch about as well. And there’s plenty more apparently going on in other people’s lives that I know.

But you know what? That’s not how I see my 2015. Amazingly, I emerged from both accidents almost entirely uninjured when both could have easily been fatal if any of a thousand details were different. I moved in with my amazing girlfriend into an amazing place in an amazing neighborhood. I couldn’t ask for anyone more loving or supportive of me. I am basically pretty damn healthy, now have a gym membership and both she and I are prosperous enough to lead a pretty great life, and I’m not working some soul sucking job but doing things I love and am passionate about.

My grandfather led an amazing and long life and in his death I heard so many stories and learned so many things about him that I never knew. I saw a humbling outpouring of people talking about how much he’d affected their lives. 2 hours of visitation with a line out the door the entire time of people waiting to give their condolences and memories of this great man. I saw many relatives I rarely get to see.

Even now, I marvel at our technogical world beyond what scifi imagined not all that long ago as I use the airplane wifi. I joked that this is what is feels like to be a god. A slow, lethargic God. I’m on my way to see my dad, and to put it totally bluntly, probably for the last time. But I have the luxury of doing do. And had to pass up a callback audition to do so. I have a choice in how I feel and view the world and my life. And as much as possible I choose love and joy and gratitude. Because even as I sit here now, I could easily come up with far more good things to list than bad. The universe is going to throw things at you that you don’t want or feel you aren’t ready for or can only see as “bad things” but nothing is inherently good or bad. There’s always Yin to Yang and vice versa. We are all human and will not always succeed at our endeavors or efforts to live how we want to live or be who we want to be. And that’s just fine. Just do your best to make sure that once that final date comes, that the dash in between was what mattered. Have a dense and well-lived dash.

My Harrowing 4th of July

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I had just finished playing a great private party with my band. There’s were tons of people, food and a fireworks show as big as any you would ever see, all at someone’s house. It was now time for my 2 hour drive back home to Austin. Before I had even got out of town, I was stopped at a stop light with no one in front of me. A pickup truck was driving through the intersection in front of when suddenly it was t-boned by another car. The truck went up on its side and came hurtling directly at my car. Now, I tend to be very calm and in control in crisis situations, so I wanted to throw it in reverse but I didn’t have time to assess what was behind me and didn’t want to end up plowing into someone, so I watch as this hurtling pickup skidded to a stop on its side…inches from my front bumper. I then reversed a little (I’m not sure why at this point, other than to get a little distance from the carnage). Everyone poured out of their cars behind me, as did I to call 911, and assess if anyone needed immediate help. When I could see there was nothing more I could do, I figured it was best to just get out of the way and got back in my car. While I was waiting for the police to clear everyone and for the people behind me to get back in their cars and re-route so that we could all leave the scene, I took this photo from my car.

crash photo

My view of the crash that nearly included me.

Eventually we were cleared and I drove on, stopping briefly to get a drink. A guy in the store wondered what was going on with all the police, fire and EMS folks, so I told him my first hand account. He was not expecting such a vividly detailed answer. I then hit the road back to Austin, delayed by about 20 minutes or so by the accident. About an hour later, I was on Highway 21 in the middle of nowhere. There was hardly any traffic as it was 1:30 A.M. I noticed a car coming toward me from the distance. Then I noticed that it was swerving. Back and forth. A lot. I went into high alert and could not tell is this was someone out of control or just being an idiot goofing around. Faster than I expected, the car was upon me and swerved directly toward me, smashing into the left rear of my car. The side airbags deployed, and my back end swung wildly around pointing me across the oncoming lanes (which were, thankfully, empty). It was one of those moments they talk about when everything went into slow motion. I remember as I got hit, thinking (and possibly saying out loud) “FUCK! GODDAMMIT! SERIOUSLY?” I remained calm and tried to get control of the vehicle as best as I could. I had stopped spinning and was now headed directly across the oncoming lane toward a ditch. I though ” Oh, shit, I hope this ditch isn’t too bad and that this doesn’t hurt too much.” Next thing I knew I was over the ditch and through a barbed-wire fence, pleasantly surprised at the lack of impact or pain. It was then that I realized that my car was still in drive and actively propelling forward in this, thankfully, large and empty field. I came to a stop and gathered myself. I seemed to be fine. I got out and immediately called 911. Where was I, they asked? I told them to hold on, put them on speakerphone and pulled up Google maps (thankful for both the phone signal and internet connection). I couldn’t read the tiny county road number, but luckily I had long ago enabled the accessibility feature where I could tap with 3 fingers to zoom in. I did so and told them I was on Highway 21, just north of county road 402. They said they would send someone right away. When asked about the other car, I told them I had briefly seen them stopped way down the road, but that they seemed to be gone now.

I called Elly who was fast asleep at home. I told her the details and that I was fine. Since I was about an hour from home still, she got in car that she had very luckily borrowed from a friend who let’s her use it whenever we need a second car for some reason. Not knowing exactly what would play out, she just started driving toward me, knowing she’d have to pick me up somewhere. I assessed the damage. It looked like they had hit me right around my left rear tire. It was at a slightly funny angle but nothing too terribly alarming. I had no rear bumper and the left rear tail light was broken.The left rear door wouldn’t open. I checked my music equipment in the back and it was fine which made me breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Then I waited. In a dark field in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, which, needless to say, was surreal. There was a bright moon which was nice and I could leave the car running to keep my phone charging and keep the headlights on for better visibility. I meditated. Got bitten by a lot of mosquitoes or something. About 30 minutes later or so, the highway patrol showed up. He asked how I managed this on a completely deserted highway. I laughed and said “right?” and gave him the details. He asked what I planned to do with the car and I said I had no idea what my options were. He told me to call my insurance which I did and reported everything. They said they could transfer me to someone to arrange a tow or I could just have the officer call a local tow, which is what I did. I told the officer about my other close call and he said something like “You better watch it. You’re luck is gonna run out!” (in a totally good-natured way).

By the time I was done with insurance, the officer, etc. and the tow truck showed up it must have been at least another 30 minutes. The tow truck driver was a very amiable guy who pondered how the hell to get my car out of this field when there was a ditch and a (busted) fence in the way. I told him had no idea if it was driveable but that I could certainly try to back it up to the road.

“I mean, what am I gonna do? Mess it up worse?” I said, which made him laugh heartily. I backed it up. Got stuck a few times where I had to work it forward and back but eventually got it back to road and parked on the shoulder where getting in on the truck was nice and simple. Elly arrived right at this time and we got all the stuff we could from the car and packed into the teeny tiny BMW Z3 as best we could. Now this thing is tiny. We barely fit my yoga mats and a few small things in the trunk. We stashed a small fan back by the rear window. My roller case went at my feet and my guitar was basically on top of me in the passenger seat. It was uncomfortable, but the only way to get all my stuff home.

We were both a bit on edge watching for any other late night 4th of July jackasses but we made it home and to bed by about 5 A.M. We had planned not to go anywhere on Sunday but a last minute offer from Craigslist to trade a really cool guitar for one I was trying to sell ended up with us driving halfway to San Antonio to make the exchange, and once again, I found myself on a 45 minute, very uncomfortable car ride wedged under a guitar.

Monday and Tuesday I did all the dealing with insurance, getting a rental lined up, faxing them paper work to show that I had just had $4000 worth of work done earlier this year including a brand new $3000 hybrid batter with a 4 year warranty, which is basically the biggest repair you can make on a hybrid vehicle short of replacing the engine. I am hoping this factors in to whatever decisions they make about repairing the car or totaling it.

Not surprisingly, this whole experience has had an affect on me. Especially when paired with the wreck I was in at the beginning of this year when my car was in the shop and I was driving our same friend’s (previous) Z3 to College Station and back to pick up my newly custom painted guitar as well as carrying an acoustic that was over 100 years old back to a shop in Austin as a favor to a friend. While stopped at a light I noticed someone skid to a halt and veer to the right to avoid hitting a car a few behind me. Then as I was stopped at the next light, this same person (I’m not 100% positive, but I think it was the same person) plowed into the back of my stopped (and borrowed) car, spinning me 180 degrees and giving me a mild concussion for the next month. It took a few minutes for me to get my senses back and I didn’t really remember the actual accident, or the texts that I had sent after getting hit, or calling Elly and talking somewhat incoherently to her. Both guitars, despite being in soft cases and on the front passenger against the dash and laying up the seat, were completely unharmed. As was I, in the end (though I had some soreness and killer headaches for about a month, but several doctor visits confirmed that I was fine).

So after almost 30 years of driving mostly uneventfully (a few minor fender benders like getting rear-ended twice), I’ve now had 2 (and almost 3) pretty scary crashes. None of them my fault, which is actually the scariest thing. You can be the best, most defensive driver in the world with great control, reactions and cool in a crisis but there is so much not in your control. So many idiots that can still make you a target. I’ve definitely felt the insidious anxiety deep within me. I haven’t slept well since that night, which I’m actually not sure is at all related, but I’m also not sure that it’s not. I’m a little more jumpy in the car for the moment. A little apprehensive about the gigs I have coming up and all the driving I have to routinely do for my careers as an actor and musician. My mind sometimes goes to horrific scenarios. I’m trying my best though not to let the fear win. Living in fear is never good, nor necessary. While it’s easy to think things like “Oh man, what if there had been oncoming traffic? What if they had hit me head on? What if that ditch had been deeper or worse? Or the fence was sturdier? Or there was a tree? Or instead of a field it was a lake? Or an overpass? Or I’d been killed? Or maimed and couldn’t play guitar? Or…or…or…”

But then I realize that you can also take everything I just said and turn it into something positive. Like “Wow! I really am so very, very fortunate. So lucky. Someone is watching out for me and no matter what everything will be fine and I’m going to live my life under that assumption and not in fear.” And I will. But I’m also human, and sometimes it will be a fight.

I once had my tarot cards read, which I kind of went on as a lark just for fun, but by the end of it, I was it had really had a profound effect on me. It was a really cool experience and just many of the things she said were eerie, in the best possible way. During this session, among many other things, she mentioned (paraphrasing) “You have two…well they don’t really want me to say because they know you won’t really like this word, but for lack of a better term, guardian angels. And they know you aren’t really religious and all that thus why you probably would balk a little at the term ‘angel’ but they just want you to know they’re there, and you can talk to them if you want.”

Well, great job, you two. Keep up the great work. Seems you’ve been working overtime.

Revisiting Barton Creek Square Mall

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This is really more of an epilogue for Requiem For A Mall. An addendum of sorts. After that little walk down memory lane I decided to revisit Barton Creek Square Mall yesterday. This was the place that took over for Highland Mall as our destination of choice in my later years visiting my late Aunt Trish and my cousin, Casey. the memories contained there are equally as impactful, and in some ways, maybe even more so because they are a little fresher, more recent and represent a later period in my visits that seems a little more clear in its recollection.

Many memories may in fact be blurred by time. When I was texting my cousin during my Highland Mall visit, I could have sworn I remembered right where there was an Aladdin’s Castle arcade, but my cousin thought that was at Barton Creek and on the opposite side. But then he couldn’t remember if maybe he was mixing it up with Goldmine or Barker’s Circus, which he also thought were in Barton on the opposite side. I had totally forgotten those two arcade names and only had memories of an arcade on one side of the entrance. It was all so long ago, who’s to say I’m not jumbling all kinds of details and mixing up malls.

Barton Creek Square definitely transported me once again back in time. I was a older this time but still the place was indelibly linked to Trish and Casey. I once again was amazed at how this place that was once one of my favorite destination now held almost nothing for me. The Apple store is fun. There was still a Spencer’s Gifts but it’s vastly different from the one in my memory. Past me was definitely envious of the huge and awesome Lego store that now exists, and for a moment, present me shouted “I want all those huge, awesome Star Wars Legos! A Death Star! Slave I! Star Destroyer!” I very quickly then realized that I had no use for them. I’ve tried over the years to stop collecting “stuff.” Things I just want that then really have no use and do nothing but collect dust. I knew that these huge Lego creations that I once would have wanted more than anything just had no place in my life any more.

Even the smell was familiar. Just a very clean mall smell that helped transport me right back there. Then I found the movie theater. When I had been at Highland I had a detailed memory of a movie theater but not the 2 screen theater that was apparently in a separate building across the parking lot from the actual mall at Highland. As soon as I saw it, I knew that this was the theater I had been remembering. This was a very important moment for me. Movies have always been a big part of my life and movies with my cousin were a formative part of my youth. For some reason, I specifically remember Disney’s The Black Hole (I still love that theme song), TRON and the original Clash of the Titans. Standing in front of this theater, I could so vividly remember Trish buying tickets and Casey and I eager to get inside and go to some fantastical place. I think we used to love sitting in the front row, though I have no idea why now, or if that’s something else I’m mismembering (my own word that I use often). I wondered if we used to go to a lot of earlier showtimes because I seemed to have this familar feeling of coming out of the movie into the daylight and getting in the car so Trish could drive us home and Casey and I could proceed to play whatever new video game she’d bought us or that we were already playing on this visit.

I specifically have a lot of memories of this Barton Creek Square during the holidays. Shopping around Christmas. All the decorations and the music and just crowds of people. an energy of excitement and being alive. Surprisingly, the Food Court didn’t feel all that familiar, unlike my Highland visit. I smiled at the “signs of the times” such as the charging stations now set up next to chairs and such to rest and charge your device on the multi-ended dongle (which sounds like a lost Dr. Seuss book). There was plenty of familiarity and yet plenty that also rips you back from your time journey to remind you that you are indeed in the present, but I’ll never walk those places without Trish and Casey right there with me.

Today I decided to try going for my run in the mall. Air conditioning and the top floor is carpeted so that’s probably good for the joints. It took about 3.5 laps to run 2.5 miles plus a 5 minute warmup and cool down walk. You know, in case you were wondering. Maybe if I run fast enough, I can go back in time to catch a glimpse of Trish buying two eager boys tickets to a film. Probably not though. I run really slowly.

Requiem For a Mall

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Highland Mall

Highland Mall on closing day.


Like most people, I hadn’t been to Highland Mall in ages. In fact I was surprised to read that it was still operating at all. It always looked closed, but then yesterday I read that it was actually closing for good after 44 years. I knew I had to pay a final visit to what had been Austin’s first indoor shopping mall and a surprisingly poignant catalyst of memories. Judging from comments from friends and all the people there yesterday taking pictures and looking nostalgic, I was far from alone in this feeling.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

For many, there seemed to be a lot of memories of working there at various points or going there as long time Austin residents. For me, its place in my heart was very specific: It was a place I used to love to go with my late aunt, Trish and my cousin, Casey. I’ve written a lot about them before but let me summarize for the uninitiated: they are two of the single most important people in my past and in the very DNA of who I am today. From when I was a kid on into adulthood, there were very few things I looked forward to as much as my time with them. They would come to College Station for holidays, I would spend school vacations here in Austin, which I found to be a magical wonderland because of it. Trish was like a second mother and Casey was like a little brother. My time with them remains a formative and defining time in my life. Last year, Trish went on to wherever our energy goes when our bodies are done here and Casey has long since pretty much ceased being a part of my life (even before he was married with two kids, which I’m sure is more than a full time job) but I still think about them both many times daily. In addition to Peter Pan Golf, Westgate Lanes bowling, going to movies and staying up all night playing video games, going to the mall was one of our favorite things to do and it started at Highland Mall.

Highland Mall

I think there used to be an arcade here once, long ago.

For whatever reason, we loved going to the mall (something that would definitely change in my adult years), and before Barton Creek came along, Highland Mall was practically Disneyworld for us. Spencer’s Gifts, video game and movie stores, arcades, the food court, toy stores, candy stores, ice cream vendors, movie theaters and many boring things we didn’t care about like clothing stores (until later when I thought parachute pants were the coolest thing ever), it was just this microcosm, this entire world and ecosystem all self-contained like some underground science fiction colony.

As soon as I walked in those doors yesterday, it all came back with startling familiarity like I had been transported in time. Even the music echoing through the mostly empty space through tinny, dated speakers seemed trapped in time, and strangely loud without a bustling mass of bodies soaking up the sound. All music I would have heard back then. I noticed a strange preponderance of ELO during my hours there. And yes, I spent hours there. I walked both levels of the entire mall three, four, maybe five times.
Highland03 I touched the work railings knowing very well they may have been the exact same railings we had all touched so many years ago. Used every single staircase and escalator, retracing the steps of so much past. When we would go there, Trish would often go off to do her thing and leave me and Casey to do ours. I remember we would methodically walk the whole mall to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I remembered and retraced some of the exact routes. I took in this ghost mall that once been so filled with such a din of life almost as if it were a living organism. Now there were only a handful of shops, and 3 vendors still sold food in the food court until the last hours of this last day. Many people snapped photos. I had a brief conversation with a stranger who was there for the same reason as I was, saying good be to an old friend from many years ago. You could just see the look i people’s eyes that they were just there, remembering one last time.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

I think I tried to leave at least twice and then turned around and went back in for another pass. I actually texted with Casey a little bit, which made me smile to have him there a little bit and read other’s comments on my Facebook page about their memories of the mall. I remembered specific tables where I had sat with Trish and Casey enjoying fast food. I considered getting one last meal there but then decided against partaking of whatever happened to be left at this eleventh hour. At one point I saw an abandoned establishment that piqued my curiosity. I can’t remember the name on it but it was non-descriptive. There were signs to “Pits 9-20” and a note about not crossing the orange line without proper safety equipment but that spectators were welcome and encouraged to ask questions. It seemed like it had been some kind of action/sport type venue, but the real mystery that baffled me was this sign:
sign I still have no idea what this means. It’s like some kind of crazy, paranoid, conspiracy theorist rambling. “That’s how they’re gonna get us, man! The robots can diguise themselves as skateboards, man! They’re all around us and we’re just letting it happen, man!”

I’m not sure exactly why we stopped going there and started going to Barton Creek. I don’t know if it was closer to where Trish and Casey lived, or just perceived as a better, newer mall or what, but it seems that was the trend for most of Austin. Highland Mall fell into decline and for whatever reason, time passed it by. I was glad I’d read about it closing so I got the chance to spend this final day there, with Trish and Casey in my mind and heart. I was glad I got to say my goodbyes. As I laid in bed last night trying to sleep, I thought of the mall, empty and dark, finally “asleep” for good. The building or land may will back as part of Austin Community College, but Highland Mall is no more. No more than the memories so many of us will always carry and the little bits of who we are today that were shaped, formed and altered, even if almost imperceptibly, by our time there and the people who shared it.

Highland Mall

Epilogue: Revisiting Barton Creek Square Mall

The Startling Realization That I Don’t Have Many “Friends”

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How do you define “friend”? It can mean a lot of different things in different contexts. A conversation with Elly yesterday made me realize that I don’t think I have many friends at all. I have a lot of acquaintances, people I love and care about and who love and care about me. This isn’t any kind of sad sob story or call for validation or anything. It was just an observation that kind of caught me by surprise. I don’t really have many “friends.”

Again, my life is beyond bountiful and filled with amazing people but aside from Elly, there is no one that I talk to or hang out with regularly or frequently. There are very few people that I feel I could easily and comfortably have any kind of deep, open, vulnerable conversation with. I racked my brain thinking of the people in my life that really fit what seemed to be “friend” beyond “acquaintance.” I came up with 5 people and I don’t see or talk to any of them often. They generally have their spouses, families or what not and spend most of their time and energy within the walls of that individual castle.

This is all a strange thing to talk about because I don’t want to discount or lessen the meaning of all the wonderful people in my life or make anyone feel left out or like they mean less to me. That’s not the case. In fact there is an overarching theme in my life of always feeling like I like and value people certain more than is returned and that’s definitely the source of a lot of whatever pain and insecurities I may have. I had an epiphany about a family member who has always meant so much to me and is a part of my DNA and my best memories and it always seemed mutual when we spent time together but I always had to be the one making it happen and over the years I just saw them less and less until I’ve pretty much just accepted that they are not in my life any more and never will be. Almost like a mini death or a living death.

Now another angle of this is that I have never been the best friend in some ways either. I can isolate myself and retreat into my cave and not keep in touch very well. My certain kind of shyness and desire to be unobtrusive and not bother people may come off as aloof, or stand offish. My approach is often too passive which is not always fair to put the onus on everyone else to take the initiative. I find the closest and longest lasting friends are the one who have a similar mindset and are very low maintenance. We can go months without speaking and then pick right back up as if no time has passed. I have no tolerance for guilt trips, or high maintenance people. So I’m sure I have a part in this scenario of “not having friends.” I do not deny any responsibility.

I’m not really looking for answers or anything, it was just something I felt like observing and chronicling. It really took me by surprise because I do feel like my life is full and full of absolutely stunning people but when we really started talking about the details, I was hard pressed to really find anyone who fit the profile we were discussing. I think this is why I enjoy social media so much. It has allowed me to grow and foster many relationships that probably would have faded away without it. The whole social media subject is an entirely different subject though. I am completely pro and for it and don’t believe the whole “it’s bad because people use it as a substitute for real interaction.” I think it’s a handy tool and addition, not a substitution and allows us to actually have discussions and interactions we wouldn’t normally be able to have due to time restraints and life responsibilities. It’s like we are always in touch. A virtual party where we can interact whenever we want or have time.

I don’t really want to get into a social media debate though. I don’t really know how to end this post so here’s a picture I made of Hakeem Olajuwan piloting an X-wing and getting his torpedoes right into the Death Star exhaust port. Nothing but vent!

Luke Olajuwan

Luke Olajuwan

C25K

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I have been appalled with the state of my health lately. I can’t seem to kick my food demons or get on any kind of regular exercise regimen. My willpower and discipline seem non-existent but that won’t stop me from continuing to mount the battle. This is the worst shape I have been in since getting my diet under control around 2004 and dropping 60 lbs. About 30 of it is back. I need to get to yoga far more often as well as stopping regulating my fuel (i.e. STOP SHOVELING SO MUCH QUESO AND OTHER CRAP IN MY FOOD HOLE).

So today I started week 1 day 1 of “Couch to 5K.” What’s baffling to me is that I have always hated running. It was always my absolute least favorite form of exercise ever and something I didn’t want to do unless I was being chased by an axe or chainsaw wielding murderer or a zombie, but then again I probably could mosey away from a zombie without anything really resembling “running.”

For some reason I’m feeling myself drawn to this C25K program. Something about it just feels right at this time. Maybe it’s because there’s some weird sadistic part of me that likes to find weaknesses in myself or things that are difficult for me and instead of avoiding them and playing to my strengths, I like to try and overcome them to become a better, more rounded individual or something.

Day 1 felt like just the right amount of challenge for my out of shape blubbery mass. Challenging but not debilitating or discouraging. I imagine that to anyone in better shape than me (which is probably most people), it would have been a piece of cake. Mmm, cake.

My Tribute to the Life of Patricia Cooper

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On Sunday August 3, 2014, we lost my aunt Patricia, or “Trish” as she was known to me, to the illness she had battled for many years which I believe was Hepatitis based. This writing, however, is not about death or sadness or mourning. It’s about life. The life of one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known and a life that affected so many others in such a positive way. She is a huge part of who I am today and like a second mother to me, behind my own awesome matronly unit.

I have no memories of a life without Trish in it. She and my Uncle Mike have been married for almost my entire life (definitely at least around 40 years).

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